Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous
°You

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Asking for a Vision with the School of Lost Borders

It is difficult to express how blessed I feel to have the opportunity for my first ceremonial fast to be within an intentionally queer/LGBTQ community of questers this June, on the literal eve of my 30th birthday. Doing a fast with the School of Lost Borders brings together two of my passions: nature-connection and rites-of-passage work. Both of these interests are inspired by my experience of these things as a queer person, and my longing to be able to share these elements of a resilient and healthy culture with queer folk and many others. 
One thing I’ve told myself is that the "queer" part of me is “the secret face of my connection to Creator.” I became interested in mysticism in my early teen years and it’s been such an integral part of who I am since then. My longings to connect to the realms of spirit and soul seem to be interwoven with my queer identity, which is really more of an “unfolding” than something that can be identified and quantified. Put another way, the unfolding of my queerness seems to be simultaneously an expression of soul (unique, organic, and personal) and also a means for connecting with spirit—with the transpersonal and cosmic. Being genderqueer was something I became aware of, on a sub-conscious level, when I was 7 or 8 years old, long before sexuality was something I thought about. Gender, which I understand in part as the interplay of masculine and feminine energies within me and around me, seems deeply coupled with that enigmatic concept folks call “soul,” as a pattern mysteriously emerging from the cosmos through me, and it is an inevitable mediator in how I relate to the world and to other beings.
I earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Religious Studies, focusing on the Judeo-Christian tradition. These traditions hold a lot of cultural trauma and ancestral grief, but also offer powerful connections to ancestors, and with that potential for healing and reclaiming parts of “Western” mythic consciousness. Nature-based and contemplative aspects of these traditions especially interest me as those have been largely lost in mainstream American Christianity. Although I was raised agnostic and non-theist, a big part of my draw to Christianity is to the devotion to Mary in my Greek matrilineal ancestry. To me, Mary is an underworld guide (a role that could also be known as “psychopomp” or “bodhisattva”) and represents perhaps the last vestiges of an archetype for “soul” in Christian tradition. One of my intentions in my fast is to continue a conversation that I began to discover the threads of last year; to delve deeper into my relationship with her as a guide and ally in my journey as a queer mystic, and to step outside of the comfort zone of merely knowing her in an intellectual sense (through scholarship).
My main intention though with this fast is to mark a passage into initiation as a mentor, educator, and cultural transformer who is genderqueer, someone who stands as a “star” person, a vital space in between the moon (feminine) and the sun (masculine) beings. Almost five years ago now, I came out as transgender and started hormone therapy to become more masculinized. However at the time of my coming out, I was in a long-term relationship where the pressure to be “heteronormative” was absolutely crushing. Though my former partner was fascinated by and supportive of my journeys in the realm of gender, the pressure and tension created by our very different upbringings and social circles had me trying to fit myself into a ‘male’ identity. It didn’t feel right. And truly, it was me who was my own greatest judge during that time. Slowly, I figured out how to get out of my own way and chose to hear the message that had long been there: that my androgyny (the androgyny of my soul as well as the androgyny that is visible to others) is a gift and is holy, not something that needs to be cured. There aren’t social roles or archetypes in Western culture for the possibilities of genderqueer personhood, but that does not mean that these possibilities don’t exist. Today, I’m still on testosterone therapy, though I’m on a low dosage that upholds, externally, the interplay of masculine and feminine that I feel inside.
Last year, only about 8 months after my former finance and I—with great difficulty—ended our engagement, I had the privilege of participating in a sunrise ceremony led by a Chumash elder in Southern California. I was among a group of about 30 people and the elder had been informed by our group leaders that there was a transgender person in the group, since part of the ceremony involved dividing the men and women into two different groups. When the time came to divide us in that way, I wasn’t sure where to stand, so I stood with the men. The Chumash man came up to me and gently led me to a place where I stood alone, at the head of the two lines of groups, (men and women) that were facing each other. Then, as he directed the groups to arrange themselves in a circle around the ceremonial fire, he asked me to hold his can of tobacco and stand at the place where everyone was filing into the circle. I was honored to assist him. Later, he met with the men and the women in the group separately, but allowed me to attend both meetings. He then publicly called me out in honor of the medicine I carried as a bridge between those worlds. I had never been treated like this before, especially not from a respected male elder and community leader. It did not feel like he was tokenizing me at all or excluding me from either world—he actually saw me how I saw myself, not as an “exile” or “rebel” from the gender-binary, but as someone who deeply empathized with the cultural wounding around gender and wanted to hold space for healing using the gift of shape-shifting and manifesting connection.
I see all humans as shape-shifters, ecologically speaking, but queer folks of many varieties (not just gender-queer folks) hold a unique sub-niche within that: we are able to access an innate understanding of shape-shifting that is rapidly being lost in the modern world.
In this year since the sunrise ceremony, I often think about the Chumash wisdom keeper and have such immense gratitude that I don’t know what to do with it. I feel so humbled, and also responsible for the important role that he seemed to naturally and effortlessly see me as occupying. It is hard to hide, to feel “unseen,” now, if it ever was easy before. For months I wondered, should I write to him and ask if I could learn more from him about how to hold that space that I caught a glimpse of? Do I dare ask that? I wonder, as a “Connector,” and someone who empathizes deeply with the struggles of the masculine and the feminine, how can I be a model of empathy when I still have so much unlearning of destructive emotional patterns to complete? I struggle to feel worthy in the realm of the heart, because I worry that I have not paid enough attention to its intense longing, and instead cultivated the intellect too strongly. I struggle to sing out loud and to enact the spontaneous ceremonies that my heart imagines. Confronting these fears seems connected to the ability to fully embrace what I’m capable of. At this time I cannot crystallize all of the above questions into one single question, and I’m not sure if that is exactly what is called for since in the realm of the vision fast, one has to be careful about posing questions to Mystery that are “too specific.” It feels like I am gathering important tools that I’ve gained in the last year and a half (in which my ego has been through a few proverbial blenders) and arranging them together, aligning them to see what they evoke, how they ask to be used in this world...
Thanks for reading, and for holding space for this quest if it moves you.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Indigenous Notions of Land Stewardship

