“It is, in the deepest sense, a privilege as well as a duty to have the opportunity to speak out — to many thousands of people — on something so important.”
Jan 29, 2017
“Life and Reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others,” philosopher Alan Watts wrote in the 1950s as he contemplated the interconnected nature of the universe. What we may now see as an elemental truth of existence was then a notion both foreign and frightening to the Western mind. But it was a scientist, not a philosopher, who levered this monumental shift in consciousness: Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964), a Copernicus of biology who ejected the human animal from its hubristic place at the center of Earth’s ecological cosmos and recast it as one of myriad organisms, all worthy of wonder, all imbued with life and reality. Her lyrical writing rendered her not a mere translator of the natural world, but an alchemist transmuting the steel of science into the gold of wonder. The message of her iconic Silent Spring (public library) rippled across public policy and the population imagination — it led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, inspired generations of activists, and led Joni Mitchell to write a lyric as timeless as “I don’t care about spots on my apples / Leave me the birds and the bees / Please!”
A woman scientist without a Ph.D. or an academic affiliation became the most powerful voice of resistance against ruinous public policy mitigated by the self-interest of government and industry, against the hauteur and short-sightedness threatening to destroy this precious pale blue dot which we, along with countless other animals, call home.
Carson had grown up in a picturesque but impoverished village in Pennsylvania. It was there, amid a tumultuous family environment, that she fell in love with nature and grew particularly enchanted with birds. A voracious reader and gifted writer from a young age, she became a published author at the age of ten, when a story of hers appeared in a children’s literary magazine. She entered the Pennsylvania College for Women with the intention of becoming a writer, but a zestful zoology professor — herself a rare specimen as a female scientist in that era — rendered young Carson besotted with biology. A scholarship allowed her to pursue a Master’s degree in zoology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, but when her already impecunious family fell on hard times during the Great Depression, she was forced to leave the university in search of a full-time paying job before completing her doctorate.
After working as a lab assistant for a while, she began writing for the Baltimore Sun and was eventually hired as a junior aquatic biologist for what would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her uncommon gift for writing was soon recognized and Carson was tasked with editing other scientists’ field reports, then promoted to editor in chief for the entire agency. Out of this necessity to reconcile science and writing was born her self-invention as a scientist who refused to give up on writing and a writer who refused to give up on science — the same refusal that marks today’s greatest poets of science.
When her older sister died in 1937, thirty-year-old Carson was left the sole provider for their mother and her two orphaned nieces. That year, she was asked to write a brochure for the Fisheries Bureau. When she turned in something infinitely more poetic than her supervisor had envisioned, he asked her to rewrite the brochure but encouraged her to submit the piece as an essay for The Atlantic Monthly. She did. It was accepted and published as Undersea — a first of its kind, immensely lyrical journey into the science of the ocean floor inviting an understanding of Earth from a nonhuman perspective. Readers and publishers were instantly smitten, and Carson expanded her Atlantic article into her first book, The Sea Around Her — the culmination of a decade of her oceanographic research, which rendered her an overnight literary success.
Against towering cultural odds, these books about the sea established her — once a destitute girl from landlocked Pennsylvania — as the most celebrated science writer of her time.
But the more Carson studied and wrote about nature, the more cautious she became of humanity’s rampant quest to dominate it. Witnessing the devastation of the atomic bomb awakened her to the unintended consequences of science unmoored from morality, of a hysterical enthusiasm for technology that deafened humanity to the inner voice of ethics. In her 1952 acceptance speech for the John Burroughs Medal, she concretized her credo:
It seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.
One of the consequences of wartime science and technology was the widespread use of DDT, initially intended for protecting soldiers from malaria-bearing mosquitoes. After the end of the war, the toxic chemical was lauded as a miracle substance. People were sprayed down with DDT to ward off disease and airplanes doused agricultural plots in order to decimate pest and maximize crop yield. It was neither uncommon nor disquieting to see a class of schoolchildren eating their lunch while an airplane aiming at a nearby field sprinkled them with DDT. A sort of blind faith enveloped the use of these pesticides, with an indifferent government and an incurious public raising no questions about their unintended consequences.
