Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Toward a Green Future, Part One: The Culture of Biophobia

To understand the predicament of industrial civilization, it’s not enough to grasp the outward shape of the crisis of our time: the looting of a finite planet’s stock of resources, the destabilization of the global climate, the breathtaking cluelessness with which politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens alike insist that the only way we can get out of this mess involves doing even more of the same things that got us into it in the first place, and the rest of it. Follow the roots of our predicament down into the soil that feeds them, and you’ll find yourself in a murky realm of unspoken narratives and unacknowledged desires—the “mind-forg’d manacles,” as Blake called them, that keep most of us shackled in place as the great rumbling vehicle of global industrial society accelerates down the slope of its decline and fall.
Over the last seven months, I’ve tried to open up the obscurities of that subterranean realm using the language of religion as a tool. This is far from the first time that I’ve discussed the religious dimension of our blind faith in perpetual progress in these essays, but it’s the first time I’ve done so at length, and the sheer intensity of the emotions roused on all sides of the discussion is to my mind a sign of just how important that dimension has become.

The distinction made in an earlier post between religions and religious sensibilities is crucial to making sense of all this. Most discussions of the interfaces between religion, ecology, and the future have missed this distinction, and focused either on specific religious traditions or on the vague abstraction of religion as a whole.  The resulting debates were not especially useful to anybody.

A classic example is the furore kickstarted by the 1967 publication of Lynn White’s famous essay “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.” White argued that the rise of Christianity to its dominant position in the religious life of the western world was an essential precondition for the environmental crisis of our time. The old polytheist religions of the west, in his analysis, saw nature as sacred, the abode of a galaxy of numinous powers that could not be ignored with impunity; Christianity, by contrast, brought with it an image of the world as a lifeless mass of matter, an artifact put there by God for the sole benefit of human beings during the relatively brief period between the creation of the world and the Second Coming, after which it would be replaced by a new and improved model.  By stripping nature of any inherent claim to human reverence, he suggested, Christianity made it easier for post-Christian western humanity to treat the earth as a lump of rock with no value beyond its use as a source of raw materials or a dumping ground for waste.

The debate that followed the appearance of White’s paper followed a trajectory many of my readers will find familiar. Partisans of White’s view defended it by digging up examples from history in which Christianity had been used to justify the abuse of nature, and had no trouble finding a bumper crop of instances. Opponents of White’s view attacked it by showing that the abuse of nature was not actually justified within a Christian worldview, and by and large they had no trouble finding a bumper crop of good theological grounds for their case.

What’s more, both were right.  On the one hand, there’s nothing in Christian theology that requires the abuse of nature, and a very strong case can be made, from within the context of Christian faith, for the preservation of the environment as an imperative duty. On the other, over the course of the last two thousand years, very few Christians anywhere have recognized that duty, and a great many have used (and continue to use) excuses drawn from their faith to justify their abuse of the environment.

Factor in the influence of religious sensibilities and the paradox evaporates. A religious sensibility, again, is not a religion; it’s the cultural substructure of perceptions, emotions and intuitions that shape the way religious traditions are understood and practiced within a given culture or a set of related cultures. The religious sensibility that shaped Christian attitudes toward nature, and of course a great many other things besides, wasn’t unique to Christianity in any sense; it had already emerged in the Mediterranean world long before Jesus of Nazareth was born, and only the fact that Christianity happened to come out on top in the bitter religious struggles of the late classical world and suppressed nearly all its rivals gave White’s condemnation as much plausibility as it had.

As I sit here at my desk, for instance, I’m looking at a copy of On the Nature of the Universe by Ocellus Lucanus, a philosophical treatise probably written in the second or third century before the Common Era. Ocellus, like many of the cutting-edge thinkers of his age, wanted to challenge the popular notion that the cosmos had a beginning and might therefore have an end.  That was part of a broader agenda—one that’s left significant traces in many contemporary currents of thought—that dismissed everything that came into being and passed away again as illusion, and tried to find a reality outside of the realm of time and change.

That commitment led to strange convictions. The fourth chapter of Ocellus’ treatise, for example, is devoted to proving that human beings ought to have sex. If, as Ocellus argues, the cosmos is eternal, it needs to remain perpetually stocked with its full complement of living things, and therefore human beings ought to keep on reproducing themselves—as long as they don’t enjoy the process, that is. Back of this distinctly odd argument lies the emergence, then under way, of that strain of thought we now call puritanism: the conviction that biological pleasures are always suspect, and can be permitted only when the actions that bring them also have some morally justifiable purpose.

In the generations following Ocellus’ time, that sort of thinking became standard in intellectual circles across the Mediterranean world, in modes ranging from the reasonable to the arguably psychotic. For all their subsequent reputation, the Stoics were on the mellow end; most Stoic thinkers classed sex as “indifferent,” meaning that it had no moral character of its own and could be right or wrong depending on the circumstances surrounding it. (Stoics criticized adultery, not because it was sex, but because it was breaking a promise, which they found utterly abhorrent.) The spectrum ran all the way from there to religious cults that made castration a sacrament or considered reproduction the most horrible sin of all because it trapped more souls in the prison of the flesh.

That was the religious sensibility of cutting-edge thinkers all through the world in which Christianity emerged, and since the new religion inevitably drew most of its early converts from people who were unsatisfied by the robust life-affirming traditional faiths the people of that time had inherited from their far from puritanical ancestors, it’s hardly a surprise that Christian teachings and institutions ended up absorbing a substantial helping of the attitudes that arose out of the rising religious sensibility of the time. Every human cultural phenomenon is complex, contested, and polyvalent, and the religious landscape of the western world is no exception to this rule; religious attitudes toward sex in that setting ranged all the way from the Free Spirit movement in late medieval Europe, which indulged in orgies as a sign that its members had returned to Eden, all the way to the Skoptsii of early modern Russia, who castrated themselves as a shortcut to perfect purity. Still, the average fell further toward the puritanical side of the scale than even so ascetic a pagan movement as the Stoics found reasonable.

I’ve used sex as an example here, partly because people perk up their ears whenever it’s mentioned and partly because it’s a good barometer of attitudes toward the biological side of human existence, but the same point can be traced much more broadly. White pointed to the sacred groves, outdoor worship, and ecological taboos of classical Mediterranean pagan religion, and contrasted this with the relative lack of veneration for natural ecosystems in Christianity. It’s certainly possible to point to counterexamples, from St. Francis of Assisi through the Anglican natural theology of the Bridgewater Treatises to the impressive efforts currently being made by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to establish ecological consciousness throughout the Eastern Orthodox church; the fact remains that so far these have been the exception rather than the rule. Given the sensibility in which the Christian church came to maturity, it’s hard to see how things could have gone any other way.

As the theist religions of the west gave way to civil religions, in turn, the same patterns held. Once again, that wasn’t true in a monolithic sense, and the first great wave of civil religion to hit the western world—the nationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries—went the other way, embracing reverence for nature and the irrational dimensions of life as a counterpoise to the cosmopolitan rationalism of the age. That’s why the first verse of “America the Beautiful”—consider the title, to start with—is about the American land, not its human history or political pretensions. Still, the ease with which that thinking was dropped by the self-proclaimed patriots of today’s American pseudoconservatism shows how shallow its roots were in the collective consciousness of our civilization. Back in the Seventies, you would sometimes hear that first verse sung in a rather more edgy form:

O ugly now for poisoned skies, for pesticided grain,
For strip-mined mountains’ travesty above the asphalt plain,
America! America! Man shed his waste on thee,
And milled the pines for billboard signs from sea to oily sea.

Back in the day, that stung. Sing it now, when it’s even more true than it was then, and the most common response you’ll get is blustering about jobs and the onward march of progress. Other ages have seen the same process at work: it’s when the balancing act among traditional narratives, mystical experience, and religious sensibility finally fails, and the theist religions of a civilization’s childhood and youth give way to the civil religions of its maturity and decay, that the underlying logic of its religious sensibility gets pushed to the logical extreme, and appears in its starkest form. In our case, that’s biophobia: the pervasive fear and hatred of biological existence that forms the usually unmentioned foundation for so much of contemporary culture.

Does that seem too strong a claim to you, dear reader? I encourage you to consider your own attitudes toward your own biological life, that normal and healthy process of ripening toward mortality in which you’re engaged right now.  Life in that sense is not a nice clean abstract existence  It’s a wet and sloppy reality of blood, mucus, urine, feces, and other sticky substances, proceeding all the way from the mess in which each of us is born to the mess in which most of us will die. It’s about change, growth and decay, and death—especially about death. Death isn’t the opposite of life, any more than birth is; it’s the natural completion and fulfillment of the process of being alive, and it’s something that people in a great many other cultures have been able to meet calmly, even joyfully, as a matter of course. Our terror of death is a good measure of our terror of life.

It’s an equally good measure of the complexity of religious sensibilities that some of the most cogent critiques of modern biophobia come from Christian writers. I’m thinking here especially of C.S. Lewis, who devoted the best of his adult novels—the space trilogy that includes Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength—to tracing out the implications of the religion of progress that was replacing Christianity in the Britain of his time. Into the mouths of the staff of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, the villains of the third book, Lewis put much of the twaddle about limitless progress being retailed by the scientists of his time. Why should we put up with having the earth infested with other living things? Why not make it a nice, clean, sterile planetary machine devoted entirely to the benefit of human beings—or, rather, that minority of human beings who are capable of rational cooperation in the grand cause of Man? Once we outgrow sentimental attachments to lower life forms, outdated quibbles about the moral treatment of other human beings, and suchlike pointless barriers to progress, nothing can stop our great leap outward to the stars!

You don’t hear the gospel of progress preached in quite so unrelenting a form very often these days, but the implications are still there. Consider the gospel of the Singularity currently being preached by Ray Kurzweil and his followers. I’ve commented before that Kurzweil’s prophecy is the fundamentalist Christian myth of the Rapture dolled up unconvincingly in science fiction drag, but there’s one significant difference. According to every version of Christian theology I know of, the god who will be directing the final extravaganza is motivated by compassion and has detailed personal experience of life in the wet and sticky sense discussed above, while the hyperintelligent supercomputers that fill the same role in Kurzweil’s mythology lack these job qualifications. 

It’s thus not exactly encouraging that writers on the Singularity seem remarkably comfortable with the thought that these same supercomputers might decide to annihilate humanity instead of giving them the glorified robot bodies of the cyber-blessed in which Kurzweil puts his hope of salvation. It’s equally unencouraging when these same writers, or others of the same stripe, say that they don’t care if our species goes extinct so long as artificial intelligences of our making end up zooming across the cosmos.  The same logic lies behind the insistence, quite common these days in certain circles, that our species can’t possibly remain “stuck on this rock”—the rock in question being the living Earth—and that somehow we can only thrive out there in the black and silent void.

I’m pretty sure that this is why the recent film Gravity has fielded such a flurry of nitpicking from science writers. What believers in progress hate about Gravity, I suggest, is not that it takes modest liberties with the details of space science—show me a science fiction film that doesn’t do so—but that it doesn’t romanticize space. It reminds its audiences that space isn’t the Atlantic Ocean, the Wild West, or any of the other models of terrestrial discovery and colonization that proponents of space travel have tried to map onto it. Space, not death, is the antithesis of life: empty, silent, cold, limitless, and as sterile as hard vacuum and hard radiation can make it.  Watching Sandra Bullock struggling to get back to the only place in the cosmos where human beings actually belong is a sharp reminder of exactly what lies behind all that handwaving about “New Worlds for Man.”

Turn from the mythology of progress to the mythology of apocalypse, the Tweedledoom to Kurzweil’s Tweedledee, and you’re at least as likely to find biophobia, though these days it often takes an oddly sidelong form. Consider the passionate insistence, heard with great regularity on one end of the peak oil scene, that something or other is going to render life on Earth extinct sometime very soon—the usual date these days, now that 2012 has passed by without incident, is 2030. A while back, the favored cause of imminent extinction was runaway climate change; nuclear waste became popular after that, and most recently the death of the world’s oceans has become a common justification for the belief. None of these claims are backed by more than a tiny minority of scientific studies, but I can promise you that if you point this out, you will face angry accusations of pedaling “hopium.”

The people who spread these claims very often make much of their love for the Earth, but I have to say I find that insistence a bit disingenuous. Imagine, dear reader, that one of your loved ones—let’s call her Aunt Eartha, after one of my favorite jazz singers—has been told by a doctor that she has inoperable terminal cancer. Being aware that misdiagnosis is epidemic in today’s American medical industry, she seeks a second opinion, and you go with her to the hospital. A few hours later, the doctor comes to meet you in the waiting room, and tells you that he has good news: the first doctor has made a mistake, and there’s every chance Aunt Eartha still has many healthy years ahead of her.

Would you be likely to respond to this by becoming furious with the doctor and insisting that he was peddling hopium? If the doctor proceeded to show you the test results in detail and demonstrate why Aunt Eartha was in better shape than you feared, would you then go on to insist that if she wasn’t about to die of cancer, she was bound to die soon from diabetes, and when the tests didn’t bear this out either, would you start insisting that she must have severe heart disease? And if you did so, would the doctor perhaps be justified in wondering just how deep your professed love for Aunt Eartha actually went?

Mind you, those who talk about hopium have a point; the popular faith-based response to the crisis of our time that relies on the sacred words “I’m sure they’ll think of something” is a drug of sorts. Still, it bears remembering that the opposite of a bad idea is usually another bad idea, and hopium isn’t the only drug on the market just now; another is the equally deliberate and equally faith-based cultivation of despair. By analogy, we may as well call this “despairoin;” just as opium can be purified of the natural phytochemicals that make it hallucinatory and refined into heroin, hopium can be stripped of the hallucinatory fantasies of a bright new future, refined into despairoin, and peddled to addicts on the mean streets of the industrial world’s collective imagination.

I’ve suggested in the past that one of the things the paired myths of inevitable progress and inevitable apocalypse have in common is that both of them serve as excuses for inaction. Claim that progress is certain to save us all, or claim that some catastrophe or other is certain to doom us all, and either way you have a great justification for staying on the sofa and doing nothing. I’ve come to think, though, that the two mythologies share more in common than that. It’s true that both represent a refusal of what Joseph Campbell called the “call to adventure,” the still small voice summoning each of us to rise up in an age of crisis and decay to become the seedbearers of an age not yet born, but both mythologies also pretend to offer an escape from life, in the full, messy, intensely real sense I’ve suggested above. 

A future in which we all become bubbles of abstract intellect in robot bodies zooming through deep space is just as lifeless as a future in which we all become cold ash on the smoldering corpse of a once-living planet. Both thus stand in opposition to a living future; what that latter might look like, and what the emerging religious sensibility of the present time might bring to it, will be the theme of next week’s post.


Tom Bannister said...
Hmm yes I recall you talking about the 'biophobia' problem in another post. The concept then comes to mind whenever I'm watching popular films like Jaws. Something powerful is outside our control! it must be our enemy AHHHH!!!! (jaws theme music plays). Not to mention also the film adaptation of 'The Shining'. A nice clean classic hotel... full of ghosts and mysterious scary green women! There is hope though in pop culture. The Simpsons: "Hi I'm Troy Mcclure. You may remember me from such nature films as... 'man vs nature, the road to victory!".

Also, I might be off here, but the rise of 'biophobia' would also appear to correspond with the strict patriarchal views that have dominated many religions for the last 2000 or so years. 'He' the god, the sky father is the source of all good etc while Women (earth mother) are bad, evil, sinful etc (if you are male it is perhaps slightly easier to pretend nature has nothing to do with you).

Finally, many western proponents of veganism (I'm not having a go at veganism in general btw), also I observe spring from a similar biophobic disposition. "Animals have to die!!! eating meat is therefore BAD!!!, we humans must transcend our bestial nature by not eating animals" etc etc (or something like that) Anyway, thanks for the post. cheers

11/6/13, 10:37 PM

Avery said...
A pretty harsh take on Christianity here. But if we wind the clock back to the Middle Ages, I'm not sure we will see much difference between Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Chinese takes on the environment. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the Chinese were the first civilization to damage their own ecosystem through extensive deforesting; the Easter Islanders were next, with Christian Europe being relatively late to the innovation.

Something certainly happened in the West between 1500 and today. It's related to this disturbed concept of socio-economic progress in some sense. But I don't think rummaging through classical Neoplatonic texts will find the origins of the error. Look to Descartes -- specifically, part 6 of the Discourse on Method.

11/6/13, 10:40 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Tom, I used to get hassled by the kind of vegan who thinks his diet justifies berating other people -- yes, I know quite a few vegans and vegetarians who aren't like that, too. I would point out to them that I eat cows and chickens and pigs, and I will eventually be eaten by worms and fungi and bacteria, so it all balances out -- what's more, I hope the worms et al. enjoy the meal. They would promptly turn green and leave. Thus I think your take on the in-your-face style of vegan may be correct.

Avery, now go back and reread the post, and you'll find that what I've described harshly is not Christianity but the religious sensibility in which Christianity perforce grew up. Honestly, I sometimes wonder how many people actually read what I write before venturing an opinion on it!

11/6/13, 11:14 PM

Tom Bannister said...
I know your time answering comments is limited, but I'm also interested in your take on my second point. Thanks!

"I might be off here, but the rise of 'biophobia' would also appear to correspond with the strict patriarchal views that have dominated many religions for the last 2000 or so years. 'He' the god, the sky father is the source of all good etc while Women (earth mother) are bad, evil, sinful etc (if you are male it is perhaps slightly easier to pretend nature has nothing to do with you)."

11/6/13, 11:39 PM

roland said...
Biophobia is an interesting one. It would seem to me that the need to be in control that some people are possessed by could have something to do with it.
Which in turn makes me wonder where such a maladaptive trait would come from.
It is common enough in three year olds, but as we mature, reality is usually kind enough to patiently provide us with all the lessons we require to understand that we do not control most of the environment most of the time. And a lot later many of us begin to understand that this is not a bad thing.
Now why would anybody fail to learn this lesson?
Maybe being too successful? An easy middle class life without too many real challenges and setbacks?
Mind you, i don't want to make an argument against having a middle class. Or a comfortable life. Just trying to connect the dots.
Does biophobia have a historical pattern?

11/7/13, 12:14 AM

Ares Olympus said...
John, hope you can explore more on religious sensibilities. I wonder about reclaiming a child-life awareness that is otherwise rejected as "superstition" because its literal interpretation is debunkable. Carl Sagan wrote a book I admire called "A demon haunted world", I love one of his sensible conclusions: "Science has taught us that because we have a talent for deceiving ourselves, subjectivity may not freely reign." So that's very true, but it leaves open how subjectivity should reign, if not freely.

So I carefully accept Sagan's scientific caveat, I also stand with Carl Jung's equal warning "Primitive superstition lies just below the surface of even the most tough-minded individuals, and it is precisely those who most fight against it who are the first to succumb to its suggestive effects." So apparently objectivity can't freely reign either.

I like the Jungians willingness to recognize our fragmented nature, divided desires and contradictory needs, and see the ancient polytheism had advantages in recognizing our inherently divided for allegiances, and so you can have one god who loves war, and one who loves love, and they can be siblings, and both are in all of us, and they're never going to agree, and we take absolute sides between divided gods at our peril.

So I'm not entirely sure what to make of that, except to remember most of what we are is unconscious, and we're sleep walking in life more than we realize, so having access to these archetypal points of view, without letting them master us.

You mentioned Joseph Campbell's "Call to adventure" and his mythic understanding seems right center for briding objective and subjective domains. So we can see perhaps hopium and despairism are equally subjective retreated that should not freely reign within us.

Lastly, a key religous trick for me, is the awareness of "other" whether that other is another person, or an animal, a figure in our dreams, or God, anything alive outside our ego who risks our closed self-concept, so we must open a "theory of mind" to see ourselves from the outside, and then find ways to validate and integrate what we find in those counters and reflection.

That's my best guess, at age 45, terminally agnostic, how to see a religious sensibility. It's always a relation to other, however we can imagine and experience that. Sorry if that was too long. :)

11/7/13, 12:15 AM

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...
Do you know about The Order of the Good Death? They are a group which is countering biophobia, specifically concerning death. Here is a section of their mission statement:

"The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears- whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not."

I also encounter very strong biophobia almost any time the topic of menstruation comes up. I think this is also tied up with sexism/misogyny, which ties in with what Tom says above. Pretty much any time the topic comes up, the first thing is a warning that people who are easily grossed out, particularly people who don't menstruate, should go away.

I know that I started feeling much better about my own menstruation when I switched to using reusable products (first cloth pads, later a menstrual cup, which is what I use now). The people who sell disposable pads/tampons generally market menstruation as being something shameful which should be kept discreet. In any case, having to regularly throw away your own bodily fluids in the trash does not help one feel comfortable with one's own biological processes, not to mention the guilt which comes with having to use and waste natural resources in such a way.

By contrast, most of the marketing of reusable products emphasizes environmental concern, and that menstruation is a natural process that nobody should feel ashamed of. Personally, I think sending my menstrual flow to a sewer is an improvement over sending it to the landfill, but it's even better to offer my menstrual flow to iron-hungry plants in my garden (you can do this with cloth pads or a menstrual cup - you can't do this with disposable pads/tampons).

11/7/13, 12:29 AM

Thomas Daulton said...
I'm very curious to read about the organic future you're envisioning!

Meanwhile, I'm surprised you didn't even mention the real obvious manifestation of biophobia, the peculiarly American or perhaps Anglo-American fear of germs. We've always been careful to poison our drinking water with chlorine, and we've always had a Calvinistic attitude about how cleanliness is next to godliness, but it seems to me in the last 30 years that American germ-phobia has really reached epidemic proportions.

Granted, American germ-phobia in its most unreasoning form really gained a head of steam after the discovery of AIDS, which is without doubt a very nasty disease.

But just talk to Sandor Katz, an author who's made a career out of re-discovering traditional cooking recipes with natural fermentation, about how much disgust and incredulity he witnesses when he explains to cityfolk that commonly eaten, clean, packaged foods such as cheese and yogurt actually originate with foods left at room temperature to decompose. I swear if you explain to the typical American lite beer drinker or the sophisticated uptown cocktail mixer that all alcohol is a by-product of microbes, instead of a drug mixed in a lab, you're more likely to put them off the sauce than to persuade them that it's safe to brew their own buttermilk at home.

According to Sandor and numerous other sources, eating live microbes is one of the oldest, most traditional, and healthiest forms of cooking... and there really isn't any difference between the microbes cloned in a food processing plant, versus the ones that will drift into your sauerkraut if you leave it on your own kitchen counter. If anything, your immune system will be stronger if you welcome the distinct local microbes into your body as opposed to the monocultured ones from food factories. But Americans are so removed from the process of natural food fermentation that they invariably assume that any food left in the open air at room temperature even briefly must be rotting and diseased.

Ironically, this germ-phobia is arising at exactly the same time as medical science is starting to recognize that the "human" cells in our own body are outnumbered by symbiotic microbes to a ratio of around 10:1. And that the diversity and health of those microbes may actually have a huge impact on the health of their human host.

Thanks for the column and I'm awaiting your next one!

11/7/13, 12:37 AM

Joel Caris said...

I recently stumbled upon the Mars One project. I don't know if it's been mentioned here or not; I imagine someone would've brought it up in the comments, but I don't recall seeing it. Anyway, aside from my generally being flabbergasted that the people behind the project apparently believe that they're going to set up a human settlement on Mars within 10 years--using a reality TV model, no less--I was amazed at how enamored they seem to be with Mars itself.

Now, granted, I've enjoyed some Mars-centric science fiction tales (I particularly like an old scifi/horror romp, The Season of Passage, by a favorite author from my youth) but that ain't what's actually out there. The planet's pretty much a lifeless, unending, rocky desert, so far as I can gather.

So here was the most dumbfounding thing I found on the Mars One site. In the FAQ, they claim that the astronauts living in the Mars One settlement "will not just be ‘doing their job’, they will be living their lives, complete with all the emotions and struggles that are part of normal everyday life; but they will be doing that in the most exciting habitable place in the solar system, complete with its own completely unique challenges." (Emphasis mine.)

What the holy heck? Thinking Mars is the "most exciting habitable place in the solar system" has to be some form of biophobia. I read that sentence and almost started yelling. To whomever wrote that: Please, go outside. Then look at a couple pictures from the Curiosity rover. Then really think about what you wrote.

Earth is the most exciting habitable place in the solar system. This planet and our lives on it are a grace--an incredible, humbling grace. Living in cramped, ugly, human-made quarters on a lifeless planet is a nightmare. Honestly, I can't even comprehend the worldview on display here.

11/7/13, 12:39 AM

Jason Heppenstall said...
Great essay this week. I have to say, some years back, reading the ADR often caused pangs of anxiety as I wrestled with the implications of the predicament we find ourselves in. These days, however, reading you has the opposite effect.

Last night, unable to sleep, I flipped open the laptop and was confronted by the latest doomer essay from everybody's favourite Aunt Ertha. Reading about how we are all likely to die in the near future certainly put paid to any prospect of sleep for a further couple of hours.

But I notice that these writers never reveal the exact mechanism of our demise. Instead it's just left up to our imagination and, yes, it usually involves a fiery ball of smouldering planet. I hope they are wrong. Where, for example, did the idea come from that Fukushima has the power to wipe out all life in the northern hemisphere?

Is this biophobia on their part? I don't claim to know. Seems to me more like an over-rationalised fear coming from minds that have dwelt for too long on collapse - and now face the prospect of reaching their own end date having been roundly ignored by the mainstream. Sorry if that sounds a bit cruel.

I don't take these things lightly. I too am deeply worried about climate change, ocean acidification, nuclear proliferation and all the rest of it. But if I let the doomers win then I wouldn't have planted 200 acorns yesterday, or started preparing the hugelkultur beds or started experimenting with a new method of composting that - biophobics beware - involves handling plenty of earthworms. Fear, it seems, disempowers everyone part from the fear monger.

So, that seems like a useful piece of advice for surviving the post industrial future: steer clear of intellectuals standing on the street corners of cyberspace offering you wraps of hopium or crack doomaine.

11/7/13, 1:10 AM

Unknown said...
Avery didnt read what you wrote JMG,he just saw christianity and got his back up.Its endemic Im afraid.

11/7/13, 1:48 AM

gregorach said...
"Space, not death, is the antithesis of life: empty, silent, cold, limitless"

I hope I'm not the only reader who was immediately reminded of the Moorcock-penned Hawkwind classic "Black Corridor"... (I won't quote it, but do look it up if you're not familiar with it.)

You haven't mentioned it directly, but the most astoundingly clear example of biophobia is the horror and disgust many seem to have for their own bodies. Hang around anywhere where devotees of Progress are to be found in numbers, and you'll hear terms such as "meatsuit" (used to refer to the speaker's own body) all too often, with an unmistakable tone of disgust. I get the distinct impression that Singularitarians and the like are motivated at least as much by hatred of their own bodies as they are by dreams of immortality. At its worst, it actually seems to be a form of depersonalisation disorder.

11/7/13, 2:36 AM

Les said...

Thanks for this post. Biophobia is something I seem to run into every day, and it’s interesting to consider the larger context in which the very mundane version I’m thinking of exists in.

The mundane version being the one that pervades the food and sanitation systems in this country (Awstraya).

We live on a farm and would like to value add to some of the stuff we grow, in order to deprive the middlemen of their income. In order to do that, we need an approved kitchen. But the water we drink, bathe in and cook with falls from the sky, rather than coming from a municipal sewage, sorry, water treatment plant. Without installing our own water treatment/sterilisation plant, we have no hope of being permitted to sell our jams and pickles. Never mind that both the jams and pickles are heated to well beyond the ability of even botulism spores to survive after they have been bottled.

Likewise, we like to drink raw milk. Shock! Horror! Don’t you know bovine TB can kill you? Yes, absolutely, and there hasn’t been a case of it recorded in this country since nineteen thirty something… Listeriosis can make you really sick too! And the pathogen exists in most soils in which most vegetables are still grown…

Then the supermarkets are filled with antibacterial whatsits and you can’t possibly feed your baby using a spoon you licked in order to clean it a bit, you must use properly sterilised implements.

