Last weekend I attended a conference held by Transition Colorado to explore what would be involved in meeting food demand from local resources, and, by extension, how to create a resilient community that can survive the physical and psychological shocks sure to accompany the end of cheap energy and the advancing of global climate change. I came to the conference with several objectives: (1) to perform research for my writing; (2) to contribute to the discussion about options; (3) to develop relationships with people who have common interests and goals; and (4) to gain some insight into what my next career should be.
What I ultimately ended up doing was reconnecting with reality, which I didn't fully appreciate until I got home and was strongly, viscerally repulsed by the Oscar awards that were just starting. Only a short time earlier, I had been in an earnest discussion with a group of people about building community through spending time with people and Nature without the intrusion of an artificial, impersonal, intellectually and emotionally shallow barrage of images and sounds designed to promote behavior that is killing our planet and ourselves. As television and radio often do to me, it shut out my sense of self and connection with everything but them, the everything else that, I was reminded, really matters.
After dinner, I spent some time in my office, which in my months of unemployment (or “self-employment,” if you count my prolific writing over that period) have been a big part of my reality, and – uncharacteristically – my mind went blank. The books, the furniture, the Web sites such as Facebook where I was used to catching up on the activities and interests of family and friends, all the trappings of my so-called existence, were all a hazy, meaningless blur that held no interest. Of course, I'm there now, and a good night's sleep has added some much-needed perspective. It's all a bunch of tools, and tools only have value when you use them to do something meaningful (excuse me... that just became one of my “pithy comments”). If you have a tool between you and other people, (or you and – fill in the blank:______) your experience of them is warped such that they assume some part of the character of the tool itself. A part of your mind is engaged that considers them something to be manipulated, because, after all, you're experiencing the tool manipulating them.
This is something I've been grappling with for a long time, which has resulted in an elaborate theoretical, intellectual understanding of the world and its current predicament, including the “perils of abstraction” themselves. The conference certainly added to that understanding, and suggested some amendments to consider for the structure of ideas I've constructed. While most of the new information and insights aren't personal, they do reflect a larger reality I know must somehow be reflected in our collective consciousness, the story we tell ourselves and others about the world that helps us make responsible, informed decisions in the here-and-now. Our tools of abstraction, such as TV and computers, still have the power to help with this, despite the fact that they have been largely co-opted to enhance the competition that is killing us.
In my search for a new career, I have considered my natural tendency to explore, develop, test, and improve conceptual representations of experience. Essentially, I'm a scientist, but one that prefers to figure things out on his own, even at the most basic level, and gets a thrill from seeing things that should be obvious but no one else has noticed. In that last discussion at the conference, I shared that approach with the group in the context of using play to learn and prepare for new experiences, which I think would be extremely helpful if practiced on all levels, from the personal to the global. I would love to help encourage this while meeting my personal financial obligations and being an active part of a community of people who know and support each other directly and personally.