In January of 1958, Carson received a letter from an old writer friend named Olga Owens Huckins, alerting her that the aerial spraying of DDT had devastated a local wildlife sanctuary. Huckins described the ghastly deaths of birds, claws clutched to their breasts and bills agape in agony. This local tragedy was the final straw in Carson’s decade-long collection of what she called her “poison-spray material” — a dossier of evidence for the harmful, often deadly effects of toxic chemicals on wildlife and human life. That May, she signed a contract with Houghton Mifflin for what would become Silent Spring in 1962 — the firestarter of a book that ignited the conservation movement and awakened the modern environmental consciousness.
But the book also spurred violent pushback from those most culpable in the destruction of nature — a heedless government that had turned a willfully blind eye to its regulatory responsibilities and an avaricious agricultural and chemical industry determined to maximize profits at all costs. Those inconvenienced by the truths Carson exposed immediately attacked her for her indictment against elected officials’ and corporations’ deliberate deafness to fact. They used every means at their disposal — a propaganda campaign designed to discredit her, litigious bullying of her publisher, and the most frequent accusation of all: that of being a woman. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, who would later become Prophet of the Mormon Church, asked: “Why a spinster with no children was so concerned about genetics?” He didn’t hesitate to offer his own theory: because she was a Communist. (The lazy hand-grenade of “spinster” was often hurled at Carson in an attempt to erode her credibility, as if there were any correlation between a scientist’s home life and her expertise — never mind that, as it happened, Carson did have one of the most richly rewarding relationships a human being could hope for, albeit not the kind that conformed to the era’s narrow accepted modalities.)
Carson withstood the criticism with composure and confidence, shielded by the integrity of her facts. But another battle raged invisible to the public eye — she was dying.
She had been diagnosed with cancer in 1960, which had metastasized due to her doctor’s negligence. In 1963, when Silent Spring stirred President Kennedy’s attention and he summoned a Congressional hearing to investigate and regulate the use of pesticides, Carson didn’t hesitate to testify even as her body was giving out from the debilitating pain of the disease and the wearying radiation treatments. With her testimony as a pillar, JFK and his Science Advisory Committee invalidated her critics’ arguments, heeded Carson’s cautionary call to reason, and created the first federal policies designed to protect the planet.
Carson endured the attacks — those of her cancer and those of her critics — with unwavering heroism. She saw the former with a biologist’s calm acceptance of the cycle of life and had anticipated the latter all along. She was a spirited idealist, but she wasn’t a naïve one — from the outset, she was acutely aware that her book was a clarion call for nothing less than a revolution and that it was her moral duty to be the revolutionary she felt called to be. Just a month after signing the book contract, she articulates this awareness in a letter found in Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952–1964 (public library) — the record of her beautiful and unclassifiable relationship with her dearest friend and beloved.
Carson writes to Freeman:
I know you dread the unpleasantness that will inevitably be associated with [the book’s] publication. That I can understand, darling. But it is something I have taken into account; it will not surprise me! You do know, I think, how deeply I believe in the importance of what I am doing. Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent… It is, in the deepest sense, a privilege as well as a duty to have the opportunity to speak out — to many thousands of people — on something so important.
In that sense, the eventual title of Silent Spring was a dual commentary on how human hubris is robbing Earth of its symphonic aliveness and on the moral inadmissibility of remaining silent about the destructive forces driving this loss. Carson upheld that sense of duty while confronting her own creaturely finitude as she underwent rounds of grueling cancer treatment. In a letter to Freeman from the autumn of 1959, she reports:
Mostly, I feel fairly good but I do realize that after several days of concentrated work on the book I’m suddenly no good at all for several more. Some people assume only physical work is tiring — I guess because they use their minds little! Friday night … my exhaustion invaded every cell of my body, I think, and really kept me from sleeping well all night.
And yet mind rose over matter as Carson mobilized every neuron to keep up with her creative vitality. In another letter from the same month, she writes to Freeman about her “happiness in the progress of The Book”:
The other day someone asked Leonard Bernstein about his inexhaustible energy and he said “I have no more energy than anyone who loves what he is doing.” Well, I’m afraid mine has to be recharged at times, but anyway I do seem just now to be riding the crest of a wave of enthusiasm and creativity, and although I’m going to bed late and often rising in very dim light to get in an hour of thinking and organizing before my household stirs, my weariness seems easily banished.