Biophobia seems to be a large part of the religious sensibility of which you write, and like that sensibility, has become like air to those who breathe it – completely unconsciously taken in and utterly unseen, while totally central to existence.

I am Sooooooo over it.



11/7/13, 2:47 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Another great essay. This one pierces right to the heart of the matter.

Your quote regarding Ocellus sparked a random association: "tried to find a reality outside of the realm of time and change." Isn't this exactly what geekoise culture is trying to achieve as well? It does seem a rather abstract mental process to me and I've often wondered at the point of all that abstract wish projection that they go on about?

By the way some commenters were a bit snarky last week about "off the grid people". I didn't twig until much later that such a descriptive means different things Down Under than they do in the US. Off the grid here means simply not connected to the electrical grid and nothing more. My gut feel is that it means more in the US due to people’s dysfunctional relationships with their various Governments and vice versa.

As to the doomsteaders (I had to look up what this entails), there is no greater advertisement to a roving war band than a well-stocked bunker hide out. It is actually a perfect place for a bandit operation... This is no place to avoid them or make peace with them. Not good.

I haven't come across people Down Under doing a doomsteader sort of thing so it is possibly lost in translation here. Here, it is more about small holdings (River Cottage style) than preparations for the apocalypse!

By the way the power company sent me a letter today (I was only included in a mass mail out) and it included the following paragraph which is an admission of the reality of the situation:

"Reduce your risk. If you need constant electricity supply, have a backup power supply available and install power surge protection equipment."

Truly, nuff said on the matter.

Top work with this essay, you really nailed it.



11/7/13, 3:59 AM

Stephen Heyer said...
The Years of the Quiet Sun

Speaking of “the destabilization of the global climate” (John Michael Greer) has anyone been following the scientific work by Mike Lockwood among others that suggests that the sun may be heading “for the first ‘grand solar minimum’ for four centuries” (

Of course, even if that happens Human-induced global warming should swamp the cooling effect so we shouldn’t get another Little Ice Age.

My first thought was that if that happened it would offset some of the human-induced warming and might be doing so right now, note recent slowing in the rate of warming.

The second one was that we humans might bless our deity of choice for giving us yet another chance after we blew it in the seventies and use the 70 year or so hiatus to actually do something about anthropomorphic climate change. Anyway, after I managed to stop the hysterical laughing fit and cleaned up the spilled coffee I admitted that this wasn’t that likely.

My third thought was that every climate change skeptic and mega corporation would use the moderated rate of rise in temperature to totally discredit anthropomorphic climate change and keep on Business As Normal.

The forth, worst thought was that when the grand solar minimum ends late this century and The Years of the Quiet Sun become history we’ll get whacked by the best part of a century’s anthropomorphic climate change packed into a decade or so. About as much fun as a furious leopard, all claws, teeth and attitude, dropping on you out of a tree!

Anyway, just a thought.

Stephen Heyer

11/7/13, 4:09 AM

Odin's Raven said...
Before the modern anthropocentric Culture of Biophobia,( which has it's opposite Eco-variant succinctly but inadvertently expressed in Heber's missionary hymn 'though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile', a different sensibility was possible.

This was the pre-modern belief in Alchemy. There's a lovely book by Jonathan Hughes, entitled The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth Century England. He notes that 'the fundamental principle of the occult philosophy of the Grail legends and myths of Arthur and his tutor Merlin was the wisdom and sanctity of nature.'

Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus?



11/7/13, 4:16 AM

Phil Knight said...
I've come to think that rationality and irrationality aren't polar opposites, but that rationality itself is akin to a circle in which extreme rationality and extreme irrationality meet and become effectively the same thing. Kurzweil is the very apotheosis of this phenomenon.

It doesn't surprise me that the Singularity fans are sanguine about the extinction of humanity - I think the need for humans to sacrifice themselves to the machine is one of the unnoticed dimensions of the religion of progress, and that this underlay much of the warfare that plagued the first half of the 20th Century.

And not just the warfare - I recently learned that there were more people killed and injured in motorbike accidents in Britain in 1960 than there were RAF pilots killed and injured in 1940. I beleive the riders were making up for the fact that they couldn't walk casually into machine gun fire or fall to the earth in a burning aeroplane.

I suspect it is implicit in the logic of technology as the constitutor of the future that it must consume and replace its imperfect maker.

11/7/13, 4:41 AM

jld said...
Notwithstanding the philosophical musings about "messy" change, growth and decay I deem you don't really know what you are talking about, it's'not that "Our terror of death is a good measure of our terror of life." it is that DECAY is the problem which is not fully acknowledged.
You will probably have a different opinion once old age crippling limitations strike (somewhere between late 50's and early 70's)

11/7/13, 4:42 AM

k-dog said...
"A murky realm of unspoken narratives and unacknowledged desires—the “mind-forg’d manacles,” as Blake called them, that keep most of us shackled in place."

The unconscious manacles that blind all eyes. Kurzweil the ultimate dealer of mind numbing hopium exemplifies this. Sandra Bullock would have a better chance of landing herself from a low orbit space station using a scuba mask and a Swiss army knife than any living soul now has of zooming through deep space as an abstract intellect in a robot body.

Yet hope and wishful thinking seduces multitudes. Let a new emerging religious sensibility bring reason to the land. I shall burn a candle and reinforce my hope and resolve to smash our manacles of internal unconscious deceit on the next four compass points of our solar spinning journey. So it shall be.

Woof, another great article.

11/7/13, 5:14 AM

Joseph Nemeth said...
@JMG -- at a birthday party of a friend, he regaled us with tales of Strongheart, the cow they had raised from a calf. Funny stories: this was one mischievous cow. Then the cow got big, and old, and he told us with a smile that the burgers we were eating were Strongheart burgers.

I think someone blanched. He noticed, and commented, "You know, some people ask me, how could you eat meat that has a NAME? I always ask them, how can you eat meat that DOESN'T have a name?"

I liked that. And had a second burger in honor of old Strongheart.

11/7/13, 5:18 AM

blue sun said...
I wrote this comment before reading all the way through your essay, but I will post it anyway. Thank you for describing what I'm aiming at more comprehensively than me:

Well, this is a difficult thing. I wouldn't agree that Christianity stripped nature of any inherent claim to human reverence, I think Christianity's followers did that. Just as Buddhism speaks nothing of a plethora of gods, let alone monotheism, and yet so many of Buddhism's followers today worship diverse local deities which they inherited from the culture they came from, I think Christianity inherited it directly from Judaism. Even today, you'd probably have an easier time compiling a list of famous Jewish athletes, as the old joke goes, than Jewish nature lovers. I don't claim to know why that is, and perhaps Sharon Astyk would disagree with me, but I think it's incidental, a quirk of circumstance likely due to a desert origin, or more likely the repeated destruction of the thriving organic agriculture Jews developed over and over throughout their history.

In the same way, if Druidry were to take off in the next millennium, its followers would likely see failed apocalyptic predictions all over the place. That wouldn't be a characteristic or tenet of Druidry per se, it would just be incidentally inherited from the circumstance that one of its well known founding fathers had an interest in such things. And, over the centuries, a paranoia about apocalyptic fantasies could very well develop into a pathology, just as a near-pathological hatred of nature (and "the body") seems to have developed in some Christian circles today.

11/7/13, 5:21 AM

Steven Zerger said...
Near-term extinction of life on earth is “not likely” in the calm consideration of The Inquisitors (Jeffers). I think that is true. I even think near-term human extinction is not likely, though I am less confident about it.

There is always something new under the sun. A global array of 444 potential uncontrollable Chernobyls has no precedent that I can think of. Mass extinction events have of course happened before, and they are a regular recurrence in the long, leisurely history of the planet. But the human-driven mass extinction event which we are in the midst of is new at least to the extent that it is human-driven and has no precedent in human history. Narrowing the focus to human civilization, there has never been a time in human history when humans have managed through exploitation of nonrenewable energy resources to overshoot the planet’s long-term carrying capacity by orders of magnitude.

History is of course an important guide. But limited by what is new under the sun.

I like your calm, reassuring style JMG, but I feel some dissonance between the tone of your discourse and the particulars of our predicament.

I don’t feel like I am indulging in the mythology of apocalypse, but to be honest our predicament feels pretty apocalyptic to me.

11/7/13, 5:40 AM

Richard Clyde said...
It has recently been occupying my thoughts that, in addition to the doctrine of incarnation, Christianity in the new sensibility is likely to emphasise the image of Christ the shepherd. In progress-logic, sheep chiefly stand for the docile naivete and woolly imbecility of a religious flock. But if you think about it, shepherds are smelly, and transgressive of established order (read Le Roy Ladurie on Montaillou!), and live by rules and rhythms not of human making. Most importantly for the discussion of biophobia, shepherds have constant intimate communion with the commerce of blood that sustains human life: sheep are to be cared for, sheep are to be slaughtered, sheep are to be raised.

11/7/13, 5:47 AM

Phil Harris said...
Death is one face of the coin, for sure, but is not one thing; and is as complicated and finely differentiated and embedded in whole systems as any other life-related event or activity.

I went veggie, and surprised myself, for much the same reason I guess that you gave up driving. I wanted to get myself out of the relentless juggernaut (our monstrous version of ‘Jagannath’?) of gross surfeit I saw all round me. And I did not like modern food chains. I drove regularly behind wagons of highly stressed animals going for badly done slaughter. That was before we knew the cause of the British ‘mad cow disease’ epidemic.

I was glad not long after to have made the initial but still ill-informed veggie move when I needed drastic emergency lifestyle change for reasons of cardiac health. Better veggie was the easiest way to get there once I had done some quick re-thinking. (My escape over 8 months was about as close to a miracle that I have personally witnessed, but I will spare you all now the medical details – sufficient to say that anyone who has read the’ Ornish paper’ in The Lancet will sense my relief when I read it for the first time after that initial 8 months, and realised that my recent choices were likely the right ones, and made in the nick of time.)

I made reservations however about meat, that if I did the slaughtering myself and needed to feed the children then we would eat meat if it was there. Our youngest took a similar line when she grew up; aboriginal hunting ok; shooting purpose-reared pheasants for sport ‘not on’. I guess few of us would want to eat beef killed in a so-called ‘bull-fight’?

I do a lot of running even as an old man (my fairly modest pension is not just for me) and take cheer from Mr Fauja Singh, 102, a retired Punjabi farmer now living near London, who ran his last marathon at 101 after a lifetime eating a very modest but enjoyable mostly veggie Punjabi diet. I will never catch up with Mr Singh, but he sets a good example. He turned from sorrow to running in his old age and talks to his God during the last 6 miles of his marathon!

Phil H

11/7/13, 5:51 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
This is one of your best posts yet!

As for wondering "how many people actually read" what you write:

After more than 40 years in a university classroom, teaching the best and brightest students in the land, I'm convinced that even the students who do read, have such a cacophony of other words resounding in their heads that the sense of the words on the page gets wholly drowned out. No matter what an author is trying to convey, they find something in his words that resonates with what is already there in their heads, and think that the author means just that.

It takes a certain kind of deep inner stillness and silence to read any text and clearly grasp what the author is trying to say. But this sort of deep stillness and silence is a foreign country, and when someone gets a glimpse into it, he often finds it terrifying and seeks any handy distraction.

Also, the fast pace of modern university life hinders any effort to consider anything deeply. At Brown, the official mandate for undergraduates in the humanities is to read about 1,000 pages a week. It is not humanly possible to read at such a clip and grasp what the authors meant to say, even if you do nothing else but read.

11/7/13, 6:27 AM

Wildwood Chapel said...
"That was the religious sensibility of cutting-edge thinkers all through the world in which Christianity emerged, and since the new religion inevitably drew most of its early converts from people who were unsatisfied by the robust life-affirming traditional faiths the people of that time had inherited from their far from puritanical ancestors, it’s hardly a surprise that Christian teachings and institutions ended up absorbing a substantial helping of the attitudes that arose out of the rising religious sensibility of the time."

Here's my question. With what specifically were these cutting-edge thinkers so unsatisfied about the robust, life-affirming traditional faiths? I gather is was some form of binary thinking; they saw something unsatisfactory about the then-current sensibility and responded in enatiodromic fasion. But what was it? What gives rise to biophobia among a minority of a people who otherwise embrace life (and death)?

11/7/13, 7:33 AM

Thomas H.W. Trotter said...
JMG, this piece really resonated with me.

There seems to be much more despairon being spread, lately, by peak-oil bloggers.

I must say since finding your blog, years ago, I've found more peace and am considering the druid path, or something like it.

11/7/13, 7:33 AM

HalFiore said...
(Formerly just "Hal," no relation that I know of to the famous personality featured in Apocalypse Not.)

I certainly didn't read any harshness toward Christianity in this week's post. Almost an apology.

Brilliant, as usual, JMG, I wish I could get everyone I know to read this stuff. My only quibble would be with the use of jumping to the sex analog and then back. It leaves me wondering what Ocellus Lucanus had to say about nature in general. Well, I guess I'm invited to find out for myself, and a weekly blog can't cover everything.

It is interesting, though, that, at this apogee of disconnection with the natural, when the biophobia has never seemed stronger, that sex has become pervasive. True, the more earthy parts of it in popular culture have been sanitized and airbrushed out, but then there is internet porn, which seems to have decided that the only way to hold attention spans is to wallow in the muckiest fringes of sexual expression imaginable. And I read (on the internet. of course, so it MUST be true) that porn is the major driver of digital innovation today.

Anyway, really looking forward to Part II.

To Iuval and others I have conversed with, I am able to use the GW site now, but have been slow starting that conversation by a number of critical events such as the opening of deer season!

Ha! Capta is Exesol. Handy for eradicating Existence, I guess. And I hope everyone knows to enter random numbers for the blurry photo.

11/7/13, 7:49 AM

Rumighoul said...
I don't recall off hand how you introduced the idea of religious sensibility as you are using it in recent posts, but I find it very helpful as a contextualiser of all that complex history, and more generally I am finding it very engaging how you take religious phenomena and experience seriously while contextualising it as a matter of fact thing like any other historical occurrence. I think my regrettable ignorance of a lot of history plus an unconscious association of religion only with the special / ahistorical / otherworldly (a result of my catholic upbringing presumably) means this is refreshing and new to me, even if it is common sense to others. Are there any books or authors you would recommend in this vein? Also: I have beem reading your A World Full Of Gods and there are a number of questions i'd love to ask in relation to it if ever possible, though I appreciate you are a busier man than Tim the Enchanter.
Many thanks BR (typed one fingered on cheap smartphone, please forgive oblique expression).

11/7/13, 7:56 AM

Andy Brown said...
I was just cogitating on a different variant of this a couple of days ago – hiking on a former farm that is transitioning to a nature preserve. Biophobia has never been much of an issue for me, and the cultural anxieties about mortality have always mystified me. On the other hand, my own biophilia brings its own dilemmas. The natural world is my adopted church, but it can be heartbreaking to see what we have done / are doing to it. I do want to hold on to some anger and resistance and to bear witness to that. But the challenge to overcome with biophilia is to not allow it to prevent me from finding joy and beauty and spiritual solace in a landscape like the one I was hiking, which shows 370 years of hard use by Europeans, which is overrun as much with imported invasive species as it is with native species, which is hemmed in by houses and powerlines – but which is after all, nature as it is – nature engaged in a dramatic and dynamic conversation with humans and their culture.

11/7/13, 8:00 AM

August Johnson said...
JMG - Thanks again for your writing, always lots to think about and learn from!

I now have the Green Wizards Radio web site up. I'll be able to put all kinds of information for those interested in using Ham Radio in pursuit of Green Wizard goals. My view of Green Wizards Radio is that it has two main purposes, first to provide a pool of people who are dedicated to preserving and providing a means of long-distance communication that can be supported with lower-level technologies. Second is to provide Green Wizards working in other circles a way to communicate with each other to share ideas and support without being dependent on a highly complex and expensive Internet.

My own interests in the realm of "digital" communication are similar to yours, I'm mainly interested in Morse Code. In the past I have been deeply involved in many of the other digital modes but as I've seen the hardware to support them becoming increasingly complex and expensive, I'm falling back on the simpler methods. However I do keep up with current technology in these areas and am completely willing to assist and support those interested in any digital modes.

I'd appreciate any ideas that you or any of your readers have for content that you'd like to see there. I'd hope that conversations regarding using GW radio would take place on the Green Wizards site, I just want the radio site to be a repository of information. The site is just bare-bones at the moment, I wanted to get something up and gather information. Much more will be forthcoming.


11/7/13, 8:08 AM

onething said...
Certainly there ought to be progress, because human beings are able to know their own history and analyze situations to correct mistakes, and because of the steady accumulation of knowledge. What holds us back on the other hand, running interference as it were, would be human flaws such as greed and egoism. But another problem might be that catastrophes have occurred rather more often than we would like to think. For example, as Rome was falling and dark ages setting in, there appears to have been an event, perhaps volcanic, around the year 500. For about two years, trees didn't grow. Episodes like this, in which large areas can barely grow food, accelerate decline and forgetting of knowledge. Then, in its wake, there is a void which gets filled with various nonsense.

So, placing blame is certainly an attempt at analysis, but it turns out that people are so eager to condemn the accused and be done with the trial that they take the first victim at hand, in this case, the Christian religion. But it takes very little thought to see that the atheist communist regimes have despoiled their environments as enthusiastically as we have, and with differing underlying cultural narratives to boot. And that is just one example. It seems to me that despite the various religions, when people want to do something, they ignore its precepts. Perhaps it is that the desires are really much stronger, or the religious sensibilities are much stronger, than the religion itself which is rather shallowly rooted in the people who profess to follow it.

Ocellus' attempt to lose the distinction between the ultimate absolute and the kaleidoscope of our reality is a step backward in my view. The nonsense which follows his cosmic worldview is neither here nor there, as one can use almost any platform to promote one's ideas. So the question here is why, really, did the antisex attitudes arise? One thought I have had is catastrophism. People seem to immediately feel chastened by the divine when bad things happen. Genesis records exactly that. At the end of the last ice age, the Americas suffered particularly. And there might have been more recent disasters we don't know of. I've always been impressed with the extreme lengths the Aztecs went to in setting up and performing their living heart sacrifices and their reason for it: So that the sun would continue to rise. What happened to make them think the sun might not rise?

Sometimes people here have expressed that we moderns would dislike nature much more if we had to actually make our living from it, but this analysis here shows that this is not the case, the distrust and aversion to nature is growing, not receding as we get further away from it into technology and its barricades.

I think that these sci fi ideas of achieving a kind of immortality through technology and artificial intelligence with perhaps artificial bodies, comes from a hard atheism, in which the reality of consciousness is negated. If there s no true consciousness, then an artificial one is as good as it gets anyway.

11/7/13, 8:38 AM

Karim said...
Greetings all!

It is amazing how "the paired myths of inevitable progress and inevitable apocalypse" can crop up a bit everywhere.

I remember very well how a friend of mine, highly intelligent, well educated literally embodied all the caricatures of "much of the twaddle about limitless progress" and biophobia, to the extent of saying that there was no sense in saving any species that are of no use to humans and that we should have gotten rid of all those pesky creatures like snakes and cockroaches!

And finally coming to the conclusion that it's best to "live and let die". Of course this mind set very quickly dovetailed into a callous attitude towards human life itself and the very bizarre idea of developing the technology to be able to dump the planet together with downloading our brains into some form of computer and enjoying virtual reality for ever! All in one!

On the other extreme, I have a few friends who are just as intelligent who advocated doing nothing for we are doomed anyway! In either cases, I found that it is next to impossible to continue any sort of meaningful debates with either. Best to leave them alone.

However, the worst is when a callous, biophobic attitude crosses over with a rigid materialistic outlook of limitless progress whereby only physical matter and energy exist, and nothing else, in that case you have people who literally go crazy if you have the audacity of mentioning anything about spirituality!

Sometimes I ask myself if the religion of progress + materialistic atheism + biophobia are not equal to some form of hugely dangerous ideology capable of the worst! Perhaps soviet communism was such a beast after all amongst others!

Dear Mr JMG, your work as a pathfinder is becoming even more crucial as time goes by!

11/7/13, 8:44 AM

DeAnander said...
Biophobia has long been a pet topic of mine -- fascinated by its many faces and frightened of its consequences in practise, I've thought about it a lot. A couple of books spring to mind -- The War on Bugs by Will Allen which traces the connections between military/industrial culture (and some other interesting historical threads) and the enemising and attempted extermination of insects. Also -- don't throw food, please -- D Jensen's book about the culture of logging in the PNW, Strangely Like War. I know Jensen is not everyone's cuppa, but he makes some interesting points about the organisation and mindset of logging: Nature as Enemy, the bush as hostile territory, logging as epic battle.

Recently I saw a computer game which looked -- from the packaging, typeface, etc -- like a war game. It was an industrial farming simulator! and iirc the blurb actually contained language like "do battle with pests" ;-) the cover image was not of happy animals or unfurling leaves, but of giant mechanised equipment rumbling across a field, I suspect consciously modelled on tank warfare imagery. And here's an anecdote from personal knowledge, a bit of interview buried in 3000 pgs of oral history collated by a friend of mine at UC: interview with an organic farmer of the 70s who invited a more conventional neighbour over to see his fields. Organic farmer holds up a handful of beautiful rich soil that he's been painstakingly building -- loamy, chocolaty, friable, rich -- sniffs it, says Mmmmm, ain't that grand. Neighbour, horrified, points with shaking finger at various half-earthworms hanging out and waving gently: "My God, you have to kill that!" Should we laugh or cry?

I'd also second the opinion that biophobia has deep roots in patriarchy, and that at least *some* of the desperate attempt to purge/transcend all the wet&sticky and ascend to some kind of otherworldly perfection springs from a desperate need for warrior males to distance themselves as far as possible from the female in every form. There's a pervasive disgust in patriarchal cultures for women as inherently wet&sticky -- what I call the eeeeyew factor -- menstruation is disgusting and unclean, childbirth is messy and scary, women represent the "dark unconscious animal nature," Eve is the instigator of all sin, and besides, what manly man wants to recall that he was once wet, squalling, and helpless in a woman's arms? there's a contempt for the female/fertile/fecund/squishy and an admiration for hardness, coldness, sterility and lethality that runs like a nasty little splinter all the way from gatherer-hunter bands through the present day structures of industrial civ. No wonder so many little progressniks are in love with space, the final frontier: as cold, hard, sterile and lethal as it gets. Tres manly :-)

[comment too long, part II coming up]

11/7/13, 8:44 AM

DeAnander said...
[part 2]

Other aspects of biophobia spring to mind such as the mindless enthusiasm for antibiotic and antiseptic cleansers, used to excess -- with the unintended outcome of a generation of middle/upper class kids with impaired immune response due to a near-sterile environment during their early years. Harsh chemical antiperspirants -- now how crazy is that, trying to prevent your body from regulating its temperature by sweating? -- and deodorants, many containing disruptive compounds that damage the body. A horror of death and decay that inspires widespread embalming of corpses, a jealous and selfish with-holding of our own flesh from the nutrient cycle. A phobia of our own excreta so extreme that we can't bear to recycle them into the soil but prefer to ransack the planet for synthetic NPK, contaminate perfectly good drinking water by using it for sewage transport, and then eutrophise and/or poison our greater waters with (a) concentrated raw sewage or (b) "treated" sewage full of chemicals... OK, I'd better stop. But the eeeeyew factor is hard at work in all of these civilisational neuroses.

People today feel a big eeeeyew moment when they encounter the w&s (thanks JMG for the trope) and yet most feel no frisson of alarm or horror when they encounter the synthetic, the artificial, the industrial -- even when it may be toxic or entail horrendous "externalities" of production. I have myself known people who were horrified to see me eat plums off some random tree in a backyard, yet themselves would happily consume a Twinkie.

People who would throw an entire backyard apple away if there was one wormhole in it, yet eagerly consume a factory-farmed apple loaded with unspecified pesticides. Biophobia is good for industry: it makes people afraid to consume or even touch anything that is not Product. It traps the sufferer not only in a dysfunctional relationship with Life, but in a wholly dependent relationship with the money economy and the factory system. OK, that's all for now... clearly I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet to write a book called "Biophobia" :-)

11/7/13, 8:45 AM

Wildwood Chapel said...
"Death isn’t the opposite of life, any more than birth is; it’s the natural completion and fulfillment of the process of being alive, and it’s something that people in a great many other cultures have been able to meet calmly, even joyfully, as a matter of course. Our terror of death is a good measure of our terror of life."

How would you answer the anticipated response that the worldview articulated by the above is what gives rise to genocidal regimes like Hitler's, Stalin's, et al? I've heard, for instance, Jewish kabbalists make that argument in articulating the distinction between the panentheism of their tradition and what they percieve as the purely immanent view of divinity within paganism. To have such a cavalier attitude toward death, they say, is to pave the way for utilitarian domination. Other than pointing out the logical fallacy of the slippery slope, what would be your answer?

11/7/13, 9:01 AM

Quos Ego said...

you asked me in last week post's comments why I would like to see a monthly reading list of yours.
I'm sorry for my belated answer.

I think a small selection of books every month (a few books, not more than that!), followed by a short comment, would be a nice way to share some knowledge with your readers. In my opinion, reading lists are about giving a chance to others to discover something great that you, as a reader, have discovered. Since you are obviously well-read, a reading list is among the best gifts you can possibly make!

The topic of the book shouldn't matter. It should simply be a great book, a book that makes you learn, or feel something.

If not for somebody else's reading list, I would never have discovered Shalamov's Kolyma Tales, which is, in my opinion, the wisest and deepest book ever written. So my aim is discovery.

11/7/13, 9:07 AM

Nano said...
To paraphrase the great and late Allan Watts.

GooeyPrickles and PrickleyGoo.

Our society does such a horrible job at "dealing" with Death. It is the unspoken elephant in the room, that only unites people when a loved one is on hir death bed. Not always but I am generalizing of course.

My eldest one asked us about death several times in the past year or so. Our usual response is to tell her that it's part of the cycle and we tend to take her to the garden to show her how plants, flowers, animals etc are part of the cycle and it's okay and necessary. We then proceed her to tell her that "THIS IS IT" right here right now it's quite an amazing place; and by that we mean the universe and everything in it, including Apple Pies. ;)

11/7/13, 9:44 AM

Christine4 said...
"The opposite of life is space" - brilliant! Speaking as a life-long fan of Star Trek et al, I am going to see 'Gravity' tonight, and judging by the trailers I am sure I will be absolutely terrified. It is not that the lead characters might die, it is the manner of potential death, being so tiny and helpless in that airless void, which is so scary.

However, I think I am perhaps less afraid of my own death than many, and have long believed that life on earth will outlive our species, so I guess I don't subscribe to biophobia.

11/7/13, 9:50 AM

Harry J. Lerwill said...
I dug the compost into the veggie bed a few weekends ago. Nothing pleased me more than to see a few worms wriggling back under the surface. It was a sign that the soil was alive, a start comparison to the California hardpan I started out with a few years ago.

We used to fear that which could kill us. Now we seem to fear that which may restrict our options and keep us from getting our jetpacks.

Figuring out how we --individually and as a species --view, relate and reconcile our hopes and fears with a world of limits is going to be interesting.

11/7/13, 9:53 AM

Greg Belvedere said...
I look forward to seeing where this series of posts will go. I wonder if you will write about some of the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (I believe you alluded to this when responding to a comment a few weeks ago). He comes to mind whenever you discuss Christianity, the Earth, and progress. He surely had a notion of progress, but I see it as somewhat different from the technologically driven model that the Kurzweils of the world adhere to. I look forward to this series of post regardless.

11/7/13, 10:26 AM

Janet D said...
Wonderfully insightful post. I'm becoming an addict here, I fear. It's not that I always agree what is written, but I find that, by getting the larger-picture views so present here, I am able to both see and think more clearly about matters occurring around me. So, thank you for that.

My children both participate in the Deep Nature Connection movement (basically, skilled facilitators get the kids outside all day in sensory-awareness / nature skill exercises disguised as play). There are groups using these techniques all over the world now, trying to get kids reconnected to nature. It's still too small, too late, I fear, but at least there are beginnings.

