Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hope for Late Bloomers

I’ve been thinking about late bloomers lately, since I’m one myself.

Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers is about late bloomers (Matthew 20: 1-16).

Jesus comes right out and says what this parable is about at the very beginning:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.”  (In Jesus’ terminology, “The Kingdom of Heaven” means “the spiritual realm.”)

(Jesus referred to the Kingdom of Heaven repeatedly during his career.  Here’s one well-known example:  In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says that we must become like little children if we expect to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This would include cultivating “childlike” qualities such as openness, innocence, trust, and love.  There’s nothing namby-pamby about any of this, because innocence = wildness.  To live within the spiritual realm we must literally become dehypnotized, de-civilized, deprogrammed.) 

The parable goes like this:

There was a vineyard owner who needed some workers.  So he went out at dawn (people got up early in those days) to the marketplace and rounded up some husky young fellows, promising to pay them a silver coin for a full day’s work.  He must have had a lot of work to do, because he went back to the marketplace and hired more workers at 9, noon, and 3.  He must have had a huge vineyard, because he went back one final time at 5 pm and hired some stragglers to work for him.  “Why are you standing around wasting the whole day when you could be working for me?” he asked the layabouts.  “Nobody hired us,” they replied.  (The parable leaves unexplained where these guys were at dawn, 9, 12, and 3.)  “Well, get your ass over to the vineyard and get to work!” the vineyard owner told them.

When it came time to pay the workers at the end of the day, the vineyard owner paid the last workers to be hired -- who had only worked for an hour -- a silver coin each.  The other workers thought this meant they would get paid more than the agreed-upon silver coin, since they had put in so many more hours.  But no.  The vineyard owner paid each worker, no matter how long they had worked, one silver coin.  The workers got pissed.  “We’ve been working out there in the hot sun all day, yet you didn’t pay us any more than those lazy bums who only worked for an hour in the cool of the evening.”

The vineyard owner replied, “Hey, I paid you what I said I was going to pay you.  Are you jealous because I was generous to the men who worked fewer hours?  It’s my money, and I’ll pay them whatever I want!”

And so the workers went back to the marketplace and started a union. 

Just kidding.

Jesus concludes the parable with the cryptic words, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”  To my understanding, this means, “Don’t expect human standards of logic and fairness to prevail within the Kingdom of Heaven.  We’re not talking about space/time reality here.  The accustomed rules no longer apply.  People who become spiritually awakened late in life reap the same rewards as those who are awakened early.”

I take comfort in this.  As one who has stumbled and bumbled my way, decade after decade, through certain key aspects of life, it’s good to know that the past doesn’t really matter.    For every spiritually awakened individual, there are thousands who are waking up right now.  At long last the crooked places are being made straight, and things here on Earth are really starting to get interesting.        

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In Search of the Extra Buzz

I’m more of a writer than a mystic.  I can claim no great attainment.  Sometimes I think I’ve received whatever spiritual experiences I’ve received so that I can write about them.  (Sharing information with others has always been an overriding compulsion in my life.  I have always considered myself a “virus” endeavoring to influence the dominant cultural matrix.)  Hopefully readers will find my words interesting and informative.

Since I’m a writer, sometimes bits of terminology, or colorful phrases, will spontaneously enter my mind, in much the same way that a musical composer will receive a tune from the “ether.”  For example, I came up with the phrase “existence is its own reward” when the Spiritual Sphincter opened for me for awhile back in the mid-90s.  I attributed this one to the raw food diet I was on at the time, but upon further reflection it was obviously Grace, which is a fancy way of saying “beats me.”  I prefer the term “sphincter” to “door” -- despite its obvious implications – because we’re dealing with an organic process here.  The Universe is alive; Spirit is alive.  As always when talking about spirituality, everything we say about it is an analogy.  We could just as well be saying, “The flowering of Spirit” and not talk about sphincters and doors at all.

I came up with the phrase “extra buzz” during an episode that lasted several days back in the summer of 2008.  It’s definitely “extra,” but it’s not really a buzz.  It’s more like an energetic presence in the center of my existence.  It’s real, really there, really real, a constant companion, unlike thoughts and other vaporous imaginings.  I like to use casual hippie-type terminology like “extra buzz” because it makes the phenomenon seem more accessible to me, even at the risk of trivializing it.  One could, after all, just as accurately call the same phenomenon “God” or “Christ Consciousness” or “The Holy Spirit,” but somehow to me “the extra buzz” comes across as more user-friendly.  But now, having said all that, I’ll be using the term “Spirit” for the rest of this article.

Looking back over my life I’ve been on the spiritual path probably dozens of times, but I’ve spent far more time off it than on it.  When the Spiritual Sphincter has seemed closed to me, I have found “pretending to be spiritual” a useless activity.  It’s like sitting around the ashes of a dead campfire, talking about the glory days when the fire was lit and I basked in its warm glow.  I obviously have had to create a tease-and-denial God for myself in order to learn whatever I’ve needed to learn in this lifetime.  Have I learned it yet?  I don’t know, but  I hope in the future not to stray too far from the Path.  Now that I know what the Pearl of Great Price is, earthly pleasures just don’t cut it for me like they used to. 

I mentioned in a recent post being on an Adyashanti kick, and I still am, sort of, but I’m starting to wonder:  Do we really need a Ferrari when a tractor will do?  Obviously, very few people ever achieve full satori, enlightenment, awakening, whatever words we want to throw at it.  It’s far more common for people to have more or less access to what we call Spirit.  When I was younger I wanted everything, but these days perhaps I’m a bit more realistic about what’s possible. 

Here are a few synonyms for this phenomenon that I am calling “Spirit” in this article:

God, God Consciousness, The Christ, Christ Consciousness, The Comforter, The Father (Jesus used this one a lot), The Holy Grail, The Holy Spirit, The Beloved, The Presence (as in “Practicing the Presence”), Pearl of Great Price, The Shepherd, The Fortress, The Force, Truth, Awareness.  (This is only a partial list.)

A common manifestation of spirituality is as follows:  you have your regular “unawakened” ego-bound individual, living in the dualistic world of good and evil, pleasure and pain, etc.  For whatever reason (Grace Happens), the individual becomes aware of Spirit.  (Which is to say, the Spiritual Sphincter cracks open a little.)  Spirit can seem to come from without (God is in His heaven), or within (the Holy Spirit is within us all); it doesn’t matter what interpretation we put on it.  We can consider God to be totally outside ourselves or we can consider God to be our own consciousness; it doesn’t matter what we think about it.  What’s important is that we become aware of Spirit in the first place.  Spirit Is; that much we can say for sure. 

I like the term “spiritual sphincter” which opens and shuts.  Or think of the pupil of the eye:  when it’s opened it lets in lots of light; when closed, not so much.  Or Blake’s “doors of perception,” same thing. If the door, or sphincter, is totally closed, we have our regular, unspiritual, person living a totally human life.  For them, Spirit might as well not exist at all.  (There are obviously a lot of closed doors in the world these days, or we wouldn’t be destroying the Earth like we are.)  If the door or sphincter opens all the way, we have our very rare enlightened person.  If the door opens to a greater or lesser extent, people are said to be having a “spiritual experience.”  I suspect that more people than we might suppose have had such experiences, though clearly this reality has little or no impact on those who control the levers of temporal power within the global Wasteland socio-economic system.   