Stirring her household was Roger — the nine-year-old orphan son of Carson’s niece, whom she had adopted and was single-parenting, doing all the necessary cooking, cleaning, and housework while writing Silent Spring and undergoing endless medical treatments. All of this she did with unwavering devotion to the writing and the larger sense of moral obligation that animated her. In early March of 1961, in the midst of another incapacitating radiation round, she writes to Freeman:
About the book, I sometimes have a feeling (maybe 100% wishful thinking) that perhaps this long period away from active work will give me the perspective that was so hard to attain, the ability to see the woods in the midst of the confusing multitude of trees.
With an eye to Albert Schweitzer’s famous 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which appeared under the title “The Problem of Peace” and made the unnerving assertion that “we should all of us realize that we are guilty of inhumanity” in reflecting on the circumstances that led to the two world wars, she adds:
Sometimes … I want [the book] to be a much shortened and simplified statement, doing for this subject (if this isn’t too presumptuous a comparison) what Schweitzer did in his Nobel Prize address for the allied subject of radiation.
In June of that year, Carson shares with Freeman a possible opening sentence, which didn’t end up being the final one but which nonetheless synthesizes the essence of her groundbreaking book:
This is a book about man’s war against nature, and because man is part of nature it is also inevitably a book about man’s war against himself.
At that point, Carson was considering The War Against Nature and At War with Nature as possible titles, but settled on Silent Spring in September — a title inspired by Keats, Carson’s favorite poet: “The sedge is withered from the lake, / And no birds sing.”
Four months later, in January of 1962, she reports to Freeman the completion of her Herculean feat:
I achieved the goal of sending the 15 chapters to Marie [Rodell, Carson’s literary agent] — like reaching the last station before the summit of Everest.
Rodell had sent a copy of the manuscript to longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn, who gave Carson the greatest and most gratifying surprise of her life. Struggling to override her typical self-effacing humility, she relays the episode to Freeman:
Last night about 9 o’clock the phone rang and a mild voice said, “This is William Shawn.” If I talk to you tonight you will know what he said and I’m sure you can understand what it meant to me. Shamelessly, I’ll repeat some of his words — “a brilliant achievement” — “you have made it literature” “full of beauty and loveliness and depth of feeling.” … I suddenly feel full of what Lois once called “a happy turbulence.”
In an exquisite letter to Freeman penned later that day — a letter that is itself a literary masterpiece — Carson echoes Zadie Smith’s assertion that the best reason for writing books is “to experience those four and a half hours after you write the final word.” She writes:
After Roger was asleep I took Jeffie [Carson’s cat] into the study and played the Beethoven violin concerto — one of my favorites, you know. And suddenly the tensions of four years were broken and I got down and put my arms around Jeffie and let the tears come. With his little warm, rough tongue he told me that he understood. I think I let you see last summer what my deeper feelings are about this when I said I could never again listen happily to a thrush song if I had not done all I could. And last night the thoughts of all the birds and other creatures and the loveliness that is in nature came to me with such a surge of deep happiness, that now I had done what I could — I had been able to complete it — now it had its own life!
Silent Spring was published on September 27, 1962 and adrenalized a new public awareness of the fragile interconnectedness of this living world. Several months later, CBS host Eric Sevareid captured its impact most succinctly in lauding Carson as “a voice of warning and a fire under the government.” In the book, she struck a mighty match:
When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence … it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.
How tragic to observe that in the half-century since, our so-called leaders have devolved from half-truths to “alternative facts” — that is, to whole untruths that fail the ultimate criterion for truth: a correspondence with reality.
Carson, who was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, never lived to see the sea change of policy and public awareness that her book precipitated. Today, as a new crop of political and corporate interests threatens her hard-won legacy of environmental consciousness, I think of that piercing Adrienne Rich line channeling the great 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, another scientist who fundamentally revolutionized our understanding of the universe and our place in it: “Let me not seem to have lived in vain.”
Let’s not let Rachel Carson seem to have lived in vain.
by Jon Rappoport
Jan 17, 2017
The psyop to neuter The Rebel
Notes on the evolution of caricatures
If you want to track a civilization as it collapses, watch what happens to the concept of the rebel.
From the 1960s onward—starting with Lee Oswald and the assassination of JFK—the whole idea of “the rebel” with power has been sequentially updated and repackaged. This is intentional.
