We Are One In Song

I want to quote architect and sustainability guru Tom Bender –  http://www.tombender.org/ (I’ve changed a couple of words so that song refers to instrumentals as well as vocal songs, which he was originally talking about):

“Song is the voice of the soul. Song is a mingling of our hearts, a sharing, a giving, an affirmation. It is giving release and place to our emotions. It is as essential to community life as to our personal lives. Without song as an integral part of our lives there is no shared celebration of harmony, no balance to the small separating things of life that accumulate and can tear us and our society asunder. Song is part of work, part of celebrating, of joy, of pleasure. It is the expression and purging of grief, the vibrations healing our inner spirits. We are one in song.”

Oliver Sacks gathers evidence that music is an important part of being human in his book Musicophiliahttp://musicophilia.com/ As far as we know, music has been part of every human society .

I do know of two groups that tried to severely limit access to music – Hitler’s Germany and Islamic extremists, especially the Taliban. Both are far right-wing, authoritarian, hierarchical, women-denigrating cultures. Why does this kind of group fear music?

One clue, I think, is found in an interesting fact I learned from Oliver Sacks’s book. Unlike doctors, lawyers, or members of other professions, the brain of a musician can be recognized during an autopsy, especially if he began music at a young age. This is because his brain will have grown an unusual number of connections between the two halves (women’s brains also tend to have more connections between the halves than men’s).

It is theorized that these extra connections forge a more direct link between thinking and feeling – a necessary skill for interpreting music. But strong and direct connections between thinking and feeling naturally tend to lead a person to be more empathetic.

Also, making music is necessarily a cooperative endeavor. There is room for leadership, but of a shifting kind, and based strictly on practicality and competence. Music must be true to itself, not produced within a structure of arbitrary authority – such can be done, but it is invariably bad music, and every musician knows it.

So despots have two reasons to view musicians as a threat: 1) empathic and creative people are not likely to buy into a “party line” of arbitrary authority; and 2) it is dangerous for the despot to allow groups of people to learn that they can produce something good and valuable outside the rigid system, and do it cooperatively.

So sing! Take up an instrument! Support music education! Enjoy!

[check out      http://www.hungryformusic.org


True Believers

Reality surrounds us, but we each see only slices of it — and not always the same slices. “Eyewitness” experiments famously show that when ten people witness an event, they will give ten different (sometimes very different) accounts of it.

Have you ever taken a snapshot and then later found it was not at all how you remembered the scene? Then you know that we see only partially as we focus our attention on some things and ignore others. Furthermore, we distort even what we do see according to our own particular language, culture, background, and experiences.

Human senses only work within very circumscribed limits. I will never forget two pictures I saw in a magazine years ago — the first showed a flat lawn with a large leafy bush in the middle of it. The second was exactly the same area, but taken with an infrared camera — the way a snake would see it. Clearly visible behind the bush was the heat form of a man.

Bats can hear sounds too high for human ears, elephants can hear sounds too low. Bees can see polarized light. Dogs and pigs can smell much better than we can, and so on. Of course, we have instruments that can extend our senses greatly, telescopes, microscopes, infrared, X-rays, etc. but in daily life we don’t often think about the world in these ways. We experience a brick wall as solid, even though science tells us that it is made of mostly empty space filled with a pattern of electrons spinning energetically around the centers of their atoms like our planets circling our sun. Sitting still, we don’t perceive ourselves on a planet spinning on its axis while simultaneously orbiting the sun, swirling in a galaxy and rushing away from the original “big bang” point of origin of the universe. Nor do we remember all that most of the time.

We each use our normal sense perceptions and our minds to fashion the best picture of reality that we can — but it will always be only a limited picture, and will differ somewhat from person to person. This is inescapable and cannot be otherwise. We adopt our version of reality from our parents, friends, teachers, reading, etc. (as best we understand it) — and then work at adapting it to our own experiences.

But there are some of us who take one extra step — that one step too far. Having adopted and adapted a vision of “how things are” these unfortunate folks — forgetting or ignoring the always partial nature of human knowledge — decide that their version of reality is reality itself.

This is called mistaking the map for the territory.

That one step too far, taken in ignorance leads to a fall into the pit of spiritual pride, into a belief that “My way is the one true way!” This is fanaticism.

You Can’t Live Without Food and Water

You can live without a lot of things, but you can’t live without food and water. Whoever controls them controls you.

In the last few years there has been a dramatic increase in the concentration of ownership of our food and water into just a few giant international corporations.

According to Judith McGeary in Countryside Magazine, “A handful of corporations have an almost complete monopoly on the food supply for a majority of Americans.” These include Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Coca-Cola, Tyson, Phillip Morris-Kraft, Nestle, Del Monte, etc. – corporations that are rapidly taking ownership of (privatizing) our food and water.

