Archive for the ‘Volume 4’ Category

Sky-god versus the Almighty Uterus

Let’s start with a nice quote from an interview I read with Gloria Steinem in TIME magazine a few months ago.

“…what I believe, which is that things are a circle, not a hierarchy: the women’s movement and the antiracist movement and the gay movement and the environmental movement are all linked.”  –10 Questions, August 15, 2011.

     I agree completely with Ms. Steinem.  I actually just finished reading an excellent book on pretty much this same topic, Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade. If you have any interest in women’s rights, anthropology, comparative religious studies, environmental philosophy, social sciences, or just history in general, I’d highly advise checking it out.  While parts of it are a little dated (it was first published in 1988) and a bit repetitive at times, give it a try if you’re into any of those sorts of things.  I’ll try to sum it up and not to bore you with too much anthro-talk.

     Basically, way back in the day, a big chunk of Europe and the Near East was following an amazing way of life.  While agricultural in livelihood (normally a red flag to me), these various cultures of ‘Old Europe’ were Earth-worshippers, which is to say that their religion was based around reverence for the life-giving and nurturing powers of what I call ‘the Feminine Divine’ (manifested in Mother Earth, Gaia, or the ‘Triple Goddess’ Wiccans are always going on about’, etc), apparently on equal footing with a sacred king.  Unfortunately for them (and us), about six thousand years ago who shows up on the scene but the Indo-Europeans.  These Caucasian guys come riding their horses into Europe and bring with them their dominating, warlike, male sky-gods (as in the case of Zeus/Jupiter, Babylonian Marduk, and the Abrahamic god), and commence to pretty much wipe out the tree-hugging Old Europeans (I say pretty much because it seems this female-empowering ‘partnership’ model managed to survive until about 1500 BCE on Crete, when that pesky megavolcano on Thera blew up and washed them away, or at least shook them up enough so that the Mycenaean proto-Greeks could come in and finally take over.)

And ever since then, the power has been held by the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. (You could probably get really Freudian with this, and say that the Dominator model of society stems from a bad case of Uterus Envy, or something).

    See, when your god is a vengeful, armed-with-thunderbolts, fond-of-smiting, bearded-guy-in-the-sky, your society is going to be all about those sort of things—namely, exerting control and making war on those who are different.  I’m not just talking about beating up on your brown neighbors and effeminate men, although that’s always been a popular pastime among Taker peoples; this also encompasses Nature, because if you believe your male god created the world, and your enemies believe their female goddess IS the world, and you’re okay with killing them, well then, you’re probably going to have no qualms about subjugating and controlling the earth either.

'Made to Rule', indeed. Fuck you, Creation Museum.

Ha-ha!  Seems I’m not the only one with something to say about our modern world’s approach to Time.
Mr Adam Frank of NPR’s science blog 13.7 recently posted a wonderful new piece on the unappreciated (by most) occasion of the Autumnal Equinox and everything that goes along with that.
Check it out HERE!

Interview: A shameless plug

In the interests of promoting both our sites, here’s an interview I recently did with my friend Liz over at WanderBuzz. Especially if you like to cook, you should check out her page!

Mr. Chops, Hillbilly Environmentalist

Mr. Chops: He’s been called a time traveler, a dumpster-diver, and a guy who “should just go live in the wild.” His philosophy is remarkable in many ways – he happily follows a lifestyle that marks him as “old-timey” or “backwoodsy,” but simultaneously cares deeply about the environment and makes deliberate decisions to live in an eco-friendly way. And he is not alone in his outlook. In many ways, he is part of a vanguard of emerging Hillbilly Environmentalists, whose inspiration toward green living comes from a close relationship with the land and a desire for a return to the small-scale, sustainable practices of the past. I had the invaluable chance to ask him some questions about the intriguing lens through which he sees the world.
 
This guy.

