THINGS

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Sometimes I’m amazed at how out of touch I am with popular culture. Where I work there’s a TV set across from the nurse’s station. It doesn’t show programs, but bits of news and quizzes on still screens. Amazing numbers of actors, movies and TV programs I’ve never heard of, or heard of but never seen, as far as I know.

There’s TV in my house, but that’s for my stepdaughter and her family. I rarely ever watch it. Since I work nights and weekends I can’t watch sports very often, and there’s really not much else on that interests me. I think that sets me apart from the majority in this country, though I’m not sure how important that is.

My parents never had TV in our house when I was growing up, though I saw it sometimes elsewhere. I was interested in it, and when I could buy my own I spent several years watching it a LOT. But I also went through periods of watching little.

I used to go to movies too, when I was much younger. That no longer attracts me much either. There may be movies I’d like to see, but I’m not willing to make the effort very often.

I’m also not that interested in buying things, unless they mean something to me. When I started working for a living I was more interested in buying books and music than anything else. Those meant something to me that more material things didn’t seem to. They seemed to have an emotional or spiritual dimension. Was that really true?

I was surprised, some years later, when I lived in a meditation school, to hear one of the women there say that the place felt like home to her, even though we didn’t have NICE THINGS. The “nice things” concept was alien to me. As I recall, it was explained as more a female than male thing, at the time. I’m not sure how true that is. I don’t think men are particularly less lustful after things than women, though the different genders tend to prefer different things.

In any case, music no longer has as much attraction for me, for reasons not entirely clear. Different music formats started coming out. I put most of my LPs on cassette, and still have a great many of those, though I rarely listen to them anymore. I also reluctantly changed to CDs after they displaced cassettes, but that’s as far as I’m going. No MP3 for me. I don’t listen to music as often anymore, and I don’t have the money to buy such things.

It’s not that I totally dislike technology. Computers have replaced TVs in my life, and I like them, though I’m uneasy about their ecological impact, as I am with many aspects of our current society. There are other reasons to worry about their effects too. We use them, and other media, to create private worlds that often have little connection to what is real. That makes it more difficult for us to deal with reality. Many people, maybe especially younger people, know how to entertain themselves, but little else. That can be a gigantic handicap.

Books have captivated me since I was very young and my mother used to read to us at bedtime. As soon as I learned to read I began exploring whatever was available . Some things didn’t mean much to me at the time I tried to read them– Jane Austen, for instance. Dostoievsky is another writer much more comprehensible now than when I was young.

But books too can make an artificial world. They certainly have their positive aspects, but can be addicting as well, like many other things. Probably eyesight is the sense I would most hate to lose.

In a recent email a friend quoted (more or less) Victor Frankl talking about depression. Frankl survived Nazi concentration camps, so he must have been quite familiar with that experience. Frankl, if I remember what my friend said correctly, said that depression is our way of understanding that we’re not meeting life’s demands. I think this must be a very basic reason for depression, though not the only one. It may possibly be the most fundamental, though.

When I recently wrote about depression I thought that guilt was probably the common denominator of the condition, but hadn’t carried that thought far enough. Why do we feel guilt? Of course guilt may be irrational or undeserved, but what is the emotion about? The feeling that we’ve done wrong, are doing wrong, or more precisely, are not meeting life’s demands.

There may be many reasons for feeling that way, and let me emphasize again that not all are very rational. But when we see that depression has become a big business, supporting not only psychiatrists, but also drug companies, we can’t help but be aware that it’s a massive problem in our society, intimately connected to other problems.

A bumper-sticker my mother had on her car for a number of years was, “Live simply, so others may simply live.”  That’s not us. Living simply is not what our civilization urges us to do. Instead it commands us to buy more things, and often things that aren’t very good for us. Fast food, sodas, cigarettes and too many other things to name. We destroy our environment to produce and sell these things, including high technology like computers. And destroy it further to obtain the energy to run that technology. Without a huge change in perception and practice we could possibly commit racial suicide, taking a large amount of living species with us.

Dinosaurs never had the intelligence to ruin their environment in the way we do, and if current scientific opinion is correct, their demise was not their fault. An asteroid landing on earth changed their environment so radically that they couldn’t adjust or survive. The change seems to have been radical enough that it’s hard to see how ANY species survived, but some apparently did. We seem to be in the process of doing the same thing, but in our case, it WILL be our fault. In our lust for money, power, and THINGS, we are changing this world into an environment we’ll have more and more trouble adjusting to and surviving in.

Ants are one species that did survive the cataclysm that destroyed the dinosaurs, and are particularly interesting because they’re a social species in a way that few others are. Of course mammals have herds, but few other species are as specialized as ants, or divide labor as they do. Humans do divide labor, but aren’t GENETICALLY specialized as ants are. Most of us DO specialize in one area or another, which is often not a great idea. In a cataclysm many skills will be useless, and the skills needed may well be ones that few have.

The social arrangements of ants are fascinating because they seem to arise entirely out of instinct, without thought being involved. At least one teacher said that human institutions also involved very little thought. He said that we are all asleep, and can’t see the terror of the situation we’re in. I think we often feel it, though, which doesn’t seem to increase our rationality.

Another author suggested that ants may once have been an intelligent species that failed. Perhaps their social structure was sometime in the distant past rationally planned. But something went wrong and ants are stuck with their social structure, which works well enough, but is limited. If ants have individual intelligence it’s hard to see. Their system is totalitarian, but works better than such human systems, because they seem to have no individuality to get in the way, and by their nature can’t be pluralistic.

Humans, on the other hand, seem to constantly be struggling with freedom and despotism. Adherents of each side think theirs is obviously admirable. But humans, with their wide range of behaviors, can easily be corrupted. There are obvious sources of corruption, and maybe some less obvious. Money and luxury are obvious sources. Their source may be less obvious. One author makes it the struggle between physical pleasure and duty. The latter may make more sense if we see the universe as altogether material, but with many materials so far undetectable to western science.

Some, the endorphins and enkephalins, have been detected. These are the endogenous pleasure drugs, which mimic opioids, and are the source of all our feelings of pleasure, many of which can turn into addiction. And what is addiction but a turning away from responsibility? The cause of addiction in any specific case is almost beside the point.

So Black Friday comes, and the desperate crowds come out to buy almost anything that will stimulate their endorphins. They really ARE desperate about it too, almost willing to run over anyone who might get something THEY want.

