Archive for the anthropology Category

Corporate claustrophobia, office parties and sheer frivolity

Posted in analysis, anthropology, capitalism, comedy, consciousness, corporations, corporatism, corporatocracy, economics, economy, humor, humour, labour, Orwell, sociology, Thoreau, work with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2013 by jtoddring

Manic, rude, cut-throat and insane – yes, corporate culture is just lovely. No wonder two thirds of the people have one foot out the door – and the other third are looking for an exit. See the films, The Corporation, Office Space, and Brazil, if you want to better understand the corporate world. They pretty much sum up the general norm. There are stellar exceptions, of course, but they are the exceptions which prove the current rule. The Office of Circumlocution that Dickens satirized, the wit of Thoreau and the nightmares of Orwell, Huxley and Kafka, all presaged the pathologies of bureaucratic corporate society, more than we generally care to admit. Something has to give. Which brings me to the topic of tonight’s discussion: office party attire, and other inanities.

Lea, my belle, was asking what I’m going to where to the office party tomorrow night – I said I’ll wear anything she likes; but I draw the at wearing a thong and a kilt. I’ll wear a kilt, but no thong, sorry. Actually, I wear the same thing everyday, so my wardrobe concerns are pretty minimal – as in, zero. But I do like the kilt idea.

No, I haven’t been drinking – just high on dishwasher fumes, I guess. They must be putting a new chemical in that dishwasher detergent. We’ll have to get more of that.

It does make me think, however, to return to the central subject matter of corporate office party attire, that it might be a good idea to have an international wardrobe day once a month for every workplace. It might lighten things up to see three hundred pound Fred Jones in a sarong or Janet in a Fez – and it could broaden cultural awareness while softening the death-grip of super stress and stuffiness, and bring a breath of fresh air – in more ways than one!

But then, I think that Margarita Mondays should start at 2:00, so my business advice may be a little too much on the bohemian side for most managers and executives.

Margarita Mondays from 2:00-8:00, and Frosty Beer Fridays, 2:00-10:00…. We start and end the week with short days, to ease the strain; cut the work week to 34 hours; and increase productivity by increasing moral and decreasing stress – sounds good to me.

And how about 20 minute chair massages, or foot massages – your choice – for all staff, once a week, scheduled at your leisure and convenience? Really, the stress reduction and the improved energy and concentration that would result would increase productivity more than sufficiently to compensate for the minimal up-front expense outlay, I am convinced.

The entire corporate world and the broader economy and culture need a major renaissance and re-thinking, if not a revolution, but these tiny ideas could be some very small steps to injecting a little more life into what tends more often than not to be a rather staid, stolid and stultifying environment. I tell you, people are going to start speaking in involuntary alliteration if this keeps up without a change!

But we’re getting way to serious here for this little discussion. Time for more frivolity!

Take it away Fozzy!

Whoops – I am now told that I have misspelled the name of Fozzie Bear! Stop the presses! We must rectify this immediately! We definitely do not want to upset the Muppet fans! They are a rowdy bunch! And you certainly don’t want to see Animal upset! (Keith Moon RIP.)

Sorry Fozzie!

December 10, 2013

New studies show babies have basically decent impulses and are strongly driven by moral imperatives

Posted in analysis, anarchism, anthropology, books, class, common ground, consciousness, democracy, elite, empowerment, freedom, Hobbes, inspiration, Kropotkin, libertarian, libertarian socialism, must-read, people's movements, philosophy, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, politics, psychology, reading, science, social theory, sociology, the world's other superpower, truth with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by jtoddring

More research shows once again that compassion, empathy and mutual aid, and an instinct toward cooperation, are innate in human beings, confirming what the great Russian biologist and anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin had already amply demonstrated over a hundred years ago, in his monumental work, Mutual Aid. My but our cherished ideological self-deceptions die slowly.

The dark view of human nature presented by Hobbes and many others, is still alive and well, despite the growing mountain of evidence to the contrary. The ideology of social Darwinism, hatched by Herbert Spencer, and not, emphatically, by Darwin himself, still holds considerable sway, especially among the power elite, to use C. Wright Mills term, who use this grand self-deceit as a rationalization for their callous and frankly sociopathic behaviour.

But, as Chomsky has said, the great majority of people have basically decent impulses. Since this is the case, and since those who gravitate to positions of great power tend to be power-mongers and sociopaths, far more often than altruistic benefactors or true leaders, we should question our learned obedience to government and other elites and power structures, and trust our own common sense, and ourselves, far more.

J. Todd Ring,
November 18, 2013

Mexico City: A study in impermanence, and a lesson to us all

Posted in activism, alternative, alternatives, analysis, anthropology, collapse, consciousness, conservation, crash, disaster, ecological crisis, ecology, empowerment, end-game, global warming, Mexico, must-read, political economy, politics, politics of oil, post-carbon, social theory, sociology, sustainability, tipping point, truth with tags , , on October 19, 2013 by jtoddring

pablo lopez luz photographs the concrete waves (or carpet, as he puts it) of Mexico City


The unbelievably sprawling concrete carpet of Mexico City seen in these photos make me think… Gorgeous country, beautiful culture and people, horrible government, amazing capital city – but utterly unsustainable, as most cities are. Watch for the ruins – like those in Palenque or Tikal, the ruins of the fallen, once-great cities of the Maya, now covered over by jungle.

