Archive for action

A sinking world, and sane responses to it

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2015 by jtoddring

My country is sinking like a rock (for reasons of corporate oligarchy, neoliberalism, corporate rights agreements, and an addiction to oil revenues and the politics of a resource extraction-based economy, and the thorough corporate domination of the political process), though the great majority of my fellow citizens do not realize it, lost in a stupor of denial as they are (I can think of twelve countries in the Western hemisphere which are either moving in a positive direction, or at least showing some fight – and Canada is not one of them); and so too is the greater part of the world descending, and rapidly so, into a morass of injustice and ecological suicide, to say nothing of concerns for freedom, human rights and democracy, (as well as a pervasive malady, and an epidemic, of economic fundamentalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism being the primary, and reigning, quasi-religious orthodoxies, along with other forms of ideological and even “scientific” fundamentalism, which are widespread, and far more influential today than their mirror image, which is religious fundamentalism, and an even worse epidemic of illusions of powerlessness, as well as an epidemic of apathy, denial, conformity, and undue and excessive, and frequently mad obedience to power) with only a handful of countries as the exception. How am I not to be distressed, if not anguished, and even furious, or all of the above?

All of the greatest minds and greatest spirits have echoed the same thoughts about the modern world. As David Suzuki has recently said (paraphrasing from memory), “There has never been a better time for being scared and angry….. We should get mad as hell, and then fight like hell.”

Where is the fight in us? And why should we be ashamed of being distraught with a world that is on a collision course with both tyranny and collective ecological suicide, as well as being steeped in war, violence, rampant injustice, inequality, poverty and a culture of voyeurism, vicarious living, materialism, consumerism, and a pathological aversion to the real?

As the great sociologist Erich Fromm said (again, paraphrasing from memory), “Normal only exists in relation to a profoundly abnormal norm.” “The fact that there is neurosis [or psychological strain and distress] is a good sign. It is a sign of a healthy individual, an individual that is still struggling to be fully alive, and by necessity, is struggling against a society that wishes to turn him or her into an atomaton.”

As the saying goes, “If you can keep your head when everyone around you is losing theirs – you’re not paying attention.”

Calm is good. Heart-break for the state of the world is natural. And action is vitally needed – and urgently so.

Let’s see more action, and the heart-break will fade into a memory of times past, and lessons learned.

October 7, 2015

Essential reading:

(A few among many other great books that could be included in such a list)

A Brief History of Progress – Ronald Wright

The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies – Richard Heinberg

When Technology Fails – Matt Stein

Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein

A Game As Old As Empire – John Perkins

The End of America – Naomi Wolf

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky

Year 501: The Conquest Continues – Noam Chomsky

Escape From Freedom – Erich Fromm

The Ecology of Freedom – Murray Bookchin

The Chalice and the Blade – Rianne Eisler

World As Lover, World As Self – Joanna Macy

Ancient Futures – Helena Norberg-Hodge

Brave New World Revisited – Aldous Huxley

Roads To Freedom – Bertrand Russell

Wisdom of the Elders – David Suzuki

Walden – Henry David Thoreau

On Civil Disobedience – Henry David Thoreau

The Discourse On Voluntary Servitude – Etienne de la Boite

Mutual Aid – Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin Was No Crackpot – Stephen Jay Gould, Natural History, June, 1997

The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell

What can be done?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2014 by jtoddring

What can be done? How can we help others? How can one person make a difference? Well, there are many ways, of course. Most people in modern Western society, and in many parts of the world, feel powerless today. They feel that they can’t do anything to help – they can’t do anything to change things. This is an illusion. We are never powerless. We always have some degree of power. There is always something, however large or small, that we can do.

How can we help others? We can offer a smile, a warm hello, a hand shake, a bow, a kind word, a shoulder or an ear. That may sound like very little, but it can make a world of difference. If someone is hungry, we can give them a sandwich, buy them lunch or make them a meal. And if we are enlightened, we can lead others to enlightenment. I’m not enlightened – that’s clear! – but a few people are. And in between the smallest acts of kindness and the greatest, there are many, many things that we can do.

