432. Our Cultural Philosophy

February 13, 2015

Regarding impediments to our personal journeys, in an increasingly globalized culture, of our many concerns, commerce has come to dominate our attention and engagement. Trading in goods. Shopping, buying what we need and selling what we don’t. Money changing hands all the while. The point being to get a good price; good from buyers’ perspective, good from sellers’.

In the U.S., commerce is now what we are primarily conscious of, every day of our lives. Making a profit from the sale of material goods and services. Most other facets of our culture—art, education, governance, justice, technology, sports, healthcare, food and energy production, personal freedom, fairness, environmental protection—are glossed over by the arch value of making a monetary profit.

In the world of films, for example, box office eclipses excellence as a criterion of success. On our national journey, profit leads the way. Wherever we pay attention with alert minds, trade is involved.

We are out to make, if not a killing, a better life for ourselves. Which we see primarily in terms of money and goods, not engagement with the mysterious or the unknown, not self-improvement, not beauty, not world peace, not equality, not civil rights, not freedom and justice for all (including Native Americans, Blacks, Latin-Americans, Asians, women, children, immigrants, and animals).

The whole story of mind is told by what we are interested in, pay attention to, notice, discover, and engage with every day of our lives. That is, by what we have in mind, what we are mindful of, what we think and talk about, what captivates us, what excites us, what is important to us, what is at the core of our existence as cultural beings.

Because of the way our minds operate, these peak engagements are told by their polarity, the way they strike us on an either/or scale of polar opposition. That is, by what pleases us or displeases us. What we like or don’t like, want or don’t want, seek or avoid, love or deplore.

After all, we can’t pay attention to every gradation. Our bandwidth is too small. So we focus sharply on what strikes us as good or bad, pleasant or painful, beautiful or ugly, healthy or unhealthy, wise or stupid, enriching or debasing, fun or serious.

If we have too many choices, we get confused. Too much email to respond to, too many friends on Facebook, too many films to see, books to read, games to play, people to meet, glasses of beer to drink—we have to draw the line sharply just to stay sane. Enough, already! Simplify. Prioritize. Being starkly clear lets us act fast and stay on top of things.

Reflecting the conscious concerns of every one of its members, each culture is hugely complex. Living with others, particularly those we don’t know, can be stressful. We can’t be all things to all people. If we try, that leads to overload. Our minds have limited capacities for dealing with what cries out for our attention. We have to cut back to the essentials we need to deal with and chuck the rest.

So in the U.S., we put first things first in paying attention to money and commercial affairs because, as we see it, everything else depends on that. With money in the bank, we claim to lead the good life. Poverty and deprivation—even sufficiency—are thought degrading. Everything takes money; without it, we can’t do what we want. Or be who we want.

It’s the economy, stupid! In black and white, Bill Clinton has given us a bumper-sticker slogan to serve as America’s cultural philosophy.

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Maine is known as a so-called natural-resource state. Think trees. Lumber. Paper. Wood pellets. Firewood. Peat moss. Lobsters. The once-famous fish in the Gulf of Maine. Sand and Gravel. Granite. Seaweed. Scenery. Wildlife. There are a lot of jobs dependent on those resources. A huge chunk of the Maine economy.

Resources, by definition, are supposedly renewable. That’s what re-source means. It’s a source again and again. Which requires careful management, including setting quotas that can safely be “harvested.”

When the price of elvers—tiny eels migrating back to their home habitat areas in Maine rivers—rose to a thousand dollars a pound, you can bet the eel catchers did everything they could to capture as many as possible in their nets. That collective effort put tremendous pressure on the homeward-bound elvers, which Asian nations raise to mature eels to feed their burgeoning populations.

Industrial giants make billions from their many natural-resource extractions. We mine the Earth, trawl the seas, cut the tops off mountains, spew our spent space apparatus as a belt of scrap metal circling the Earth—because that’s how we engage natural resources as our personal cornucopia. Enterprise we call it. Big business. Making a living.

How ironic is it that we plunder the Earth in order to live?

What others have, we want for ourselves. That’s called jealousy. Jealousy, it seems, runs the world. We are envious of others for what they take from the Earth. What they possess. What they engage with. We envy their circles of engagement with life itself, and treat them as celebrities.

We want to attain such a level of engagement for ourselves. To own such possessions. To have them available for our personal use.

Having and owning are the basis of our possessiveness, our shopping sprees, our powerful concept of personal ownership of a planet that clearly supports us all. Private ownership is the dark side of human engagement. Of consciousness gone haywire.

What if I claimed, these are my horseshoe crabs, my eelgrass meadows, my fish in the bay? If life has a mystery, personal ownership is it. How working for a living turns into an engagement that degrades the Earth. How our engagements come to master us as if we had no control over them. And once we initiated them, they had to run to their inevitable conclusion.

Ownership and control are such fundamental parts of our nature, of our natural heritage, we devote a huge amount of our cultural law to protecting the rights of individuals to engage as they please. This we call freedom, life’s blood of the capitalist system of consumption.

We interpret ownership as a right to engage whatever we want, however we will. Even unto destroying that which we love and desire.

But as the word “resource” implies, we own something, not by buying it or extracting it, but by caring for it and keeping it safe so we can enjoy it again and again. Not to exhaust it, but to ensure it will be available forever.

Engagement is a fundamental property of mind. It comes with coupling perception to action by way of meaning and judgment. In that sense, all property is intellectual property, property that reflects the workings of our minds. You’d think that if we all want the same thing, then we would be sure to keep that thing safe for everyone’s use.

But that’s not how our engagements work. Property is an attitude, a state of mind, a combined outlook and inlook. When we engage, we know exactly what we’re doing. Or should, if we keep our eyes open. If we do damage, we can see it for ourselves. And modify our behavior accordingly.

Engagement is strong stuff. Powerful in getting at the heart of our life as conscious beings. Of our having and holding a particular way of life we can count on, now and forever. Don’t come between me and my significant other—what- or whoever it might be. I will get very angry because you are threatening my way of life. My perceiving, judging, acting, and engaging. If you break my accustomed loop, I will take it very personally.

