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Entries in messiahs (5)


Red Mesa

All the talk about digital this and computer that does wear on me after a while. Last year was the beginning of a time when I got a chance to learn again to appreciate doing the digital stuff, but for a different reason than before. But it was also a year when I learned again to appreciate decidedly undigital life, and most notably, the natural world as I got to see it in my three trips to desert destinations.

For about the last year I have been feeling a call to go to New Mexico. With the notorious exception of parental custody battles and gameplaying as an infant, I have never been there to actually appreciate it. I find it intriguing from this vantage point. It is known as a spiritually rich place, with the confluence of the Native peoples and their thousands of years of history, intermingled with the early colonial influences. But to add to the complexity, set against the backdrop of all that spiritual-religious history and atmosphere, it is also the place where the most dubiously unholy deed was done: the testing of the first nuclear explosion. It makes for an interesting juxtaposition at the least.

The other calls to New Mexico have been in the form of spiritual tales or opportunities. In about a years' time, I heard about and then completed the Mens' Rites of Passage which is a program offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation, based in Albuquerque. My own rites were in Arizona, but that just whet my appetite. While there, the master teacher, Belden Lane, told his story about his CAC/MROP initiation at Ghost Ranch in NM, and also about his time at Christ in the Desert monastery where he set about finishing his book on The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. In this same year, Scott Landis preached about his three week experience at Christ in the Desert, in part to decompress from being ousted from the church he pastored (on account of his recent coming out). New Mexico, as a place of spiritual development opportunity, has been on my mind for a while.

This January I applied (a bit late, I found) to be an intern at the CAC for a ten week spell. That might have been a bit disruptive to home life, but would be a great time to work and learn, reflect on a day's experience, or a lifetime's. CAC always seems to have something interesting going on, and the next thing that came across my desk was something that one of my small group members at the rites had taken to doing on two occasions in the last season or two. That he is a Canadian and decided to haul off to New Mexico said something.

I read his essay in the midst of the website about CAC and their Red Mesa property. David always has a way with language, so his account of tending sheep was profoundly moving, particularly since we had the same initiating experience last spring. Tending sheep? Yes, it is out of character for me. I have barely ever seen sheep. The charm of this is to enter into a different life and a different space and see what it has to teach. It is hard to sum up what the Rites of Passage experience was, but it continues to unfold in meaning, as a touchstone for reference. I find CAC's programs to be attractive in their ability to teach at a real level. It isn't just retreats they offer. So at the end of the month, I will go to Red Mesa and spend a week doing whatever on the property with others who are interested in the CAC-offered Alternative Spring Break. Hey, being out of work has led to some neat developments.

Red Mesa is in the backwoods of New Mexico. I think I will drive the mountains on the norhteast side of Phoenix. I rather like the idea of maximizing the wilderness time on such a trip, so staying off the freeway might be nice, at least going one way. As close as I am coming to the Trinity testing site and the Very Large Array radio telescope site (the dishes that I once planned to use for my Receiving cover), I will be a week early for the ONE day that the site is open during the springtime. I have just put out feelers to see what can be done to tarry in New Mexico for a week to help bridge the decidedly low tech sheep week and the sites that indicate our highest technological aspirations. That should be interesting. In some ways, that would be a thing to ponder to help clarify my own relationship to technology and my longing to more completely live an uncomplicated, organic life.


Technomessiahs, Redux

A week ago on my local PBS radio station I heard this show on Geoengineering—the range of ideas concerning global efforts to take some mighty heroic measures to combat the looming prospects of damage from climate change. Anytime I have heard this topic come up in the last year or so, my skin crawls and my stomach feels ill. It presents itself to me as science fiction, and dangerous fiction at that. To me it smacks of hubris on a level not ever seen before, except in some parallel movements in genetics and economics which are pushing into dangerous territory once regarded as the domain of the divine. It seems the kind of ambitious technological overreach that elicited a response from the Lord in Genesis, who watched humans building the great tower, something which was met with the confounding of language, meant to at least make it hard to get such ideas off the ground.

The technological genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of centuries now. Geoengineering is one more prayer for what I call the "technomessiah" to come and save us from, ironically, the other technomessiahs who have come in ever-accelerating fashion. The soul work associated with loosing ourselves from the technological straitjacket is too hard to do, it seems, so the de facto answer is to keep charging ahead into the same thing we desperately need to escape. I think I encountered the idea in Richard Heinberg's work, that civilization is one big unintended consequence of our first dabblings in toolmaking. The makers of flint axes could not have imagined our dilemma today, but it was a slow climb up a long ladder for millennia, with a quite noticable acceleration in the last 250 years ago, and certainly in the last century. What does it take to dare look down in preparation for a retreat from these dizzying heights?

