Friday, August 29, 2014

No room for civilization

A planet containing wild humans leaves no room for industrial civilization.

That sentence might seem to have things the wrong direction. From the perspective of a thoroughly colonized mind, it is civilization that has the power to leave no room.

But the logic of the sentence stands as written. Wild humans have been a problem for civilization from the beginning. And the solution has almost always been genocide. Wild humans, being complete in themselves, lack the psychological substrate necessary for civilization to operate—there is nothing for civilization to latch onto. Civilization and wildness are incompatible. Human wildness engenders a fullness of experience that literally leaves no room for civilization.

From a civilized standpoint, the application of overwhelming deadly force becomes the only viable option. But, then, the application of overwhelming deadly force is not restricted to wild humans. Any human choosing to act in a genuinely human way risks triggering civilized methods of containment.

Witness the cops in full military dress rolling through Ferguson, MO—quick to use fear as a patch for any leaks that might form in the white-walls of authority.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Contact versus connectivity

Spectacle long ago replaced community, spectatorship instead of participation, vicariousness instead of presence. A shared and penetrating narrative, an intimate evening around a communal fire, to sing, to dance, to tell stories, to laugh, and sometimes to cry, has become an insulated and isolating narcissistic touchscreen fiction.

Social networking through social media is just that, social contact reduced to mere connectivity, human interaction digitized and packaged and commodified and stripped of all meaning—community becomes a collection of patterned connections among empty nodes, hollow echoes bouncing through a billion electronic tunnels to nowhere.

We are drawn into this ersatz experience out of misplaced fear—180 degrees misplaced. Our loneliness makes us afraid of being alone. The triviality of life makes us afraid we might miss something important, afraid to blink. Our lack of authentic meaning makes us vampires of the superficial, attempting to siphon a tiny soul-warming drop of relevance from a cold mass-produced two-dimensional flame.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Smartphones can do anything

A recent news headline boasted “Researchers Use Smartphone App to Track Gut Bacteria.” The important detail that gut bacteria can affect your health in subtle ways was sidelined in favor of the sensationalistic (and fallacious) implication that there is a cell phone app that can monitor your intestinal fauna. It is part of the news media’s mission to paint a sparkly veneer over all forms of technology, and to reinforce the delusional belief that humankind is rapidly approaching a techno-utopian future in which every problem will have a simple touchscreen solution.

The cell phone's role in the study was considerably more prosaic, of course. Basically, it was used as a sophisticated clipboard for the study's participants to record their diet and exercise. "Cell Phone App Replaces Pen and Notebook for Collecting Data" doesn't carry quite as much punch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

OldDog on the train

The train crawls into the heart of North Dakota. Rickety rail and a constant procession of freight trains carrying oil and coal means frequent stops and slow speeds.

Outside the observation car window stretches an endless sea of virgin prairie grass and herds of buffalo so thick that they seem to form one giant amoebic mass that threatens to engulf the horizon as if to digest the few small clouds that linger there. The feeling is one of breath and life and endless space.

And then my eyes blink through into the modern era, the mechanical now, and the prairie becomes coal and oil in the form of GMO corn and soybeans arrayed in GPS guided rows upon the sterile ground, and the black amoebic mass of buffalo is foreshortened into an endless passing parade of tanker cars, their sides dripping with the dark toxic lifeblood of civilization.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What is lost

This and so much more: to be born into a world saturated to capacity with unmediated meaning, to see a brimming lake of stars at night and never to question the legitimacy of your place beneath it, to inhabit an actual physical place and to know that place as an extension of your own skin, to converse with the mountain in a language without words and to sense each subtle change in the wind’s perpetual caress, to hear the ground yield to your footsteps as an invitation, to feel community as an intimate and inseparable characteristic of each passing thought—the very source of thought itself, to know and embrace the full spectrum of human emotional possibility, to have no words to express self-worth or dignity or freedom because the ideas they represent have no defining opposites, to live each and every breath authentically human, with death a mere returning home, a giving back of what is only borrowed, your hair and muscles and organs and sinews and blood and bones as offerings of appreciation for the Earth’s infinite bounty.