That loop is me as I know myself from the inside. It is who I am on this Earth. I am an ongoing process. I live to engage as I am with whom or what I choose at the time. I am beholden to those people or things I am responsible to in asking them to be responsible to me. That is all I want. Mutual engagement, commitment, and responsibility. Ownership and freedom as I say. The right, within limits, to live my life according to natural law.

That is the state of mind I am trying to get at in this post. The conflicted inner life we lead by leaving a sacked Earth in our wake. We engage our home planet as if it were the peel of a banana we lower the car window to toss into the road. Do you feel the power of that image? The true horror? If I didn’t believe it was the culminating truth of our existence, I wouldn’t be writing these words.

The course of our everyday mental functioning creates the worlds we live in as individuals who are living the lives we have made for ourselves. The lives we live out every day by maintaining the engagements we do with all that we care about. In our respective black boxes, unsupervised, we are at the center of those worlds, creating them day-after-day as the foundation of the life we hold as a commonwealth for one another.

The upshot of this line of thinking is that nature and its resources are not for sale and cannot be put on the market as the basis of our gross domestic product. That would be an absurdity. A for-sale sign on either the richest or poorest piece of land is an oxymoron, a contradiction unto itself. Nature is that which cannot be bought or sold. As Earthlings, we are born of the Earth; it is not possible to own our own mother. We survive as members of Earth’s family.

The point of our mutual engagements is to celebrate our common family together. Nature cannot be for sale, and cannot be bought, no matter what you hear in the market. Nature is a gut-level attraction we recognize when we go to open places and pay attention to the ambient energy falling on our sensory receptors.

We have to open our personal expectancy to such experience. No matter how many safaris we go on, and trophy heads collect, money won’t get it for us. To enjoy a truly natural experience, we must hold hands together, take the deepest possible breath, and breathe out a sigh of thanks for all that has come our way as a gift without our even having to ask.

The moral of this post:  We are stewards of our every engagement.

Reflection 330: Get a Job?

October 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

U.S. corporations have gone global, and shipped their jobs overseas to be done by cheaper labor. Leaving millions unemployed here at home, wiping out the entire middle class. So when told to get a job in order to pay taxes to support government programs, where do we start? Not by scanning employment ads—compared to the old days, there aren’t any. We’re broke, the government is broke, the economy is broke. Getting ahead has become an old-fashioned idea. We appear to be stuck where we are.

This is a classical catch-22 situation: we have to, but we can’t. We can’t work for someone else for a decent wage because such jobs aren’t on offer. We have to look for service jobs that pay less than we need, or think we need. How are we going to get through school, make enough to get married and have a family, and still meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, so we can even hope to lead a decent life without lugging around a killing burden of debt?

We’ve been in this situation long enough to see that the inherent risks of a capitalistic system are not borne by those with money, as is so often claimed, but by the laborers they hire to do their work—those abandoned when employers cut the cost of production by moving overseas, leaving those at home in the lurch. Profit depends on keeping labor costs low and selling-prices high, so the working class finds itself not only used, but expendable. Capitalism, by definition, creates wealth for the rich, not for those they hire to do their work. A widening gap between rich and poor is inherent in the system itself.

We discover ourselves to be living in a society set up to favor some members over others who are placed at high risk. That is, those who establish and maintain the system use their employees for personal benefit. It is the bosses who get ahead, not the workers and their families, who in these nonunionized days must fend for themselves.

When you get a job, you find yourself working for an employer who pays you money to do whatever task he assigns you. On company time, you surrender your right to engage the world on your own, so putting others’ personal goals in place of yours, which has come to be the modern way of selling our souls by assuming all the risk of employment, placing ourselves at the mercy of those who decide to hire us, or not.

In this blog I have maintained all along that how you engage the world is your business and no one else’s because it is precisely who you are. You aren’t going to become someone by and by, you are that person here and now. If your realization of who you are lags behind your deeds, then you need to catch up with yourself and not think of yourself as a child anymore—as you once were but no longer are. By placing ourselves in the care of an employer, we cling to our childhood dependence on others who may be only slightly ahead of ourselves in their personal development and self-awareness.

First we are shaped by others in this life, then we arrive at self-realization and discover who, exactly, our unique life histories have turned us into. That process of self-discovery authorizes us to make ourselves happen in the world through our own engagements, giving us the means for advancing ourselves by lifting our own bootstraps, so that we fulfill ourselves by our own efforts, to our own ends.

Quite simply, we must be ourselves to the fullest because we can’t be anyone else. If we don’t do that work, no one else can do it for us. Not our spouses, not our children, not our friends, not our employers.

I look upon this present so-called recession as an opportunity to rethink our relationship to the society we find ourselves living in. If we are devoting our life energies to the wellbeing of others, sacrificing ourselves for their profit, then now is our chance to rework that bargain so that we benefit equally from our parallel or mutual engagements (anything less amounts to enslavement).

If we don’t know how to proceed, we must educate ourselves to listen to our own inner voice, not the voice from the school, factory, or community loudspeaker telling us what to do. We are sold the idea that education prepares us to get a “good” job. The truth is that what we need to learn is how to engage effectively with whatever situation we find ourselves in—including situations we cannot even imagine—using the powers inherent in our bodies and minds to advance themselves by teaching us to engage on behalf of our personal values, interests, and formative experiences. If schools don’t help us learn how to do that, they are serving someone else’s agenda, not their students’.

The fuller we become ourselves in our engagements, the more we encourage those around us to be fully themselves in theirs. We can’t instruct them in what to do, but by serving as examples, we help others to figure that out for themselves.

The question is, how can we engage our surroundings so that we complement one another as we grow into ourselves? The world we have lived in up till now has stressed competition between winners and losers. In politics and economics, if you don’t win you wonder why you even try. But that’s not how an equitable society should work, one group thriving at another’s expense. If we don’t all become winners, we all are diminished to that same extent. The current income and power disparity teaches us that.