If we are an artist, writer, musician, actor or performer, then we can lift people’s spirits, make them laugh, nourish their minds or their hearts, or give them food for thought which may be helpful. If we are a doctor or health care professional, we can heal people when they are sick – or better, help them to stay healthy and become even more healthy, vibrant, vital and alive.If we know how to build things, whether it is building homes or building a business, building organizations or building a heavenly lasagna, or building something else, then we can build things that can bring some happiness, some comfort, some peace or some joy to others.

And there is also local community activism, social activism, economic activism, share holder activism and political activism; and given the troubles and problems facing the world today, I would say that this is an important area for us to engage in as well – in our own way, in whatever way inspires us, or fits with our unique talents or disposition. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.

Ralph Nader has said that if just 1% of people took up activism as a hobby, and spent just one hour a week on it, the world would be transformed in  short order, and I think he is probably right.

Generally speaking, people are not uncaring, they’re not stupid, they’re not lazy, and they’re not ignorant – but they do tend to feel powerless, and this must be overcome. Getting together with others, and realizing how powerful we are when we work together, is part of the answer. Another part of the answer is simply to begin – get active, overcome the inertia, and simply dive in.

The great majority of people, as Chomsky has said, have basically decent impulses. Kropotkin, Rifkin and others have documented and proven the point amply, with clear and overwhelming scientific evidence. People do care – empathy and compassion are natural to human beings. It is only the few who are deeply callous, and only a rare few who are truly sociopathic and unfeeling.

The great majority of people also have a very good idea of what is going on, and human beings are possessed of a natural intelligence, an innate common sense. Common sense may seem uncommon in this age, but that is because so many people choose to follow the norm and follow the crowd, or obey authority and do as they are told without question. It is not that they lack in intelligence – it is that they choose not to use their intelligence, because they have been trained and conditioned to obey authority and follow the herd. They are more than intelligent enough to see what needs to be done, and in any event, the problems we face are really not all that complicated. We make things complicated by sticking to ways of doing things that no longer work, or that never really worked in the first place. So yes, most people know what is going on, and together, we have more than enough basic common sense and natural intelligence to deal with the problems we are facing. Again, the central problem is the pervasive illusion of powerlessness.

Sometimes, before we can help others more, or be more empowered to work for positive social change, we have to devote, at least a little time to nourishing ourselves. So with that being said, here are some thoughts on that subject, for anyone who may be interested.

I can get bogged down by worries, or by money issues, or the state of the world, but when I remember to do it, I find that a few things make a world of difference. Just simply going for a walk – getting outside, getting some fresh air, some sunshine, a bit of exercise and a change of scenery can really lift my spirits – especially if I walk in green spaces or near the water.

Going to the gym and working out, or having a steam bath or sauna, makes an enormous difference, and the YMCA is not all that expensive, and has subsidized rates. It’s worth it, believe me. Any kind of exercise will bring blood to the brain and to all organs and tissues, along with nutrients and oxygen, soothing stress and renewing our energy. Fifteen to thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise should be the norm, as a minimum, if we want to feel our best.

Yoga and meditation have been the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced, and they have probably literally saved my life. I have never experienced anything that is as powerful, and yes, anyone can do it, if you have the willingness.

Cycling is wonderful, and you can sometimes find used bikes really inexpensively, so this is an option for just about anybody who is physically able to ride a bike, and its a lot cheaper than psychotherapy or a weekly massage! The latter can be very helpful too, of course. Or acupuncture, or a whole array of holistic health therapies, including herbal medicine, which is also extremely powerful, safe and effective.

Laying on my back, looking up at the sky – day or night – helps me to put things into perspective, somehow, and lightens the load on my mind and brings me peace. Getting into nature, and getting a break from the noise and bustle and stress of modern urban life, has helped enormously.