Spirit is always there, within us and without us, which is the best we can articulate it with our dualistic language faculty.  (It’s more accurate to say that “location” is an inoperative concept in this context.  Thus, you can’t really say that “Spirit is always there.”  It would be more accurate to say, “Spirit always is.”) 

Spirit has a transforming effect upon the individual.  I call this the “spiritual roto-rooter effect.”  (It is not always pleasant, especially at the beginning.)  Joseph Campbell, in Creative Mythology, writes about what he calls “spiritual alchemy” -- transforming unawakened “lead” into spiritual “gold.”  

Laura’s spiritual teacher, Barbara Mary Muhl, discussed spiritual transformation at some length.  In her terminology, humans are born hypnotized, and are unaware of their hypnotism.  In my interpretation, we are controlled by survival software run amok, otherwise known as “ego,” which we take to be “ourselves.”  Barbara says that the only way to be free of our human limitations is to become dehypnotized.  She makes four statements about the dehypnotization process:

            *  “The hypnotized person cannot dehypnotize himself, but God Consciousness can and will do that, if contacted.”  This is very good news for the individual because learning how to dehypnotize myself would be like learning how to beat my own heart:  I’m simply not equipped to do this.   

            *  “Conscious Resting in the Presence of God lifts the hypnosis and sets me free.”  Big question:  How do you get in “the Presence of God” in the first place?  See the next statement:

            *  “The faculty that I must use to achieve this conscious God contact is my Faculty of Awareness, an instrument totally separate from my mind.”  In my interpretation, you can’t think your way out of the hypnosis.  Awareness is the ability to be consciously present, or consciously conscious.  This is Eckhart Tolle’s primary message:  “The important thing has already happened” – the ability, as modest as it may seem, to briefly shove the thoughts aside and be consciously present.  This ability can be greatly enhanced with practice. 

            *  “I must practice getting ‘into the lap’ until I can stay there, at will, and until I receive my assurance that there is nothing that needs to be done.”  In my interpretation, this boils down to: “Without Him, I can do nothing.”  I have no ability to make Spirit happen for me, but I can welcome it when it comes.  Of course this is a not-very-accurate analogy, because Spirit is always here, so it never “comes.”   But only when hypnotism is lifted do I become aware of the Spirit that has been there all along.  

It’s always good to have the process of “spiritual alchemy” spelled out for us like that.

It’s remarkable, but not really surprising, how much talking people do about spirituality.  What part of “beyond words and thoughts” don’t we understand?  I think sometimes people confuse emotional fugue states with the real thing.  We like to get ourselves all excited by blathering with each other, that’s for sure.  The mystic Joel Goldsmith said, “The best teaching is done in the Silence.” 

They say that Spirit can be an active presence in your life all the time.  For the first time in my life, I’m seeing this as a possibility.  In the future, if I ever find out anything interesting, I’ll pass it along.  Obviously there’s no magical information we can transmit in words, or all of us readers would already be enlightened by now.  But words aren’t totally useless... if they’re the right words.  At least they can aim us in the right direction.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Whatever Happened to Christianity?

I wrote this several years ago but never posted it until now.  This essay provides background information for my "Christianity:  The Ultimate Heresy" article.

A friend recently lent me a book by Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism:  A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture.  Bishop Spong puts forth what I would consider a common sense viewpoint:  the Bible is not literally true; it is not the inerrant Word of God; it was actually written by flawed human beings.  Spong believes, for example, that the Epistles were written by Paul, not by God.  Makes sense to me.

Consider Spong’s predicament:  he is now a retired bishop, who spent his entire career in the service of the Episcopal Church.  Like many of us, he is too intelligent to believe that the Bible  is literally true.  But, because of his position in life, he feels obligated to not reject the Bible outright, so he ends up wrapping himself around the axle of his own justifications.  A more elegant solution, it seems to me, is to view the Bible, along with other ancient religious texts, as documents of historical interest that contain some valid spiritual advice, but which are of only marginal relevance today.  For our present age, in which we are witnessing the murder of our planet before our very eyes, we need to develop a modern spiritual message.  We need to enter the Silence on our own, and develop a contemporary version of the universal, timeless spiritual message, using modern language directed toward modern sensibilities.

The original followers of Jesus were cultural creatives, the spiritual seekers of that generation, who weren’t satisfied with the existing dogmas.  That’s why they were willing to listen to Jesus in the first place.  But, inevitably, times changed.  Christianity itself hardened into dogma, and became increasingly unable to fill its followers’ spiritual needs.  Turn the clock forward 2000 years from the time of Christ, and we find that very few cultural creatives now consider themselves to be Christian; in fact, almost without exception, cultural creatives are anything but Christian.  Whatever happened?

Let’s briefly look at a human characteristic that has made the blind acceptance of traditional religions possible:  the fact that most people are unable to develop new beliefs in adulthood.  Their minds harden up during adolescence.  Whatever they are programmed with as children stays with them for the rest of their lives.  I’ve seen no statistics to indicate what this percentage may be, but I would guess it to be the great majority of humans.  The minority, the people capable of thinking for themselves -- the ones who had been most likely to become Christians when the Church was new -- are now the ones most likely to reject the Christian dogma they are programmed with as children.  When they reject the dogma, they leave the Church.  A religion that loses its brightest believers each generation is in deep trouble.

According to Joseph Campbell in his epochal book, Creative Mythology, this process was already well underway by the 12th Century.  Campbell says, “In Christian Europe, already in the twelfth century, beliefs no longer universally held were universally enforced.  The result was a dissociation of professed from actual existence and that consequent spiritual disaster which... is symbolized in the Waste Land theme:  a landscape of spiritual death, a world waiting, waiting... for the Desired Knight, who would restore its integrity to life and let stream again from infinite depths the lost, forgotten, living waters of the inexhaustible source...  For those... in whom the authorized signs no longer work... there follows inevitably a sense both of dissociation from the local social nexus and of quest, within and without, for life, which the brain will take to be for ‘meaning.’ Coerced to the social pattern, the individual can only harden to some figure of living death; and if any considerable number of  the members of a civilization are in this predicament, a point of no return will have been passed.”

(I’ve been asked to translate the previous paragraph.  Here goes:  Already by the 12th Century, people who knew better were forced to profess Christianity anyway.  They were forced to pretend that they believed in something they didn’t really believe in.  This destroyed their integrity, which caused them to become empty inside.  They were fakes.  They became husks of what they could have been, and ended up always searching for “something,” they knew not what.  When a critical mass of society is in this predicament, the society is in deep decline.) 

(This search for “meaning” describes not only my own personal quest, but the lives of millions of other former Christians:  the search for, as Campbell puts it, “the infinite depths of the living waters of the inexhaustible source” -- which, fortunately, turns out to be the center of our very existence.  It’s amazing how hard so many of us have had to search for something so close at hand!  It would be far better if children were told the truth in the first place.  How elegant it would be if adolescents didn’t have to rebel against what their parents taught them, and to waste so much of their adult lives searching for what they already have!) 

The process of dissociation from the Church greatly accelerated in the middle of the 19th Century.  By that time, modern geology had showed that the Earth was actually billions of years old.  Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was in direct conflict with Biblical Creationism.  The more intelligent Christians could no longer accept the Biblical worldview of Adam and Eve, Heaven and Hell, Jesus dying on the cross to atone for our sins, and an all-loving God who will lovingly send us to eternal torment in Hell if we don’t profess the correct ideology.