No, we can’t engage in political, economic, or educational systems that pit us against one another. We are in this life together, so all must have an equal chance to survive. The way to do that is for each to accept full responsibility for becoming his- or herself to the max. Who we become is who we already are but don’t yet recognize as ourselves. That work is a job of self-cultivation by developing skills of engagement driven from the inside, not laid upon us by others for their personal advantage.

These are metaphysical issues seldom addressed in the press. My claim is that reality is our own personal doing in interacting as we do with the world, not the reality of faces smiling upon us out of the mythological or fantasy world crafted by advertising and public relations firms, members of the same world that dictates the curriculums of our local schools. In truth, reality is in the care of each one of us as we bioenergetically engage the world around us in terms of the situations we believe ourselves to be in at the time. We build that reality through every one of the engagements we conduct in behaving as we do, situation after situation as viewed from our unique, subjective perspective.

If that operative reality is to change in our favor, we have to alter how we engage day by day. Which seems like a good topic for my next post to this blog.

Thanks for listening. I remain as ever, y’r friend, –Steve of this planet we live on, the only one we have or, indeed, that will have us

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.       [Including 16 photos.]

Where do Mitt Romney’s non-taxpaying moochers go on vacation? I don’t know about the others, but this September I allowed myself three days to explore Campobello Island in New Brunswick off Lubec, Maine, where I wanted to do some serious mooching. By mooching I mean engaging my surroundings with my eyes and my camera, checking on the situations I am apt to get myself into so I can make a fitting response to what’s going on in my world. My partner was ready to take a break, too, so we drove together through Washington County and over the international bridge between Lubec and Campobello, to the island where F.D.R. took vacations long ago before he got polio.

We spent three days in Herring Cove Provincial Park and Roosevelt International Park, as beautiful an area as I have ever been in. Since this was our only vacation all year, we had some heavy mooching to do if it was going to have to last us for twelve months. I took the makings of three breakfasts and three lunches, she provided three dinners. We tented out in Herring Cove Campground, and did little but explore the whole time.

Since I feel obligated to submit a report to Mr. Romney to justify my existence for those three days—on the off-chance he might approve of how I occupied myself—I offer this accounting of how I used my time. We arrived just at dusk, so set up the tent in a hurry, avoiding low ground where rainwater would collect, and then ate a quick dinner. That was Friday night. The forecast for Saturday was wind and rain by early afternoon, so we started out early in the morning by visiting the beach at Cranberry Point. Yes, there was the Lubec Channel Light, just as the brochure said it would be—looking every bit the giant sparkplug they said it resembled. Carole, that’s my partner, suffered from stomach distress, so lay on the shore with a smooth beach stone in each hand to heal herself. And I walked up and down the beach, photographing the Duck Islands, the waves, clouds on the horizon, a painted lady butterfly, the lighthouse, and West Quoddy Light across the channel in the U.S. of A.

When it started to rain, we visited the Roosevelt International Park visitor center, and spent a couple of hours refreshing our memories of F.D.R.s life and presidency. They had fifteen of his notable speeches piped into a cathedral-style table radio, so it was like old times, reminding me of December 7, 1941, when I first heard of the Japanese stealth bombing of Pearl Harbor. If it hadn’t been for F.D.R., I wouldn’t be the moocher I am today, so I had no difficulty paying my respects to his memory.

When the rain let up, we headed for the northern end of the island to visit East Quoddy Light, which a woman walking her dog told us might be turned into guest accommodations. An adult bald eagle was riling up the gulls on the rocks, looking like he (a tercel one-third smaller than a female) was determined to eat one for dinner. He landed on top of a nearby spruce and balanced himself in the wind by much flapping of wings, then dove off and made a fly-by of where we were standing. I got several photos of that foray, before he settled down on the rocks and just sat there eying the gulls, who mercilessly harassed him by diving at his neck from behind.

You get the idea of how I go about mooching by following my nose to whatever looks interesting. I took 355 photos in three days, and the day I got back, made a 106-slide PowerPoint summary of my brief Canadian engagement, a sample of which I include in this blog. That’s the best way of letting Mr. Romney and the rest of the world know what I was doing by actually posting the evidence of my nonstop engagement with birds, flowers, butterflies, stones, beach art, and my partner Carole. That’s how I justify my existence when somebody challenges me, by showing them what I’m up to.

Whether you’re ready or not, here come the photos: 1) The Duck Islands, 2) Herring Cove with storm clouds, 3) shiny black stone on the beach, 4) the eastern horizon (I’m fascinated by that limit to my existence), 5) a bunch of pebbles, 6) more pebbles, 7) sandpiper on Raccoon Beach, 8) two urchins in sea wrack, 9) a new-hatched monarch butterfly, 10) cliff at the end of Herring Cove, 11) folk art made of the rubber bands lobstermen use to bind lobster claws, 12) a spiral engraved in the sand of Herring Cove with a stick, 13) a totem made by piling up beach stones, and 14-16) constructions such as people leave behind when visiting Raccoon Cove on Campobello Island.

The first ten photos are products my actions in engaging the island, the last six are products of other people’s engagements, left behind for posterity to appreciate, then to succumb to the natural forces ruling all engagements on the island.

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That’s the kind of thing I engage with when I and my partner go on vacation. It’s pretty close to my life’s work, engaging the landscapes through which I pass as I go. I see myself as living a life of civility and respect for the wonders of this Earth. At least I don’t make pornographic films, weapons of mass destruction, or money based on bilking others of their life’s savings. I do as little damage as I can, and above all, take responsibility for the workings of my mind because, after all, it’s my mind, and I’m the only one with access to it. My mind directs my behavior, and my behavior affects other people, so I try to set up an exchange of civility as I walk the way of my life.

Oh, yes, this is my 329th post to my blog on consciousness, my effort to understand my personal brand of absurdity so that I can fulfill that last promise to live on peaceful terms with my neighbors by conducting myself as decently, courteously, and respectfully as I can because I know that no one has it easy, and a ruckus from my direction is the last thing anyone needs. Not that I haven’t caused trouble in the past, but I’m getting better by knowing myself up-close and personal, as they used to say on TV, which I know because I was there watching it as recently as twenty-five years ago.

