27 December 2007

We Are Destroying The Planet?! 1 $€€ M0N€¥!

(In case your browser doesn't interpret the title correctly, it says, "We Are Destroying The Planet?! I SEE MONEY!" but with various currency symbols and numbers instead of letters.)

I can't quite believe that I saw this article from BusinessWeek today. Because I'm somewhat speechless, I'm just going to quote the first bit of the article and let it speak for itself:

Set aside, for now, the really complex and costly financial implications of climate change. Ignore the tricky abstractions of carbon trading. Forget the worries over flooded cities and the ins and outs of renewable energy.

Instead, consider just a few everyday money-making ideas created by the warming of our planet. For example, oenophiles could short the stocks of vintners in drought-prone areas such as Australia or California and bet on upstarts in Canada and England, where new wineries are sprouting as temperatures rise. Or, since ski resorts are seeing less and less snow, it might make sense to buy and hold manufacturers of snowmakers.

Of course, the potential of climate-change investing goes far beyond mere curiosities. A growing number of advisers to big institutional investors and high-net-worth types are sizing up companies based on how likely they are to benefit from rising energy prices, stricter regulations, and changes to the natural world ranging from freshwater shortages to new disease patterns and more chaotic weather.
'Nuff said.

05 December 2007

Religion, Faith, Belief, And Understanding

I'll start this post by opening a can of worms: What is religion?

There are many, many answers to that question. Some say that religion is a social construct. Others say that it is a system used to control a populace (Marx's "the opiate of the masses"). Others say that it is a mystical union with the Divine. Others say that it is a narrow way, a union only with a specific Divinity. Others say that it is an outdated remnant of our evolution. Others don't care what it is, and others don't know. What is a person to do when confronted by so many different - and often conflicting - viewpoints?

The term "religion" supposedly originates from the Latin term "re-ligare", or "to reconnect, to rebind"; a more free-form translation may be "to re-unite". This brings up the idea that we are somehow separate from something which we should not be, and that religion is a system of practices to reunite us with that thing. Many people interpret the Sanskrit word "yoga" the same way: to reunite, to re-yoke. The biggest and most problematic issues arise when people start trying to define the "thing" from which we are separated.

I've personally been through many states with regard to religion. I was raised in an agnostic household; my parents didn't really care about religion, faith, or God. In my teens, I became an atheist of my own accord, arguing against the existence of any deity. In my late teens, I converted to Christianity and remained there for about 12 years; in this tradition, I was training to be clergy. After a serious tragedy in which I didn't feel that my religion had given me the support I needed, I became an atheist again. A few years later, I realized that I may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I have since returned to an open mind concerning religious matters. I now believe that there may be a deity or deities, or there may be nothing, or there may be an amorphous, unconscious "greater state" which creates, sustains, and destroys the universe. None of my beliefs are deep-seated at this point, as I'm not yet sure of anything.

I do, though, hold one deep-seated belief: human beings need religion. They need faith, community, belief, ritual, and most of all, understanding. Religion isn't about gods or prophets or enlightenment or salvation; religion is about understanding. Human beings want to understand the universe around them. They want to understand themselves, and their relationships between themselves and their environment and other human beings. This is the basic abstract goal of any religion, belief system, and/or on the planet: understanding.

Why do people get so upset when their religion is attacked or insulted? They become upset because they believe that they will lose understanding, that they will be cast back into the darkness of ignorance. They want to know. It's a very strong drive, almost as strong as pure survival, so they fight back.

Which religion you follow hardly matters (yes, there are a few bad apples; with a little research, they fall by the wayside very easily). What matters is that you desire understanding and that you approach your religion/belief system/faith with an open mind and an open heart. You must also be open-minded with regards to others who may disagree with you. If you believe that the main goal for all of this is "understanding", then you have gone a long way towards getting along with your fellow humans, your environment, and your self.

Understand your religion/belief system/faith. Understand yourself. And understand others. These are the tenets of every religion on the planet. They just all word them differently and drape them with different clothes, languages, texts, and rituals.

27 October 2007

You Own Nothing

We come into existence naked and with empty hands. We leave naked and with empty hands. Possessions are only possible between the two events, during the state we term "life". Our natural state is naked and with empty hands.