What is lost? From within civilization’s mechanical cage and its violent detachment, from its objectifying non-perspective, its mandatory isolation, its callous commodification, from the standpoint of a system built on brutal and ever-expanding planetary consumption and all-penetrating control, what is lost is nothing at all, or, if something, then nothing worthwhile, the trivial sediment of better-forgotten forms of life.

From a genuine human standpoint, what is lost is nothing less than everything.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Human rewilding

The term rewilding emerged from within the applied science of conservation biology. Rewilding typically involves attempts to reinsert “keystone” species that have dwindled or vanished or were intentionally eliminated from local ecosystems, in an effort to reestablish some semblance of what those ecosystems were like in the past.

Large terrestrial predators are common candidates for rewilding because they frequently serve as keystone species and because they have historically been targets for elimination due to their presumed (but usually minor or nonexistent) threat to humans or livestock. So a wolf pack might be reintroduced into an area in which wolves have been hunted into extinction, for example, with the idea that the reintroduction of the indigenous predator will resonate through the rest of the food chain and restore a level of balance and ecological integrity that has been missing.

A few environmental activists, along with proponents of certain versions of anarchism, most notably green anarchy and anarcho-primitivism, have appropriated the term from conservation biology, and advocate a “rewilding” of the human species. However, to talk about rewilding humans requires a nuanced reworking of the original meaning of the term if it is to be used as something other than a trite bumper sticker.

For the biologists, rewilding typically involves reinserting keystone species into environments in which they are presently absent. Keystone species are those that play a foundational role in the complex web of interactions within a given ecological system such that without their presence the system is altered dramatically or collapses altogether. Despite our self-assigned position at the top of the global food chain, civilized humans are nothing close to being a keystone species. In fact, for the last few millennia the human impact on local environments has been the diametric opposite of a keystone; the introduction of post-Neolithic humans into an ecological system invariably leads to destabilization and, in many cases, complete local ecological collapse. Nor are we in any immediate danger of disappearing from the scene: humans presently inhabit virtually every inhabitable chunk of land on the planet, and in numbers approaching or greatly surpassing the land’s natural carrying capacity.

The one qualification that, to my mind at least, renders the idea of rewilding in its original sense applicable to the human case as something more than bumper sticker propaganda is that most humans—check that, almost all humans—are no longer inhabiting anything close to a natural human habitat—and the vanishingly few humans that are still living like actual humans appear to be on a very rapid and inescapable slide into oblivion.

Thus, taking the conservation biology definition of rewilding and applying it in a direct and literal fashion to the human situation suggests that humans need to be reintroduced to their natural habitat.

What does that mean?

What is a human’s natural habitat? Over the course of the last few million years, humans and their ancestor species have occupied such a wide variety of environments, such a large number of distinct and disparate habitats that the question may be impossible to answer.

Perhaps a better way of approaching the question of “What is a human’s natural habitat?” is to ask its inverse: “What isn’t natural human habitat?” It turns out that this reversing of the question makes it a fairly easy one to answer. Although I strongly suspect that for most folks the answer will not be at all an easy one to hear.

And the project of human rewilding will require more than just learning how to survive outside the cage of civilization (although that will surely be part of it). It will require a relearning—or, more precisely, an unlearning—of everything civilization teaches us about what it means to be human.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The liberating power of refusal

When I was in my very early teens, my family got together with the family of one of my mother’s old friends from her school days for a week long summer visit. They had a girl almost exactly my age, and we had been congenial playmates on numerous visits in the past. Early on the first day of this particular visit, I was rudely introduced to the game of “jinx,” a childish sort of game in which when two people accidently say the same thing at the same time, the person who noticed first would say “jinx” and start counting rapidly out loud until the other person said “stop.” The other person was then obliged to remain completely speechless for a number of minutes equal to the number the person who said “jinx” made it to before the other person said “stop.” I had never played the game before, and she made it to 45 before, out of frustration and confusion, I yelled at her to stop. She then explained the rules and informed me that I would have to remain silent for 45 minutes. I was also informed that speaking before the time was up would automatically add 10 minutes to my sentence. From that point on, she and the other kids were committed to doing what they could to get me to speak.