That’s my mooching report for this week. Pretty bland, I would say—especially when compared to the trouble a lot of workers cause by fighting needless wars of aggression, wringing other people’s money out of the economy, keeping people locked up in detention and solitary confinement, shipping jobs overseas, and generally causing mayhem the way politicians and corporate executives like to do to keep folks stirred up and out of sorts so they’ll consume more than they need just to keep the money flowing to the coffers of the well-off and famous.  

Between mooches I work with an estuary and its watershed to keep it in good shape for coming generations, and hang out with remnants of the Occupy Movement in Maine, trying to convert to an assembly for promoting civil exchanges within the local community as opposed to monetary exchanges—as if sports and the economy are all we have to talk about when people get together. How about learning from and about one another, since each one of us is unique and largely unknown to anyone else?

Submitted with humility and sincerity, –Steve of Planet Earth

Reflection 328: Pandemic

October 5, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

When overwhelmed by the wackiness of today’s “civilized” world, I often view my own consciousness as a theater of the absurd. What I see is one crank after another bantering about his eccentric view of the world being the one and only view that everyone else should take as a revelation of true reality. Tyrants do it, political leaders do it, holy men do it, as do newscasters, pundits, businessmen, bankers, economists, entertainers, making it seem that a tsunami of craziness has swept over us in the night, engulfing us in a flood of absurdity.

My defense against this flood is to look upon today’s reality as a kind of dream where the conventional social order is overturned in a wild Saturnalia of anything goes. If it can be thought, it will be thought by someone, somewhere. If it can be said, ditto. If it can be done, double ditto. Which is much like many of my nightmares, and creates a sense of frustration similar to how I, powerless in my sleep, react to those dreams.

Except the current pandemic of self-seeking wackiness is no dream. It is the most brutish kind of reality where every man squares off against all others for himself alone to see what he can get by forcing his burden of craziness on the rest of us.

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has assigned the status of personhood to corporations, thereby granting the right of free speech and free spending of money to for-profit entities out to make a killing from the rest of us mere mortals by transferring our personal wealth to their coffers as quickly as possible. That is no way to run a world, and since there’s only one world based on potential consciousness, that is no way to run this world, the one we’ve been born to.

I dream of the possibility of a world based on decency, courtesy, and respect—a world where citizens are civil one to another, and do not base their engagements solely on power and money, that is, on what they can get from others and from the Earth.

Our current passion for competition comes from a false reading of Darwin’s message. We are one human family among our fellow plants and animals, without whom we would not be here. We are not the top dog, the essential nation, the leader of all tribes. Above all, we are not “man-the-wise.” Whatever happened to empathy and humility? Where did we go wrong in selling our souls for (temporary) personal advantage?

We are a primate species, born of a long line of expert tree climbers and leapers, come down to earth, now risen up on two legs and looking for trouble, which we seem to thrive on. Yet we are all mortal beings, heading for certain illness and death, born of woman, conceived by a man and a woman, who were both conceived by male and female going back to the beginning of primate life. The lady in France who said (in French) “I am not a mammal” had it backwards. Because she worked for a company that made baby formula, she imagined herself as a superior being independent of her animal roots. In deep denial, she was being absurd. It is that fatuous quality that now defines us and sets us against who we truly are.

This year’s Republican presidential primary race pitted one candidate against all others, each making preposterous statements based on his or her personal life experience as if it was the basis of universal law. Personal conceit (which I see as a form of ignorance) mixed with a hunger for money ignites the absurdity I see all around us. A pandemic of absurdity, where no one has his feet on the ground but is issuing nonsense out of his mouth as if it came from the Delphic Oracle—from the Priestess herself. Or from Fox News, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, some infallible Pope or Ayatollah—from ideologues to the Tenth Degree.

We have become the laughing stock of all species, or would be if we didn’t wreak so much waste, havoc, chaos, and misery in our wake. This is what the 13-billion-year history of the universe has brought us to? This has been our destiny all along?

Don’t you believe it! This current pandemic of absurdity is an anomaly, a product of personal avarice and lust for power, a temporary state of affairs brought on by a lapse of judgment in choosing our way in the world based on how we wish to engage one another, seeing others as dupes and fools, not our equals, not our Earthly brothers and sisters.

We are suffering through a breakdown in human engagement, a parody of personal virtue gone musty and rotten. We are using one another as personal property to be used, gutted, and discarded. This is the new slavery, the purchase and abuse of those thought to be lesser beings because of their relative poverty and weakness. Imagine the bundling of mortgages imposed on people who cannot afford the homes they buy because that intentionally unbearable debt adds up to big money to be claimed by those who see the total amount but not the people who owe it as if it were only money, not bundled human lives.

Where, oh where is civility? We are not here to be at our neighbors’ throats, or to do our worst, not our best. We are at the forefront of the history of the universe, ready to engage those who have come with us on the basis of our equality as living beings, not as dispensable victims. If I did not believe in civility, I would be embarrassed to be an American. Instead, I think we have only lost our way because of the worm of self-serving power and profit that has bored into our heads—and we can be healed and set right again in a New Age based on civil engagements that encourage decency, courtesy, and respect.

As it is, we are allowing ourselves and the Earth to be sold short of what we are truly worth—the only seat of consciousness that we have yet discovered—or are ever likely to discover—in the universe. If we keep on as we are going, where will we find the worthy examples to lead us back to our senses? Civility is fragile, the product of eons of collective respect, striving, and cooperation. Are we going to sit by and watch it be taken from us by a vain and wealthy elite that wants to run the world solely on its own terms? We deserve a better fate than that.

As I see it, the only alternative is for us to achieve the civility I am talking about by building it into the heart of our own lives and engagements, thereby refusing to go meekly along with the self-appointed elite, who are really the most forlorn, desperate, and pitiable caricatures of what humanity can be. What choice do we have but to remain staunchly ourselves?

Respectfully, y’r friend and brother, –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Life of whom or what? Life of the Quaker Institute for the Future summer seminar 2012 held at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. In particular, signs of that life on one day, Friday, June 8, 2012. I witnessed that life because I was there with my brand-new Panasonic Lumix ZS15 digital camera.