Back in the 1990's, I remember being surprised at some of the churches in my area jumping on the "global warming is a leftist hoax" bandwagon. I remember wondering why they even found it necessary to address it, and why it would be so threatening as to necessitate instant derogatory dismissal. Now it makes more sense. Most unfortunate, however. (And lest I am accused of picking on Christians, I will note that the extremist Islamists in Africa are one of the groups really targeting elephants for slaughter ($$ for ivory), giving thanks to Allah every time they wipe out a herd). I think permaculturist Toby Hemenway is right, when he states that humanity's switch to "monotheistic sky gods"(as opposed to more polytheistic, earth-based religions) was the beginning of separation from/unthinking destruction to the earth.

11/7/13, 10:35 AM

Dan Pickles said...

Oh, man.

I want to buy you so many beers for creating that word.

I want to buy you every beer. You deserve it. Great article.

11/7/13, 10:44 AM

Zach said...
John Michael,

Well done again, and not quite where I thought you'd be going this week. I find I have less to quibble about than I expected.

I am still mulling over your distinction between a religion and a religious sensibility - this is new to me. Obvious, though, once pointed out (an "aha!" moment for me), and it seems very useful.

It has been a long time since I read Lynn White. I've always thought he was missing the point, but you've articulated why much better than I could have. It seems to have become folk wisdom in some quarters, a stick to bash Christianity with - "and we've have had Ecotopia by now, if it weren't for you meddling Christians!"

Counterproductive, too - if "everybody knows" that the roots of our environmental crisis are the Christian religion per se, that sets up a dichotomy - one must either deny Christ, or deny the crisis. I don't know why people are surprised that some number of Christians conclude that environmentalism is inherently anti-Christian, as it's been "green" advocates saying this for, well, for my entire lifetime!

Clearly a case where ternary thinking is called for. :)


11/7/13, 10:59 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Tom, given the tangled and bitterly contested cultural politics of gender these days, I'll leave that discussion to others, thank you.

Roland, it's a cultural trait not shared by human beings outside a specific set of related cultures, so its origins need to be traced in that realm. I plan on saying something about that next week.

Ares, excellent! I'd point out that "objectivity" does not exist -- there is no standpoint outside anybody's consciousness from which the universe can be known -- so the choice Sagan offers us is between different ways of guiding subjectivity. Do we use the traditional narratives of myth and religion to sort out our subjective experiences, do we use the tools of science, do we use the tools of art and literature, or what? The obvious answer, to me, is that we use all of them, each in its appropriate sphere. More on this in an upcoming post.

Notes, no, I didn't know about the Order! It sounds like a very worthwhile project. As for menstruation, well, of course I have no direct experience of that, but my wife's been using reusable pads for decades now and for us, it's just another bodily fluid.

Thomas, if I'd wanted to cover all the manifestations of biophobia, the result would have been a book, not a post! Of course you're quite right: the fermented, the raw, the unprocessed, the living, are all equally horrifying to the common biophobe.

Joel, yes, I've seen that, and laughed. I recommend that they all move to an isolated trailer park in the middle of Nevada for two years, right now, just to help themselves get used to the level of pulse-pounding excitement they'll be experiencing every day if they ever make it to Mars.

Jason, oh, granted, what drives the apocalyptic believer is partly the thought of watching the world blow sky high and saying, in the last few moments before the blast hits, "I told you so." Still, the fixation on universal death seems to me to unfold at least in part from biophobia: the gloating over a dead planet is just a little too blatant for me to explain otherwise.

Unknown, well, yes, that's what I was guessing.

Gregorach, excellent! I didn't have that song specifically in mind when I wrote that passage, but I'm sure it was somewhere in there. As for "meatsuits" et al., another fine example, yes.

Les, we've got the same sort of regulations here. Remember that most of what they're there for is to keep you from being able to take away market share from the big corporations. One way around that is to focus on the gift economy -- make your own pickles et al and give them to friends, knowing that you're building social capital which will come back in the form of homebrewed beer, repairs from a handyman friend, etc.

Cherokee, true enough -- here you've got the enduring hostility between backwoods culture and the urban centers of government on the coasts, and a fair number of off-the-grid folks here are reacting to that -- not always unreasonably. As for doomsteads, well, yes -- we'll get to that in an upcoming post.

Stephen, yes, I've been following it. Given that the Gulf Stream is showing increasing signs of slowing to a crawl, the results may be a little more challenging than that -- imagine Europe suddenly getting a climate like that of Labrador for the next millennium or so, while warm water piles up in the tropics and generates one gargantuan hurricane after another. Fun all around!

11/7/13, 11:00 AM

Joe D G said...
Reading the J. Campbell part *immediately* put into my mind the scene from Animal House, at the end where Bluto (Belushi) attempts to get the frat brothers into action against the dean.:

-What's this lying around s***?

-What should we do, moron?

War's over. Wormer dropped the big one.

What? "Over"?

Did you say "over"?

Nothing's over until we decide it is!

Was it over when the Germans

bombed Pearl Harbor?

Hell, no!

And it ain't over now.

'Cause when the going gets tough...

(Patriotic instrumental music)

the tough get going! Who's with me?

Let's go! Come on!

(Bluto screaming)
(Tense instrumental music)

What the f*** happened

to the Delta l used to know?

Where's the spirit?

Where's the guts?

This could be the greatest night

of our lives...

but you're gonna let it be the worst.

"We're afraid to go with you, Bluto.

We might get in trouble."

(Shouting) Just kiss my a** from now on.

Not me! l won't take this!

Thanks for the post. Brilliant as always and serves to put words and concepts around a stirring passion.

11/7/13, 11:09 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Raven, plenty of other sensibilities have been possible all along. As for alchemy, though, thanks for the book suggestion -- I wasn't familiar with the Hughes book -- and the struggle between alchemical and mechanical visions of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries was a major turning point in western cultural history. I may want to discuss that here someday.

Phil, a case can be made that the cult of the machine is a cult of lifelessness, and mass death on the altar of the machine certainly makes sense in that context.

JLD, I've worked in nursing homes, many of my close friends in the Freemasons are well up in their 70s and 80s, and I've already begun to feel the impacts of aging on my own body -- and accepted them. Don't assume that because you can't handle the reality of age, the rest of us are similarly handicapped.

K-dog, excellent! Thank you.

Joseph, delightful! I trust everyone said a thank you to Strongheart for the gift of her body. (I recall a bit of ritual from decades back: "Take, eat, and rejoice, for all things have died that you might live.")

Blue Sun, now go back and reread the post, focusing on those places where I talk about the way that the existing religious sensibility shaped Christianity in ways that are by no means implied by Christian teaching.

Steven, "but it's different this time" is the perennial cry of those who want to insist that their favorite myth ought to take precedence over what actually happens. If you'll read more broadly in the relevant sciences, and stay away from those websites that cherrypick the news for bits and pieces that support a preconceived vision of imminent doom, you'll find that things look a lot less apocalyptic than you currently imagine.

Richard, that's quite plausible. I also expect to see the idea of the church as the body of Christ receiving much more attention in a post-biophobic Christianity, but that's for other reasons.

Phil, if a vegetarian diet works for you, excellent! Many of the people I know who eat vegetarian or vegan diets are entirely cool about it. It's purely those who insist on yelling at everyone else who irritate me. For my part, I follow the Druid diet: "Figure out what makes your individual body feel healthy and strong, and eat that."

Robert, thank you! As for reading, I plan on talking about that in some detail when we get to the series of posts about education. The capacity to read and reread a book until you actually grasp what the author is saying, get inside his or her thoughts, and become able to make use of the worldview contained therein, is a hugely powerful and vastly neglected skill set these days.

Wildwood, we'll get to that next week. (BTW, I'm going to take you at your word; anything you post from here on in better be something you're willing to see left up for the long term, because I'm not willing to keep going back and deleting comments when you have second thoughts. 'Nuf said.)

Thomas, glad to hear it.

11/7/13, 11:15 AM

Ruben said...

The teachings of mysticism and spirituality you have let trickle through this space over the past many years have subtly shifted me away from my hard rational and atheist upbringing--and, I think, made me capable of marrying a woman who is deeply spiritual and mystical.

Over the past year or so I have often had occasion to talk about your thoughts on science and religion as simply tools, each with their own capabilities.

So, I am very much looking forward to your post expanding on that, and, I hope, to some guidelines on how to know when to use which tool.

11/7/13, 11:39 AM

J.D. Smith said...
Two thoughts come to mind.

One, in North America some of our biophobia seems to stem from the influence of the Great Plague of London of 1665 on subsequent generations of British Isles residents and emigrants who settled what is now the United States and Canada (e.g., one of the Wesley brothers' slogan "cleanliness is next to godliness").

Second, at the risk of noting what may already be common knowledge in this forum, biophilia seems to be making a comeback with E.O. Wilson's book, Björk’s related musical project and Richard Louv's discussion of the consequences of nature deficit disorder. The adventure to which we are called may be inconspicuously underway in many cases.

11/7/13, 11:40 AM

redoak said...
My guess is that complex civilization requires an epistemological abstraction from nature to support the political infrastructure necessary to maintain that complexity. One way of seeing the evolutionary role of philosophy is as a reaction to that kind of epistemological disease, a mental immunological response, so to speak. That of course is not a call for primitivism, but a call for vaccination! Alas, we do love our myths even when they blaspheme.

For my sake and pleasure please consider circling back to Nietzsche on this topic! His confrontation with sickliness led him to affirm life even in that messy aspect, and to equation of will to power with will to life. Not to mention his brilliant early assessment of the purpose of Greek tragedy!

If you haven’t read it lately have a crack at Aristophanes The Clouds. An impressive assertion of matter (methane) over mind!

11/7/13, 12:07 PM

Steven Zerger said...
Don't the Yergins of the world use that same rhetorical move? Can it never really be different this time?

As for my breadth of reading, I am in your debt for being one of my most reliable guides for years.

Best wishes.

11/7/13, 12:44 PM

thecrowandsheep said...
@ Greer

I haven't seen "Gravity" so could you help me out? Did Clooney and Bullock use Soviet rockets to reach space? Because they have to don't they? In which case, did they play this hit come liftoff:

Do you think Brezhnev's eyebrows crashed into ceiling when St Paul told him the USA now requires his rockets to send its citizens to space?

11/7/13, 12:45 PM

Nick said...
I've been pondering the applicability of Howard T. Odums maximum power principle (MPP) in explaining the cultural and religious behaviours during this millennia of growth. It seems plausible to me that religious sensibilities emerged and where selected on the basis of there overall assistance in helping that particular culture grow and gain greater access to resources and energy. Puritanism is one such example, in that it encourages maximal breeding rates and work so that the overall religion can grow and gain greater access to resources. I think many others are obvious too...

All the growth that many religious sensibilities and cultures have been dialing in on through the lens of MPP might be seen as an inevitable pursuit of earth as living system to maximize total power throughput in the global system. Constructal theory, and maximal entropy production theory also suggest that its a property of all emergent systems. That they evolve to dissipate energy at maximal rates and in the process produce information. Human systems are no different, we are going to maximize our energy burn rate and in the process produce massive amounts of complexity. The narrative of progress is nothing more than positive feedback loops in a system seeking maximal power. Of course the dynamics change radically during times of resource decline....

But if the global system is seeking maximal power on its own i think that there will be emergent selection in the upcoming periods to soften the descent, at least over large time scales. Many many different dynamics that may accomplish this, some could be harsh...

Anyways just wondering if you have thought about the descent from the perspective of MPP, whether it has merit and wether you think it informs us of what type of religion may be selected to help support maximal power production during a time of energy descent? Thanks as always for your great work on this blog!

11/7/13, 1:26 PM

Ian Stewart said...
Speaking of Gravity, it's quite a spectacle of a film in 3D, one of the few 3D films for which I've bothered to pay the premium. However, it's interesting to note that the most powerful scene, the destruction of the space station, is dependent on biological elements just as much as mechanical grandiosity. Sandra Bullock's shocked, suffering face occupies the foreground of the image, while the rest of the scene is focused upon man's invention being torn apart by implacable forces. To my mind, this scene is effective because we're biologically hard-wired to recognize other human's faces, and it wouldn't be nearly so powerful if the character had her back turned and we were staring at a space-suit instead. I expect to see this trick ripped off ad nauseum for future 3D films.

11/7/13, 1:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Hal, the internet doesn't offer sex -- you need bodies for that. It offers pornography, the stimulation of erotic responses through symbols of sexual desire. That's why it has to keep on pushing the boundaries -- it gets boring to watch the same few actions endlessly repeated.

Rumighoul, I don't have a lot of authors to suggest just now -- so many thinkers seem incapable of seeing religion as a historical phenomenon that can also relate to a transcendent reality! (As though human beings, who are historical creatures, could relate to such a reality in any other way...) As for questions, post a comment here marked "Not For Posting" with your email address, and I'll contact you.

Andy, excellent. The thing I find that helps with the anger is to take direct action -- say, planting seeds and providing habitat for pollinators. If I may borrow a teaching from one of the traditions in which I've been initiated, anger is usually a secondary emotion, over the top of something else -- very often feelings of helplessness, sorrow and pain. Deal with the underlying feelings by being active, and the anger very often fades out.

August, excellent! As soon as time permits I'll put a link on the Archdruid Report sidebar -- and there's going to be a post, or a couple of posts, on ham radio in the deindustrial age in the not too distant future as well. (Not to mention, now that I'm through the big rush of speaking gigs and Masonic commitments, some QSOs!)

Onething, bingo. It's not those who are up to their elbows in nature who hate it most; it's those who wouldn't know it if it rode past them stark naked on a unicycle. As for the origins, I'll be discussing that as we proceed.

Karim, I see biophobic scientism as one of the most destructive of human ideologies, and yes, it's very popular just now. Fortunately there are alternatives.

DeAnander, write that book. Seriously. If you have any trouble finding a publisher, I'll put you in touch with some editors. Seriously, that needs to be written, and I've got too much on my plate right now to do it in a timely manner.

Wildwood, by that logic Americans, who are more terrified of death and make a bigger deal about it than anybody else in the world, ought to be deeply unwilling to kill people. Are they?

Quos Ego, fair enough; I'll consider it.

Nano, excellent. Your child has a much better chance of growing up sane about human reality.

Christine4, if you get the "space is the opposite of life" trope, you're not a biophobe. Enjoy the film!

Harry, in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse, sure.

11/7/13, 2:09 PM

Karen said...
Dear Archdruid,

I too would be thrilled to see a short list of recommended books once a month or so. I find it fascinating to read what has influenced authors/artists who have influenced me.

Please, please, please oh pretty please.

11/7/13, 2:32 PM

Phil Harris said...
You wrote:
Phil, if a vegetarian diet works for you, excellent! Many of the people I know who eat vegetarian or vegan diets are entirely cool about it. It's purely those who insist on yelling at everyone else who irritate me. For my part, I follow the Druid diet: "Figure out what makes your individual body feel healthy and strong, and eat that."

Mine was and is mostly grains and legumes and increasingly veg and fruit from the garden and surrounding hedges. Which I think is what you have been advocating as ‘future-fare’ for a while now, and the Roman legions marched on it? Grains and legumes are easy enough to get – and cheap – but not everybody can access local fruit and veg. (We still have a car, but all those years ago I was able to cut my mileage by half and then down to 10% and still go to work. It was not ideal for family life but it helped keep me fit! I got a stay of execution, but I take my medication these days. I have my own signs and portents.)

Phil H

11/7/13, 2:36 PM

Kris Ballard said...
Haven't you heard that Google has started a new company that will conquer death? In fact, that was the topic of discussion at my Men's Discussion Group at church this morning.

With regards to biophobia, Paul Goodman was compaining about that many years ago, except that he referred to it as squeamishness.

Climate Change is real, but I'm guessing that at least some of us will survive. My good friend Tim DeChristopher spent 21 months in jail for fighting against the Fossil Fuel Industry!

11/7/13, 2:44 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- I think there is another species of apocalypse that might be considered a "biophilic" end of the world. This is the one in which only the humans go extinct, and the rest of the world continues peacefully on without us. Usually the "end of us" comes about from some pathogen, probably one we created ourselves. In much fiction that tends this way ultimately we and our technology triumph and prevent the apocalypse, but occasionally not. And as a personal fantasy, it is not an uncommon one among some particularly misanthropic biophiles...

11/7/13, 2:54 PM

S P said...
As an internal medicine physician, I've seen that Americans are nowhere near seeing death in stoic terms.

Half of us became addicted to various things in our lives (booze, tobacco, drugs, food), and then end up with a variety of health problems in our 50s, 60s. Trust me, these so called "live fast die young" men run to the doctors at the first sign of trouble, then become pathologically dependent on the healthcare system, rotating to and from every clinic and hospital, and getting every drug and procedure known to man, including, of course, antidepressants and viagra to keep them happy and pacified as they become wards of the state.

The other half of us are health and fitness obsessed supermen, regulating every single aspect of our existence to gain the perfect physique and delay aging. Endless sessions at the gym, running, biking, hiking, swimming to exhaustion. And that of course leaves you looking worn out so you must get plastic surgery to continue the illusion. These people think they will never have to see a doctor or hospital for a real health problem, ever again.

I must admit, I sympathize more with the latter. At least it's a positive engagement with the body, with trying to be healthy in the world, with not just sitting down to the TV or computers and stuffing your gullet like so many others.

Still, decay faces all. We are slowly getting to understand that.

11/7/13, 4:20 PM

Tom Bannister said...
Just another thought. I would observe attempts to create 'hard' 'pure' 'objective' and 'unemotional/unsensual' sciences as (at least partially) a kind of bio-phobic driven agenda? (allowing of course for stages of strict 'rationalism' existing in many cultures before our own). The idea of the dynamic, unpredictable nature of things is thus considered 'scary'. anyway cheers.

11/7/13, 4:30 PM

Space Seeder said...
Does anyone else have the experience of feigning biophobia because it seemed to be expected by your peers?

I haven't done that in a long time, because in recent years I'm not afraid of what my peers think, but I remember it.

JMG: You overcame your dislike of visual media enough to watch a movie? :-)

11/7/13, 5:46 PM

Jose Coces said...
JMG, I am a biophobe, I can see that now, and I admit it. I do not like "wet and sticky", not even in females; few things are more abhorrent to me than menstruation and childbirth. I even wonder how females can stand those organic processes, and more, such as breastfeeding. I'm always cleaning my house and the room I am currently in. All my electronics are properly wiped with alcohol at least once a week. I wash my apples (and any other fruit I care to eat) twice, cut them in half and remove the seeds before I eat them. I never ever pet animals (specially dogs), and I hate bugs - all bugs, of every kind, size and color. I am obsessed by polished and clean metal objects (such as an iPad or MacBook Pro), full of square angles and cold to the touch. My chosen field of occupation is as sterile and lifeless as possible (business law). I detest body waste products, but have no problem - no problem at all - having to clean with my own hands the insides of my electronics, or of an engine. Getting grease on my hands from my scalp makes me feel dirty, and in need of a bath, but getting my hands full of motor oil doesn't even register.
That is how I feel. I would love that this "progress" thing could go on forever, but it probably won't. I guess I will have to adapt. I may never be as fond of the natural world as you are, JMG, but I think I can get better. Where do you think I could start?

11/7/13, 7:10 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Greg, Teilhard de Chardin is a good deal more interesting than Kurzweil, granted, but I disagree with his basic ideas at least as forcefully. You're right, though -- I should discuss him at some point in this series of posts.

Janet, it may be too late to keep industrial civilization from a messy end -- certainly that's my take -- but anything that helps people get out of the biophobic fantasy is a step in the right direction, and may help shape the way things proceed once the rubble stops bouncing.

Dan, thank you! Please feel free to use the term in conversations and internet discussions -- I'd like more people to grasp the idea that wallowing in despair isn't a useful habit, and if a pun will help them do that, then by all means.

Zach, exactly. I'm sorry to say that the environmentalist scene has been prone to a habit the founder of your faith criticized in cogent terms -- something about a mote in one eye and a beam in another comes forcefully to mind here -- and it hasn't done any good for anybody, other than whatever benefit's gained from a warm glow of self-righteous indignation on both sides.

Joe, very funny!

Ruben, excellent. Yes, I'll be talking about those tools, and several others -- politics and the arts are also separate spheres of human experience, not reducible into scientific or religious terms, and the same logic applies there also. More on this soon!

JD, that's an interesting hypothesis. As for the call to adventure, that's almost always very quiet -- grand as the outcome may be, the process usually starts in some silent place where somebody thinks long and hard, and finally sighs, stands up, and starts walking somewhere.

Redoak, the thought of philosophy as a vaccine against collective hubris is fascinating. Nietzsche? I'll consider it. As for Aristophanes, yes, it's been a while, and I'll do that when time permits. (Right now I'm finishing up a really dismal book on Fermi's paradox, and will be following it with a book on Goethe's scientific thought.)

Steven, no, Yergin's one of those who are claiming that it's different this time -- every other attempt to extract infinite wealth out of a finite planet has come to a predictable end, and he's out there insisting (after a string of failed predictions) that those experiences can't be used as a guide to the future of petroleum. The details are always different, but the trajectory is always the same!

Sheep, if I recall correctly from the review, the movie invented a fictitious space shuttle that's still in operation. That is to say, it's a work of fiction!

Nick, for what it's worth, my take is that the maximum power principle isn't universally applicable, because it's not always the most successful strategy. Under conditions of hard ecological limits, for example, pursuing maximum power in the immediate term very often results in failure and dieoff a little further down the road. Darwinian selection is to my mind a better model, because it leaves room for different strategies to be equally successful in different niches -- and that's very much what we see in studying the history of human societies. Are religions and religious sensibilities selected for their contribution to the evolutionary fitness of human societies? A case could be made for that, certainly.

11/7/13, 7:17 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Ian, it wasn't new when Gravity used it. Do you remember the climactic scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Keir Dullea goes into the monolith orbiting Jupiter? The shots of his face through the space helmet were a central part of the drama there too.

Karen, you do realize that pretty much everything on such a list will have been written before you or I were born, I trust?

Phil, I add a certain amount of meat to that -- dinner tonight, for example, was sesame chicken, rice, and a vegetable medley, all of it made here at home from raw materials. Still, grains and legumes are very solid fare all by themselves!

Kris, ask your Men's Discussion Group sometime if any of them know the meaning of the Greek word "hubris."

Bill, true enough, and a worthwhile point. One of my ecology profs when I was in college the first time was a great fan of George Stewart's Earth Abides, for exactly that reason.

S P, Americans have yet to learn that there's such a thing as moderation. I think it takes about ten centuries for a society to get a clue about that...

Tom, good. I'll be talking about that next week.

Space Seeder, actually, I haven't seen it -- I ran across a couple of the denunciations I mentioned, read them, chuckled, and then read a couple of reviews of Gravity.

Jose, the first step is bringing to mind whatever early experiences helped feed that set of reactions. Unpopular as it is these days, Freud's claim that this often has to do with childhood toilet training is, in my experience, much more often right than not. If you can find (and afford) a competent Freudian therapist, that might be one approach; a cheaper one is to push the boundaries of your biophobia -- do things that bring you into direct contact with the wet and squishy world of life -- and then write about the experience at length in a private journal. You may be intrigued by what comes boiling up.

11/7/13, 7:35 PM

Moshe Braner said...
RE: the "maximum power principle", I've been puzzled/irked by it over and over, while reading things written by Odum and his disciples. Irked because they seem to put it up as some sort of holy mantra, while at the same time lamenting the obvious consequences of organisms, humans especially, following that dictum. Can't have it both ways. One of my biggest revelations, and one that seems hard to convey to people in the wider culture, was that some things are "natural" but not "good". I mean that we may consider some things (such as racism or sexism - or the urge to reproduce without end) to be immoral and yet they seem to have arisen out of natural processes. To most people, saying they are "natural" is taken to mean that they should be accepted, if not encouraged. My revelation was that some things are natural but we can choose to resist. Perhaps JMG you'll have a different take on that?

"Are religions and religious sensibilities selected for their contribution to the evolutionary fitness of human societies? A case could be made for that, certainly."

- I've recently finally bought the book "Spirit in the Gene" which is about that exactly. And he also says that under our changed circumstances, it has now turned from an advantage to a hindrance.

11/7/13, 8:00 PM

PredictionError said...
Regarding veganism:

Characterizing veganism as a form of "biophobia" doesn't ring true to me, as a vegan. More than most people, I'd guess vegans would insist they LIKE animals. It's fairly hypocritical for vegans to buy factory-farmed pet food, but many do because they have pets and understand that carnivory is a part of life. There's discussion in the thread about people's alienation from their food sources, to the point that they don't understand fermented foods, etc. Another manifestation of this is that people don't know, and don't want to know, where their meat and dairy come from. Vegans are more willing to look at where meat comes from than many of the people that eat it.

I don't think factory farming is what people have in mind when they're talking about being in tune with the great circle of life and all that. You can't live without affecting other living things. Farmland displaces animals, and farm equipment kills animals. I'd say factory farming is a whole different level of needless cruelty, though. Being vegan is fine, nutritionally, and it's not very difficult. For those of us without the luxury of our own little farms, why SHOULD we eat meat? Especially when the modern production of meat is so harmful to the Nature we profess to love so much...

Regarding religious sensibilities:

I'll make the observation that you can see the same sort of tension in the history of Buddhism. You've got the older take on things, with its meditations on how the body is a disgusting flesh bag and "please let me escape the wheel of birth and death." With Zen, you've got a bunch of nature paintings, "nirvana and samsara are the same thing," and a koan in which the enlightened master exclaims that the Buddha is the sort of stick you wipe yourself with after defecating. Whether or not rocks and trees have Buddha-Nature is a theological controversy. The time frame is even roughly comparable.

Regarding the apocalypse:

I don't think I win anything if I convince people the future is bleak, but I will say this: it's reasonable to consider the facts about the climate, the water supply, the energy supply, the size of the population, and current political trends, then conclude food is going to be a serious problem and the consequences will be really bad. Like so bad you wouldn't want to be there, anyway.

If we grant the possibility that truly hopeless situations exist, then inaction in the face of those situations is understandable. It could even represent a peaceful acceptance of the impermanence of all things. I don't think someone insisting on heroic medical interventions until the end is more spiritually advanced than someone that accepts death and prefers to die at home. If what the doomers are saying is true, inaction makes spiritual sense and the hopeful people are fundamentally unable to "let go."

Eventually, it will be the future and the issue will be settled. "This time really is different" or it isn't. I just don't think the optimists have a monopoly on spiritual depth or love of the universe or whatever. Hopeless situations DO exist and have existed before. The apocalypse is already well under way for polar bears and it's already over for many other species. The present times may or may not be hopeless for humans, but we can't just rule it out a priori. A broken clock is right twice a day.

11/7/13, 8:15 PM

Stephen Heyer said...
Warning: Off on half a dozen tangents

John Michael Greer: …“the glorified robot bodies of the cyber-blessed in which Kurzweil puts his hope of salvation.”

…“A future in which we all become bubbles of abstract intellect in robot bodies zooming through deep space is just as lifeless as a future in which we all become cold ash on the smoldering corpse of a once-living planet.”

Nah! Dalek/RoboCop type robot bodies just don’t have the sublime sensory systems of a well designed biological body. They just will not give the same rich experience of life.

Then there is the subtle body that about everyone who does much out of body stuff stumbles across sooner or later and seems somehow involved in binding the body and spirit and/or soul together. That is hardly likely to bind to a machine.

Give me a biological body anytime.

Funny though, that’s one of the things my lady and I joke about. You see, given differences in ages and longer female lifespans, she could live well past the generally expected 2050 date of the mythical Singularity, Event Horizon or whatever whereas I won’t quite make it.

The joke is that she will be able to move into a beautiful, intelligent, long-lived, God like post-human body whereas I’ll have to settle for being a Dalek or a RoboCop.

But still, I suppose you could argue that being “bubbles of abstract intellect in robot bodies” was at least a life.

Except, hold on, a life kind of implies being alive doesn’t it? I don’t think being a robot really qualifies, machines aren’t alive, in fact I doubt they can even be dead, so they carn’t even be the undead!

But wait, follow that line of thought further and things get really, seriously weird.

