Sunday, November 5, 2017

Beyond the Rabbit Hole

For weeks I have been fighting episodes of physical pain and depression triggered by what I've come to call "going down the Rabbit Hole." Direct experience or news leads to a cascade of thoughts about its meaning at all scales, accompanied by a mix of anger, helplessness, and despair that cannot be expressed productively to effectively delay, stop, or escape the destruction of many lives in the near future. Since I built my entire value system on the avoidance of extinction, its failure is my failure, and what feels like a profound depletion of the value of my own life – especially since I continue to contribute to the source of that failure in the way I live, a hypocrite to the last.

Seeing over a decade of predictions coming true provides no solace, and no useful guidance about what to do next. I had focused most of my energy trying to understand it and figure out how to stop it, while sharing the results of that search with as much passion and reason as I could muster. What was a tiny amount of remaining hope a year ago was dashed by the election of leaders whose words and actions strongly support just the opposite: growth at any cost, including the extermination of humanity – except for them and their families – as well as any other species that get in their way.

Attempts to focus onto doing and celebrating as much good as possible – like a dying patient working though his bucket list – have been overwhelmed by the torrent of news about far too many others doing just the opposite. I fall easily back into troubleshooting mode, and from there back into the Rabbit Hole.

As I write, there has just been another horrific mass shooting, beckoning for me to learn who and what was responsible. I am drawn to watch a crazy routine of identifying short-term answers that won't yield any lasting effects, because such acts are a symptom of something that resides in all of us, something we fear addressing more than the consequences of not doing so: the capacity to objectify other people to the point where their lives mean nothing relative to our own. Such reflection is just a taste of what it's like to go down the Rabbit Hole, which as part of a vast network of tunnel-like understanding connecting many experiences, is the same as the network itself.

Intellectually, I know that to get beyond the Rabbit Hole, to get beyond the pain it triggers and the death it represents, a new set of experiences must be discovered, described, and felt at a deep, visceral level – made as real as what they will ultimately replace. To draw on another metaphor, we must think and live "outside the box." In whatever time I have left, I'll try doing so, because the pain is becoming too much to bear.

Monday, August 14, 2017

No Winners

The world now the faces the very real possibility of a nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea that the entire world would lose. In addition to massive loss of human life resulting from even a limited exchange of such weapons, the already overstressed populations of other species we all depend upon for survival would crash if forced to also deal with the environmental effects, accelerating our headlong rush toward extinction.

Complicating any attempts to avoid such a scenario is the delusion that surviving it is still possible, along with an apparent unwillingness by both adversaries to accept responsibility for the costs. This is a special case of the threat we already face as a species, where large groups of consumers are unwilling to accept the impossibility of perpetual growth or the responsibility for its pursuit crippling our planet's ecosystems to the point where further damage will reduce our ability to survive.

The most rational way to deal with both threats is for everyone to recognize their costs, agree that they are unacceptable, and commit to doing whatever it takes to eliminate them. We would have to admit that no one is better than anyone else in the sense even the last person to live would not be "winner," but rather the most pathetic loser in the history of the world. As a minimum, the two people facing off today must admit this fact and believe it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Terms of Derision

Planet-killing psychopaths. Ruinators trying to turn the U.S. into RuiNation. Promoters of money over lives. Stupid, evil, or both. On social media I have been saying these things about the people with political and economic power whose actions I perceive to be reducing the chances of living in a world that conforms to my values. The terms were consciously crafted to highlight my judgment of right and wrong based on those values, while conveying characteristics that appear responsible for their actions. Because I value honesty, I've used them in venues where it should be clear that I was stating opinion, and tried to add context by providing explanatory references to sources of those opinions.

For example, "planet-killing psychopaths" (formerly "planet-killing sociopaths") refers to people and organizations whose actions excessively increase the extinction risk for both humans and other species, while apparently demonstrating no remorse for that impact – if they even have an interest in it. I use the term derisively because in my value system the continued existence of life is paramount, especially human life and the species whose existence supports it.

Objectively, I understand that such behavior may be built into some people's nature, or it may have been shaped by personal experience that made it a way of coping with their own lives. For all I know, it may even be a sort of safety valve on the growth of our species, ensuring that we humans are stopped from totally destroying the global ecosystem by destroying ourselves first, with the others that support us as necessary collateral loss. Whatever the reason, the result is bad in my view; and if the result is bad, then to be true to my values I must discourage or work to disable what causes it.