Ed Snyder’s was the only presentation on that day. His topic was: “How to move forward from the current system of material consumption to no-growth and environmental sustainability while providing equity and a decent life for all.” No, not very catchy, but the talk focused on the issues that brought everyone into that particular room every day this past week—from California, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Brunswick, Canada and, via Skype, Montreal.

Here’s what it looked like, in the order I took the photos:

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Location—College of the Atlantic campus, Bar Harbor: (back row) Steve, Jim, Leonard; (middle row) Ed, Laura, Charlie, Keith, Shelley, Phil; (front row) Barry, Gray. (Not shown) David in Montreal.

As to what was happening in those shots: Ed was giving his presentation on the demise of life on planet Earth; the rest of us were trying to keep up with him. Ed’s talk was a description of possible courses we’ve not taken so far. Those routes (in Ed’s own words) involve “nonviolence, cooperation, community, and bottom-up decision making with emphasis on quality of life rather than continuing consumption of goods.” The course we’ve been heading is a dark and dangerous one, pointing us toward reefs, shoal waters, and the end of the world as we know it.

The beauty of this day in the life of the seminar came in contemplating the ten stages of the journey Ed laid out before us in terms of projects and cooperative engagements we could undertake to get ourselves back on the less traveled route to a sustainable Earth. The task was daunting but doable. We were being offered a plan, and in that plan, stage by stage, we found hope.

This was exactly why we’d gathered in Bar Harbor, so each of us would give a presentation from a different perspective that, collectively, would lay out the sequence of navigational skills we’d need to correct our course. Ed, master helmsman that he is, was giving us the tools we’d need to do the job.

This is my fifth blog based on the seminar. One more to go. This day was too intense to put into words, so I offer pictures instead. You should have been there.

As ever, I remain y’r vigilant friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I have a black camera bag slung on a shoulder strap. Everywhere I go, that strap catches on things—twigs, door knobs, stick shifts—anything that protrudes along my way.

I also have a large, shapeless winter coat whose waist and hem diameters are adjustable by pulling on three-inch loops on either side. Again, same story. Those loops are fiendish snares ready to capture anything within close range of my waist and hips as I walk through woods, say, doorways, or goods on supermarket shelves. It’s amazing how many objects in hardware store aisles are within their reach.

My camera bag and my coat are adventures waiting to happen because they are ever on guard for fun and games. I have found myself hung up countless times just trying to get out of my car while the strap on my camera bag is looped around the parking brake handle. Rowing my boat in the fall I have snagged an oar handle on one of those loops. The law of snares and hooks is: if it can happen, it will happen, sometime, somewhere. Just wait.

This reminds me of protein formation, of long, linear chains of amino acids being generated in every cell in our bodies, then folding in upon themselves by a similar law so that each chain assumes a definite shape not written in any book, but achieved nonetheless simply because if it can happen, it will happen. As it actually does happen, certain protein shapes are good for carrying out particular functions in their home cells, with the result that evolution happens simply because it can happen—sometime, somewhere. Our immune systems (unique in each case) operate on the same principle, antibodies descending on foreign bodies  (antigens) because they are built so their surfaces latch together in a specific joint configuration, enabling one to bump into the other, engage it, and then destroy it.

It is the law of happenstance that brings us to life and maintains us. The law of camera-bag straps and coat-size adjustment loops. Try to teach that in Texas schools (even dressed up as the theory of probabilistic affinities). We exist because of the possibility that, given world enough and time, we can come into being. If a genetic design can happen, it will happen, somewhere, sometime. Maybe this afternoon, maybe in ten thousand years.

On that note, I will introduce my real topic, which stems from a page of (paraphrased) notes I made about Leonard Joy’s talk at the Quaker Institute for the Future in Bar Harbor, Maine, this past Wednesday. Leonard is seeking answers to the problem of global Earth abuse. After introducing the topic of social transformation achieved through promotion of values maturation, he made a pause, looked up, and said of his own work, “So what"?” His snare was set, waiting for an answer to come by.

What he meant was that a great many groups were working to bring humanity into line with Earth’s ability to support it, along with other forms of life. But what he doesn’t find anywhere is the vision allowed by a developmental perspective. Quakers float their image of a blessed or beloved community—a kind of peaceable kingdom—but where’s the vision portraying what a sustainable Earth would look like so that we might work our way towards it today rather than fulfill an ideal proposed in simpler times? Then he adjusted his snare by asking two questions of and for himself:

1. Is there a role for the Quaker Institute for the Future in achieving a global perspective for all life on Earth?

2. Is there a group I can join to help plan this work?

By which he caught a variety of responses from his audience. Someone brought up the idea of replacing the GDP as a measure of social order with the GDH—a measure of gross domestic happiness, as has surfaced in Bhutan, and is now being considered by a UN committee. Measurement is not the issue, said someone else, we need to gauge the quality of the processes that drive people to improve their lot. This remark snared me because, as an advocate for self-understanding, I believe that if we are the cause of Earth’s deterioration as a life-support system, then the answer must lie within each of our acculturated selves as that which drives our inappropriate social behavior.

Then Leonard responded to his own questions by stating that he himself was stymied by the immensity of the issue and was primed and ready for a personal epiphany. And expanding that thought to include us all, he said that when things are not going right, we need a figurative light to illuminate our way towards an actual solution—which is where I took up writing yesterday’s reflection (No. 273).

That page of notes in my steno pad put me on a line of thought about how we make ourselves happen in the world, the topic of Consciousness: The Book (see www.myndloop.com). Which is where hooks and snares come in. We need to join forces with others who share a similar mindset so that we can support one another as a kind of affinity group working to achieve a common goal that is beyond our powers if we work separately. But how can we find those others? They must be out there somewhere, perhaps even looking our way for help. We won’t be able to do the job without them, nor they without us. How can we draw them to our cause? How can they catch our attention so that we can hook up and get on with the great work we jointly want—no, need to accomplish?

My coat and camera bag could pull off such a trick without even trying, much less being conscious. They’d do it by simply being themselves. No special skills required. So why is it so hard for earnest Earth-savers to find one another and get on with the work they’ve independently set for themselves?