You see, just about all religious traditions, mediums, psychic researchers and most people who have a religious/spiritual/psychic experience have a model of life after death being as a non-material, abstract intellect, though able to appear to be whatever form it wants, so long as you don’t touch.

But, but, hold on, let’s have a think about that: That’s not really being alive or life either.

Unless we’ve got the whole notion of being alive and life completely wrong.

Anyway, I’m bailing. I like to follow strange lines of thought and see where they lead but this has turned way too strange for even me.

Just for fun – or at least that’d how it started.

Stephen Heyer

11/7/13, 8:19 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Tom Bannister and DeAnander--there are understandable psychological reasons why warrior cultures and patriarchal societies in general associate women with the messy and stinky aspects of bodily life and feel disgust and a desire to keep separate.

Anybody can work him or herself up into a blind killing rage, so hopped up with adrenaline as to feel neither pain nor fear. However, people in these states don't last very long as warriors. Becoming an effective warrior requires overriding the body's natural responses to pain and fatigue. It requires mastering physical fear in order to stand one's ground and advance in the face of deadly danger. It requires quashing any feelings of empathy for an opponent in order to kill people with whom one has no personal quarrel.

People who are not psychopaths cannot do any of these things day in and day out until they learn to suppress or distance themselves from their own feelings and treat their own bodies ruthlessly. Manliness in a warrior society demands this of every adult male.

Mothers want to protect their boys from harm. The adolescent rites of passage in societies where men are warriors and women aren't usually demand that the boy renounce the bond with his mother and replace it with loyalty to the male band. When you break this kind of bond, there is no going back and surely there must be some guilt involved, which is turned outward in the form of anger and contempt.

The boot camps of modern military organizations have traditionally followed the same program, with a generous dose of misogyny reinforcing the idea that manhood equals rejection of the female.

11/7/13, 10:28 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Stephen, JMG -- moderation in all things, including climate science. The connection between the Maunder Minimum (the last time the solar cycle shut down) and the Little Ice Age is not definitive. For one thing, the Little Ice Age began before the Maunder Minimum appeared. Many now think it had multiple causes, of which the solar cycle was only one contributor, if it even was a significant contributor. As for the Gulf Stream, whether or not it is slowing at present as a continuing trend is also not firmly established. Not a lot of data over not a very long time period. It is certainly not slowing to a crawl; it continues moving at a brisk walk. The bigger something is, the harder it is to measure, and the error bars on the measurements of the Gulf Stream flow are still pretty large.

What concerns me the most right now is actually what may or may not be happening with the Northern Hemisphere atmospheric Jet Stream. Again, no consensus, but many climatologists believe it is showing fundamental changes in its behavior. Others strongly disagree. This has the potential to change climate patterns globally, and much faster than a Gulf Stream slowdown.

11/7/13, 10:44 PM

KL Cooke said...
"I get the distinct impression that Singularitarians and the like are motivated at least as much by hatred of their own bodies as they are by dreams of immortality. At its worst, it actually seems to be a form of depersonalisation disorder."

Here's a classic on that very subject.

11/7/13, 11:26 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

I look forward to the discussion on doomsteads.

If a war band turned up here - and I wasn't killed outright - I think I'd go with enigmatic and say something like: "I'd been expecting you".

Truly the bushrangers used to get support - not always willingly - from the locals. As everyone was poor it didn't make farms much of a target. Plus the bushrangers usually didn't have the time to extract too much unpicked food.

Plus a good feed and drink wouldn't hurt the situation either. Compromises are part of life. I remember Dmitry Orlov writing about the strange bed partners people made in post collapse Russia.

Most people have no idea about edible plants so I doubt they'd take the time to strip the garden and orchard. If they annoyed me too much I’d probably poison them.

It might not be a bad idea to take one of their brats on to educate them and give them a place of sanctuary too.

Dunno, really.

But fighting is no good because sooner or later you run out of ammo or can't go outside to farm and end up getting starved into submission. Doomsteads are a really bad idea as they are like a magnet. Especially with massive stock piles of stuff that people are familiar with.

Common sense says they don't want to farm, that is why they're bandits / war lords or whatever! Someone has to get dirt under their finger nails...



11/7/13, 11:33 PM

KL Cooke said...
z"...just as a near-pathological hatred of nature (and "the body") seems to have developed in some Christian circles today."

Not just today. It was baked in starting with the Apostle Paul.

"For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live."

11/7/13, 11:43 PM

N Matheson said...
Hmm comment dissapeared.
Anyhow thanks very much for this JMG a beautiful and insightful post.
I would look at the actual results of the much lauded Ornish trial, while the angiograms looked good the actual results were seriously unimpressive despite the multi- faceted nature of the intervention.

11/8/13, 12:30 AM

Leo said...
Finished my Krampus challenge submission. It'll be up Monday after some editing and last minute revisions.

I remember one of the interesting chapters in Britannica perspectives 1 was about how the distinction between nature and artificial (as in man made) was a false distinction.

Been a while since I read it, so its a bit fuzzy what the exact argument was and how he meant nature (he didn't mean organic). But it was along the lines of that we gradually learnt techniques and technologies through natural means (trial and error) and build them up over time. At no point did something unnatural occur to make tool and machine making not natural.

It was interesting.

Another of the articles was about how stupid it was to give Africans medicine, thus providing a huge population boost, without any follow up in limiting family size and improving agriculture.

Given that population growth is shredding a lot of third world countries infrastructure. Think it was around $10,000 for every new person and they can't afford the current population. It was a fairly stupid move.

It's pretty easy to see that "despairoin" and the NTE ideas are all based on emotion, not fact or reason. Nuclear waste for example, Chernobyl is a great sanctuary preserve because radiation is lethal the same way smoking is lethal, not like how poison is lethal.

It affects humans badly because we're k-selected, but it's quite possible that contaminated areas could be temporarily occupied (seasonally) without disastrous long term effects. Admittedly any population which does so is going to have to deal with increased birth defects and similar problems, but it could easily be balanced by reduced competition.

11/8/13, 3:13 AM

Steven Zerger said...
It all depends on your scope, doesn't it. Yergin mocks peak oilers by saying "oh for Gods sake, how many times have they said this before!" But you expand the context and he is obviously the one guilty of special pleading for exceptionalism.

I had this same thought a few weeks ago when I read your essay response to Ugo Bardi's vision of the future. I was thinking, well the average life of a mammal species on earth is something like a couple of million years. Aren't you giving humans a bit too much time here?

11/8/13, 3:38 AM

trippticket said...
Despairoin! Finally a great foil for the hopium. Thanks for that. Good piece. I'm constantly amazed by your patience and methodical cadence when you're explaining complex thoughts. I'm having a hard time finding other authors to read that compare in a satisfactory way. I wish I could get everyone I know to read this blog.


11/8/13, 6:01 AM

Betsy Megalos said...
Biophobia! a relationship with Fetish Interests? Here in my suburban neck of the USA, I have noticed a steady decline in nature experience / awareness along with a steady increase in "fetish" interests in Death, nature and sexuality. By Fetish, I mean a focused - non -naturalistic- ( nonspritual) fascination with a particular subject.
Memento Mori- For example, has a significant "cult" attachment presence locally -- a fascination with death- parading zombies, obsessive gore thrills amusements, fatalistic pleasure seeking-while avoiding issues of aging/ decay/death= in any community form... therefor a fetish of sorts.-
Recently, a young college student told me she is a "memento morist" and hopes to be an embalmer. I commented that is a very sacred responsibility.. She may have gotten that. She mentioned that the embalming students she knew, enjoyed joking over (and about)the client's bodies, as much as any detached work done for the clients. A kind of biophobia I think.

In my grandmothers day, Babies were born at home, doctors cared for you at home, death was dealt with at home, not bagged, shipped to another part of town to be sanitized before anyone could mourn. This dis-junction,lack of positive participation, if you will- in a continuum , leads to much biophobia, I suspect and also aides some fixations that keep one out of the whole natural process of life.

11/8/13, 6:55 AM

Zach said...
Off-topic for this week, but interesting fodder for the ongoing "what about the nuke plants?" discussion:

11/8/13, 7:12 AM

Yupped said...
I've noticed through my own internal reflections quite a tendency to get stuck sometimes. Generally, I do take a lot of positive action, but I still get stuck frequently: I think too much, over-analyze situations, try to keep my options open and generally procrastinate in various ways. I'm avoiding commitment - because commitment is supposed to be followed by action, which brings the possibility of failure and of being seen to fail. I don't want to over extend my welcome as amateur psychologist, but somewhere underneath all that I suppose is the fear of death, either physical or ego death or both.

A lot of people probably share this fear of commitment/failure, particularly with regard to the very public and counter-cultural process of changing one's life. So getting stuck in big theories of apocalypse-now vs golden-age-soon may be a form of unconscious procrastination for some. And it's hard to persuade someone to move past it with logic if it is rooted in unconscious fear.

On the topic of biophobia, a helpful meditation I've done from time to time is to imagine myself proceeding from birth through various ages, including advanced age, death and decay. I think the purpose is to build a stronger sense of oneself transcending the physical body, but I came to find imagining my corpse rotting in the casket quite comforting after while - at first it was quite uncomfortable.

Finally, I've never quite understood the tradition of open casket funerals, which is one of our society's few sanctioned exposures to actual dead people. Is the purpose there to help loved ones come to terms with actual physical death and all it's implications? Or is it to try to pretend that death can be beaten in some way by dressing the corpse up in their Sunday suit and make-up? Maybe there's reflection of our conflicted nature in there as well.

11/8/13, 7:25 AM

redoak said...
A small expansion then on the idea of philosophy as a reaction to civilization. First, as for pride, the most famous and worthy philosophers were intolerably prideful (unless of course you fell in love with them), considering themselves far too good for the plebian hubris characteristic of civilization! Their promethean gift intends to inspire and ignite a similar pride in their students. Strangely, the result of this inspiration is very often perceived as radical humility often to the point of shameless self-denigration, which of course is a misperception. Assuming a role beyond the concerns of the city is intensely egotistical. That said the love of wisdom expressed through the marriage of ego and cosmos is also intensely humbling. When sifting this paradox it is helpful to keep in mind the importance of context: an ass at the bar, but a saint in the forest.

This wisdom is antagonistic to the modes and orders of the city. Usually expressed as a tension between law (nomos) and nature (physis), the philosopher’s wisdom will inevitably (and accurately!) be accused of undermining the former for the sake of the latter. So long as the modes and orders of the city are ridiculous (they often are) philosophy will continue to be inspiring.

There is a counter force to this reaction. The city is an engine of assimilation and cooption. Over time the nomos has become more and more equated directly and rationally with physis. This is of course impossible and deeply evil, but nevertheless effective and massively empowering. The Enlightenment as a whole represents the greatest effort in this assimilation, consider only the work of Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, and Locke and their epigone. Philosophy as described above is very nearly impossible today.

But chased out the front door nature has returned in the back, and she is pissed off! Perhaps at this grand collision of nomos and physis there is a need for a return to philosophy. Maybe Hegel was right about this, “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.”

11/8/13, 7:25 AM

MawKernewek said...
It is possible that the slowing of warming within the last ten years or so, is related to decadal oscillations in the climate, such as the El Niño effect, which when it is on, drives warm, wet weather to areas bordering the east of the Pacific (and sets up a similar effect in the Atlantic), whereas the opposite condition, La Niña has the opposite effect.

There is also the hypothesis that massive Arctic sea ice melt has had the tendency to alter atmospheric circulation to bring Siberian air masses over Europe in winter, resulting in the recent relatively cold winters in some years in the UK (which are actually not that remarkable by long-term averages).

11/8/13, 8:02 AM

Gary Davis said...
Greatly enjoyed the post. But I would take issue with the phrase, "...since the birth of Jesus of Nazareth." From my reading, I have come to believe that it is most likely that this character never actually existed. No historical mention of him except in the New Testament. No reason to think he was not just invented, either by the Gospel writers or perhaps earlier by priests looking to compete with other mystery religions that had similar central figures.

11/8/13, 8:25 AM

Andrew said...
Here's a new project for a parabolic solar cooker, some readers may be interested in it:

11/8/13, 8:55 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Moshe, "natural" in no way means "morally good." Members of many species kill their conspecifics, sometimes for very casual reasons; murder is therefore natural, but that hardly makes it a virtue. I haven't read "The Spirit in the Gene," but I notice that you've switched from "religions and religious sensibilities" in the plural to "it" -- presumably meaning some abstraction labeled "religion;" it's useful here to recall that religions, not to mention religious sensibilities, vary far more drastically than any one abstract model will cover.

Prediction, I'm quite sure that some vegans have taken up that diet out of moral or health issues; it's a diverse movement. My experience with the comment of mine I referenced above, though, suggests that at least some of the ones who go around insisting that everyone else ought to be vegan are extremely uncomfortable with the thought of their own deaths, thus arguably biophobic. As for Buddhism, bingo -- that was one of the things I was referencing.

As for whether the future is hopeless or not, since we can't know what the future holds, we're in a Pascal's Wager position. We have two choices: decide to take action to make the future better than it would otherwise be, or decide we're all doomed and might as well just lay down and die.

If we make the first choice and the world's doomed, we may be wasting our time, but since it doesn't really matter how we spend our final hours, we haven't lost anything: final score 0. If we take the first choice and the world isn't doomed, then we have the chance to make the future better than it otherwise would be: final score +1.

If we make the second choice and the world's doomed, well, once again it doesn't really matter how we spend our final hours: final score 0. If we make the second choice and we're wrong about the world being doomed, though, we've thrown away our chance to make the future better than it would otherwise be: final score -1. Logically speaking, therefore, unless you know for a fact that there will be no future -- and human beings lack the omniscience to make that call -- it's always best to assume that there will be a future that your actions can influence, and act accordingly.

Stephen, my guess is that they're all shoveling smoke. Gordon Moore himself has pointed out that Moore's Law is no longer true, and artificial intelligence, like nuclear fusion, is one of those things that's always twenty years in the future...and probably always will be.

Bill, I was basing the comment about the Gulf Stream on this story, which is at least troubling. Still, of course you're right: we don't know what's going to happen.

KL, now there's a blast from the past. I read that back in college.

Cherokee, warlords love peasants -- every warband needs to stay fed, and warlords very quickly realize that protecting the local peasants against other warbands and the more pointless excesses of his own followers is a good way to ensure a steady food supply and the kind of land base that warbands, like all guerrilla forces, need to survive. Yes, guerrilla warfare is a form of incipient feudalism. Much more on this as we proceed!

KL, and you'll notice that Paul was educated in Greek philosophy and was very much au courant with the intellectual trends of his time. With very few modifications, the passage you've quoted could be taken out of Pagan Greek writings several centuries older than his time.

N Matheson, let's not get into the diet wars, please! It fascinates me that nothing, but nothing, makes Americans so hot under the collar than debates about which foods are bad, bad, BAD to eat.

11/8/13, 9:06 AM

Anselmo said...
Claiming that Climate Change is generated by man, has no scientific basis, since the IPCC is not nothing but a mass of politicians and scientists, who say they have reached a consensus on the issue. The word "consensus" is the enemy of truth and involves corruption.

As I understand, you can not affirm or deny that Climate Change is generated by human activity.

Scientists should only talk about scientifically demonstrable facts.

Religions emerged in Paleolithic societies were not green, because if
they had been, It would have been impossible to develop agriculture and livestock, that required the burning of forests. It is curious to note the majority of these religions, including Celtic, says that the shaping of the world is the result of the struggle between two forces.
The principle of the struggle” is opposed to the princlple of cooperation, which is the concept on which to base any ecological reasoning.

The only cases of post Neolithic society able to prevent excessive ecological collapse by plundering the environment that I know, are Egypt, Japan, Tikopia and New Guinea.

"religion" environmentalist is a development of Christian myths paradise on earth, the sky, etc.. A religion with its Heaven; the utopia of a sustainable society, the Great Flood; the collapse of our civilación by ecological problems, his chosen people; the environmentalists, their pagan; who are not environmentalists, its communion; vegetarianism, etc..
It's a more pagan religion, like nationalism, socialism and fascism,. Products archaic movement was the Romanticism, the end result has been two world wars and several genocides.

According to Toynbee teachings, I think that “religion” enviromentalist is a pagan religion, like nationalism, socialism and fascism,. Products of the archaistic movement that was the Romanticism, whose end-product been two world wars and several genocides.

11/8/13, 9:12 AM

Ruben said...

"why SHOULD we eat meat? Especially when the modern production of meat is so harmful to the Nature we profess to love so much..."

I am certainly not going to defend the modern production of meat. I hate it. But veganism is also harmful.

Bill Rees, the inventor of Ecological Footprinting, says sustainability is like pregnancy, you either are or you aren't. Veganism, with its typical reliance on imported avocados, nuts, tofu, etc. is often very dependant on the same industrial "food" system that is so damaging--and ultimately unsustainable. It is true that vegans may have great concern for animal suffering, but there are other responses that eliminate suffering without relying on unsustainable industrial food.

And, you can't farm sustainably without manure.

So, to be vegan, you are either supporting industrial chemical agriculture (which is unsustainable) or you are supporting other people eating the animals that are so critical to long-term functioning of the system. Which is just kind of a weird moral loop.

The only proven examples we have of societies that have lasted for a long time without major degradation of their landscape have eaten a diet that is primarily--to a huge degree--bioregional. Being connected, being in communication, with our bioregion is important to sustainable human culture. And, unless you have a puny population, that is going to require meat-eating.

But that doesn't mean you have to buy into industrial and chemical meat. Where I live, you could easily buy local, raised-with-love meat for the same price as avocadoes (in the winter). If people supported local farming with their morality dollars, we would have a much stronger food system.

I have more thoughts about meat, death and connection at I don’t want salvation.

11/8/13, 9:24 AM

Nick said...

RE: the "maximum power principle", I've been puzzled/irked by it over and over, while reading things written by Odum and his disciples. Irked because they seem to put it up as some sort of holy mantra, while at the same time lamenting the obvious consequences of organisms, humans especially, following that dictum.
I actually think i share your sentiments over MPP and people that seem to defend our behavior on the grounds of natural bhavior. i think many natural tendencies are previous adaptive strategies that must be transcended or revised at a later point for the good of the whole, and by whole the whole of life on earth. We evolve as beings, and i don't think there are hard rules on what this means, but i do think our evolution must over the long run be compatible with life as a whole simply because life is a wholestic net of interdepent ecosystems and any system that denies this will cut itself off from its deeper nature and sever itself from the flows that feed it.
The growth imperative which we as humans dogmatically have followed through the rise of industrialism is such a strategy. We've taken it to its clear limit and the pendulum is swinging the other direction, and so many “sensibilities” that worked in growth are now in opposition to reality and in need of evolving towards greater understanding....So believe me i've been plenty irked too by our idiotic “sensibilities” of blind growth, but have found that trying to understand at a deeper level helps me, both to transcend and to have a bit less anger at those partipicating so blindly in them. And the growth imperative is something really deep and almost innate in life. That we are making this mistake at large is perhaps not as obvious or avoidable as it might seem.....

Maybe a better concept than MPP to explain this is maximal entropy production (MEP) All self organizing systems evolve to process energy at as great of rate as possible and produce entropy at as fast as rate as possible, the order is the counterbalancing force that makes this happen. It seems to be a universal law of self organizing systems, star formations, spiral galaxies, and many of the ordered fractal patterns in the cosmos and on earth follow this pattern. Life is no exception to this but is in fact an intensification of this process. Life is deeply opportunistic of any available energy or resource gradient it encounters, all evidence supports this fact. That we squandered and consumed the earths photosynthetic inheritance like yeast is incredibly unfortunate, one can imagine so many different possibilities had the culture had a different value set or different religous sensibility, but at the same time we as humans are probably much less free from evolutionary imperatives than we imagine. Human history has been dominated mostly by cultures that have gained an upper hand in marshalling energy and resources, and this means maximizing power production. This competive drive that probably started as one tribe versus another seems to have deadlocked us in a position where we are stuck with maximal production for fear that the other will over take us. It seems the case from individual to group all the way up to nation state. I know about some cultures and spiritualities which have largely opted out of this game, but unless everybody choose a dynamic like that it would never have changed the global outcome, it would simply make more resources available for the competive groups to consume. Anyways just wanted to clarify i'm not justifying or protecting MPP or MEP or trying to suggest that these laws will come in and help us, just exploring different views and lenses of our predicament.

11/8/13, 9:25 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Leo, the notion that human actions are unnatural comes from the delusion that human beings are somehow outside of nature, which of course we aren't. Tools, cities, books, and debates about the future are as natural for human beings as dam building is for beavers.

Steven, one of the reasons Yergin's saying that so loudly is that his own predictions have been so consistently false -- he was insisting in 2004 that oil would reach a permanent plateau at $38 a gallon, for example -- while peak oil predictions that didn't go off the apocalyptic deep end, such as mine, have been pretty much dead on target. As for The Nest Ten Billion Years, though, I cheerfully plead guilty; asI pointed out in the follow-up post, I deliberately exaggerated the probable lifespan of our species in order to make a point, which is that our culture's fantasies about human destiny can't even be satisfied by a really impressive but possible future; it's godhood or nothing, as far as believers in progress are concerned.

Trippticket, thank you.

Betsy, one of these days I probably need to write something about America's bizarre and necrophiliac passion for dead things -- vampires, zombies, etc. -- and its relationship to fetish culture. Return of the repressed, anybody?

Zach, thanks for the link.

Yupped, many religions teach meditating on one's rotting corpse as a useful spiritual discipline, and in my experience, they're right to do so. It's when you've come to terms with your own inevitable death that you can get on with life.

Redoak, hmm. That's going to want careful thought. As for the owl of Minerva, though, I've long thought that Hegel was understating the case: she generally flies at pure blackest midnight.

MawKernewek, granted -- the heat engine we call "climate" is exceptionally complex. As I noted to Bill, though, there's some evidence that the Gulf Stream is actually slowing at this point.

Gary, the logic used to "disprove" the existence of a minor Galilean religious figure named Yeshua bin Maryam would, with equal effect, get rid of more than half the significant cultural figures of antiquity: the only evidence we have for the existence of Pythagoras, Thales, or Socrates, for example, is derived from writings by their followers, who disagree with each other about as much as the Gospels do. We know from Josephus (and other sources such as Lucian) that the Roman-occupied Hellenistic world was swarming at that time with would-be prophets, messiahs, and cult leaders; given the extremely fragmentary nature of the available records, that a minor figure from a marginal area such as Galilee would have fallen through the cracks is entirely reasonable. That is to say, from my perspective, the mythicist stance doesn't pass the sniff test. It's impossible to prove the matter one way or another, to be sure, but unless you're willing to apply the same logic to every cultural figure in antiquity who didn't either leave writings of his own or appear in the general literature of the age, it's hard to justify applying it to that one figure.

11/8/13, 9:26 AM

redoak said...
One last comment given the posts above regarding the natural and unnatural. For the most worthy philosophers, the distinction between nomos and physis is politically expedient regardless of its ontology.

11/8/13, 10:05 AM

Joseph Nemeth said...
JMG - Was there a man named Socrates who did and said everything attributed to him by his fans? Probably not. His fans probably put a lot of "greater wisdom" in his mouth, pulled from all kinds of sources. Should your reputation persist, I'm sure that will happen to the Grand Archdruid of the early 21st-century AODA, as well.

Was there a man named Socrates who did and said SOME of the things attributed to him by his fans? Probably.

Was there a man named Yeshua bin Maryam who did and said everything attributed to him by his fans? Probably not.

Was there a man named Yeshua bin Maryam who did and said SOME of the things attributed to him by his fans? Maybe.

But there's a rather large difference between Socrates (who marched in the Pelopponesian wars barefoot, taught philosophy, and drank hemlock and died) and Jesus (who walked on water, healed the sick, and rose from the dead to ascend bodily into the heavens).

At some point, there's an unbridgeable disconnect between the man and the legend. King Arthur and Robin Hood have met the same fate, to a lesser extent. Was there a King Arthur or a Robin Hood? Maybe. But if either existed, they bear little relationship to the mythology that completely overshadows them.

I just watched a preview on VUDU last night, for "Saving Mr. Banks" -- the story of Walt Disney's (ultimately successful) attempt to secure the rights for Mary Poppins. Apparently, both Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks (the children's father) were based on real people, specifically the author's nanny/housekeeper, and her own father. So both of them "really existed."

Nonetheless, it's generally accepted that Mary Poppins is a fictional character.

Christianity -- particularly in its 20th-century degenerate fundamentalist form -- took the unusual twist of basing the entire religion on the real-world inerrancy of what is clearly a collection of fictional works that may or may not have been based on a real-world "Mr. Banks." Which has created a rather more serious historical problem than King Arthur or Robin Hood.

My question is whether the absurdity of this position has actually enhanced its utility and power as mythology and religion. That obviously has some impact on discussion of future religions….

11/8/13, 10:57 AM

Rita said...
Just read an article on hygiene in the HUFFPOST. It appears that there are thousands of unique bacteria in you belly button. Scrub that belly button!!
Now, oddly, I have never heard of anyone with acutely infected belly button, except when a piercing is involved. But I bet rushing to scrub it out will cause irritation. I bet the best thing is just leave the belly button alone and be proud of your unique bacteria.
What a timely reminder of biophobia.

11/8/13, 11:07 AM

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...
Yes, indeed: The founder of Christianity, Jeshua ben-Josef, worked in communities that had taken on baggage from the Hellenizing Jews, and biophobia must have been in that cultural mix, i.e., in that embedding religious sensibility.

The Hellenizing comes across in a disheartening way in the quotation JMG blog commentator CK Cooke has given us from Paul this week: "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live."

Paul, although trained to high Rabbinical standards under Gamaliel, is at home in koine Greek, and is comfortable enough in a Hellenizing milieu to preach in such formidable citadels of Hellenic culture as Corinth and Athens.

With Paul, you have to take him as he is, awkwardness and all - the amazing stuff on faith-hope-love, the culturally limited stuff on women being required to shut up in church and (more biophobia?) conceal their hair.

But Jeshua ben-Josef, by contrast, has a lot of biophilic language.

He is represented in John as saying that he has come "to give life", and that he is "the Resurrection and the life", and as saying that he is a vine in which his followers are branches.

Among other biophilic sayings ascribed to Jeshua, whether in John and or in the other three evangelists, I am specially fond of the yeast story.

Here the idea is that there is a "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of Heaven", and its coming is like the leavening of a big loaf: the kitchen worker puts in just a tiny bit of yeast, and the yeast does its stuff quietly and steadily, and eventually the entire loaf, including the bits way out toward the edges, gets leavened.

I think this means that eventually there is a "kingdom" in which everything, no matter how humble or odd, is penetrated with a new kind of life - so, for instance, if we have trains at all, then we have them running on biomass, like the old 1850s Halifax-Truro line in Nova Scotia, and operated by monk-like engineers who do it for the sheer joy of playing with trains and the sheer joy of helping poor people move themselves and their goats from one county to another.

Well, this is just my own silly idea! I have Asperger's, and Asperger's people cannot stop thinking about trains. With this somewhat entertaining mental syndrome, itself no doubt an eventual part of the "kingdom", many a thing eventually gets referred to the railway.

One of the tasks, at any rate, of the Church is to transcend the biophobia that got taken on through the religions sensibility of those Hellenizers.

I think, subject to correction by JMG or others, that in the Jewish world preceding Alexander the Great, things were properly earthy. Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah, for instance, writes vividly of shepherding, and Ezekiel of life coming to the valley of dry bones.

A 20th-century British theological journalist remarked that the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting but, rather, that so far it has not been tried.

thinking of trains burning wood,
run by people who worship at altars other than Commerce and Technology - of trains
with baggage cars containing lots of goats and pumpkins and maple-syrup tins and seed barley, etc, with the road speeds seldom exceeding 50 km/h, and with excellent vegan dishes on the various dining-car menus;
and thinking also of little brick-floored
village stations burning wood in Rumford fireplaces,

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Catholic layman near Toronto

www punkt metascientia punkt com

11/8/13, 11:24 AM

Rita said...
It just occurred to me that the Romantic era and subsequent related movements tended to valorize the wildest of nature. Untouched, virgin forest or tundra was seen as being far more valuable than a well tended garden or a hedgerow. Nature doesn't count as nature unless you have to weigh every bit of gear in your scientifically designed pack and hike miles from the trailhead. In America this also took the form of removing the Native peoples from areas that were going to become National Parks. Trying to coin a word for this, too bad homophobia is already taken.

