Before We Make Changes, We Need to Change

If we hope to turn for help to Native American people, we have to understand that we have always been guests in their house. For a long time, we forgot that or we denied it. But, finally, we’re beginning to realize what that means. Now, we all find ourselves standing in the middle of a battle over our relationship with the earth—and whether we can even survive on the planet. We know this because, over and over again, the earth is slapping us in the face. And, at last—after centuries of demonizing and destroying native peoples—we realize that we need their wisdom to help save us all. The genius of native peoples is that they know how to walk humbly on the earth. But the question is: Can we humble ourselves and listen to them?  -Kent Nerburn

I find this quote rather interesting…at least for my mind. Not so much from a perspective of trying to save the planet, as Nerburn is noting here. Rather, for how Nerburn points to a way of utilizing the ways, thinking, and to a large extent the relationship that First Nations peoples have with their environment.

At times, thoughts of how that might be useful seem at odds with the typical outward look at life on the various reservations. Back during my trip to Glacier National Park, I drove through the middle of Pine Ridge reservation – and right through the start of a protest just across the border (literally) in Whiteclay, Nebraska by First Nations peoples from Pine Ridge. The living style that you could easily see from the highway was one of abject poverty. In some instances, which I found out to be true, it seemed that some of the homes didn’t have a front door, but rather just a screen door. I knew winters could be bad with high snow drifts, and found out that in most instances, the screen doors are replaced with another door from within the home. The screen doors are in place during the Summers because the homes have no air-conditioning, except for an occasional window unit which would cool specific rooms.

So how would these people who seemingly couldn’t find their way out of poverty enough know a better way to live closer to our Mother Earth? Single-wide trailer homes that looked to be from the 1970s, surrounded on all sides with detritus that made you wonder if Fred Sanford lived here….how could these people know about a way to find a better relationship with our planet? Its not because of the way some of these folks live. Its not because some of these folks are trapped in a never-ending cycle of alcoholism and dependency. These are some of the First Nations people, but these are not all of them. These are the ones that the public eyes of the over-bearing white society see – and the image that is used to repress these First Nations people. An image used to “keep them in their place”, if you will. But dig deeper. Dig beyond this stereotype, and you will find people who cherish their families, help their neighbors, understand the true concept of “tribe”, and have a strong Spirituality that is connected directly with their environment.

Mother Earth, Father Sky. Bear. Coyote. Fox. Crow. Eagle. Buffalo-woman. Their myths and stories showcase deep connections with the Earth, with the rhythms of the seasons. If you look closely enough, you will find deep, grooved parallels between this and other beliefs around the world. The cycle of the Seasons are there. The reverence to the Gods and Goddesses are there. Deference to the Spirits of Place. Respect and Honor to one’s Ancestors. Its all there. Letting all of that become deeply ingrained into who you are, why you are, and how you are…it can be there as well. With time, patience, and practice.

But we, the mainstream society, have left that behind. Our gods have become those of Fashion, Consumerism, Hero-worship of celebrities, and politics. And all of that is not centered around our environment, but rather around money. If we were to ask the Gods what happened, we might hear the answer of “you forgot where you came from, and how you were placed within the world.” Human beings have a place within the complicated web of relationships we have with everything here. But when we forget how we are a part of everything, and place everything beneath us; see the world as a resource placed here for us to use – we run the risk of losing that balance, and finding ourselves at odds with our planet.

What is Climate Change? My perspective of that is that its our planet trying to bring back into balance. In essence, our existence – the overuse of planetary resources, our inability to dispose of our waste in a manner that continues to find balance with our environment, our over-population of areas that forces wildlife to migrate to other areas and adapt to new environs….all of that destabilizes our planet’s delicate balance and intricate web of relationships with everything. And our planet responds. Because we refuse to accept our place within that balance.