As Canada’s Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) put it, “Access to food, health, and nutrition once considered a fundamental human right is now subject to the whims of the market system.”

And what a market it is! Annual retail value of global food sales is estimated to be two thousand billion dollars – over six times more than pharmaceutical sales. (Makes a seven hundred billion dollar bail-out sound almost trivial, doesn’t it?)

We know the results for the corporations, power and super-profits. But what are the results for the rest of us?

I quote from Food Facts, a non-profit report available here .  “The human toll of disease from poor nutrition is soaring. U.S. deaths from nutrition-related diseases (365,000 per year) are rapidly approaching the deaths attributable to the nation’s number one killer, tobacco.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports soaring growth in three non-communicable diseases – heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. Unhealthy diets lie at the root of this surge.”

And once again, our government has played a significant role in this corporate take-over. Large government subsidies have made profitable the enormous increase in the production of high-fructose corn syrup and snack foods like corn chips. This makes junk food an affordable (albeit dangerous) choice over more expensive fruits and vegetables for many cash-strapped families .

Nor are those subsidies benefiting family farms. Between 2003 and 2005 66% of the $34.8 billion in U.S. farm subsidies went to just 10% of farmers.

So the large corporations are making big profits, the taxpayers are subsidizing them, average American eaters are losing – and 365,000 of them are dying each year – the ultimate losers. As RAFI put it, “Neglect of the public good is inevitable when the agenda is determined by the private sector in pursuit of corporate profits.”

What can you do? Garden and/or buy from your local organic growers. Here are a couple of web sites to give you a place to begin:

Devastating the Planet is Insane

So okay, here is a multiple choice question for you: Which of the following is most likely to survive lost and alone in the wilderness until rescued?

  1. experienced hunters
  2. former members of the military
  3. physically fit bikers
  4. skilled sailors
  5. small children

The correct answer, according to Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival is small children (under the age of seven). Why? “If it gets cold they crawl into a hollow tree to keep warm. If they’re tired they rest. If thirsty, they drink. They try to make themselves comfortable, and staying comfortable helps keep them alive.” In other words, they do what they need to do, rather than run themselves ragged doing what some mental map (which may or may not be accurate) tells them they should do.

Sustainability work, of course, is different because we must plan to save ourselves, rather than wait to be rescued. Nevertheless, sustainability, at its core, is all about survival. So I think there are some important lessons in this little story. One is to concentrate on those things we actually need to be comfortable. But another is to stop trying to fight the natural environment and learn once again to relax into it – to realize it is our home – in a realistic, not a romantic way.

Of course there are inconveniences, there are dangers, and even – gasp! – limits to work within. But imagine for a moment shrugging off the “shoulds” of our present industrial culture and relaxing into a home where you are as valued as every other member of the great web of life on Earth and can learn to be just as capable of adding to the abundance and diversity the planet offers to all. Imagine being a really productive member of the life of this beautiful “big blue marble” instead of – as humans are now – a scourge and destroyer.

As Thomas Berry says in The Great Work, “Healing the Earth is a prerequisite for healing the human. Adjustment of the human to the conditions and restraints of the natural world constitutes the primary medical prescription for human well-being. We depend upon the Earth for existence, functioning, and fulfillment.”

“For a species to remain viable it must establish a niche that is beneficial both for itself and for the larger community. To seek benefit for humans by devastating the planet is insane. A human economy can only exist as a subset of the Earth economy. An extractive economy is by its nature a terminal economy.”

So maybe, just maybe, we could be happier and better off if we learn to use our mature judgment and extensive learning to find our way home, while holding tight to our “inner child’s” love of comfort, and forget spending all this effort on trying to outdo each other and dominate nature.

A Culture Dedicated to Life

Do we humans want to survive a long time on Earth (i.e. to live sustainably)? If the answer is yes, do we have the knowledge to be able to do it? What does sustainable life on Earth look like? What are its characteristics, its “rules of the game”?

There are examples to be seen. We find it “living in a dynamic equilibrium (or balance) where a diversity of plants and animals live cooperatively together in a particular climate,” for example tundra, taiga, desert, scrub forest (or chaparral), grasslands (or prairie), temperate deciduous forests, temperate or tropical rain forests, and coral reefs.

According to Janine Benyus in Biomimicry, species in a mature (or climax) ecosystem “live in elaborate synergy with the species around them and put their energy into optimizing their relationships. They:

  • Use waste as a resource
  • Diversify and cooperate to fully use the habitat
  • Gather and use energy efficiently
  • Optimize rather than maximize
  • Use materials sparingly
  • Don’t foul their own nests
  • Don’t draw down resources
  • Remain in balance with the bioshpere
  • Run on information
  • Shop locally”

These principles resonate with David Holmgren’s Permaculture Principles. (See earliest posts on the blog, or check them out at: http://www.holmgren.com.au/ or  http://www.permacultureprinciples.com/

Balance, diversity, sustainability, survival — what exactly do we mean? What must we do to create these conditions? And what would be the result?