And that may be the archetypal picture of our civilization. Desperate to acquire THINGS that we’ve been told to worship, and unwilling to allow ANYTHING to interfere with that. The attitude that could bring us to Hobbe’s “war of all against all” in which life is “brutish and short.”

It’s almost funny to look back a hundred years ago when all the world was optimistic that the technological advances were going to bring paradise on earth. They reckoned without the human ability to destroy good things. At the very same time humans were itching for war. Apparently things had gotten TOO good.

They seem to have gotten too good again, at least in this country. With one of the highest standards of living in the world, we’re scared. All the things in the world won’t protect us from THE FEAR. Suppose our things are taken away? What then?

Our ancestors wouldn’t care, since most of them never had much to begin with. But we can’t stand the thought. So we continue our destructive political, military and commercial games (to name only some of the most obvious) to practice “war without blood” that will become bloody soon enough if we don’t change our ways.

In some ways I’d hate for our way of life to change. It’s comfortable and familiar. But I’m afraid it HAS to change for us to survive. We can’t go on destroying the web of life we also depend on. Our dependence may not be obvious, unless we bring it down again to basics: air, water and food. We may not understand just how pollutants work, but it’s obvious that ice is melting around the world, plastic is cluttering up the ocean (and I doubt just the ocean), and we’re less healthy than we used to be. Things have to change for very many of us to survive.

So we reach the holidays at the end of the year, which are supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but really celebrate a time to eat a lot and acquire a lot of THINGS. Some underline this absurdity by getting offended at being wished, “Happy Holidays”, instead of “Merry Christmas”, and insisting that Santa Claus is white. I guess their conception of Jesus is of someone who wants us to buy lots of THINGS.

But as I recall, Jesus’s statement that it would be easier for a poor man to enter the Kingdom of God than a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle was a reference to a gate (probably into Jerusalem) which was so narrow that packs had to be removed from camels before they could enter. The significance of that ought to be clear. But it doesn’t seem to be what official Christianity is about now. Or most official Christianity.

Pope Francis has surprised a great many people, and delighted perhaps somewhat fewer with his views about the politics of wealth and poverty, which are quite consistent with those of the saint whose name he took. He isn’t against wealth per se; no one with any sense is. He is against greedy wealth, acquired and augmented by fraud and unsafe practices, and by the wealthy who refuse to share.

 Some people love to be self-righteous, and condemn poor people, because of the narratives about them they’ve accepted. Some of those narratives are sometimes true, but they’re not true only about poor people. People of any social class may be manipulative, dependent and undeserving of what they’v obtained. Of course it’s easier to generalize about whole classes of people than to actually understand that individual stories may differ wildly, and that justice requires a society to do its best for ALL its members, rather than just one particular group. Justice tends not to be too important to many of us, though, unless injustice directly affects us. But if we’re indifferent, injustice is quite likely to touch us too.

So at the end of this rather rambling piece of writing, let me wish anyone who cares to read this a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (or any variant that you may prefer). I hope for a better year for all of us, whatever that may entail, leading us to better health, deeper happiness, and freedom from both THINGS as (attractive as they are), and the mentality that idolizes them. I hope we all have enough to survive happily, and that we won’t vainly desire more.

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Phil Donahue, and How the World Has and Hasn’t Changed

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Listening to an interview with Phil Donahue about the beginning of his career underlines how different the world is now.

He began his interview show in 1967, the year I graduated from high school. And it was ONLY interviews, which was something new. I wouldn’t have a TV for 2 or 3 more years, so I was unaware of him till then.

Before having his own show he’d been a journalist, and told a story of a disaster in which 28 miners were trapped. A minister led the other miners in prayer and song, and Donahue inadvertently didn’t get the episode on tape, so he asked the minister to do it again. The minister was uncomfortable with the idea, and didn’t.

What a contrast, Donahue commented, with some ministers, then and now, who would be desperate for that kind of publicity.

When Donahue’s own show began, his first guest was Madalyn Murray O’Hare, famous for being an atheist.. Another early guest was a gay man. Those were shocking people then. Atheism isn’t particularly controversial anymore, and gay people are accepted on a scale unimaginable then.

Maybe people were more fiercely loyal to their religions then, perhaps because those religions were THEIRS, more than for other reasons. Religion was the context of community, probably more than now, and belief was frequently blind. I’m not so sure how much the nature of religious belief has changed. There are probably more skeptics now, but there are still plenty of people who don’t reflect on what they’re asked to believe too much.

Homosexuality was almost universally condemned. Donahue’s interview was 2 or 3 years before Stonewall, which was when things began to change in that area. Gays did exactly what conservatives had done and still do: organized to assert their rights and state their point of view. Both groups have been quite successful, but they tend not to like each other much.

Donahue says he was brought up  a conventional Catholic, but found things in college, and then in his career, that started him thinking. It was a particularly interesting time to be a journalist, with the Civil Rights movement, and the movements that grew out of it, and then the negative reaction to much of it.

I was around then, and vaguely aware, but too self-absorbed to have much perspective. I was certainly for Civil Rights for everyone, and against the Vietnam war, but only abstractly. None of it touched me very deeply.

Of course Donahue lost his edge, as other talkshows left the old variety pattern, and became forums for serious discussion. The world also became less easy to shock, and shock became the reason for lots of shows,  instead of the byproduct. More people wanted to be famous, and fewer cared what they were famous FOR. Now people have to be shocking just to get noticed, it seems.

I was fortunate to grow up in a real community, a sect of Quakers more open-minded than American culture generally at the time. They were called conservatives in the context of Quakerism, but political conservatives, then or now, wouldn’t call them that. They had their imperfections, but weren’t as blatantly hypocritical as many groups, religious or otherwise.

One of my high school teachers used to talk about the “growing edge” of life. Quakers had once been  there, and still haven’t entirely relinquished that position. Donahue found himself on that edge, probably unintentionally, through his career, engaging with people and issues he probably would have remained unaware of otherwise.

I think it would be fair to say that liberals have generally wanted society to be more inclusive. Conservatives have generally wanted society to stay the same, and to continue to exclude. My meditation teacher said he realized, when he saw motorcycle gangs, that society wasn’t inclusive enough. It didn’t have room for people who wanted to behave that way.

One might compare this to Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow, or Freud’s of the unconscious. More happens in those areas than in what we call consciousness, and both men wanted to bring those hidden processes to light. As individuals and societies we are potentially much more and much better than we usually show. We are also potentially much worse.