Nerburn is right. For us to achieve what we need to, to try and relocate that delicate balance; we – as a collective society – will need to reach back into our human past, and reconnect with our environment. And in my nos-o-humble opinion, we will need to reconnect with our collective Spirituality. We all connect to the Gods and Goddesses in unique ways, each of us forming a unique bond with Those that call to us. If we are going to find a way to achieve balance, to find respect for other aspects of this delicate balance – we will need to achieve a similar bond among ourselves.

…and to be honest, with our current societal setup, I don’t see that happening. And it just so desperately needs to.

 

The Whispers From the Four Directions

Do you hear the sound on the wind?
The beating wings of crows?
Do you hear that on the wind?
The whisper of Andraste and Segomo
Do you hear the spears and swords beating on shields?
Teutates! Teutates! Teutates!
For the protection of Land!
For the protection of Tribe!
For the protection of kindred Spirit!
Standing Rock is the battle line.
—Robyn Birchleaf, 9/7/16

Its been a while since I have dusted off of my old poetry moniker. Back in my early days as a Wiccan, this was also my “Craft” name. Eventually, Wicca faded as a part of my life, but the moniker continues as my writing name.

This piece of poetry I wrote last night. I had set some music from the Johnny Whitehorse series of albums on rotation, and pulled on my headphones to block out noise. As I listened, I let my mind wander to my inner grove, while watching my stone circle in the backyard being bathed by the sprinkler system. It eventually brought my mind to the perspective of water, which naturally led my mind to what is going up in North Dakota. People were protesting, as peacefully as they could, the building of an oil-transport pipeline underneath the Missouri river. Any leak at or near this point threatens the clean drinking water source for the peoples of this area, and everyone else downstream. This includes farmers, whose crops feed the markets of this country where people shop for their food. Odd how all of that is so interconnected when you think about it, right? Not really, to be honest.

There’s nothing truly odd about the interconnection of all of us. What we do to the environment, our communities, ourselves, others, the animals, the air, the water, the land….it affects all of us to one degree or another. That’s a huge part of what I have come to understand and relate deeply to within my Druidry. There’s more than a “Circle of Life” – there’s an interconnected web, where everything finds harmony to one degree or another with everything else around. Everything that is, except mankind.

As human beings, we have managed to be arrogant enough as a species to consider ourselves above everything else in Nature. As a collective species, we have even managed to excuse that arrogance with “divinely inspired” spiritual perspectives that categorize the earth, the animals and everything else to the position of a giant grocery store for our use and abuse. We place ourselves above everything else, and then excuse our abuse and overuse of resources by declaring that there will be an end to this Earth, and the righteous will be flung up into the heavens to enjoy a plentiful and never-ending paradise. The wicked will be sent to a place of eternal damnation. And the planet and the animals?  Who cares? Its use will be finished. We can just wade it up, and pitch it over our shoulders. After all, we’ve managed to create a very disposable society in the same vein. But I digress slightly…

lakota-siouxWhen I wrote that last night, I was remembering that time and again, the clarion call of the Wild Hunt’s horn in my dreams and meditations. I remember a few meditations that were filled with whispers on the wind. “The battle draws closer”  “I do not ask for war. But I do ask you for to defend when the time comes”  “Remember, your staff is not just for aiding you in your walking”  Those were some of the louder whispers that I heard. For me, a determined peace-loving Druid, to speak of hearing whispered words of war is a difficult thing. I don’t like violence of any sort. I prefer to find peaceful, negotiated manners of dealing with conflict. But many times over the past months, I have been reminded that sometimes physical battle comes to one’s doorstep despite your best efforts to quell it.

The issue at Standing Rock is starting to resemble those moments where one has to reach for your staff because peaceful resolutions cannot be easily found. Last weekend, during a three-day holiday stretch, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipe Line decided to bulldoze a large swath of burial ground that is part of the area that is to be built up. The protesters there immediately started to attempt to stop what was happening, only to be met by a “security” detail with poorly trained (if at all) dogs. The protesters were attacked by dogs that were encouraged to attack by their handlers. Protesters, including children were bitten. Many other protesters were maced by these same “security” folks. All the protesters had to defend themselves with were a makeshift flag on a stick, and their bare hands. What they really should have had in their possession were mace canisters. Not to attack with, but to spray at both the “security” detail and the dogs once the attacks against them (the protesters) had started.

