Monday, October 2, 2017

On the morning of the latest mass-shooting...these thoughts

My God, we are a violent culture. And now we are armed to the teeth. We have among us some of the most unstable people able to get their hands on arsenals of military-style weapons, and we have  deluded ourselves into believing that there is some Constitutional right to this, that arming ourselves with lethal weapons constitutes "freedom," or some such thing - unless you're the one getting shot.

We have people among us ready to carry Tiki Torches into bastions of the old Confederacy to sow fear and to stoke still more violence - which, in a nation violent from its birth, is so easily stoked. We have the hate and the trauma left in the wake of racist violence that goes back to the days of the slavers' ships and from the days of genocide when Europeans used pure savagery to remove millions of indigenous peoples from lands the invaders coveted.

But there is even more going on now, beyond the legacy of these old festering wounds. Because of the way humans have ravaged the planet in this quest for power and wealth, we now have a planetary crisis on our hands and it seems fewer and fewer people are missing its cues as the signals of it grow increasingly dangerous, threatening, and permanent.

Okay, so let's help one another here in this country understand what is happening, why in the very face of these realities we have in places of governmental authority some of the most incompetent, destructive, venal, resentful people in the nation's history. I mean, we have seen our share of corruption and incompetence, but not like this, not a situation that threatens to bring down the constitutional order itself.

Well, there is no empire that has ever gone down quietly. There is no empire that has not fallen apart in some sort of unraveling that brings the pathologies of that empire to the surface. The psychological reality of it is that the decline of an empire creates profound fear and anxiety because by its very nature empire has created dependencies and meaning frameworks for its subjects, and when those are threatened, people go a little crazy.

We are in a time of imperial decline. And that is happening in the context of "the Great Unraveling," the imminent end of the age of industrial capitalism. It was built upon the foundations of cheap, abundant, economically efficient and productive fossil fuels, and the mass destruction of ecosystems all around the planet in its service. Add accelerating, exponential human population growth rates and, well, yes, you have a massive crisis on your hands. There is already more demand than what the Earth can meet, and the resources to meet that demand are not only shrinking, they are being carved up and distributed with great injustice. That means that the greater percentage of the population is falling into greater vulnerability, insecurity, poverty, and exclusion as those with power and wealth consolidate their hold on the financial resources of that failing system.

Things begin to fall apart, and the more they fall apart, the faster they fall apart. The speed picks up. And this past year, that speed has become dizzying, disorienting in the extreme.

The massacre in Las Vegas comes directly on the heels of three massively destructive hurricanes, one of which has destroyed the island of Puerto Rico, the worst wildfire season in our nation's history, growing evidence by way of both experience and science that our stable climate system is no longer stable, and the growing awareness that our system of government in this country is in a state of collapse (some of this by way of pure dysfunction, some of this by way of intention). Throw in the escalating tensions with North Korea and talks of nuclear war. Throw in Steve Bannon and his publicly expressed determination to destroy the GOP "establishment." Throw in the growing irrelevance of the Democratic Party and the collapse of the two-party system.

Feel the unease out there around the nation? Yeah, there is a reason for it.

In this situation, a lot of people tend not to act rationally. Those feeling the loss of control over their lives get scared. And without the social, psychological, and spiritual support to understand what is happening, a whole lot of people begin to act irrationally, aggressively - violently.

I mean, the empire does not inform its subjects of the unraveling. Rather, it tries to hold on to power as long as it can, even when the number of victims created by the unraveling continues to grow. As the empire unravels, those with power and wealth begin to hoard more fiercely than ever. Wealth and power concentrate, and those with wealth and power become even more resistant to things like democracy, social safety nets, or concern for the common good.

Are we running out of conventional sources of fuel? Well, then open up more fragile lands and coasts to drilling. Are global warming, deforestation, industrial agriculture, metallic and mineral mining, accompanied by, or cause of, the sixth great extinction threatening future supplies of arable land and potable water? Then start buying farmland and water sources all around the planet so that you have control of them as scarcities grow. No sharing for the powers-that-be! Scarcity creates enormous opportunity for profits, while ensuring that the rich and secure remain rich and secure (or so they believe) while the rest of the world suffers and dies.