11/8/13, 11:57 AM

Janet D said...
@ TrippTicket...I feel your pain. I have recommended this blog to many people that I know. However, to my knowledge, I am still the only one reading it. Very few people can handle looking clear-eyed into the future.

@ S HAVE to read (pardon my forcefulness) "Solitude and Leadership" - it was a speech given to the West Point plebe class in 2009 by William Deresiewicz. Very insightful about state of today's students. You might enjoy as well, JMG. Any internet search will turn it up.

Off-topic, re: Peak Phosphorous and the mini-discussion that went on a week or two back. Here's an excellent video (14 min.) on the problem + a solution...which involves mycorrhiza + bacteria (tying into this week's topic). The only downside...the researcher does not mention the mycorrhiza by name...Chris, do you know?


11/8/13, 12:31 PM

Derv said...
Hey JMG, great post as always. Love the term 'despairoin' and I sincerely hope it enters into the conversation. Coining terms like this, I think, is absolutely essential given the sheer impact terminology can have on our thinking (which fits with your previous posts on magic).

I have a lot of thoughts on this and the upcoming posts, as this is a subject that interests me intensely - hence the switch from lurking to commenting - but I don't want to talk your ear off about them. I do have one thing I want to say, though, which I think will be relevant to your next post: I think the religious satisfaction that the ancients could take in nature is completely non-viable today.

I don't say this lightly, as the older cyclical view of the cosmos and religious sensibility of natural reverence clearly satisfied millions for a good long while. But they had one element, something I think crucial, to support the framework that we don't: eternity. Regardless of whether it is objectively true, our modern scientific consensus is one of a dying or decaying universe, an endless march of entropy which will snuff out all stars and leave us in a bleak universe of heat-death.

Thus the cycle, for the average man, loses its power. We seek some sort of immortality in religion. Some intellectuals don't, to be sure, but the general populace does. Those who took comfort in your earlier post about our future found that comfort in the idea that their molecules, and the death of our sun, would later find a place among new lifeforms admiring the cosmos and asking the same questions. But kick it up a few more orders of magnitude and those people are also dead, and their star snuffed out, and then all stars.

Even the proposed multiverse hypotheses (which I see as religious in nature), or the theoretical quantum fluctuation that could reignite the universe after a near-eternity of nothingness, would be a renewal that has nothing to do with us. We become utterly impermanent. Those who face that bleak view head-on embrace the despairoin. The rest seek hopium elsewhere.

Again, it doesn't matter if any of the above is true. It could all be utter crap. The important thing is that, in the collective Western imagination at least, the universe lacks eternity. It has a beginning, and an end, and whatever we do in it will turn to dust. Religions that circumvent this problem - by embracing an eternal soul, for instance, or even some form of endless cycle of reincarnation with an IMMATERIAL basis - can endure that reality without issue. But a mere material or naturalistic worldview cannot. Many elements of it can perhaps be integrated or reinforced in existing (or new) religions, but the view or sentiment has no legs of its own for the masses. It must always be a minority view.

Eternal progress offers a form of immortality; irrational as it is, it can even claim that insurmountable obstacles like the heat death of the universe will eventually be overcome. We'll use wormholes, exotic matter and such; that's a problem for future genius that they'll solve, not for us, blah blah blah. The extinction/despair route consists either of those few with the disposition to accept true bleakness or find an alternate hope (usually immaterial).

I'm curious as to how you think the immortality problem will be addressed by a more natural/cyclical worldview and sentiment.

11/8/13, 1:09 PM

JP said...
I suppose at least in the world of religious sensibility, Johnny Appleseed is a good place to start in American history.

11/8/13, 1:37 PM

JP said...

I suppose a war band that ate long pig, as a matter of policy and convenience, would be particularly troublesome for people, in general.

That seems to be way off the radar for survivalists, and most people in general.

11/8/13, 1:42 PM

JP said...

"Moshe, "natural" in no way means "morally good." Members of many species kill their conspecifics, sometimes for very casual reasons; murder is therefore natural, but that hardly makes it a virtue."

Isn't this one of the key criticisms of nature religions/pagan religions from the point of view of Christianity?

That was always my understanding, anyway.

From my point of view, they generally don't invent nuclear weapons, so there's generally a limit to the physical destruction they cause.

11/8/13, 1:46 PM

Justin Patrick Moore said...
What do you get when you mix despairoin with Wall Street toot? The magic 8-Ball that gives rise to books like "How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation." Your words made me laugh cheers.

My copy of your CGC book is on its way... look forward to reading it next week.

11/8/13, 1:53 PM

Steve Morgan said...
Thanks for pointing up the interesting origins of biophobia and some of its implications. This was one of those posts that connected a few dots for me.

Yesterday while raking leaves for the compost, I was stewing on the connections between last week's post and this one, and the notion of whole systems kept coming up. Pretending that humanity can exist separately from nature has the same root as pretending that there can be a modern internet without all of the industrial infrastructure backing it up. It would be akin to trying to use compost in the garden without first gathering up the wet & slimies and the dead and dried, then giving the decomposers time to work their magic.

If the notion of whole systems understanding is as essential to the new religious sensibility as my reading and reflections of Mystery Teachings of the Living Earth leads me to believe, the implications are much deeper than just changing our collective rejection of the wet & slimy. (As an aside, I'm recalling the big-bang truism that we're all made of the dust of dead stars, and noting the omission of the countless times all that stardust became the dead bodies and sticky excreta of countless plants, animals, and other species along the way.)

Just as we are part of the whole system of the living earth, we are also social primates (with all of the associated non-rational drives); members of families, communities, and cultures; and beings capable of religious experience, as you have pointed out. Given the complexity involved, I can understand the desire to ignore or deny aspects of human life, but I do wonder at the choices we've collectively made. Trading a healthy acceptance of maturation and death for plastic surgery, irresponsibility, and fantasies of sempiternal life in robot bodies just doesn't sound good to me. Then again, I'm clearly not a biophobe. Thanks for another great post, and I look forward to next week's essay.

11/8/13, 2:14 PM

Phil Harris said...
Talking about body fluids and gender, it seems slightly easier for males to collect urine for the garden. I have neat system myself and have been looking at results this last 3 - 4y that have been sufficient to make a difference.

I recently bought a revised edition of a book from our UK Centre for Alternative Technology"Choosing Ecological Sewage Treatment" Grant, et al 2012. Two thirds approximately of the 'N' we ingest is excreted in urine, they say, and importantly it is initially sterile and can be used directly as fertiliser. If used directly it is too salty for plants and needs dilution. We do not eat much salt, but if you eat that 6g of salt a day (bad idea) remember you must get rid of it somewhere!

I use a large bale of straw covered from the rain to take the urine. There is always some loss of nutrients - N to the air for instance- in any kind of composting, but my efforts seem to make a useful amount of manure over a year. We think we can make enough for our vegetables for two people supplementing more ordinary compost. Next year I will be spreading dilute fertiliser on a small lawn when the grass is growing strongly. The mown grass will go back to a conventional compost heap. The urine will go on the straw when growth slows down. It all needs to be very simple without it becoming too much of a chore, because the amounts of soil fertility are not large. It is nice to envisage though that with the help of clover in grass swards we will not be living off the farm's NPK, which is his most of his basic input into farm manure. We do still get the straw from him of course.

We think of the lawn (we get enough rain) not just as a source of C&N for the compost, but as a glade for visiting children to play in surrounded in season by flowers and fruit trees with butterflies and insect food for small birds. Nice view to the hills as well. We get occasional deer visiting but we do not encourage them – they prefer our trees.


11/8/13, 2:17 PM

. josé . said...
Hi Mr. Greer.

It's been awhile since I had the time to comment here, but I read the column regularly every week, occasionally deep into the comment-and-reply stream.

These days, I have less and less time for the electronics world I once inhabited. I'm basically doing what you seemed to be warning folks away from over the years, and clarified over the last weeks: throwing all of my life savings into some rural land and its development, with the intention of working it for the rest of my life.

That said, I wanted to stop in and thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking series. I often read your books fairly quickly (though The Blood of the Earth is taking much longer the second time through). But the timing of these posts is a masterpiece. Just enough information each week to be fully processed - and partially incorporated into the acts of daily thought and action - with the next week escalating the challenge.

I can wait for next week's post, even with each week's teasers, because I know that this week's post will take a week to really absorb.

Thanks again.
José Madeira

11/8/13, 2:18 PM

PredictionError said...

I doubt I'm representative of vegans in general, but for what it's worth:

I think it's too late for any discussion of "sustainability" or independence from industrial civilization to be meaningful. There are too many people for any kind of traditional agriculture to support, and there are DEFINITELY too many people for hunting and gathering, the one thing that demonstrably works over very long time periods. Even Ted Kaczynski had to buy things from the store. We're all using computers connected to the internet. I don't think any of us are 100% innocent.

It's arguably true that if the world went vegan and nothing else changed, the population would grow even larger and we'd be worse off in the long run, because eating the food we now feed to animals is more efficient. Maybe agriculture was just a bad idea.

As I live my ecologically destructive life, I'd rather pay for imported tofu than eggs from chicken in battery cages. I'd rather eat chickpeas grown somewhere else than beef from a feedlot somewhere else. I don't feel such a strong need to eat a dead animal that I'll go out of my way to find the "pure" meat (that there isn't enough of to go around, anyway). If it's just a matter of buying different things when I go to the store, the LEAST I can do is be vegan.

I've killed quite a few more animals than most people that eat meat, in a past life as a grad student. It was not a profoundly rewarding experience that put me in touch with my primal nature. It mostly just sucked to hurt things that feel pain and fear the same way I do. Let's burn some oil to do less of that, if we're going to keep burning oil until we can't, anyway.

After the population crashes and global warming changes the face of the Earth, it will be up to any survivors to work out the appropriate living arrangements. I'd hope they choose something simple, small-scale, non-hierarchical, and, yes, bioregional. There probably won't be factories making vitamin B12 supplements in vats of bacteria, so I doubt strict veganism makes sense indefinitely into the future. But it makes sense as a least bad way to live in a city until the power goes out.

So I don't think your lifestyle is practicable by most people...yet, and I don't think my lifestyle is practicable outside the context of industrial civilization. Industrial civilization is just where we find ourselves for now.

11/8/13, 3:03 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG: "Leo, the notion that human actions are unnatural comes from the delusion that human beings are somehow outside of nature, which of course we aren't. Tools, cities, books, and debates about the future are as natural for human beings as dam building is for beavers."

OK, when did you bug our dining room and where is the device hidden?! I presented this EXACT same point with the EXACT same example to some friends who were over for dinner just the other day. You left out my oak tree example though (surprisingly, for a druid), you know, how they modify the soil so it is toxic to some species and more favorable for others to encourage the plants they "want" and discourage those they "don't like."

When I am building a closet I am being just as "natural" as when a woodpecker is excavating a cavity in a dead tree. Alas, so was the crew of the Enola Gay when they dropped that bomb...

11/8/13, 3:15 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andrew, thanks for the link!

Anselmo, if you're going to claim that Romanticism is responsible for world wars and genocides, perhaps you'd like to provide some evidence for so sweeping and simplistic a claim. Otherwise readers here may come to the conclusion that you're spouting nonsense.

Redoak, but a distinction between nomos and physis is also, to my mind, the distinction between philosophy and ideology. More on this as we proceed.

Joseph, that's one of the reasons I mentioned Pythagoras, who was credited with miracles very much on the same scale as Jesus. So was Apollonius of Tyana, and any number of other figures whose historicity is rarely questioned. Most historians set miraculous claims aside in discussing the historicity of a person in antiquity -- except when bringing them in helps a preexisting agenda, as in this case.

Rita, if they're unique bacteria, shouldn't we declare our navels wildlife refuges instead? Save the Navel Bacteria!

Toomas, you may be right about Aspergers and trains; I have AS, of course, and enjoy train travel whenever possible -- last weekend's trip to Chicago involved two very pleasant Amtrak trips and some equally pleasant rides on the Chicago urban train system Metra.

Rita, that's a worthwhile point -- buy into the notion that humanity and nature are irresolvably separate, and that's the sort of mistake you end up with.

Janet, another solution is right between our legs, you know. Urine is very high in phosphorus!

Derv, well, except that many religions embrace theories of existence in which time has a beginning and an end, either cyclically or once and for all. In point of fact, we don't know how the universe is going to end, or if it's going to end -- all we have is speculation based on a very small collection of facts -- and an end, if there is one, is so far in the future that the human mind can't even begin to grasp that much time. I'd argue that it's another measure of biophobia that so many of the publicists of science have gone from that very slight basis to insist dogmatically on a cold, black, empty universe at the end of time.

JP, ah, you mean John Chapman, the well-knowl Swedenborgian missionary. Wait, you didn't know he belonged to a radical fringe religious movement? See my comment a while back on the way that American cultural history has been distorted out of all recognition to erase its essential weirdness...

As for Christian critiques of Pagan nature religions, it's an unfortunate fact of Christian history that missionaries routinely forget all about "thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" when they start talking about other religions. I don't know of a Pagan faith that bases its moral system on the state of nature, but it makes a great straw man to wallop.

11/8/13, 3:19 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Steve, thank you. The thought of Carl Sagan standing on the set of Cosmos and saying "We are wormcast" made my day.

Phil, that'll do the trick!

Jose, if that's what your heart calls you to do, then by all means do it. It's simply that I've seen too many people wait around to do anything at all on the excuse that the only thing that matters is moving to a farm in the country, which they'll never actually get around to doing. If you're doing it, by all means.

11/8/13, 3:22 PM

Derv said...
JMG, it's true that many religions embrace an end to the universe, but how many of them don't substitute the loss of the material with the immaterial? Very few that I can think of, and they are usually the ones that could perhaps be classified as civil religions of the last cycle. Confucianism comes to mind, for instance, and it makes (of itself) no hard rulings on metaphysical matters, leaving Shang Di to others (if I recall correctly, as it's been a while).

As I said, I'm not at all implying the heat death of the universe is an objective truth, merely that it has a hold on our collective imagination (at least among those not beholden to other religions).

And you're right, the human mind hasn't the slightest ability to grasp eternity as it is, or even far-distant futures, in any practical or actionable sense. But we still loathe the idea of an existential end. We can even embrace the loss of our conscious, sentient self altogether as long as some element of our essence is joined to a greater whole (Nirvana, for instance, or your acceptance as worm food). Perhaps you'd chalk this up to a fear of death otherwise expressed, but it's utter annihilation that we can't accept as a whole.

Every religion that I know of that has held more than a handful of followers offered an answer to annihilation, material or immaterial. I'm merely arguing that, unless and until we reject the worldview constructed by science of a temporally finite universe, it will be impossible for people to embrace a solely materialistic sentiment. It can't address annihilation.

I agree that other options exist. And I know you believe at least in some sense in immaterial intellects or beings, and you mostly avoid such talk here (probably a smart move). But we're starting to touch on one of the biggest topics, namely what is it about religion that makes it a universal of human experience. From a purely psychological standpoint, I'd argue that fear of annihilation is among the most fundamental drives. It must be answered for a religion to thrive, and materialism as now understood can no longer do so.

Don't feel obliged to reply if you don't care to - I know you're busy of course and I'm one in a hundred comments - but I thought I should elaborate a bit in response. Looking forward to your future essays, as always!

11/8/13, 3:47 PM

Betsy Megalos said...
" JMG Responded...Betsy, one of these days I probably need to write something about America's bizarre and necrophiliac passion for dead things -- vampires, zombies, etc. -- and its relationship to fetish culture. Return of the repressed, anybody?"
YES! .. I think you are on to something.. repression.... an action ( ineffectively) being worked out ( unconsciously) from an earlier, unsettling experience.
I was tantalized that you mentioned in an earlier response- to another... Freud .. , I have seen some very interesting similarities between modern Mages teachings and training ( esp self examination) and modern Freudian discipline.... BTW. I am New to Magic, steeped in science and nature observation and a bit experienced in (modern- not yo gran-daddy's Freud) Freud applied anaylsis, plus a little Jung..

11/8/13, 5:35 PM

Gary Davis said...
The likelihood that no historical Jesus ever lived, even in the greatly reduced form about which you speculated, seems to me to be greater than that one did. Would be strange if a real one stood out from the crowd as Jesus was said to yet no contemporaneous reporting about him has ever surfaced. (Even the Catholic Church thinks that Josephus reference is phony.)

A good case has been made that even Paul did not think Jesus was a historical character, but rather that the events of his so-called life all happened in "heaven". All but one or two of his New Testament references to Jesus can be interpreted as referring to a completely "spiritual" being.

11/8/13, 6:01 PM

terraphany said...
Long time reader, first time commenter here.

Fascinating post, as always. I am curious about your discussion of mention of sex phobia in the context of biophobia this post and your discussion of the correlation between celibacy and monasticism in your post a few weeks ago.

I'm also curious whether you are planning on discussing sexual sensibilities (including our hot button political issues and depictions in media) in the Oil Age and how they might be affected during collapse.

11/8/13, 6:05 PM

Diane said...
white fellas in Australia are a pretty secular lot, but the powers that be have insisted that Christianity be part of the state apparatus, so we kinda go along with it. Rather than seeing heaven as a place full of angels, many australians see it as a place you are reunited with your family and friends. Being in heaven after you died sort of meant sunday lunch, with Paul Kelly out the back making the gravy, just going on for ever, more or less. JMG mentioned some time ago, about space exploration, popping the idea of heaven and I think this is certainly the case here. Whereas a hundred years ago people were happy enough to go and joined their loved ones, now there is nowhere to go when your dead, so you hang about here for as long as you can, end of life medicine is a big business here.
I wonder if in a few hundred years when space travel and faded from the collective memory, whether heaven will become popular again

11/8/13, 7:24 PM

Moshe Braner said...
"The thought of Carl Sagan standing on the set of Cosmos and saying "We are wormcast" made my day."

- sung to the tune of "we are stardust":

"We are wormcast,
We are wormcast,
and we've got to get ourselves
out to the garden!"

11/8/13, 8:50 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, great minds think alike!

Derv, my guess is that whatever religion or religions rise to prominence as we approach the deindustrial dark ages will find some more or less straightforward way to dismiss the idea of heat death as irrelevant. Since none of us will be around to see what happens in fifty billion years, it's not exactly a difficult task.

Betsy, Dion Fortune -- one of the most influential theorists of modern magic -- was trained as a Freudian analyst, and a lot of other occultists of that generation and the two or three following it studied Freud, Jung, and/or Reich intensively. (The third Grand Archdruid of AODA, Dr. Juliet Ashley, who was responsible for most of our modern ritual work, was deeply into Jung -- and it shows.) Thus the connections you see may be far from accidental!

Gary, no, I didn't think you'd actually address any of the points I raised. 'Nuf said.

Terraphany, good! I'll encourage you to reflect on this: is it possible to set aside sexual activity for reasons other than an irrational terror of biological existence?

Diane, it's only in certain religious mythologies that the dead go up into the sky, so I doubt it'll be much of a problem for the prophets of a future faith to come up with someplace for them to hang out.

11/8/13, 8:58 PM

Bob Jones said...
Fascinating as always - biophobia puts a very nice term to a general feeling of unease I've had towards Kurzweil-style futurism. Still, I think that the Archdruid may be being a little hard on the bubbles of abstract intellect in robot bodies zooming through deep space - they (might, someday) have feelings too! I can't argue that futurists' preoccupation with such entities and their role as a replacement for humanity is not motivated in large part by biophobia as argued in this article. As a primary goal for human development, the similarities to various forms of religious death escapism are just too striking. But what about Immortal space robots as a hobby? I don't see why we cannot try to use our creative faculties to develop AIs that might survive us as a species to wander off into interstellar space AND still have a healthy, sweaty, mucous-y existence of our own and then gracefully pass into the history books both as individuals and as a species. Such a thing may not actually turn out to be possible, but I for one find it easy to imagine up a hypothetical immortal space robot species that is far from lifeless, however far removed from our Earthly biological experience.

11/8/13, 8:59 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Stephen Heyer,

Quote: "note recent slowing in the rate of warming."

I dunno, but this year has scored the hottest day, month and year (looks well on track to be the hottest year anyway) for the continent Down Under. Plus local records are being reached left, right and centre. Earlier in the year the Bureau of Meteorology had to add a new colour to their charts because of the unprecedented temperatures.

Certainly March produced the longest run of days over 30 degrees Celsius in over 140 years of records here. Not good, as most of those days were on the wrong side of 35.

Sure it is not conclusive, but it certainly looks like it is going in one direction (ie. The wrong way).

Up north in New South Wales and Queensland they have been doing it tough this Spring with Summer like conditions, minimal rain and drought zones declared over much of the country.

Dunno, but I wouldn't be looking for a miracle solution to the climate mess.



11/8/13, 10:52 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Rita--the "homo" in homophobia is the Greek word for same, not the Latin word for human being. Maybe anthrophobia would be hatred or fear of human beings. Zoophobia would be a generalized fear of animals.

11/8/13, 11:36 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

I'm not sure how we got on the subject of the historical Jesus, but I'll add my two cents. I'm a Jew as are most members of my family. Jews in Christian countries have to learn something about Christianity because we deal with Christians, but we aren't usually taught about Jesus himself, not even as a cautionary example like some of the other Jews who have gotten hailed as messiahs. I learned Christmas carols in public school and the Girl Scouts; that was about it. The first time I read any part of the New Testament was as a junior in college, when I took a class on the Synoptic Gospels out of curiosity.

I'm giving you this background to explain that I have no emotional, religious or political reason to care whether the man Jesus existed or not. I have investigated the question and concluded that he probably did. I think he is a figure more like King Arthur, who seems to have been based on an actual Welsh war leader, rather than Robin Hood, who looks to me like an archetype of a Saxon outlaw rather than a particular person whose exploits were glorified.

There isn't space even in two posts to run through all my reasoning, but I'll mention three reasons. First is that if you set the miracles to one side, most of what is said about the adult Jesus in the synoptic gospels is historically plausible. Jesus behaves in ways that are possible for a Jewish man of his time and place. Scholars think that Jesus's sayings are among the oldest texts in the NT; about half of them are similar to recorded sayings of Pharisaic rabbis about whom there is no dispute of historicity. The Lord's Prayer is a perfectly good Jewish prayer.

(continued next post)

11/9/13, 12:16 AM

KL Cooke said...
"Betsy, one of these days I probably need to write something about America's bizarre and necrophiliac passion for dead things -- vampires, zombies, etc. -- and its relationship to fetish culture. Return of the repressed, anybody? "

Possibly a subset of the American youth cult. A way of dealing with the fear of death by making a game out of it.

11/9/13, 12:40 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

(historical Jesus, continued)

Second, I agree with JMG that the absence of surviving contemporary mention of the guy tells us nothing about whether he existed or not. People brought up in a Christian environment grow up thinking that Jesus was the most important man who ever lived. How could such a world-changing figure not have been noticed by any of the Roman or Greek writers of his time?

If you start from this mindset, it's really hard to understand that in his own lifetime, Jesus was an impoverished Judean Jew of no importance to any literate Roman. He made a powerful impression on some of the people who met him, but those people were completely unimportant too. If he was tried by Pilate, the trial would have been like traffic court with capital punishment, not the way it's depicted in the gospels.

Asking why we don't have independent records of Jesus' preaching or his trial is like asking why some guy who busked on the streets of Minneapolis in 1875 and died in a tuberculosis ward isn't mentioned in any San Francisco newspapers that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Those are some reasons why I think Jesus could have been a real person. Why do I think he was a real person? Because his life, personality and teachings inadvertently started a new religion. The earliest Jewish Christians were people who, after his death, met together over dinner and talked about things that Jesus said and did. When the people who had seen Jesus started to die off, these stories and memories began to be collected and written down.

I find it implausible that one imaginative person or a group of people could create a fictional wonder-working teacher of the Law so vivid that their tales would move people to gather together in his name this way for decades after his fictional death, particularly since the way he was said to die was both terribly commonplace and dishonorable. It's much more reasonable to believe that some of these people had life-changing encounters with an actual person, were devastated by his death, held memorials with other people who knew the guy, and started a religious community to preserve what they could of what he had given them.

11/9/13, 12:46 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Yeah, it is the early days when unpredictable things happen that may be the most difficult. Still, not many people know how to grow stuff, mend stuff (timber and metal) or are generally all round handy.

I have bosses now, I can't see the future being any different! Someone, somewhere will want their unearned cut. However, a war band may just save me the hassle of having to do the dirty work of their messy business, thus leaving me to get on with my business. There is always give and take in any relationship.

Out of interest, how do you reckon the monastery's negotiated that difficult relationship? They could not have avoided it. That is why I mentioned taking on their brats for safe-keeping (who would have been a hassle for the war bands given their circumstances). Just thinking long term... Plus it solves the succession planning problem here.

Anyway, if this is grist for future essays then I can be patient!

As an interesting observation, I noticed that I've hit some sort of critical mass here in terms of bio-diversity. This spring, for some reason, the perennial vegetables and herbs have started simply multiplying. I'd previously noticed that the historic Hill Station gardens up this way that occasionally open to the public have a lot of well adapted self-seeding exotic plants. Most of the vegetables, fruit and herbs that we eat in our diet over here are exotics. Much of the local plant lore is simply lost.

I'd always hoped that this may be the case regarding the self-seeding exotics, but to see it in action is a true pleasure. I've been moving them all about the place. Plus, I’ve been offering them to the local gardening / food groups who, without knowing it, are acting as a de facto seed bank (just in case).

This week has also involved a truly epic burn off of dead (and not decaying) forest fuels. Hard work... Some of the oldest trees here - which are pretty massive - are really looking healthy and lush with all of the work going on. Plus the oaks are in their second year and they are looking good despite the drought earlier this year. Please people, don’t troll me about this – my forests are not your broadleaf shady forests, they were always intended to burn. My neighbour has the oldest and largest tree in the mountain range. I reckon it is at least 300 years old and its girth is truly massive. It wasn’t harvested by those crafty timber getters from Oregon because it is hollow (fire and wind damage). Some of the trees here at the farm show wounds that tell me that the Aboriginals harvested them for canoes too.

I had a flash of insight too about Biophobia. If we as a species didn't truly adopt biophobia then we couldn't use Oil to game nature for our own individual outcomes. It is a predicament. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil! Ignore it and hope that it goes away seems to be the policy of the day.



11/9/13, 12:51 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

I had to interrupt writing the last comment to go out and tend the burn off and supervise the chooks before it got dark.

There was a bit of giggling though during this time as I had this mental image of someone saying to a marauding war band, "Yes, I used to work in IT, let me tell you all about it." hehe!

Apologies to everyone who works in IT for the wise crack, I'm sure it is a fascinating occupation.

Actually, they usually get told to their faces, "Right, you've got 5 minutes, get it out of your system and then I don't want to hear about". Brutal, but effective and it saves me hours of boring details. hehe! The little devil on my shoulder made me write the above! hehe!

PS: I’m still chuckling to myself.

Hi JP,

There was an infamous case about such things in convict history. Alexander Pearce was a convict that escaped from Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania to Hobart with several of his fine fellows. It is awesome and rugged mountainous terrain in between the two places (even today). Inevitably they got hungry and began to consume their mates, one by one. Apparently sleeping was a bit of a problem...

Alexander made it to Hobart where he was recaptured. The funny thing was that no one believed his story and so he escaped again with others and the fun and games started all over again.

The next time he was captured he was hanged.

It is all a bit of a trust thing, because the whole do unto others rule gets broken in a fundamentally rotten sort of a way...

If you ever get a chance read Robert Hughes magnificent book “The Fatal Shore” for a ripping good read on the history of the convicts. No juicy stone was left unturned! It is a really hard book to put down once you start reading it. The author was vilified at the time of publishing which probably means that he was pretty close to the mark (the convicts are an unmentionable part of our history).



11/9/13, 2:05 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Joseph,

Respect to Strongheart.



