Archive for the ‘Volume 3’ Category

Consider this a cop-out.

As I am reminded by that cute little red flag down below, it’s been a solid third of a year since my last post.  It’s not that my hands and mind have been idle during those months (slaving in the fields of an organic farm helps one keep busy), but I simply find it very hard to distill the interrelated issues that plague our postpostmodern world into pithy, easy-to-digest nuggets of wisdom for the internet public.

However, while on distro duty at the very White “eco-friendly general store” one weekend, I came across the following comparison in a book titled “The Transition Timeline: For a Local, Resilient Future”, a passage that neatly explains my difficulty in making regular postings.

Conventional environmentalism:
-individual behavior
-single issue
-methods: lobbying, campaigning, protest
-‘sustainable development’
-fear, guilt, and shock as drivers.

Transition Approach:
-group behavior
holistic
-methods: public participation, eco-psychology, arts & culture
-resilience/relocalization
-hope and optimism as drivers.

I had to laugh when I first read this, because the ‘conventional’ approach perfectly describes the tactics of TU’s environmental club, with which I was involved for four years.  While they had good intentions (save the whales, save the snails, save the bees, save the trees!, etc.), their focus on one issue at a time (usually mountaintop-removal mining) combined with this worn-out approach generally just resulted in a campus/public that writes off environmentalists as ‘hippies’, not wanting to be told what they shouldn’t do or what they should care about.

(I actually first saw this ad at the multiplex, ironically playing before–of all things–the extended cut of AVATAR.)

Watch it, and then tell me if there’s anything funny about this bit of narration:
This was once a country where people made things…beautiful things…and so it is again.”

It’s a nice notion, and while I would like to believe it, I find it hard to do so considering that the line is immediately preceded by shots of ROBOTS ASSEMBLING CARS.

Besides, what’s all this nonsense about “the things we make, make us“?
We’re
not really making things; these things might be made in the USA for a change, but we’re still just having machines make our machines for us…though I suppose that’s slightly better than having Chinese machines make our machines for us.

“What we call human nature in actuality is human habit.”

Something that has always bugged me in my continuing preparedness efforts is the way that modern survivalists seem geared towards weathering any catastrophe, but with the end goal of ‘rebuilding society’ or ‘rebuilding the nation’; this usually turns into a discussion of the code of law in postapocalyptic bartertowns.

My problem with this?  Excluding unforeseen natural disasters, I would argue that any event which could seriously threaten our society would probably be due to 10,000 years of civilized life finally catching up to bite us in the ass.*  Any effort to rebuild would just be attempts to return to the only world the survivors had ever known—which is likely the same world that created whatever disaster caused the S to HTF.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a real eco approach to preparedness/postapocalyptic survival.  The closest thing I’ve found is the book “The Urban Homestead”, in which the authors use tongue-in-cheek quips like “shitting in a five-gallon-bucket [composting toilet] will be the logical choice in the postapocalyptic world when there’s no water for flushing and the zombies are scratching at the door” to demonstrate their awareness of the simple fact that eco living=self-sufficient=long-term survivability.  Meanwhile, survival forums are full of gung-ho red-blooded Merkans who view composting toilets as hippie junk, and who plan on fighting zombies for their God-given right to waste valuable resources down the commode.

My interest in survivalism/disaster readiness stems from the hope that when shit does go down, I’d like to be around to help steer the rebuilding in a different direction, one which will hopefully prevent similar bad stuff from happening again in the future.  However, it seems that shifting the cultural mindset towards that different direction would involve moving away from norms that have been business-as-usual for the last few thousand years—patriarchy, stratification, large-scale agriculture, militarism, etc.

*Max Brooks’ World War Z is a great example of this—the Zed virus is introduced into the First World as a result of globalization, allowed to persist by Big Pharma, and spreads exponentially as a result of dense populations.

**^ title quote from Jewel Kilcher.

Eco-friendly pest control tip of the month:

ANTS.  HATE.  CINNAMON.

Blue is the new Green.

I found this on the website of a Texs news station, trying to pick this year’s Academy Award winners: “Best Picture – “The Hurt Locker” – It should be very close between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” but I think the social relevance of “The Hurt Locker” should sway more voters.