Nothing new under the sun here. It's not a bad overall summary of many eras in human history. What IS new is the scale of the crisis. This time, there is nowhere else to go. I know Stephen Hawking says it's time to leave the planet, but really, we are evolved from this planet, we belong to it. We exist only within its biosphere which exists nowhere else we know of. Like it or not, there is no escape this time. We're going to have to figure out how to get through this.

Unlike the real doomers who predict human extinction in our lifetimes (they annoy me greatly), this supposed doomer believes we are facing a defining moment in the evolution of the human, a moment when one trajectory that began with the first weapons used to take land from another tribe thousands of years ago, that moved from taming fires to iron tools to steam engines to steel mills and the Alberta tar sands, is ending because it has to, because it is killing everything, while the new trajectory is just now trying to get itself birthed.

Which trajectory do we want to be part of? To which path does it make sense to devote our lives?

This era is collapsing into chaos. Trump and Bannon did not create the chaos, they are evidence of it. The time of chaos is real. But what kind of fuel do we want to throw into that fire? Because these people are stoking it with a lot of hate and appeals to the worst in us. We cannot make new creation out of that kind of atmosphere. We need our best spiritual, psychological, cultural gifts, and a willingness to make drastic changes in our lives commensurate with the scale and causes of the crisis itself, if we are to move through this with the kind of human solidarity, all-hands-on-deck, approach so urgently needed now.

This is the work I want to do now - to help us see this moment more clearly, to understand what is really going on, and to be a part of the birthing of that new trajectory, of seeking out a new path for the human because this one has become so destructive. The creative energies at work right now among many culture workers, American Indian Nations, urban farmers, young black leaders, immigrants, and more are inspiring, often amazing, and loci for that birthing that must take place. Venice Williams, executive director of Alice's Garden Urban Farm where I have my garden plot here in Milwaukee, has referred to herself as a midwife, helping to nurture the spaces and the communities where new life can be birthed, can emerge out of "the womb" of culture, of people, of Mother Earth, into the world.

I love that image and metaphor and think it can serve us well right now. It might also help to look at what this economic culture and what this empire in its waning days is actually bringing about, what is now emerging from it. Doesn't that tell us what we need to know about it? Are there still those who think it just needs a little fixing here and there, another election cycle, a commitment to solar and wind, and then everything will be okay? What's going on here is a transition of grand scale in the evolutionary journey, and we have to decide who we want to be in it. The title of Margaret Wheatley's latest book begs this question: Who Do We Choose To Be? The way I put it ten years ago now, the title of chapter nine in my book, Living Beyond the 'End of the world:' A Spirituality of Hope, is similar: "What kind of human beings will we be as we go through the crisis?"

Everything depends now on how we answer those questions. So let's begin to engage this process. I love to speak on it, facilitate conversation about it, gather stories from "the roots," share with others the energizing work of "new creation." Retreats, reflection days, ritual and spiritual journeying together - so many possibilities for awakening within us the creativity so sorely needed now. The work of resistance is powerful and growing, but without the vision of what comes next, without a tangible way to work toward it, that work cannot last. It needs the energy that comes with "seeing," and with "seeing-in-community." Each one of us has our own unique gifts to offer to this work of new creation. Each one of us is needed.

Which is for me a more energetic way of seeing who I am in the world than a mere participant in an economic culture that has no future.

~ Margaret Swedish


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Monday, September 18, 2017

Living within reality v living outside of it - as if this is a choice

That was the thought that popped into my brain after I read this AP story this morning:

US coastal growth continues despite lessons of past storms 

GOES-East image of Maria
Here comes Maria - NASA satellite image

This is denialism in the extreme - and I don't just mean the climate science deniers. I mean all of us who continue to live outside the reality of it, which is most of us in this capitalist consumer world of ours.

Everyone who believes that they can live beyond the biocapacity of the Earth and still have a habitable planet, everyone who resists seeing clearly that those who live outside the margins of what is sustainable in a regenerative sense for the ecosystems of the Earth is in denial.

The economic system, the institutions that are co-dependent with it (including cultural, religious, academic, political, financial, social, etc.), the lifestyles we live that support it, the aspirations we have that can only be reached within that system - all of that is cloaked in the mantel of denial, denial that the Earth itself cannot support it any longer and is already in the process of numerous manifestations of collapse.