Christianity has been bleeding away its most intelligent believers at a rapid rate for over 150 years now.

My wife  and I were raised as Christians – she as an Episcopalian, me as a Southern Baptist.  We were sent to church and Sunday school every week.  We were indoctrinated as well as the Church was able to indoctrinate us.  But we were too intelligent to stay.  As we reached adolescence, our response to Christian dogma was typical of cultural creatives like ourselves – as soon as we were old enough to take control of our own lives, we quietly left the church and never looked back.

Multiply this by the millions of our fellow Boomers who did the same thing, and you have a Church in serious trouble.  Not only is the Church losing great numbers of believers, it is losing the most intelligent and creative believers, who are now ex-believers.  One end of the Christian bell curve -- the intelligent end -- is continually being truncated.  Sure, many intelligent, spiritual Christians remain.  But taken as a whole, as the generations pass, the Christians who remain tend to be the least inquisitive and the most credulous members of society.

Add to this the recent phenomenon of politically active Christianity, and we have a serious problem on a planetary level.  When the political process is unduly influenced by small-minded and mean-spirited fundamentalists, then we as a civilization are unable to intelligently address the terrible problems – overpopulation, environmental destruction, climate catastrophe, peak oil, economic meltdown – now confronting us.  Retrograde politics will prove lethal to us and the entire planet. 

Bishop Spong is fighting a rear-guard, and ultimately impossible battle.  He’s trying to make the Bible relevant for the most intelligent Christians by pointing out that it need not be taken literally.  Christianity, in Spong’s view, is not about rigidly adhering to dogma, but about compassion and love, of becoming an “authentic human being.”  As Spong says in his book,  “The call of Christ to me is an eternal call to love, to live, and to be.  It is an invitation to work for those things that create life, to oppose those people, those attitudes, and those systems that distort life.  It is to become aware of the freeing, exhilarating, consciousness-raising experience of the Holy God.”  Sounds good to me.  I would never argue with such noble sentiments.

But one need not be a Christian to do this.  The Christian filter is strictly optional.  There are a multitude of ways to approach spirituality, and Christianity is but one.  Once a person admits the possibility that Christianity isn’t the “One True” religion, and that the Bible isn’t the inerrant “Word of God,” the whole edifice starts to crumble.  And as millions of ex-Christians have discovered, once we’re free from the confines of Christian Faith, we don’t miss it at all.

My Adventures Among the Christians

 I wrote this in 2010, about an incident that happened to me in 1985.

In 1985, in my ignorance, I performed an experiment upon myself.  What if I tried the combination of severe negativity with large quantities of marijuana?  Create an uncontrolled negative space on hyperdrive...  what a fabulous idea!  (Never let it be said that I have ever lived a mainstream life.)  Well, guess what?  It took me 25 years to figure this one out, but this is what happened:  I managed to manifest my Shadow in the spiritual realm.  This was for real.  I literally manifested it.  It was alive inside of me, and there was no way to escape it!  (Such are the risks of inadvertent experimentation when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.)  The Shadow was going to destroy me, of that I had no doubt.  I have never experienced such primal, existential fear in my life, and hopefully I will never need to again.

To make a long story short, God (or whatever you want to call it) took over my life for about 10 days around Easter 1985 (the time of spiritual resurrection, how symbolic).  I was but a speck of dust within the Cosmic Hurricane.  (It’s really not so bad if you surrender to it, and you have no choice but to surrender to it.)  Events soon deposited me at the home of a charismatic Christian woman who performed a spiritual healing on me.  She lived way back in the hills outside Truth or Consequences, NM – a wonderfully symbolic name for what was happening -- and was about to happen -- to me.  It was like a scene straight out of The Exorcist.  It took a couple of hours, and I was disconcertingly awake during the entire process.  I lay on her bed and twisted and moaned as the demon fought back.  From time to time my breath turned bad, so I was told afterwards.  She prayed and spoke in tongues and finally drove that demon out.

I stayed at her house to recuperate from my ordeal, and a few days later she took me to her “Full Gospel”  church in Truth or Consequences, where I received further spiritual healing from two deacons of the church.  (Full Gospel, by the way means they believe every word in the Bible, including such spiritual gifts as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy.)  One thing I remember from this healing was, I was pulled from a seated to an upright posture (without them touching me), and they had to catch me to keep me from falling forward onto my face.  The next evening a lay minister (one of the aforementioned deacons) from the church baptized me (full immersion) in an irrigation ditch next to the home of the lady who had healed me.

A couple of days after that, I received what they call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit”  -- the ability to speak in tongues, among other things.  During the "healing" segment of the Wednesday night prayer service, after the sermon, several church members, both men and women, gathered around me while I stood on the stage.  Raising one hand to Heaven while placing the other hand on my head or shoulders, they started speaking in tongues.  What followed was one of the most remarkable spiritual experiences of my life.  It felt like my head no longer had a top to it, and my spirit was shimmering upward towards Heaven.  When I was almost there, Heaven shimmered down to meet me.  At the exact moment when the two energies met, I started speaking in tongues.  In my personal file of incomprehensible experiences, this one had a folder all to itself.

“Yes,” Yoda would say, “The Force was strong with young Solbergwalker then.”

Throughout the ten days of being not in control of my life, I was fully conscious and aware.  Events definitely had their atypical aspects, but I was at all times fully aware of what was happening to me.  I didn’t “lose touch with reality.”  It was more like “gaining touch with reality.”  Events happened to me that have never happened before or since.  And frankly, once is plenty.   

The members of the Full Gospel church took me in and put me under their collective wing.   They gave me a lot of love and acceptance.  The funny thing was (and I knew this at the time), I was being helped by the very people I had held in contempt -- or at least, disapproval -- just a few days before.  Such a rich irony, no?  But such an obvious twist of fate, considering how I had set myself up for this particular lesson.  I was raised a Southern Baptist, was taken to church and Sunday school every Sunday, and stopped going as soon as I was old enough to insist upon following my own path.  Since the late 60s, I had considered myself an Earth pagan.  Christians... well, what did they know?  I had found a much better way, or so I thought.

So here I was -- mind blown yet hyper-aware, going to church picnics, hay rides, even going to Wednesday night services, for crying out loud.  Me?  Who had never set foot inside a church for almost 20 years?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Yet there I was, no doubt about it.  Me, Mr. Earth Pagan himself, going to church with a bunch of fricking Christians!  Talk about stirring the pot, this was more like dumping the pot into an erupting volcano and waiting for a bit of mixing action to occur.

The Christians gave me a lot of love and compassion, which I obviously needed at the time.  They let me play my guitar in the church band.  None of the boring organ music I grew up with as a kid, these people really knew how to rock out. 

Of course I had trouble with the ideology.  But I put my skepticism on the back burner for the moment.  I knew I was there to learn something, though I wasn’t sure what it was.  I wasn’t pretending to be some kind of sociologist, viewing the Christians dispassionately as if under a microscope.  I was more of a frazzled nerve ending with my senses wide open:  totally there, engaged, participating, drinking it all in.  It looked to me that what the Christians were doing spiritually was nothing less than shamanism, and I found this fascinating.  Shamanism in a sterile-seeming, fluorescent-lit church on a Wednesday evening, who would have thought it possible? 