Watch for the ruins of most of our present sprawling modern cities, as the people flee the collapsing infrastructure, brought on by our own unwillingness to live in ecological balance.


Return to nature? We will soon have no choice. As Matt Stein, Ronald Wright, Jared Diamond, David Suzuki and many others have told us, we are bringing on a collapse of our civilization, due to our ecological neglect. We will go back to nature, and learn once again to live more simply, as well as more richly, rest assured. Some of us will do it voluntarily, and with foresight. Others will be forced into it, by necessity as infrastructure breaks down.

Foresight is always the wiser path.

The work to protect nature and all life on earth must go on, of course, and so too must we work towards a sustainable society, both sociologically and ecologically. But we must now also man the life boats. The ship is sinking. Of that, there is no longer any doubt. Human beings will carry on, but not without some major challenges ahead. It is time to face the music, and deal with the facts as they are, and not as we wish them to be.

J. Todd Ring,
October 18, 2013

Are we alone? More importantly, are we even awake?

Posted in activism, alternative, alternatives, analysis, anthropology, books, collapse, consciousness, conservation, cosmology, crash, disaster, ecological crisis, ecology, end-game, environment with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2013 by jtoddring

The “man the life boats and head for the stars” answer to our present human dilemmas is simply delusional. We can and should explore space, but if we don’t get our act together here on this planet immediately, we’re dead – extinct: plain and simple.

A recent book seems once again to miss that point entirely, sadly, judging from an interview with the author in The Atlantic, titled, Are We Alone?

A better question might be, Are we awake? Because at present, all indications are that we are sleep-walking into our own self-annihilation, as David Suzuki, Ronald Wright, Jared Diamond and others have said.

The Atlantic asks, “What are the big intellectual questions today?” Well, we can say this much: the big intellectual questions do not include asking how we can build a space ship to fly a handful of the richest people on Earth to some fantasy space colony and leave behind billions of our fellow species and the vast majority of our fellow human beings to slowly drown in the excrement we have left as our legacy.

Even if this were technologically possible within the remaining time-span before our civilization’s infrastructure crumbles under the weight of our own self-created ecological holocaust – which it is not; it would be grossly irresponsible, inhuman, obscenely callous and cold-hearted, and unethical in the extreme.

And by the way, if the scientists who are star-struck and mesmerized by these dreams of escape into space from a world we are actively destroying, think for a moment that their seat on the grand interstellar lifeboat is secure, they had better think again.

Firstly, space colonization is, by all reasonable assessments, 50 years off, if we are wildly optimistic, and more realistically, 100 to 200 years away: but, by World Bank and other estimates, at our present pace of ecological destruction, we will be extinct in 50 years – and our civilizations infrastructure, including our capacity to build or utilize advanced technology, will have collapsed quite some time before that. So it is pure fantasy to begin with.

And second, even if this somehow did magically come to fruition, there would only be a few seats available, in all likelihood – and they would, of course, go to the super-rich who will fund such projects and who can afford the seats. The rest of us may get lip service, but will simply be left to go down with the ship. And the scientists will be shoved out the door when their job is done, have no doubt; and will be left behind like the rest of us – were such fairy tales ever to become reality at all.

But let’s return to the first point: the basic facts as to our present capacity for colonizing space.

Firstly,do we remember the project to build a self-contained and self-sustaining miniature ecosystem on earth? I forget what it was called, but it is forgotten, and not mentioned, and the reason is, that it was a complete failure. We have no idea how to set up a self-sustaining ecosystem that would support even the simplest forms of life, much less human beings.

As geneticist and environmentalist David Suzuki has said, our understanding of life is still very rudimentary. Optimism is great, but if it is not grounded in reality, in an honest assessment of where we presently stand, then it is not optimism at all, but sheer foolishness.

We are far from having the knowledge to create the life-support systems that would replicate another earth. So all such talk is grand speculation, and such feats are at least generations away, even if they are possible or desirable.

Secondly, the study of other earth-like, potentially habitable planets, or exoplanetology, is in its infancy. We are at least decades away, in all likelihood, from even discovering a potential candidate for a new planet to call home – to say nothing of finding the means to get there, and then, to successfully colonize it.

Thirdly, even if we somehow found what appears to be a perfect candidate for a second home on some distant earth-like planet, we are a century or more away, if we are lucky, from developing the means even to travel there, much less to live there.

So we are really talking science fiction here, and would be better off watching Star Trek, and munching on popcorn, than devoting serious time and energy to such things, when we are approaching impact with a civilization-shattering and possibly species terminating ecological cataclysm of our own creation.

At least if we are watching Star Trek, we are not distracting or misguiding anyone with our drivel about how we’re going to save humanity by such ungrounded fantasies of colonizing space before the ship of our civilization is sunk by our own hands.

No, if we are to have lifeboats, as we wisely should, they must be earth-bound. We need contingency plans, fall-back plans, but they will be earth-based, or they will be merely whimsical, and based in sheer self-deceit and illusion.