The choice is inescapable, and so the resistance (especially among the supposedly knowledge-based economic and scientific cultures) is fairly stupefying the more obvious the crisis becomes:
We will either live within the limits of reality, or we will crash our world and reality will force what remains back inside those limits.
That's it. That's where we are. And the more it is said out loud, the more we squirm and wish the planet would stop insisting on this truth.

I read this stuff all the time - the studies, the reports, the data that show how impossible this has all become. We need 1.6 planets to continue as we are - but we aren't continuing "as we are." We are going to add 2-3 billion more humans to the planet by 2050, a planet that is seeing rapid depletion in all the most basic things we need for life, especially arable land and water.

However, we are not just talking about the most basic things of life. We are talking about high-rise buildings and industry and housing developments and air conditioning on an increasingly hotter planet and smart phones and SUVs and pickup trucks and giant sports stadiums and arenas and mining for the planet's last remaining minerals and metals and pipelines for oil, gas, water, and sewage and more concrete to twice the amount of concrete used over the past two centuries and on and on. How?!

Reality, my friends, not fantasy. We don't get to live in a fantasy world. No matter how hard we try, reality smacks us in the face - in Southeast Texas and Florida, and in the burning forests of the northwest and around Los Angeles, in the 106 degrees in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and temperatures in the 70s in Milwaukee last February and Chicago's snowless winter. Millions of ticks are spreading throughout the nation carrying deadly or crippling diseases, a tiny insect raging through all those comforting fantasies.

From Forbes: "The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050... How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?"
"...large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction." ~ Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg, in their book,  Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, as quoted in the Forbes article.
And that, my friends, is a terrific summary statement of the foundational fantasy of our time.

By the way, this is the Forbes article, Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050. It's from Feb 2016. Didn't have much impact, did it...

Now here's the thing - my own thing. I actually do not want to depress you or anyone else. Instead, I would like to see humans dig deep to find out some deeper meaning in life than this economic world that has created this false reality, the one that has separated us from what Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, liberation theologian from El Salvador, used to call "real reality."

Complexity of life - Lake Michigan shore
Real reality - that we can't keep extracting from the Earth more than it can replenish with the abundance and complexity of living forms that hold the Web of Life together, that we can't keep spewing more waste into her atmosphere and biosphere than she can absorb, that we can't keep shredding natural habitats and think life will somehow survive.

From Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute:
Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic...

Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

~ Museletter #303: Climate Change Isn't our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won't Save Us
Honesty and soul-searching.

You see, our situation is not hopeless, even if we are headed for a very painful transition. It is only hopeless if we cling to what is breaking down our world. It is only hopeless if we try to preserve the fantasy. Once we let that go, things become clear, what we have to do, and even more, who we have to become.

If the fantasy had brought happiness and joy for everyone, seeing this would be difficult. But when we look at the world and see the pain, the suffering, the anger and depression, the violence in our streets, our homes, our world, the hunger, the hatred, the resurgent tribalism, the inequality, the loss of soul - you have to wonder why it is so hard to rid ourselves of this economic paradigm and reach into something deeper, more meaningful, more worthy of the dignity of the human spirit.

This work, this project to wrest ourselves from the crisis of inevitable collapse - now that is a journey more worthy of us. And that is the challenge we face now - to claim lives of far deeper meaning than the one that has consumed our world, being at the service of global corporate powers that are the real energy behind the loss of hope.

Photo: M Swedish
Living in reality rather than trying to continually prop up a fantasy world will release a tremendous amount of creative energy. Rather than trying to fit into the world constructed for us by western capitalism, waiting for them to create the jobs they need and then playing our roles as consumers of their profit-making goods, we use our best gifts and talents to live in the real world itself, to create new ways of life out of the economies of the local communities where we live, communities that include the other sentient and non-sentient beings that make up the habitats in which we dwell. The point of these economies then becomes no longer profits for corporations and investors, but rich and abundant life for all.

Yes, it will be shattering to many of the myths and fantasies that have supported our sense of self and purpose. But they are collapsing in any case, so it's time to find a new vision for the human journey. This one hasn't worked out very well. It's time to have the courage to face the emptiness of this economic path, to release ourselves from its addictive powers, to journey back into relationship with the planet, into its reality, the one from which we emerged and on which we are completely dependent. Maybe by doing that we can begin to discover (or rediscover) the sense of a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, and thereby bring about a rebirth of the human species.