The objective is to equate “rebel” with a whole host of qualities—e.g., runaway self-serving paranoia; random destruction; out-of-control drug use; generalized hatred; the commission of crimes…
On a lesser, “commercialized” level, the new rebel can define himself by merely showing up at a concert to scream and drink heavily and break something, having already dressed to make a dissident fashion statement. He can take an afternoon off from college classes and have his arms tattooed. All the while, of course, he functions as an avid consumer of mainstream corporate products.
You even have people who, considering themselves rebels of the first order, support a government that spies on its people 24/7, launches military attacks all over the world, and now funds a Manhattan Project to map every move of the 100 billion neurons of the brain, for the ultimate purpose of controlling it.
Even going back as far as the 1950s, the so-called decade of conformity, psyops professionals sculpted notions of The Rebel: He was the person who didn’t want to take part in the emerging bland corporate culture.
He was imagined and presented as troubled, morose; a wobbly unfocused JD Salinger Holden Caulfield, or a beatnik, a Madison Avenue caricature of somebody who opposed Madison Avenue.
In other words, the people who were shaping the consumer culture were creating the image of the rebel as a cartoon figure who just didn’t want to buy into “the good life.”
Time Magazine ran a cover story on the beatniks, and characterized them as a disaffected trend. Marlon Brando, heading up a bunch of moronic motorcycle riders, invaded a town of pleasant clueless citizens and took it over, wreaking destruction. The 1953 movie was The Wild One. James Dean, who had the same trouble Brando did in articulating a complete sentence, was “the rebel without a cause” in the “iconic film” of the same name. He raced cars toward cliffs because his father couldn’t understand him.
These were all puff pieces designed to make rebels look ridiculous, and they worked. They also functioned to transmit the idea to young people that being a rebel should be a showbiz affectation. That worked, too.
Then the late 1960s arrived. Flower children, in part invented by the major media, would surely take over the world and dethrone fascist authority with rainbows. San Francisco was the epicenter. But Haight-Ashbury, where the flowers and the weed were magically growing out of the sidewalks, turned into a speed, acid, and heroin nightmare, a playground for psychopaths to cash in and steal and destroy lives. The CIA, of course, gave the LSD culture a major push.
For all that the anti-war movement eventually accomplished in ending the Vietnam war-crime, in the aftermath many of those college students who had been in the streets—once the fear of being drafted was gone—scurried into counselors’ offices to see where they might fit into the job market after graduation. The military industrial complex took its profits and moved on, undeterred.
The idea of the rebel was gone. It later resurfaced as The Cocaine Dealer, the archangel of the 1980s.
And so forth and so on. All these incarnations of The Rebel were artificially created and sustained as psyops. At bottom, the idea was to discredit the Individual, in favor of The Group.
Now, in our collectivist society of 2016, The Group, as a rapidly expanding victim class, is the government’s number one project. It’s a straight con. “We’re here to make you worse off while we lift you up.”
In the psyop to demean, distort, and squash the rebel, there is a single obvious common denominator: the establishment media are doing the defining; they are the ones who are setting the parameters and making the descriptions; they are the ones who build the cartoons; looking down their noses, pretending to a degree of sympathy, they paint one unflattering picture after another of what the rebel is and does and says; they have co-opted the whole game.
These days, the ultimate rebels, the media would have you believe, are “gun-toting racist bitter clingers who have religion.” Another attempt to shape a distorted unflattering portrait
You can take a whole host of political films and television series of the past 50 years, and look at them for signs of the Rebel: Seven Days in May, Advise and Consent, The Candidate, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, Dave, Primary Colors, The Contender, Good Night and Good Luck, The American President, West Wing, Scandal, The Newsroom…
Good acting, bad acting, drama, message—at the end you’re looking for the core. What do the rebel heroes really stand for? What are their principles? It’s all bland. It’s vague. It has the posturing of importance, but little else.
As I was finishing this piece, a friend wrote with a quote attributed to Robert Anton Wilson: “The universe is a war between reality programmers.”
This is exactly where the real rebel enters the scene. He’s not trying to program people. Freedom means cutting loose from programming.
The Rebel doesn’t go to the market and choose which reality program he wants. They’re all used up as soon as they come out of the package.