I would say that we have a better chance of being beamed up and rescued by friendly aliens than we have of building a starship and colonizing space in time, before our civilization collapses and such questions are mute, as the technological capacity for them has been laid to waste, even if the theoretical know-how is achieved.

Dream of the stars, but live on the earth. We will go to the stars one day, most likely, but not in this generation, and not for several generations to come – and no human beings will live to see it unless we get our act together and learn how to live on this planet, and in very short order.

The big questions today do not revolve around grand schemes of techno-fantasy and the colonization of space. They are grounded in the real world, here on planet earth.

The big questions today – aside from the perennial questions, the deeper questions, of who we are, what is real and what is the true nature of our own being – the most pressing of questions today, are these:

1. How do we survive the next 25 to 50 years without going extinct?


2. How do we live in justice, harmony and peace on this small, fragile, beautiful planet we call home?

If we fail to answer these two questions, and answer them in practice, and not just in theory, then we will have failed our children, our grandchildren, and all of our fellow human beings – not to mention the rest of the living beings we share the planet with.

And if we insist upon obsessing about other, ultimately more trivial matters, then we are either sleep-walking toward our collective suicide, or else, we are sociopathic, or simply mad.

First things first. End wars and empire. Restore or create authentic citizen’s democracy, with freedom and human rights for all. End poverty and injustice. (There is more than enough money and resources to accomplish this – it is simply a matter of will, and resource distribution.) And find ways now to live on this earth without destroying the basis of all life on the planet.

By this time, we really would have to be wilfully ignorant, if not simply self-deluding, to believe that there are other, more pressing issues – or any way around these issues, than to confront them directly.

Time to wake up.

We have run out of time for daydreams and technophilic fantasies. We need to learn how to live in peace and ecological balance on this planet, right now.

The writing is clearly on the wall. We have run out of time for obfuscations, reality-avoidance, or waiting to see what happens. It is time for decisive and clear-minded action.


J. Todd Ring,
October 18, 2013


Reflections on tumblr, facebook and social media

Posted in alternatives, analysis, anthropology, Chomsky, consciousness, empowerment, inspiration, journalism, life, Media, media analysis, net, NSA, propaganda, psychology, reading, resources, social theory, sociology, sound-bite, Uncategorized, web, wellness with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by jtoddring

Going from specifics to depth and breadth, and from particularities to universals, here are some thoughts for your consideration, for anyone who may be interested.

I’ve come to love the social networking / blogging community / window onto the web which is called tumblr. That being said, tumblr is largely what you make of it. I like the basic format of tumblr, and within that format or structure, I’ve created a flow of beautiful, interesting and thought-provoking feeds. I love the stream of art, gorgeous nature photography, science, literature, quotes, history, politics, spirituality and philosophy which flows through my tumblr window on the world daily.

I could have picked feeds on celebrity gossip, or cats doing amusing things, but I didn’t. The content I’ve chosen to let in is either beautiful or thought-provoking, or both – not trivial tripe and banality. So I am daily fascinated, or at least uplifted, by what flows through this portal onto the world – or as often as I open it up, which is more occasional than daily.

Facebook is good for providing another means of connecting or staying connected with friends and loved ones – meagre and thin as that connection may be, or as superficial or illusory – but facebook has a number of glaring faults, in my mind.

First, facebook provides data mining and surveillance aid to the NSA – how disgusting and truly revolting is that?

Second, facebook hits you in the face with obnoxious ads every time you look at it – revolting offence number two.

Third, facebook’s layout and formatting is visually ugly, boring and banal, and crudely utilitarian compared with tumblr.

Four, facebook gives you tiny little boxes of content posts, unlike tumblr, which gives you large size posts, so you can really get much more of a feel or an impression from a photo, piece of art, political poster, cartoon or other image, which is largely lost on facebook, unless you take the time to click on the image and go to a larger version.

I find the formatting of twitter even more annoying. Who can say anything meaningful in 140 keystrokes or characters? Hyper-concision gone mad – that is twitter. See Chomsky on the dangers of a strictly enforced concision.

All in all, I’d say social media is a horrible waste of time and a surrogate for real relationships and real life. However, it can be used in ways that are useful, and even uplifting and life enriching.

You could say the same thing about youtube or TV – most of it is garbage, or worse than garbage: toxic sludge; and you have to be extremely selective to make it worthwhile, or even to avoid being poisoned by it.

(I hate TV, and haven’t had one in my home for years. I watch what I want from TV, when I on rare occasions I do watch it, either on Netflix or youtube, or I buy videos of the TV shows I like, and watch them  any time I want, commercial-free.)

But as far as comparing social media in their ability to handle truly life-enriching content with a minimum of commercial bastardization or constrictions, the structure and formatting of tumblr makes that easier to obtain that on facebook, I would say – and I simply like the formatting of tumblr far better than facebook – as well as the lack of ads.

I post interesting items to facebook, but I never “read” or follow it, because it’s just far too annoying. tumblr, I actually enjoy spending time on, and I learn more about art, science, history and the world while I relax and enrich my mind with beautiful images of paintings and photography at the same time.