Yet, we never really own anything, even if we possess it. You work, and your employer writes you a check. You take the check to the bank. Any number of things can happen here:

  • The check clears and the money is "in your account", yet you do not possess it.
  • The check doesn't clear, as the employer doesn't possess enough money.
  • The employer's bank refuses to honor the check for some reason, even though they possess the funds to do so.
  • The economy crashes between the time you leave work with your check and the time you get to the bank. No one possesses any worthwhile money.
As you can see, you really don't possess your money. Your employer, your bank, the economy overall - they possess your money. And society is the 800-pound gorilla, so if you want to possess your money yet society doesn't want you to possess it, you won't.

People make up excuses, thinking they are smart or clever or are being protective. What they are really doing is making it more difficult to live as a human being.

This post is spurred on by an experience with my credit union today. I deposited money in there yesterday. I had money in there already, so it was money+money. Today, my account shows $0 available even though the actual balance is over $70. No, I don't have outstanding checks or transactions that would do that. The credit union, or the credit union's computer, or someone at the credit union decided that my labor was worth $0, so that's what my account reflects. It's an insult, and they will hear about it.

24 October 2007

Time

What is time? Is it an external measure, passing by us? Or is it our perception? Do we "experience" time, or do we "create" time in our minds?

Someone once said, "time is God's way of keeping everything from happening at once". What if time isn't that at all, but just our brains taking quanta of experience and filing them, one after another?

Time isn't what we think it is. Time is purely perception. Time is us.

28 September 2007

Humanity's "Progress": Creativity, Tools, or Sheer Population?

Picture progress' progress over, say, the past 500 years. Without computers, we did amazing things. With computers, we've done more amazing things. But, how much progress is due to technology, and how much is due to individual creativity, and how much is due to the pure number of humans increasing?

Meaning: Leonardo da Vinci thought, drew, painted, and built amazing things. One guy, without a computer. Radio and television were developed, as well as computers, using vacuum tubes and slide rules. The first successful small computers were built in garages and small, run-down warehouses, by very few people.

But, find things that are coming out now: biotech, software, whatever. In many cases, it's not "just one person" doing it, but a team or a company, or a country. Is that due to sheer numbers of people being thrown at the problem? Are we becoming more stupid because we each, individually, have to give less to have a project succeed when there are multitudes working on it?

Maybe we need to return to slide rules and hand-mixed paints, and using our own minds instead of computers.

Formality Isn't Just a Formality

In the United States, people often downplay the importance of ritual. It is looked at as haughty, unimportant, and/or repetitive. What people don't realize is that ritual is a vitally important part of how we interact with ourselves, with others, and with the universe around us.

Rituals have many purposes. They can help one focus on an object. They can teach. And they can bring people together to celebrate an event, whether present, past, or future. They do all these things and more, yet modern Americans don't see their power. I believe this stems from the fact that the United States was formed by a non-ritualistic group of religious fanatics. Their influences still affect us down to the present day.

I recently heard of a wedding where the groom wore blue jeans. This is a perfect example of how someone doesn't take a serious ritual seriously. He may have thought, "Oh, this is all pomp and circumstance. No matter, we are still married.", or "This ritual means nothing; it is our love which is important." Both of these things are true, but neither abrogates the importance of the ritual itself, both to its participants and its spectators. I would go so far as to say that he disrespected himself, his new wife, and their marriage by his actions; his clothing reflected the state of his mind. I wonder if they will remain married.

Human beings are hard-wired for ritual. We do better when we have a bit of order to which we can cling — but not too much. Rituals should be performed with all of one's energy, which will be directed towards the purpose of the ritual itself. Then, the ritual's purpose will manifest into something stronger than if someone "just does it". Yet, these days, everyone "just does it". Proof abounds of the failure of such an approach. Look around you.

We are allowing magic, strength, companionship, bonds, and emotion to flow out of our regular direct experience, and we are the worse off for it.

25 September 2007

Do We Need As Much Sleep As We Think We Do?

Here's an article about a gentleman in England who stayed awake (in a pub, of course!) for over 11 days. His idea is that when parts of our brains get tired, other parts take over. I wonder a little bit about his hypothesis, but I think that, with training, one could train their brain to do exactly that. The article is quoted below in case it disappears off the Net.