We have to. We have no other choice - if we want to keep living here.

~ Margaret Swedish 

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Monday, September 4, 2017

We need some real moral courage now

Where will it come from?

Let's spend a little time assessing the situation. I know this can often amount to overload, but at some point we have to be willing to receive into our heads and hearts the full scope of the turbulent changes underway in order to appreciate the scope of the changes required of us now, with urgency. After all, we are already feeling them in our bodies and psyches, which react to all sorts of trauma with stress, anxiety, fear, and profound disorientation as our familiar world becomes increasingly unfamiliar.

I will do this by way of a couple of overarching themes that point to the gravity of the moment, the larger picture that we could fill in with any number of other crises - war and threats of war, racism and segregation, retreat into tribalism and religious fundamentalism, and other social realities - like addiction, gun violence, the rise of armed, organized militias - exacerbating that crisis. The list is long, and much of this is symptom, not cause, of our predicament. We are a population operating under extreme stress (as is much of the world), but largely unable to articulate the true causes of that stress. "Blame the other" has become the convenient way of coping in a culture that has never understood well the dynamics of the global economy, the breakdown of ecosystems or how they work, and how religion is often a force of social control rather than insight, wisdom, and liberation.

Friday, August 25, 2017

35 inches of rain - and an eclipse

Having trouble taking that in - 35 inches of rain? I am. Hard to comprehend. Hard to comprehend what it means to major population areas. Add to that high winds and a 12-ft storm surge. Add to that the possibility that barrier islands may be inundated. And then that the rain will go on for days.

I'm watching the Weather Channel this early morning. I know they tend to over-dramatize weather, but they are reading statements from the National Weather Service that are about as dire as anything I've ever heard.

Hurricane Katrina struck land as a category 1 storm. This will hit the Texas coast as a category 3.

A disaster like this does not end when the winds calm and the sun returns. A disaster like this destroys in ways that take years for communities to recover. Some of the outcomes will be permanent. Millions of lives could be upended.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The summer of our discontent, and the coming eclipse

Discontent abounds now in our fragmenting culture. I'm going in to a bit of a quiet mode for a week or two, reassessing what we're doing under the umbrella of this little non-profit. How to focus in the time of "the Great Unraveling" when our non-profit's financial resources are scarce, and when many people are bewildered, anxious, fearful, most of us having no clue about that comes next.

We are in crisis. Some media people are trying to tell us that. This isn't "chicken little" time. The sky really is falling.

Good time for a total eclipse.

Monday, August 7, 2017

We are water - which is good news and bad news

On Sunday (Aug 6th) I attended the annual "We Are Water" event on a Lake Michigan beach just north of downtown Milwaukee, hosted by the Milwaukee Water Commons. There are many things I love about this event. It is a beautiful combination of inspiration, education, spirituality, ecology, and ritual. It is centered on our relationship with the Great Lakes - not theoretically or romantically, but deeply, materially, in the sense that we share a common fate.

Humans have not taken very good care of this lake, or most of the others. Only Lake Superior remains fairly pristine, but it is also threatened with more coastal development, oil pipelines, and huge tanker ships carrying dangerous materials.

The world's largest fresh water "resource," as some think of them, it is a water system unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

So it is sometimes hard to believe that humans could mess them up so, threaten their future. Well, if we can do it to the oceans - and we are - we can certainly do it to the inland freshwater lakes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

We are unraveling... so now what?

It's hard to know what to write after a political week like this one. I write on ecology and spirituality. I write about the nexus between culture and ecology, how the health of the latter depends on the health of the former - and the former seems pathologically ill. I offer workshops on environmental justice, on the "new" story presented to us by scientific discovery, on the importance of humans re-finding their connections with the eco-communities that give us life and maintain them, before we shred them to pieces.

I speak and write on the role of beauty and awe in the human psyche, threatened now by small screens and endless internet connectivity and a consumer culture that has us saturated with things and pleasures and conveniences, all brought to us by massive destruction of forests, waters, farmland, and more.

And then we have a political week like this one and I know some of us think, why bother? Collapse of this culture, this western way of life, this economic system, is well underway with a seemingly unstoppable and accelerating momentum.