What we’re aware of is at least partly a matter of choice and values. If we choose to be predators, to profit at any cost, it will be difficult to see other aspects of life. The profit motive is strong, and what we choose as profitable determines much of what we see. And limited perception is often more comfortable than vision broad and deep that demands action, and often uncomfortable action.

Donahue spoke of, many years later, hearing from someone who thought the gay man he’d interviewed at the beginning of his career, had been the inquirers uncle. Th inquirer wanted to get a tape of that show.

Donahue told him that he didn’t think any tape survived, but that the an he’d interviewed had had more moral courage than anyone he’d met. Few people at the time would have seen that man as courageous. The very idea went against everything they believed.

And that’s where a lot of things have changed. As a society we’re more aware of people who aren’t like us. Acceptance doesn’t come easily for quite a number of people, but more people are more accepting than used to be the case.

My generation may have been the first in a long time in which a large number wanted to make a new world. There had certainly been people before them who had believed in equality, and worked for it, but they were generally a minority, and only a few became powerful.

One book, The Greatest Generation, told about the American generation who grew up in the Great Depression, and won World War II. Another, The Greater Generation, said that my generation was better because it fought inequality here at home, which the previous generation had mostly not done.

That wasn’t entirely true, of course. After World War II the armed services were desegregated, which was quite a step forward, and the Civil Rights movement began to take off in the 1950s, with the Brown vs the Board of Education suit, and the Montgomery bus boycott which started with Rosa Parks, and brought Martin Luther King to public attention. But in the 1960s things REALLY began to change.

Part of it was because people my age felt more secure than people who had grown up in the Depression. Some of it was because the people who protested were being mistreated themselves, but it’s notable that a lot of protesters were protesting OTHER people being mistreated, as when white protesters went to Mississippi to protest injustice there. Many Mississippians resented that, of course, and there was a huge backlash, which continues to this day, but a lot of things changed because of what white students, among many others, did in the 1960s, and continued to do later in life. Not all of them, of course. Some moved away from that kind of thing when it became unfashionable, but a good many continued to work for causes they thought important.

Unfortunately, a lot of things DIDN’T change. We’ve fought unjust and unpopular wars since then, as a society we continue to pollute and misuse the earth unsustainably, and inequality both never entirely went away, and has made quite a comeback. There are quite a few different factors in all this, but I suspect a large part of it is that there are many things we don’t want to know.

It may be overgeneralizing to say that most of us don’t want to know what our responsibility is. We’re in this world, and I think few of us know why. Life is a very mysterious matter, and while religions tell us what we ought to do, they don’t really tell us WHY.

Why should we treat each other justly? Why should we love each other? And how do we do those things? One answer is that things go better when we treat each other decently. But go better to what end?

For some, the reason for life is to profit, and make their families wealthy and secure. I don’t think that’s a bad thing in itself, depending on how it’s done. But the question then is, how do we make the whole society profit? What IS the most profitable thing to do?

George Gurdjieff, mentioned previously in these posts, quoted his father as saying that obviously a man should live in such a way as to have a happy old age. How would that be done? A later commentator said that each of us has a debt to pay for life, and that the sooner we pay that debt, the happier our old age can be. What debt do we have?

That gets into the question that Gurdjieff asked himself, to which he found an unexpected answer: What is the reason for organic life in general, and human life in particular? His answer was, to transform energies, and that these energies go to support other forms of life. This support works to combat entropy, which would otherwise cause all systems to run out of energy. Humans are able to do what we can do in part because both plant and animal life support us, not only biologically, but energetically. And that’s the reason why the way we have arranged our technological society is such a bad idea. Not only are we using up resources which are finite, but we’re destroying ecosystems that support us in more ways than we know.

Our society supports our being self-centered, while the lesson of nature is that things work best in harmony. The natural predator isn’t evil. And maybe there’s a place for the predator within humanity too, but the predator has in many cases taken over. Our way of life is unbalanced, and that affects each of us.

One place it shows is in our attitude towards money. Gurdjieff told a younger man about a rich woman who came to him and said she felt that her money alienated her from others. He said she could give her money to him, he would have a good use for it, and she could learn to live without money, which would be helpful for her. But this she couldn’t do, just as the young rich man couldn’t give up his money and follow Jesus.

Both rich and poor, Gurdjieff said, only understand money. The wealthy understand life with money, and despise anyone who doesn’t have it, while the poor understand life without money, and hate those who DO have it. Neither, said Gurdjieff, could learn much from him. Wealthy people gave him money, but then expected his teaching as a reward. With that kind of attitude they couldn’t learn much.

Poor people, on the other hand, wanted him to teach them to make money. That wasn’t what he was teaching, and he said it would only give them a new set of problems.

In The White Goddess, Robert Graves commented that the gods we do worship are actually Apollo (science), Hermes (theft), and Pluto (money). These are gods with tremendous power over human beings, but none of them get to the heart of life, and why we are here. The God that does has spoken in every age, but few are able to hear, at least in part because few want to. If we did hear, we might have to forsake our comforts. Few want to do that.

The surface of the world has changed a lot since Phil Donahue began his career. But the age-old problems remain the same. Humans have tremendous powers, without the wisdom to use them properly. With power comes responsibility, and consequences for the failure of responsibility. Fear stalks us visibly, and we have reason to be afraid.

The Way Out of Cataclysm

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In a recent post I said that pollution is the largest objective problem that faces us. I should probably make clearer what I mean by that.

Objective means that the consequences of our reckless behavior have already begun, and will probably continue to happen for some time after we’ve begun to behave more rationally. Underlying that problem, though is the more profound problem of human nature that causes us to make stupid decisions.

We see examples of that daily. Crowds running over each other to buy things on Black Friday that many of them probably don’t even need. Republicans and Democrats indulging in hatefests rather than actually serve the public. Wars that nobody seems to be able to stop. It doesn’t seem as if these behaviors are going to end soon, but our survival as a species ultimately depends on ending them. As most of us are now, we don’t know how to stop, but need to learn. Catastrophes will underline that need, and may actually motivate us to learn.

But it doesn’t always work that way. The American Civil War didn’t end racism: both North and South were predominantly racist to begin with. The South blamed blacks for the war, and the North wasn’t much more welcoming to them, so the problem has persisted until now. There are some signs that it may be going away, but the time of this country actually becoming color-blind has not arrived..

The saying that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it still applies. Each side of politics in this country condemns the other for wanting to dictate, and there seems to be some truth on both sides. The President having power to kill any American he deems an imminent threat to the country sounds like more power than any one person should have, and even if it’s handled cautiously at one time, that doesn’t guarantee it will be in the furture.