Staying Awake by Switching Brain Hemispheres
Adam Conner-Simons
Adam Conner-Simons is a Gelf intern and a student at Pomona College.

New sleep-deprivation record holder Tony Wright tells Gelf he's altered his brain chemistry and thus can stay up indefinitely.

On May 14, Tony Wright walked into the Studio Bar in Penzance, England. For 11 days and two hours, the long-haired horticulturist stayed there, playing pool, talking with other customers, and taking notes. One thing he didn't do, though, was sleep. When he finally left, he had broken the unofficial world record for sleep deprivation that has stood for more than 40 years.

"I was frustrated that 99 percent of the coverage was. 'Crazy guy stays awake, blah blah blah.' Very few people wanted to know why I actually wanted to do it."

Tony Wright

Wright, 43, readily admits his feat was a PR stunt designed to drive interest in his radical theory about diet and brain development (and perhaps sell a few copies of his self-published book Left in the Dark). He claims that as humans have switched from our ancestral diet of fruits, vegetables and nuts, to our current meat- and fat-laden culture, we've lost access to important hormones that protect the left side of the brain during its development. As a result, Wright says, not only does the weak left-side of the modern human brain get tired out more quickly than it should, but the connection between the hemispheres is also damaged, meaning that we're not able to tap into our fully-charged right hemisphere when we get sleepy. Wright claims, by changing his diet and using meditative techniques, he is now able to switch over from his tired left hemisphere to his right, which he says can go several days without needing a recharge.

Even if his ideas seem far-fetched, it's hard to deny that he has done something that most of us—regardless of how many college all-nighters we pulled—can't even imagine. Gelf emailed with Wright to learn more about his theory, what he thinks of the media coverage of his feat, and what it's like to stay up for so damn long. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Gelf Magazine: How do you tire out the left hemisphere and make the switch to the right? Do you make conscious efforts through things like avoiding reading, etc.?

Tony Wright: Simply staying awake is sufficient, as my proposal is that the left hemisphere's batteries are effectively weak and cannot hold much charge, whereas the right hemisphere's batteries have much greater capacity. Talking will speed up tiring out the left, as it is one of the things it is dominant for.

GM: This wasn't the first time you had deprived yourself of sleep for experimental purposes. Why did you decide to try to break the world sleeplessness record?

TW: I've done at least a hundred experiments of at least 50 hours [of sleep deprivation] over the last 12 years, including some as long as seven or eight days. I was getting impatient. The history of new ideas is such that you usually have to wait until you're dead. I thought, "What can I do here to gain some attention for this theory?"
[For most people,] it's going to be difficult: some people get manic depressive, most people say they feel "trippy." Two or three days is as far as most can go. You can feel the change [in hemisphere concentration] cutting in after two days, where you slowly start feeling better—and there's even mild euphoria. Usually the whole process takes at least five days.

GM: You said that after five days or so, you felt completely normal. Do you think you could have kept going? If so, for how long?

TW: Well, it's difficult to say. Obviously 11 days was feasible. It's not really about longevity so much as the fact that the differential in sleep requirement due to damage and normal sleep keeps the damaged side dominant. However, I suspect with further experimentation it would be possible to keep going indefinitely, as the left hemisphere would simply shut down while consciousness switched to the right (a classic nirvana-type experience). It then re-awakens and consciousness returns to near normal. This appears to have happened on a number of occasions but needs further experimentation. Whatever sleep the right genuinely needs (and I do not know what this would be) could well be taken during "normal" left dominance.

GM: Did you talk to Randy Gardner—the previous sleeplessness record-holder—before your attempt?

TW: Yes, I did. He's been very polite during it all. In my initial correspondence, he was a bit fed-up about being known for just [the record]. When I finished, though, he emailed me to congratulate me.

GM: Gardner said exercise was the best thing to keep him awake. What did you do to keep yourself busy?

TW: Staying hydrated is important. During that initial period you are irritable, straining the part of your brain that's normally in charge. People get dysfunctional—I accept that. It's about getting through. Any activity you can do is great—listening to music, dancing, going for walks. Things that are rational like reading are OK for about 24 hours, but then they seem to take you to the most tired part of your brain. The key is just not sitting down and getting too comfortable. You come out the other side and end up less tired.

