Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I’m trying to envision exactly what a post-consumer, post-ego, internal-locus-of-control, adult society would look like. It would mean the end of a focus on things, the beginning of a focus on the immaterial--really the beginnings of moving from an emphasis on matter to spirit.

Community, family, and relationship would be important. Cooperation and selfless service would become the norm. People would let go of their need to live safe lives, and would wholly embrace their radical freedom.

The exploitation of the earth would end, gargantuan houses would go away, megastores would be gone, Hollywood would be a relic. The earth might still be vastly overpopulated--if we managed this shift without all of the pending catastrophes I see looming on the horizon--but eventually population would come down. We would return to organic farming and sustainable gathering of foodstuffs and medicines from the land. Who would be wholly or very largely vegetarian, so the beef industry would go way, and all the land devoted to feeding livestock could be given over to directly feeding the hungry. We would go local as much as possible. I envision localities trying to reach the goal of producing 90 percent of their needs locally, importing the remainder, and exporting their (what should be modest) surpluses.

Imagine if we could only eat bananas once every several years--what a delicacy they would become! Or mangoes! Each import would be special, a cause for celebration.

Now we totally take for granted all the goods that are available from all corners of the globe, and I’m not just talking about the cheap mass-produced crap, but all of the foodstuffs and products that are indigenous and unique to each area. If only a small fraction of what we needed was imported we would learn to appreciate the diversity we have on this planet; each gift from each part of the globe would be a celebration of abundance and diversity. How we would treasury those gifts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I want to gain an understanding of the history of ego. My guess is that ego didn’t exist or only barely existed in hunter-gatherer and tribal groups. The more egalitarian and interdependent a group, the less need for individual ego. With the rise of agriculture and permanent settlement, we started having specialists and an elite caste. That’s probably where ego first began to evolve significantly, especially among the kings and pharaohs. The commoners likely still lived in a collective mindset, but the elite were beginning to individuate and thereby develop egos.

There was a quote in one of the books I read recently (World War III) that got me thinking about the history of ego:

In Mesopotamia, Mexico, Java, Egypt, Angkor, countless generations of indentured slaves worked hundreds of millions of cubic feet of brick into colossal gestures of self-edification, the precursors of today’s mammoth urban landscapes.

I would say, even more so, the precursors of today’s suburban landscapes. In ancient times only the emperors built massive structures to the self, now everyone is a pharaoh in suburbia. I was thinking of this quote when I wrote a few entries back, “we don’t need more monuments and mansions to the self.” Everyone is now a pharaoh.

Take a look at this quote from The Long Emergency (James Howard Kunstler):

The fossil fuel bonanza was a one time deal, and the interval we’ve enjoyed it in has been an anomalous period of human history. It has lasted long enough for the people now living in the advanced industrialized nations to consider it absolutely normative. Fossil fuels provided for each person in an industrialized country the equivalent of having hundreds of slaves constantly at his or her disposal.

The average individual now commands resources in equivalent measure to the rulers of old. Well maybe not quite, but close!

And then there’s the connection between ego and materialism I want to understand. They seem to go hand in hand; we don’t have one without the other. As you become somebody separate, what happens that makes you start grabbing for things? As you’re separating from a tribal identity, you’re also separating from Nature. Where once you were an interconnected part of the whole, now you are separate and just an insignificant dot. You can’t go back to the old way once you have an awareness of self, yet there must remain in you some glimmer of tribal memory and a yearning for that kind of connection and belonging. Grabbing at stuff--it’s really a laughable, infantile maneuver. We heap up all of this stuff around us—Hey, look at me, I’m so special and fascinating, don’t you just love me! We want to be popular, to fit in, to be esteemed because we still deeply crave belonging. If our infantile way, maybe we think stuff can bring us that unity we long for.

As I write this I keep seeing the ridiculous image in my head of these great machines tearing big holes in the earth, translating the body of the earth into piles of glittery, cheesy crap—little mountains of crap around proud, smiling people, all with cheesy crowns on their heads. It is so absurd. How do we not see right through the absurdity of ego and evolve beyond it?