Albert Camus once wrote: “The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants, and it provides the further advantage of giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience. It would be easy, however, to destroy that good conscience by shouting to them: if you want the happiness of the people, let them speak out and tell what kind of happiness they want and what kind they don’t want! But, in truth, the very ones who make use of such alibis know they are lies; they leave to their intellectuals on duty the chore of believing in them and of proving that religion, patriotism, and justice need for their survival the sacrifice of freedom.”
“THIS or THAT” is the history of Earth: choose reality program A or B. The choice was always a con.
We’re well into a time period when the experts and scientific authorities are settling on the human being as a biological machine that can only respond to programming. That’s their view and their default position.
It’s sheer madness, of course, but what else do you expect? We’re in an intense technological age, and people are obsessed with making things run smoother. They treat their precious little algorithms for control like the Crown Jewels. They’re terribly enthusiastic about the problem they’re solving, and that problem is us.
We’re the wild cards, a fact which they take to be result of our improper and incomplete conditioning. They aim to fix that.
“Why not stop diddling around and just make the whole thing over? Why not reshape humans?”
Having decided that, the battle begins between competing programmers of the mind. Which program for humans is better?
The rebel is against all such programming, no matter how “good and right” it sounds. “Good” and “right” are the traps.
“Well, certainly we could make a list of qualities we want all people to have. You know, the best qualities, like bravery and determination. Who could be against that? So suppose we could actually program such qualities into humans? Wouldn’t that be a fine thing? Then people would just BE that way…”
The ultimate rebellion is against programming, whatever it looks like, wherever it occurs.
Programming is someone else’s idea of who and what you should be.
It is never your idea.
Your idea is where the power is.
One more: “I have nothing. I owe a lot. The rest I leave to the poor.” Rabelais’ epitaph
Jan 7, 2017
Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations. — Alan Watts
The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence. – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
The great fallacy of childhood is the belief that grownups must know what they are doing. There is no evidence for this in the historical record. You would do better by grabbing a government at random from the denizens of a rural high school. Democracy brings us twerps, psychopaths, ambitious ciphers, short men, and well-born drones. They are what they are. They can’t change any more than a leper can change his spots. I need some really strong drugs or someone to hit me on the head with a rubber mallet. Opium is the religion of the masses. Let us pray. – Fred Reed
What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum – no new world system equilibrium…but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder – Wolfgang Streeck
If Trump’s rise represented an actual substantive rebellion, that at least would suggest a revolution in consciousness. But it’s not that serious. There’s no content behind it. Trump is just a symbol of negation, a big middle finger to the establishment. He’s a TV show for a country transfixed by spectacle. (Sean Illing – Vox)
America was a dictatorship of ideas, a consumerist ethos that propelled the machinery of capitalism through the instrumentalization of popular culture (http://www.vox.com/conversations/2016/12/27/14038406/donald-trump-frankfurt-school-stuart-jeffries-marxism-critical-theory)
They’d never been lovers, of course, not in the physical sense. But they’d been lovers as most of us manage, loving through expressions and gestures and the palm set softly upon the bruise at the necessary moment. Lovers by inclination rather than by lust. Lovers, that is, by love. — Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz.
Resistance starts with plain speaking.
Fake news is propaganda.
The powerful demanding apologies from artists is censorship.
Business dealings while in office are corruption.
Threatening protesters and petitioners is authoritarianism.
Declaring a minority an internal enemy and calling for militarized unity is fascism.
Everything starts with naming these things in public.