I have always lived by the perspective that being non-violent and peaceful in protesting is the key to getting one’s message across. But just because you are being peaceful and non-violent does not mean that you are not prepared to defend yourself with forceful means. Trying to resolve issues with words and negotiation is the appropriate measure to take, but always be prepared to defend yourself against violent action. Defend, not retaliation. Retaliation belongs in the realm of vengeance, and that is a business that is far more serious, and should be far more thought out and appropriately measured.

From my perspective, and my interaction with Gods and Spirits….there’s a palpable anger on the wind. And return is coming…like I said, vengeance is for deeper thought, and far more measured response. I leave that to the Gods. Should They decide to utilize me as part of that response, I’ll know when They tell me. Until (of even, IF) that time, peaceful, non-violent, legal protesting is the call for the moment. Standing Rock is the battle line.

The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment – A Few Thoughts

So, we’ve all seen the petition:  “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. I have watched many, many folks not only sign it, but then send out messages imploring others to sign the petition as well. And yet, to this moment, I have resisted signing the petition. I have continually found myself in the grips of an argument as to “why”. So this morning, after receiving a few more “invitations”, I thought it may be time to explore that path of thought a little more.

The Introduction

Perhaps the first thing to do is to look at the statement itself. Its quite lengthy, so the best option would be for you to hop on over to the website hosting it. Instead of attempting the longer task of going through the declaration step-by-step, I thought it would be better if I tackled what I considered to be the prime pieces for my own understanding and consideration of the overall statement. This does not mean that I think something that calls out to you is insignificant, merely that it was not something that I – as an individual – found compelling for my own understanding. I cannot speak for what is in your mind, or what calling is on your heart — if I could, then I would be you, and not me.

The opening statement, in my mind, is perhaps the most crucial towards how many folks will identify with the overall statement. After all, we may all identify within the scope of Paganism, but we are definitely not all the same. Some individuals approach their beliefs from a perspective where politics bleeds over into everything that they do. Some others, myself included, may choose the opposite part of that: keeping the political waters and the spiritual waters separate as much as possible. I have come across folks who disagree with my stance, which for me is perfectly fine. I follow this Path because it gives me the freedom to dance before my ancestors in a manner of my own choosing. But, like I usually do – I digress from my topic.

Paganism is a family of spiritual paths rooted in ancestral religions throughout the world and predating recorded history. As explained by the Pagan Federation, Paganism includes polytheistic and pantheistic nature-worshipping religions, and often includes deities of all genders, ancestor veneration, and celebrations in tune with our Earth. A full discussion of the many varieties of Paganism is beyond the scope of this statement, but we, the signatories, value life and the natural world as sacred. Thus, Pagan thought leads us to live in harmony with the rhythms of our great Earth.

This is the opening statement that is a declaration of identity for the under-signed. I guess I am slightly disappointed that there is no language for non-Pagans, but then this is a “Pagan Community” statement, so my disappointment is a minor, minor one. But the statement does note that this is not a time or place to have the wide-ranging, and free-wheeling discussion of what typifies a “Pagan” — and for that simple notation, I am extremely grateful to read.

On Towards the Statement Itself

The rest of the statement is broken into other parts: “Nature is Sacred”, “We Are a Part of the Web of Life”, “How We Are Damaging the Ecosystem”, and “What We Can Do”. The first two sections, “Nature is Sacred”, and “We Are a Part of the Web of Life” are fairly straight-forward declarations of how many Pagans, including myself see the environment around them. As an animist, I wish there was an addition how everything has life – sometimes in manners we cannot readily perceive. But that’s merely my own manner of Spirituality stepping forward.

The next two sections are where things might get problematic. After all, not everyone will subscribe to the idea of how we are damaging the ecosystem around us. But one particular sentence mended all those fences and erased all my doubts.