Eating healthy food, and learning to love cooking, has been very therapeutic for me. It doesn’t have to be fancy – it can be cheap and simple, just rice and beans and a few vegetables, but it nourishes my spirit as well as my body. And if I cook for others, then it’s even better, and even more satisfying. (Nigella and Jamie, you rock, by the way!)

Listening to uplifting or soothing music is a great help – especially classical, for me. This weekend, I really felt worn down and not in the best of moods, and my favourite jazz station, Jazz FM 91, along with my cats, writing and reading, got me through it.

Practicing appreciation for every little good thing in my day or in my life, can ease the worry and the pain, and sometimes, very often in fact, turn my mood right around, and put me in a state of sheer joy, or at least bring me some peace.

Learning to be patient with myself and compassionate with my faults and limitations has been vital, and has made a big difference; and learning to be more patient and forgiving with others, even when they are annoying or rude, has helped greatly too.

Sometimes, simply taking a long hot bath with Epsom salts, makes me feel relaxed and renewed – or just sitting in the sun, or looking out the window, and having a hot cup of tea.

If stress is very high or depression is a problem, herbal medicine can help greatly. I really don’t like taking pharmaceuticals, due to risks and side-effects, but fortunately, German studies have found that St. John’s wort, an herb you can take as a tea or in capsules, is as effective in treating depression as pharmaceutical serotonin re-uptake inhibitor anti-depressants – of course, you’d never hear that on the mainstream media, but it is a fact. Motherwort and Solomon’s seal are excellent for reducing stress and also for enhancing mental clarity, as is gotu kola. And meditation has actually been found to be more effective than pharmaceutical drugs. Meditation or herbs are safe and certainly won’t hurt anybody in any case, so it wouldn’t hurt to try. And for energy, Siberian ginseng and fo ti (shu wu in Chinese, or polygonum multiflora) are extremely helpful, especially in high doses. 5-30g a day of Siberian ginseng packs a powerful punch, and the same for fo ti. Russian scientists have done an enormous amount of research into the health benefits of Siberian ginseng, and it is known in Russia to be so powerful, that not a single Russian astronaut has gone into space without taking Siberian ginseng.

Oh, I almost forgot! Great books! Great books have been a life-line. When all seemed lost, so many times, a good book turned my mood around, gave me new hope or new perspective, or simply eased the pain and soothed my soul.

But maybe above all, what has helped the most, is simply doing things that are important or meaningful to me, and just taking whatever small steps I can – no matter how small – every day.

So what can we do? Nourish ourselves, body, heart, spirit and mind; connect with others; get active and stay active; and trust our own natural intelligence. Things will take a turn for the better, and sometimes very rapidly, if we will simply make the choice to do this.

It makes me think of the wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – it’s not.” I know, it’s a children’s book, but the point remains valid. If only more books that are written for adults had such honesty, straight-forwardness and wisdom.

If we assume that things are hopeless, and nothing can be done, then we will ensure our failure. But if we think, well, maybe there is a slim chance that things can change for the better, at least in some measure – then there is hope. Then real change becomes a possibility.

There was a cartoon I saw that depicted a whole crowd of people. Each one had a little thought bubble above their heads, and each one was quietly thinking to themselves, “What can one person do?” A whole crowd of people, each caught up in their own little worlds, and each one thinking, “What can one person do?” The irony is clear. We are not alone. We are only alone if we make ourselves alone. With few exceptions, it is in our power to connect with others, and together, we have tremendous power, and everything becomes possible. This is the reality of our human existence, and you have to work very hard to deny it, and to cling to a stubborn cynicism or fatalistic stance.

But these are just some thoughts that came to mind this evening. Think for yourself. You have all that you need to make your own life decisions. We all do. Trust yourself, do what you can, and try to take joy in that, and be at peace with that. Tomorrow is another day, and there is more day yet to dawn.