Today the news let me know about the red tide of toxic sludge flowing through Hungary. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still wreaking its havok. These are just two examples of humanity not having control over its technology. We're adolescents still, thrilled with our ability to make stuff, but seemingly unable to harness it. To be clear, I am not against technology per se, nor am I against invention and progress. I should be clear about that. But I do criticize the automatic reaction to meet problems with more advanced technology in lieu of maybe stepping back and changing priorities. Appropriate technology for a job is quite fine, but it takes discernment to know what that is, and not to automatically run to whatever is the latest and (supposedly) greatest. What I think has been a dangerous combination is how technological development has been taken to market for mass production even before we have a chance to understand what could follow. Most of the things we use now have no big impact if they were the only ones of their kind, but they are not—they are mass produced consumer goods that draw down resources and when used by individuals according to individual priorities, and not social vision, will bring us to where we are now.

The answer that keeps presenting itself to me is to revisit and learn from the great spiritual traditions that guide us in how to relate to one another, to creation, to our creator. What is needed is literally a counter-cultural response to our great dilemmas. A counter-cultural response might emerge from any of the great traditions that predate our love affair with our technological development in the industrial age; those traditions have a memory of a life before the creative explosion that has paradoxically led us to the crisis of our time that is being met in certain circles with the grandiose ideas of geoengineering. Those traditions are the only things that frame life as inherently hard, and that instruct people in possible ways to move gracefully nonetheless. Our love affair with technology has much to do with our aversion to difficulty. I guess one thing that bothers me about the geoengineering ideas is that they presume an inability to change the fundamentals. They don't require the soul work to change the underlying problem. We might embark on a project like that with the unbridled expectation of economic growth, even though that has been the leading cause of our greatest problems.

The soul work of relinquishment, humility, love for others is all hard work but I feel it is the work that will draw us back from our dangerous place. Tapping into that consciousness will be the liberation we need from the thought structures that have brought us here, a place of neurosis, unable to cope properly with the technological genie we have loosed on the world. We're really quite miserable this way. Isn't it time for something else?


We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Human Rights Violations

stark image poster of america and a giant made in china stamp across it.Made in China: Because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsI wasn't really enthralled by the Chinese showboating these last few weeks. It all seemed like a distraction from the world-as-know-it-is. All this talk about the games being "about the athletes" is bullshit too, because there is clearly a lot of national ego on the line in any of these games, else we could scrap the ridiculous opening and closing ceremonies and just show contests of physical ability.

So Phelps cleaned up. I don't mean to rain on his parade—I certainly can't do what he does. (Hell, I can't even swim.) But think on this for a moment. You know he will be the darling of a lot of companies who want to put his name and image on their goods. And you can bet that some of that will be made in China at the sorts of factories and sweatshops that China would like you to not see in full disclosure. You know, the ones where people work seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours a day, and where people live in factory dorms and are escorted to work each day by security goons, and back again to their cramped rooms where they are responsible for paying for their own utilities back to the factory.

How much of what we buy in our fervor for the games will only make the situation worse? Isn't that the contradiction of our age? I can't help but think of how China is getting rich off our inability to shut off the endless flow from our wallets. Well, someone is getting rich, while the workers who prop up that whole system are experiencing their version of what our nation experienced a century ago when we struggled to figure out how to industrialize, and the industrial world had to in fact figure out how to make citizens into consumers in order to actually consume and use the things which the industrial process was now capable of making. Our growing pains included fights for union representation and social justice concomitant with that. It included the fight for an eight hour work day and weekends. Basically, it fought for human dignity in the face of the growing power of the Machine.

But China itself seems to be a machine. And the Olympic games were the user-friendly front end of it, but what lurks beneath?


Roll Over, Gramps

ed and tara tearing up the grassy yard in prep for the gardenMe and Tara weeding and prepping the soil at the new gardenHah. A long time ago when my grandfather used to have me help him tend his tomatoes, he used to mock my avoidance of the dirt part of the work. In his Ohio farmboy-tinged speech, he used to remind me I'd have to get my hands dirty in that line of work. I guess he might be rolling over in his grave on Fort Rosecrans now because I just took the initiative to start a second garden project at home, but this time instead of being the helper boy on someone else's project, I was the one who went and fetched $90 worth of all the soil components (organic compost, chicken manure, and worm castings, based on the first project from last year at Calabrese West), and with the superb help of Kelli and Tara and Kalyn, a mother-daughter pair of friends from our church, we converted about 170 square feet of dingy, fallow soil into the basis of a nice organic garden. This took a lot of shoveling to break up the old soil (pleasantly easy to spank out with a shovel), which had been fallow for maybe six years or more, so we gambled on putting some enriching components into it and hoping for the best. There were weeds and Bermuda grass to shake out of the shoveled clumps. The dirt itself was a good base. We've been into composting for the last three years or so, at the various places we've lived, and this place is no different. So far we've never been able to really employ much of the compost in any gardening projects, but I have generally kept a bin that has done pretty well considering my novice level of expertise.