Our global systems of exploitation are not easily dismantled.

That one small, seemingly insignificant statement says a lot. With the advancement of the internet – not just as a means of conveying information from point-to-point, but also as a means of providing access into local economies that we have only had access to through physical travel – our local, regional, and national economies are tied together. Any changes made to any level of these economies will have ripple effects throughout the infrastructure, and those effects can have astounding, unforeseen consequences to people in ways we might not understand just yet. So, we have to tread carefully here. We have to be responsible with how we go about working the solution.

What is the Solution?

I am not sure what solutions are to be implemented. I’m not an Economist, or even a Biologist. But I do know where I would like to see changes. It comes in the next-to-last paragraph of the statement.

Fundamentally, we believe that a change in spirit is required, one that fosters a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole.

Currently, in a global economy that views the planet and other species of plant and animal as fungible resources – there is very little value placed on things that does not have a monetary descriptive driving it. Painting with a broad brush here, we do not see the beauty in a natural view in the mountains or the forests for what it is. Rather we see how many tourist dollars can be made bringing people from other areas to see it. And those tourists miss the spiritual aspects of what they are seeing, focusing instead on the experience of “having been there” instead. Our planet is a place to see, not a place to experience.

So how do we bridge that gap? How can we change the spirit of those individuals that are driven through living in a pre-packaged, fast-food, disposable life? As dumb as it sounds, the movie “Field of Dreams” has the ultimate answer. Yes,

…build it and they will come.

Or put in another manner: show them how reverence for our environment, celebrating how we are part of our environment, finding ways to live as a part of our environment — this is where we can make the difference. There will be the naysayers. There will be those who attempt to be derisive with names like: “tree-huggers”, “dirty hippies”, “people out of touch with a modern age”. But instead of arguing with them, instead of engaging in a war of words – let’s step to the forefront, and just be ourselves. In my personal estimation, that’s more than enough. Its what I strive to do in my everyday life.

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO
American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

Yes, I am a Pagan, and proud to be so. Every moment of my day is spent trying to live my life the best way I know how. Trying to connect better with my environment. Doing the best I can to connect with the Gods – and to connect with my ancestors. Greeting the Sun each morning with delight, and finding beauty among the living entities everywhere around me — even here in suburban America. My actions aren’t going to change opinions overnight. Nor will anyone else’s. But I am not going to be deterred by that. This is where I draw a line in the dirt…and refuse to be what a pre-packaged, fast-food, non-spiritual world wants me to be: a cog in their machine.

Have I signed the statement with my own name?  As of ten seconds, yes I have. My consternation came more from a perspective that has always been a part of my personal makeup:  I don’t like to be told what to do. Its a leftover from growing up in Catholic schools with strict, regimented rules. But I have spent the time to investigate the Community Statement. And for me, the statement fits into what I believe. I’m not going to beat you over the head and tell you that you HAVE to sign it. But I will say, head over to the website, and read it for yourself. If its something you feel strongly enough to attach your name to it. Please do so. But don’t feel like you HAVE to sign anything. After all, you have your own mind…use it.

–Thomas Van Hook, signatory 4,988

Cities, Suburbs, and The Goatman’s Bridge…Saturday Morning Thoughts

The morning is a little overcast, and the temperatures are a little low for this time of the Spring. But I know its Spring. My yard is greening up nicely, my backyard trees have their foliage of dark green leaves with a light-green underside on display. And I hear them again. Every morning for the last week and a half, a squadron of geese are winging their way down my street, following the slight twists and turns of that concrete pathway that points the direction to Lewisville Lake. Its not like the geese could miss the lake, its extremely large with an estimated surface area of over 30,000 acres. If the geese were somewhat lost, all they needed to do was gain some major altitude and they would be able to find their way there easily. But that’s the problem, these geese are not flying very high. Every morning, they wing their way right down the street, just barely above my second floor window of my two story house. And they are loud. Their honking is constant. When they are moving towards the house, on their southerly course towards the lake, you can hear their sounds in the distance. And as they get closer, they get louder. Much louder. Once they arrive near the house, you can make out their massive, dark shapes in the sky. And as soon as they pass, their honking dissipates nearly as quickly as they disappear down the street. And this will continue all through Summer and into the start of Fall. Then, they take wing and head somewhere else. And I know that Winter has truly arrived.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle

I live in the northern part of the Dallas/Fort Worth metromess in Texas. Comprised of a little more than 6 million people, living in twelve counties here in north Texas, the Metroplex is approximately 9300 square miles, according to the statistics listed on Wikipedia. How accurate all that is? Not really sure, but it seems close enough. DFW is a super large place. When I lived on the western side of Fort Worth, a drive across the heart of the Metroplex to the eastern edge in Mesquite would take nearly an hour of constant driving. That was back in the early 1990s. I am sure that drive takes a little longer time, especially considering the growth of the area’s population and the increased building of the Arlington area (somewhere in the middle of all of this). Its not the easiest thing being a Pagan in such a built-up, thriving, modern society. This also does not take into account the overwhelmingly large and somewhat aggressive Southern Baptist Christian population here.

There’s quite a lot of modern structures located throughout the metromess. In fact, its fairly obvious to tell where the small city-like areas are located – with their multi-storied glass and steel structures that dot the skyline. Suburban sprawl is everywhere. Commuter towns, such as Corinth (where I live) dot many parts of the metro area. On weekday mornings, traffic patterns mainly move from these commuter towns towards the inner city areas, where many companies are located. In the evenings, the traffic patterns typically reverse. Any single commuter accident can literally bring life on the Interstates and Highways to a near dead-stop – literally for an hour or more. The cities throughout the metro area have worked together to create a mass transit system throughout the Metro area, but even that system can be tedious and time consuming to utilize. Sadly, the massive amount of commuters on the highways helps to add pollution to the environment – not to mention the amount of garbage that is tossed on to the side of the highway by these same commuters with a cavalier disregard for the impact that such action causes.

All of that is enough to make a tree-hugging, hippy Pagan such as myself crave time out in the wilderness, far away from this teeming pool of humans packed in like sardines, and polluting their own environment. But the truth be told, there are plenty of areas that are not that built up within the DFW area. Near my town, there are a number of wooded areas that can be walked into – and it feels like the crowded human city just melts away. One area is that of Old Alton Bridge or is it is locally known – The Goatman’s Bridge.

The Goatman’s Bridge has two tales that are associated with the name. The first follows a children’s tale that there is a demonic Satyr that inhabits the wooded area around the bridge. The second tale relates the story that a black goat farmer was hanged from the bridge by Ku Klux Klan members. When the Klan members shoved his body off the bridge to hang, they looked over the edge to see his twitching, dangling body in its death throes. What they saw was an empty noose. The Goatman did not land in the river, because a splash would have been heard. Nor was he found anywhere in the vicinity of the bridge after a hurried search. Panicking that their attempt to murder the Goatman would be found out, the Klan members returned to the Goatman’s house and slaughtered his wife and children. The legend continues that when cars travelled across the bridge at night (it was in use until 2001 when a new bridge was built nearby) without their headlights on, the Goatman would be seen at the end of the bridge – warning the darkened vehicles to illuminate their headlights. On Monday, I will make a trip over to the Goatman’s bridge to take some pictures and to hike in the surrounding Equestrian and Hiking Trails. I have driven past this particular area numerous times in the eleven-plus years I have lived in the area – and had not stopped by to investigate. I am looking forward to the side trip (this is less than five miles from my house) – as well as the chance to see if I can connect with the Spirits of the Land located here.

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming...one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.
Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

Over the past few years, I have taken numerous Summer trips to various areas – places I had always read about or seen pictures of, but had never experienced for myself. Last year was a marvelous trip up to Montana to visit Glacier National Park, with side trips into South Dakota and Wyoming. At Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, I had a wonderful time communing with the Spirits of the Land there, as well as feeling the incredible presence of the People who had utilized this amazing location to worship their Gods and Ancestors. I hope to make another trip there in a few years, to revisit this extremely powerful and extremely peaceful place.