We know that a lot of economists and environmentalists will show up in Rio de Janeiro on June 20th at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Gray Cox, who teaches at College of the Atlantic (COA), and is a founding member of the Quaker Institute for the Future, is going with a group of students. At the seminar yesterday he asked for suggestions for how his group might proceed.

We know that most delegates to Rio+20 will emphasize the development side of the program, pushing for development that is sustainable rather than a planet that is sustainable. So the trick would be for the COA group to snare those who are for the poor and the planet rather than for the rich and the proceeds from development.

Following up on Leonard’s quest for revelatory insight and a team to work with, and then applying those goals to Gray’s situation in order to build a global organization that will be up to the challenge, I’d say the first thing to do in Rio is set snares for kindred souls out in the open where everybody can see them. The COA students could draw attention to themselves by being highly visible and attractive: painting their faces green; waving clear, simple signs; dancing; singing; making a glad stir wherever they go so that people will take notice (short of evicting them).

Second, have a good time. People are attracted to those who are enjoying themselves, particularly when they themselves feel lost or left out.

Third, keep your pitch short and simple. No harangues, no lectures. Simple sharing will do the trick. I can read two or three bumper-stickers while waiting for the light to change; keep it that clear and direct. The more details you go into, the less sure others will be that you are for them. It’s the rhythm and poetry that counts, not the full job description.

Fourth, get the name and contact information of everyone you engage with so you can build the team you want by inter-connecting the lot of them into a network that doesn’t yet exist but that you can create. Build your own resource-rich organization, not of famous economists and environmentalists, but of savvy and energetic folks who will lay the groundwork around the world. The main thing is to make those contacts. You will have years to elaborate.

Fifth, deputize those you talk with to join your effort immediately to help find others to work with right there in Rio while it’s happening. Give them a cap, arm- or wrist-band, or badge to show they are with you. See, there’s your network already behind all those green faces.

Sixth, engage with everybody you meet. Don’t dismiss anyone because of how they look, talk, or dress. Everyone of us has a secret inner life. Show them your dream right off, and they will show you theirs. If you connect on that level, you’re halfway to building the organization you want to change the world.

Throughout this extended engagement, be yourselves, not as partisan members of a particular racial, political, or economic system, but as representatives of our common planet—as Earthlings, Earthists, Earthites, or whatever you choose to call yourselves. That is your primary identity, now and forever. Be who you are.

Etc., etc. You’re as good as my camera-bag strap and coat loops already. Even better, because you’ve kept track of whom you’ve met and know how to reach every one of them by three different means. Don’t forget your mission: you are looking for kindred souls to establish fruitful affinities with. Your hooks and snares are reassuring, not threatening. You are building life, not destroying it. So go forth, be yourself, and get to it.

How’s that as a recipe for changing the world? If Quakers can do it, so can you, whatever your persuasion. It’s just that Quakers have been at it for over 250 years, and have accomplished a lot in that time, so have a head start.

This is my fourth blog from the Quaker Institute for the Future summer seminar at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. I gave my presentation on Thinking About Thinking yesterday; now I’m all for action which, after all, is why we take time to think in the first place: to produce effective action in the world. I use thinking to find out who I am at a particular moment. That way, I don’t mix myself up with you, or blame you for not meeting my desires. I am in charge of myself; you are in charge of yourself. If we can get together, we’ll make a great team, no matter how far apart.

Thanks to Leonard Joy and Gray Cox of the Quaker Institute for the Future, and their fellow question askers, for their insightful presentations, to which this post is a grateful response. Thanks to everyone for tuning in. I’m still here as y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday, Occupy Bar Harbor hosted a public showing of Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job documenting the effects from 30 years of deregulation of the financial services industry. What did we get but exploitation of the many by the few?

What struck me most in this, my fourth viewing, was the unbridled collusion between 1) giant international investment banks, 2) rating agencies that evaluated their offerings, 3) insurance companies that guaranteed a profit even if investments proved worthless, 4) business schools that lent respectability to dangerous practices, and 5) state and national governments that dismantled the legal framework preventing the industry from abusing its clients.

Bill Clinton summed the attitude up in his maxim, “It’s the economy, Stupid!” Which, perversely, I now read as, You’re stupid if you think the economy is all there is. That is, the economy is life itself. No, there’s more to it—this muddling life of ours.

Exploiting others is only one example of an extreme way to live. Of setting oneself as the standard and computing all benefit from that narrow perspective. What’s in it for me, me, me? is no philosophy of life. Particularly in a self-proclaimed democracy that claims to respect all citizens as equal. Social (misapplied) Darwinism that leads to treating the elite as more equal than the rest leads to eugenics, dysgenics, winning at all cost, and exploitation of those deemed inferior and less worthy.

Which is why we play games by rules that apply to all players. We share, take turns, are fair in our judgments, and accept loss as a temporary setback, not an evaluation of our humanity.

As I see it from my individual perspective, the drive to dominate others’ minds for personal advantage is at the heart of entrepreneurship and our capitalist version of democracy, including notions of corporate personhood and the spending of money as a variant of free speech (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 262).

That’s where Inside Job takes me each time, to the deliberate abuse of public trust for personal advantage—which is called cheating. I continue the passage in that vein:

Capitalism sets up two classes of people: owners and workers. Because owners have wealth, workers have jobs—we take that as the desirable state of affairs. Getting a job means working for somebody else. Owners, on the other hand, are seen as public benefactors in keeping workers off the streets and public dole. This formula gives all power and all virtue to owners, to whom workers owe the duty of arriving on time, working hard, not complaining, and being grateful for regular paychecks. But as company men, workers lose the right to exercise their own minds, which is more than any man or woman should bargain away for the sake of employment (p. 262f.).

Power is the issue here, or the unequal distribution of power:

The powerful have always depended on the labor of others—spouses, children, servants, minions, slaves, laborers, stewards, consultants, staff, hands, and all the rest. Bodily control depends ultimately on mind control, so workers are expected to devote their lives to the welfare of those they have the privilege of serving (from Latin servus, slave). The economy is designed to justify such a situation as being true to the reality of how life really works—as if individuals were born to one class or the other as children of the owning or of the laboring class—an idea whose time should have come and gone long ago (p. 263).