(from Adventures and Musings of an Arch Druidess)
I am reading the book of human sins. When I’m done I’ll cast it into the fire and all their sins will be gone. (“The Island” – movie)
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. – Noam Chomsky
Conventions go a long way to validating superiority. If we were all guided by truth alone, none of us could accept anything on face value. We would each become investigative journalist, historian and detective wrapped as one. – Exo-politician, WordPress
It is better to be alone than to become a person that loses his soul to the fear of loneliness. ― Shannon L. Alder
You have to understand that most of the people out there are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so helplessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. (Morpheus, The Matrix)
When love is not madness, it is not love. — Pedro Calderon de la Barca
Not a single star will be left in the night. / The night will not be left. / I will die and, with me, / the weight of the intolerable universe. / I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions, / the continents and faces. / I shall erase the accumulated past. / I shall make dust of history, dust of dust. / Now I am looking on the final sunset. / I am hearing the last bird. / I bequeath nothingness to no one — Jorge Luis Borges, “The Suicide”
God’s only excuse is that he does not exist. — Stendhal
As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods, / They kill us for their sport. — William Shakespeare
You have to be ready to be anyone in moments of danger or love. — Lidia Yuknavitch
[…] there is a human capacity called imagination. It’s the wild card in the deck. It’s the greatest wild card ever known. It is, in fact, the cutting edge of consciousness. It invents new realities. It releases gigantic amounts of buried energy. And it’s entirely an individual proposition. – Jon Rappoport
What could be more free, more independent, more unique, more creative than individual consciousness that has a non-material basis? – Jon Rappoport
…there’ll always be money and whores and drunkards / down to the last bomb, / but as God said, / crossing his legs, / I see where I have made plenty of poets / but not so very much / poetry. — Charles Bukowski
We can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But […] our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t. — Dylan Thomas
This post is from 2012 at another blog.
June 27, 2012
A few years ago I was living in a small town in Vancouver Island, Canada. A town already on the brink of collapse because the main employer, a pulp mill, had decided to shut down its operations in that town. ( The fact that the corporation is a foreign-owned company is for another post.)
I had a new friend. He was an assistant manager for one of the big supermarkets that dominate the food supply in that town. Owned by Loblaw, the largest food retailer in Canada, with over 1400 supermarkets.
That night he called me at around 11pm and asked me to come over. I sensed urgency in his voice so I was there in short time. He explained to me that, earlier on we had experienced a major black out, a power storm had knocked out the electricity supply to the town for three days. He had been told by senior management that all frozen foods were to be discarded. I asked him, why couldn’t they just give the foods to a local food bank? He said that they had to scan the frozen foods for insurance reasons, and then all the foods were to be put in the crusher and destroyed.
OK, so why not give the foods after the scanning ? They could not be bothered.
That’s why he called me. He knew I was an activist that had contacts in town. I knew many of the social outcasts in town. He asked me if I had an idea.
Doh! Not difficult really.
So after he scanned some of the foods, he let me take them. I proceeded for the next few hours to grab as much of the goods that my little vehicle could handle and brought them to Crack House Central. The place in town where no one knows your name. Crack heads have to eat and have families by the way. And yes, they do spend most, if not all of their money, on crack.
You should have seen the faces of the users when I showed up with about $1000 worth of frozen foods. I asked them to please take the foods home before continuing on their ride to Hell.
By the way, crack is gender neutral. There were as many women as men in the house when I arrived. 14 people sitting so quietly that you would not even suspect a cat lived there. That drug makes you paranoid to the extreme.
So we managed to save approximately $1000 worth of frozen food. My friend told me that altogether he must have destroyed another $5000 worth of stuff through the night.
So there you have it.
Capitalism at its most efficient self.
Jan 1, 2017
There are events in our personal lives and our collective history that seem categorically irredeemable, moments in which the grounds for gratefulness and hope have sunk so far below the sea level of sorrow that we have ceased to believe they exist. But we have within us the consecrating capacity to rise above those moments and behold the bigger picture in all of its complexity, complementarity, and temporal sweep, and to find in what we see not illusory consolation but the truest comfort there is: that of perspective.
John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) embodies this difficult, transcendent willingness in an extraordinary letter to his friend Pascal Covici — who would soon become his literary fairy godfather of sorts — penned on the first day of 1941, as World War II was raging and engulfing humanity in unbearable darkness. Found in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (public library) — which also gave us the beloved writer on the difficult art of the friend breakup, his comical account of a dog-induced “computer crash” decades before computers, and his timeless advice on falling in love — the letter stands as a timeless testament to the consolatory power of rehabilitating nuance, making room for fertile contradiction, and taking a wider perspective.
Speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded.
But Steinbeck, who devoted his life to defending the disenfranchised and celebrating the highest potentiality of the human spirit, refuses to succumb to what Rebecca Solnit has so aptly termed the “despair, defeatism, cynicism[,] amnesia and assumptions” to which we reflexively resort in maladaptive self-defense against overwhelming evil. Instead, fifteen centuries after Plato’s brilliant charioteer metaphor for good and evil, Steinbeck quickly adds a perceptive note on the indelible duality of human nature and the cyclical character of the civilizational continuity we call history:
Not that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I asked [the influential microbiologist] Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.