GM: You talked a lot about how hard it was to look at and use a computer. What made computer use so difficult? Do you have any idea why sleep deprivation has this kind of effect?

TW: I can only guess, really, that when staring at something banal and boring like a computer screen, it takes you to this tired place.

GM: What were your main physical symptoms during those 11 days? Did you experience any of the side effects that doctors traditionally link to sleep deprivation (dizziness, hallucinations, paranoia, mood swings, difficulty communicating or understanding others, etc.?)

TW: From the outset, I never claimed it would be clear sailing. There would be periods where I felt intense tiredness—in those windows I could feel quite irritable (which I expected). There were glimpses of altered states of consciousness. Because it was a PR exercise, I wanted to keep the lid on anything too weird; I didn't want to slip into states that could be perceived as psychosis.
The nearest I got to classic hallucination was on Day 9 or 10, when I noticed that the shape of the pool-ball seemed to be different. Basically my eyes were starting to work independently: I was getting a slight double-image.

GM: You mention mystics as people who have often been fascinated by sleep. Did you do any research on them for your project?

TW: I've certainly read around the subject of mystics. For example, there are living traditions in North and South America where they intentionally use sleep deprivation as a spiritual technique. One of the texts I first came across in my research was The Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving text from Babylon. The last challenge in the story is for Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days and seven nights. There has always been an interest [in sleep deprivation].

"Because it was a PR exercise, I wanted to keep the lid on anything too weird; I didn’t want to slip into states that could be perceived as psychosis."

GM: Do you believe in the legends that mystics could stay awake for years at a time? TW: Possibly the fully functional neo-cortex may have evolved to a point where it could recharge as it operates. A few lucky people who are born with such left [hemisphere] damage that it just cannot dominate would have easier access to the enhanced abilities/experience of the right hemisphere and whatever its real sleep requirement is.

GM: The Guinness Book of World Records no longer recognizes sleeplessness feats because of health dangers. What do you think about that?

TW: I knew about this for 14 or 15 months. I had contacted Guinness, thinking they still would sanction the record. I wasn't too bothered about it—it would have been nice in a way, because I wanted to draw attention to my research—but I understand why.

GM: How do you respond to claims that the true record was not Randy Gardner's 264 hours but Finland's Toimi Soini's 276 hours in 1964 (London Times)?

TW: I'll be honest, I didn't know about all the other [records]. I was drawn to Gardner because of articles in the San Diego Reader, Gelf, and other media.

GM: A few years ago the British journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that drivers who have been awake 17 to 19 hours drive as poorly as legally drunk drivers (CNN). You yourself admitted that you had much difficulty keeping your eyes focused and using computers. After all that, do you still believe that "the brain does not become less effective with tiredness" (as you said in an interview with the Daily Mail)?

TW: I completely accept that there's a wave of dysfunction, but the whole point is getting beyond that. I think generally, it's less about how much sleep we need, and more about are we running on an inefficient neural system.

GM: What do you think of media coverage of your feat?

TW: I certainly didn't expect [coverage] to take off the way it did. Both my mobile and the bar's landline were ringing off the hook. But so much of it was very superficial. I was frustrated that 99 percent of the coverage was "Crazy guy stays awake, blah blah blah." Very few people wanted to know why I actually wanted to do it.

GM: How much did you sleep when you finally went to bed? Have your sleep patterns changed since the record?

TW: There was nothing astounding to report. After the 11-day run, I had about five-and-a-half hours of sleep. I woke up 30 minutes later for an interview. I felt back to normal—which is to say, as if I had been awake a day. I generally feel better and more-relaxed when I am sleep-deprived.

GM: Do you think your efforts generally have led to more awareness of your research?

TW: It's too early to say. I have more interest than I had before. There has been some follow-up stuff going on, but not a lot. To be honest, this is one of the more in-depth interviews I've had.
Last year I approached various sleep-research centers, but they didn't want to get involved and thought it was crazy. They dismissed it but wouldn't test it.

GM: Why do you think your views are controversial?

TW: I think it's a combination of things. People have so many preconceived notions about diet and food, that my diet is easily dismissed. Also, it's quite a radical theory—basically, that humans are currently dysfunctional because our brains don't develop. I view it in a positive light, as something that we can fix. I am driving a bulldozer through people's views. Then again, maybe it's because I look like a born-again hippie or something. I don't know.