The collusion between various elites treating the public as losers, dupes, and fools is at the heart of the latest financial collapse as depicted in Inside Job. How is it possible for a class of people to evolve the belief that they can duly suck the blood of the masses like so many vampires—and think they are clever in doing so? In the process wreaking subsequent havoc, chaos, waste, and destruction on a gullible public, generating massive amounts of entropy where civilization depends on sustained social order for the indefinite future.

It all comes down to how we choose to engage with (not in opposition to) our fellow passengers on this planet of ours. If we live at the expense of those we deal with, we are so many lampreys or vultures. If we elect to live as peers equal to the cohort we are born to, respecting others as much as we do ourselves, then there may be some hope for us all.

It is no accident the Occupy Movement chose to camp out on Wall Street where the entire financial services cabal could see their faces. Who wants to grow up in a world where your future is co-opted before you arrive?

Enough already. As ever, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday, Occupy Bar Harbor hosted a public showing of Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job documenting the effects from 30 years of deregulation of the financial services industry. What did we get but exploitation of the many by the few?

What struck me most in this, my fourth viewing, was the unbridled collusion between 1) giant international investment banks, 2) rating agencies that evaluated their offerings, 3) insurance companies that guaranteed a profit even if investments proved worthless, 4) business schools that lent respectability to dangerous practices, and 5) state and national governments that dismantled the legal framework preventing the industry from abusing its clients.

Bill Clinton summed the attitude up in his maxim, “It’s the economy, Stupid!” Which, perversely, I now read as, You’re stupid if you think the economy is all there is. That is, the economy is life itself. No, there’s more to it—this muddling life of ours.

Exploiting others is only one example of an extreme way to live. Of setting oneself as the standard and computing all benefit from that narrow perspective. What’s in it for me, me, me? is no philosophy of life. Particularly in a self-proclaimed democracy that claims to respect all citizens as equal. Social (misapplied) Darwinism that leads to treating the elite as more equal than the rest leads to eugenics, dysgenics, winning at all cost, and exploitation of those deemed inferior and less worthy.

Which is why we play games by rules that apply to all players. We share, take turns, are fair in our judgments, and accept loss as a temporary setback, not an evaluation of our humanity.

As I see it from my individual perspective, the drive to dominate others’ minds for personal advantage is at the heart of entrepreneurship and our capitalist version of democracy, including notions of corporate personhood and the spending of money as a variant of free speech (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 262).

That’s where Inside Job takes me each time, to the deliberate abuse of public trust for personal advantage—which is called cheating. I continue the passage in that vein:

Capitalism sets up two classes of people: owners and workers. Because owners have wealth, workers have jobs—we take that as the desirable state of affairs. Getting a job means working for somebody else. Owners, on the other hand, are seen as public benefactors in keeping workers off the streets and public dole. This formula gives all power and all virtue to owners, to whom workers owe the duty of arriving on time, working hard, not complaining, and being grateful for regular paychecks. But as company men, workers lose the right to exercise their own minds, which is more than any man or woman should bargain away for the sake of employment (p. 262f.).

Power is the issue here, or the unequal distribution of power:

The powerful have always depended on the labor of others—spouses, children, servants, minions, slaves, laborers, stewards, consultants, staff, hands, and all the rest. Bodily control depends ultimately on mind control, so workers are expected to devote their lives to the welfare of those they have the privilege of serving (from Latin servus, slave). The economy is designed to justify such a situation as being true to the reality of how life really works—as if individuals were born to one class or the other as children of the owning or of the laboring class—an idea whose time should have come and gone long ago (p. 263).

The collusion between various elites treating the public as losers, dupes, and fools is at the heart of the latest financial collapse as depicted in Inside Job. How is it possible for a class of people to evolve the belief that they can duly suck the blood of the masses like so many vampires—and think they are clever in doing so? In the process wreaking subsequent havoc, chaos, waste, and destruction on a gullible public, generating massive amounts of entropy where civilization depends on sustained social order for the indefinite future.

It all comes down to how we choose to engage with (not in opposition to) our fellow passengers on this planet of ours. If we live at the expense of those we deal with, we are so many lampreys or vultures. If we elect to live as peers equal to the cohort we are born to, respecting others as much as we do ourselves, then there may be some hope for us all.

It is no accident the Occupy Movement chose to camp out on Wall Street where the entire financial services cabal could see their faces. Who wants to grow up in a world where your future is co-opted before you arrive?

Enough already. As ever, –Steve

(Copyright © 2010)

There is more to rockweed than meets the eye. This is because we regard it, for the sake of clarity, from highly selective perspectives. To see anything at all clearly, we screen out much of everything else that gets in the way of what we’re trying to see from our point of view.

In the case of rockweed harvesting along the Maine coast, the two chief perspectives look at rockweed from opposite directions, from the economic-industrial side, and the research-ecological side. From a management perspective, the challenge is to find a sustainable balance between the two sides.

You can tell immediately which side people are on by the terms they use to discuss rockweed. If you hear “biomass,” “wet tons,” “weed,” “standing crop,” or “jobs,” you know you are listening to the industrial side of the discussion. On the other hand, words such as “habitat,” “primary producer,” “refuge,” “ecosystem,” or Ascophyllum nodosum (the Latin binomial by which the desirable species of rockweed is known), you are hearing the ecological side.

Rockweed harvesters dwell in the space where the two perspectives meet. Their motive for being there is primarily economic—to make a living—but to do so in that particular way they also must develop a professional understanding of what it is they are converting from a nurturing and protective habitat (as seen by one side) to so many wet tons of biomass (as seen by the other). Generally not scientists themselves, they pick up enough ecosystem talk to carry on a conversation with landowners and anyone else who engages them. But they fall short of acquiring an informed ecological perspective; their allegiance is to the industry, not the ecosystem. By way of compromise, they develop a rationale for taking so much from a given bed of rockweed—often cited as 17% of the “standing crop,” deliberately leaving the rest to carry on its ecological function. Their ultimate goal, however, is to deliver so many wet tons of biomass to a dealer at dockside.