So we are thinking of planting tomatoes of one or two sorts (this year we will do it on time in the spring), beans, bell peppers, jalapeno, chiles, broccoli, and lettuce, and maybe a few other bits of herbs. Last year there was squash and cucumbers in abundance—and maybe over abundance—and two types of eggplant too, none of which was really my thing. But I did enjoy the beans and peppers a lot. The tomatoes at the old plot were apparently planted too late, and when they did come ripe it was getting too cold to carry that far. But that's because we planted in mid June. This year, it looks like we will get at least two months' head start and have more summer season, and would plant second round plants sometime later.

This project has come after about a year of reflecting on many of the world's problems, and has been one tangible way to practice something of the change I wish to see in the world. The past year too has been a time of my stepping away from electronics more and more, and embracing things that don't send me to fits of anger when things are out of my control. Gardening (or attempting to) can really do wonders for one's world view, I have come to find. Of course none of that was taught to me as a kid. To the younger me, it was a way to get my two dollars an hour so that I could go out and buy toys. (In the mid 80s, it might have been Voltron or The Transformers—sci fi fighting machines from a future age when war was still not abolished or abandoned or seen for the futile and wasteful consumption of resources and life that it is.) No, my grandfather, of Ohio farming stock, didn't really pass on much in the way of lessons on how to cherish life, though in retrospect maybe a bit more attention to growing his tomatoes would have probably filled that bill as much as anything. Can I blame the guy? His life and future was saved by the Navy during the depression years and San Diego and the growing military-industrial complex which turned my desert town into a paradise where he spent more than half his life. While he himself was not particularly a warrior, the military, vast leaps in technology, sustained post-war economic growth and the Republican party were his world. I guess he was happy to not have to do the Ohio farm thing, simply because other systems enabled him not to need to in his age.

ed and tara offloading the truckload of compostOne cubic yard of this compost stuff overflows my truck. Good to have help from Tara!From where I stand, it seems like a lot of that has potential for losing its glory or falling apart altogether. So the effort at gardening—or at least learning enough to be genuinely sympathetic to those who do—is but one part of my willingness to see the world very differently than he. I think his generation and mine are on two different sides of the same peak of technology's life cycle. For his generation, they were the witnesses to the growth of all that would change their lives for the better, at least as they saw it. Technology was something of a religion, it seemed, and that of course is still where we are at now. It is an imperialistic religion. But like all the imperialistic religions that impose their wills on the people who do not need nor want it, it will convulse or possibly die when all the nasty things are brought to light and recognized for what they are. I call this deeper understanding of the dark side of technology by a word of my own coining: "techgnosis". Many people don't have it, or they reject it because the "techno-messiah" is ever-changing and chameleon like and people always find some new techno messiah to anticipate. But the logic is flawed; each techno messiah has come to defeat the other techno messiahs that came before. All our problems are because of the failure of a long line of techno messiahs. Indeed, as Richard Heinberg has said (probably quoting Joseph Tainter), civilization grows ever in complexity, and the old problems of complex social and technological advances are solved with further complexity. But how far does that go? It would be hard to imagine living a life that is any more complex than what we have now, but I know the march will continue on until we use up resources, or suffer from pandemic diseases, or global climate disaster, or something. The point is, the march forward is a march backward because we will never get to the technological promised land while simultaneously growing our population past the point of carrying capacity, and trying to get the entire world to a "developed" state. There is more to life than technology.

I've been thinking that for a man, maybe the closest he could get to being God or a woman (not necessarily saying there has to be a difference!) might have to be in his ability to garden—the role of creator and sustainer enacted as much as possible for mortal men. Men are notorious for destroying things, sometimes just to do so. The men in my formative years had that tendency. They stopped short of hunting for fun, but on the whole, they took more than they gave, or participated in institutions that worked along similar lines. I find myself marveling at the intersection of my current interests in life-giving and sustaining systems—interestingly enough they are Christianity and gardening/permaculture. I guess I have to find the beauty in such things, else I'd be dead because of all I witness in the world, and having to admit that I am a product of a lot of things I loathe. I happen to have a wife who understands and supports all that too, and often leads the way, but we both reinforce each other's findings as we learn about how to be better humans and life forms in general. The people that we hang with more and more understand that critical intersection between the seemingly abstract notion of Christian life and the tangible world of permaculture. If we really are what we eat, then does that make us just industrially produced garbage that moves further and further from the natural world? Is that what God intended for us? Sooner or later, along that path, we can expect to lose more and more of what makes us human, and recklessly embracing that "machine" is sure to spell our doom. And we shall march to our deaths, referring to it as "progress."