Rigging elections by gerrymandering (and I’m told that Republicans do this a lot more than Democrats, though probably a lot of Democrats wouldn’t be averse) or by suppressing voter’s rights sounds to me like the slippery slope to dictatorship. Radical Republicans are recapitulating Lenin’s behavior when he purged anyone from the Bolshevik party he considered insufficiently radical. The difference in views doesn’t matter in this instance. The behavior is much the same, and the outcome could be a party where only the insiders are trusted, and the great mass of the population have few or no rights.

So how do we fix human nature? The answer seems to be by overcoming the most noxious parts of it, obviously easier said than done, but necessary for survival (humans tend not to pay attention when survival isn’t involved) and to reorient our world.

We have the recent example of Nelson Mandela, who became a revolutionary, was imprisoned for a large part of his life, but used the imprisonment to grow and understand more and more about the world. Even that wasn’t enough, though. When he was released from prison, he later said, he realized that he had to put away hatred, and because he was able to do that (and because he was a masterful politician), he was able to become president of South Africa, and preside over its transition to a democracy without the usual accompaniment of blood and terror–or at least minimal amounts of it.

Nonviolent revolution wasn’t entirely unprecedented. The Soviet empire broke up with minimal violence too, though violence did come later. But nonviolent revolution remains the exception, not the rule.

And a lot of people would prefer violence. Grievances often linger. That was the reason Mandela had a Truth and Reconciliation commission set up: to expose the lingering bad feelings so people could forgive themselves and others for what they had done, or what had happened to them in the past. Anyone who refuses to consider that they might be wrong will find it difficult to forgive.

One writer, (J.G.Bennett, whom I recently posted about)   commented that during World War II he didn’t disagree with the stance of pacifists, but felt that war could not be prevented until individuals rid themselves of the causes of war within them. Hardly anyone is able to proceed so far, I think, but each individual effort is worthwhile.

The same author thought that the current crisis in human affairs would be resolved through human willingness to cooperate with Divine Intelligences. Whether by this he meant God, angels or other Divine subordinates, I don’t know, but our current problems are such that we, as we usually are, will have great difficulty not only finding solutions (scientists have been looking hard for technological solutions for some time), but in getting people in general to accept and cooperate with any solutions. They won’t do anything that doesn’t look sensible, from whatever perspective they have.

To say that the solution to our problems is to love our neighbors and enemies may be true, but people will generally see that as impossible, and refuse to even try. That’s why setting up the Truth and Reconciliation commission, as Mandela did, was so necessary. It gave people a structure to work with and through, which led to deeper understanding and forgiveness. It didn’t mystify the process, but did manage to persuade enough people that it was worth undertaking. Such a process could be a beginning in many places, including here. Injustice is everywhere. That, at least, would be an alternative to using violence to resolve problems.

A spiritual teacher recommended a much deeper mode of training that would lead to the same end, but would be inaccessible to many. What good would that do? Those who were able to benefit by the training would influence others. The salt of the earth that hasn’t “lost its savor.”

Sufis have played that role for centuries, particularly in the Muslim world, which hasn’t prevented Muslims in general from doing things they ought not to, any more than Christian teaching in Europe prevented terrible behavior. That doesn’t mean it’s an approach that should be dismissed, though.

Bennett also commented that his teacher, George Gurdjieff, believed that there was always a group of highly developed people who looked ahead for centuries, trying to influence the human race into better lines of development. The Theosophists, like Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, believed in a Great White Order that watched and tried to help human societies. Their view was romanticized, though, and presented people who might belong to such an order as all-powerful. According to Bennett, from the way Gurdjieff presented his views on such a group, they were by no means all-powerful, and influenced human societies by the introduction of new ideas that could encourage new ways of seeing and behaving which would lead to new directions of development.

The great example Bennett provided was the 7th to 6th centuries BC, when a number of new religions or religious figures appeared, all with a common message. Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism were either new religions, or became prominent during this time. This was also the time of several of the more important Hebrew prophets, as well as Pythagoras. Their common message was that all humans had the right to seek their own path to salvation, which had never been considered before. In the Middle East and Europe of the fertility religions, there were elites: priests, warriors and kings, who were more important than common humanity. Salvation was reserved for them. Bennett commented that although our record for atrocities is no better than it was then, our worldview has still completely changed.

If there is indeed a group such as Gurdjieff spoke of, they no doubt do have abilities beyond the ordinary human ones, and can do more than just introduce new ideas if they wish to. They may be a source of help to humans in general in the future, but it would be unwise to count on them to save us, and not make any efforts ourselves.

The latter is always a temptation, and I’m certainly vulnerable to it. It’s one thing to see that our current civilization is built on unsustainable foundations, another to disconnect from it, and begin building better ones. But those willing to make such an effort may well receive help when totally committed. Just what those foundations should be, I wouldn’t be willing to speculate in great detail, nor how to begin building them. But I suspect it will take great effort, thought and faith to build them wisely and sustainably. It may arouse enmity among others, too.

Enmity is already present. Just read about the conservative reaction in this country to what Pope Francis has been saying and doing. From my point of view, his speech and actions are simply obvious applications of the message of the New Testament. Conservatives don’t see it that way. The message they get from the New Testament is not one of love, for either one’s enemies or one’s neighbors. Pope Francis is correct in saying their god is money, I think.

And then there’s the refusal of Congress to extend unemployment benefits to people who have been out of work for a long time, to say nothing of the conservative preference not to raise the minimum wage. They’re still buying into the narrative that anyone who remains unemployed for very long is simply lazy. This idea has been debunked before. Of course there were some at the bottom of the ladder who game the system, but the harm they do isn’t comparable to those at the top doing the gaming.

The recent budget deal also raises military funding, which in my opinion, is already too high, and doesn’t do anything to take on the real pressing needs of the country, like rebuilding infrastructure, which would also have a salutary effect on the economy by providing more jobs. I don’t see any of these positions as being rational. We’re supposed to be one country, and to work for everyone’s benefit, rather than the benefit of only the few. Capitalism could be a good way to do that, if it hadn’t become corrupt, seeking profit in dishonest and unsustainable ways.

I don’t think many people would be against people making profits for worthwhile goods and services. But making profit by poisoning land, water, air and people, and by selling people worthless consumer goods is a dynamic that can’t continue to work.