This phase lasted for about 6 weeks until the ideology finally drove me out.  I couldn’t hack the whole Bible bit.  I remember one service, when the preacher strode around the stage, holding a Bible aloft in one hand and yelling angrily about his faith.  Why the anger, I wondered.   In my opinion, they were making the Bible into a false God.  God is a living presence, to be sure, but the Bible (or any other “holy book”) is just a bunch of words.  There was no room for my intellect and creativity within their belief system.  Everything had already been explained long ago. 

I started reading the Bible for the first time since Sunday School twenty years earlier.  I was reading it with the eyes of an adult and the understanding of an adult this time.  The spiritual passages just jumped off the page at me.  Christianity is actually a mystical religion!  But I could also see that there was a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat.  Obviously (at least to me) the Bible is a book about spiritual perfection produced by imperfect humans.  The Christians believed that every jot and tittle of the Bible was the inspired Word of God, and I simply could not accept this, since it was so obvious to me that the Bible was badly in need of a good editor.     

I had another issue with the Christians:  the contempt and anger they directed at anybody who didn’t share their ideology.  It looked to me that this anger serves the Devil, or whatever you wish to call this planetary manifestation of negativity.  If there is indeed a Satan who is ruler of this Earth -- as fundamentalists believe -- then it’s a no-brainer that Satan’s highest priority would be to co-opt the Christians.  And this, in my opinion, is exactly what has happened.  Just look at all the angry preachers preaching fear and hatred from their pulpits every week, and all the slick mega-church pastors preaching the Gospel of  Mammon.  Where does Jesus’ simple message of peace, love, and spiritual awareness fit into all this?

Christians of the fundamentalist stripe consider Secular Humanists (that is, scientists, atheists, and the non-religious in general) to be the enemy.  I think it’s a shame that Christians feel compelled to create human enemies.  But I would suggest, if Christians insist on having an enemy, that it be Spiritual Humanists.  Anything that leaves out Spirit, as Secular Humanism does, is a fatally flawed paradigm, and not to be taken seriously.  Secular humanism is much too limited.  Carl Sagan standing in awe under a canopy of stars is all well and good, but mere awe leaves our deeper spiritual needs untouched.  Secular humanism leaves out the unexplainable and in so doing, is leaving out the deepest levels of the human experience.  Spiritual humanism, on the other hand, has the potential to be a revolutionary new worldview that might overthrow the Christian paradigm, which has needed overthrowing for a good long while.  If there’s ever been a hot new trend on this planet, this is it -- it's the "spiritual awakening" people have been talking about for decades now.

I’m out of touch these days.  I’m not sure what’s going on with the spiritual non-Christians.  But I do know that back in 1985, only the fundamentalist Christians had a worldview that could begin to explain what had happened to me.  The secular humanists thought I had suffered a psychotic attack, which I knew to be a facile explanation.  The New Agers of that era were pretty lukewarm for the most part, compared to the Christians.  The Christians had an ideal of being “on fire for the Lord,” and many of them were.  They were fanatics who had the absolute Truth.  Skeptics are incapable of such intensity of belief.  The Christians brooked no doubt about anything, and thus had a laserlike focus, a one-pointed intent, that the wishy-washy “I believe in everything” New Agers lacked.  But a lot has happened in the past 25 years, and I think we might very well be seeing a non-Christian spiritual revival before long.  Things are about to get that desperate on this planet. 

Even though I disagree with them ideologically, and have thus become their “enemy” (these people don’t fool around), I will always have a warm place in my heart for those Christians who took me in and offered me succor in my hour of need.  In many respects they truly lived their Christian ideal, and I will always deeply respect them for that.

My ability to speak in tongues faded over time, since I never used it and never got “recharged” by fellow believers.  Sure, I could give a demonstration even today, but I would just be going through the motions, so why bother?  But I have been left with a permanent sense of wonder and humility about it all.  There is more under heaven and earth than I ever dreamed of.  It was very beneficial for me to get my face rubbed in this fact.  I like to say that "I'm a lot more humble than I would be otherwise."  Whenever I catch secular-types acting smug and making fun of Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues, I just shrug.  What do they know? 

I moved right along, of course.  Life goes on.  I checked out other Christian churches in Las Cruces, and eventually settled for a couple of years into the Church of Religious Science, a New Age church that explained the Bible in the spiritual terms I had already come to understand.  (Maybe I’ll write about my “New Age Adventures” some day.)  In September 1986 I met Laura for the first time.  Even though I had never seen her before, I knew her instantly.  And thus began a new chapter in my life.    

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hole in the Pavement

Las Cruces artist/Renaissance Man Bob Diven drew this vertigo-inducing hole in the fabric of reality at Farmer's Market this morning.  Watch where you step!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The River Beneath the Real

Street art; chalk on asphalt.  Striding quickly to my destination at Farmer's Market last Saturday, I saw this out of the corner of my eye and thought it said, "The River Beneath the Real."  Whoa, I thought, an artist with a metaphysical orientation; how cool!  Returning with my camera, I saw that the caption was more prosaic than what I had imagined, but still a swell idea.  I think "The River Beneath the Real" would be a fabulous title for a novel, or an album, or a blog post...

The Impact of Children on Neighborhood Interactions

I wrote this little exercise in applied sociology a couple of years ago.

A friend pointed out that we need not wait for an economic crash before we can have intentional neighborhood. This is true; I was just pointing out that intentional relationships within a neighborhood setting will be much more likely when people have an economic incentive to do so. And sometimes a 2x4 upside the head is the best convincer.

Speaking of neighborhood, I am reminded of a little story. Twenty years ago I knew some people in Gila, NM (north of Silver City) who had originally started out with the Lama Foundation in northern New Mexico. I asked one of the residents if they, like, you know, had a community or something. She said no, they were just trying to learn how to be good neighbors. Her answer stuck with me. I think they were the first intentional neighborhood I had ever heard about.

We’ve had a little intentional neighborhood out here in Radium Springs for the past 15 years or so: some friends, who are sustainability-oriented like we are, moved onto my parents’ land to the north of us after my father died and my mother moved into town. I pulled some strings with my mother to get my friends terms they could afford. But I have found, over the years, that two families are too few to be considered a "neighborhood." Good neighbors, yes. But the critical mass simply isn’t there for anything more.

In addition to these next-door neighbors (who live nearly ½ mile away – isn’t country life wonderful?), Laura and I have three other neighbor families who live a bit closer. We have nothing in common with them philosophically or demographically. We live far enough apart that we can easily ignore each other, so we do.

But during the 90s we all had children who played together, and as a result, we parents interacted a lot more then than we do now. These days, we interact very seldom.

I noticed one interesting thing about the two children of one family, who were considerably older than our son Neil. I noticed that older children can successfully play with a much younger child: it was fascinating watching a 13-year-old play with a 3-year old. But shortly after the onset of puberty, that behavior stopped. As soon as the pubescent child became sexually aware of his/her peers, young children were no longer considered suitable playmates. They became "uncool." This is all no doubt totally obvious, but I had never seen it played out so up close and personal before.

The children of another one of the families were much more problematic. When I saw them sniffing gasoline in my yard one day, I knew they were problem kids. Laura and I figured that maybe treating them in a decent manner, like human beings, would help. But this didn’t have the desired effect, as it turned out.