Many people (myself included) might place these two identities (Hillbilly and Environmentalist) in very separate spheres—like apples and oranges, or really apples and giraffes. The merger of the two in your lifestyle is remarkable. Now, did you always consider yourself to be both, or did one aspect of the philosophy emerge before the other?

I’ve just always been Me.
But really, they’ve both been part of me for my whole life—we were (unbeknownst to me) pretty poor when I was growing up, and I have never not lived in The Bottom.  My parents were big back-to-the-land-ers in the 70s/80s (second-wave hippies?) Both of them were big into frontier America stuff.
I always heard my grandpa say he was a ‘flatland hillbilly’ raised on gravy, growing up in southern Indiana.  My parents made sure that I was at least going to be a cultured hillbilly, as opposed to all of the uncultured rednecks in our area.
I guess the environmentalist part emerged first (from discussing the Valdez at age 5), as I wasn’t aware of really being a hillbilly.
Growing up on a large rural farm meant that from my infancy I have been in nearly constant contact with some form of nature.  Unlike a city-dweller (who could, in theory, go years without experiencing any more nature than wind, rain, and pigeons), someone living where I come from would have to actually go out of his way to avoid nature.  It seems that simply breathing the air back home allows one to experience more of nature in the country than one could ever find in a city: the air carries a unique aroma of grass, manure, river water, and all manner of decomposing material; in short, the air smells like LIFE.
When did the synthesis happen in your life? What brought it about?
Being poor leads to conservative (in the conservation sense) actions. From an early age, I learned to embrace a simple life, to not equate Happiness with Things (thanks, Thoreau!).
While always aware of it, it wasn’t until probably mid high school that I started fully embracing the frugal-homesteader/plain-living stuff which started out a few years before as ‘learn native edibles so I can live in the woods’.
As to when the synthesis came to the surface, it was Sept 13 2007; I noticed a synthesis of Palahniuk (anarcho-primitivism), Mao (students & farmers as guerillas), and PBS Frontline (turn your back on the Cool Hunt; make your own culture—which I couched in Pirate terms).  Building on deep threads (rebelliousness etc.), I started to pick and choose elements from disparate sources to form eclectic Modern Me.
What do you think are the hallmarks of “Hillbilly Environmentalism?”
Being in tune with natural cycles (moon phases, equinoxes, seasons); humility before Nature, and a strong sense of history.
The environmental side comes from a deep connection to the land: when you know where something comes from, you are more likely to protect it. (Erik Reece?) Emotional connection = Value = Protect.
Hillbilly side comes from spending lots of time with Depression survivor grandparents from a young age,  and/or being poor at a young age. I’ve always been taught to prevent waste; “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” is a mantra I follow to this day.
However, simply being in close proximity to the land doesn’t necessarily result in this ideology.  Without a proper base, poor & rural can equal redneck.
rural, poor, & conservative = redneck?
rural, poor, & conservative-conservation = Appalachian/foxfire hillbilly?
rural, poor, & liberal-conservation = hillbilly environmentalist?
Overall, would you call the ideal liberal, or conservative?
I lift elements from both sides of the spectrum (the Left/Right spectrum, NOT Dem/Rep).  I’m old-school conservative—I like traditions and want to conserve what I already have, but the liberal half can see when something is broken or outdated or needs replacing.
I really got the best of both worlds—being raised by liberal Yankees in a rural environment so that I got all the benefits of the outdoorsy, self-reliant, character-building conservative childhood, but in the context of a nurturing home built on trust and respect.
For example, guns are a modern conservative issue, but I see them as a part of Classical Liberal (i.e. Founding Fathers Libertarian) idea (i.e. don’t infringe on my rights); but I mostly have them around for historical significance, and they are only to be used when respectfully/stewardship hunting, or when defending nonaggressively (Jedi).
Ron Paul is okay.
What makes your philosophy different from other eco-friendly ways of living?
Perhaps that instead of ‘looking forward’ as some other country-raised-Lost Boy-environmentalists do, I look backwards and draw inspiration from the past (pioneers, Injuns, cavemen, etc).  Also, my historical/anthro academic background lets me see the big picture and patterns.
It’s also definitely not based on consumption (unlike the modern capital-G ‘Green’ movement/lifestyle).
Like, I just saw this kit in a magazine, that would let you grow your own herbs, with a tray, trowel, and three plastic cups, all made out of recycled yogurt cups.  It cost $35.  Why not just reuse actual yogurt cups?—Reduce and Reuse being way more important than Recycle.
My view of money comes from both non-industrial societies and my frugal upbringing.  To me, paying money at the store for something that can be made for free is absolutely ridiculous (and often, the handmade will be better quality).  For example, apple cider costs four dollars a gallon at the grocery, but I can make several gallons in an afternoon, and all this costs me is a few hours’ time and a little elbow grease, with the additional benefits that come with working outdoors.
And in my individual case, really damn eclectic.  I am puzzled by so-called Green people who are just looking for and latching onto easy identities (and their accepted views) without really thinking about them.
I borrow from Everything.
So what do you think people see when they see you?
Especially after the latest Beardo fest, I have a problem with people who unthinkingly buy into every accepted tenet of a culture/ideology, making them walking caricatures/stereotypes.  Being a granola treehugger does not require you to wear tie-dye, have nasty hair, and use drugs.  You CAN pick and choose.  If you look like a stereotype, you don’t give others a chance to get to know you?
To look at me when I’m normally out in public, it might be hard to tell I’m a far-left, anti-civilization environmentalist, because in terms of dress, I usually present myself to the world as fairly no-nonsense & conservative (few words or patterns, & classic styles), but with oldschool militarism (Indy-esque) (and maybe some fem elements just to mess with the Right); but 95% of the clothes are secondhand or surplus, and quite likely modified in some way by hand.
Of course, all this eclectic pick-and-choosing of elements means that I can both fit in with anybody, and nobody at the same time…no one can be 100% consistent.
I’m too militaristic for the hippies.  I’m too hippie for the military, etc… 