It’s a dynamic that many powerful people want to continue, though. Energy companies want us to continue using coal and oil to provide most of our energy, and not to object when pollution is the side-effect. In a way, it’s a tradition, though not a very long one. We only began using oil for power no more than about 150 years ago; already we’re running out, and turning to fracking, which is only going to cause more pollution. It’s convenient for gas prices to come down, but not so convenient for our environment to become poisonous.

What would be an alternative to the current way of doing things? Doing things sustainably would mean to turn away from using petroleum and coal for power. It would mean stopping using artificial fertilizers and insecticides. It would mean not using antibiotics promiscuously in raising animals for food, and moving away from the factory farm model of agriculture. There ARE other options out there, which people are exploring, but which are also being opposed by vested interests.

And one thing that I think is often not recognized in this country is that despite our wealth and power, many people are unhappy. There’s a big industry supplying drugs just for depression, which is only one of a whole spectrum of mental health problems. Why would the country with the highest standard of living have such a problem with depression?

A friend recently noted that Victor Frankl, who spent time in Nazi concentration camps, said that depression was ultimately the result of not doing what life demands. If that is true, then our whole civilization (at least in this country) is on the wrong path.?

And what, in general, does life demand? George Gurdjieff said that when he was quite young he asked a question: What is the reason for organic life in general, and human life in particular? He had other questions too, after having witnessed apparently supernatural events, which Western science (in which he was also interested) not only couldn’t, but didn’t even try to explain. He traveled over most of Asia and some of Africa trying to answer these questions, and eventually did.

The reason for organic life, he said, is to transform energies. There are many energies that affect us, and many of them we’re unaware of. He also said that none of us is born with a soul, but each has the potential to make one, through “conscious labor and intentional suffering.” Doing this would transform the energies we’re intended to transform.

What is the consequence if we don’t do this? The energies we transform are intended to support types of life that are on a higher level than we are, as we depend on life lower on the scale than we. When we don’t live as intended, the energies must come from somewhere. If we’re unwilling to live in a truly conscious way (Gurdjieff said that most of as are “asleep”, which isn’t hard to believe when we look at how things happen) we can supply the energies by dying. This, he said, is the cause of both war and overpopulation, two of our most serious problems.

Labor and suffering don’t sound particularly attractive, but does depression sound more so? Isn’t setting goals, accomplishing them, and overcoming obstacles more likely to make us happy than neither trying nor accomplishing?

Propaganda tells us happiness lies in buying and owning things. Not many of us disagree to any great extent, but the rate of depression in this country seems to suggest it’s not true. Feeling that our lives matter, and that we’re contributing to something important seems a lot more likely to make us happy.

It’s a bit like my concept of marriage. You don’t get married certain that you’ll be able to do everything required of you, but you make a promise to give it your best effort. I think that’s what we are asked to do.

Nothing is guaranteed, but that effort is likely to at least begin solving our problems, and make us happier as well.

Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela died a few days ago, and is being celebrated for his accomplishments. I’m sorry to say I didn’t pay much attention to his life, but am very impressed with the role he played in the reform of South Africa, and particularly the minimal violence with which that was accomplished.

That wasn’t completely unprecedented. The Soviet empire had already broken up pretty bloodlessly (the bloodshed came later), but changing regimes without blood is relatively unusual. Most governments struggle to hold onto power until the last moment, and don’t seem to care how many people they hurt or kill. F.W. de Klerk must be given credit for realizing that apartheid was wrong, ought not to continue any longer, and arranging for Mandela to be freed.

After that we have to commend Mr. Mandela for being able to rise to power without using thuggish tactics, and not taking revenge on white people after becoming president. Instead, the Truth and Reconciliation commission was established, with the idea of healing the country instead of taking revenge–on either side. Groups with that kind of aim are needed all over the world, wherever people treat each other unjustly, and need to acknowledge their abusiveness and their own wounds. When people understand that people different from them are also people, they can behave productively, instead of getting caught up in endless cycles of hate and violence.

We don’t have such a commission in this country, but we need one. We have abusiveness and victimization, with whole spectra of bad behavior, and few people are willing to acknowledge their own wrongness. Until some do, we’re liable to be stuck in the polarization existing today, which also has a long history. I don’t know if South Africa’s version of racism was much less virulent than our own, but they seem to have let go of it relatively easily. Our radicals (and there are more of them in public view than usual) seem to be bitterly committed. Mr. Mandela stands for a viewpoint few of them seem willing to embrace.

After all, he spent almost 30 years in prison. Most of us would be bitterly resentful. Apparently he said that when he left prison he realized he had to leave hate and resentment there. Would that more of us were so wise. Hate and resentment is what most of us hang onto longer than anything else.

Articles I’ve seen emphasize Mandela’s political skills as well as his attitude. He had to take advantage of his openings, and did so. No doubt he was also an angry man, but he was willing to put that anger aside in favor of making his country work well. That makes him a statesman, not just a politician.

In his policy of leading whites as well as blacks, instead of blacks against whites (as he could have done), Mandela resembles the Haitian leader Toussaint l’Ouverture, who was probably the greatest and wisest of the leaders of that revolution. He tried to keep whites in Haiti, and though there were retributive massacres when blacks came to power, one of Toussaint’s biographers opines that blacks overall treated whites better than when the shoe was on the other foot. But Napoleon brought Toussaint to France, where he imprisoned him in the Alps until he caught pneumonia, and died. Had he taken power when Haiti achieved independence, the country’s subsequent history might have been different. Unfortunately, Haiti was a small country with a lot of great powers in their neighborhood: France, Spain, Great Britain, and the USA. All of them meddled, and Haiti is now one of the poorest countries in the world. Mandela’s South Africa has been in a more fortunate position. But both Toussaint and Mandela are notable for having been black leaders who managed successful revolutions. Toussaint’s Haiti is the only slave society we know of to have successfully rebelled; Mandela one of the few leaders to manage a successful transition with minimal violence.

We don’t know South Africa’s future, but that it has survived the change of regimes with relatively little trouble bodes well. That whites were willing to support the election of Mandela to president made that possible, and that’s probably largely because Mandela made it clear that he didn’t hate whites, and wasn’t looking for revenge. He was willing to support South African sports, which of course had been segregated up until then, because he knew that many people love sports, and sports can break down many barriers, as we’ve seen in this country.

Whether South Africa’s leaders will continue to be wise after Mandela’s departure remains to be seen. We can hope. We can also hope that more politicians in this country will follow his example, and work for the people of the country as a whole, and not just for certain constituencies. All countries face a variety of problems, and our current problems include the whole technological basis of most countries in the world. I suppose it’s inevitable for those problems to be violently controversial. Solve the problems of technology, and perhaps many political problems will fade away. But in the meantime, the political problems make the solution of more basic problems even more difficult.