A biocentric model of environmentalism that sees humans as alien or foreign to wilderness (mere visitors) is merely the extreme opposite of an anthropocentric model that chauvinistically sees humans as lords of nature. Both are unbalanced and the former is not a sustainable cure for the latter, more like just a temporary immune reaction at best.
“In wilderness preservation, in land management, forestry, and resource management of all kinds, Native Peoples offer a kind of model. But it’s not the biocentric model that you’re familiar with from deep ecology or Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. It’s fundamentally different because it’s primarily kincentric. That’s the word that I have coined to describe a unique Indigenous cosmology and relationship to nature. It’s not in the dictionary. I had to think of something that would work to explain that what this relationship is about in the universe is one of equality. Humans don’t even have the moral authority to extend ethics to the land community, as the Leopold land ethic and deep ecology would do.

Traditionally, we work with animals and plants. We are comanagers with animals and plants. We don’t have the right to extend anything. What we have the right to do is to make our case, as human beings, to the natural world. That compact, that kind of contract between animals and human beings, is what has guided Indians’ subsistent livelihoods—hunting and gathering—and Indian agroecology and agriculture in the world for a very, very long time.” — Dennis Martinez, Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, pp. 89-90.
Yesyesyesyesyouaresoright. Reminds me of Murray Bookchin’s work (particularly the article on social ecology versus deep ecology). Deep ecology, which has a history of being considered sexy by left wing radicals, (bless our hearts) was rooted in an elite sector of Euro-American academia representing a very narrow demographic. I must quote Bookchin, curmudgeon-sage that he is: 
“Does it make sense, for example, to counterpose deep ecology with superficial ecology, as though the word ecology were applicable to everything that involves environmental issues? Given this mindless use of ecology to describe anything of a biospheric nature, does it not completely degrade the rich meaning of the word ecology to append words like shallow and deep to it—-adjectives that may be more applicable to gauging the depth of a cesspool than the depth of ideas? Arne Naess, the pontiff of deep ecology, who inflicted this vocabulary upon us, together with George Sessions and Bill Devall, who have been marketing it out of Ecotopia, have taken a pregnant word—-ecology—-and deprived it of any inner meaning and integrity by designating the most pedestrian environmentalists as ecologists, albeit shallow ones, in contrast to their notion of deep.

This is not mere wordplay. It tells us something about the mindset that exists among these “deep” thinkers. To parody the words shallow and deep ecology is to show not only the absurdity of this vocabulary but to reveal the superficiality of its inventors. Is there perhaps a deeper ecology than deep ecology? What is the deepest ecology of all that gives ecology its full due as a philosophy, sensibility, ethics, and movement for social change?”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Next Horizon: Excavating the Nature-Based Roots of Christianity


What I'm currently working on: The "Good Shepherd" from the Roman catacomb of Priscilla, c. 3rd century C.E., where some of the earliest known Christian art was found. The Good Shepherd functioned as an early metaphor for Jesus, but this archetype of the herdsmen with shamanic powers can be traced in the story-traditions of figures such as Orpheus, Hermes, Moses, King David, or Endymion the shepherd-astronomer. Indeed, to think such a rich web of meaning discredits the story of Jesus is to miss the point entirely--in the mode of myth such things just compound potency and make things more interesting. I believe the figure of the Shepherd is central to the cultural "creation story" of the Near East, hence Western culture. Shepherd is a symbol of underworld guide (guide of souls), but is also an icon of ecological "deep" history, speaking of a symbiotic relationship between two species that literally made our culture possible. We westerners seem to romanticize such symbiosis in other cultures, especially pre-industrial ones, but fail to see a comparable pattern in our own. Mythology should not be just for talking about other people's cultures and distancing ourselves from the past. I know that religious studies as an institution felt tarnished by the "crypto-theological" work of certain mythologists. But there can be a way to take note from both the universality of mythology and the relativism of postmodern thought. The notion that you have to pick one (and they are just stand ins for the old dichotomy of rational/intuitive, intelligence/emotions, science/art) is the symptom of an emotionally wounded and indecisive culture that, tragically, can't trust itself.