The post-consumer paradigm has to also be the post-ego paradigm. Gosh, that makes it seem almost unattainable. When I look at the issue as one of simply moving from an orientation of consumption to one of simplicity, it seems like a big shift, but a reasonable one. If that shift can only really take place by people transcending their egos, it sounds like a pipe dream.

But isn’t that what’s happening with me? As I get further and further into this process, aren’t I simultaneously shedding things and ego?

I think I’m getting at something really important here. Our culture is really geared towards not only creating materialists but also generating ego.

We’re raising kids to have egos. There’s this giant machinery in place churning out more and more ego. How about we just stop?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Yesterday I went through my notes and made a lot of headway with my note cards. There’s still a lot I haven’t even gotten down into my notes yet. When I look at all the headings I have, it still doesn’t feel like I’ve quite gotten into the meat of the matter.

My main thesis is that voluntary simplicity (and other movements such as alternative healing) are cutting-edge movements leading us into a new post-consumer paradigm. It’s not a counter-cultural fringe movement--it is the way of the future if we’re to survive. And while many parts of the world are still just coming on board to the western model of consumption, it’s imperative that we move society on to the next paradigm as rapidly as possible. Americans especially can make a huge difference since our consumption habits are so extreme.

And I want to talk about human potential. Simplicity is not about austerity, it’s about the richness of life. Opening up to the richness and nuance in life opens up channels to our own genius. Once that happens all kinds of miraculous, synergistic things could happen that we can’t even envision from where we are now.

Also, yesterday I went off on a new tangent in my thinking. I had copied down somewhere in my notes a quote about studies that have been done on the connection between materialism and various measures of psychological health. They found that people (across all age, income, and gender variables and across nations) who had a greater orientation towards materialism scored lower on measures of self actualization, vitality, self esteem and community affiliation. They had more physical complaints and higher rates of depression and anxiety. They were less likely to experience happy emotions, more likely to experience anger and unhappiness. The list goes on….

It reminded me of my college term paper on internal versus external locus of control. I remember uncovering paper after paper on the negative effects of having an external locus of control, very similar to the list in the above paragraph.

I should go into the library at CU and see if there any papers linking a materialistic orientation with an external locus of control, because I suspect there is an extremely strong correlation.

This got me thinking about Ken Wilber’s theories about human evolution and how as a society we are at an adolescent stage in our evolution. And among all the age groups who is most likely to have an external locus of control—adolescents! Adolescents are developing their egos and their independence, they want to impress and show off. They need validation and approval from their peers. They like to have cool things because cool things make you somebody. Popularity matters. Money matters. Stuff matters.

Doesn’t that all sound like American society as a whole? Of course society is made up of individuals, so does that mean most Americans’ development somehow was arrested at the adolescent stage? Um, yeah, I think so. The structure of our society is not conducive to post-adolescence. Healthy adulthood is not modeled. Healthy adulthood is equivalent to a post-consumer paradigm. Shifting to that is a radical move!

We idolize the rich and famous, not valuing our own talents and unique abilities. To be a singer, you have to be the cream of the crop, which means a bland homogenized consensus of what a singer should be. We used to all raise our voices in song, millions of wonderful, diverse, quirky voices. But now in our society 99.99 percent of us don’t pass muster. Could there be a Woody Guthrie today?

We’ve created experts and specialists, people “out there” directing us, telling us what we should and shouldn’t do. Doing our thinking for us. By turning to the experts, we absolve ourselves of responsibility, never needing to do our own original thinking.

Builders put out only monstrous houses. We assume there must be some consensus that that’s what we need. At any rate, we go right along with it. Nobody steps up to say, Hey, wait a minute, I never said I wanted a big house, why is it so hard to find a small house?

Advertising brainwashes us, creating artificial needs. We rely on those external cues, finding it virtually impossible to turn quietly inward to assess our true needs. It’s almost impossible to turn off the stream of outside influences.