21 September 2007

Discovery vs. Creation vs. Reception?

A scientist uses a particle accelerator to smash atoms, revealing a previously unknown subatomic particle.

A musician sits down with his guitar and composes a tune, with accompanying lyrics.

A Vedic rishi sits in a cave, writing in books. He says he received these words from Brahman.

Where do the boundaries between discovery, creation, and reception lie? Is any one greater than the others? Or are they just equal ways of coming to knowledge? In philosphy, this is called epistemology, or the study of knowledge.

I've discovered things, created things, and — I think — received things. They are all different, yet all aspects of direct experience, which is the most powerful, relevant, and important part of experience itself.

20 September 2007

No, No, No - That Can't Be It

A meteorite fell near a small Peruvian village this past weekend. The residents reported headaches, dizziness, nausea, and other physical symptoms, which they blamed on the object. Before a single scientist had been there to research what happened, there were plenty of "scientists" saying that the villagers were wrong, and that the meteorite couldn't have possibly sickened them, no way, no how! Then they called the villagers liars, saying it was psychosomatic sickness, or maybe that it wasn't a meteorite at all but a geyser of some sort which belched sulfurous fumes and that the villagers just think they saw a bright streak in the sky beforehand and heard sonic booms and crackling. And, if it was a meteorite, it had to be metal, and there couldn't be gas in a metal meteorite, no way, no how, the "scientists" belched.

Now, real scientists have been there. It was a rocky meteorite, just like the villagers said. Doctors still see no evidence of sickness, but they took tissue samples to check for contamination of some sort.

Why do people rush to judgement, especially so-called "scientists"? Why does the news report shit like that? And, why can't people get over the idea that it is possible that things fall on the Earth all the time, and they can contain various compounds, and that those compounds can have an effect, from causing a pretty streak in the sky, to sickening plants and animals, to helping create life?

Frankly, when I first read the article, I was hoping for some strange bacteria or virus that sickened the villagers. That would have been proof of extraterrestrial life. But, alas, we get gas instead.

06 September 2007

Work vs. Life

(This post was edited 6 Sept, 11:17MDT, adding the bit about Ray Jenkins and my dad.)

Yesterday, I saw a posting on Lifehacker that pointed to a Wired article that suggested ways for people to "put your vacation behind you and successfully re-enter the workplace". They say that "your mind needs to adjust to a world in which responsibility and discipline are important parts of daily operation". Of all the comments, I was the only person who said anything other than, "Yes! This is helpful!" I wrote:

Instead of "getting back into work mode", why don't people spend a bit of time trying to discover why they need to get back into "work mode"? I've had "vacation hangovers", and they have helped me to question the entire system. Maybe others should do the same. Vacations don't have to be "respite from work". Instead, we can mold our lives into something that is a mix of "work" and "vacation", something pleasant and which is worth waking up every day.

How we as a society are functioning at the moment isn't "the only way". There are other options, and they could very well be "better", more sustainable, and more enjoyable.


There are so many assumptions and misrepresentations of real life in these few words that it's pretty amazing. First, why the dichotomy of "work sucks, vacation is great"? It's not true. Doing what you love and making your livelihood from it is rewarding and fulfilling, and vacations can often be stressful times full of disaster. My suggestion: life as you wish, doing what you love, in concert with the universe, and you won't need "vacation"; your entire life will be wonderful.

Another issue is the idea that responsibility and discipline aren't part of life other that "at work". This is a major societal problem in the United States. Everyone thinks that you bust your ass for work, then fuck off completely in your spare time. There is no balance in that approach, and it only benefits the corporations and those who run them. The people are basically slaves, unfulfilled, worked to death, and with no real purpose. That is a form of existence, but it's not any kind of a life.

One example of not using your "non-work time" in a fulfilling manner is in an article from the Burlington Free Press about Ray Jenkins, the United States' oldest "worker". Ray says, "I can't sit quiet and do nothing. I've got to keep going. Keeps your mind occupied. If you don't keep busy, forget it." My dad was the same way. When he retired from a job of 30+ years, he sat at home, having no clue what to do with himself. He tried a few things, but eventually found another job at a similar company to keep himself occupied. He didn't know how else to spend his time but "to work".