Queering the Sciences: A middle road between Postmodern Thought and Scientism?

This post is somewhat dated (two or three years old to date, perhaps) but I'd like to publish it since it is more or less complete and has been saved as a draft for quite a long time now.

There has been created in American intellectual (and pop) culture a sort of postmodernism on steroids that is somewhat of a Frankenstein. I have been influenced very positively by postmodern thought and critical theory myself, and I certainly believe there is a proper place for it in the methodological toolbox. But there are ways in which postmodern thought has gotten "out of hand" and I think threatens to create an atmosphere of moral nihilism that ironically isn't too dissimilar to the spiritual nihilism that postmodern theologians criticize scientists for. Simply put, the goal of postmodern theory/critique is deconstruction, and as such it is a provisional lens, a necessary perspective along the path to wisdom. But it cannot be used by itself, it is auxiliary. It should not eradicate all possibility of subjective construction and creation of meaning toward some perceived (and naturally culturally constrained) goal. And it should not ignore or devalue the functional realities of meaning-making. Because if we are not careful it will destroy all myth, including the benign, even enchanting ones we hold about ourselves, that help us navigate through life.

There is also a worrying bifurcation occurring at this moment in Western culture.
As academic discourses reach new heights of abstraction and linguistic focus, popular culture becomes more and more visual. But the worst ethical ramifications of postmodern thought trickle through to find validation within a consumer culture. The worst notion by far is the one in which there is no universal morality, corresponding to the notion that there are no overarching truths. And if there are, the thinking goes, it is dangerous to calibrate one's moral compass by them, lest one be disappointed and stepped on by an increasingly immoral and disenchanted world.

The anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan dishes out a blistering critique of it as he sees it:

So Postmodernism reveals that autonomy has largely been a myth and cherished ideals of mastery and will are similarly misguided. But if we are promised herewith a new and serious attempt at demystifying authority, concealed behind the guises of a bourgeois humanist "freedom", we actually get a dispersal of the subject so radical as to render it impotent, even nonexistent, as any kind of agent at all. Who or what is left to achieve a liberation, or is that just one more pipe dream?

I think that postmodern thought can be reconciled with cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. Both areas of inquiry contain great truths that should be synergized, but ironically they can also both be used to discredit each other.

Here are my thoughts on this matter.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is an interesting moral problem here to be solved. Like many other humanities students I have been at times very concerned about the attitude of scientific imperialism, and the on-the-ground politics and machinations within scientific research. I think that there have also been significant stumbling blocks in many branches of science—such as neuro and cognitive sciences, as well as ecology and economics—that have led to frameworks of extreme reductionism, atomism and determinism, not to mention a sort of spiritual nihilism that is more or less socially useless and at best a desperate counterweight measure for anti-scientific and anti-intellectual sentiment. This can make some scientific discourse seem polemical and reactionary, which is of course not very intellectually seductive.

Postmodern principles are essential for compassionately navigating, and being open to, a pluralized, globalized world because they caution against moral, ethical and social truth-claims, and they provide radical ways of re-conceptualizing identity and personhood, and the ways in which culture constructs things that otherwise seem very fixed to us subjectively. Postmodernism is also pivotal in deconstructing the cultural and social processes through which any meaning is made, not just that which is pertinent to identity.

But all the same, postmodernism is not some form of logic that you can blindly apply to every issue you encounter. As the internet meme quips, "You must be new here..."

Naturally, universalist claims—such as some made by the scientific studies of human brains and behavior—are called into question because clearly our world-views and belief systems are self-supporting, and there's no way we can step outside of our cultural embeddedness to gain a total vision of humanity... I agree that such a bird's eye view does not exist. I can see that it probably seems to many that scientists arrogantly claim to be perched atop just such a vantage point.

But this is where a truth of this intellectual battle comes out. Maybe such arrogance and lack of empathy is a social problem, located in individual people, and not inherent in the ethics of science or the scientific method. Or, if such attitudes ARE somehow vestigal in science, remnants of a white supremacist, colonial past, they CAN be disconnected and discarded, with some work. Just the same, the benefits of science can be disembedded from certain histories of use.