Erm, wait a second.  Did this guy get lost in the theater and wind up seeing “Tooth Fairy” or something?  Did he see the same AVATAR that I did?  Because the one I saw was like, one of the most important films ever (after Star Wars and The Matrix—both of which simply repackaged the same deep-rooted “hero’s journey” archetype that people have been telling since before Gilgamesh, except that Lucas based his on swashbuckling serials and Vietnam-era politics, and the Wachowskis drew upon postmodern anti-civilization philosophy and cyberpunk).
It’s funny, because The Hurt Locker and AVATAR are both ‘socially relevant’, except Bigelow’s film is specifically about the Iraq War, while Cameron’s is big-picture and about the Iraq War only to the extent that that conflict is simply the most current and visible example of Our Culture’s insatiable need to expand and devour natural resources.

Yes, AVATAR is Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The New World, Zulu, Fern Gully, 1492, or any other story where advanced imperialists have a run-in with the indigs.  And this is exactly the point; this is what Cameron wanted.    It seems that his plan with AVATAR was to repackage the same old story that we’ve seen countless times before, dress it up in his “gimmicky” 3D technology to get people into the theaters (because “You couldn’t get them to come… and watch a film about the conquest of New Spain…”), and show them how Our Culture has been exploiting the planet for transient, monetary gain—and otherwise generally fucking things up—for untold generations.

But apparently, it didn’t seem too terribly effective, because all people could see was a “groundbreaking film with dazzling 3d effects and breathtaking landscapes.”  Ugh.

In the 11 Dec 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, James Cameron explicitly states:

“What I was doing with Avatar…was more in response to the history of the human race (that) has been written in blood by technically or militarily superior people taking from those who are less capable.
I think it’s important for people to see the patterns in history…I think science fiction is a way of making history exciting by putting it in the future and taking you to a new planet and showing you exactly the same shit that’s been happening for the last 2,000 years…”

“Science fiction is excellent for that because if you make a comment about the Iraq war and American imperialism in the Middle East, you’re going to get a lot of people pissed off at you in this country, but if you do it in a science-fiction context, where you do it at a metaphorical level, people get swept in by the story and they get to the end of the movie before they realize they’ve been rooting for the Iraqis.”

After the film was over, I left the theater in high spirits: it wasn’t just me—finally, somebody who seemed to abhor “civilization” as much as I.  On the interweb, I hoped to see if there were others who thought the same.  But if you go to the IMDB’s AVATAR message board, you won’t find people debating the merits of industrial sabotage, or the ethics of armed vs. nonviolent resistance; no, you’ll find arguments over whether or not AVATAR is an animated film, or how much the final budget was, or yet another 15-page thread repeating the same petty comments we’ve been hearing since before the film came out: “It’s just Dances With Wolves in space!”  No shit, Sherlock.  Grow up, get over it.  Look past the 3D, look past the surface story—see AVATAR for what it is: a metaphor, a message—and wake up.

ecodefense, Na’vi-style.

Don’t believe everything that you eat.

At my university, every student has to take the required course “Lifetime Fitness”.  It’s just like PhysEd and Health class from high school, except we also have to work out in the “fitness center” (read:gym) every week.  One of the projects in the course is to keep track of what you eat and do (activity-wise) for three days, and then plug it all into an objective computer program and see what it reveals about your diet.  As soon as I saw the assignment on the syllabus the first day of class, I thought, “Oh, this is going to be interesting.”

You see, when I first got into rewilding, I started with diet.  As a result, I’ve been purposefully ignoring The Food Pyramid for several years.  When I finished this project, I really expected the first page of the report to just tell me to “Eat more bread!” a few hundred times.

According to DINE (for future use, the name of the food analysis program), my diet received an arbitrary score of “Good” with 65 points—high marks on protein (high percentage of calories), and saturated fat, added sugar, and cholesterol (all low).  Of course, the analysis suggested that my diet needed improvement in several areas: total calories (apparently I wasn’t getting enough), mono fat (too much), complex carbs (not enough), and fiber (no idea why, as I eat plenty of fibrous things).

The DINE program suggested that my intake of animal fat was greater than recommended, which would reflect a high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol (“associated with increased risk for heart disease and certain cancers”).  However, the two areas of my diet on which I received extra points for being within or even significantly below the recommended range were…saturated fats and cholesterol.  It’s just further evidence that a high-meat/high-fat diet can be extremely healthy, if combined with an active lifestyle.  Civilized agriculturalists may have had as much meat in their diets as hunter-gatherers, but their sedentary lifestyle and crowded conditions led to the same diseases that plague our modern world.  In addition, the little meat I actually ate during this period was local venison—clearly a healthier alternative to factory-farmed, corn-fed beef or pork.  If my Paleolithic ancestors could eat a diet composed of 20 to 30 percent wild game and be incredibly healthy, I can too.