But again, tumblr, like all social media, or the internet in general, or any media, is almost entirely what we make of it – as with life itself. If we want to obsess over celebrity gossip and sports trivia, we can do that. If we want to listen to the media presstitutes, as Gerald Celente rightly calls them, mouth the words that their corporate owners dictate to them – um, sorry, bosses, is the preferred term I suppose… or Johns – we can do that.

If we want to degrade or dumb down our minds, we can do that – and we are facilitated greatly, and eagerly encouraged by the corporate driven mass media to do just that. The Pied Piper plays daily and continuously, the sirens call, and the sleep-walking masses drool and respond in Pavlovian reaction, like obedient dogs, or sheep; as if they were well-oiled and carefully controlled machines, or puppets on a string.

We are free to fashion our own mind-forged manacles, as William Blake called them – and we can pretty them up with lace and garlands, or paint them with our own personal flourishes and filigrees, so they look ever so lovely; and we can show them off to all our friends and family, and be so proud, as we drown our minds in a tsunami of confusion, illusions, lies and deceit, or simply wander aimlessly in the wasteland of a civilization (sic) lost in a dark age – bewildered, alone, in pain, and not even knowing we are lost, much les where we are, where we have come from, or where we are going. Or, alternately, if we want to uplift, enrich and illuminate our minds, hearts and spirits, and our lives, we are free to do that.

Unfortunately, it seems that the vast majority of people want to squander their lives, and degrade their minds and themselves, rather than enrich, uplift or ennoble them. But that is their choice. I’d rather spend my time differently. Wallowing in a sea of excrement is not my idea of a good time. But to each his own.

Some people choose to spend their time “engaged” with media, listening to Fox News, CNN or Billow O’Reilly. Some would rather spend their time listening to the thoughts of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Wolf, Gerald Celente or Matt Taibbi – or listening to the words of the greatest scientists, sages and true luminaries of all time and all the world. You can choose to spend your time watching cockroaches mate, or something on a level barely above that; or you can sit at the feet of the wise, and listen and learn, and be truly enriched by it. It is your choice. There are different mental worlds we can choose to live in, and they are truly worlds apart.

Some people want to live in Disney Land; some prefer the real world.

For myself, I’d like to stick as close as I can to the real world; and within that scope, which is vast, I’d prefer to mix the bracingly real and honest, with the beautiful and uplifting. To me, anything else would either be a distraction and a diversion from what is most important in life; or worse, a degrading, mind-numbing, soul destroying descent into the darkness of a world lost in confusion and pain.

Choose wisely, I would say.

There is a difference between honey, saccharine, and arsenic. Learning to distinguish which is which, is the first step toward nourishing yourself – and also, the first step in ceasing the self-poisoning which now daily occurs, and has become routine: a banality of evil, as well as an epidemic.

Life is precious. What we do with it matters. Reflect on this, I would urge you. Or not, as you like. We are free to rise to great heights, or to sink to the lowest depths. That is entirely up to ourselves to decide. For me, I’d rather choose an upward path, however winding, seemingly slow, or at times arduous or lonely, than choose the slide down the cliff-side which has become the pervasive and profoundly abnormal norm. Life is worth more than this. And I will live it, and not simply drift through it, like a speck of foam on a great river.

Social media can be grand. It can be sordid. Or it can be simply banal. Like life, it depends on what we do with it.

J. Todd Ring,

September 25, 2013

The Mayans, the ecological crisis and the end of the world: a little sanity please

Posted in analysis, anthropology, books, collapse, consciousness, disaster, ecological crisis, ecology, environment, history, political philosophy, politics, science, sustainability, tipping point, world religions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by jtoddring

It seems like a lot of people are going to extremes with regards to the Mayan predictions – and I mean the skeptics as well as the fanatics. Some are dismissive of the Mayans altogether, while others are taking a very literal and grossly overly simplistic view, and thinking the world will end on a specific day in the near future: December 21, 2012. The Mayans never said anything of the sort – and at the same time, they were also far too intelligent, thoughtful and sophisticated in their understanding of the cycles of time for us to dismiss them altogether.

The Mayan prophecies do not speak of the end of the world in a literal sense. The Mayans said that the world has ended four times before, so clearly, they are not talking about the end of the physical world, or even the end of the human species. They are talking about the end of a civilization – a social collapse, and the end of an era. And that is something we cannot so easily dismiss, because we have seen civilizations collapse in the past – Sumer, Easter Island, and the Mayan civilization itself, for example (the Mayan urban civilization, that is). (See Jared Diamond, Collapse, Ronald Wright, A Brief History of Progress, or Mathew Stein’s When Technology Fails.) We are also seeing our infrastructure beginning to crumble, while the environmental crisis is accelerating. Clearly, the collapse of our current civilization is not something far-fetched, but a clear and undeniable possibility – and we seem hell-bent on ensuring that it happens.

The Mayans were, furthermore, too subtle and sophisticated in their thinking with regards to the cycles or patterns of time to believe that things will come to an end in a single day, I would think. They mark the passage of time in great cycles of 500 years, and larger cycles of roughly 26,000 years. To think that the Mayans believed everything would end on a single day would seem to me like a gross over-simplification, and a serious misunderstanding. It would be akin to Christian fundamentalists taking an extremely literal reading of the Bible, and believing that the world was literally created in seven days.