I'm annoyed that those who take PM to its (illogical) conclusions often think that they are the ones whose worldviews most closely resemble one free of presuppositions and biases. This is a form of elitism that is a mirror image of what it criticizes in scientism.

The truth, as usual I think is somewhere in the middle.

Many historians and humanities scholars have a problem with the theory, central to cognitive science of religion (for example) that since brains, being products of a common evolutionary past, are common to all humans there must exist universal constraints to behavior delineated by biology. And that biology is in fact very important in understanding culture, and engaging in a true comparative study of human cultures.

Now, these days many scholars in the humanities, especially religion, are very wary of comparativism because of the ostensibly discredited (as culturally biased) work of the likes of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. For many, the only safe thing to do is to study one thing, and the whole notion of comparing different religious behaviors, myths or symbols in service of an idea (or ideal) of a universal and perennial human spirituality is deeply problematic, and I've even heard it called "crypto-theology" (Which I guess is an insult) I get where they are coming from, but personally I think Eliade and Campbell were onto something.

Cognitive science entered the humanities scene in the past decade, and I think it has billed itself as the "new comparativism", replacing Eliade's idea of a universal human desire for a return to one's origins with the architecture of the brain and the lasting legacy of our evolutionary past, that is literally inscribed into our flesh. And as such it has been particularly threatening to postmodern ways of thinking about culture, society and gender. But yet, I think that neuroscience has come to some of the same conclusions as Eliade, as evident in Andrew Newberg's research and the related field of neurotheology on how we are neurologically predisposed to mysticism and magical thinking. Moreover, such beliefs may not just be large scale hallucinations, "opiates of the masses" or "delusions", but might actually have beneficial effects, regardless of whether their symbolic content is "true" or not (and indeed, I think spiritual and mythic realities really destabilize the rational, scientific Western ideal of "truth—as one scholar puts it myth is in fact a cosmological theorem). Such beneficial effects may operate on many scales, from individual physiology to group solidarity and even beyond. Notably, Newberg's works include a book about the various neurological (and physiological) benefits of religious belief and/or practice.

That said, eventually I hope that the discussion about religion, or for that matter any other human cultural behavior, will turn to something beyond "benefits" and "detriments" to the individual self—as if we were all hanging out in the self-help section of the bookstore—and will expand into a more dispassionate (yet more empathic) discussion about ecological dynamics.

Personally, I think Postmodernism, against claims to the contrary, does make its own universalist claim, one that is I think not so different from the claim about the universal explanatory power of cognitive science.

For PM the grand organizing factor, the one responsible for the development and learning of every human being... is culture. It is once the universal constant and the universal variant.

But "culture," whatever that is, and the brain with its hallmark process we call "mind" are partners in crime, co-creators of human life on earth. They are intimately coupled, self-regulating relational processes, one [the brain/mind] flesh-and-blood, bound to the wheel of time, and the other [culture] the handmaid of the flesh, the symbolic order that has one foot outside of time, while another stays firmly rooted in the temporal world.

You just can't pick one in lieu of the other to use as a critical lens—they are both equally responsible, important and real, though real in very different ways.

I suspect that through inter-theoretic reduction and transdisciplinary work, postmodern thought and evolutionary and brain sciences can be reconciled. They do need each other, or something like each other, because the brain sciences are too chauvinistic and PM theories are in too much of a perpetual existential crisis.




Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Habit of Body Art

I spent a month at an Orthodox Monastery in Greece this summer, volunteering on their farm.

The monastery was perched high on the slope of Mt. Kissavos at around 3,500 feet, which is in the Northern Central portion of Greece, near the port of Volos and with Mt. Olympus to the North. The monastery, populated by nuns and novices from many countries, was about 3 kilometers from the small village of Anatoli, a small cluster of white houses with terra cotta roofs hugging the mountainside. Their mountain rose out of flat alluvial plans below that stretched far to the West. The city of Larissa was in the midst of these plains, surrounded by cultivated land. Even here among the more industrial-scale farmlands, the ever-resourceful shepherds would take their flocks to glean the fields after the grass and grain harvests—things ancient and modern overlapping in a strange symbiosis. From up on the mountain at night, the summer atmosphere refracts the city lights of Larissa, which shimmer thousands of feet below the dark, Oak-shrouded balconies of the monastery. It almost felt like we were on a spaceship slowly orbiting earth. On a clear day we could also see the Aegean to the East, through the trees. Dry aromatic scrub blanketed the land, punctuated with stands of old oaks and little spruces. It was just a few hundred feet too high for the olive, lemon, and fig trees that Greece is known for, but the the air still had that hot herbal smell at mid-day. A few times a day you could hear the whoop of shepherds echoing across the hillsides, as well as the sweet clang of bells and the baaing of the foraging flocks. Sometimes we would meet them on the road to town, somehow both chaotic and organized as they flowed en masse behind their herder and around the slowly creeping automobiles. Foxes, hare, and wild boar roamed the woods, elusive, but leaving their tracks for me in ephemeral patches of mud that appeared after the rare alpine thunderstorms.