Mandela set a great example of leadership. I hope many will be inspired to emulate him.

J.G. Bennett’s Witness

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J.G. Bennett was an interesting man. He had some worldly success in the military when he was posted to Turkey after the First World War, and later as a scientist working in the coal industry, but the main interest in his autobiography, Witness, is his spiritual experience, and maybe especially in his teacher, George Gurdjieff, whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Bennett had been wounded in the First War and then demobilized. At just about the same time he was about to marry for the first time he heard the army needed volunteers to go to Turkey, but that one needed to be able to speak Turkish. Bennett didn’t, but wanted badly to go, though he didn’t know why. He managed to get accepted as a volunteer, and set about learning Turkish, with the result that he could speak it pretty well by the time he got there. This helped him to become head of Intelligence, first in Istanbul, then in much of the Near East at an almost absurdly young age.

He greatly enjoyed that, and says in his autobiography that he felt more at home there than in the England which had been the only country he knew before the war. He had left his wife at home, but brought her to Turkey for awhile, where she became pregnant. She didn’t want to deliver the baby there, so returned to England. Bennett says later in the book that at the time he had no idea what marriage was supposed to be, and felt in retrospect that he and his first wife were brought together because they were supposed to have a child together, not because they had much in common or understood each other. The resulting child he saw very little until she had reached adulthood, and said that though he had thought that best at the time, he later realized that she had needed him in her life, despite his imperfections.

He found being in a non-European country an eye-opening experience. One contrast he found was that Muslims took their religion much more seriously in general than almost any Christians he had known. He saw the whole city fasting during Ramadan, and attended a mosque on the last day, when there was a service at midnight in what had been the great Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia. He saw some 5,000 men prostrate themselves at the same time, and when their heads hit the floor at once, he says the whole building shook.

Though he was impressed with the seriousness with which Islam was practiced, he saw the same personality flaws in Muslims as in anyone else. He found some other interesting phenomena there, though.

There were various Sufi groups around Istanbul, and he went to some exhibitions they put on. One was the Mevlevi dervishes, who were inspired by the teacher and poet Jellaludin Rumi, an approximate contemporary of St. Francis. This is the group characterized as the “whirling dervishes”, a description that has found its way into Western literature, but which I think few of us know anything about.

The whirling is a physical exercise, but is also meant to concentrate the attention of the participant. Bennett says that he felt a deep sense of peace from watching the performance.

Another group he visited were the Rufa’i, or howling dervishes. The howling probably refers to the zikr, or mantra, that these would recite: another form of concentration and meditation. In this performance he witnessed people pierce themselves with knives, and one man even lie on the sharp edge of a scimitar, without any blood being spilled. Bennett found this most impressive too.

Istanbul then, about 1920, was full of refugees, particularly from Russia. The Russian Civil War was continuing, and many had come to Turkey to escape. Among these people he met P.D. Ouspensky, who used his apartment as a place to teach, and George Gurdjieff, who was Ouspensky’s teacher. Both men impressed him enormously, though he didn’t at first realize they were connected.

Bennett first met Gurdjieff through a Turkish friend, a Prince Sabaheddin, who was interested in religion and occultism, and had known Gurdjieff for many years. Bennett had been visiting Sabaheddin for some time to discuss things of mutual interest. When he met Gurdjieff they talked of hypnotism, in which Bennett had taken an interest, and which Gurdjieff knew a great deal about. They also talked about an out of body experience Bennett had had during the war. Bennett thought Gurdjieff to be extremely well-informed on these unusual subjects.

Ouspensky and Gurdjieff both eventually left Turkey for Europe, Ouspensky for England, where he began teaching what he’d learned from Gurdjieff; Gurdjieff first for Germany, where he hoped to establish his Institute for the Harmonic Development of Man. Germany as a location didn’t work out, so he went to England, and impressed a great many people with the lectures he gave. But he had evidently been involved with the Czarist secret service, which had enabled him to travel widely through Asia, and was therefore considered undesirable by the English government. So he went to France, found a property he considered suitable outside of Paris, and bought it.

Bennett meanwhile had resigned his commission, and was trying to get various properties returned to the royal family of the Ottoman Empire, which had ceased to exist as a government. He was unsuccessful at this, getting tangled up in all kinds of political problems, which was doubtless educational for him.

Possibly even more educational was translating at a political conference in England, where he got to see a number of the leading politicians of the day up close. He was impressed, he said, that these people seemed to be motivated by the same petty concerns as ordinary people. Few had any greater vision of helping not only their own nation, but mankind in general. Bennett said he realized then that another war was all but inevitable.

One of the high points of his story was his visit to Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleu outside Paris, where he stayed for a month. Bennett had the advantage of speaking Turkish, so he could speak with Gurdjieff directly, without having to use an interpreter. At this point Gurdjieff spoke very little English or French, having arrived in France without knowing any Western European language.

In his first interview with Gurdjieff, he was told that he knew too much, but knew it only with his intellect, and that knowledge was of little use if it wasn’t known with the whole body. Gurdjieff told him that he must treat his body as a servant, and not allow it to dictate to him. When he was able to get his body to obey him, his emotions would follow. Bennett said he took this very seriously.

He was started as a helper in the kitchen, and found he knew almost no practical skills. From there he transferred to work outside, helping to saw trees into boards with a six-foot two-handled saw. The sawing was done with one man in a pit and another man above. The man above bore almost the whole weight of the saw, while the man below constantly had sawdust falling in his face. All this during a blisteringly hot summer.

After work there would be a quieter time, used for study  or work on movements of the sacred dances Gurdjieff had collected from all over Asia (and possibly Africa) and was teaching his students. And sometimes Gurdjieff would give lectures–never at a set time, and one had to be alert to catch them. The students would get up early, work very hard, and stay up late. Many, if not most of these, were intellectuals, unused to physical work. Such teaching, it seems, often begins with the teacher taking students outside their comfort zone. Jellaludin Rumi is said to have devised the whirling exercise for his students because they were very phlegmatic in the place where he taught, and this was a way to make them physically express.

Bennett said that he took Gurdjieff’s admonition to push his body very seriously, and when an illness of recurrent dysentery returned, he tried to ignore it, and work just as hard as anyone else. As days went by, this became more and more difficult, until one day he felt absolutely wretched, and thought he would take the day off, but found himself getting up and going to work.