First, the boy stole my .22 rifle, no doubt because he was Neil’s playmate and had access to our house. The temptation was evidently too much for him to resist. His father discovered the rifle and let me know. Laura and I decided that verbal reprimands and cautionary warnings were enough from us, though the father undoubtedly used a much more physical approach with his son.

But a year later, when these neighbor kids knew we were going to be out of town for the weekend, they broke into our honey house by tearing out the screen and climbing through a window. The only thing missing was a bottle of Everclear (pure grain alcohol) that we used for making propolis tincture. They also broke a window in Neil’s bedroom trying to jimmy it open, killed a number of baby chicks, set part of our pasture on fire playing with gopher gassers, and emptied an entire tube of caulk onto our dog. We called the sheriff’s office, who sent out a crime unit. As it turned out, the boy had stepped on a piece of paper on the counter when he climbed through the window, leaving a perfect shoe print. We already knew who did the crime, so we pointed the deputies in the right direction. The boy’s shoe matched the shoe print perfectly, of course.

We decided to let the criminal justice system play itself out in this case. We noticed right away that we, the victims, were totally ignored by the process. In fact, a victim advocate told us outright, "Don’t expect justice from the criminal justice system." In the end, the kids were given a reprimand because they didn’t have a criminal record, because we hadn’t reported the theft of our rifle.

(The father, an honorable man, paid us for the damage his kids had done.)

I’m saying all this to point out that this neighbor business is not all sweetness and light. I’m sure everybody agrees that neighbors can sometimes be a real pain in the ass, and that in many cases a neutral relationship is as good as it’s ever going to get. There’s a lot more to intentional neighborhood than sheer proximity. Often, the neighbors are simply unsuitable for a closer relationship. But like I said, a severe economic downturn might make it mutually advantageous for neighbors to set their differences aside and work more closely together.

We were a bit closer to one of the three families in our immediate vicinity. Laura and the teenaged daughter became friends, and Laura did some house-sitting for them on several occasions. The neighbors swapped money and use of their pool in exchange for feeding their chickens and horses when they went on vacation. In this case, even though we had little in common with the parents culturally, politically, or on a chemistry level, we managed to have a very decent relationship. It’s not necessary to be friends to be good neighbors.

As it turned out, any interactions between the parents in our unintentional neighborhood totally depended on our kids playing together. As the kids grew up and developed more separate interests, play activity tapered off and eventually stopped, and interactions between the parents became rare.

Today, the father of one of the families still buys honey from us from time to time, and we sometimes have brief conversations with him when he passes our house when he’s out taking his exercise walk. But that’s it. The second family, we talked briefly when there was an auto accident in front of their house a year or so ago, but that’s it. The third family, I had words with the father (we have a surprisingly good relationship, such as it is) when his wolf-dog killed my chickens (as usual, he paid us for the damage), but that’s it. This is fairly typical for an American non-intentional neighborhood out in the country, I suspect.

One interesting fact: when we experienced our Great Flood of ’06, not one of the three families even acknowledged that it had happened. Total denial. I think our status as flood victims made them uncomfortable. Denial of the flood allowed them to deny their indifference to our plight.

With the exception of our neighbors to the north, it’s hard to imagine intentional neighborhood ever happening here with the neighbors we now have, no matter how bad the economy may get. But you never know: maybe some new neighbors will move in and we’ll have a little renaissance right here in Selden Canyon. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Good Stuff

Another unposted essay, without a real ending, evidently written a couple of years ago.

 After a lifetime of living with myself, I’ve learned to identify the Good Stuff when it comes. Hot from the Muse. Or as my Inner Scientist would say, "a clear expression of the automatic synthesis function in my brain." Whatever. "When you’re hot, you’re hot; when you’re not, you’re not." Who was it that said that?
There is so much I have inside -- bursting, or usually, not bursting to get out. I have this thing about wanting to produce finished essays, which requires a lot of work. A lot of editing. The final product is worth it (but is it really, considering how small the audience is?), but sometimes I wish I would just spew a little off the top of my head every day. That’s what Laura wants, after all. "Just write," she says.

I want to write an essay entitled: "Stranger In A Strange Land: Confessions of a Mysterian." Because that’s what I am. After 62 years on this planet, I am finally able to articulate that truth. I’m not a Mystic; I’m a Mysterian. And I’ll bet plenty of other people are, too. Or at least a few people.

In my Grassroots Press column last spring, I talked a bit about mysticism, and promised to "muck about in that realm." I did, in my way, and I learned a thing or two. For one, I learned that I’m not a mystic. Mystics believe, absolutely and literally, that space/time reality is an illusion. As a scientist, that’s a mighty big pill for me to swallow. As a mysterian, I’m not inclined to dispute what the mystics are saying. I would just tug on their robes and say, "Some mystics say the best teaching is done in the silence. If so, why don’t you just shut the fuck up and teach from the silence, then? Let the few who can be taught that way be taught. Sure, I realize that by speaking about Illusion you are Hammering the Darkness in a creative way (or so it must seem to you), but sometimes I wish you mystics would stop writing so many books, stop giving so many lectures, and just blast us with your pure, exalted PRESENCE, dig? We’re already drowning in words as it is."

Or words to that effect.

Last spring, while in the throes of the whole Eckhart Tolle/Oprah thing (which released a lot of energy into the world), I was sitting in my chair doing a noonish meditation with Laura, and thinking (as I am wont to do when meditating)... but this time, rather than idle monkeymind chatter, I was pondering on the whole deal about Consciousness, which is to say, Myself, which is to say, me sitting there meditating, I was pondering about Consciousness not being constrained by space/time reality. Consciousness is not "outside" space/time reality, it’s not located "somewhere else," it’s just that the concept of "location" doesn’t apply to consciousness. This line of thinking triggered a subtle little shift within me that I immediately noticed. That "extra buzz" as I call it in my casual way. No big deal, really, but definitely there.

I went to bed as usual that evening, and about 2 AM I woke up as I often do... to pee or whatever. But when I woke up, whoa baby, I woke up into it, if you know what I mean. It was like the consciousness aspect of my total awareness package had been ramped up by a factor of ten and the monkeymind chatter, while still there occasionally, had been toned down by a factor of ten. Now there’s a balance I can live with! Peace that passeth understanding and all that. I spent a couple of hours (or so it seemed) basically just enjoying and appreciating the experience (which seemed very familiar somehow). I went outside and looked at the stars. Or more accurately, just was with the stars. No merging with the Godhead (I’m not a mystic, afterall), just infinite peace. I lay back down and wondered if I could learn anything from this enhanced bubble of consciousness I was presently inhabiting. Question One: Is there anything inherent within this experience to imply that Consciousness, which is to say, "I," am not limited to space/time reality? Question Two: Is there anything inherent within this experience to imply that consciousness is immortal, and that, therefore, "I" am immortal? The conclusion, or so it seemed to me at the time, was that maybe if I was able to spend more time within this state, I would be better able to answer these questions (if they indeed have answers), and that the state I was presently in is where spiritual growth BEGINS. Hokay then. So I’m not really very spiritual. I already knew that.