We can scientifically show that we aren't particularly made from clay like the Bible says, but the etymological connection between human and earth exists: human and humus. Adam of the Bible had a name that played with the Hebrew word for "earth" in a way that makes it clear that he is an EARTH-ling. Whether or not he was made of earth, the point is made that we are in an inextricable relationship with the earth. It would be good to remember that being of the earth, of the natural world, is not a bad thing. It is not a sin. And when we can subscribe to that belief, maybe we could step back from the endless march to destroy the world with our evermore complicated technological "progress." Sure, we don't call it a march to destroy the world, but why not admit that is what we must do in order to prepare the way for the coming of the techno messiah? I won't be so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only messiah the world will ever know, but I think it is safe to say that the endless march of technology can safely be seen to be a false messiah now that we can see how we must destroy life to save it. That is of course the sort of skewed logic that made the bloodbath of World War One permissible: "The War To End All Wars." A war fought, not insignificantly, with the latest and greatest technology available at the time—some of which were powered or enhanced by the remarkable energy or chemical building blocks available from oil and natural gas. One interesting bit of technology that was employed in that war was certain natural-gas and nitrogen- based toxic chemicals that later were turned into commonly available fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that could help people grow more tomatoes in their back yards or massive agrigoliath farms—but at what cost? Shall we poison the earth and hope that we would remain immune to all that in our food and water? How can anyone's soul rest easily if one takes the time to really reflect on what it means? Living under such conditions is something that some might call HELL. It makes me perfectly ashamed of some people in this land who call themselves Christians but believe that Christ will come when the last tree is felled and the last gallon of oil is burnt to fuel a terrorist fighting war machine or SUV. I assure you, I don't march under that banner. My grandfather probably viewed his little tomato project as a hobby. Of course, it could be just that. None of it was productive enough (even with all his chemical products he used) to really do much, and there was a whole industrial agriculture machine that was growing by leaps and bounds during his life. But folks like me are finding out what a lie all that is, and what we have to do about it. I'm pretty certain I am not doing enough, but considering this stuff isn't in my blood, I have to believe I am off to a start. I can't help it. It is compelling me away from the computer, giving me something real in my life, and if I ever need to, I will have something to pass on to another generation, maybe something useful, unlike some of the technological things I learned twenty, ten, or even five years ago. In 20 years, if anyone even knows the difference between Mac and PC or Ford and Chevy or Coke and Pepsi, they probably won't care because they will want to eat, and people who can help facilitate that will be the real stewards of life's knowledge, just as before. I don't care how great a web designer you are, or a system admin, or an ad executive, television personality, or a fashion model or car detailer, your professions are worthless, or will be in just a few years or decades. Add to that the fact that much of the stuff we surround ourselves with is just our beautiful natural resources turned into junk. Our labor turned into disease, divorce and social meltdown.

Realizing that sort of thing has changed my priorities a lot as of the last year or two. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. A friend from my early days in the music biz told me, "you can live around people who will invite you to live, or around people who will invite you to die." So thanks to Tara and Kalyn, Kelli, and all the people in Lee's orbit who are latched onto something deeper in life and who believe enough is given for all to enjoy.


Reply To KickTheOilHabit.org

I sent this reply to KicktheOilHabit.org when their mass mail ended up in my inbox today. My comments revolve around the belief that there is a need to stop thinking of solutions in terms of mass-produced technological solutions. Indeed, our present dilemma arises out of mass produced technological solutions to earlier problems (the Machine Messiah). I am not anti-technology per se, but I do regard the technological solution to be a problem when it moves toward mass production. If a small group of people or a local region can craft a new device to solve their problems, and make only what they need, I think that is great. This way, what is needed is made and put to service by those who need it. Hopefully its a minimal energy expenditure and a maximum return. My point is that we need to think in total-terms, how much energy is used to create or implement any of these ideas that people hold up to be the new hopes for the future. I think its folly to create a solution that digs us deeper into the bottomless pit of technological addiction. I think the secret to kicking the oil habit is to use what we have more sensibly.