Maturing into the post-consumer paradigm means among other things becoming inner-directed, in spite of society. It’s recognizing that we live in an immature society, but that we can choose to be the first adults.

If the earth can survive our adolescence, imagine all that could possibly lie ahead for us. A world filled with adults. A society functioning from maturity.

I’m still in the process of maturing myself. I’m still finding ways I let external factors influence what should be my own pure decisions. I really love this new clarity I have with John, and how clear I am with myself that I’m not going to get involved in any other relationships at least as long as I’m here in Colorado. It has made it clear to me that even recently I’ve been making decisions based at least in part on what other people might think. The no-deodorant and no-shampoo experiment would never have come about if I were in a relationship, that’s for sure.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I feel like things are continuing to shift for me, although I can quite put my finger on it.

Overhearing snatches of conversation—how self-important and self-absorbed people are, and so identified with their jobs. I heard a guy at the library on his cell phone—I think he was fishing for a new job so he was really trying to sell himself—and I got really sad. I thought, when your mama had you, is this what she hoped your life would become? It just all seemed so trivial, so cut off from the real essence of life.

In a Mother Earth News magazine some guy proudly wrote an article about how his family reduced their electric usage roughly by half, I believe. But their annual electric usage had been over 93,000 kWh!! I added up my usage for the past twelve months and it was 9,305 kWh. For all of his tips, he certainly missed out on the big one—move to a smaller house! Even his new, reduced energy usage is obscene.

I get so disturbed by the blight of suburban sprawl. That area where I had originally looked for places to live three years ago, between Highway 287 and I-25, continues to be massively developed. Every time I drive through there, another development is going up. I can’t understand the madness. Surely not everyone wants a massive house, but where are the other options? In the old town centers the small cottages are being scraped off for gargantuan replacements. Why are we allowing this?

I’m moved by how deeply Collin appreciates our life here in the country. I don’t often talk with him about my beliefs, I simply live them and experience them, and Collin lives and experiences this reality too. He sees beauty everywhere. He grumbles about going back to suburbia when he has to go to his dad’s. I’m so deeply grateful I’ve been able to give him this life.

I’ve been trying to avoid the radio, but Collin has suddenly developed an interest in it, so when he’s in the car we often have it turned on. I can’t bear to listen to the commercials. I can’t bear to hear anyone hawking anything. We need food, shelter, and clothing. Beyond that it’s about wants, desires, greed and egotism.

We stopped at the dollar store on Thursday because Collin wanted to get something for P. and C. for Easter. I saw a little booklet there with tips on how to spend less. All of the tips involved buying something, not avoiding the need to buy in the first place. Why does this rub me the wrong way? I’m escaping the consumer paradigm. I can’t expect society to be right there with me, evolving at the same pace.

I’m really moving away from the need for many products that I formerly believed to be necessities. I’m realizing how deeply I’ve been brainwashed.

I gave up deodorant about two weeks ago, something that would’ve been utterly unthinkable even recently. I’ve been meaning to switch to a non-aluminum deodorant for a long time, since aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other health problems, but I had never considered that deodorant (antiperspirant actually) might never have been necessary in the first place. Sweating helps us excete toxins-- why would we want to interfere with that process? And if you eat a healthy diet and bathe or shower daily you’re not going to stink unless it’s really hot or you’re exerting yourself. I first tried swabbing with witch hazel and then dusting with baking soda, but the witch hazel contains fourteen percent alcohol and the baking soda is irritating, so now I’m not using anything. And guess what? No odor so far. I’m sure when the summer heat hits I’ll have to do something--maybe just wash by underarms mid-day, but I don’t think I’ll ever be using a commercial product again.

Then last night I was online looking for a laundry detergent recipe that I had previously written down but lost. I just finished my last load of laundry with my commercial detergent and am ready to mix up my first batch of homemade stuff. I had bought the ingredients last month--just washing soda, borax, and Fels Naptha laundry soap. The Fels Naptha has a really strong chemical scent, so I think I will skip that and use Ivory soap (which is what I’ve always used for bathing).