Similar logic applies to the other terms. "RuiNation" is one I made up to describe a "ruined nation" that has had its basic social and physical infrastructure damaged to the point that the majority of its citizens are suffering on a regular basis along with a diminishing life expectancy. "Ruinators" are those who facilitate the existence of such a country. RuiNation introduces quality of life to quantity of life as a value. Because I like to measure things, I include life expectancy, which has a clear correlation to both values. Any action or combined actions that increase the chances of making it so are to be discouraged, as a minimum. Clearly such actions may include reducing such things as: the quality and quantity of health care; the quality of air, water, and food; and access all of these.

My research has shown that money is an abstraction that serves the main purpose of coordinating acquisition, distribution, and use of resources to provide people's needs and wants (collectively, "happiness"). To the extent that it provides needs, it supports life; but when some people use it to meet their wants with resources others require to meet their needs, then it reduces life. This latter case is referred to in shorthand with the term "money means more than lives," applied to those who apparently value their own happiness (specifically, their wants) more than the survival of other people. It is used with derision because of my overarching valuing of life over the material environments that money and its accompanying physical resources can provide, environments that also use resources needed by other species who enable all people to live on this planet.

In some cases, it is unclear whether an action is intentional or the consequence of ignorance. We all have lack of knowledge and understanding, blind spots that lead us to cause bad things to happen (however one defines "bad") without being aware of it; I use the term "stupid" as shorthand for a person with this condition, particularly if it appears to be chronic. If actions are taken with knowledge of their negative consequences, then I ascribe the term "evil" to the person, even though on a more objective basis I consider evil to be a characteristic of actions rather than people. Sometimes (and perhaps more often than not), a mix of intentionality and ignorance contributes to such actions: trying to do one bad thing and causing another. If someone is in a position to know the consequences of their actions but appears to not know them, such as a politician with significant power, then I may ask which explanation holds (either or both) without excusing them for the consequences because they should know what they're doing more than most of the rest of us.

As I understand it, the most successfully long-lived societies survived and thrived in large part due to social feedback that promoted healthy behaviors and discouraged unhealthy ones. Valuing the characteristics of longevity and health has led me to fully embrace providing such feedback as a duty, which I have chosen to exercise through writing perhaps because I am an extreme introvert. I have also become more and more stressed as evidence continues to mount that we all live in a very short-lived society, motivating me to increasingly cry out in pain and judgment against the forces I perceive are causing that. This has caused some people to brand me a scaremonger and an extreme partisan. It's not scaremongering if the threat is real – which it is – and the appearance of partisanship is a consequence of the reality that there is a strong correlation between political affiliation and contribution to whether we will live or die, which is the ultimate value.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Moments of Joy

Last week I found myself in a dangerous situation not unlike many I had experienced before. A recent storm had dropped several inches of snow in the middle of a deep freeze that left a glaze of ice on what little road was exposed. The responsible thing to do was to work at home, eliminating the chance of committing an act of evil: that which, by intention, increases the risk of death or pain for other people without their consent and their ability to share in any gains. There was a chance, but it was arguably small, since everyone on the roads had implicitly decided to take the same risk. After a brief call to my boss, who subtly reminded me that work at the office was expected except under extreme circumstances, I decided to attempt the drive.

My first fourteen years of driving were in the Boston area, in cars that were far less reliable than the one I now drive, and under conditions much worse than any I've encountered in the Denver area since I moved here. I remembered that as I watched cars randomly cross lanes of the highway that were hidden by the snow. A reassuring thought stream from my subconscious reminded me that I was spoiled but not unprepared, and fed me directions derived from those early years and basic knowledge that was now part of my neuron memory.

As conditions rapidly deteriorated in one part of the trip, I experienced a burst of euphoria brought about by one stark, illuminating thought: if I die soon, I'll make sure that I die happy. Every experience any of us has ever had is already locked into the Universe, which no one and nothing can destroy; the next few minutes can be good or bad, in large part based on our own actions, and they too will be locked into the fabric of spacetime. We may as well make them good.

Coincidentally, my iPod started playing the theme to the TV show "Spenser for Hire," which had been a popular addition to Boston culture when I was driving there. The euphoria was joined by nostalgia, in part for the decade-long creative binge I enjoyed while working with my father in an attempt to develop and teach self-reliance through joyful derivation and use of understanding in any situation. My memories have long cast that time in terms of building a better future, but I now grasped that they depended on experiencing a better present. My father thrived in new situations, sometimes created by making what others would consider a mistake, and learning things from them that could alter his understanding of everything else so that life was more interesting. It was easy for me to focus on those larger insights, but I had lost sight of their source in the minute-by-minute experiences that are constantly embedded in the reality of the past and should be savored as much – or more.

As the world becomes a more dangerous place in the weeks and months ahead, I'm taking that recent experience and its insights to heart, folding them into a vision of how I want to spend the rest of my life, however long or short, and holding onto the goal of embedding as much joy as possible into the Universe – moment by moment.