Steinbeck’s point is subtle enough to be mistaken for moral relativism, but is in fact quite the opposite — he suggests that our human foibles don’t negate our goodness or our desire for betterment but, rather, provide both the fuel for it and the yardstick by which we measure our moral progress.
He wrests out this inevitable interplay of order and chaos the mortal flaw of the Nazi regime and the grounds for hope toward surviving the atrocity of WWII, which, lest we forget, much of the world feared was unsurvivable in toto:
It is interesting to watch the German efficiency, which, from the logic of the machine is efficient but which (I suspect) from the mechanics of the human species is suicidal. Certainly man thrives best (or has at least) in a state of semi-anarchy. Then he has been strong, inventive, reliant, moving. But cage him with rules, feed him and make him healthy and I think he will die as surely as a caged wolf dies. I should not be surprised to see a cared for, thought for, planned for nation disintegrate, while a ragged, hungry, lustful nation survived. Surely no great all-encompassing plan has ever succeeded.
Mercifully, Steinbeck was right — the Nazis’ grim world domination plan ultimately failed, humanity as a whole survived these unforgivable crimes against it (though we continually fail to sufficiently reflect upon them), and we commenced another revolution around the cycle of construction and destruction, creating great art and writing great literature and making great scientific discoveries, all the while carrying our parallel capacities for good and evil along for the ride, as we are bound to always do.
So when we witness evil punctuate the line of our moral and humanitarian progress, as we periodically do, may we remember, even within the most difficult moments of that periodicity, Steinbeck’s sobering perspective and lucid faith in the human spirit.
Complement this particular fragment of the wholly magnificent Steinbeck: A Life in Letters with Albert Camus on strength of character amid difficulty, Hannah Arendt on how we humanize each other, Joseph Brodsky on the greatest antidote to evil, Toni Morrison on the artist’s task in troubled times, and Rebecca Solnit on our grounds for hope in the dark.
Oct 24, 2016
I saw a question on a blog this morning from someone called “Kate”
It asked: “I was wondering if you’d give me some advice on how to get more people to read my blog.”
The question wasn’t addressed to me, and I did not comment on it but I think I have something to say to that query. So, here goes, for those wondering souls out there who are concerned about not being read or followed.
How much work are you willing to put into blogging?
How many emails are you willing to sort through per day: 100? 200?
How many comments are you willing to sincerely and thoughtfully engage and respond to?
Blogging works on an exponential scale. You start a blog, post something, then begin the real work: following, reading and commenting on others’ works.
I shouldn’t call it work, it’s more like school, or study sessions. It isn’t work, it’s fascination, with endlessly fresh, mind-boggling information and insight into the lives of REAL people. There is so much “out there” that people express. There are wonderful writers, authors, and those who are just eager to share their life’s experiences.
Can’t afford vacations, or flying? Try blogging, all you need is time and sincerity.
The “Process” then: as you follow others, they follow you, then their followers read your posts and they too follow, just as you do when on their blogs.
See something you like? Don’t just read it and “like” it, click on “follow.” If it’s really not up your alley, you can always “unsubscribe” later without hurting any feelings. Others will take your place, no worry about that. As I said already, it’s exponential, but you have to put into the equation. You give to get. Blogging isn’t “the Universe” just so eager to grant your every wish for nothing (I’m being sarcastic of course).
Blogging: I think this is a great system of global communication. Another way to increase traffic is to “reblog” other posts, but some overdo that part. I was recently subscribed to 4 blogs that essentially all reblogged the same material… so I pared it down to one of them. I can’t have my daily email load exceed 200.
For me the point of having my own blog (as opposed to just running across Word Press looking for interesting tidbits) is to say what I want to say while keeping those who follow my blog interested and perhaps at times, entertained as well. And most importantly, to receive feed-back, love the “Like” but I enjoy the comments too.
The key to blogging: it’s all give and take with more “give” than “take.” Oh, and on Word Press we are “civilized” bloggers. No insults, no shaming. If I have one criticism of Word Press writers, including myself, it would be that we are too well behaved to even think of critiquing another’s work. I think we need more of that. But that’s for another topic, if I get a “round-to-it” and get around to it.