For perhaps 20 minutes, I sat on the couch, brooding in my forced silence. I became increasingly frustrated and angry that I was not allowed to participate in the ongoing conversation and wracked by a deep sense of injustice. I had not known the rules, after all. It was hardly fair that I had to remain quiet for three quarters of an hour. And then, to make things worse, in a moment of careless inattention I spoke, I started to say something, and was immediately rebuked and informed of the additional 10 minute penalty. I remember feeling trapped, helpless, and angry that I let myself get caught in this oppressive web.

But then I had a flash of insight, a potent revelation, even. It was, after all, just a game. And a silly one at that. No one had removed my vocal cords. There was no gun at my head threatening my life should I speak. It was just a game, and my participation was entirely voluntary. I immediately began speaking entire sentences. In fact, I grabbed a book from the shelf next to the couch and began reading aloud in a loud expressive voice. My prisoner added 10 minutes, and another 10, and then another until I had amassed several hours before she left the room in a huff.

How much of our present circumstances are of this form? We continually act in strict accordance to the rules of a game that we never agreed to play, a game that, should we choose, we could simply stop playing. We could at any moment simply walk away—if it were not for the fact that there are real guns at our heads. . .

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gratitude is servile

It is easy to confuse gratitude with what might better be called appreciation.

Gratitude assumes someone or something to which we owe our thanks, a benevolent and powerful other that bestows gifts: a king, a divinity.

Appreciation is possible without a gift-giver. Atheists can appreciate. Christians have no choice but to be grateful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you can read this, you have been domesticated

Domestication is a technology of control in which organisms are prevented from living according to their evolved expectations and forced into a way of life that suits the needs of another species.

Humans aren’t the only domesticators. There are several species of colonizing insect that practice simple forms of agriculture, for example. Some ants practice animal husbandry by herding aphids and milking them for a sweet liquid excretion called honeydew. And a species of African ant has recently been found that apparently runs rudimentary factory farms in which other insects are raised for meat.

A domestication-based lifestyle has dramatically different repercussions for humans than it does for social insects, however. Ants don’t risk altering their authentic wild nature in the process of cultivating mushrooms or herding aphids. The ants are colonized to begin with. But whenever humans adopt domestication-based ways of life, they invariably end up domesticating each other. They also end up directing technologies of control inwardly, colonizing and taming their own wild and authentic human nature.

Human lifestyles based on domestic domination didn’t exist anywhere on the planet until 9000 years ago, and didn’t become the norm until sometime during the last couple millennia, perhaps. What that means is that each of us is born with the physical, psychological, and social expectations to live as wild and authentically-human beings.

We still carry wild nature within us—every one of us, in every cell and during every breath. The proof of this is all around us.

The proof is in the massive and ever-expanding prison industrial complex. The proof is in the militarized police. The proof is in ubiquitous surveillance and pervasive monitoring. The proof is in the thinly disguised state propaganda called public education. The proof is in the behavioral pharmacology force-fed to school children who have difficulty ignoring the pulse of life that beckons to them from the center of their being. The proof is in the locks on our doors and the security lights around our houses, arrayed like the searchlights of a concentration camp.

Why would any of these be necessary unless we were, at our very core, wild creatures forced to live like captive animals in zoos, wild creatures forced to live in concrete and asphalt enclosures that bear little similarity with our natural habitat, wild creatures who would surely escape the moment we discover a hole in the fence.

If you can read this you have been domesticated, but the tendrils of domestic control just barely penetrate the surface, and their grip is shallow and tenuous and in need of continual reinforcement.

The first moments in the journey toward rewilding, re-embracing your own authentic humanity, involve little more than a quick convulsive shake. Eradicating the global culture of domestication itself, however, may involve a bit more time—and convulsions on a tectonic-scale.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I hate progressives (part 2)


To be fair, the term progressive as it is applied in any given social or political situation, is somewhat ambiguous. Like its cousins, liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc., it can mean different things to different people in different contexts. Nevertheless, there is a core nexus of beliefs, assumptions, and opinions—an underlying thought-form—that might be applied collectively to folks who adopt the progressive label.