11/9/13, 2:06 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Blue Sun,

"a quirk of circumstance likely due to a desert origin"

Dunno. The Aboriginals had a desert culture and they revered nature. Dunno?



11/9/13, 2:09 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Phil Harris,

How good is that Mr Fauja Singh? A truly impressive achievement.

Without getting into vegie / vegan / meat blah, blah, blah diet argument, I just wanted to say that it must have been a difficult cultural decision for you? Respect as it is hard to change established patterns of living.



11/9/13, 2:20 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Andy Brown,

"that is transitioning to a nature preserve."

Why cannot people also be part of a nature preserve? You know the wallabies, wombats and kangaroos (plus all of the birds during the day) love the most managed part of the forest here. The "natural" forest, yeah they live there, but they eat here.

Why would untouched be any more natural than a well-managed bio-diverse farm that allows the animals to come and go as they please?

Dunno, I just somehow think that people project impossible visions of nature onto nature. I'm sure the American Indians managed their country as well as the Aboriginals here. This implies that the nature reserve actually can withstand a positive human impact.

Going from an area controlled by humans and then having them walk off may be a recipe for disaster. I'm not suggesting that is what your mob their is doing, but trying to raise a bigger issue.



11/9/13, 2:33 AM

Robert Mathiesen said...
@Gary Davis:

You seem to me to be arguing more as an apologist (or an anti-apologist, so to speak) than as a historian in your comments.

As that fine scholar Morton Smith long ago demonstrated, there were a great many Jewish magicians, miracle workers and fortune-tellers wandering around the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1st century CE. Moreover, "Jesus" is nothing other than the usual Greek form of the very common Hebrew name "Yeshua," that is, "Joshua." It is hardly a unique name among Jews, or even a rare one.

So why is it not a priori far more likely that a significant fraction -- many more than just one! -- of all these wandering Jewish magicians / miracle workers / fortune tellers were named Jesus/Joshua? What more would anyone need to argue that there really was a historical person who *vaguely* underlies the earliest Christian writings -- just one of the many such people who lived in his time. Such men often acquire devoted followers, and rarely they even appeal to popular imagination.

And of course you can argue that the records of this particular magician named Joshua/Jesus are heavily fictitious even though there may have been an actual man whom the writers of the fictions had in view.

11/9/13, 3:09 AM

Phil Harris said...
All and especially N Matheson


Everybody to their own scepticism of course and I admit to a certain prejudice regarding Ornish.

I said I would spare the medical details, but here goes if it is not too far off-topic.

After my first heart attack aged 49 when lying in a Scottish Borders hospital (they lost the local authority’s Chief Planning Officer the same night I was admitted – there was little they could do in those days) I did some quick thinking. We had a young family, and our youngest was under two.

Whatever it was I had being doing up to that moment had obviously added up to a very bad idea. Most of the other survivors round me were older and locked into debilitating chronic deteriorating conditions with ever more frequent admissions to hospital. Ex-athletes, battle-experienced soldiers, all good family men, were fighting their losing battles alongside loving families and grandchildren. (This was not long after the peak of the British experience of the Western cardiovascular epidemic and most of us were ex-smokers – though I had given it up 9 years before when our son was born.)

My exercise stress test a couple of weeks later was terrifying – cut at 5 min - 2 or 3 major blockages and a promise of angiogram and bypass after I was tested again 6 – 8 months later. (Angiograms were too risky in those days to justify instant use.) I went into carefully calibrated progressive exercise training and asked a local ‘healer’ friend for help in relaxation. I did some broad brush thinking. I had some knowledge. Some places in the world had not had the CVD epidemic and showed very much lower age-weighted incidence. Well, the Punjab and places south and other parts of the Orient sprang to mind. The Western Diet seemed a medical disaster, even without the smoking, so I turned it on its head, lost some weight and felt much better. I was to find 9 months later that this is what Ornish had done in his small study group.

I went for my 2nd stress test 8 months later. Eleven minutes puffing and sweating, nothing on the ECG, a small flicker during cool-down. While they were packing up, I asked about the angiogram and bypass. “Thank your lucky stars” was the answer. So I was out the door and on my own with some pills in my hand. I was surprised to find that though my medication helped lower risks, the effects looked rather minor – 20% lowered by using aspirin and something similar for a beta-blocker.

No statins in those days. Ornish had no guarantees but when I read it his intervention looked as though it might provide an 80% chance it would do something very useful for risk factor management. And his patients’ results provided a putative explanation why my arteries were not so blocked as to cause oxygen starvation and electrical disturbance on the ECG during my stress test the 2nd time round. This was very different from the inevitable ongoing decline in arterial health, and increased artery narrowing, that in those days followed even after bypass re-plumbing.

Oh, yes, I started serious statin medication 10 years ago after a 2nd ‘acute event’. So it goes!

IMHO later biochemistry and physiological studies related to accelerated ageing and chronic disease spreading epidemically round the modern world are worth reflecting on.

Phil H

11/9/13, 5:10 AM

Myriad said...
I doubt that religious sensibility has brewed up all this biophobia out of nothing. I think various degrees (per individual) of revulsion toward various wet, slimy, smelly, and dead things is innate or instinctive, and it builds culturally from there to a greater or lesser degree. Infectious disease loomed large in everyone's lives in prior centuries. Large enough to drive customs, if not outright natural selection, in favor of biophobia, particularly in city populations where excessive biophobia is less debilitating and insufficient biophobia is more hazardous. Even sex, necessary as it is for fitness (in the biological sense), has also been dangerous enough that a moderate aversion to it could have been beneficial overall.

The prevalence of biophobia, then, might simply track the influence of city populations on the overall culture. I suspect city mice and country mice have had trouble seeing eye to eye on the distinction between soil and dirt since there have been soil and cities. (Why is prurient writing "dirty"?)

Anyhow, very good timing on this ADR. A few weeks ago, a particularly extremist transhumanist came to the skeptics' forum I frequent, and put on a display of every facet of biophobia imaginable, including the most deeply averse reaction to the reality of sickness, aging, and death since Siddhartha Gautama left the palace. To which I responded (in part), with the above in mind:

'Never mind that we now know what our [hypothetical typical] medieval theologian could not know: that the lowliest bacterium in a puddle of decaying slime is made of machinery more elegant and intricate than any of the wonderful computer systems [the transhumanist correspondent previously stated he] would kill to preserve. That fact, easily understood intellectually, is clearly overwhelmed by primitive instincts and emotions: the slime is smelly and icky and dirty and wet, while computer circuits are shiny and hard and clean... It's clear that some people just can't deal with their own material natures.'

If that's the case, it would suggest that the shape of the emerging future religious sensibility depends partly on how much of our knowledge of biology is preserved, lost, or superseded along the way. While contributing to the recent (and, I think, ultimately transient) phenomenon of germophobia, the germ theory of disease is also one of the main changes kicking holes in the old religious sensibility over the past couple of centuries. (Evolution, for all the recent noise, doesn't compare.)

Before germ theory, it was difficult to understand disease and decay as anything other than failure of, mismanagement of, or intentional divine withdrawal of life-generating or life-sustaining divine magic. (Examples of "mismanagement" would include eating fruit of the wrong tree or rubbing the wrong body parts together.) A whole-systems understanding of material life was possible but very difficult because so many of the components are invisible.

Some of your examples of reactions against the old biophobia might instead (or also) be early glimpses of this new understanding. I like your C.S. Lewis example, but a clearer one for me is The War of the Worlds. A sometimes overlooked plot point of the original is that the cold calculating Martians were vulnerable to earth's microbes because they had long ago eliminated the microbial life of Mars. With our somewhat better understanding of the biosphere, that plot point is no longer quite coherent, because we realize if the Martians had done so, they would have died long ago from lack of their own bacteria and never had a chance to succumb to ours!

I remember when the only prefix ever attached to the word "biotics" was "anti-." Change happens.

I apologize for rambling a bit. I can't resist, when topic has too many interesting dimensions to address.

11/9/13, 5:49 AM

Seaweed Shark said...
It would seem to follow from this, that biophobia is actually an ancient religious sentiment, but that in the past it was called contemptus mundi, and those who suffered from it aspired toward the realm of pure clean spirit, of which celibacy or castration were earthly signs. One thinks of the character played by Robin Williams in Terry Gilliam's film of the Adventures of Baron Munchausen, who lives on the moon and whose head keeps wanting to fly off his body and float around in spiritual exaltation, while the body stumbles and bumbles about on the ground. But currently this sentiment goes by a different name -- extropianism, perhaps -- and its adherents tend toward the opposite extreme, yearning for bodies and minds of of pure clean mineral substance and electricity. Do I understand this correctly?

I like the fact that every time I post here, Blogger asks me to "please prove you're not a robot."

11/9/13, 6:00 AM

Andy Brown said...
@ Cherokee Organics,

Well, the is the big question, isn't it? How do we escape the twin traps of Biophobia and Anthrophobia, and live well within our biosphere. I completely agree with you that nature (for lack of a better, less dichotomizing word) thrives in many human-ordered spaces - and this "nature preserve" will be one of those. I also believe that we should preserve many spaces as free from human intrusion as possible. After all, if we accord the right to the homeowner to try to keep the flies and mice our of their pantry, it's only neighborly to leave some of our animal and plant friends have some space free from our meddling.

By the way, you'll appreciate this, I think. They have some sections that are terribly overgrown with woody invasives, and they'd like to make room for some re-growth of native plants. So they plan to bring in a local man who's trying to launch a business of using pigs to uproot and reclaim such land. So rather than burning diesel and spraying Roundup, we'll be gaining some tasty pork.

11/9/13, 6:06 AM

Moshe Braner said...
@Cherokee: Regarding the supposed slowing down of global warming, note that it's only a (claimed) slowdown in the warming, not a cooling. Somehow that's considered a reversal? Seems like an example of this culture's obsession with change (the first derivative) rather than the amount itself, thus a change in the rate of change (second derivative) is the news. Sort of like talk of "negative GDP" when they really mean a decline in the GDP (sometimes called "negative growth").

11/9/13, 7:50 AM

Justin Wade said...
Your points about the Freudian analysis of our conditioning resonate for me.

In the past few years, I have gotten into the practice of Vipassana meditation, primarily as a tactic in trying to mitigate crippling migraines that can effectively leave me blind.

The trick of this method is to grow as aware as possible of your sensory inputs, roughly touch, sight, hearing and sit with good posture, still, and close attention to just those sensory inputs. Daydreams and mind chatter are considered distractions. What is interesting is that after intense practice over a year or so now after a couple of years of intermittent practice, I've noticed that daydreams and thought streams often emerge as biophysical feedback. In the process of disrupting this and defusing those daydreams and recurring thoughts, I have had new memories surface. I spend relatively little time dispatching those now that I have a very reliable technique for shorting them out, which either results in new memories/thoughts again, or the end of the reflex.

I have been amazed at how much of the source of so many things are rooted in growing pains of youth that my body is still remembering, even more so because my mind was hardly aware of them. Like the memory of the time I managed to swallow a rock when I was 7 as a possible source of a recurring GI pang when I try to sit with aligned posture and not slouch coming up. Those kinds of early memories came up after I cleared away gathering thoughts and emotions about, say, the "post-post industrial zombie environment megal-apocalypse" and other things like that.

11/9/13, 9:46 AM

Ruben said...
For those who are interested in the conversation about nature happening here, I would like to heartily recommend J.B. MacKinnon's new book, The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be

It is very, very good, and one of the things he looks hard at is "Nature".

11/9/13, 9:58 AM

Ruben said...

You certainly are not a representative vegan. Thank you for your thoughtful response.

But in terms of finding ourselves within industrial civilization, I wonder if you use that as an excuse to drive a gas-guzzler?

11/9/13, 10:00 AM

John Roth said...
JMG, Deborah Bender, &c,

The question of whether Jesus existed is the question of whether the Jesus of the Gospels existed. The Jesus whose heavenly portents attracted a group of Persian astrologers to look for him, who attracted huge crowds to hear him preach, who walked on water, healed the sick, raised the dead, fed a crowd of 5000 with two loaves and five fishes, returned after being crucified, etc.

That Jesus.

If you discount all of that, as proper rationalistic theologians do, or take it as deliberately constructed symbolic myth, as others do, then there isn't much of a problem for why there isn't any significant mention in the historical record. If you accept that he did all that and more, then the lack of mention is a significant problem, and one that's occupied a lot of very smart and committed people for a very long time. That's the question that concerns committed Christians.

11/9/13, 10:19 AM

Anselmo said...

1.- Link between Romanticism and Nationalism


"Another example of Archaism-on-principle in a different sphere
is the cult of a largely fictitious Primitive Teutonism which has
been one of the provincial products of a general archaistic movement of Romanticism in the modern Western World. "

2.-Link between nationalism and IWW

In the work: Nationalism and the War: Toynbee discusses how nationalistic pride was a cause of the Great War

3.- Link between IWW and IIWW:
Is evident that II WW was a revival of the First..

4.- IWW and turkish nationalism produced the genocide of Armenians

5.- IIWW and Nazism (a fruit of the German Nationalism) produced the genocide of many Jews, Gipsies, Russians and Chinese.

6.- II WW and Japanese Nationalism produced the genocide of many Chinese.

11/9/13, 10:58 AM

Juhana said...
@Deborah Bender: I have to say your account of probable origins of Christianity was one of the best descriptions I have ever read. I bow to your wisdom :). As a person who has been periodically immersed into communities so fierce in their Orthodox Christianity it resembles nothing as much as geographically close esoteric Buddhism of southern Great Steppes, I came to believe long time ago that holiness has many faces. Religions are like explanations made by two-dimensional beings about what three-dimensional existence means; words and dogmas cannot describe something out of dimensions where that language and those words were forged. Your description about Jewish holy man who lived long, long time ago is probably closest we can get after such a huge amount of time. What it cannot explain into this world or away from it is actual touch of divinity, or lack of it. Divine, life-altering experience for others, business as usual for others. Both views are right, but from different angles.

ROTAS OPERA TENET AREPO SATOR, words are always lacking shadow of actual experience.

And about primitive lifestyle, living close to nature... It is always perplexing to read opinions of persons who come from very pinnacle of industrial society how things should be organized in low-tech settings... It is like those French aristocrats playing shepherds before revolution, having "realistic" attitude towards pastoralism... For your record: words like "patriarchy" do not even exists in REAL LIFE low-tech societies, at least as an negative term. As an positive term it can be used from time to time to describe religious/monarchist views... I have said it before, and I say it now: "gender politics" is child of very, very sophisticated industrial society with enormous amounts of complexity, and it shall be among first things to fade away when already existing problems start to escalate... Good riddance to SCUM manifesto! Just try to sell it in Central Asia even today, and see what happens... Delusional opinions about world are defining trait of current Western decay.

11/9/13, 12:15 PM

Matt Heins said...
Greetings Archruid & Co. ,

In response to Bob Jones:

In addition to biophilic/biophobic, there should be technophilic/technophobic. So your idea is not biophobic, but it is technophilic. (Doesn't mean it's not cool BTW).

I think the fully biophilic version of what you are thinking of would be more like: study lifeforms to understand and be able to create microenvironments, then stock them with hardy microbes into strong containers and launch hundreds and hundreds of such capsules at known exoplanets. After millienia (or 10 or 250 millienia) of frozen dormancy in space, the terrain life capsules would then land on a planet and seed it, or interact with the lifeforms already there, perhaps even be discovered by intelligent creatures. Anthropanspermia. ;)

11/9/13, 12:18 PM

Matt Heins said...
Oops. Meant "Anthropopanspermia".

11/9/13, 12:41 PM

Juhana said...
And while speaking about Steppes, here is the song dedicated for late, great Budyonny horse of our family; one day Grass Sea shall be ruled from back of the horses again, so I believe. Enjoy :).

11/9/13, 12:43 PM

siddrudge said...
For an interesting spiritual workout and a rich, satisfying story, readers of this blog might want to check out "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel. The recent movie directed by Ang Lee was visually breathtaking, but the book . . . the book is rich and inspired writing and resonates with many of the themes recently discussed on this forum -- like religion, faith, purpose and meaning and our relationship with nature.

The story revolves around a sixteen year old Indian boy, a vegetarian and a polytheist, who survives 227 days on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal Tiger . . .

Some quotes from the book by Yann Matel:

“Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud...”

“It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them - and then they leap. I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for awhile. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

“One might even argue that if an animal could choose with intelligence, it would opt for living in a zoo, since the major difference between a zoo and the wild is the absence of parasites and enemies and the abundance of food in the first, and their respective abundance and scarcity in the second. Think about it yourself. Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you?...

But I don't insist. I don't mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.”

“I went about the job in a direct way. I took the hatchet in both my hands and vigorously beat the fish on the head with the hammerhead (I still didn’t have the stomach to use the sharp edge). The dorado did the most extraordinary thing as it died: it began to flash all kinds of colours in rapid succession. Blue, green, red, gold, and violet flickered and shimmered neon-like on its surface as it struggled. I felt I was beating a rainbow to death.”

“There are many examples of animals coming to surprising living arrangements...where an animal takes a human being or another animal to be one of it's kind.”

“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and to do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”

“Fanatics do not have faith - they have belief. With faith you let go. You trust. Whereas with belief you cling.”

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.


11/9/13, 1:30 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...

"I find it implausible that one imaginative person or a group of people could create a fictional wonder-working teacher of the Law so vivid that their tales would move people to gather together in his name this way for decades after his fictional death…"

That isn't a statement about Jesus, it's a statement about how people behave. And I don't think it's true -- in fact, quite the opposite.

I'm thinking of the oft-mentioned King Arthur, whose death was clearly fictional. I'm thinking of Gandalf the Grey, and even Darth Vader. I'm thinking of Samson, and Oedipus, and Romeo and Juliet. All fictional characters, acknowledged as such, yet their deaths continue to be remembered or reenacted year after year.

There are cults of Jedi Warriors out there right now, devotees of Obi Wan and Qui Gon and Master Yoda. Someone recently told me that the three fastest growing new languages are Klingon, Naavi, and Elvish, in a world where traditional languages are falling off the edge of the earth almost as fast as species are dying.

Religions don't succeed because they are reasonable. They succeed because they grip the imagination and the heart, or because they serve the interests of the powerful, or both.

11/9/13, 2:06 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Pondering more about this post, these ideas, and that dinner table conversation in our dining room the other day from which you somehow magically plagiarized...

In actual human individuals, these various ideas, sensibilities, phobias, and beliefs mix and match in all combinations. That conversation was among people who were avowedly not christian -- it was our regular gathering of friends who are "free on wednesday night," i.e. do not go to church for bible study on that evening. In small towns in the bible belt, nothing is ever scheduled for Wednesday night. And yet all but my wife and I clearly had a "religious sensibility" of progress. In their "spiritual but not religious way," they definitely believe in an ascent of humankind towards some higher state. And they believe in this as a long-term, whole-species process, not just as part of the passage of an individual through life. The more biophillic seemed to believe that in fact our fallen state was because we were below that of "nature," and "nature" was the heaven towards which we must progress -- the whole "back to the garden" thing. One commented that "if things aren't going to get better, what is the point of even going on?" When I expressed my lifelong puzzlement at why people even think that life must have a purpose, meaning, and goal of ascension, the response was pretty much bewilderment as though I had expressed my feeling that I had never understood why people insisted that 1+1=2.

Another issue -- progress believers seem to feel that if you don't believe in the ascension of humankind, you just accept the world and all its ills as is, and don't bother to do anything to help, fix, or improve anything. Why do you need to believe in the eternal onward progress of humanity in order to think you should feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, avoid waste and wanton destruction, and honor, respect, and try to live with the flow of the biosphere rather than against it? But apparently, that is what many non-christian biophiles believe, just the same as the christian biophobes. I realize of course that this is precisely the old religious sensibility you have written about. And I find its presence or absence is not actually strongly correlated with that of other characteristics, like biophobia, environmental beliefs, or preferred religious descriptors.

And why did I avoid acquiring these beliefs, even while those who lived and learned right alongside me are steeped in them? My upbringing was only modestly "hippie" or "alternative," much less so than some of the other guests at our Wednesday potlucks.

11/9/13, 3:33 PM

sgage said...
@ siddrudge:

Re: this snippet of your quotes:

"I'll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for awhile. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

This strikes me as offensive nonsense. Nobody 'knows' anything about most of this stuff, and there are many many different takes on it. The notion that if you don't arbitrarily just pick one and 'believe' it that you are somehow not sensible or going anywhere strikes me as toxic and weird and absurd.

Conclusions are what you come to when you're tired of thinking.

11/9/13, 4:39 PM

Liquid Paradigm said...

Are you able to provide a general translation? Not word for word (unless you feel so inclined), but the overall message there? I'm just curious. That piece (and performance) is absolutely beautiful.


Right before reading this week's entry, I read Wendell Berry's "Quantity Vs. Form," which dovetails nicely, particularly in its opening section and his criticism of medical care and the prolongation of life beyond its (to the one living it) value. Both have given me quite a lot to think about the past several days.

11/9/13, 4:40 PM

sgage said...
@ Bill Pulliam

"And why did I avoid acquiring these beliefs, even while those who lived and learned right alongside me are steeped in them? "

I have asked myself this question many, many, and many times since I was very young. I never seemed to really "get" the mainstream vibe at all, from early childhood.

So, to answer you question... I sure as heck don't know how it works.

11/9/13, 4:46 PM

Agent Provocateur said...
I just recently finished slaughtering 19 of our Cornish cross meat birds. I assume that for most people, this sort of activity has a very high eeeyew factor. Not all people are ready to rise to this particular “call to adventure”. My wife is one of them. My 8 year old daughter was not so squeamish though. She was fascinated by the process. My two older children wisely stayed clear for fear of being asked to help.

Now if someone really enjoyed this sort of activity, you would perhaps be inclined to worry for them. That said, I did enjoy it. There is something very primal and ritualistic about it. Its not a perverse joy in killing for the sake of killing. The context is thankfulness and a sincere hope that I have fulfilled my side of the relationship. I'd say there are some parallels with sex; context being all important: caring and commitment mixed in with some self interest of course. I suppose this is not surprising given sex and death bracket most sentient life (rotifers are an interesting sexless exception to the rule).

Flapping wings and walking feet after (and of course before) decapitation suggest some degree of consciousness. There is something amazing about this continuation of consciousness even absent a head. Sushi chefs use ike jime to eliminated such coordinated convulsions and the consequent degradation of the quality of the flesh. Ike jime involves destroying the central nervous system of the fish by inserting a metal rod through the spinal column after decapitation. This eliminates the attempts of the decapitated fish to swim away from what one might reasonably infer is an unpleasant situation for it. Anyways, I've done it for fish and its the fastest way I know to kill a fish. I assume ike jime eases the suffering of the fish as it appears to destroy all consciousness quickly.

I've tried a similar process for chickens with modest success. The problem is the amount of blood makes finding the spinal cavity more difficult. Its also tricky restraining the chicken with your knees while using one hand to hold the neck and the old hand to insert the rod all the while trying to direct the blood into a bucket for the compost heap. I've tried slitting the throat first but the degree of convulsions are the same. I'd appreciate anyone's experience on how to make this process a less painful one for the bird. I haven't tried a killing cone yet.

Scalding and plucking are pretty straightforward, the trick is to keep the water temperature below 160F to prevent tearing the flesh and above 130F to allow the feathers to come out easily.

Now the fun part: evisceration. This is not as bad as one might suppose; really quite the opposite. The internal organs of an animal are a source of fascination … and steaming fresh! They are beautiful; the gizzard in particular. I find it difficulty not to cut it open just to find what's inside this amazing tight little hockey puck of a muscle. Who can't help taking a quick look at the liver, heart, lungs, intestines, kidneys, gonads? Haruspicy anyone? Whats not to like? Each a tiny package of life. Each is a wonder. No … necrophilia is not an applicable term here. Its not the process of death that is fascinating, its the source and process of life and consciousness that is so amazing. So biophilia might fit.

I guess the question is: “What is the source of revulsion for some people?”. Perhaps they don't want to look directly at life and death for fear of what they might find … no meaning? Just keep distracted so you don't have to look the beast in the eye!

11/9/13, 5:01 PM

Agent Provocateur said...
Further to my last comment, I'm not sure our current biophobia is entirely due to a direct continuity from ancient times. Say in the first four centuries of the common era in the eastern Mediterranean: biophobia can be found under the loose rubric of Gnosticism as it appeared (often peripherally) across most religions/philosophies of the time: Christianity, Judaism, the Greece Philosophical Schools, and the Mystery Religions. Basically it can be summed up as: spirit = good; matter/flesh/body = bad. I realize even Gnosticism itself is but one manifestation of the general religious sensibility of the time and place. But it did cross a lot of religious boundaries to be considered more a sensibility in and of itself rather than a religion as such. I'm guessing the appeal of this understanding of the cosmos was that the life of the body really was fairly miserable for most people for most of the history of civilization. Matter/flesh/body really was bad: a source of more pain then happiness under empire. There had to be a way out!

This formulation of a spirit/matter dichotomy flowered in one of the truly great (and now extinct) world religions of the time: Manichaeism. Manichaeism itself was a conscious attempt to meld Gnostic Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. The spirit/matter dichotomy got formally inserted into western Christianity via Augustine (a former Manichaean) in his doctrine of Original Sin. The so called Manichaean heresy later popped in full bloom in Christian guise with the Paulicians, the Bogomils, and finally the Cathars. As for what happened to these last, lets just say the Inquisition was established in part to curb the excesses of the Albigensian Crusade that wiped them out. “Kill them all, God will know his own” being a memorable line attributed to one of the Cathar persecutors when asked how to tell the heretics from the “true” Christians. Still some of the original biophobic religious sensibility did remain in the mainstream religions (civil and otherwise), just not as extreme as the full bore gnostic versions.

So there is a long history of this religious sensibility as JMG suggested. But life is not quite so bad for those of us in industrial societies right now. The historical trajectory can explain some of the current biophobia, but where is the gut level motivation right now? As I suggested in my last comment, my guess is its fear. Our lives are comfortable but there is no consensus about their meaning and so a great fear that they may well be meaningless. As a result we avoid anything that reminds us of death because if anything reminds us of the point of life, death does. So fill up the void, fill it up, busy busy bees. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Heh kids, lets go to Mars.

Now I understanding people being revolted by the putrid. This is just us being hardwired to avoid the stuff than can kill us. But if chicken viscera are fresh, what's the problem? Fear not so much of death itself but fear that life is probably meaningless. Just a guess.

Then again, maybe poultry entrails really are just icky ;-)

11/9/13, 6:44 PM

August Johnson said...
JMG - I'm starting to get a few responses about the site, hopefully I'll get more so I can make it answer the questions that are frequent.

Here's a link to a post I put on the Green Wizards site, think about carrying one of these home from the Thrift Shop! No, don't!


11/9/13, 7:12 PM

sunseekernv said...
re biophobia

Another point would be raised by the rise of the practice of agriculture.
The book The Food Crisis In Prehistory: Overpopulation and the Origin of Agriculture
by Mark Nathan Cohen, Yale University Press (1977)
makes the point that hunter-gatherers in a supportive environment only work 2-4 hrs a day to feed themselves. But when overpopulation with respect to the current environment (either due to population growth, hunting large game into extinction and/or climate change - doesn't matter) happens, the only way to survive is to begin the practice of the hard labor of farming/herding (or playing warlord over those who do ;-)

Primitive farmers/herders work harder for less gain than well positioned hunter/gatherers. During peak seasons, farmers work basically all day, and sometimes into the night.

And for them, nature - or at least aspects of nature - the pest bugs, plant/animal diseases, crop/herd predators, drought, the cranky nature of tasty plants/animals that won't grow/domesticate well, ... - is a very real enemy.

Prof. Cohen makes the point that there was no need to "invent" agriculture - hunter/gatherers knew plenty about plants/animals, and more often than usually noticed, practice things like seed dispersal, setting wildfires to clear brush/renew grass, etc.

n.b. the "invention of agriculture" is a conceit of the secular religion of progress - onward and upward from those primitive men.

But once large game was over hunted..., people had to grow - not what they liked - but what would respond sufficiently to husbandry to enable survival.