I would say it would be unwise to be categorically dismissive of the BIble, just as it would be equally foolish and confused to take it on an overly simplistic or literalist reading or interpretation. The same is true for the predictions of the Maya and their rich and unparalleled calendrical knowledge and understanding of the cycles of time. We do have the intellectual capacity, one would hope, for something a little more refined and a little more subtle than a knee-jerk reaction to either reject and dismiss them out of hand, or to embrace them in a literalist and overly simplistic way.

What is likely is that the Mayans meant that December 21, 2012 would mark the beginning of the end for a certain civilization or world order – ours – and the beginning of its collapse and replacement by a new civilization. The changes that they predicted may come swiftly, but they are not likely to come all at once, in the span of a mere 24 hours. It is possible, but it is unlikely. But that doesn’t mean that the Mayans were wrong – it means we shouldn’t be so crude and sloppy in our thinking, or so presumptuous or arrogant.

Consider this. The Maya had predicted for centuries that on a given year, month and day, one cycle of 500 years would end, and another cycle of 500 years would begin. They said that on that day, the balance would shift from light being predominant, to darkness being predominant. This was a prediction that had been passed on for generations. Well, as it turned out, the prediction coincided to the day with the first conquistador stepping foot on the mainland – Cortez.

If we were to look at the last, say two thousand years of the history of the Americas, we would most certainly mark the arrival of the first conquistador on the mainland as the beginning of an entirely new and radically different era for all of the Americas. How did the Mayans foresee this great shift, and predict it for hundreds of years in advance? Surely we cannot look at this fact and then dismiss the Mayans. Somehow, they have made stunningly accurate predictions, and although we cannot understand how that was possible, it is proven beyond any doubt. To dismiss the Maya considering this, would simply be irrational in the face of the evidence.

Take acupuncture as another example: we don’t know how acupuncture works, and Western medicine is baffled by Traditional Chinese Medicine, which gave rise to acupuncture, but one thing we do know for certain: acupuncture works. It is the same with the Mayan predictions: we cannot understand how they could make such startling accurate predictions, but we know for certain that they have. Therefore, although we may not understand it, we cannot dismiss the predictions of the Maya when they have demonstrated such stunning accuracy in the past.

What is the scientific approach? The truly scientific approach would not be to say, well, nobody can predict the future, so the Mayan prophecies must be rubbish. No, the scientific approach would be to look at the actual evidence, and not make foregone conclusions. And what does the evidence say? The evidence says that somehow the Mayans were able to predict major shifts or bifurcation points, major junctures in time, with stunning accuracy. Just because this does not fit into our current theory or ideology does not mean it is wrong. The facts are the facts, and the scientific approach is not to dismiss the facts when they discomfortingly fail to conform to our theories, but to change our theory and our view to conform with the facts. Anything else is pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-scientific, and is pure bigotry and blind dogmatism and ideological fixation. The facts say that the Mayans were able to predict certain major changes in history, centuries before they happened. Our theories and our views obviously need modification. But more immediately, the facts require that we take an attitude towards the Mayan predictions which is one of curiosity and respect, and not derisive dismissiveness.

Consider another example: gravity. We know that gravity exists, and we know that it works, but scientists still don’t really understand how it works. But simply because we don’t know how gravity works doesn’t mean we say, well, gravity must not be real. Again (to belabour the point for the benefit of the chronically closed-minded and pseudo-scientific) the same is true for the Mayan predictions: we don’t know how they are possible, but we know that they were correct. Do you “believe” in gravity? No, nobody “believes” in gravity – you don’t have to: just drop an apple, or trip on the stairs, and it is proven. The broken nose and the bruised apple are proof enough. Belief has nothing to do with it. Believing or not believing in the Mayan prophecies is the same: they are proven accurate; and it is evidence, not belief, which is all that matters.

Furthermore, considering that not only the Maya, but also the Hopi, the Ojibwa, and many other native peoples have predicted essentially the same thing – that there would come a time when the people become wooden, and lose their natural feelings of empathy and compassion, caring and responsibility for one another and for the broader web of life, and that as a result, calamity would follow, and their civilization will collapse – and considering that is now obvious that we are fulfilling such predictions, it would seem very unwise to disregard their warnings. Complacency, now as always, is a much greater danger than is precaution. We don’t have to run screaming for the hills, but we do need to deal with our environmental crisis, or our civilization will surely collapse, exactly as predicted – maybe not in a single day, but over the course of the coming decades or years.

Consider the fact that other native elders are on record for having predicted, before the start of the first Persian Gulf War in Iraq, that it would be a horrible environmental disaster, as well as a humanitarian one: and they said they had had visions of a black rain falling from the sky. Well, what happened? Saddam Hussein’s troops set fire to the Kuwaiti oil wells when they retreated, and black rain fell across the region. How do we dismiss such proven predictions?

In fact, we should have listened, and prevented war with Iraq. Let those who have ears hear. Let those who have eyes see. The deaf blind will have to accept that they will continue to fall into ditches and injure themselves, for they are heedless, and cannot be guided or forewarned. Pity them for their stubbornness and ignorance.