My soul feels deeply connected to that land, and to the anarchistic traditions of herding and keeping animals in rural Greece. Gates open, Horses standing aimlessly in the roads. Little sheep poops scattered across the paved roads like marbles. They seemed like sentinels that stood for the arbitrariness of borders, of property lines.

I remembered being in the Arab quarter of the Israeli city of Akko the previous summer. As I walked at night along the sidewalk of a cobblestone city street, with little cars jammed in any possible parking space, a young boy riding a pony bare-back galloped past me. The feeling came again. The strange poetry of the rustic and the modern, together. Westerners divide these things into new and old, dark and light. But really there are no such distinctions.

One sister in particular I became soul-friends with. One of the last days I was there she and I had a deep conversation in which she asked me directly and with curiosity what my tattoos and piercings meant. I was cleaning beets that I'd just dug up, cutting the tops and taproots off with a paring knife, and they were so incredibly red, almost neon in the darkening light of dusk. My body art had come up a few times before but I had always been at a loss for words. Now after working alongside me for several weeks I felt confident that my creaturely presence had articulated many things that words could not, paving the way for what I was about to say. I knew it was important, this conversation, and I had a feeling what I said would get back to the Abbess, for indeed they were all curious about this question, but not all had as much time to spend with the volunteers as this nun did. I had thought about how to speak to this Sister in a language she could understand. This was the language of devotion, of piety, of sacrifice, and also a language of love, of a sacred madness that I felt deeply resonate within me. I knew they were in love, here, even though they seemed so at peace, there was still something fiery beneath it, in a way enabling and creating the ecology of tranquility and synergy that outsiders witnessed. I could feel this being-in-love, and they did not deny it. This sister had told me that when she saw Orthodox monastics for the first time as a 20-something Lutheran in Germany, it was just like falling in love. "They had something, I did not know what. I wanted to find, what is this thing?" she explained in the sort of delightful, concise English that you can expect from someone of a foreign tongue. From then on her course was set towards that embodiment that she had glimpsed. She had drifted towards it and now she was "there," but she was still in love, and so still drifting, or perhaps being drawn by something that was Secret and Full. I understood this. It reminded me of Sufi poetry.

The nuns wore a black habit that covered everything but their faces. I also had a sort of covering—a veil of tattoos, piercings, and a red mohawk that stuck up by itself because my hair is so thick. But our two costumes drew attention in very different ways. We spoke very different languages with our bodies, but we both came to realize that our souls were doing something similar. So I said to her that the best way I could describe it was that my tattoos and piercings, which yes, involved the puncturing of the body, represented a form of devotion, too. This devotion is to the endless cycles of birth and death that characterize all of Life. Yes, it is a celebration of the body that could be interpreted as ego-centered. But the other side of this coin is that they represent how the body will soon pass away. Moreover, to me they are not meant to reveal (as tattoos are often accused of doing), but actually to show how much is hidden. They are a sort of optical illusion, a coy revelation of how much can not be known, a parody of superficiality, even a sort of whimsical self-deprecation, a dazzling distraction, a daring call to the primal eye in all of us that can't help seeking beauty, all at the same time. My adornment then is also a form of "covering" as the habit is a form of covering. But these are both positive forms of covering. Yes, perhaps I capriciously hide behind my shiny septum piercing, but it's only so that I can stalk the Beloved, my friend. We each nodded at the understanding that both "coverings" were a way of expressing that every person is a secret, which was something she said frequently to me and that pleased me very much. The beets, which I had been slowly handing, seemed to represent the bravery to bleed in front of someone else.

Another time previously she had seen my chest tattoo peeking through one of my V-neck shirts. "What does this say?" She asked in a sing-song voice. "It says 'Earthling'" I said. Her: "What does this mean?" Me: "It is from Old English and means literally someone who is from the earth. It can mean any creature, not just humans."
Her: "Oh. Yes. You are an earthling, Beloved by God!"

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The black pearl that creates all value

The relationship between religion and magic(k) is something I reflect on quite a bit. To put it simply, I've often felt that magic is like a piece of grit that the 'pearl' of religion grows around. Except in terms of how we value those things, I see it as reversed—magic is the pearl, the wound, the glimmering gem of Absolute Reality, the Actual Piece of Earth… and religion is like the scar tissue that cohered around it, or the box that it is put into to "protect" it which often has the opposite effect (of dis-embedding, uprooting the Piece or Process of Earth from its ecology). There are things that both enchant and grieve me about forms of organized religion. When it comes to "high liturgy" (the type of ceremonial that you see in Christian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, as well as forms of Buddhism/Hinduism that are highly sacramental etc.) my feelings are further complicated.  Much of it is because the relationship to liturgy in the West/modern neo-liberal world is overly skeptical and I both empathize with this, but also am deeply saddened by it because it is part of a larger current of thought that completely misses the human value of ritual and embodiedness and their critical role in sacred time/space. I don't want to digress too much now. I'm actually just prefacing a poem that I want to share. I don't typically share poetry on this blog but this might be something you'll see more frequently as it's always been a deep part of my inner world, but one that I keep very private. With all my talk on this blog of mythic remediation I realize that I should try to share more of this language-art with the world.