A couple of months later I remembered that I used to occasionally have this exact same experience when I was in high school. No wonder it all seemed so familiar! I would be lying in bed waiting to fall asleep and it would just happen. Existence would become transcendentally pure and crystalline. (Even more than usual!) Nothing would change except for the quality of my experience. I remember once a mockingbird sitting on the TV antenna outside the house singing at midnight and I just went outside to get closer to the bird music. I also remember sometimes feeling slightly frustrated by a sense that there should, somehow, be MORE. More what, I had no idea. Maybe sending my mind through the ether or something.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Getting Out From Under

Evidently I never posted this one. At least, there are no posts with this title in the New Earth Times archives. And it lacks a proper ending, which implies that I never posted it. To be able to post stuff like this is exactly why I started the "overflow" blog. It looks like I wrote this a year or so ago.

The Economic Crash (which has just barely begun, by the way) has done wonders for my self-confidence. You see, I’ve been expecting the Crash for the past 40 years now. Back in the late 1960s I realized that a crash was the only possible outcome of America’s oligarchic system of capitalistic idiocy. During the 1990s and early 2000s I pretty much lost faith in my vision, but not quite. I realized that the "prosperity" we were experiencing was artificially induced, and that it couldn’t last, but it seemed at the time that it would last forever. The relatively minor Crash we’ve experienced so far has validated what I’ve always known, and gives me confidence to start predicting the future in a serious way. But before I do, I’d like to talk about the steps I’ve taken to get out from under the crash I always knew was coming.

The keystone of my entire strategy is owning my own land, free and clear. In other words, actually owning the land, not merely the mortgage on it. As an adjunct to this, I have avoided all debt and interest payments. In interest payments alone, I’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to most of my contemporaries.

I read in a blog somewhere that nobody actually owns their real estate, because the government has a permanent lien on it. This isn’t true, is unnecessarily alarmist anti-government propaganda, and is sour grapes to boot. To be sure, your property can be auctioned away if you are clueless enough not to pay your property taxes for enough years in a row. And of course, we could hypothesize an evil government that would purposely raise property taxes so high that it could confiscate everybody’s real estate. But in the past, present, and realistically foreseeable future, property taxes are a minor part of a landowner’s total annual expenses, and are easily budgeted for.

I have been to several tax auctions in Dona Ana County, and have dealt face-to-face with the tax auction crew that comes down periodically from Santa Fe to auction off tax-delinquent property. These people are anxious not to auction off peoples’ property. If a property owner so much as belches in their direction, they will immediately cancel the auction of that particular parcel and work out the details with the property owner later. I have never seen so much bending over backwards in my life. The reason for this, basically, is that private property rights are a religion in this country. It’s a religion I agree with, and most people agree with, regardless of political persuasion.

If we ever have a government that can confiscate people’s property at will, and the populace hasn’t risen up in revolt, then we will deserve what we get. This is one circumstance where I would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with all my neighbors, regardless of political philosophy.

Forty years ago, my thinking went like this: "I’ve got to occupy space on this planet, so why should I have to pay somebody else for the privilege?" I was always a young rebel in that and many other respects. I realized that free-and-clear ownership of my own land was the only way to avoid paying either rent or mortgage payments. (Sure, I could have become a nomad, but that didn’t appeal to me.)

When my employer, New Mexico State University, fired me from my astronomy job because I had put out the campus underground newspaper, the American Civil Liberties Union sued them on my behalf. I had a strong case, and the University offered to settle out-of-court. When I collected my settlement, there was no doubt what I was going to do: I bought land. Paid cash. Owned it outright. But if this option hadn’t been open to me, if I had no choice but to scrape together a down payment and start paying off a mortgage, my highest priority would have been paying that mortgage off as quickly as possible. "Faith" is not my middle name; neither is "Trust." Since I saw a crash coming (though it turned out to be a long way off), I wouldn’t have assumed that I could pay off a mortgage in the usual leisurely way. I would have scrimped and saved and paid it off post-haste.

Also, I’m a cheapskate. To my way of thinking, interest is money down the drain. I hate to waste my hard-earned money that way. I have remained totally debt-free all these years, holding to a pay-as-you-go policy. I started out very poor, making approximately $500 a year (in early 70s dollars). I did without a lot of things. If I didn’t have the money, that was that. I slowly bootstrapped my way up, making two steps forward and one step back. It wasn’t till the mid 90s that I finally accumulated enough savings that they didn’t quickly evaporate. Since then I’ve enjoyed the benefits of wise money management – no debt, no interest payments, and enough savings to even out the ebb and flow of a variable income. I’m able to live comfortably on what by mainstream standards is a very ordinary income.

Of course the economy is crooked. Of course it’s run for the benefit of idiot criminal parasites. Of course Congress is corrupt. Of course most Americans will end up as serfs. Well duh, that’s why I got out from under in the first place! (Though of course if government becomes as authoritarian is it well could, or if law and order breaks down, if gangs of thugs or jack-booted storm troopers roam the streets, all bets are off. All my best-laid plans (and yours) are but a bullet away from termination if the shit ever hits the fan bad enough.)

Despite all the crimes of the corrupt banksters and their government enablers, people need to take a little responsibility for their financial plight. "You made your bed, now lie in it." Sure, there are plenty of people who’ve been bankrupted by medical expenses or other tragedies, and there but for the grace of God go you and I. But all things being equal, one thing we’re witnessing right now is the sifting out of the wise money managers from the poor money managers. The Ants from the Grasshoppers.

Up until now, at least, people have always had a choice: Do I go to Disney World, or do I make an extra house payment? Do I pay down my mortgage, or do I refinance my home so I can put that new swimming pool in the back yard? Do I buy that new car I really don’t absolutely need? Do I put the new wide-screen TV on my credit card? People need to take a good hard look at their behavior, and the consequences thereof. In most cases, we get what we deserve. This is in no way meant to condone the actions of the criminals of high finance who have devastated our economy, but people need to wake up to the fact that we reap what we sow. Cause-effect relationships are real. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. What goes around comes around.

And what if the economy doesn’t tank totally? Well then, you’ve paid off your mortgage, you don’t have that pesky bill to pay every month, and you can take that vacation to Disney World you’ve always dreamed of. Not being an interest slave confers many advantages.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reality Models

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, in their article "The (Elusive) Theory of Everything," which appeared in the October 2010 issue of Scientific American, share a valuable insight:

Whenever we develop a model of the world and find it to be successful, we tend to attribute to the model the quality of reality or absolute truth... The same physical situation can be modeled in different ways, each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. It might be that to describe the universe we have to employ different theories in different situations. Each theory may have its own version of reality, but according to model-dependent realism, that diversity is acceptable, and none of the versions can be said to be more real than any other.
Another way to say this is, "The map is not the territory, and any map that works is as good as any other map." To which I would add. "The territory is ultimately unknowable."

In my simple-minded way I always assumed there was "one reality" (otherwise known as the hard physical reality in which our planet is being destroyed), and my alternate "models" (otherwise known as "altered states of consciousness") were somehow less relevant. But recently I’ve come to accept the fact that never the twain shall meet. In my experience, different models seem dominant at different times, and no model is more relevant than any other.

As far as I know, we can’t escape the reality that our planet is being destroyed. But we have the capability within ourselves to transcend the illusion that physical reality is all there is. As Shakespeare said, "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Confessions of an All-American Boy

I started this for Grassroots Press but never finished it. 