I think William Koetke said it best in The Final Empire: “Creating a new Garden of Eden is our only hope. . . . We must create a positive, cooperative culture dedicated to life restoration and then accomplish that in perpetuity, or we as a species cannot be on Earth.”

Notice he said a culture, not a system of technologies (although technologies will be necessary, of course). Not only is it up to us, only we can do it — because a mature ecosystem is not run from above, but rather from “numerous, even redundant, messages coming from the grassroots, dispersed throughout the community structure and fed back through complex communications channels”. (Biomimicry)

So there it is: the great work of our times. Take up your own piece and carry it onward as you go. And remember to celebrate whenever you can.

What Do You Love?

I was reading about the Canadian seal hunt because I heard on the radio yesterday that they now have a rule that the baby seal must actually be dead before it is skinned. (Although there is no one to enforce the rule.) Apparently skinning them alive happens rather often — time is money, you know.

But then I came across an even more remarkable statement: it seems that the seal hunt isn’t very profitable. In fact, the hunters may not even break even. But they go out anyway year after year “because they love it”.

These men “love” clubbing hundreds of helpless baby seals in the head with a hakapik (sort of a pick-axe with a hammer on one side and a point on the other) — tossing them in piles and skinning them, dead or alive. The carcasses are left — just the skins are taken usually.

Is this a pathology that is masked because our culture is generally so aggressive and violent that people who “love” to kill walk among us unnoticed?

Suddenly I was reminded of my drive to work along a country road with many subdivisions off it. I don’t think I have ever gone down that road without seeing at least one new dead body.

Now I’ve been driving a long time and like every driver I’ve got blood on my wheels. I’ve picked up my share of bugs on the windshield. I’ve killed more than one squirrel that turned at the last minute and ran back under my wheels. I even hit a deer once, although I braked hard and it got up and bounded away apparently not hurt too much.

But I’ve never hit a skunk, an opossum, a raccoon, a Canada goose, a turkey, a fox, certainly not a woodchuck since they stay off to the side of the road. And definitely no cats or dogs. And yet I see their bodies every day. Too many of them to all be accidents. It seems there are drivers out there who “love” to kill animals with their cars.

In fact I saw a man run down a dog one day, and he really had to go out of his way driving onto the shoulder to get it. I think this is happening way more than we know. According to an article in USA Today there has been an upsurge in incidents of people shooting, knifing, and running down farm animals around the country — calves, ponies, horses, cows, goats, etc.

Maybe as a culture we need to get clear that the words “love” and “kill” don’t belong in the same sentence.

Maybe Blackwater recruits it’s mercenaries from a pool of these people. Maybe terrorist groups do too.

As for the Canadian seal hunt — the International Humane Society concludes that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) “not only allows, but encourages the editing and suppression of science to achieve short term political gain” — in particular a boost to the party and careers of Fisheries Managers Brian Tobin and Fred Mifflin. See the report at http://www.hsicanada.ca/seals/canadian_govt_support_seal_hunt.html

Turn Your Car Into a Plug-In Hybrid

Do you have a small, gasoline-engine car that gets about 30 miles per gallon? Would you like to get about 55 miles per gallon with the same car?

Well, you soon can (at least if you have 15 inch wheels or bigger) whether your car is front, rear, or four wheel drive. That’s very good news. The bad news? It will cost you about $4,600 to $8,600 – depending on your choice of batteries, lead/acid or lithium ion.

That is what it will cost to get an authorized dealer to install an aftermarket “Poulsen Hybrid Kit” on your car – as soon as the company has worked out the final product liability issues. The kit itself has already proven to work well.

The kit consists of two powerful electric motors that are mounted externally onto your car wheels. They are connected to the trunk-mounted batteries, and to dashboard instrumentation. The kit “does not affect brakes, steering, suspension, or any original safety systems.”

This device is the work of Danish mechanical engineer, Ulrik Poulsen. The electric motors “do not drive the car, but kick in to provide a power boost between 15 and 60 miles per hour. Regenerative breaking helps keep the batteries charged between nightly plug-ins. Range on electric alone is expected to be between 25 to 30 miles.”

Poulsen’s insight that led to this Hybrid Kit was the realization that “only 10 to 15 horsepower is required to propel a compact or mid-size car along a level road at a steady 60 miles per hour, leading to the conclusion that this relatively small amount of electric power would be able to cope with 70% to 85% of normal driving, only aided by the combustion engine during start-up and when extra energy is required for acceleration and for hill-climbing.”

If you are interested in reducing emissions while increasing your car‘s mileage (even if gas prices are now lower – for a while, anyway), keep checking the web for availability – http://www.poulsenhybrid.com . Poulsen expects his factory to be turning out 100 kits a day by the middle of 2009.