I found your site today from one of your mailings. I do applaud any effort to get people at least aware of the oil-rooted crisis of our time, but after two years of reading about peak oil and the more dire and extended problems that surround oil, I have come repeatedly to a conclusion that our energy issue is broader than just the fuels we use. I think we have this idea that another machine messiah will save us, when in fact, our industrial-produced machine messiahs of the past have been the things that have driven us to the outlandish and unsustainable demands that push us up against the upper ceilings of world oil production.

For example, while there are lots of compelling reasons to kick the oil habit, I am not convinced that the best way to do it is create more "solutions" that are based in heavy industrial production. Sure, a few gallons might be saved on this hybrid or that E85 blend, but really we need to make those cars using the industry of today, and the massive industry of today is really our enemy. I've heard that 90 barrels of oil energy go into making just one car, and it won't matter if its a combustion engine that runs on gasoline, E85, or chocolate milk, if those numbers don't change. The industrial process is still going to be tied to either the nastiness of coal-fed plants, or the equally unsustainable natural gas fed plants.

With the fickle and changing nature of industry and either planned obsolescence or the obsolescence that comes from progress, the lure will be for people to continually buy more cars just the same as they do now, maybe every couple years, whether they need to or not! If those cars are each being made with 90 barrels of oil energy, and being shipped and trucked to points of sale in the states or abroad, then we are still using massive amounts of oil energy, or coal, or natural gas, each of which is poised either to decline permanently, or is harmful to the world. Also, the roads which allow cars to drive are tremendously expensive to maintain, and require more trucks and tractors and other machines which continue to use oil and gas.

So then, why do we insist on the machine messiah, and not do the things that actually cost less and do more to conserve fuel? Why not rebuild railroads? Their cost-per-mile construction costs are far less than freeways and other roads. With a few powerful engines, a train can tow a mile-long load.

Or, why can't we finally get down to enacting conservation laws? CAFE standards for our age? This was proven to work before. Why not a progressive tax on gross vehicle weight for consumer vehicles instead of tax incentives on Hummers? Why can't we strip such excessive vehicles of their charm through awareness campaigns and tax disincentives?

Why can we invest almost a half-trillion dollars into the infrastructure of war each year, but can't use that to rebuild railroads, invest in mass transit, or other things which consolidate wasteful practices into less wasteful ones? Why can't people be challenged to combine trips, and to be offered a tax break for reduced mileage per annum? Why can't schools eliminate bussing, and return to just teaching the kids who surround their campuses?

Why can't NASCAR be banned as the wasteful, utterly stupid use of motor fuel that it is? It glorifies recreational use of fuel in a way that surely gives people an idea that doing so is somehow good, even in the age of depletion and war.

I don't subscribe to ethanol being our savior because its own production requires extensive use of industrial machinery, and lots of energy that goes into the production of the fuel. I  think ethanol is a joke because it hasn't proven as lucrative as oil in terms of energy returned on energy invested. It might be a stepping stone, and that is within reason, but I don't think we should bank on it, or any hydrogen, or anything else that remains tied to the existing oil/gas/coal fired industrial processes we now use. There are many ways consumers can shape their lives around conservation. These are ways that don't require them to buy one more car, or require them to go into debt more. They are however, ways that I don't think will be brought to their attention by any top-down campaign simply BECAUSE they do not somehow keep industry in on the action. I don't think the solution to a problem of an industrial process is to add more industrial processes. I think your site would be more useful if it encouraged people away from their daily habits of redundant driving, useless driving, and by leading a charge against such habits on the level of commerce and industry. I think that is the real solution to kicking the oil habit, at least as it relates to consumers. Forget politicians. They don't care enough. Forget industry, it just wants to sell us more stuff that will be "outdated" in three years, so that we might buy again.

I also believe we have a cultural dilemma that surrounds car use. A car running on E85 is just as dangerous as a car running on regular gasoline when it is piloted by a drunk. It is also equally useless to a driver who spends an hour or more in his commute each day. It doesn't matter what the fuel is. I think America needs to break the car habit, not just the oil habit. In post communist Cuba, the cars were not just scrapped in favor of new technology. No, they were used, still on gasoline and diesel, but used smarter. Laws were made that governed their use. People turned any vehicle into ultra efficient work machines—any vehicle serves as many uses as possible in order to justify its existence on the road. No one-person-one-car commutes were allowed. I really don't think America will be ready for peak oil, but I don't think that people will all be able to run to new cars and new fuels. The old stand by is to drive less, put more people in cars, and make any vehicle do more efficient work.

I'd like to get behind your cause, but right now, it has too many holes in its philosophy for me to take it seriously. I don't think you have a complete enough solution to our crisis. Thinking about how to actually change our lives is a solution.