What’s the hillbilly take on big-picture stuff like climate change? Does it matter? Can your lifestyle rectify the situation?
This makes it sound like there’s a united hillbilly movement and we all share a stance!  If you have a proper close connection to the land/Nature, you’ll see how it doesn’t really matter, as the planet has survived, and will survive much worse than what we’ve done to it—‘Life finds a way’ (Ian Malcolm).  Also, George Carlin: ‘Relax! The planet is fine! …the _People_ are fucked!’
Remember, humility is important—don’t push your lifestyle on other folks.  If you’re doing something right, others will recognize this.
Besides, in this case individual actions or lifestyles can’t make a difference because the big dogs holding the power so absolutely overshadow them.
Really, the lifestyle/behavior of a minority rarely gets anything done.  Popular support would be needed, and the culture wars have pretty much ensured that won’t happen (anything even slightly out of the status quo will get you branded liberalprogressive/ hippie.)
My personal (and pretty out-there, downer) take is: we’ve become so stuck in our rut that the only way to build a better world is to wait for the old one to collapse. Or, drawing on Palahniuk, do what you can to speed up/ensure the collapse and then live a fulfilling Injun life afterwards.
Who else is a good example of a hillbilly environmentalist (if anybody)? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Dillon Bustin’s Almanac, so so much.  An album about simple living, natural cycles, and a real sense of history.
Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer Liberation Front, for the most part.  And Thoreau (whom I’ve been learning, in a fashion, since I was about six), of course.I also like Lost Mountain, especially because of all of Reece’s apocalyptic and war-language.

Any closing thoughts?
If all the history-major liberal parents would move from the city (where they just breed more White hipsters) to the country and raise their kids there instead, there might be more hillbilly environmentalists.

On Apocalyptic Mindsets

(I’ve touched on some of these topics before, but recent conversations helped me get the ideas more coherent.)