I used to consider myself quite the all-American boy. I was born in Texas, for crying out loud. I went to public schools five days a week, and Southern Baptist church every Sunday. I loved everything military – my friends and I refought World War II over and over again in our backyards, and I drew war pictures in school while the teacher droned. I watched way too much TV – Howdy Doody, Mickey Mouse Club, Bonanza, Ed Sullivan, and countless cartoons. I listened to rock and roll radio constantly, ate Pop Tarts, sucked my milk through Flav-R Straws, and combed by hair like Edd "Kookie" Byrnes. My family saw the USA in our Chevrolet. We cooked hamburgers in our back yard. My every cell was American. My very DNA was American. My brain played American music back to me day and night. My feet tapped out an American rhythm. I thought I sort of understood this country. I thought "freedom" actually meant something. I thought that Americans had some innate level of decency and common sense.

By the time I was 16 or so, things were starting to, like, not quite add up, you know? Something was terribly wrong that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then came the Vietnam War, and I began to see through the glass darkly. I became radicalized. Power to the people, make love not war and all that. But the war eventually ended, and like many others of my g-generation, I found that I was very good at doing my own thing. Smoking my own pipe. Following my own drum. Life went on. Despite Reagan and Bush I, life in America was nothing to get hung about, or so it seemed at the time. It wasn’t until 1995, when I read an article by Noam Chomsky in The Nation which described the true power dynamics in this country (the rich want it all!), that I rediscovered that yes indeedy, I was still very much a radical... which is to say, I still believed in peace, justice, saving the Earth, power to the people, making love not war, and dancing in the streets whenever possible. Some things never change.

Life continued within me and without me. Ace Ventura, Pet Detective... Slick Bill Clinton, Stealth Republican... Monica Lewinsky... impeachment... the dot com boom and high tech bubble... is this country screwed, or what? I was appalled by the 2000 coup d’etat and the subsequent hard-right governance of the Bush regime and their Democratic enablers. On 9-11 I realized as soon as the planes hit the towers that Bush had been handed almost unlimited power. I was saddened in 2002 when the Republicans took control of Congress with a plurality of less than 100,000 votes. But what finally did it for me was when 70% of Americans supported the Shock&Aweรข that so many of us peaceniks had worked so hard to prevent.

You know, I realize that half of all Americans have IQs of less than 100. But invading Iraq was beyond dumb and dumber; in fact, it was so far beyond stupid, it was pathetic. Americans are famously clueless, but with the invasion of Iraq their cluelessness reached a new quantum level. I bet if you took a poll, very few Americans could tell you what "Pandora’s Box" means. Further, I bet a high percentage wouldn’t be able to tell you what the old saying, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" means. How could the progeny of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone get so dumb? I don’t recognize Americans anymore. Which leads me to suspect that a critical mass of Americans have morphed into something different... "Murkans," citizens of a new country, Murka, with a new faith-based culture, simultaneously high-tech and medieval.
One aspect of our ongoing American tragedy is that intelligent people have been systematically excluded from real power in this country. As I used to say at Peace Vigil, referring to the Gandhi and Bush puppets people brought for dramatic effect, "They make policy, we make puppets." What a waste.

Full Speed Ahead and Damn the Icebergs!

Here's another early Grassroots Press column from 2004:

American consumerism has entered its final, baroque stage. "Baroque" is defined in my dictionary as "exaggeratedly showy or ornate," and this is a perfect description of early 21st century America -- the SUVs are bigger, the superstores are larger, the houses are more ostentatious than ever… while at the same time the polar ice caps are melting more rapidly, the rainforests are being destroyed even more voraciously, and the atmosphere has reached a state of near-terminal pollution. America has gone stark raving mad. Like passengers in an out-of-control car headed for a brick wall, Americans glance up from their TVs and ask, "Is that a brick wall we see up ahead? Well then, let’s SPEED UP! That’ll show em! Any more brick walls around? Bring em on! Yee hah!"

The sinking of the Titanic makes an even better analogy, since it lasted long enough for the drama to fully develop. Crashing into a brick wall is over much too quickly for the lesson to truly sink in.

Like America, everybody thought the Titanic was invulnerable. Like America, the Titanic was ultra-modern, the highest high-tech. Like America, the Titanic carried all social classes, and this is why the disaster achieved such mythic power. If it had held only steerage rabble, no one would have remembered. But the thought of John Jacob Astor slowly freezing to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic -- now there’s a scenario from which legends are made. (Back then, the wealthy were still hated, and there must have been considerable satisfaction realizing that even the rich can suffer and die like that.)

Like America, the Titanic was on a corporate mission, a mission from God as it were. In this case, the mission was to reach New York in record time. Imagine the headlines from the lapdog press if the Titanic hadn’t hit the iceberg -- TITANIC BEATS TRANSATLANTIC SPEED RECORD. What an advertising coup for the corporation this would have been! The corporation anticipated a long and profitable career from their new investment.

Unlike America, the corporation chose their best, most experienced captain to be in command. But like America, the captain had serious gaps in his resume. Specifically, he had never encountered significant danger from icebergs. He was clueless about what an iceberg could do to the thin steel hull of a steamship. Having never been challenged by icebergs, he considered himself and his ship invulnerable.

During the voyage, some of the passengers became aware that they were heading into the iceberg zone. They spoke to the captain and other crew members, and urged them to change their course to a more southerly latitude, or to at least slow down. But no, the Titanic was on a corporate mission, as you will recall, and changing course was not an option. (Sounds like the Bush administration, doesn’t it?) In fact, the captain decided to SPEED UP so they would get through the danger zone faster! Don’t you just love corporate logic?

(What we have here, of course, is the common situation in which the people in power ignore the people with good information. Why do they do this? Because they can. This is why Global Warming will turn into such a disaster as the 21st century progresses. The powers-that-be were amply warned, but chose to ignore all the good advice they were so freely given, and now we will all pay the price.)

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the first response was, of course, denial. Faith-based ideology trumped reality: "This ship is unsinkable, therefore it will not sink." (Obviously, the Titanic was owned and operated by Republicans, and in fact the majority stockholder of the Titanic was none other than American plutocrat J.P. Morgan.) Only when the ship started to tilt at an impossible angle was it time to break out the lifeboats and save as many rich people as possible.

Even after the lifeboats were deployed, the remaining passengers clung to hope. They had their life vests, after all. Few stopped to consider how cold the water was. (Just as today, few people stop to consider what this planet will really be like without rainforests and polar caps.)

The Titanic disaster illustrates an important aspect of human nature: By all means, let’s avoid thinking if at all possible. Before the disaster, nobody wanted to talk about prevention, and after the disaster, the situation was self-evident and nobody needed to talk about it. Both before and after the disaster, human intelligence was dispensed with. This is exactly what has happened with Global Warming. Now that we have probably passed the point of no return, more people are finally starting to talk about Global Warming, but talk is way too cheap. The wrong hands are on the tiller. As long as corporations run our ship of state, the intelligent people with good information will be ignored. What can we expect, when idiots are in command?

Clearly, the American system (a combination of corporate capitalism and what passes for democracy) has failed utterly. This system, hastily cobbled together during the 18th century, has seldom been capable of making wise decisions, even during the best of times. Now that we face unprecedented global environmental disaster, the limitations of the American system have become lethal for the entire planet. As long as the American system remains intact, people have no incentive to change their behavior, which makes ecological disaster inevitable. We’re in a hell of a pickle, I would say.

A Brief Overview of History

In 2003, before I started my New Earth Times blog, I wrote a series of articles for Grassroots Press in which I presented some basic historical facts.  Here are parts 1 and 2.  If I ever find part 3, I'll tack it onto the end.