In a few weeks, I will be taking another trip – this time headed eastward to Florida. This trip will not be focused on the Spirits of the Land – though I am sure a few places where I can attempt to commune with those Spirits will be happening. Rather, the focus of this trip is to visit one of the most Awen-inspired feats of mankind I have ever known – the dream of Spaceflight. Yes, I can understand where someone may feel that there is nothing “natural” about the Shuttle Atlantis or the area where it was brought into the dream of Spaceflight. I can also understand where someone may look at the Space Program as a way for man to try and dominate his own environment. I do not agree on either aspect. I see the Space Program as a way for man to explore his environment, and attempt to get a better understanding of that same environment. For, in my opinion, in trying to understand the environment better and exploring further into our environment – perhaps we (humans) can find a better way to be a part of our environment, rather than trying to dominate and control it.

It truly is a matter of personal perspective. I can relate to the opinion that it is difficult for a Pagan to live in the suburban sprawl of the glass and steel of a city’s metro area. But I also see the perspective that Paganism – and in my case Druidry – is about how we relate to our environment – both the wilderness aspect, and our more modern side. I can believe that many Native Americans looked at the log cabins that the first white settlers built and saw that as a blight upon the “natural” aspect of living. I truly do believe that it is a matter of perspective…and a matter of learning to live WITH our environment, rather than OFF of our environment. Its a matter of changing the calculus of the situation – looking at our environment as something that we are a part of – rather than as a resource that we can use to survive. Steel, glass, and concrete cities and suburban sprawl is how we live. Perhaps, we can find a better way to make those cities and suburbs a part of the environment, rather than the environment as a place where we can force those cities to exist?

Just some food for thought for a Saturday morning…

The Natural World

This post will prove to be something a little different. Currently, i am in Arkansas to help someone move back to Dallas. My job is not to load the truck, but to drive it back. Since i am the only person in this particular circle of friends that knows how to drive something bigger than a pickup truck…its what i was asked to do. So, here i sit in a hotel room, typing this post on an iPad. I decided to go without my laptop this time around…mostly to see if i could manage with just this little device. So far, so good. UPDATE – while initially starting this post on my iPad, I was not able to finish it because of demands that I had elsewhere – I am now continuing this post from home on my iMac.

I teach a class on Business Information Systems – which might best be described as an Introduction to Computers and Applications for the non-technical professional. I am constantly amazed at how much electronics cN change over the span of a short period of time. A few years ago, i would never have guessed at how much the tablet computing market would change and how mature the technology would become. I marvel at the Awen driven individuals who dreamed of this technology being a viable part of the business environment.

However, i do catch some grief from friends who remark that i am very technology oriented for an individual who professes a spiritual love for the outdoors. And commentary like this tends to spark the debate over what is “natural”. The discussion usually begins along the lines of man-made items not being “natural” – which I vigorously disagree with. We, human beings, are a part of our environment. The cities we build from concrete, steel and plastics, the vehicles we drive in, the homes we live in – all of that is a natural part of the environment. The problem does not arise from human beings creating things, in my opinion. Instead, it arises when we (human beings) look at our environment as something to dominate, something to use – rather than something to seek harmony with.

Yes, I am advocating that man-made structures are a part of the natural world. Back in the days of “From the Edge of the Circle” I did an entire show on the point that urban Pagans have many aspects of Nature around them. Look, I get the point that man-made structures don’t exactly “feel” natural. I very much get the point that getting away from the perspective of modern, urban living by escaping into the wilds of the wooded areas is great. Trees and uninhabited (by humans) areas are wonderful medicine for me. But at the same time, I feel just as much pull to the Spirits of the Land here in the metro- and urban-sprawls of life. Particularly in the areas where little bites of wild growth is allowed to stand side-by-side with city life, such as the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens area. And there are plenty of examples throughout cities to attest to such aspects.