The lobster industry in Maine is a notable example of harvesters regulating themselves to assure the sustainability of their fishery. They gave up dragging for lobsters in the 1940s, and now V-notch egg-bearing females, impose upper and lower size limits on the allowable catch, put escape vents in their parlors for undersize lobsters, limit their strings of traps, set up an apprenticeship system for those wanting to learn the craft, and generally conduct themselves in a responsible and professional manner for the sake of long-term job security. That is, beyond being harvesters, they have trained themselves to be stewards as well. Even to the point of feeding their catch by reliably filling their bait bags, which brings the wild fishery to the verge of an aquaculture operation.

The questions faced by the rockweed industry and ecologists alike include: 1) How much rockweed can be taken without disrupting the long-term structure and productivity of the ecosystems within which it function?; 2) Where can it be so taken?; 3) By what methods?; 4) At what intervals?; and 5) By harvesters with what experience and training? The challenge I see in such questions is that of asking rockweed harvesters to act as good stewards of the resource they depend on for a living. Which comes down to the issue of whose standards are they to meet—those set by the industry, or by impartial ecologists?

Harvest standards set by ecologists consider not only the biomass of the rockweed taken, but the function of that biomass if left in place. As a primary food producer—along with kelp, eelgrass, low marsh grass, and phytoplankton, among others—on which marine ecosystems depend, rockweed supports the survival of the living coast that complements upland forests in giving Maine its character and identity as a human habitat.

How does that work? Rockweed constantly feeds energy derived from photosynthesis into coastal waters from branches breaking off through wear and tear from constant motion imparted by tides and waves. As free-floating wrack, that organic material rides up and down on local currents, providing a surface habitat for amphipods and other life forms, which in turn attract birds like Bonaparte’s gulls and various species of terns—direct beneficiaries of the energy stored in bits and pieces of rockweed. That wrack either exits the bay to feed a variety of species farther along the coast or out in the Gulf of Maine. Or is perhaps deposited at the high tide line along the shore, where it provides habitat and food for shoreline scavengers—sandpipers, song sparrows, thrushes, gulls, crows, schools of small fish, among other wildlife species.

Broken into ever-finer particles, rockweed eventually decays, becomes colonized by protein-rich bacteria, and assumes a new identity as energy-rich detritus, food for filter-feeding mussels, scallops, oysters, barnacles, juvenile lobsters, and early life stages of a great many marine creatures both vertebrate and invertebrate. Because of the nutritional boost from nitrogen-rich bacteria, detritus is a value-added form of the rockweed and other primary food producers from which it derives. In supporting entire marine and estuarine ecosystems, a ton of rockweed in the form of detritus is worth far more than the $40 the rockweed harvester gets paid by the ton. In fact its value is inestimable. What is the going price of a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of sunlight, or a raindrop falling from the sky? Coastal Maine and its gulf run largely on detritus. What is that worth to a fox, eagle, harbor seal, or to you? What is the value of Cobscook Bay, Taunton Bay, or the Gulf of Maine?

The history of Maine fisheries is a tale of descent lower and lower on the food web, until now even primary producers such as rockweed and kelp have a certain market price—not as value-added detritus, but as materials in the raw. Which is the highest and best use of rockweed?—detritus to feed the entire coast, or a commodity sold as fertilizer or an additive for commercial foods and cosmetics. Perspectives have implications and ramifications which, like by-catch, often go unrecognized.

To end up, I will shift from the food-web to the habitat aspect of rockweed. Whether providing shelter; opportunity for grazing, foraging, reproducing, refuge from predation; or otherwise essential habitat, rockweed invites life to the intertidal zone, a hardscrabble habitat of extremes if ever there was one. Yet by expanding and collapsing as driven by its highly variable circumstances, rockweed offers its services to all comers with great efficiency, tide after tide, season after season, year after year. Again, what are those services worth to alewives, eels, periwinkles, crabs, copepods, amphipods, crangon shrimp, eiders, black ducks, loons, herons, kingfishers, and the likes whose lives depend on them? What are they worth to you in comparison to having a tub of industrial-grade ice cream in the freezer, or a creamy cosmetic on your lips?

The essential question is: At what harvest level do the ecological and industrial values of rockweed come into conflict so that opting for one penalizes the other? The rockweed industry aims to convert 17% of select beds of rockweed to biomass. That figure assumes a great deal about the continued functioning of local ecosystems after those beds are cut, their structure radically altered, their biomass removed.

Since the energy stored in rockweed fuels much of the Maine coast, it strikes me that removal of even 17% of select areas is excessive. Given that 100% of rockweed energy turns over every two years, distributing its wealth as wrack and detritus among species such as I have mentioned, a 17% cut on top of 50% annual turnover sounds to me more like a 34% reduction of the “standing crop” on which that natural distribution of food energy depends in the following year. In light of the habitat and energy reductions implied by that level of rockweed harvest, I propose that a 5% cut seems eminently more reasonable.

At the February 10 Rockweed Research Priorities Symposium at the University of Maine in Orono, Sea Grant joined with the Department of Marine Resources in initiating a process of discovery to find out what gaps still exist in our understanding of the ecological consequences of rockweed harvesting. On February 17, current findings were relayed to the Joint Legislative Committee on Marine Resources, which considers last year’s legislation regarding the harvest level in Cobscook Bay a done deal. That is, the state sides with industry recommendations. Which makes it all the more likely that the 17% level of harvest will spread to the rest of the coast.

It is up to resource managers in Maine to decide whether to take a short-term view for the sake of feeding biomass to the industry, or a long-term view including habitat considerations and the gradual distribution of rockweed energy as viewed from an ecological perspective. Stakes are high: Nothing less than the continued productivity and viability of the Maine coast is at issue. I have testified before the Marine Resources Committee that I consider a 17% rockweed cut to be unsustainable. From my perspective, a less risky harvest might be as high as 5% every third year in the same bed if closely monitored.

Seal Pup Amid Rockweed