And what disgusted me more than the fact that the article exists (and was referenced) in the first place? It was probably the fact that all of the other comments to the post and article were so deeply embedded into the system that they couldn't see anything wrong. One person wrote, "vaaaycaayshun? Never heard that word before... oh right that's where my owner goes 3-5 times a year..." Another commenter is more blunt: "people have time for vacations?" Or take this simple advice that probably underlies every comment but mine: "like Nike...just do it" No one other than me suggested anything other than "get back to work and forget your vacation".

What a sad state in which our society finds itself, where people think they must do boring and unfulfilling things for 50 weeks out of the year, then take 2 weeks to do nothing important only to return to unfulfilling things and forget the 2 weeks ever happened! We would be better of if we were formally slaves, knowing our part. This giant lie of "freedom" is truly soul-destroying.

31 August 2007

Possession(s)

Webster's Dictionary defines "possession" as "domination by something (as an evil spirit, a passion, or an idea)". I would add to that list, "or things".

The more "things" you own, the less your life is yours. You don't own "things"; "things" own you. Remember the last time you moved. Did you see a boxful of "things" that you hadn't opened since the last move and think, "Hmmm. Why do I still have these?" Then, did you go ahead and move that box anyway? Yep; everyone does it.

Why are houses so large? As George Carlin said, they are to hold all our "stuff". Look at the Mongolian nomads with their yurts. They are able to dismantle their house, pack up all their stuff on a small cart to be pulled by a horse, and can move on to somewhere else. The Gypsies are the same way: everything they need is in their vardo (the Gypsy word for "wagon", often pulled behind a horse or nowadays a truck). And ask these people if they are happy. You will be answered with a smile, an affirmative response, and often some sort of treat, dinner, or tea. These people have very little in the way of "things", and they have everything. They have love, happiness, the stars over their heads, and the ground under their feet. They eat well, raise their children well, see amazing places, and do amazing things. They are fulfilled, even with few possessions.

Maybe I've mis-spoken. I said, "even with", as if the normal state is to have big piles af "stuff". It's not! The normal state — the state from which we are born and into which we die — has nothing. We are born naked, and as people say, "you can't take it with you". We come into life empty-handed and leave the same way. Therefore, the "natural state of man" with regards to "things" is to have nothing whatsoever.

So, why do we all have so much shit? I'm not only talking about physical "things", either, but anything that can possess us, including ideas. Sometimes possession is acceptable or even desirable. Most of the time it isn't.

30 August 2007

Proximity breeds difficulty

Why do people spend incredible amounts of energy on the inhuman atrocities in Darfur, yet completely ignore issues closer to home, or even in their own minds? "Fix that, over there!", they yell, holding up a protest sign and sending a few bucks to some charity. Yet, when confronted with the disaster which is American politics, or local homelessness, or local food banks needing money, they ignore them or even get angry that they exist.

The closer the problem, the more difficult the solution. It's like steering a car. If you are on a highway that lightly curves to one side, it's fine. Yet, if you were going 55 miles per hour in a residential street and then had to navigate a 90-degree turn immediately, it's a lot of effort.

So, how can one ever solve any "proximal issues"? Slowly, and over time. If you reduce the speed of the car, you can make that 90-degree turn safely. In the meantime, you'll also see the surrounding houses, children playing, or the park past which you are driving. You get more from slowing down than just a solution; you get life.

Slow down. Solve issues closer to yourself, your home, and your community. If we all did this, all the problems — including huge, "distant" problems like Darfur — would be solved, as everything is local to somebody.

29 August 2007

Inequality

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top executives at major businesses last year made as much money in one day of work on the job as the average worker made over the entire year, according to a report released on Wednesday. (from Yahoo.com)

How does severe economic inequality affect for a society? Let's see:

  • Inequality reduces trust. (study)
  • Inequality increases crime. (news article)
  • Inequality increases poverty, which itself has myriad effects (greater dependence on government assistance, more crime, malnourishment, etc.)
  • Inequality reduces educational opportunities for the poorer.
Those are just a few things, with a couple of references (for more information, Google something like "effects of economic inequality"). As you can see, every single one of the societal effects are negative. Who benefits? The rich, of course. Yet, they have their own issues.

