Archive for November, 2008

I'm reading Daniel Quinn's Beyond Civilization, a book that attempts to answer the questions raised from his prized series that starts with Ishmael, particularly the question, "What the hell do we do now?" His series has won awards for it's wonderful ability to open people's eyes to the fact that civilization is killing us. It's meant to help us imagine life in tribal societies- not to idealize them, but to show that they are quite workable. It really makes for a good story, but when readers put it down they inevitable ask, "Ok, what then?"

    Daniel makes a great point that really hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it. He goes through a list of the ancient civilizations that were abandoned or destroyed, totally turning on their heads the assumptions that we make about why these civilizations collapsed. Most historians make wild stories up about why such great and advanced civilizations might have "fallen" -putting the verb in the receiving end. But it's clear for all those with eyes to see, that the reason for these civilizations collapsing has nothing to do with luck or passive mistakes. The most likely, most obviously and most arrogantly denied scenario is that the people of these great places simply walked away from them. Why? Because they realized they didn't work. Cities don't work. They simply walked back into the wilderness to continue life as they had for generations- as hunter/gatherers, or in some cases small scale agriculturalists and foragers.

It's cultural heresy for someone to makes such claims, I know, but this is how the story goes. Many of these civilizations destroyed their elaborate buildings themselves and then just walked away. Others were driven out, but then never returned to such a lifestyle. Why would anyone do such a thing? The answer is simple. It didn't work. After the invention of agriculture many people groups, formerly operating as tribal societies, experimented with "civilization" – a kind of social organization based on hierarchical structures and regulated distribution of food. Agriculture introduced homo sapien sapiens to a newfound ability to be settled in one place, and to grow more than needed, which in turn created surplus, which in turn created storage houses, which in turn needed guards, who in turn needed regulation, which in turn created hierarchy, governments, civilization. It's not too much more complicated than that, but there is a whole lot more that goes into it. Read Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel (…I originally wrote Niel Diamond…geez). As these civilizations were built and ancient people experimented with this new kind of social organization, they simply found out that it doesn't work- at least not for all of them, just the few on the top of the pyramid.

Remember the story of Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt? Egypt was one of these great experiements. It was built on the backs of slaves, in this cases these slaves were the ancestors of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  As the story goes, Moses, who lived in nobility, one day came down from his ivory tower and walked through the town square where he witnessed the beating of a slave. He was flabergasted and couldn't understand how this could be. So he protested Pharoah, "Let my people go!" After a series of plagues (perhaps caused by the destruction of the earth that this new oppressive civilization was creating. It may not be far off to view these plagues- all natural events- as nature fighting back as it often does. Could this be more relevant to our time?) Moses walked with his people out of Egypt and into the wilderness (according to the bible, this is "where g-d is") and the Israelites organize again as a tribal people.

History is full of civilizations abandoning themselves and reorganizing as a tribal society. Then why don't we? IF this is such a natural step, why have we- who have witnessed such great poverty, crime rates, world wars, threats of nuclear holocaust and government-sponsored assassination and torture, why don't we just walk away. This is what Daniel attempts to answer in his book. One of the most intriguing explanations is the simplest one- because we've destroyed the wilderness and increased population so drastically- there is nowhere left to retreat to.

So for now, let us on the fringes be a culture of renewal in opposition to our dominant culture of destruction. May we be foragers in the industrial wasteland of civilization, until we can conceive of a way to bring it down. As John Zerzan puts it, "We
can either passively continue on the road to utter domestication and destruction
or turn in the direction of joyful upheaval, passionate and feral embrace
of wildness and life that aims at dancing on the ruins of clocks, computers
and that failure of imagination and will called work. Can we justify our
lives by anything less than such a politics of rage and dreams?"


Patriarchy and Idolatry

Posted: November 28, 2008 in Uncategorized

Recently Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Roman Catholic priest has been threatened to be excommunicated by the Vatican for supporting the ordination of women. Fr. Roy has been a faithful priest for decades. He has gained most of his notoriety from organizing the annual protest to close the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, GA. This threatened excommunication will shortly become a reality as Fr. Roy refuses to "recant," as requested by the Vatican. Being that Fr. Roy is a well-known figure, this event has caused a lot of discussion and outrage in the activist community. In a sense, one could say this is good, because it has really exposed the extent to which the Catholic Church still operates under a patriarchal model.  Although the fringes of the church have often been the firsts to fight for radical change as times have changed, the established Church always seems to lug decades behind and drag years of oppression and hurt in it's stubborn and slow trail towards renewal. It's not just the Catholic church, or just the churches who don't ordain women, who hold up patriarchy either.  The doctrines of the established church  announce that g-d is male, leaving no room for a feminine view of the eternal. Even when we get past this and attempt to think of g-d as a genderless being, it's still often difficult to free ourselves from thinking in such male-centric way.