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO
American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

There are plenty of examples where humans decide that natural is not better. Such as when waterways are diverted because of seasonal flooding to an area. I have never understood why the waterway had to be diverted. Perhaps it would have been better for the human beings to relocate somewhere else in the first place? I am also not a fan of stripping the land for its resources, such as the American Eagles mine near Cripple Creek, Colorado (see the accompanying photo). In instances such as these, where humans seek to dominate their environment rather than co-exist with it – I have problems with the attitude there. The environment, in my opinion, is something we (as humans) exist with – not something that we must dominate and subjugate to our selfish Will. I am sure that there are people around the world that would disagree with my opinion there, but so far, nearly every Pagan and Native American I have managed to query on the topic has been in some manner of agreement with me. I am not saying that this makes me “right” – just that people of a similar Spiritual bend tend to agree with me on this, according to my extremely unscientific personal polling method.

We are part of the Earth, She is a part of us. Of all the creatures placed on this planet, we (human beings) seem to be the most capable of taking care of the issues. And I do believe that this ability makes us unique care-takers in that regard. All it takes is a different mindset. Sure, we will need to re-arrange parts of our economies to make it work. But sitting around and doing nothing will solve nothing. We do not have to change huge parts of our ways of living to make this happen. We do not have to tear down our cities of concrete and steel. We do not have to live in grass and mud huts and eschew the technologies that we have. We just have to find better methods for our energy uses, find ways to exist within our environment…and it can be done. All of this is part of the Natural World….all of it.

 

Violating Our Programming

Today is the designated celebration for the life of Martin Luther King Jr., here in the United States. And while I do find what he did in his lifetime to be not only inspirational, but also historical significance – this small paragraph will be all that you will find me writing on the individual. Its not that I find his lessons to be of no value, or that I object to his race – both could be further from the truth of what I value about his contributions to societal change here in the United States. There are, however, far better tributes to the man, his teachings, and his contributions to change in a tumultuous social environment. Beyond what I have written here, my viewpoint would not be able to do the legacy of his dream any form of justice. Onwards….


Last night, I happened to catch Matrix: Reloaded on the television. The scene was where Neo meets with the Oracle on the bench in the area between two buildings. The conversation lingers over the entire underlying theme of the movie – Causality versus Choice. When she offers Neo some candy, he laments that she already knows whether he will accept the piece of candy or not. She replies that she would not be much of an Oracle if she didn’t know. Then Neo opines with:

Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?

The Oracle: Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand ‘why’ you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.

As with all three of the movies, the message is neatly folded in under some very interesting and hardcore action sequences. The first few times I watched the movies, I was so focused on the violence and fighting sequences, that the dialogue slid right on by. Then one day, while working at Intuit (yes, I did answer tax calls for a single tax season) a group of us were discussing the movie. I had managed to comprehend how the characters within the Matrix were bending the rules of reality as hackers tend to exploit shoddy programming to make applications dance to their whim. But then the conversation turned to the intricacies of the dialogue, I found myself lost in the conversation. I had never contemplated that the real meat of the story would be in the dialogue between the characters. Over the next two years (2005 and 2006), I began to dig deeper into the dialogue and started to see the philosophical argument underneath. The Hero had to first believe in his abilities…to understand that accepting his position as Hero meant to see life in a different way. Neo does this, when he begins to see the Matrix in terms of the binary programming language that permeates the Matrix environment. From there, he has many more tasks set on his Path, where he meets philosophical challenges, such as Causality versus Choice.