Part 1: The Elite vs. The Rabble

Americans have traditionally had a limited grasp of history beyond the superficial "authorized version" we learn in school. In recent years this situation has become even more extreme, because 70% of Americans get their news from the cable news networks, where yesterday’s news is quickly replaced by today’s and tomorrow’s spin. Americans live in a timeless reality which is always changing, but seems to remain the same. Having little sense of history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

I would like to contribute a very brief overview of history, concentrating on the perpetual conflict between the "elite," who own most of the wealth, and the "rabble" -- everybody else.  Until the establishment of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Possessions were few, and limited to what could be carried from place to place. This tended to keep people relatively equal. This all changed with agriculture. Now, for the first time, humans were sedentary (and thus easily controlled), and produced surpluses of grain and other food which had to be stored and defended. These surpluses meant unprecedented power for whoever was able to control them, and the first elite was born. For the first time, organized war became possible.

It’s fascinating to consider that the socio-economic system we have in modern America goes all the way back to prehistoric times. The true elite (typically 1% of the population) is far too small to dominate the other 99%, so they have always depended on "enablers" to enforce their will upon the rest of the population. There are three classes of enablers: a) the priesthood, who promote the "authorized mythology"; b) government bureaucrats, who collect taxes, administer the realm, and settle disputes between the rabble; c) the military -- aided in modern times by police -- who defend the realm from invaders, and also keep the rabble under control.

There are dozens of ancient civilizations that fit this pattern -- Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Rome, the Aztecs. In each of these cultures, a small elite class, with the aid of their enablers, dominated the rest of the citizens, and controlled most of the resources. This is exactly the system we have in America today.
Most of human history since the rise of agriculture has been a continual nightmare of war and exploitation, with elites always in control. Although they comprise most of the population, the rabble have typically been unorganized and relatively helpless. They have lived as peasant farmers or small-time artisans. In times of war, they were pressed into military service, where they died in vast numbers.

This pattern was modified somewhat during the 16th century, when European sailing vessels discovered that there was a whole world to exploit. For the first time, the amount of wealth flowing into Europe was greater than the elites could absorb, and a small middle class formed from the surplus wealth.

When the English invaded North America, they found a continent unbelievably rich in natural resources -- timber, minerals, fish and game, abundant water, rich soil. A peasant could move out to the frontier, make a primitive living, and be freer than any of his ancestors had been for millennia. Middle class and elite Englishmen who moved to America found themselves amazingly wealthy. Before long, a new American elite formed, many of them originally from lower-status stock. They chafed under the constraints the English elite imposed upon them. They wanted to be free on their own terms.

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of America should be required reading for all high school students. He maps out the true dynamics of the American Revolution. We have all been raised on the standard view of the revolution, in which American patriots became tired of taxation without representation, and threw off English dominance.

Actually, it was the American elite who grew weary of English dominance. Many rich Americans were far wealthier than their upper-class English counterparts, and were tired of being treated like second-class citizens. They were tired of paying taxes (sound familiar?). It was the American elite, led by the wealthy George Washington, who hired and trained the Revolutionary Army.

After the Revolutionary War was won, a political system was organized that gave most of the power to the elite, but offered enough concessions to the upper middle class that they would identify with the elite rather than the rabble. A new era, and an unimaginably wealthy plutocracy, was born.

Vast fields of coal and iron ore were discovered, and so this country was built on steel -- steel rails, steel locomotives, steel skyscrapers. It was also built on the backs of a limitless supply of immigrant labor -- people who were so grateful to move to America, they were willing to work for almost nothing. Exploiting them were the elite, the filthy rich, for whom enough is never enough.

May 2, 2003

(Next issue: PERPETUAL WAR)

Part 2:  The Corporations Achieve Immortality
Last issue I talked about the ongoing saga of the elite (who control most of the wealth and set the agenda) versus the rabble (everybody else). At the end of the article I promised to talk about the elite’s strategy of perpetual war to ensure perpetual control, but before I do that, I need to talk about how the elite achieved immortality and unlimited power.

The elite’s favorite organizational tool is the corporation, which allows owners immunity from liabilities. The owners can do business as a corporation and be personally immune if the corporation goes bankrupt or gets sued. This excellent deal is called "limited liability," and it’s no wonder corporations are so common.
The original English corporations were granted royal charters. There were few of them during colonial times, but they were very powerful. The one we remember best today is the British East India Company, which had the monopoly on tea in the colonies. The Boston Tea Party was an anti-corporate protest that made the history books.

After the Revolution, Americans were suspicious of corporate power, so corporations were tightly controlled. Corporate charters, which were granted by the states, had to be periodically renewed, and could be revoked if the terms of the charter were violated. This is a far cry from the slash-and-burn corporations of today.
The turning point for corporate power began during and after the Civil War, when corporations made such huge profits that they were able to buy off legislatures and judges. (Some things never change.) Abraham Lincoln foresaw "an era of corruption in high places" until finally "the republic is destroyed." His words seem to be coming true today.

Thanks to a compliant legal and legislative system, corporations continued to grow in power and influence. The enormously powerful railroads spearheaded this process. Corporate charters no longer had time limits, and thus corporations became immortal. Finally, in 1886, in a casual comment appended to the case "Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad," the US Supreme Court granted personhood to corporations. No longer were corporations "artificial persons;" they were now full-fledged citizens, with full Constitutional rights, including free speech.

Since corporations are far more powerful than all but the wealthiest citizens, and have vast resources to hire lawyers, judges, and politicians, they have been successful in subverting our original "one person, one vote" form of government into the plutocracy we have today.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was a temporary setback for America’s corporate elite. The rabble were suffering so badly that there was danger of revolution. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a member of the elite himself, saved the day by doing just enough to prevent revolution. Many radical solutions were proposed, but few were implemented. Why try surgery when a Band-Aid will do? His most lasting legacy is Social Security, which the elite have been trying to destroy ever since. Stay tuned on this one.

World War II began the modern era. For the first time, the US became a global superpower, and by the time the war was over, America reigned supreme. The corporate profits from World War II were beyond belief. The Civil War and World War I were extremely profitable, but World War II was ridiculous. What to do with all this new power?

One advantage to enormous wealth is that you can hire the best brains money can buy. The elite evidently hired the very best as World War II came to a close. The brilliant strategy they devised has still never received the credit it deserves.

Democracy had always been a mixed blessing for the elite. The rabble required relatively little control, since they were self-limiting -- their imaginations were limited mostly to getting along and feathering their own nests. Americans worked hard, followed orders well, and had minimal expectations. Being left alone, and being free from jack-booted stormtroopers, was enough to keep them relatively content. But one potential problem: the rabble had that pesky vote. They could always be led astray by liberals or populists.

1945 was an unprecedented historical juncture point. During the 30s, the rabble had shared the collective trauma of the Great Depression. Then, during World War II, taking terrible losses, they vanquished some truly despicable enemies. Shared trauma brings solidarity. Solidarity can be dangerous if misdirected. What if the rabble decided to TAKE OVER?

It was decided that war would continue indefinitely. Communism would become the new enemy. Fear would become an important management tool -- the rabble would now fear Communism and nuclear war. The economy would remain on a permanent war footing; the taxpayers would continue to subsidize the armaments industry. And -- probably the most diabolical plan of all -- the tax burden would gradually be shifted from the elite onto the rabble. More about this next issue. The Cold War had begun.