Anyhow, this was written while I was in the middle of writing my thesis this past spring, which was at the end of two years of being very immersed in the academic study of Christian History. It might help you to know that my thesis focused on issues surrounding the symbolism of Mary (the Mother of God) in the early Christian Near East. Part of this is her coupled relationship to the Holy Spirit and the various "heretical" traditions in Syria/Palestine that conceived of the Holy Spirit as female/feminine. So this poem is a distillation of thought into feeling, a frustration with logic, with intellect…a lament for something lost. And the lament is most poignant for me because I know it's actually not lost at all.

***

There are many "secrets" in religion.
They are like pearls entombed in layers of architecture
or wounds on a tree that have long since scarred over,
where sap flowed hundreds of years ago.
They all derive from the first secret—the True Name of that which Is.
We want its power. Yet we crave its mystery. We long to whisper it, to dissolve into it. But what would we become if we no longer desired this?

Some of the secrets are sad. They're not all empowering.
In fact some mask the darkness, the Nothing.
Maybe they even censor it
(as they cense it with furls of thick, aromatic smoke)
Though it's the last thing that needs censoring.

Maybe one of the things religion enshrines is the Void. It keeps it in a golden box.
Inside is a gate. Anti-matter. Infinite space. The high-priest cracks it open for you, you peer inside. It feels like you're looking through a square-shaped hole in your universe and down through the vaulted ceiling of another one. Through one of those holes at the apex of the dome of old churches. Those are called the holes that the Holy Spirit comes through.

It's both dazzling and dark. There are stars that look like they are thousands of miles down.
Perhaps it leads to another galaxy or dimension. Usually we aren't allowed to pass through it and live.
But you also feel a rush of wind. Cold and crisp, it smells like woodsmoke in the winter. It's like breath. There is some sort of respiration that occurs through this little hole, hidden away in the Temple. A breathing between worlds.

From that same gate comes meaning. It escapes out in wisps, like incense, and overshadows us. It possesses and dispossesses.
It makes us see many visions. It helps us understand.
Whitehead says that God is that which invests the whole world with value.
The sacred is that rupture in the surface of things where something is perceived. We call that something "another reality", but really that is a misnomer, because that "something" is what allows us to even define reality. Thus, from almost the moment of its apprehension, God already begins to recede.
We wrote poems, lamentations. Come back.
That was language.
The hermit thrush's song means "a sign of the spirit is perceived".
Is the song itself the sign, or that which names the sign?
In That Place the Sign and what's Signified become one.
Mirrors do that, too. They collapse image and imagined
(this is why icons are sacred in the East)

I say that what if Whitehead's God is the Void?
Non-being is what gives all things meaning. Every atom, every electron, every molecule and cell moves away from nothing, toward itself. Toward others like it. (Btw, Bucky says "love is metaphysical gravity")
God or the uncreated Void or the Tao is that which It propels us both away from it and toward it.
in the process of propulsion, we see the sign of the spirit.
thus the spirit makes its imprint on the world like this, because it is That Which Makes All Things Vectored.
But the apophatic theologians and mystics were right because they know that you can only know it from its footprint, the track in the sand.
Tracks might be the only way we know any history. This is green hermeneutics.

The womb is a microcosm of that Gate.
The threshold between being and non being.
Where we all come from. That place that weaves together body and soul from the skeins of the universe, spun from stars, from immeasurable light.
But it's wombs all the way down, even past biological life.
It's the process of creation and destruction. It's what transforms things.
You can't say whether it exists or not. Whether it's uncreated or created.
So despite what they tell you… It's the Holy Spirit.
Shekhinah, which is both genders, and neither, because s/he is that which engenders.
She is the Dark Mother that holds you like black earth holds the thick root of a tree.

They tell you that matter can never be created nor destroyed. Does that mean that all created things are actually uncreated? That everything is the "Son" that has always existed with the Father?

Maybe once, even the universe passed through a gate.
The gate has no location.
But we must pretend it does, in order to approach it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Can Green Anarchists Reclaim the "free market"?

I think so, and it means importing new meanings of "freedom" and "market" already inherent to anarcho-primitivist/green anarchist/social ecological thought!
"An economy that embodies the principles of the gift is an economy that is simply grounded in the truth. The task before us is to align money with the true expression of our gifts." - Charles Eisenstein

The phrase "free market" has become somewhat of a lightning rod, meaning completely different things to different political factions. But to clarify things, it helps to realize that the phrase is often misused.