At lunchtime he felt unable to eat, so just rested. After lunch Gurdjieff began teaching a particularly difficult movement. The group was outside, it was a particularly hot afternoon, and students began dropping out of the group. Bennett kept going, and noticed Gurdjieff watching him. He felt that he had to go on if it killed him.

At that point he felt a sudden infusion of energy. His sickness left him, just as the group broke up, and everyone else scattered. He had an unprecedented feeling of well-being and strength. To test this, he picked up a shovel, and began digging as fast as he could, and said he kept this up for over an hour, pointing out that even the strongest man can dig extremely fast for no more than a couple of minutes ordinarily. After that he went for a walk in the forest.

There, he said, he saw the primal pattern of each tree or other plant, and how each individual thing varied from its pattern moment to moment. He thought of something Ouspensky, whose lectures he had been attending, said about emotion: that we think we can control our emotions, but this control amounts to nothing more than suppression. No one can, for instance, feel astonished at will. To test the state he was in, he decided to feel astonished, and at once was amazed by everything around him.

Then he decided to feel fear, and found everything sinister and threatening. Then love, and he found love both deeper and more subtle than he had ever imagined, but after some time found he couldn’t stand it any longer, and thought of a passage of William Blake’s, in which the poet remarks of sometimes having wished for hell from being tired of heaven. Bennett was convinced that Blake must have experienced this particular state.

He then met Gurdjieff in the forest, who explained to him that there are collectors of energy in the world where one can, if knowing how to do it, obtain extra energy to do otherwise impossible things. That one who had experienced this had the responsibility to work on himself until he could obtain the energy at will.

Bennett never speaks again of an experience quite like this one, though he mentions quite a number of unusual things in his life. He was obviously a talented and energetic man, but was also acutely aware of his own flaws. Gurdjieff wanted him to stay in France to work, but he didn’t do so, and didn’t see Gurdjieff again for 25 years, then spending much of the last year of his life with him, and learning a great deal.

He probably wrote more about Gurdjieff and what he taught than any other person, but others involved with Gurdjieff didn’t think highly of him. In his book he says of himself that he felt it necessary to add to what he learned from Gurdjieff, though he could understand that others didn’t, and that his way of dealing with people was often to agree with them, then do something else entirely, so that he could understand people getting exasperated with him. Just what the facts are, I don’t know, but several of his books have resonated with me.

This, his autobiography, follows him as far as the late 1960s at least, which was near the end of his life. Just what his impact on the world was is impossible for me to say, but his books have certainly made it clear to me that this world and life are much deeper and more complex than we ordinarily think. I haven’t experienced the kind of things he writes about, but his experiences and thoughts have become part of my mental landscape.

Experiences and thoughts about death indicate that it too is far more complicated than we ordinarily think. Gurdjieff, for example, helped him to help his mother, who had died a year or two previously, through Gurdjieff’s mother, who had died more than twenty years before. Gurdjieff, perhaps uniquely, said that humans are not born with an eternal soul, but have the potentials to acquire one through “conscious labor and intentional suffering.” He also said that humans have “a certain something” that does survive after death–for awhile. One of his dictums was that we are intended to develop in as full and balanced a manner as possible, and implied that this development continues after death.

One of the strange experiences that Bennett has came after World War II. A friend who had been active in the French Resistance was staying with him and his wife, and was very troubled, probably because of his experiences during the war. Bennett went for a walk one day, and found himself near the school from which he’d graduated, and had never visited again. When he saw memorials to all the graduates killed in the First World War, he realized that he hadn’t visited because it was so painful to have lost so many friends in the conflict. As he thought about this he suddenly had the feeling that somehow these soldiers had survived, with all their potential intact. He had no understanding of this, but was nonetheless convinced. He went home and spoke to his friend, also mourning the friends he’d lost, and told him, “They are all right.” His friend believed him, and his guilt left him.

In the last year of his life Gurdjieff tried hard to train as many people as he could. He was unable to finish the job as completely as he preferred, but worked strenuously at this until his final illness. He had struggled to bring his teaching in an effective way to the western world, and hadn’t succeeded as completely as he’d wished, but had strongly influenced a great many people, and left writings explaining much of what he’d learned, veritable cornucopia of ideas and techniques for  a very  high and demanding form of education.Leaving aside the personal powers he was able to command, his message contradicted much of what we usually believe, and provided a very broad and deep view of mankind and the universe. Bennett later traveled in the Middle East  and found a number of holy men who taught him valuable things, but said he nowhere met anyone with Gurdjieff’s deep understanding of psychology.

As one might imagine, the people associated with Gurdjieff were largely at a loss as to how to continue after his death ,but many did. Bennett wanted to work with these, but found that he was pulled towards learning new things. One of these was Subud, which provided an experience that complemented what he’d learned from Gurdjieff, and, he said, opened his  heart as it never had been before. His first wife died, happily, and he said that he never felt separated from her afterward.

But he remarried, had children with his new wife (something he’d never expected to experience), and found that happy beyond what he’d ever found before.

He continued to search, though, to learn from new people and undertake ambitious projects. When he died he had begun a school of the sort that Gurdjieff had undertaken, and was optimistic about it, but was unable to bring it to fruition. Whether it was as positive as he’d hoped is debatable.Others thought it wasn’t.

Catastrophe

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I had never heard of Wendell Berry until a few years ago, from one of my online friends. I’ve by no means read all his writing, but have read several of his novels, and was most impressed by Jayber Crow, which I think was published nearly 50 years ago. Berry is still around, though, still farming the land that has been in his family for 200 years, near Louisville, Kentucky along the Kentucky River. Tonight I got to watch a recent interview he did with Bill Moyers, and continue to be impressed by him.

His farm is a family farm, while agriculture has shifted in this country to the factory farm. Factory farms are huge enterprises using lots of land, and artificial fertilizers and insecticides. Animals raised to provide meat are never allowed outside, but kept in stalls for their short lives. The fertilizers and insecticides are among many pollutants in the environment, which are helping to destroy the biosphere we all depend on to live. What are his thoughts about that?

For one thing, that we have to stop the people who claim to own the world outright: they’re ruining it, though I have to add that most of us are also complicit in this process. He says that capitalism from the beginning aimed to replace people with technology, and is closer now to achieving that than it has ever been.