In the last decade or so, we’ve seen absolute glut of apocalyptic-themed media.  And I do mean glut: in film alone, we’ve seen three Adaptation Decayed <Blank> of the Dead from George Romero, 28 Days/Weeks Later, a “RomComZom” (Shaun of the Dead), serious drama The Walking Dead (adapted from the comic series), awkward comedy Zombieland, The Book of Eli, I Am Legend, The Road (from the excellently bleak Cormac McCarthy novel), Children of Men, 2012, a forthcoming Red Dawn re-make, and the list goes on.  That’s not to mention the dozens of video games, and the entire oeuvre of ‘the world’s foremost zombie expert’, the eminent Max Brooks.

Overall, I don’t think this surplus of PAW (post-apocalyptic world/wasteland) tales is a bad thing.  Anything that gets folks thinking about the state of our world and their own survival is good, in my opinion.  While I don’t have a problem with bringing apocalyptic themes into the public mindset, I usually don’t like how most of them play out…especially the zombie ones. Generally, the pattern goes like this: a group of Survivors get together, somehow find lots of guns (never any mention of ammo!), go to a mall (or pub or wherever), lock themselves in, and proceed to defend against the hordes until relieved by the Authorities, or until they’re all killed.

If you asked me, I’d say this approach is about the farthest thing from survival that I can think of, and it’s totally unsustainable.

Based on what I’ve read on survival message boards, it seems the majority of survivalist folks have this idea (based, no doubt, on the popular apocalyptic media they’ve consumed) of shouldering their tacticool 100-pound ‘I’m Never Coming Home’ pack, loading up their black plastic rifle with a thousand rounds of ammo (maybe some body armor too, just for fun), and setting out for their fortress retreat in the woods, where they will live on canned soup and astronaut food for the foreseeable future.
Apparently they all want to look like this guy:

My approach is quite different.  If shit goes down, and I have to ‘bug-out’, I’m pulling on my homemade leather shoes and a 1930s canvas rucksack—mostly filled with home-dehydrated fruits and nuts liberated from dumpsters (because I eat like a caveman)—rolling up a wool blanket and canvas tarp for a bedroll, grabbing a walking stick, and cross-country hobbit-ing the fuck outta there (I’ve been told many times that my gear has “an old-school cool” vibe about it, and I’ll admit it’s no accident).  Instead of approaching an emergency as an act of war, I see it as an adventure.  I’ll head for the family farm, where I’ll set up shop, replant my garden, and continue living in the plain-livin’, quasi-permaculture sorta life I grew up with.  And y’know, I might just keep on living like that, even after whatever crisis abates.

Because, like Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog once put it:

“We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion – guilt-free at last!”

I’ve written about it before, but it just really distresses me how the current survival movement is based all towards ‘rebuilding’ the post-apocalyptic world.  And what are these people going to base their new world on?  The only one they’ve ever known…the one that turned them into time-clock slaves and disconnected (figurative) zombies filled with postmodern ennui: the one that collapsed in the first place!

Consider, for an alternative, possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I think I’ve ever read: Chuck Palahniuk’s vision in Fight Club for a post-collapse world:

“…picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course.  You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle… …stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower.  Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

If—and that’s a big if—we’re going to rebuild, we’re going to need some fresh perspectives.

Barefoot in a war-zone

Early last month, I heard a story on NPR about the US Army taking a stance on so-called ‘minimalist shoes’.  Basically, the top brass decided to crack down on these alternative shoes and that servicemen and women must now wear standard footwear.  When the story came on the radio, I thought, “Well, duh.”  I can’t say I was really surprised that the Army made this ruling and prohibited the use of minimalist shoes by its personnel: they claim these types of shoes “detract from a professional military image”, and I’m sure they do – the whole point of a uniformed standing army is that you’re all supposed to look the same.