The main problem here is that we have domesticated g-d. We have forgotten the command passed down through our Hebrew heritage never to image-in g-d. The wisdom of our tradition tells us that if we craft g-d to an image, it will inevitably reflect ourselves. This is called idolatry. G-d is not a man or women. G-d may hold "feminine" characteristics or "masculine" characteristics, but these are projections based on our own categorizations. 

This idolatry is latched onto by the culture at large which has operated for centuries as a patriarchy. The Womens Liberation movement and the Queer movements have made great strides in recent decades, but as those movements both recognize, we have a long way to go. The answer is not to turn our society into a matriarchy, but to get rid of the "archy" all together- to strive towards an egalitarian way of being that recognizes the beauty in the duality of masculine/feminine so deeply that the lines begin to blur and the duality begins to dissipate. Long live the revolution!


The Poverty of Philosophy

Posted: November 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

Here's a speech by the Harlem rapper Immortal Technique on  U.S. Foreign Policy in Latin America. I just returned from the annual School of the Americas protest and vigil. The SOA is a military training camp for Latin American soldiers. It is run and funded by the United States as a means of teaching Latin American soldiers how to best bring "democracy" to their countries, yet it promotes and teaches the use of terror tactics including  "…execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment,"  according to the U.S. Intelligence Oversight Board in 1996. Countless victims have been raped, tortured, and/or assassinated by SOA graduates in the last 60 years of the schools existence. Anyway, give this speech a listen. I think it really drives home the point of the U.S.'s corrupt foreign policy that benefits the elite while leaving the rest of the world in shambles.

My Deep Ecological Shift

Posted: November 24, 2008 in Uncategorized

I haven't written a blog since before the elections. I have had a lot of problems with my computer, and have done some traveling. I experienced a lot of awesome things while traveling and have a lot to write about. So I'll probably be posting a bit more frequently. A shift in my blog might become apparent, as I have recently been getting into some new ideas. For a while now I have been experimenting with gardening and reading a lot about herbalism. A recent shift in my perspective has really helped me become more attuned to the natural world. I'm not sure of the cause, which leads me to believe it may be divine (sure, not the best logic, but i think you know what I mean). Anthropologists tell us that we as humans have not yet evolved to be comfortable in our modern industrial setting- as setting in which all the real work is done for us, and all we have to do is sit at a computer and "one-click shop." We are still very much physiologically wired to be in our natural state- connected with the earth, hunting, gathering, and working the land. That is why we "go crazy" when we are in an office all day. It's not some irresponsible anti-work ethic that leads anarchists to be against the tyranny of the cubical. It's a realization that we are not living in accordance with our true purpose. When we sit behind a desk for hours a day and only walk outside once for a prepackaged lunch and a breath of fresh air, we are not being human. Recently I have been really identifying with the ideas of a new-ish strain of thinking called Anarcho-Primitivism, most recently popularized by John Zerzan as Green Anarchy. The ideas of Anarcho-Primitivism really strike a chord deep inside me. New anthropological evidence that has really been developed within the last 40 years or so concludes that pre-civilized peoples did not live a life that was, "brutish, harsh, violent, and short." as Thomas Hobbes speculated, but that they were actually less violent, happier, had more leisure time, and were far more ecologically sustainable.  In this time of deep ecological crisis, I feel like a radical reconnection to the natural world is really what we need to be talking about. Yes, I mean primitivism. I don't know what it will look like; it's silly to think that we could "go back" to a primitive way of being. But I think that a deeply spiritual reinterpretation of our wild natures just might offer us hope for the future. The Natives were telling us this since that fateful Thanksgiving day when we began to kill them and their herds, stealing their lands and turning this country into an industrial wasteland, now deprived of salmon and pigeons and plowable land. We need a deep ecological shift -in our personal perspectives, and in how we organize society as a whole. 

"Then the angel showed me the river of life flowing through the middle of the city street, and on either side was the tree of life… whose leaves were for the healing of the nations."

Revelation 22:2