Consider the most famous proven prediction of all, or certainly one of them. Months before the assassination of JFK, Jean Dixon repeatedly warned the White House that the president’s life was in danger. She particularly urged him not to travel to Texas during that period of time. How such things are known, we do not know – but we know that some people at least do have such fore-knowledge of events: knowledge which transcends mere perspicacity or ordinary foresight.

Consider the stories told for generations by a certain native tribe in Northern Canada about a certain lake, which they said was very evil, and which they warned the people to avoid at all costs, without exception. The native people living nearby had a prediction, a prophecy, that one day men would come and take stones from the lake, then they would use those stones, and a large bird would then fly and drop fire from the sky with material from those stones. That lake is now called Uranium Lake, and it was the site of the first uranium mined for the first nuclear weapons, and the first bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. How is that for uncanny? If that does not send a shiver down your spine, or at least make you wonder, then as Einstein said, you are as good as dead.  How can we dismiss such fore-knowledge when it is proven beyond all doubt?

Or consider the prophecies of the Inca, which said that if the great white brother came from across the ocean carrying a cross, there would be trouble. Well, the first conquistadors came bearing crosses, and there certainly was trouble, and a lot of it.

Considering all of this and more – and this is just the briefest list of examples, and barely scratches the surface – to be dismissive of native prophecies is simply foolish, and also irrational and unscientific. We know they knew, even if we have no idea how that is possible. Our frankly racist and ethnocentric presumptions must fall in the face of the evidence. The simple fact is: prophecy works, or at least it certainly has at certain times in the past. Just as the Western medical establishment, with its severely flawed and out-dated biological-reductionist and mechanistic medical model has been forced to admit that acupuncture works, despite not being able to understand it, so too must all seriously scientific or even rational modern people admit that prophecy is real – whether that is baffling to us or not – and the Mayans in particular have proven their accuracy in these matters.

Considering the way we are undermining the basis of life on earth, and pushing our civilization to the point of collapse as a result, it would seem unwise, if not simply foolish to dismiss the Mayan predictions entirely. At the same time, to think that the world will end on a certain day this month, is in all likelihood foolish as well. The reality is somewhere in between, in all probability, and we had best heed the warnings of the Maya, and take care of our environment, or we will see, not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it, and the collapse of our civilization. And that may be closer than we think.

It is time for us to get it together, environmentally speaking, and make some very real and urgently needed changes now, or bear the consequences of our apathy and denial. This world order will most definitely end. But that will not be the end, but only a new beginning. And the sooner this predatory, anti-ecological, suicidal and grotesquely unjust order ends, the better.

Of course I could be wrong, and it is conceivable that the Mayans somehow foresaw a cataclysmic event that would happen on a certain day, which would wipe out our civilization – if not instantly, then over the months that follow – and many millions or billions of people with it. That would be horrific to contemplate, but it is possible – anything is possible. It is, however, extremely unlikely.

What is not unlikely however, and what is in fact absolutely certain, is that if we do not change course, we will continue to drive ourselves into the ground, through a simple lack of common sense and ecological wisdom, until our infrastructure collapses under the weight of a crisis we have created for ourselves, and our civilization itself collapses. If that happens, then billions of people will suffer greatly: and that will happen, unless we take bold and decisive action now, and without delay. But whether we see a crushing collapse of our current civilization, and have to scramble to survive afterward, and rebuild from scratch, starting with pre-industrial, medieval levels of technology, in small communities barely hanging on; or whether we make the bold moves to transform our present civilization before such a collapse, is entirely up to us.

There is no fate in this. It is a matter of choice. The power is in our hands. It is a matter now of whether we will boldly do what is obviously necessary, and make the needed changes swiftly and without delay, or whether we continue to drift on our present course until collapse hits.

We can still make a relatively peaceful transition to a new and better world, even though we will certainly have to weather a great storm of our own making which has already been set into motion; or, we can wait until change is forced upon us, in which case, the transition will be painful in the extreme.

It is our choice. Humanity will survive in either case. What is in our power to determine is how painful and traumatic, or how peaceful the transition is. But whether we make a major change, is not an option. We will do it willingly, or the environmental crisis will force it upon us.

Better to act freely, and with foresight, and now.

And you don’t have to be a prophet to see that.

December 17, 2012

The schizoid nature of the Western world: Overcoming the root paradox of Western civilization – and our own minds

Posted in analysis, anthropology, Buddha, Christianity, common ground, consciousness, cosmology, empowerment, freedom, history of Christianity, inspiration, life, peace, philosophy, Plato, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, quotes, religion, religious philosophy, resources, science, social theory, sociology, spirituality, theology, truth, world religions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2011 by jtoddring

The Western world is still trapped in a paradox and a self-contradiction of our own making: we are schizoid with regards to the body, the material world and to our physicality. On the one hand, we have, as people of the modern world, embraced our physicality, and even gone headlong into a love-affair with it, and are absorbed and engrossed in physicality, materialism, consumerism and the sensuous – fascinated and engrossed by the mere surface of things. On the other hand, we still retain the legacy of more than two thousand years of Judeo-Christian distrust, contempt, fear and loathing of the physical, and seek to avoid, escape transcend or be rid of the physical and all its perceive evil and limitations. Again, we are entangled in a paradox and a self-contradiction of our own making. To resolve the paradox and end the war that rages within us, and that we inflict outwardly upon the world in our confusion and pain, we must go to the roots, and reflect deeply.