The DINE system also said that I do not eat enough complex carbohydrates; the Nutrient Messages report suggested that I eat more breads, cereals, pastas, and grains, of course..  This is what I expected when I began this project, and this is one suggestion I will continue to ignore, as these foods have, since their relatively recent introduction, contributed to a decreased level of wellness, and are currently in the pocket of corrupt industries.
Every single one of these foods came into existence only after the Neolithic agricultural revolution.  These were cheap foods that were easy to make; filling, but not terribly good for you in the long run; foods perfectly-suited to feeding the peasants upon whose backs the first civilizations (read: oppressive, stratified societies) were built.  As Jared Diamond wrote, “Today just three high-carbohydrate plants—wheat, rice, and corn—provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human species, yet each one is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential to life.”  To make things worse, these products are today heavily subsidized by the government, providing incentives to produce more wheat to make white bread, and more corn to be made into cheap, unhealthy additives for “food”.  As a result of the absolutely corrupt special-interest groups (industry lobbyists) who essentially control our government, one cannot trust what The Food Pyramid (sorry, I forgot that now it’s the “MyPyramid”) which the DINE program is surely based upon.  While it’s possible that the limited food database in DINE is simply the result of an out-of-date system, I cannot entirely discount the possibility that the program is backed by Monsanto, Syngenta, or some other multinational industrial food corporation—I was unable to find any organic foods, wild edibles, or provisions for homemade meals—and distorting one’s diet through the filter of “analysis” would lead one to head back to the grocery store to buy the foods that DINE prescribes will make one “healthy”, furthering the capitalist economy that created the problem in the first place.

I do feel that the DINE program is not giving a totally-accurate report, as—despite any apparent lacking in my diet—my sizable intake of organic or local products give me a edge on “wellness” (physical as well as emotional/environmental/intellectual, knowing that many of my meals have small footprints) over those zombies who may follow the program’s suggestions to the letter.

In the end, the project was somewhat interesting, but—as I suspected at the outset—found the analysis results were incompatible with my unconventional diet, way of eating, and philosophy, and I take the results with a large grain of salt.

To be old-school is to be green.

“Pop quiz: In which of the following situations should you avoid wearing wool? (Choose all that apply.)

  • Cross-country skiing in mild spring conditions
  • Alpine skiing
  • Hiking on a warm, sunny day
  • Trail running on a shadeless route in summer
  • Fitness training, indoors or outdoors, year-round

Answer: None of the above.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Personally, I would have never imagined wearing wool when I expected to work up a sustained sweat. Wool, as I perceived it, would be too hot, too bulky, too scratchy, just plain too old-school for most of the activities mentioned above.

The above comes from the “expert advice” section of REI’s website, which I understand to be a sort of White People version of Bass Pro Shop (or perhaps one could say, BPS is the redneck equivalent of REI).  While this fellow goes on to write a favorable review for his new merino wool hiking shirt, the opening was what really bugged me.  It elucidated a disturbing misconception that a lot of people seem to have, that there’s something wrong with “old”.  It’s an issue that’s at the heart of our disconnect with the natural world: new is good, old is bad.

I’m going on a trip with one of my professors this summer, to go mountain-climbing in Peru.  My mom was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough cold-weather clothing or that what I had wouldn’t be adequate, and wanted to buy me more.  After I listed off the gear I already had that I was planning on taking, she explained, “I just don’t want you to be looking like Edmund Hilary up there.”  I exclaimed, “Just what is wrong with Sir Edmund Hilary?!?”
(Eventually I compromised and agreed to a set of new coal-silk long underwear.)

One idea which I have taken to heart in recent years is that “What one man can do, another can do.”  If the “battered bastards of Bastogne” could go a month without washing their hair, who’s to say I cannot?  If Heinrich Harrer could climb the Eiger in 1938 with gear made of canvas, leather, and wool, then so can I.

Old-school things are secondhand.  Old-school things have character.  Old-school things have class.  Best of all, old-school stuff (if you go back far enough) aren’t made of petroleum-derived materials!

To tie this back to the opening comment (“Personally, I would have never imagined wearing wool when I expected to work up a sustained sweat.”): tell that to the GIs who helped win the Second World War.  Just because something hasn’t been branded with The North Face, doesn’t make it inferior.