Apparently, the Army isn’t having a problem with grunts wearing these shoes while out on missions (which would be absolutely silly, but not for the reasons you’d expect), but instead when they’re out doing PT (physical training).  This is where I have to disagree with the ruling.  If you want your personnel to be in top physical condition, minimalist shoes —since there is no way on Earth the Army would let people train while actually barefoot (like hippies!)— are the way to go.  The benefits of this type of running have been espoused byplenty so I won’t bore you with a retread of the topic.  I usually run barefoot and I’ve seen the advantages, but I hate pushy folks who try to convert others to their way of thinking, so if somebody wants to give barefoot running a try, it’s up to them.

Actually, I kind of wish some Army guys had been running missions while wearing these kind of shoes before this ruling went out, so that I could point and laugh.

Honestly, wouldn't you?

Not because of how silly a decked-out-in-full-battle-rattle grunt would look while wearing colorful rubber gorilla feet but because of how incompatible the conflicting ideologies are.

Your average Army man—wearing combat boots and body armor, carrying an 80 or 100-pound ruck and some kinda black rifle—is a product of the ‘civilized’ world’s military-industrial complex.  He carries everything he needs on his back.  He’s big, loud, and heavy, and you can be sure his feet strike heel-first when he runs.

Compare him to your barefoot Bushman.  This fast and light fellow carries little more than a bow and a handful of arrows, because as a hunter in his natural habitat, he is in his element.  Everything he needs, Nature provides.  He’s ‘uncivilized’, but he’s healthier and happier than you or I.  Emulate him.

It’s time to talk about Time.

Although we don’t often think about it, our perception of time plays a huge role in the modern disconnect from Nature.  Most of the West uses the Gregorian calendar to mark the passage of time: about 30 days per month, arranged in rows of seven-day weeks, four weeks per month, 12 months per year.  All of it expressed using that most loathsome of shapes, the square.  Has there ever been a polygon more indicative of the root problems facing our world than the square?  It is the antithesis of the counterculture’s circles or triangles or what-have-you. If our vernacular language is any indication, we seem to be aware of this, at least subconsciously : we say someone is ‘square’ if they aren’t with-it-and-hip, and that someone who is A Square is part of the establishment.

The problem with the square is that it doesn’t really exist in Nature. Circles and hexagons in Nature? Tons of ‘em. Squares? Not so much. The natural world is, by its very nature, organic, irregular, chaotic, while the square—by its nature—is linear, efficient, unnatural…which is to say, civilized.

Now, how does the lack of squares in nature relate to time?  Let us remember that uncivilized Paleo-man saw time pass in the natural cycles of the square-free world that surrounded him: the 13 months of the lunar year, the four seasons of the solar year, etc.  While man lived in an unconquered world, he understood that the forces governing time were the same ones that governed the rest of his world: organic, cyclical powers.  He could see Time flowing all around him, just as could see Nature change from season to season.  Enter civilized man, who attempted to control time the same way he attempted to control everything else he knew: by putting it in a box.  The idea of the linear calendar is an invention unique to civilized people: Paleo-man understood that time flows organically, like everything else in Nature, and cannot be contained in a box.

So what can we do to overcome this Western obsession with controlling Time?
Get a new calendar.  Feel free to design your own, but here’s a cyclical year-at-a-glance calendar I put together, combining Gregorian, Solar (the Equinoxes and Solstices), and Celtic (still used archaically when we refer to ‘Midwinter’ or ‘Midsummer’s Day’) calendars to mark the seasons.

Fill it in with your own holidays.*  Feel free to keep using a civilized square calendar, but keep this one next to it. Want to combine Western and Eastern views of time? Print out a few, cut them out, and tape ‘em together in a spiral of years:

“You of the West…think of time moving in a straight line, from past to present to future.  Your eastern brothers regard time as a circle, returning endlessly in a cycle of decay and rebirth.  Both ideas have a dimension of the truth.  If you were to combine geometrically the movement of the circle with the movement of the line, what would you have?” In a helical model, “time moves on, but history repeats itself.”