March 7, 2014


No more excuses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2013 by jtoddring

We are tiny little specks, living on a tiny little speck we call the earth, which is revolving around a tiny little speck we call the sun – which is revolving around the centre of a tiny little speck of a galaxy, in a vast universe of hundreds of billions, if not trillions of galaxies in an unimaginably vast universe. If we destroy ourselves, it will be little more than the briefest flicker in one infinitely tiny little corner of the infinity of space – but it will be a great tragedy nonetheless. Let us hope we are not so foolish, nor so callous toward our fellow human beings and other living beings on this planet, to allow such a thing to come to pass.

The warning call has been sounded, as to the destruction of our only home on earth, and was made widely known by Rachel Carson, in the 1960’s – half a century ago. By the end of the 20th century, everyone knew we were in trouble. There is simply no excuse for denial or apathy now. And we know the hour is late. It is time for action.

Stephen Hawking has said that global warming is the greatest threat to human beings on earth at this time, far surpassing terrorism, for example. Terrorism kills roughly 20,000 people a year. Global warming threatens the very existence of the human species – and is already killing far more people than terrorism, through the increase in frequency and severity of storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, crop failure, wild fires, heat waves and other extreme weather patterns. It’s time for a reality check.

Yet, despite the reality of our present situation, and the clear indications of where the real dangers lie, the sirens sound day and night, screaming out the “war on terror” propaganda – which is really a war on democracy, a war of empire, a class war that is being waged by the richest fraction of a percent of the global population against the other 99.99% and upon the earth.

Reflect on these figures for a moment.

Annual deaths globally from terrorism: 20,000

Deaths per year from auto accidents: 40,000, or one death every 13 minutes – in the US alone.

Globally, automobile accidents cause 1.2 million deaths per year – more than 60 times the death toll from terrorism. But do we see a full-out war on the private automobile, and a giant, concerted push toward mass public transit and rail? Of course not. Why? Because the big oil runs the show, along with the banking and other corporate elites, and they want maximum short-term profits for themselves – the people and the environment be damned.

We are being manipulated and lied to, to state what by now should be obvious and undeniable to all.

Deaths per year due to global warming, due to increasingly frequent and severe storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, crop failures, wild fires, heat waves and other extreme weather patterns: this figure is difficult to estimate, but we know the toll is rising fast, and it already dwarfs the death toll from terrorism, by a very wide margin.

(I realize that in the United States, unlike every other country on the planet, there is still the appearance of a “debate” as to the reality of anthropogenic global warming, and a minority of Americans still do not believe it is real. I will leave that tiny fraction of the earth’s population for others to address. Here, we will speak only to those who are not quite so lost in illusions and corporate-spun lies, and who are capable of rational thought on the subject.

It should also be noted that there is a battle being waged behind the scenes, among the world’s ruling power elite, on a number of fronts. Some of the elite want to address and combat global warming, and acknowledge publicly that it is a very real and great danger. Others among the elite, including, unsurprisingly, those with deep stakes and vested interests in big oil, want to lie and conceal the facts, for the sake of short-term personal profit and gain, presumably with the belief that their money will protect them from the coming cataclysm which they themselves are helping to ensure comes to pass.

At present, unfortunately, it is the latter group who are holding the greater power, despite the views and wishes of the global citizenry. As Naomi Klein has said, in her brilliant book, The Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism still reigns. The big money, or a large and dominant faction of it, is seeking to profit in ways that they know very well will lead to unprecedented disaster – and then they plan to profit from the ensuing disaster as well. They are quite literally making a killing, and that seems to be just fine with them, sociopaths as they clearly are.

There are a few people, including otherwise intelligent observers and commentators, who loudly and vociferously and even rabidly assert that anyone who says that human-caused global warming is real, must be a paid-for hireling of the globalist corporate oligarchs. But both logic as well as the overwhelming body of evidence, leads us to exactly the opposite conclusion. The only scientists who have taken a stand to say that anthropogenic global warming is not real and is not happening, have been shown to have ties to the oil industry. The facts speak for themselves, for any who care to look at them.)