Progressives take civilization as a given, as a natural part of the universe on par with oxygen or gravity. The existence of the system itself is never in question. It is an essential necessity, the ground from which all else is built. The problem is not the existence of a system, it’s that we haven’t got the specific details quite right. With a few minor tweaks (and perhaps a couple major ones) humankind can realize its manifest destiny as supremely civilized beings—or at least we can continue to progress in that direction.

thinkprogress.org, a typical repository of progressive-oriented notions, provides a list of the four pillars of progressivism that can help us flesh out some of the delusional contours of the progressive thought-form.

The first pillar is freedom. Sounds pretty good so far. But because progressives are so virulently pro-civilization, and since the history of civilization is a protracted tale of the violent oppression and eradication of every imaginable form of freedom, it is reasonable to approach this progressive pillar with a bit of skepticism.

The pillar of freedom apparently consists of two parts (sub-pillars? legs?): a freedom from and a freedom to. Let’s take a look at the freedom to first. The freedom to is defined as the “freedom to lead a fulfilling and secure life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity. This includes physical protections against bodily harm as well as adequate income, economic protections, health care and education, and other social provisions…” which translates pretty directly as “we should all be free to be fully functional servomechanisms of the global consumer cluster-fuck machine.” Freedom from refers to the freedom to operate in our personal lives in accordance with our personal beliefs without “undue” interference. The terms undue and interference, however, are left eerily open to interpretation. Presumably progressives believe that the government and/or unnamed powerful others should be allowed to interfere at some level or for some reasons. What this level is and what reasons would qualify aren’t specified, but apparently there are features of our personal lives—things we might do or believe—that are in need of regulation.

The second pillar, opportunity, is focused on political and economic equality. No need for detail here. Basically, everyone should have equal participatory access to the political and economic machine. All people from all demographic categories should be allowed to vie for positions in the service of their corporate masters that are consonant with their abilities, and the spoils should be apportioned according to merit.

The third pillar is responsibility. Apparently we all have responsibility for each other. I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it is something like the Christian idea of original sin, something that we inherited because of some shit our ancestors did. The description of this pillar reads like that scene in the The Wrath of Khan where a dying Spock says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Unfortunately Spock’s logic doesn’t work—it implies that needs are commensurate with each other, that they are comparable and somehow quantifiable. It also assumes that we are capable of adopting a psychological orientation toward strangers that is entirely alien from the perspective of our evolutionary heritage as social primates designed for life in small highly-intimate groups.

And then there is this nugget (worth quoting at length if only for the typo):

“This requires pubic [sic!] investments in things like transportation and trade, innovation, a skilled workforce, courts to protect patent rights and contract agreements, public safety and other measures that support the creation of wealth and help to make individual prosperity possible. It also requires progressive taxation, meaning those who have and earn more should pay more to help support the investments in things like schools, transportation, and economic competitiveness necessary to advance the interests of all.

A key component of responsibility involves ecological and social sustainability. This requires on-going stewardship of our land, water, air and natural resources, smart use of energy, and the responsible consumption of goods…”

The deep oxymoronic juxtaposition of those two paragraphs should be glaringly obvious. And this is where the progressive thought-form shows its true delusional genesis. Consumption and wealth creation are simply not compatible with ecological and social sustainability, respectively. Consumption means that what used to be there is not there anymore, and wealth is only created through systematic impoverishment.

The final pillar is cooperation. But what is meant by this is that we all learn to adopt the same progressive goals and that these goals somehow involve improving the lives of everyone. Here we are told that “Progressives believe that if we blindly pursue our own needs and ignore those of others, our society will degenerate.” This, however, flies directly in the face of historical fact. “Our” society came into being as a result of those in power blindly pursuing their own needs by actively preventing others from pursuing theirs. Welcome to civilization 101.

Truly, the use of the pillar metaphor is entirely unwarranted. Even rotted bamboo stilts would provide more supportive structure that this.

If left unanalyzed, the core of the progressive thought-form is superficially appealing, and in some ways almost irresistible. Freedom, opportunity, responsibility, and cooperation all make for delicious sound bites. But there is an ugliness lurking just beneath the surface. It’s like a rich and sweet artistically crafted dessert—the frosting on an expensive wedding cake, for example—where the flavors are rat-tested concoctions of artificial chemicals, the sweetness comes from diabetes-inducing concentrations of high-fructose corn syrup, and the richness comes from an overabundance of trans fats and related carcinogens.

Bon appetite.