*While I’m on the subject of Nature and Time, let’s have a few words on Tolkien and dates. Next time you read The Lord of the Rings, take note of on what days important things happen. Significant occasions match up within a few days of solar dates and/or Celtic holidays: the Fellowship sets out 25 December (shortly after the Winter Solstice), the Ring is destroyed 25 March (shortly after the Vernal Equinox), Aragorn is crowned 1 May (the Celtic fire-festival of Beltane, the first day of Summer), is wed on ‘Midyear’s Day’ (21 June, the Summer Solstice, although calendar errors usually report this as 1 July), and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins celebrate their birthday on the Autumnal Equinox, 22 September.

By using these specific dates, the Professor helps connect his heroes and their deeds quite firmly to the underlying powers of the Natural world which they struggle to uphold.

WALL-E and the myth of Progress

For the record, I liked WALL-E.  Really, I did.  A Buster Keaton robot love story with an eco-message, what’s not to love?  But something about the end credits always felt weird to me.

If you don’t remember, the credits depict the robots and humans returning to earth to rebuild their world together, depicted in a beautiful series of artistic styles, starting with cave-paintings and followed by Egyptian relief, Greek black-figure, Roman mosaics, Asian sketches, Impressionism, pointillism, and finally some Van Gough-esque oils.

This works on two levels.  First, the artistic style reminds us of the sum of our human history, which in the world of the film, has finally caught up with us, resulting in the human abandonment of a used-up, dustball Earth.  Second, the scenes presented in these artistic styles are (I think) supposed to show some kind of real sustainable future to which we should be attaining (or something).
But it doesn’t really work.

Here’s how it goes: the space-people and robots come back, live communally, start planting and irrigating crops, catch fish, and suddenly they’re rebuilding a pretty standard-looking city.  What’s wrong with this?  These artistic vignettes depict—in a stylized manner, of course—the process of ‘progress’ that terminates in our modern, unsustainable world—the same world the characters in the film left behind in the first place.  (On a technicality, I’d like to know where all the sea turtles and birds and fish came from in the first place, as the used-up Earth we see in the first half of the film is only home to a cockroach, and there didn’t seem to be much wildlife on the Axiom.)

My problem with the whole thing?  You really cannot expect a spaceship full of Wal-Mart-born-and-raised human jellybeans to suddenly care about Nature despite having never known of it, yet the film (and its credits) seem to suggest that simply by being exposed to a solitary live plant in a boot, humans’ latent biophilia will magically reemerge, stronger than ever, and give their society the strength to suddenly change course, overcome its Nature-deficit disorder and build a brighter, truly sustainable future.  Unfortunately, the problem is inertial: the longer a Nature-deprived lifestyle is allowed to continue, the harder it becomes to heal the gap.  And what’s even more troubling is that while the scenario presented by WALL-E may be science fiction, we as a society are heading down the same track.  It’s easy to look at the infantile human characters and think, ‘Oh, that could never happen to us.’  But, it could.  And, it is.

Since WALL-E’s success at the Academy Awards, the film’s writer and director Andrew Stanton has since explained how the even bigger woe of society isn’t just disconnection from Nature, but from each other as well:

“I think a lot of people attach a little too specifically to the ecological aspect or the complacency aspect of humanity. But I use those as devices to focus on the biggest issue, which is people caring about one another. People connecting with one another.” “Whether that’s literally love between two characters like robots or just you acknowledging that your neighbors (are) right next to you as opposed to being blocked between a cell phone or something. I felt that disconnection is going to be the cause, indirectly, of anything that happens in life that’s bad for humanity of the planet, so to me, my focus was connectivity.”

Mr. Stanton is absolutely right, and since our current system doesn’t seem to be designed with human connections in mind, it might be time for a new one…