Prof. Cohen has a newer book out (I haven't read) called Health and the Rise of Civilization. The premise seems to be, from the archeological and anthropological evidence, that "primitive" hunter/gathers ate a better variety of foods and were better nourished than even many agriculturists of today.

re: where the dead go/immortality

Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson and his group? They have > 2000 Cases Of the Reincarnation Type in their files, of those, about 200 involve birthmarks or birth defects related to the often violent death of the previous incarnation.

Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect
Ian Stevenson M.D. Praeger (1997)
is the condensed version.

Reincarnation and Biology is the 2 volume, 2268 page compendium of cases with birthmarks (vol. 1) and birthdefects (vol. 2) as well as more or less verifiable details of previous lives.

A shorter read is a recent case of reincarnation in the American Christian culture, where such things aren't expected. Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot, by Bruce Leininger, Andrea Leininger and Ken Gross.

Now of course, reincarnation over several lifetimes does not prove immortality of the soul, though it does have something to say about consciousness outside the physical plane of existence.

11/9/13, 7:37 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Joseph Nemeth--I don't dispute your general proposition. What I am saying is that I don't see a path by which the various Christian churches and communities that existed circa 150 CE could have arisen out of the environment of Judea circa 30 CE from an entirely fictional story about a person who never existed. Given the conditions of that time and place, it would have taken longer. IMHO.

Once a story gets started, there are virtually no limits to how it can develop, what other stories accrete to it, or how people take the story into their lives. The speed at which the story develops depends on many factors, including available means of transmission and how fully the culture is stocked with stories of a similar kind.

Similar is a judgment call; the Jewish and Gentile worlds were well stocked with stories about figures who resemble Jesus in some respects, and there is no question (unless you are a Biblical literalist) that some of those stories influenced the texts that became the New Testament.

There is also the question of why we didn't wind up with a salvationist religion surrounding the figure of John the Baptist, if both he and Jesus were imaginary people. I think that if one starts from the premise that John and Jesus were actual people, what comes after is less unlikely. Or was John an actual person and Jesus imaginary? Or the other way round?

11/9/13, 9:06 PM

Matt Heins said...
Hello again,

I would just like to say that from reading this thread (and others), it seems like Mr. Greer and Mr. Pulliam are sipping from the same Font of Wisdom, although their mixers might be different.

Tip o the hat to both. Fascinating stuff.

11/9/13, 9:06 PM

Renaissance Man said...
Biophobia - Thank you, now I have a good word to describe the phenomenon I've observed since I was a boy.
When I first was taught to essentially despise my natural physical urges, I listened, I tried, and I failed miserably to despise them. At that point, I began to question the wisdom of the Christian Church and its doctrines. How, I wondered, could enjoying carnal pleasures be so wrong? Why would God make something enjoyable and them have an injunction against enjoying it? The Priest's answers were.... unsatisfactory and lacking.
When I learned about ancient Celtic pantheons and ancient Roman pantheons and was basically told of their acceptance of much of what we might call, human tendencies or, as described, moral failings, i.e. they had sex without guilt or shame, that concept resonated with me. Discovering the neopagan world, I found that, sadly, a good portion of the guys were libertines, and they were still very much bound by the same doctrines I was. I forget who said it, but 180 degrees from wrong is still wrong. My pagan worship involves a lot of shuffling though bright orange and yellow and vermillion leaves in cathedrals of the forest. I am a biophile.
But this biophobia leaves our psyches with a huge hole, a gaping wound that others can exploit with ease. For example, advertising invariably plays off those repressed desires by aiming straight at the repressed biological desires, and I'm not referring here to the supposed subliminal sex images in ice cubes. I remember seeing an ad for jeans that didn't actually have any denim on the barely-clad nubile model. Nothing subliminal there. Car and truck ads show the vehicle crashing (and crushing) through wilderness with the delicate sensitivity of a conquistador.
Biophobia pops up in the oddest ways. Each spring, the accumulated pile at the stable, where I keep my horse, gets hauled away, but they never quite get all of it; there is always a good supply of rich, wormy loam from the bottom of the pile that I haul off like black gold for my friends gardens. (My contribution to their bounty that gets me fresh veggies from various gardens in the summer, because I really suck at gardening.) One of the other boarders at the barn, M.S. who has no compunction about cleaning out stalls, balked in distaste at the sight of me hauling out a tub of compost. She just couldn't quite accept that is was no longer scrapings from the stall, but now rich nutrients for gardens.

11/9/13, 9:07 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Moshe, thank you. That made a second day!

Bob, if you want to pursue immortal space robots as a hobby, by all means -- I suppose it's right up there with model trains and things. It's the frantic insistence that we have to have our immortal space robot bodies by 2040 that I think has roots in biophobia.

Unknown Deborah, I'd gotten that impression, but don't have the same background, of course. Thanks for the details.

KL, that's certainly possible.

Cherokee, yes, we'll be talking about that! The short form is that monasteries in the harshest parts of the Dark Ages were always dirt poor, thus had nothing worth robbing, and provided basic medical care, thus had something that warbands wanted very, very badly and could only get if they left the monks unharmed. A place where your kid could get taught the arcane mysteries of reading and writing, and be kept out of trouble in a harsh world, came a little later on, but was also hugely popular. The moral to this story ought to be familiar to regular readers here.

Myriad, it's an interesting issue, isn't it? I'll have to check the details, but I think the equation of sex with dirt isn't all that common in human cultures.

Shark, that's the one! You get tonight's gold star, partly for knowing history and partly for the Baron von Munchausen reference.

Justin, I've had similar experiences. Freud is underrated these days -- it's remarkable how many huge personal and emotional problems can be traced back to childhood misunderstandings and bad experiences, and how easily they can be resolved once the roots are identified and brought back into awareness.

Ruben, thanks for the tip.

John, charismatic people routinely attract stories out of folklore; those stories can serve as a measure of just how intensely these people influenced the handful of people who met them, or the modest crowds who listened to them. Depending on your preferred Christology, the miracles may or may not be of great importance -- does the achievement of George Washington, for example, depend on whether he did or did not throw a silver dollar all the way across the Potomac? Now of course the lack of historical record is a problem for those who consider the miracle stories essential to their faith, but again, not all committed Christians do so.

11/9/13, 10:14 PM

steve pearson said...
@ agent provocateur
I have often butchered chickens & turkeys with a friend who does it regularly. He sings to them, thanks them & strokes them, then up ends them in a road works cone(being upside down puts them in a bit of a trance anyhow). When he then slits their throat, they often don't even kick against the cone.
I think trying to hold them in your lap or whatever is clumsy & they, perhaps, pick up on your nervousness or frustration. At the risk of sounding a bit woo woo about it, respect, thanks, a meditative state of mind and a road cone make all the difference.
The christian general to whom the "kill them all" quote apropos the Albigensians was attributed was actually St. Dominic of" Dominic a nic a nic combatait Les Albigois" fame by the singing nun in the 70s.

11/9/13, 10:25 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Anselmo, fair enough; I appreciate your willingness to cite your sources. Now let's take a look at what you've actually demonstrated. Romanticism was, according to your single source, one of the many causes of one single example of nationalism, and that nationalism was one of the many causes of the First World War. You then jump from that very slender basis to insist that romanticism as such causes nationalism as such, and that nationalism as such causes genocide. I could prove, using the same logic, that nationalism prevents genocide -- consider the role that American, British, and French nationalism, among other factors, played in stopping Nazi Germany. History is a complex realm of many factors, and the sort of simplistic this-causes-that logic you've used here does a very poor job of making sense of it.

Juhana, thank you! I'm pretty sure that there will be horse nomads on the great plains of North America within a few centuries, too.

Sidd, thanks for the tip; I don't often read recent fiction, but I'll consider it.

Bill, the notion that the only alternative to progress is sitting passively on one's rump is very pervasive, and to my mind very damaging. It's as though, if you're not sure you're going to win, you won't bother to play -- or to fight. I'll be brooding over ways of countering that.

Paradigm, fascinating. I wonder if Berry read Guenon's "The Reign of Quantity"!

Agent, one of the things I appreciate about classical religion is the role of butchering, cooking and eating animals as a religious act. No, I haven't had the chance to take part in the sacrifice of an ox to Zeus, but I'd happily do so if the opportunity presented itself! The stark confrontation with the reality of death, and even more, the dependence of life on death and death on life, strikes me as well worth doing. Yes, I've chopped the heads off chickens and cleaned, plucked, and eaten them, too -- though that was before I started studying classical pagan spirituality; it was just an ordinary part of the routine at the hippie farm where I lived for a while.

August, excellent! As for carrying one of those home, 50 lbs. is within my range if the walk isn't too far; those big receivers, though, would be call-a-taxi time.

Sunseeker, Cohen's theory is an interesting one. Have you read Colin Tudge's Neanderthals, Bandits, and Farmers? He points out that there's plenty of evidence that people were planting and harvesting some crops 40,000 years ago, and argues that the transition was a lot more gradual than current theories suggest. I've suspected more than once that what we see c. 8000 BCE was not "the agricultural revolution," but a society under ghastly subsistence pressure, forced by extreme climate change to get by on only one small part of an older and much broader human ecology.

As for Stevenson, of course! And quite a bit of other research on the same lines, as well.

Matt, that would probably be the Waters of Life, and I'll take mine with just a splash of water, thanks!

Renaissance, nicely put! Yes, I've seen all too many people in the Neopagan scene who are still stuck trying to shock the God they grew up with. To rephrase your geometrical comment in my preferred phrasing, the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea!

11/9/13, 10:34 PM

DeAnander said...
Re: chicken kills and related subjects

I've used a killing cone, and it does reduce the flapping and struggling a lot -- makes the throat-cutting method faster and easier, hence imho more merciful. being restrained seems somehow to *reduce* panic -- that is, the exposed head and face of the chicken don't seem to thrash and contort the way a human's would if trapped in a similar situation. Temple Grandin comes to mind, w/her work on restraint as a comfort to autistic people...

all that said, I have been told that the quickest bestest method to separate life from a barnyard fowl is to pick it up by the head and twirl the body 2 or three times like a lasso. the head/neck joint (I'm told) is weak and comes apart quickly. the body runs a few steps and then falls over, so they say. Caveat: I have never had the nerve to try this myself -- fearing that a clumsy, inexpert attempt might inflict enormous pain. I guess you need an already-deceased chicken (cue Monty Python routines!) to practise on, but how... a real "chicken and dead problem."

while I'm not all that biophobic -- no problem with humanure composting, handling earthworms, hurling slugs out of the garden, etc -- I am squeamish to the last degree about inflicting *suffering* -- always had a hard time doctoring my cats if it involved restraining them and inflicting pain; my hands shake if I have to help a friend dig out a deep splinter. once had to kill a chicken half-eaten by a dog (bad dog!) and it was pretty traumatic. being a spoilt little Westerner from a pretty secure life, I have little experience of serious pain, trauma, dismemberment and violent death, and even in chicken form it upset me considerably. but it was the violence and suffering, more than the eeeyew, I think.

I've been appreciating everyone's comments on biophobia tremendously -- particularly Jose's honesty (very representative feelings btw, plenty of people share 'em). for me, a turning point was... compost.

once you realise that compost is -- as W Berry said -- "resurrection"... that compost is as close as we get to eternal life -- somehow biophobia loses its hold and the wet and sticky becomes cool and amazing and miraculous. [my love and admiration for fungi increases from year to year; moldy cheese just doesn't bug me the way it once did.] anything in storage that gets eeeyewish ("that's funny, you don't *look* eeeyewish!") goes into the compost bin and is maybe a minor loss, but emphatically not a write-off. rotten stuff is almost as valuable as good edible stuff, and is a precondition for future good edible stuff. meat that gets a bit "past it" gets buried with new plantings of shrubs or saplings... what goes around comes around. I find it very comforting.

as soon as I started "farming microbes" -- became a modest, not too zealous fermento -- my fairly minor residual biophobia really started melting away. I recommend to all biophobia sufferers that they try making some home brew or kombucha, or even just sourdough bread; it's a great start on the road to considering the microbial world a friendly and happenin' place rather than a scary house of horrors. the kombu scoby is a real eeeyew candidate in theory, but if you love the drink you'll soon love the scoby and maybe even start thinking it's cute and caring for it like a pet :-) I draw the line at naming them though!

11/9/13, 10:39 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Can't wait for the post!

I had a truly strange thought this morning and thought that it might be worthwhile sharing. It was an otherwise pleasant day visiting a local garden where I picked up some freebie plants and fruit trees which are now happily nestled into the garden. I like free stuff! Oh yeah, back to the thought.

The new federal government here wants to sack 12,000 public service jobs, but somehow at the same time pursue a jobs creation strategy. Such thinking seems to be sort of mentally dysfunctional. Well, it would do psychological damage to me anyway as the two objectives are mutually exclusive.

My lady has a friend who works at the CSIRO (the government science body for research) and they are chopping heads like there is no tomorrow.

Anyway, the thought was that somehow the values of a company board have somehow snuck into the upper end of government. How could this have happened? No one noticed.

The problem is that a company board only operates for the benefit of themselves first and shareholders and employees second. Don’t believe me, ask yourself, do you need a remuneration consultant as part of your job? Hehe! I certainly don’t. However, a government has an obligation to everyone, the environment and the future regardless of people’s status as employed or otherwise. They've forgotten this.

I believe last year - and I may be wrong – the federal politicians voted themselves a pay rise too. It is a reasonably repulsive look to do that and then sack public servants. Not that anyone ever says such things. Plus there is an political expense rip off scandal going on here too. It is a really bad look.



11/10/13, 12:29 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Ruben,

"And, you can't farm sustainably without manure."

Au contraire!

Many plants naturally accumulate minerals and nutrients and then die back to feed the soil life. However, the soil life then consumes that stuff both whilst the plant is alive and in its aftermath and then... Excretes it for something else to consume.

It's manure, but not as we know it (there could be an article in that title?)!

It would be nice if people pursuing veganism understood the original source of Oil (ie. dead sea animal life). My understanding is that vegans are comfortable with plastics which seems kind of odd.

All respect to them pursuing their vision, but my gut feel is that veganism is a political statement more than anything else.

It would be far more effective for the planet if they pursued growing their own food stuffs (whatever those may be) and worked towards closing the nutrient cycle (or at least minimising the losses).



11/10/13, 3:59 AM

Agent Provocateur said...
@steve pearson

Thanks. A road cone is definitely an approach I'll try. “There's got to be a better way.”

Nothing too woo woo about your other suggestions. Thanks. I've done my best in this regard but clearly I need to get in greater touch with my inner chicken. ;-)

The “Kill them all, God will know his own.” quote is just too good to not use. No doubt apocryphal but nonetheless still true to the spirit of the time. I heard it used again recently in a Swedish dark comedy movie called “How to Kill the Others.”

@r.e. The Historical Jesus, St. Paul, and Birth of Christianity, etc.

One would be hard pressed to do better than any one of the books by John Dominic Crossan alone or in collaboration with Jonathan L. Reid and Marcus J . Borg. The full arsenal of textual criticism, archeology, anthropology, cognitive science, political, legal, economic and social theory etc. has been brought to bear on these issues in an intellectually honest way. Spoiler alert: Paul comes out looking sweeter once you strip away the stuff he didn't actually write and Jesus still comes off as one hell of a great guy even if he didn't walk on water.

11/10/13, 4:17 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Janet,

I have no idea. Sorry.

The only thing I'd recommend is to source as great a variety of soil improvement materials and soil samples as possible. Will this bring in disease? Maybe, probably, but decomposition is just accelerating the web of life in the soil. Eventually it will reach a new equilibrium.

Down Under we have lost a great deal of the life in the soil and who knows what may have once been possible.

Things decompose faster here now than they did 7 years ago (fallen leaves in autumn are gone within 2 weeks), but the surrounding forest is sort of sad and timber can sit on the ground for well over 30 years. Not good.

Hey, did you get a chance to check out the Paul Stamets solutions from the underground video? He's quirky for sure and entertaining, but has a truly good understanding of all things fungi.

I’ve never directly added phosphorous here, but who knows what’s in some of the stuff that works its way here. Chickens and native birds are good for accumulating phosphorous too. Add in a healthy and diverse fungal network in the soil and you will ensure it doesn’t get lost.

Happy growing!


11/10/13, 4:24 AM

Andy Brown said...
So you’ve made the case that history (ala Spengler et al) is a pretty clear refutation of the central claims of the cult of Progress. You’ve made the case that even the most basic grasp of thermodynamics (which most people don’t have, of course) carries a powerful, cautionary critique. But the most visceral and intimate refutation of Progress is always going to be mortality and the cascading decrepitude that comes of living; it is the inescapable problem that we are each meat with a sell-by-date. (For the future beyond our deaths can be a pallid and unsatisfactory thing.) A culture with any burden of wisdom enables people to make the best of that – even celebrate it; a culture with more than its share of unwisdom may try to reject that unwelcome reality with religio-mythic sleight of hand. But it takes only the smallest modicum of wisdom to see that to reject death is to reject life. We can almost accomplish that remarkable unwisdom in our sterilized, human-made spaces – but we can certainly not accomplish it in the places (called nature) where our control slips.

So biophobia (and I count the romanticization of nature as but one more variant of this) is a crucial ally in our failed effort to transcend our earthly limitations. It’s a fascinating train of associations you’ve set into motion here . . .

11/10/13, 5:05 AM

John Roth said...

I don't think George Washington is quite the person you want as an analogy for the Historical Jesus problem. Washington was quite well known in his time. He was also not particularly modest: one of his boasts was that he could throw a stone farther than any man, so the notion of him throwing a coin across the Potomac is, at worst, an exaggeration.

If you want to use him as an example of someone who has legends grow up around him, the cherry tree (invented by Parson Weems) and the painting of him kneeling to pray are both good - I'm told he always stood to pray.

There are better examples of people who were quite obscure in their own time and only gained a reputation after they died. Shakespeare comes to mind, especially since there is a quite active academic cottage industry bent on proving that someone else wrote the plays that bear his name.

11/10/13, 6:10 AM

Phil Knight said...
Regarding Biophobia, Jean-Paul Sartre believed that what humans were most repulsed by was slime and the reason for this is that slime has an interstitial quality, being neither solid nor liquid, but something disturbingly inbetween.

Which is to say that a lot of natural substances, in their gooeyness, don't conform to the neat categories by which we classify and seek to control the world, and disturb us for that very reason.

11/10/13, 7:42 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Side note to Agent and the other meat chicken raisers -- The Cornish Cross is designed for confinement raising, and for maximum conversion of commercial feed to mass (mostly white breast meat). I have raised thousands of them. I call them genetic mutant freaks. They are not very tolerant of heat, cold, or exposure. They are lousy foragers. They have no predator avoidance instincts at all. Their meat is relatively bland compared to most other breeds raised on the same feed (note that a home-raised cornish cross with access to forage will still taste a thousand percent better than a regular grocery store chicken!).

I have had good luck with Dark Cornish as a meat chicken. The cockerels are usually pretty cheap to buy from mail order suppliers. They are much hardier, excellent foragers, and the cockerels especially are quite aggressive (fighting cocks in their ancestry) and good at predator avoidance. They take about twice as long to reach the same weight as a Cornish Cross, but they eat about half as much feed per day. If you feed them even less feed than that and give them access to good forage, they really will feed themselves.

Handling Dark Cornish is a whole different game. They fight, bite, and scratch; sturdy leather gloves are advised. Unlike the Cornish Cross, they do not go gently, they rage, rage against the coming of the dressing knife. Killing cones are very helpful; lacking that, simply hanging them by their feet (bungee balls work well) helps.

The payoff for all of this is a much better tasting bird, with a better balance of light and dark meat. And even the light meat is rich and flavorful. Plus your birds really do eat a lot of forage, which is the key to making meat animals more "sustainable."

11/10/13, 7:51 AM

thrig said...
Have you read "The Greeks and the Irrational" by E.R. Dodds? He among other things traces the origins of Puritanism to shamans, possibly introduced to the Greeks by the opening of Black Sea trade during the 7th century. There are other complications involved, as the shamans held that past activities of the spirit were a source of power, not guilt, and a change in the Greeks to view the body as a phobia to some more perfect spirit, instead of as the only home for it.

11/10/13, 8:51 AM

Joseph Nemeth said...
@Deborah - all good questions, to which I have no answers. There's always the question of the contingent and the inevitable in any story about history, and the role (or non-role) of "extraordinary persons."

When I was growing up, they called it "steam engine time." Although James Watt is typically associated with the invention of the steam engine, if he'd been hit by a horse-drawn cart and killed at the age of ten, we'd still have had the steam engine at pretty much the same point in history. Lots of people had worked on developing the steam engine for decades, and continued to refine it for decades. No one person was critical to that process.

The argument could be made that the particular mix of the attempted Hellenization of the Jews, the slaughter of the Maccabean priesthood, Roman patronage/slave system, the conquest and partial assimilation of Judea by Rome, the sacking of Jerusalem by Titus and the subsequent Diaspora of the Jews as a slave class, the Siege of Massada, etc., all made the rise of a Messiah of the Jesus sort inevitable rather than contingent: the mantle had been sewn by history, and it would inevitably have been placed on someone -- fictional or factual. Jesus was the "steam engine" of first century Judea, and would have been invented whether any real person existed to wear the mantle.

The contrary argument is more commonly made, that Jesus was an "extraordinary person" who shaped the flow of history around himself: that, had he been kicked by a mule at the age of ten and died, there would never have been a Christian religion.

I don't think there can ever be a final answer to that question, certainly not an answer crafted two thousand years later.

However, I want to come back to topic, because JMG is talking not about past religions, but future religions, and one of the interesting questions (to me) is whether our current place in history is already embroidering the mantle of the next Messiah -- so to speak -- and whether it is possible to intuit the general shape and weight and color of that mantle, which is (I think) what JMG is venturing to do.

If religion develops contingently based entirely upon the "extraordinary person," then it is quite impossible to even make guesses about the role of religion in the future, because it will all depend upon who rises up out of the genetic mix-master, and when.

I'm personally inclined to believe that there is a lot more inevitability to the process than that.

11/10/13, 8:58 AM

N Matheson said...
Thanks Phil,
I wish you all the best.

11/10/13, 9:28 AM

Richard Larson said...
I recently learned this concept: One can divide people into three distinctly different classes, thinkers, doers, and applauders. The applauders are pretty much useless and caged in binary thought. of course we discuss these people all the time as the applauders just have a hard time understanding other applauders. Like, how can you be entertained by that idea?

The doers by themselves aren't very dependable either. Doing what is against human best interests, well, doesn't ever last very long.

Now its the thinkers that become important. Knowing what to think about is important, but otherwise, the rule I've recently learned is one should think about doing something for Onehundred hours for every One hour of action.

11/10/13, 9:28 AM

steve pearson said...
@ Agent Provocateur
Forgot to mention that you need to build a frame for the road cone, preferably high enough to place a bucket beneath to catch the blood.

11/10/13, 10:33 AM

Phil Harris said...
In my day I have killed chickens - and other clearly sentient life for good enough reasons - and there are good ways of doing it and bad. One clue is if you get it right you do not overly upset the bird and the other birds round your feet not at all while you do it. I was well enough taught. It is really a form of respect, not just for the birds, but I guess for sentience including mine and colleagues, which is what I imagine religion can be about. And giving some of the food away also respects the broader context and whole system.

Evisceration itself if I am doing it is no big deal, but it can be a shock for small children when they first see it – depends on context as always. They might be fanciful, but I heard very painful stories about suburban children being required to sacrifice their pet rabbits at the beginning of WWII in England, which seemed a bit much.

I don't see however the need to kill if it can be avoided, and I do not partake of industrial animal farming and its killing methods. It is not the same deal for trees but something similar applies and I have known sorrow at the loss of a vigorous tree, even when it was taken for good enough reason. Sacrifice can seem OTT to me as a concept, and even a bit suspect when we ‘sacrifice’ our own interests in favour of others unless there is over-riding good reason. Normal generosity within reciprocal relationships and social settings seems adequate. I suppose though that those wonderful people who farm on the edge of one of the Indian deserts, who give away some hard won grain every year to migrating storks, have more profound relationships all-round than most of us. Hope for us yet!

'Listening' to nature can be cultivated and can become a two way conversation, but I haven't a clue about the nature of Gods. That is not too much of a personal deal for me, though it has been from time to time (given inevitable social context). I prefer the quality of doubt that goes with reflection. The notion of ‘false gods’ has given me pause for thought and I enquire carefully about who is telling the story. More generally, their choice of stories tells me a lot about other people, and something of how they 'read' off nature, including their own. There are some stories I will try to do a body swerve round.

I have been thinking about Shakers and peak-furniture design (and aesthetics also of skill and compromise with error), and about looking after orphans of the day, and abstinence in the context of gender equality and getting relationships and skills right and having better understanding of whole contexts, and presume it was a way of realising their inheritance? Do I detect a way of retaining a belief in an old promise central to human relationships from before birth?

PS I am doing way too much writing these days, not just here. Plenty of practical stuff needs doing. At least in Bill’s Bible Belt they do this kind of conversation just on Wednesday; Sunday presumably is a bit different?

11/10/13, 11:49 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Joseph Nemeth--the period we have been living in looks to me like the second century BCE--not quite steam engine time. I'm deeply interested in popular religion, new religions and cults. Paying attention to the emergence of a new religious sensibility is important. Apart from JMG and the deep ecology writers, I don't think many scholars are thinking in those terms.

First century CE Rome had room for several new religions. For a new religion to catch on, it would have needed an organizing base or structure that didn't depend on the established order, and it would have contained a mixture of Greek, Jewish and Asian religious ideas, because that is what people expected a worthwhile religion to be like. I agree that a religion something like Christianity would have arisen and perhaps spread without a Jesus Christ.

11/10/13, 2:10 PM

Ian Stewart said...
After contemplating this post for a few days, I have been wondering if we will see industrial-scale biophilia as an attempt at keeping the industrial system going once the digital electronics phase tapers off. For instance, here's news about a gene modification technique that is now ready for industrial application:

(necessarily hailed as a "jaw-dropping breakthrough," of course)

Additionally, I picked up Craig Venter's new book this week (he's the guy who managed the Human Genome project), which contains his musings on the future of artificial life-forms. I'm not too far in, but the introduction features this quote: "As the Industrial Age draws to a close, we are witnessing the dawn of an era of biological design. Humankind is about to enter a new phase of evolution."

It's very interesting to see such an important researcher assert that the current hyper-specialized way of doing things is on its last legs. However, I can't help but think that the classes currently deciding resouce allocations will make even greater attempts to perform such engineering on an industrial scale, with the expectation that we plebians will continue to simply consume whatever they can produce most cheaply. In any case, I think that giving people the education and tools to detect and recognize such "designed organisms" in their environment is of paramount importance.

11/10/13, 4:44 PM

Ian Stewart said...
Also, Mr. Pulliam, this may be more appropriate off-list or on the Green Wizard forum, but what is your opinion of caponizing large-frame meat birds like the Jersey Giant? I understand that was the main way of getting a lot of meat per chicken before Cornish Crosses and the like came along. I certainly have zero interest in a chicken that's practically going to collapse under its own weight.

11/10/13, 4:47 PM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
That's an interesting comment. There is an anti-Hellenic strain in Paul's thought that isn't sufficiently appreciated: his letters to the Greek Christians show that Gnosticism (a certain strain of it) was a problem for the early Church that it had to wrestle with. I think JMG has done a marvelous job of unveiling the "man" behind the curtain of progress, and our descendents (if we can preserve some libraries with books like the one you mentioned in them) will likely see a kind of degenerate and un-thinking Gnosticism behind the religion of Progress itself. In fact, I wonder if JMG would mind commenting on this, as some important thinkers like Voeglin have tried to lay some of those roots bare.

11/10/13, 5:44 PM

Tony said...
Ah, so I was not the only one to find several recent threads of your posts coming alongside the film Gravity to be rather synchronistic. (minor spoilers ahead due to analysis, to those who care.)

This film completely stands the mythological mapping of space as heaven you spoke of earlier on its head. If anything, Earth becomes heaven. Its constant dazzling presence, visible but unreachable, the constant threat of a single misstep by a centimeter causing irrevocable disaster where they are, the triumphant music as the capsule at last makes its turbulent way below the clouds....