Because we are not fully at home with either the spiritual or the physical, there is a pervasive alienation and gnawing discontent across the modern world – we are in a perpetual state of exile, always unconsciously nostalgic for paradise lost, longing or home, and always searching, restless, uneasy and hungry within. This alienation and inner hunger in turn drives the consumerism, voyeurism, escapism and quiet despair which plagues the modern world, and which in turn creates and underlies the ecological imbalance and devastation, injustice and war that is tearing the world to pieces, and threatens to extinguish all hopes for a bright future for humanity – or any future at all. To resolve this deep-seated paradox that lies at the heart of Western and Westernized civilization, and also within ourselves, is not only to heal our own fractured souls, but to begin to heal the world. But if we are to resolve the paradox, the internal contradiction, the war within, we must first understand it.

The root problem is a perceived duality or division between spirit and the flesh, or mind and matter, consciousness and the material world. Such a duality does not exist – other than in the fantasy world of our own imaginings. To redress the imbalance that we live under and within, we cannot simply go to one side, and reject one half of the infinite knot of interdependence which is the ground of being and the nature and fabric of existence. We have tried that for over two millennia, and that method has failed, and failed miserably and utterly. We cannot reject one half of our existence and ever hope for peace, for wisdom, for joy, for happiness, or even for basic sanity. Body and mind are one. Spirit and the flesh are not separate. Consciousness and the material are not two, but inseparable. When we begin to realize this, we will begin to be free, and we will begin to live in peace, and in the fullness of our being. Jesus and the Buddha, Shankara and the Kabbalah, and all of our greatest sages, prophets, mystics and visionaries have seen this, and have tried to rouse us from our disturbed and discordant slumber, but we have not yet listened, have not yet had ears to hear.

“We may therefore regard matter as being constituted by the regions of space in which the field is extremely intense… There is no place in this new kind of physics for both the field and matter, for
the field is the only reality.” – Einstein

“The perception of a division between self and other is a kind of optical delusion.” – Einstein

“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form.”
– The Heart of the Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom

“When the two become one, then you shall see.” – Jesus

How do we proceed to rectify the situation, to restore wholeness, peace, basic sanity and clear vision? There are many ways we can approach the question, the essential paradox of not only our civilization, but of being itself, but ultimately, we must realize this: if we wish to transcend the physical, we can only succeed by embracing it; and if we wish to fully embrace the physical, it will not be possible until we have realized its transcendent nature. When the two become one, then you shall see.

If we wish to embrace the physical and live with a richness of sensory experience – which, it would seem, a majority of people in the modern world, both East and West, North and South, now wish to do, and passionately so – then we shall have to realize the true nature of the physical: which is the true nature of being. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. If you believe that things are concrete and inherently existing “out there,” separate from yourself, then you are living in an illusion, and only pain can come from illusion. We are still dwellers of the cave of shadows, to use Plato’s analogy. It is time we ventured out into the light of day.

Unity and diversity are inseparable – they are two sides of the same coin: this is the union of opposites which is the heart of being, and the very fabric of existence. “Things” and beings are not two but one. When it is realized that the two are one, then the physical can be embraced without risk of getting lost in grasping, confusion, and the pain and suffering that inevitably arises from attachment and clinging, which in turn arises only from the illusion of duality, the illusion of separation. Until the unity of being is discovered, any attempt to embrace the physical or the sensory, material world, will be fraught with suffering, anxiety and fear. “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.” Find the real within the heart of being, and the world is transformed from a mixture of pleasure and pain, fear and delight, into a paradise of open-hearted, unqualified joy – the peace that surpasseth all.

Until the non-duality of being is seen and realized, it is wise to live with as little clinging and grasping attachment as possible, and instead, cultivate a simple appreciation for what is, along with an open heart and a presence of mind. These qualities or states of mind will not only allow for much more happiness and peace, but will open the door to wisdom, and to seeing. Life can be enjoyed. And it will be enjoyed much more when delight replaces craving, and appreciation replaces attachment. Until the wisdom of directly perceiving the non-dual nature of being dawns in our minds, this is the course of the wise, or simply the sane path of life: the path of peace.

Alternately, if we wish to transcend the material and the physical, and find solace or salvation, illumination, peace or joy in the transcendent realm of the spirit, then we will have to sooner or later come to terms with the body and the material, for the two are one, and to reject the one is to miss the other. Peace is not found or attained through war, and the war within is what prevents us from seeing, and therefore from experiencing and knowing and being peace.

To emphasize the spiritual over the material, or consciousness over the purely physical, is the safer and also the more direct and more intelligent path to the resolution of the paradox and the solution to life’s riddle, generally speaking, although there are always exceptions, depending on the particular psyche of the individual and what works best for him or her. But to embrace and pursue or dive deep into the life of the mind and the spiritual is not necessarily to reject, banish or despise the physical and the material. To have contempt and disdain for the material and the physical is to miss the truth entirely, and to be forever at one end of a yo-yo, trying to maintain that precarious position through sheer will, when that position is artificial and impossible to sustain, since it is based in delusion: the delusion of duality. It is like trying to find your nose by cutting off the rest of your head. It doesn’t work. (The analogy is poor, for that which we are seeking, which we do not yet understand, is that which is All in all, and not merely a part among other parts – but the violence we do to ourselves by denying one half of the inseparable unity of being is accurately, if in an understated way, represented here.)