The Guardian reports that an estimated 150,000 people are currently dying from the results of global warming every year, and states further that this estimate is probably highly conservative, and the death toll is likely much higher. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan estimates the present and climbing death toll at 300,000 a year.

But even this does not adequately convey the gravity of the situation. We are quite simply destroying the basis of human life on earth – through global warming, deforestation, unintentionally causing the mass extinction of species, soil erosion, soil depletion, aquifer depletion, and the poisoning of the land, air, water and soil. We are rapidly bringing ourselves to the very brink of extinction, which the World Bank and other sources estimate may well occur in as little as fifty years or less, if we do not immediately alter our course.

And what is more, if we continue in this fashion, through our poisoning and degradation of our environment, we will make life unbearable for ourselves and for our children, long before we finally drive ourselves over the cliff and go extinct.

The “war on terror” is a smoke screen to hide the real nature and motives for the drive for a police state at home, to protect the interests of the ruling business elite against the increasingly discontent, disenfranchised and economically sinking masses; and to provide a cover for wars for oil and other resources abroad. The war on terror is a grand and truly nefarious deception, as the BBC documentary, “The Power of Nightmares,” and many other clear and honest voices, have amply illustrated.

Meanwhile, the greatest threat to human life is left unchecked, and in fact, we press ahead – at an accelerating pace – with suicidal plans to build more oil pipelines, drill more fracking wells, burn more tar sands and coal, and further enrich the corporate elite who are swimming in money from their rape and pillage of the earth and their wantonly destructive behaviour. Something has to change, clearly.

This is madness. But we cannot simply blame corrupt and inept politicians, or short-sighted, self-serving, parasitically greedy business elites – no matter how truly sociopathic their behaviour has become. We must take responsibility as well, for our part in the harm or healing done to this world – and the responsibility increases, the greater the power, or privilege, that we have.

To put things into context, we should consider this. According to UN stats, if you sleep in a bed, have clothes, no matter what condition they are in, have a phone, and have a fridge and a bank account, even if they are both empty, then you are in the top 8% of the world’s richest people. Yes, the world is a mess, and the majority of the people who will most likely read this, live within the top 20% of the richest people on the planet, whether or not they believe or can comprehend this fact, or accept it.

A few dozen countries, mainly the “leading” industrialized nations, along with Russia, India and China, produce the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming – along with producing most of the waste, and consuming most of the resources on the planet. What is wrong with this picture?

The aristocracy of the “middle class,” along with the upper aristocracy of the wealthy few, and the tiny, stratospherically rich power elite above them, together make up the richest 20% of the people on the planet – the same 20% who consume over 80% of the wealth globally, and produce over 60% of the pollution and waste. We should stop and think about this for a moment – or more than a moment: for long enough for that horrifically unjust and insanely unsustainable reality to fully sink in.

Something clearly has to change, and the problem is not primarily one of population, nor the “developing” or “under-developed” nations. The problem is a severe case of affluenza, and a serious and highly dangerous disconnection from reality, which, aside from being grossly unethical, will without question come home to haunt us if we do not return to our senses, and very soon.

Whether it is out of compassion and a sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings and other living beings on earth; or a sense of responsibility to our children and to future generations; or whether out of simple enlightened self-interest, we must come to recognize that avoidance of reality is always more dangerous than facing the truth of the matter, and we simply must change our course. We must overcome our addiction to speed, to quantity of material goods over quality of life, and the self-deceiving belief in our powerlessness and the resulting addiction to escapism, voyeurism and a chronic state of distraction and denial – so that we can live better as well as more wisely and more humanely, and so that we have a future worth living at all.

There is no question: this generation will be held responsible for our actions, and even more, for our inaction. Apathy, complacency and denial are morally unacceptable. In fact, at this time in human history, when we are racing toward an ecological holocaust of our own making, they constitute nothing less than complicity in the worst of collective atrocities. We must act now. There are no more excuses.

J. Todd Ring,
November 12, 2013

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