A truly free market would create a radically different world from that in which we currently live. From an anthropological perspective, trade and valuation of STUFF is really the root and occasion for all "politics," so it's insane that market concepts are rarely challenged on the national level—it's all but taboo since the dollar is the "invisible god" finally incarnated by the Protestants who so ardently sought it. Let us green warriors reclaim this thing they call the "free market," since some who use it have quite odd notions of freedom, shaped by neo-liberal individuality and consumerism (both only supported by severe disconnection from primal awareness/mammalian brain-processing). Our green-anarchist 'free market' would be, in fact, much like a decentralized barter/gift economy. It would also actually enable secessionist politics—allowing any municipality to institute socialistic systems provided there was consent from all participants. There would be no choosing between "left" and "right" politics. The more (most?) meaningful choice is whether you "choose" the nation-state, and with it, fiat currency. Unfortunately most of us make this choice in a de-facto way by participating in (the majority of) culture/civilization.

I used to be allergic to the term "free market," but one thing my libertarian friends have taught me that I think is really powerful is that we Americans don't actually live in a "free market." Our economy is a mixed one, which has favored synergy between government and corporate interests and fostered a terrible state of cronyism and plutocracy. Yet this state of affairs is somehow still idealized in terms of "free market" jargon, which is just pure and sinister disinformation. *This* market is only "free" to some people—and as it turns out most of them aren't even people. The sector in which this has some of the biggest impact is the trade in natural resources—especially certain commodity foods and oil. Honestly, the main reason I care about any of this is because of my interest in protecting small farms and cottage industries—hence the "bioregional autonomy" which is one of the themes of this blog.

The libertarians tend to blame the corruption on the government, and the progressives tend to blame it on the corporations.

In my view, both of these are wrong. Obviously both explanations are too simple. For one thing, they just happen to correspond to names we've created! Classic case of false dichotomy. The nature of the synergy between what people call "government" and what people call "corporations" is not properly respected. Moreover, people get tripped up by labels and forget that both of the above categories are both TYPES of power structures made up of people, and aren't really that different.

Political ideas that have the most resonance for me are similar to those advocated by the anarchistic Murray Bookchin, variously known as libertarian socialism or libertarian municipalism.
Normally people don't associate the words "libertarian" and "socialist,"
not least because of the occupation of the "libertarian" moniker by an odd constellation of conservatives, and the stereotypes about "socialism" that are too well-known and tiresome to list here. One of my main points relates to economies of scale. It acknowledges that something like democracy (direct democracy) is only really possible on very small scales, and so the municipality is far better suited for anything like "democracy" than a large, centralized gov't that counts thousands of square miles in its jurisdiction. Some liberals love to remind the anarchists that without "the government" we wouldn't have roads or other "vital" types of infrastructure—and I agree that some "libertarians" indeed seem oblivious to this fact. Yet not quite relating to either of these groups, all I have to say on the subject is: I'll only care about the "maintenance" of any large scale communication or transportation infrastructure if it doesn't contribute to terrible health, zombie-like states of mind, consumerism, and absurd levels of environmental degradation. Until then, thanks but no thanks. Don't tell me that federal infrastructure is "vital." Infrastructure might seem "benevolent" but it's one of the destroyers of genius loci—of Place. I grew up in a state with one highway and it is a weird sort of space-time vortex. A wormhole, which, if you use it too much, distorts your inborn sense of "creature-time." For the last year and a half I've lived in a place that is mostly highway. At this point I'd rather live in a world without them, and am ready to take on the full responsibility of what that means.

A while ago I realized that do support the ideal of a free market. Wait, before you leave, hear me out! I want to radically re-define it. I support it minus one important factor: federally regulated currency. Wanting a "free market" entirely transacted via the Dollar, and wanting one without the constraints imposed by a federal currency are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IDEOLOGIES with hugely divergent ramifications. Unfortunately many well-informed supporters of an anarcho-capitalist or free-market ideal don't give this key variable the scrutiny it deserves. And similarly, too many progressives balk at the set of philosophies that associate themselves positively with the "free market" sign. One reason for this is just that we simply take currency for granted, and it acts as a God, orienting all members of the economy toward it and constraining their agency (thus actually outperforming god/s at their own game). Constrained agency isn't necessarily a bad thing—it can create great adaptive power, for example, in ant or bee hives. But I have the deepest-seated hunch that THIS type of constrained agency (that imposed by the Fed) is the Wrong Type.