So, why do people propagate inequality?
Hmmm...an empty list. I can't think of any good reasons. Can you?

18 August 2007

Social and Individual Control

This is a bit rambling. Expect that from some of my posts.

I don't like the fact that society insists on controlling the individual. So, in my life, I've tried to discover how societal control works, and how to steer myself away from it. Of course, all societies must exert some influence over the individual or else the society cannot function. And I'm not "a rebel for rebellion's sake" like many teenagers; I just have viewpoints which differ from the surrounding society.

I see two types of responses to societal control: voluntary and involuntary. A voluntary response is an agreement with the ideas, goals, and methods of the society, and one acting upon those items via one's own will. Yet, I don't believe one can often do that in a complex society such as that in the United States. Instead, we are driven down a path like cattle, into the involuntary response. "Go to school, work, have kids, buy a house, die" is the path, and it is expected that one will follow it without argument. Well, I won't.

There are many studies and sociologists who say that the maximum effective size of a coherent human community is less than 200 people. Two hundred people! Can you imagine living in such a small town? No, most of us cannot, as we've lived in cities filled with tens and hundreds of thousands of people. A town of a couple hundred folks seems quaint and out of touch. Western societal models don't function well in such small groups, either. Yet, our brains have developed to work in a small tribal environment like that, not in a seething mass of humanity like our cities.

How does one fix this situation, then? Well, I guess it depends on the society and the individual. The United States isn't known for being too heavy-handed compared to the Soviet Union, Albania, North Korea, or China; we don't regularly grab people off the streets for disagreeing with the party line and toss them into prison. Yet, in the U.S. there is massive peer pressure to conform, and that can sometimes be worse than prison. Families insist that children go to college, or follow a certain career, and ostracize them when they don't comply. Employers expect that the worker's entire life revolves around their job, and they react when it doesn't, often by sanctions such as firing the employee (hence, removing their livelihood).

There are multiple kinds of sanctions that can be used. The strongest ones work on the most basic parts of the human psyche: fear, food, reproduction, housing, and community. When an employer threatens to fire someone, what they are really doing is threatening their ability to eat, clothe themselves, and house themselves; they may also be threatening the employee's family by extension. The fears concerning the loss of life are deep in the human brain, and they are mostly unconscious, hence they are extremely effective in controlling a person. Frankly, I believe that such manipulation should be illegal, but it is not.

My approach is to realize that I have ultimate control over my own survival. For example, if I am fired from a job, I can still find food (hunting, fishing, gathering, dumpster diving, begging, eating with friends, etc.). In this manner, I take power away from society and reclaim it for myself. I may still decide to work with society towards various goals, but I always remember that they cannot force me to change my approach.

A Quote About Science and Magick

    "Instead of opposing magic and science, it would be better to compare them as two parallel modes of acquiring knowledge. Their theoretical and practical results differ in value (as science is certainly more successful than magic from this point of view, although magic foreshadows science in that it also sometimes works). But both science and magic require the same sort of mental operations, which differ not so much in kind as in the different types of phenomena to which they are applied.

    These relations are a consequence of the objective conditions in which magic and scientific knowledge appeared. The history of the latter is short enough for us to know a good deal about it. But the fact that modern science dates back only a few centuries raises a problem which ethnologiests have not yet sufficiently pondered. The Neolithic Paradox would be a suitable name for it."

    --Claude Levi-Strauss, from his book "The Savage Mind", excerpted in "Shamans Through Time: 500 Years On the Path To Knowledge" edited by Narby and Huxley.

15 August 2007

Ruts

People really get stuck in ideas and ruts. People who live in cosmopolitan cities think almost everyone else does, too, and they think, "Yeah, some people live in the country, don't they? What do they DO?!?!" Those in the country are the same: "Yeah, there's a big city over there, and so many people live there I could never know them all. None of them have gardens. How do they eat?!?!"

Ruts, ruts, ruts. Why does the human brain allow ruts? Is it a survival instinct that helps one to get somewhere comfortable and "dig in" for the long term? I don't know, but I'm not really a fan of them. Either that, or the part of my brain that helps one get and stay in ruts is profoundly broken or missing completely.

06 July 2007