Anyway, while looking for that recipe I stumbled upon a discussion about shampoo, or rather it was about not using shampoo. Now here’s something I would’ve thought was just totally, wickedly gross in the past. But now? I just might give it a try. It sounds like a long process—many months until your hair’s oil production normalizes. But the no-shampoo proponents have a lot of good points. Here our body performs this natural function—for free—but we go undoing it, stripping our hair of its natural organic oils, then replacing them with chemical-laden shampoos and conditioners. I’ve wondered for awhile if my ear problems aren’t due to the chemicals in my shampoo. Other people who were considering the no-shampoo route mentioned ear problems too. It makes you wonder. So I may try this, just water rinses and maybe occasional treatments with some things suggested on the site (baking soda for one).

Last month I finally got around to making a bunch of cloth menstrual pads (felted wool with flannel covers). I made a sample last summer and absolutely loved it, but could never quite get around to felting a batch of wool. I’ve been trying to get off tampons for years since I know the bleached tampons release dioxins. When I lived in Longmont I bought a menstrual cup, thinking that would be THE answer, but it ended up being only a partial solution. Now, with the combination of the cup and the cloth pads I think I’ve found the solution. I always hated pads—paper and plastic they can’t breathe, are uncomfortable, feel like they crinkle when you walk, and the fluids tend to disperse through the cellulose too, and want to leak out the sides (although this was when I was a teenager—supposedly there have been improvements, but I wouldn’t know). Cloth is deliciously comfortable, it breathes, fluids are absorbed and don’t spread out. It costs nothing, contains no chemicals, and is reusable. I may never buy another box of tampons again in my life. And laundering the cloth pads is not the big deal people think it would be. I just rinse the blood out immediately when I change the pad, in hot water, then wash in the next load of laundry. Other women just toss the pads in a bucket of cold water until they’re ready to do laundry, and use the bloody water to water plants.

I love the fact that with each of these small changes I’m incrementally becoming more and more self-sufficient. By the time I move back to Pennsylvania and build my off-the-grid cabin I will have already largely adopted the lifestyle.

The next thing on my list is to start growing my own sprouts, herbs, baby greens, and wheatgrass in the house. I want to get a wheatgrass juicer too. When I first looked for them online the only ones I found were really expensive. Now I’ve found some manual all-stainless steel ones for less than $100. I prefer manual things anyway, so that’s good.

I’d also like to have a garden, but I’m not sure I can afford it this year (I want to build some raised beds, trellises and so forth). I’ll at least start some perennial herbs outside though.

If I owned this property and could turn most of it into a garden, I could actually raise the bulk of our food. It’s comforting to know how little space is really necessary for food security.

The book I read about the Kalahari Bushmen back in January has brought about another change. The Bushmen’s diet regularly included foods from 85 different plant species, and ancient hunter-gatherer tribes also had similarly diverse diets. Today, the bulk of our diets come from just a handful of plant foods. So, starting last month I made a resolution that I would eat at least 30 different types of fruits and vegetables each month, and over the course of the year eat from at least 100 different plant species (that 100 includes not only fruits and vegetables but nuts, seeds, beans, grains, and fresh herbs). The ancient hunter-gatherers were actually taller than we are today (indicating better nutrition) and the introduction of agriculture caused height to plummet. I want to have as much variety in my diet to ensure optimal health and nutrition.

I have an idea for an article but I have to do an experiment first. The article would be about the presence of preservatives and pesticides in food. The experiment would be to take a slice of store bought bread and homemade bread, place each in a sealed ziplock and document how long each takes to grow mold.

Now, I bake most of our bread products, but buy occasional loaves of white bread here and there. Last Thursday (two Thursday’s ago actually) I took some store bought bread up to Boulder county for sandwiches. There was one piece I didn’t use and it stayed forgotten, locked in its ziplock since then. I discovered it yesterday and was shocked to see that it still looked perfectly fresh, without the slightest hint of mold. That’s just not natural! And shouldn’t that scare the living daylights out of us? I’ve heard that dead bodies are taking longer to decay because we’re so pumped full of preservatives. And this particular loaf is marketed as a kids’ loaf—fortified with extra nutrition for kids—so moms are deceived into thinking they’re buying something healthy.