A truly free market would not have the Dollar as its life-blood—it would involve barter and local currencies, and it would indeed be an amalgam of such smaller systems. Whether neoclassical economists like it or not, the economy will always be a subset of the planetary ecosystem. Ecological economists like to tout the tenet that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, but this ignores the important fact that the earth is not a closed system—it is powered by the sun (cue MC Hawking's amazing song about Entropy). I cannot pretend to fully comprehend the ramifications of galactic ecology and non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and I only ask that others not be so brazen as to suggest that it justifies some human economic ideal of 'infinite growth.' Obviously, the ideal of infinite growth is a huge problem—mostly because it's basically meaningless and is essentially a provisional justification for current behavior. But the bottom line for me is, the sooner economies can mimic natural (i.e. encompassing) ecologies, the better (they already do in some ways!) You might say, well, the Dollar helps simulate an ecosystem, because it stands in for energy. This is true in one sense, but false in another. In the wild, "energy" has many different forms and manifestations. It is only in the human-conceived endeavor of theoretical and particle physics that energy can be abstracted to equations or single units. Energy has as many forms as biotic life itself—it literally IS life! If we really wanted to test the viability of the money = energy idea, there would be only one world currency. That might actually work "better" than several imperial currencies controlling the world's economic system as they do now, but it still is very problematic, because any large-scale or global currency naturally will place tender farther from actual use value, not to mention the crap that would go down in the bankster circles. I mean look at what happened with the Euro… Must we really make that mistake again?

The Earth is incredibly diverse in its biomes—there are deserts, rainforests, boreal pine forests, marshland, tundra, and grasslands, not to mention the many aquatic biomes that we know even less about. In different terrestrial bioregions, different values are placed on different resources. Obviously several indispensable resources and processes make possible life as we know it on planet Earth—among them water, the atmosphere (including oxygen), and light. But you'll always find extreme exceptions to the normal requirements for life—things that can thrive without light or oxygen, or in extremely hot or freezing environments. Ultimately, things like sunlight, water, and oxygen potentiate the planetary biosphere as we know it. But proximately, local ecosystems and their constituent life forms place premiums on a plethora of different resources, and you or I or anyone can't possibly forecast all of them. They are, to be certain, not recognizably uniform. But notice that I said they are not *recognizably* uniform. There may be commonalities among "ecological currencies," like say if you were to measure, with scientific instruments, the calorie-value of two food sources both highly valued in their respective environments. But a "calorie" is still only a fabricated sign that corresponds (badly I might add) to a biological process, measured in a highly regulated lab setting that does not necessarily mimic organic metabolism. The point is, any and all ecological currencies are regulated from the bottom-up instead of the top-down. This means that they must all abide by certain local laws, say, of physics or thermodynamics, and all have immediate utility in the environments that created them. To put it another way, Forests don't run on electricity, at least not in its AC/DC form. And if there's a "switch" that will power down desert ecology, that same switch won't work for say, a rainforest ecology.

However, if we destroy the planet's biodiversity—like we have been doing—we are literally destroying the key factor to true "economic" resiliency. Vandana Shiva has written much about this. If all place is homogenized through development and monoculture, the true potential for novelty and diversity inherent in the earth is forcefully masked with an illusion. The illusion will not last.

"Primitive" or Neolithic human societies yield perhaps the best example of how we get from "a natural resource that supports life in a certain ecological niche" to "currency"—or something that has a socially/culturally agreed upon value in a certain area. Humans not only extract vital resources (like food, water, clothing, and shelter) from their environments, but they employ natural resources to create 'second-order resources'—tools, for example, that further aid in the gathering of the vital resources. Moreover, with the ability to be enchanted by the 'numinous' presence of materials and objects, humans fashion items for ritual, sacred, or aesthetic use. These too, are tools for extracting or procuring resources, but in this case the resources are invisible to the more scientifically and empirically-minded in our society. As you might know from reading this blog, I find this oversight incredibly detrimental to preserving and understanding the wealth of human knowledge and participation with ecosystems. Things that acted as the "first" indices of value in human societies were often accorded cosmological significance, and so the issue of the 'sacred' is central to economics, whether we like it or not, and whether it corresponds to any sort of "real" presence or not (because the argument between atheists and theists is a red herring and will never be resolved).

But when I look at dollar bills, I don't see the natural wealth of the earth shine through—I only see the arrogance of civilization. After all, they're made of paper. It's like a running joke that we're all too hypnotized to laugh at.

As with many of my post-civilization rants, the primary purpose of the above was and is to continue to motivate me to create the life I want for myself and other living things. I hope it doesn't come across as angry or blindly destructive—for it is in fact, lovingly destructive. There is a huge difference, and the latter has great power ;)

If you're interested in this topic, I highly recommend the recent book Sacred Economics by one of my favorite thinkers, Charles Eisentein. See a video summary here. His thoughts incorporates many core ideas from ecological economics.
Other influences here are Murray Bookchin, John Zerzan, and especially Zapatista philosophy.