If we want to transcend the physical and material limits of time and space, our bodies or the world, then we shall have to embrace these, and not flee them. This is the fact. You can hypothesize and theologize `till you’re blue in the face, lacerate yourself with infinite cuts from the lash and your own self-flaggellation, lay on beds of nails and eat nothing but a grain of rice for eons, but you will not find the truth, nor will you find true transcendence or the depth or heights of the spiritual with such a deluded, dualistic and one-sided view. Contrary to the maxim of Orwell’s nightmarish depiction of our possible future, war is not peace, and neither does war lead to peace. War neither leads to wisdom, and war is what we have been practicing for some millennia now.

If we wish to transcend the physical, we shall have to embrace it – not by chasing after it, nor by clinging desperately and fearfully to it, but by simply allowing it to be, with openness, compassion and a calm abiding that can begin to see through the illusion of duality, division, alienation and separation. (The exile from paradise exists only in our minds. It is our forgetfulness of what is real that is our banishment, and we did that ourselves – so long ago, that we have forgotten the act which we even then misunderstood. Genesis is what we may call, a parable. It is not to be taken literally!)

Only that which we embrace can we transcend. Yes, we may be afraid of getting lost in that which we embrace, and that is a risk, but to shun or hate that which we wish to transcend will only lead us into a defensive and paranoid mode of being, in which neither the truth nor the depth or height or breadth or reality of spirit or being can be seen or found.

That which is rejected is secretly clung to, for to push away is to grasp and attempt to throw, but the grasping remains the central and underlying fact, as all zealots and Puritans and fundamentalists should some day come to realize. To reject is to be reactionary, and when we are reactionary, we are not free or transcendent of that which we are rejecting, but tied to it through our reaction to it, like Pavlov’s dog, who is ever bound to the spell of the bell. It is a conundrum that cannot be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it, to paraphrase Einstein. This koan, like all koans or paradoxes, must be resolved by discovering a deeper, broader, higher or more subtle way of seeing, so that the paradox is no longer an entanglement, but naturally resolves itself. When the bubble of our illusions burst, we may cry, or we may feel afraid, but if they burst at a deep enough level, and we see they were merely illusions, then laughter and joy will arise, and there will be a great and indescribable relief. At the very least, bursting the bubble of our illusions, however we may respond to it, removes more layers of fog from our minds, and opens the doors of our minds to a deeper and richer experience of reality and of life. The piercing of the clouds of illusion is the entirety of the path. Let us not be addicted to our illusions, but be glad to be rid of them.

To transcend the physical we must embrace the physical: and we do so, not by clinging to things, but by a simple openness of heart and an appreciation and compassion for what is. In that open space – which we do not create, but merely acknowledge, and allow to be – there is the ground of being, and there is the ground of our awakening. There, and there alone, will we find the path to peace, to transcendent joy, and to the ultimate truth. There is no path, in actuality, but only an opening to what is. In that opening, the truth is seen. And when it is seen, it is realized that it has ever been, that it has always been present, and that we could not have been separate from it for a moment, but only forgetful of it.

The truth is here. Open the heart and find it. Set yourself free. The truth is the key. And you hold that key, for you hold the key to your heart, and none other.


If we wish for happiness, to be of benefit or help to others, or to know the truth – that is, if we wish for richness of life, quality of life, fullness of life, a meaningful life, joy or peace; or if we want to be truly effective in helping others, and bringing them peace and happiness and freedom from suffering; or if we simply wish to know and understand the true nature of life, the world or our own being – then we must come to understand that these four elements are the keys: compassion, feeling, reflection and openness. With these four, all doors open, sooner or later – that is, all doors that are worthwhile to open – and not only are joy and peace found, but also the empowerment to be of greater help to others, and the wisdom of knowing the true nature of things. In this short meditation I have emphasized openness, but all four elements are needed to bring us to the capacity to realize and achieve these goals.

End the war now. Open the heart to what is and to all beings, and realize who you are.

Emptiness is the ultimate key. Emptiness is the doorway to fullness. It is only by being empty that we can become truly filled. Voidness is truth: and voidness is the infinite; and the infinite is the very ground of being itself – the nature of who you are, and the nature of all things. Form and emptiness are one. Neither can be reduced to the other, as the materialists and the world-rejecting spiritualists have presumed. Clinging to worldly things, or rejecting and hating worldly things, clinging to the transcendent or clinging to the material and the physical: these are two sides of the same coin, and they both represent the illusion of duality, and reaffirm the illusion of duality. Simply be, open the heart, and see what is. Let compassion and joy move you, and be not afraid. There is nothing real that can be threatened, and there is nothing unreal that exists. Open the heart, embrace life, and see.

The truth is not only close at hand, not only within you and all around you: it is all that exists.

We have been sleep-walking for some time. It is time to awake.

September 13, 2011