In a book I just finished, there was a story about an organic farmer who compared a stalk of his corn with a stalk from his neighbor’s conventionally grown corn. Not only did his have more extensive roots, but when he left the two stalks out in the yard, mice devoured the organic corn, but wouldn’t even touch the conventionally grown corn.

And a law passed last fall requires almonds now to be irradiated or flash-pasteurized. Almonds! More and more, unless you grow your own food, you’re eating dead, damaged, and dangerous foods.

On all fronts we seem to be on a suicidal mission. It just defies all logic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Last night before falling asleep I had a vision which I can only very partially remember. Lately I’ve been having a problem with ringing in my ears. When I went to bed I focused on the ringing in a meditative way--attending to it as it went to higher and higher frequencies and then became discrete pulses of sound. Simultaneously I also was focusing on my third eye. All of this took far less than a minute and by then I was seeing imagery. All that I remember now is seeing a Native American man standing with his back to me looking out on miles and miles of gently rolling open range. His arms were motioning to the skies and his head was tilted upwards. There were roiling clouds on the horizon--it seemed to almost be in fast-motion. It was obvious that the man was calling up the weather and, in a way that felt almost tangible, was connected or linked with the sky. I was left with the impression of immense power, both in the sky and flowing through the man. This is all I remember although there was much more. I almost think there was a narrative running along with the imagery and it was meant to be an instructive story. It reminded me of my experience last summer where I felt like I merged with the thunderstorm.

There must be some teaching here that I’m not quite getting yet.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I’ve just finished reading two books on population issues. Overpopulation is what I see as the number one issue we face, since virtually all of our dire problems stem from the issue of too many people on too small a planet.

The second of the two books focused on overpopulation in the US—a problem I have to admit was barely on my radar screen before. After all, 300 million sounds puny when you compare it to population issues in other countries, especially China and India. And I was really skeptical of the authors’ thesis that we not only need to reign in fertility rates here, but we also need to drastically limit immigration.

That raised my hackles right off the bat because I’ve always been pro-immigration on humanitarian grounds. What right do we have to close our borders and insulate ourselves from the suffering in the rest of the world? After all, borders are ultimately imaginary. We are a globally-dispersed species and how can anyone be more deserving to occupy a certain place on the planet than anyone else? If there were no borders, of course people in marginal lands would move in droves to more productive places, which would then in time become over-exploited until people moved on to the next best place and so on. There would still be suffering but (if I can claim such a thing) more equitable suffering.

What I had never really thought through until now is this: in these extremely dire times, closed borders (which is not at all what the authors were proposing) might be our only hope, not just for the US, but for the planet. If we stop immigration and lower fertility, ultimately decreasing our population, we will be able to preserve groundwater, forests and other vital environmental resources, keep more species from going extinct and perhaps a still green America (relatively) might offset some of the massive environmental degradation elsewhere. A green America could potentially stave off a total environmental collapse worldwide—maybe. After all, Americans consume something like twenty to forty times more resources than people in third world countries so each person you add to our population in the US has a huge negative global impact. Limiting our numbers could be doing a great service to humanity.

Maybe every country everywhere should close its borders temporarily until population growth is stopped. Of course that would mean very intense concentrated suffering in certain places. The thing that’s clear is there’s no happy solution left at this point.

If we don’t ourselves come (at the very least) to the brink of extinction it will be utterly miraculous. What is going to happen this century seems poised to be nothing short of cataclysmic.

How is a person supposed to live in times like these? That’s the question I keep coming back to. Our situation is totally unprecedented. It seems to me what’s required is an extreme maturity in the individual, so that he or she can freely sacrifice the majority of his or her personal desires and ego-gratifying whims. We don’t need more monuments and mansions to the self.