So let’s take a quick peek at that point. To place this into more simplistic terms, it is the difference between Cause/Effect and Choice. Is the world around us constructed primarily of a series of events determined by Cause and Effect? In essence, everything we do becomes a pattern of actions met with reactions, which in turn are met with further reactions – ad infinitum. Or do we have the capacity of Individual Choice? Where we can actually make a choice of how we go about our daily lives. Choosing what we can and will do or not do. Later in the movie, the character of the Merovingian, the information dealer takes up the perspective:

The Merovingian: No. Wrong. Choice is an illusion, created between those with power and those without. Look there, at that woman. My God, just look at her. Affecting everyone around her; so obvious, so bourgeois, so boring. But wait. Watch, you see, I have sent her a dessert…a very special dessert. I wrote it myself. It starts so simply; each line of the program creating a new effect, just like…poetry. First, a rush. Heat. Her heart flutters. You can see it, Neo, yes? She does not understand, why? Is it the wine? No…what is it, then, what is the reason? But soon it does not matter. Soon the why and the reason are gone, and all that matters is the feeling itself. And this is the nature of the universe; we struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretend, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is we are completely out of control. Causality. There is no escaping it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why. Why is what separates us from them, you from me. Why is the only real source of power, without it you are powerless.

As he succinctly puts this message, there is the inescapable point of cause and effect…action and reaction. It exists, even in a world made of independent Choice. We make choices all the time, with no regard (at times) for its effect elsewhere. I have talked a bit about connectivity in the past few posts, as I have managed to understand from Emma Restall Orr‘s book “The Wakeful World“. The choices and actions we take in this world, reverberate all around us.

Binary WorldWe elect politicians to positions of governmental power – enabling them to make choices of regulation, control, and policy action on our behalf. For the most part, Americans (I cannot speak of the countries I do not live in) vote in politicians based on which political ideology they claim to follow. In essence, we align ourselves according to what is essentially a set of vague and empty promises, in the hopes that these enabled procurators will follow our wishes as a general rule of thumb. Many of them, however, look to the large companies that prowl the hallways of Congress, seeking votes for legislation that allow them to put into motion business practices that are harmful to our environment – all in the short-sighted view of monetary gain. In the meantime, practices such as kerogen oil extraction and hydraulic fracturing cause environmental damage that will potentially be generations in the process of repair and rehabilitation. In some instances, the damage caused is unknown at this moment – a reaction to the actions of the businesses, who were enabled by the politicians that we chose to represent us in our government – choices made by a reaction to a supposed standing of an individual because of which label they had decided to choose when running for that representative office.

We all make choices. Those choices kick of actions, which are echoed by reactions. Much like the pebble dropped into a pool of water, our choices are actions that create reactions. The consequences may not be known initially, but it certainly does begin to beg the question of when we will claim the responsibility of what we have done. Our history, the history of mankind, is littered with examples of choices that spawned action and reaction that had lasting consequences. The two World Wars, the Bopal disaster, the current issues from the Fukushima disaster….each becomes a series of actions and reactions related to a set of choices that were made.  Some may have been well-intentioned, others may have been intentional in relation to the action/reaction chain of events that occurred in its wake.  Yes, we all make choices. Sometimes those choices are influenced by a reaction to a choice made by another. That politician decided to run as a Republican. You hate Republicans. You automatically paint that individual with a broad-brush declaring that individual is influenced solely by white, corporate America. How can one be completely sure that this broad-brush painting of the individual based on a set of empty promises brandished by a political party are reflective of this person’s own convictions?

Cause and Effect or Independent Choice? I argue with my students every semester about whether the proposition of Artificial Intelligence can ever be achieved. They point out that there are scientists continually working on the construct of this theory that are held back by governments and militaries – essentially keeping their findings as “secret” for the purposes of national security. My approach is that to get a machine to actually think – you need to provide it with choice. Currently, machines can make choices based on difference engines, where a determination of success rate is quickly calculated, and the machine’s choice is to adopt the solution with the higher success rate. But real choice isn’t based on a Difference Engine. Real choice comes from the ability to violate the programming, no matter how illogical or unsound the choice is. The ability to ignore the success rate and choose a lower success rate instead. Or to choose not to make a choice from the offered set of solutions. This does begin to beg a deeper question – can we, as humans violate our programming? Or are we looked into a pre-determined set of choices based on our experiences? When we violate the programming and choose another way of solving the problem – are we truly violating our programming??