Of course we run into an ideological problem with a statement like that. Those who love capitalism will obviously respond that he’s espousing Communism. I argue that he’s doing no such thing. Communism, as practiced in Russia, China and eastern Europe has no better environmental record than capitalism, and turned out to be even less democratic than our corporate society now is. Although socialism, as practiced in western Europe, for example, is not the same as Communism, it’s still a highly technological society, though much more concerned about the environment than is our country.

True believer capitalists frequently talk about liberty, and how overly large government takes it away. That isn’t untrue, as far as i goes, but governments are not the only entities that can take liberty away. So can big corporations, which are much more wealthy and powerful than most individuals, and are committed to inhuman behavior, as long as it makes a profit, until they are forced to change.

And humans aren’t the only things that can take liberty away. The forces humans have set in motion with industrialization supporting the lifestyle most of us live in this country have prepared many timebombs for us. Pollution of air, food and water, I have come to believe, are the greatest objective threat to humanity that we face right now. Of course this threat isn’t disconnected from other things.

Climate change has been a controversial and divisive issue for several decades, but not, I think, on its merits as an argument. People don’t like the idea because it would force responsibility on them that they don’t want. They’re comfortable with the world as it is–for now. Climate change is merely one of the results of pollution created by humans. Dispassionately viewed, I think (and always have thought) it to be quite a plausible thesis, though we don’t know all the causes or effects of how it happens in detail. I saw a snippet of a TV program in which a corporate head said that we’re now conducting an experiment as to how hot we can stand the world to get, and that if there’s even one percent chance that we can make it too hot, it doesn’t seem like an intelligent thing to do. The interviewer asked him what percentage of chance he thought was likely, but I don’t think he answered. The probability seems a lot greater than one percent to me.

And that’s not the only thing pollutants of various sorts are bringing us. When talking with a woman from Colombia, she mentioned that many in her city were diagnosed with psychotic depression (as best I remember), and questioned what would cause that. I remembered reading that artificial fertilizers and insecticides might have such an effect, and that the United States has a higher rate of insanity than many countries in the world, so I asked if they were used in her area.

She said yes, they were, to such an extent that there were no longer fireflies there. Anything that’s bad for fireflies is likely to be bad for humans too.

We’ve also been losing large amounts of honeybees, which could be catastrophic for agriculture. The most definite statement I’ve read is that it may be a mixture of insecticides and other chemicals, and that it would be difficult to ban all of them. I’ve also read that a large American corporation is being sued on this basis in Europe to prevent them from producing and using these chemicals. The corporation seems to be fighting the suit.

I’ve read that aluminum is liked to Alzheimer’s dementia, often via canned drinks, though I also recently read about some baby formulas that contain high levels of the metal. If so, it makes me wonder if autism too is connected to pollution. A quick check of Wikipedia seems to say that if it is, the factors are currently unknown, but I wouldn’t think this would preclude pollution being part  of the picture.

One of my friends of the past decade told me about her grandson, who was diagnosed autistic. His parents were very careful about his diet and other things he was exposed to, and she said that when he was about seven the diagnosis was withdrawn. That certainly suggests that pollution might be an influential factor.

Much of our current behavior, including behavior regarding pollution, can be seen as driven by overpopulation. With a population of 7-9 billion, the world is close to its limits of human population it can support. I think that many of us are subconsciously aware of this, and frightened. Americans have generally felt that bigger is better, but that’s not always true, and sometimes things have to be destroyed to allow new and more healthy growth. We can see this in the history of the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, which swept away decadent societies in the Middle East to provide the chance for something new . As a world, we seem to have reached a point where this is necessary, and if enough of us don’t undertake it, nature will. For two centuries we’ve been engaged in making a world we can’t live in, and the consequences have begun to arrive.

George Gurdjieff, the spiritual teacher I’ve mentioned in other posts, said there is a reason for overpopulation. The reason is rooted in a question he asked when he was quite young: What is the reason for organic life in general, and human life in particular? He spent a great deal of time seeking the answer to this and other questions, and eventually found an answer. Life is used to transform energies, some of which we can already see, some of which we’re generally unaware of. There are different levels of life, and the lower levels support the higher ones.

We see an example of this in soil, which is a very complex phenomenon. It is a very small percentage of the world, but one of the most important parts of it in supporting life. Its fertility can be increased, but it can also be destroyed by mismanagement. Artificial fertilizers and insecticides are arguably one sort of mistreatment that can destroy soil fertility, as well as introducing pernicious factors into our environment and bodies. There are, of course, many others.

Mining and manufacturing are two other such factors. They release chemicals into soil, air and water that are bad for the environment as a whole. And whatever is bad for the environment is also bad for us as individuals. By poisoning the environment in these and other ways, we also poison ourselves.

Gurdjieff went on to say that humans have the possibility of transforming necessary energies either consciously, or by dying. Learning to do this consciously is not easy, and although there have been many messengers sent to us, we’ve generally disregarded what they taught, so that we generally don’t live as we were intended to. Because we don’t provide the energies that nature needs, nature tries to compensate by producing more of us. And because there are still very few who consciously transform energies, we have wars. These produce what is necessary.

J.G. Bennett, a student of Gurdjieff’s, said that there is a close link between insects and humans, which isn’t easy to see. We generally have little use for insects (other than bees). Some people include them in their diets, but relatively few. Bennett said that insects have a high level of sexual energy, and that this supports human creativity. Indeed, I remember reading many years ago that insect penises are often bent, making them difficult to insert into the female, so a high degree of sexual energy must be necessary for insects to reproduce. That makes the proposition at least plausible.

If very much of this point of view is accepted (and of course many will NOT accept it), it’s clear that the human race is in deep trouble. Unfortunately, we seem to HAVE to get into trouble to realize that we have to do things differently. There are certainly people, like Wendell Berry, who have realized at least part of the problem, and are trying to do something about it, but most of us are connected to the industrial system, and don’t know how to live without it.

I don’t have a garden, I don’t hunt, I drive a car to work, and have computers and a cellphone. I use electric power, probably generated by coal. I use things made of plastic constantly, whether at work or home. As convenient as these products of technology are, I know they’re bad for the environment, but don’t yet know how to do without them; or rather haven’t made the effort it would take to live more naturally. A good many people have and do, but only a small percentage of this country and the world.

Wendell Berry remarks in his interview with Bill Moyers, that we don’t have the right to ask the question of whether we can successfully stop the catastrophic process most of us are involved in. We have to decide what’s right to do, and start doing it. We’re not guaranteed good outcomes; we’re probably guaranteed a lot of bad ones until we’re willing to start learning and doing things more in tune with nature and life. In this respect, I am certainly little if any better than anyone else.