And as for biophobia... the very end comes as after having dragged herself to the shore of the tropical lake full of frogs and insects her capsule came down in, Bullock first grips the mud under her and hugs it to her face, muttering a breathless thank you. And then slowly rises to her feet, assuming the posture humans are built for for the first time in the entire film, and starts unsteadily walking barefoot through the mud towards the verdant landscape. Cue credits. I think it could hardly have ended on a more biophilic note. The symbolism of a human taking their place in the universe could hardly be stronger, and if I am right it is even reflected in where I estimate she landed (based on what she was flying over in the lead-up to entry) - the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, where so many bits of our deep ancestry have been discovered.

-Tony B.

11/10/13, 5:55 PM

Renaissance Man said...
(Not for Publication)
This is unrelated directly to this post, but since the notion of different "nations" in America came up in previous discussions, I thought you might find it interesting.
The author deduces 'nations' based on violence at the county level, rather than the state level.

11/10/13, 7:46 PM

Janet D said...
@Cherokee Organics

I love Paul Stamets! I haven't seen this particular talk, however, so I appreciate the link.

@those who harvest their own chickens...this is my favorite method, well demonstrated, by the lady from whom I learned it....
"Respectful Chicken Harvest with Alexia Allen"
(sorry, don't know how to do the hyperlink on blogger)

11/10/13, 9:10 PM

Ruben said...
For those interested in chicken slaughter, here are two videos that we find amazing. With the caveat that we have only killed turkeys, not chickens.

Respectful chicken harvest part 1 of 2 kill and pluck

Respectful chicken harvest part 2 of 2 butchering

What I can personally attest to, is rabbit slaughter. We have use the broomstick method, which is very good. However, I will be making a DIY variant of The Rabbit Wringer - Humane Meat Rabbit & Poultry Harvesting

11/10/13, 10:15 PM

sunseekernv said...
@JMG - re Cohen's Food Crisis In Prehistory

Not to mislead - it is my point that when people become farmers, they have set themselves in opposition to nature, hence nature becomes (partly) an enemy (pests, drought, etc.).

Cohen makes the points that agriculture isn't "invented" in the usual sense, it was observed and then had to be practiced more and more and developed as population pressure grew about 10,000 yrs ago, when people had scattered all over the world as far as they could go. At that time they had exhausted hunter-gatherer (and part-time farmer) strategies for increasing food supply, some of which was likely responsible for megafauna extinctions. He notes that climate pressures would only be effective in causing stress if population was already at high levels vis-a-vis the productive capacity of the land for hunting/gathering.

From the preview of Tudge's Neanderthals, Bandits, and Farmers, it looks like Tudge extends the proto-farmer backwards in time even more. I'm going to read Tudge, thanks for the pointer.

Have you read Tudge's The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter? That looks interesting too.

11/10/13, 10:25 PM

KL Cooke said...
"...the slime is smelly and icky and dirty and wet, while computer circuits are shiny and hard and clean..."

Making the circuits is not so pristine. Visit a circuit board shop some time, and you'll notice the process is toxic and foul. Same with integrated circuit manufacturing.

Here's a funny story. At least, it was funny to me at the time.

Years ago I worked for a company that made IC fab equipment. We didn't make the ICs, but had to run test wafers for research purposes. Thus the plant was piped with some of the most toxic substances known. Right overhead where people worked.

Sometimes the pipes would spring a leak, and there'd be a "gas drill." An alarm would go off and we'd all troop out into the parking lot, just like a school fire drill.

One evening the alarm went off and we all filed out. But they couldn't find a leak. Turned out there was a drainage ditch behind the plant that local skunks used as a causeway. One of them walked by trailing skunk odor and it drifted into the plant. Somebody smelled something, didn't know what it was and threw the alarm.

11/10/13, 10:38 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Deborah,

In a sea of strangeness that was a lucid and clear response.

To everyone else involved in that strange debate,

Does it really even matter? I'd suggest not. Didn't someone a few weeks back invoke "my little pony" as a personal deity? Therein lies your answer.

Seriously, such arguments as you are displaying are an abstraction into which you can feed your energies. This therefore stops you having to do anything useful and/or applying any of those teachings into your own life.

I have a miniature fox terrier who has a bad case of obsessive compulsive disorder and it doesn't seem to me to be a useful adaption. Our host here raised some thoughtful responses which were just... ignored... Just sayin…



11/10/13, 11:12 PM

Crow Hill said...
About the meat-eater, non meat-eater divide: The only creatures that don’t kill animals or plants to eat are the oft-despised scavengers, hyenas, vultures and co.

11/10/13, 11:50 PM

Crow Hill said...
As a contemporary consolation for death, this lovely 'Litany' by Connie Barlow, ‘The Gifts of Death’ quoted in ‘Thank God for Evolution’, Michael Dowd, 2009.

Without the death of stars, there would be no planets and no life.
Without the death of creatures, there would be no evolution.

Without the death of elders, there would be no room for children.
Without the death of fetal cells, we would all be spheres.

Without the death of neurons, wisdom and creativity would not blossom.
Without the death of cells in woody plants, there would be no trees.

Without the death of forests by Ice Age advance, there would be no northern lakes.
Without the death of mountains, there would be no sand or soil.

Without the death of plants and animals, there would be no food.
Without the death of old ways of thinking, there would be no room for the new.

Without death there would be no ancestors.
Without death, time would not be precious.

What, then are the gifts of death?

The gifts of death are Mars and Mercury, Saturn and Earth.
The gifts of death are the atoms of stardust within our bodies.

The gifts of death are the splendors of shape and form and color.
The gifts of death are diversity, the immense journey of life.

The gifts of death are woodlands and soils, ponds and lakes.
The gifts of death are food: the sustenance of life.

The gifts of death are seeing, hearing, feeling—deeply feeling.
The gifts of death are wisdom, creativity and the flow of cultural change.

The gifts of death are the urgency to act, the desire to fully be and become.
The gifts of death are joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.

The gifts of death are lives that are fully and exuberantly lived, and then graciously and gratefully given up, for now and forevermore

11/11/13, 12:21 AM

Phil Harris said...
Thanks to RenaissanceMan for the link

It is an interesting atlas of America. It would be good if JMG could complement this with an atlas of American Weirdness (he has used the word from time to time). :)

I live on the Scottish Border and have long wondered at the sense of peace and low levels of person violence, considering that for a while as literature suggests the region saw some low points in human history. But our rural areas were semi-evacuated during our population explosion and 19thC urbanisation. So many people left these rural areas for our growing cities and for cities in America and other British Isles Diasporas. Already, over a century ago less than 5% of Brits on the mainland were farm workers, contrasting with the USA. Leaving aside Eire and current residual nationalisms, our politics mostly reflect class structures and interests.

However, de-industrialisation and chronic unemployment in areas of our large cities and for a brief while penetration by the drugs economy, have taken significant segments of our population out of direct political engagement, and their interests are now under-represented. We see something similar in many countries in the rest of Europe.

Phil H

11/11/13, 3:07 AM

Witney History said...
Further to the discussion of religious sensibility:

"The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life.
Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more.
Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential.
Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one."

The first slider graphic on their home page (people in robes under the word 'donate') sets cynical alarm bells ringing louder than a carbon monoxide monitor... but then they are comedians.

Am about to watch their video but reading below:

"Why We Need the Money

Well here's what it is going on:
£240 000 will be spent on hiring a three person development team over two years. £60 000 (over two years) will go to Sanderson (working full time) and Pippa (working part time) to create the documentation, provide support to new congregations and build The Sunday Assembly as sturdily as possible. But that doesn't make £500k! I know. The rest goes on making awesome rewards (20%), Indiegogo fees (4%-9%) and tax (10%)."

Awesome rewards!?

11/11/13, 4:09 AM

Witney History said...
On the video mentioned in previous comment:

"It's all the best bits of church, but without the religion, and awsome pop songs"

Sadly, I did not make it further than 13 seconds; not because of issues of sensibilities religious or otherwise, it was just too reminiscent of the MinusIQ spoof on sleepthinker (but with a donate button).

11/11/13, 4:38 AM

onething said...

Life of Pi is indeed a beautiful book. I shall pass the quote about agnostics to my husband...

I might try to catch more of the words later, but my translation of the words on the screen is
"Oh, You Wide Open Prairie"
sung by the choir of the Moscow Prairie (steppe) Monastery.

If you thought it was beautiful, go to a Russian Orthodox Church sometime.

11/11/13, 7:29 AM

g downs said...
I once had an experience as a young man that left me concerned for my own family members as concerns the then unconsidered term 'biophobia'.

I was invited to have dinner with my parents and younger siblings. I had my own place by then. It had been several days since I'd seen them all. There was a bird that had nested in a hanging flower basket on the porch. We had been watching the eggs to see when they would hatch. Well, they hatched while I was away, and then the family cat promptly killed the mother bird. And there was no other bird feeding the (2) chicks.

My mother told me about the situation. The chicks hadn't eaten in two days. The poor naked, featherless things were screaming there little heads off. I couldn't believe no one had done anything about this. Two adults (one of which was a hunter and fisherman who had gutted more than a few deer) and three nearly grown boys all apparently perfectly willing to let these birds starve to death. (or more likely die of dehydration)

Raising the birds was out of the question, that was pretty obvious. So I immediately removed the birds from the nest and ended their lives as quickly and painlessly as possible. It would not have been MY preferred method, but the method I chose meant an instantaneous and merciful death for the birds.

My disgust was reserved for my family that night.


11/11/13, 10:16 AM

Marcello said...
"Finally, many western proponents of veganism (I'm not having a go at veganism in general btw), also I observe spring from a similar biophobic disposition. "Animals have to die!!! eating meat is therefore BAD!!!"

As far I can tell it usually goes something like this: sheltered women/men eventually face the fact that getting meat and such actually entails snuffing cute animals, decide they do not want anything to do with that and eventually find like minded people. The ensuing group dynamics, as often is the case, tend to bring out the worst in people and it turns into something like "we are the only good guys, we are the only true altruists, people who disagree with us are monsters/bad/evil/selfish".Hence comes the berating of those who disagree with them. With the caveat that there is a lot to be said about the lack of sustainability of the modern meat industry I am not sure things were in proportion any better in the past as far the treatment of animals went. One only has to take a look at how pre-industrial (well, it lasted into WW2) armies on campaign treated horses; being worked to death and then being turned into soup was an all too common fate.
Once we revert back to what will be a rather more violent society and one in which animals being butchered and used for transportation are common sights I suspect veganism will fade away or be confined to some religious sect as people will get used again to brutality.

11/11/13, 12:19 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

Several thank yous.

To Agent Provocateur for the book recommendations.

To Cherokee Organics, aw shucks.

To all the people who have contributed to the thread on how to kill a chicken.

11/11/13, 1:10 PM

Rita said...
I read somewhere that it was a Papal legate who originally said "Kill them all, God will know His own." Most interesting place I have seen the quotation was a news photo of a Lebanese militia member, identified as Druse, wearing a t- shirt with the usual version "God will sort them out."

Sometimes the squeamish kind of compassion militates against actual compassion. When I used to have chickens we had bantam hens who had no sense about how many chicks they could actually rear. Then would hatch 12-15 chicks but as they grew, some were unable to shelter under mom at night. They would get weaker and unable to keep up as mom and siblings foraged. A day or so later I would find a pathetic little dead chick. I knew that the merciful thing would have been to kill the stragglers quickly, but I just couldn't.

@ Deborah--I know that homo in homophobia is Greek for same rather than Latin for man, but many people don't-- anthrophobia would work quite well. It can be funny sometimes, weekend warriors struggle to the top of some landmark to seek human free wildness, only to find that dozens of others have already arrived by an easier route.

11/11/13, 2:53 PM

Bogatyr said...
I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that was very close to nature, so I guess I escaped biophobia. Even so, in adult life, I became very detached from the natural world, until I had to make a conscious effort to realise what was happening, and to start taking corrective action. In fact, it may well have been around that time that I started reading the Archdruid Report. I'm not sure which came first....

@Ruben Thanks for posting the link to the wood lathe. I've spent quite a lot of money over the last few years acquiring old-fashioned tech, the latest being a hand-crank grindstone I bought on eBay this evening for the vast sum of £7.50. I don't know how to use most of it, but I figure that having the tools then learning how to use them is better than knowing how to use them but not having them...

@Juhana: most of what you write is really interesting. I posted links a while ago to research papers supporting your statements on cultural differences, but for some reason they weren't put through. Anyway, I'll find out for myself soon, when I move to St Peterburg (Russia, not Florida) in the New Year. I hope to do some Orlov-style investigation into how Russians coped with collapse. If any readers have questions they'd like me to pursue, post them here...

Still talking to Juhana: I enjoyed the link to the song about the steppes. When I think of the steppes, however, I tend to think of Zaparozhia - which, in view of the discussion here of warbands etc is perhaps not such a bad model. This short clip is kind of what I have in mind! JMG, perhaps you'll consider the Zaparozhian sietch when you come to write on the topic!

@Justin Wade, I first encountered vipassana 8 years ago, and had experiences very similar to yours. Oddly, although it led me live a life far less attached to material things and, I think, to be far more compassionate, I have never in my adult life been subjected to so much abuse from fellow Westerners. It's the only time I've ever been subject to unprovoked physical attack. I suspect the rejection of western norms led to repressed emotions being stirred up....

11/11/13, 3:30 PM

Bogatyr said...
By the way, I'm astonished not to have seen any comments yet on events in the Philippines. Perhaps they're in the queue, and will appear with this comment. All I can say is that I'm horrified and appalled at what nature has wrought upon the Filipinos.

I gather that as the seas warm, typhoons will become ever stronger, so we can expect to see more of this kind of disaster. I don't know if the same is true of Atlantic hurricanes.

The BBC has been broadcasting some pretty harrowing reports from the scene - is it being covered much in the States?

11/11/13, 3:53 PM

S P said...
Yes there is coverage of what is happening in the Philippines.

But let me be brutally honest. Americans have always been slightly provincial, and now combined with our own economic problems, well, there's not much we can do and as a consequence, interest wanes.

The world has changed! Americans are no longer supermen that can respond to everything in the world. We are in retreat.

The British have to get used to this as well.

11/11/13, 5:42 PM

Moshe Braner said...
I was listening to All Things Considered today (news show on USA "National Public Radio") and they mentioned that a Philippines' delegate at an ongoing international meeting about "the climate" was quite shocked at the news (no wonder), and declared that he'll stop eating until they make progress about the climate. Then the radio show mentioned the obligatory (around here) statement that "scientists say that any specific storm cannot be attributed to climate change". Made me want to yell at them that, as somebody has quipped before me, any specific home run (in a baseball game) cannot be attributed to the player being doped (with performance enhancement drugs). For those of you that live in saner countries, I should mention that some years back the US Congress wasted its time on lengthy "hearings" about the national crisis of doping in baseball.

11/11/13, 7:00 PM

Third Chimp said...
A commenter mentions the idea of patriarchy in the context of “warrior males”, which is odd since I have always thought that patriarchy is a hallmark of agriculture, not tribal culture . When we come to discuss the course of thought over long spans of human history, it might be worth some consideration of the effects of agriculture as it emerged in the very Old World. After all, agriculture and all its social implications are really new on a species time scale. Can’t biophobia (and patriarchy) arise from the kind of thinking that is necessary to practise agriculture? Control of what the earth brings forth is insane, radical thinking for the hunter-gatherer, but it leads directly to the idea of good/bad plants and the desire to tame nature. Is there no place for this in the discussion?
I sometimes wonder if you (and many others) place too much reliance on philosophical and religious explanations for human behaviour, when in fact there are more fundamental causes based on the messy, icky realities you are clearly aware of. We are bound to create more of us if the food holds out, but will probably find any number of religious and philosophical rationalizations to explain it. Maybe the restlessness to travel is merely what our species does when it gets crowded and malnourished – so the really tiny numbers who think about colonizing space are exhibiting a natural behaviour mapped onto our current situation.
I always liked Kurt Vonnegut’s “Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly, man got to sit and wonder: why why why ? Tiger got to sleep; bird got to land. Man got to tell himself he understand” Sometimes I think the evolutionary biologists have a better explanation for large scale human behaviours than what people tell each other their reasons are…

11/11/13, 7:43 PM

sunseekernv said...
@Third Chimp - re: "can't biophobia (and patriarchy) arise from the same kind of thinking that is necessary to practise agriculture?"

Another hypotheses I have is that those arise (in part) from a common mode of thinking, but that mode arises after agriculture. (which I think arises due to necessity - and not some "progress" - since faming's more work than hunting/gathering - assuming the environment will support hunting/gathering).

These best word I know for that mode of thinking is chauvinism (though that word is too modern for the "invention" of chauvinism itself). One might also call it the "cult of the warrior king". Where I think it comes from is this:
* once farming/herding becomes practiced sufficiently that it is a major part of livelihood, one has things worth stealing (stored grain, herd of animals, …).
* that level of agriculture also has a development of (private) property rights, since it's so painfully labor intensive the ethos of sharing of the hunter/gatherer is out the door.
* once crime can begin to pay, the lazy or ecologically stressed will try stealing (including killing people defending their hard won stuff) as survival - imperiling the survival of the farmers, so the farmers now need "police" to defend against freeloaders and/or desperate invaders.
* warfare now becomes important enough that specialists arise (war is now professional) and "arms races" happen, leading to larger and larger groups, not necessarily all professionals, but led/trained/deployed by professionals.
* armies work best with one, singular point of command, control and authority - (ultimately) the warrior king.
(males with greater upper body strength are more effective warriors than females, weaker men, …)
* once the warrior king assumes control, He organizes society to be to his liking:
** hierarchical control structures/models (that work so well in the army): his warrior buddies at the top, tradesmen to the rear, women and other breed stock back at camp/the city along with the rest of the property,...
** simple, uniform rules so (a) any idiot can follow them, and (b) He can more easily see if people are not following His plan.
* the exegencies of war cause beliefs effective there to spread (not necessarily effectively) into other spheres of life, such as:
** bigger is (always) better
** "you're for me or against me" either-or thinking that limits alternatives
** you must obey (and support via taxes/tithes) your betters.
* the "religious sensibilities" (thanks JMG) of people change from projecting the seemingly intelligent causal agency behind every (kind of) tree, animal, force of nature important in people's lives onto beings ("Gods") who are similar to us only "more" (e.g. polytheism, including female gods) to projecting the most important thing in peoples lives - our warrior king/emperor - onto a monotheistic (male) god who is like the king, only "more" (bad-ass, e.g. "good" criteria according to the world view of the warrior king).
** Since our king has enemies, God has enemies too.
** thus there are enemies "out there" in the world
** nature is not (always) obedient, benevolent,…, so it must be an enemy.
* "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" leads to a general paranoia (and nature is one of the suspicious potential enemies).
* any priests/shamans either keep quiet, or adapt their theology to what is politically expedient/pleasing to His majesty/..., so out go references to Goddess(es) (and thence much attention to "Mother" Nature), and in come ideas of manifest destiny, divine right of kings, no more women priests, …

11/12/13, 4:51 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
About the past --

Certainly, examining the social - economic - gender - etc. structures of the past is very useful as a source of insight into the present and potential futures. However, there is a very important line between this, and the belief that we will of necessity revert to/regress to/resurrect these same structures as our resources shrink. Choose whichever of those "r" verbs reflects your own personal morals, prejudices, and views of these past social structures. Post-Roman dark age Europe was not a line-by-line rehash of pre-Roman iron age Europe. Just because it was the way things were done back before the fossil fuel boom does not mean that we will, or even should, do it that way again after the fossil fuel decline.

Equally important, our "Knowledge" about these past societies is all deeply filtered through the beliefs and prejudices of the scholars, archaeologists, and artists who present it to us. Every generation rewrites "The Past" in accord with its own own preferences and conceptions.

So, of course, look back for help in understanding humankind and the patterns of our existence. But don't look back expecting to find the future there. Some of it might look quite similar, but much of it will doubtless look very different.

11/12/13, 10:19 AM

Chris G said...
A couple timely pieces. Again, the prevalent media discussion, strangely, is confined to climate change, and ignores peak resource. I still wonder about the mismatch.

Clearly, the scale of destruction from climate change is presented as being much greater, than that from peak resource (where the latter is just a civilization's problem, the former is that of all life); therefore deserving more attention.

Notably, Gail Tverberg seems to argue that climate change won't be as bad as predicted in large part because the financial system collapse from peak oil will keep a lot of that junk in ground. Maybe, maybe not.

And I still get the feeling - it may be my projecting onto society notions of abusive authority, but if the shoe fits!! - that many among the elite imagine they'll be able to weather both problems adequately, and good riddance to all those hopelessly dependent and "entitlement-rich" plebeians. Oh well.. might makes right.
- this article takes it from a stoic point of view regarding the acceptance of death of our civilization
- Naomi Klein heavily invested as she is in social movements, suggests that we need a revolution.

Noteworthy for being two different approaches, and for what appears to be a relatively less-upbeat mainstream media account of the crisis.

To me, one of the most important things is that we actually get a correct common understanding of what is really going on and get out from under the heavy boot of the obligation to be a positive thinker.

11/12/13, 12:11 PM

DeAnander said...
@sunseekrnv interesting timeline... iirc there's some evidence in the record of Hebrew scripture for a deliberate and organised erasure of goddess figures and female prophets during a certain historical epoch (maybe one in which orthodoxy was wedded to kingly power?). But I'm out of my field here and vaguely quoting past conversations with more knowledgeable friends.

There's an interesting recent book, Catching Fire, which proposes that the practise of cooking is not only what turned habilines into protohumans and protohumans into recognisable humans -- but also that it may explain the invention of patriarchy or male supremacy. The argument is pretty cogent, or seemed so to me on first reading. I won't burn up space here reproducing it, but I do recommend the book, which is not brilliant prose but (for prehistory buffs) pretty gripping reading. It goes far to explain why male dominance is also documented in pre-agrarian or minimally agrarian cultures; worldwide, even "noble savages" who live by gathering and hunting maintain the "right" of a hunting male to beat his wife if she hasn't got supper ready when he comes home.

The formation of warrior bands seems like a natural extension of the formation of hunting bands (even chimps band together to hunt, e.g., colobus monkeys, though the calorific payback is slender enough that they only do so casually and not as an all-day affair). If the payback were significant (large hauls of stored food, captive slaves, etc) then specialisation and full-time brigandage might be adaptive, at least in the short term; and the short term, when talking about empires and civilisations, is pretty long from a human point of view. Many generations might continue to see advantage and prosperity in a king-centric, warlike, brigandly lifeway before the inevitable overshoot and rot of Empire kick in.

As to brutality making a comeback -- it never left. It just moved farther away from view; instead of seeing sickly, starving mill workers languishing in misery in your own home town, they are tucked away in Bangladesh or an FTZ in Mexico. Out of sight, out of mind... the brutal exploitation of labour hasn't stopped, it's just gone offshore. And cruelty to animals is practised on a scale so vast and so spine-chillingly industrial that I think we outdo even the brutal Victorians in our willingness and capacity to inflict animal suffering. People may, probably will, get used to seeing it up front and personal again. Maybe that's better; it at least offers a *chance* to respond with compassion and an attempt at betterment. The secrecy of our present systems of cruelty, their invisibility, is part of their wickedness.

I have to take minor issue with the the notion that "nature" has dished up the typhoon that recently hit the Philippines... Seems to me that the industrial age of fossil exploitation is what delivered this particular "gift", or at least magnified it to its record-setting stature. Frightening. Grief-inducing. Guilt-inducing.

11/12/13, 1:22 PM

Glenn said...
DeAnander said...

{snip!} worldwide, even "noble savages" who live by gathering and hunting maintain the "right" of a hunting male to beat his wife if she hasn't got supper ready when he comes home.

Actually, one of the things that appalled Anglo Europeans the most in the native North American nations was the _lack_ of beating women and children. Yes, women worked much harder than most men; but they were not abused or beaten at the time of first contact.

It is telling that many Anglo women captured by aborigines declined the opportunity to return "home" when it was offered. It would seem they preferred the drudgery of primitive living to the luxurious life as the spouse of a wife beater.


Marrowstone Island

11/12/13, 4:49 PM

KL Cooke said...

"One might also call it the "cult of the warrior king". Where I think it comes from is this:"

I think you're on to something with this hypothesis. It needs to be expanded into as book.

11/13/13, 1:21 AM

Phil Harris said...
You wrote
"So, of course, look back for help in understanding humankind and the patterns of our existence. But don't look back expecting to find the future there. Some of it might look quite similar, but much of it will doubtless look very different."

Yes, sounds about right. Somebody said life is a drama not a process. Drama does not however subsist in thin air (for example every process can only proceed within physical parameters), and JMG I think also suggests that there is some handing on and accumulation of knowledge. I quote my own understanding for example that though writing and arithmetic can be and were re-invented many times and in many places, there probably was only one wheel and one (concept of)alphabet, and maybe one 'zero'. We could guess many more significant tools similarly will not get lost.

Much will be lost of course.


11/13/13, 2:05 AM

Pat said...

Dear JMG,
Did you see the post at:s

Wonderful is showing how language can manipulate the reality.

11/13/13, 6:06 AM

Marcello said...
"A couple timely pieces. Again, the prevalent media discussion, strangely, is confined to climate change, and ignores peak resource. I still wonder about the mismatch."

Tackling climate change can be packaged as BAU lite with hybrids and solar panels.It may not be true but at least it can be sold that way to the mainstream.
Peak resources is basically "we are screwed".

"- Naomi Klein heavily invested as she is in social movements, suggests that we need a revolution."

The cluelessness of what passes for thinking on the left is sometimes downright embarrassing. How the occasional protest is supposed to stop a mechanism ultimately fueled by billions of people clamoring for jobs, better pay etc. and for whom environmental concerns are secondary is not clear to me. The great masses of people are not going to start a revolution so they can get less stuff than before, more expensive gas and so on.
And by the way, Occupy has evaporated while neither abolitionism nor the civil rights movement were really pushing against capitalism most basic impulses in the same fashion degrowth would.

"Maybe that's better; it at least offers a *chance* to respond with compassion and an attempt at betterment. The secrecy of our present systems of cruelty, their invisibility, is part of their wickedness."

I disagree. I believe that it is precisely the fact that people are removed from butchery and such that causes them to recoil away from it once they get a glimpse.
The little girl whose only contact with animals has been the puppy eyed dog may turn into an animal rights activist once she get a glimpse behind the curtain, often of the self righteous "all humans are nazis" (except us enlightened few of course) sort.
On the other hand if you grow up being exposed to animals being slaughtered, used as prime movers etc and for that matter to humans at bottom of the hyerarchy not being treated particulalry well then the treatment of animals usually does not register on the radar screen.

11/13/13, 10:45 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Frankel)

Not all tribal societies subsist by hunting and gathering, and vice versa. Some hunters and gatherers are organized in bands that are smaller than a tribe. Some tribal societies have horticultural economies (Iroquois, Papua New Guineans) and many are nomadic herders (Israelite tribes, Iron Age Celts, Bedouin).

I probably should have used the term "male dominance" rather than "patriarchy" in my earlier comment.

11/13/13, 10:47 AM

Justin Wade said...

That is a horrifying story. It reminds me of the story about a neighbor of mine in upstate New York that took a shotgun to baby foxes.

Why was letting their fate befall them out of the question too? (Or rather, why insist on being their fate and feeling shock and disgust that no one else had not taken that initiative?)

11/13/13, 7:37 PM

Brendan Mobert said...
I get down on gravity because it was almost there. Very little in the movie was impossible; it was mostly just very improbable. And I think it's because they got so so close that people, like myself, badmouth it.

it's like the uncanny valley in character animation: they're so close to making it human that it turns out looking less acceptable than if the model were more like toy story.

Just MHO.

11/22/13, 2:22 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
As to the historical validity of Jesus, the strongest proof of his existence is the work of Papias. Papias was able to interview first hand witnesses of various Apostales and second hand accounts of Jesus himself.

His work has been lost, but his work was quoted and referenced several times.

11/27/13, 11:00 AM