Reach out and touch somebody

Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the ‘normal people’ as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Weather’s awful today, eh?’, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like ‘Tell me something that makes you cry’ or ‘What do you think deja vu is for?’. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.
— Timothy Leary

Better angels

The phrase was first used by Abraham Lincoln in his inaugural address, Jan 1861.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Illustration by YES! Magazine

Image courtesy of YES magazine


How much of our thinking about happiness is culture-bound?

“For most of human history, life was solitary, poor, brutish, nasty, and short…Food was scarce; health was poor; a day of work was long, and when you got up in the morning, your entire To-do list was trying not to die today.”
— Daniel Gilbert, in a World Minds video

 ….And yet, by the close of the colonial period, very few if any Indians had been transformed into civilized Englishmen. Most of the Indians who were educated by the English-some contemporaries thought all of them-returned to Indian society at the first opportunity to resume their Indian identities. On the other hand, large numbers of Englishmen had chosen to become Indians-by running away from colonial society to join Indian society, by not trying to escape after being captured, or by electing to remain with their Indian captors when treaties of peace periodically afforded them the opportunity to return home.
James Axtell

[Benjamin Franklin told a story about this, but Google won’t find it for me. Perhaps you will comment below if you can locate it. Thanks!]

Daniel Gilbert may be the world’s foremost expert on happiness, but the picture he paints of the lives of hunter-gatherers is badly out of step with what anthropologists have learned from present-day hunter-gatherers in New Guinea, South America and Africa. More basically, his recommendations are valid only within the context of modern Western society, and, even his concept of happiness seems culture-bound.

Before agriculture, people were less numerous and more dispersed. Food was plentiful, and on average, pre-agricultural peoples spent much less time than we spend obtaining the necessities of life. More important, their work was not onerous or demeaning. They didn’t have to stuff down resentment of the boss or frustration with traffic. Can we even imagine what it would be like not to be alienated from our work, to experience no separation between what we are moved to do from moment to moment and those activities that support our existence? Maybe happiness is feeling whole, feeling integration between what we find it natural to do and what sustains ourselves and our communities. 

It may be that the Native Americans were not hunter-gatherers but engineers and stewards of a rich and completely sustainable ecosystem, which they maintained almost effortlessly with well-timed fires and plantings of fruit trees and food plants within natural ecosystems. While the Europeans developed expertise in the short-term efficiency of monoculture, American Natives were wisely intuitive ecologists, experts in a traditional brand of permaculture. I have heard this often enough that I begin to believe it.

Gilbert’s reference to the “to-do” list is just a quip, of course, but it betrays his prejudice that ties happiness to activities of some particular types. He imagines that because pre-agricultural people were less secure against weather and disease they must have lived in fear. But the opposite is almost certainly true. It is we whose cortisol levels are chronically high, we who live in anxiety about whether we will lose our jobs and our homes, we who listen every day to reports of random, insane violence, and perk up our ears when the terrorist threat level goes from red to orange and back to red.

Image result for africans dancing joy

To Thomas Hobbes’s famous “nasty, brutish, and short”, Gilbert curiously adds the adjective “solitary”. He knows from his data that lonely is miserable, and relationship is the most important factor in individual happiness. But he doesn’t seem to know that Western culture has torn us asunder, framed our relationships as transactions in a zero-sum game, and devalued the cooperative relationships that contribute so much to a fulfilling life. He doesn’t seem aware that contemporary America is the most pathologically individualistic, isolating, alienated culture in the history of humankind.   

We live in a transactional economy, carrying the existential fear that maybe we have nothing to offer, or that tomorrow’s robot will make us obsolete. Our forebears lived in the grace of a caring extended family, in which a place was assured for everyone without calculation of the balance between what they offered and what they received. We live on an earth that we are transforming into products in a one-way dive toward global ecosystem collapse. They lived as animals in nature, trusting the bounty of Mother Gaia to provide their needs. We have power and control. They had faith and relationship.   

We live under the shadow of a belief that our precious selves are products of the nerve impulses in our brains, and that oblivion awaits us when those nerves cease to fire. They knew (instinctively and culturally) that the short lives of their bodies are woven into nature’s cycles, and that their core awareness will cycle into another birth and yet another. 

More speculatively, hunter-gatherers had senses which, in us, have fallen into disuse. We have learned to focus on the outer five senses, shutting out, suppressing or fearing mystical experiences, out of tune with our intuitions and the transpersonal messages that animals and less “civilized” humans experience every day. Gilbert knows that people are happier when they are surrounded by nature, because it has been documented and quantified (most famously by Gilbert’s Harvard colleague, E.O. Wilson, who popularized the term Biophioia).  But does any one of us know—can we even begin to imagine—an unshakable sense of wellbeing that is deeply grounded in a life in communion with nature?

                         Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

— Wordsworth wrote this in 1802! What would he make of the alienation which we routinely tolerate today?

Our Western culture and the science that undergirds it have brought us knowledge and a richness of possibilities unimaginable to our ancestors; but I would not count happiness among the boons of a 21st Century Western lifestyle.


Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

It’s really quite simple, but it’s a story we’re not encouraged to learn or to pass on.

Every year the world economy grows. Every year, the economy needs more currency to lubricate a larger volume of trade. Collectively, we need more money to be injected into the economy. This newly-created money is not earned. Nobody has earned it, but someone gets to spend it. It’s a boon, a windfall. Who gets to spend this new money into the economy?

Most people would answer, “It’s the people’s money. We the people should get to spend it.” Our Founding Fathers gave this answer when they empowered Congress with the exclusive right to coin money.

But that’s not the system we have at present. Since 1913, private banks create new money and private bankers get that boon. When you think about it that way, maybe “the rich get richer” isn’t a law of nature, but rather an artifact of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913.

It’s not a small amount. For most countries, the amount of new money corresponds to the growth in their GDP plus the inflation rate, a few percent a year. For the US, the amount is much larger because the US dollar is used as an international reserve currency. Almost all nations use US dollars for international trade even when they’re not trading with the US. So for the US, it amounts to about $1 Trillion per year, or $3,000 per year for every man, woman, and child in the country. Money that should belong to us that goes instead to the banks.

Worse than theft is murder. In order to maintain the status of the US dollar as the primary vehicle of international exchange, we have attacked any nation that threatens to use an alternative currency. We have subverted governments in Venezuela and Iran for this reason, and we have bombed Libya and fought a hot war in Iraq for the sake of the bankers.

Next time you see a bumper sticker that says ABOLISH THE FED, you know that that’s what they’re talking about.


Peeling away layers of delusion

People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn’t so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can’t be otherwise, because a man’s soul is a divine spark, the truth itself.It’s only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.

Image result for panning for gold

20th Century Monoliths

The great pyramid at Giza was built from 2,300,000 stone blocks, each weighing many several tons. Two smaller pyramids brings the total over 5 million blocks. They were carved flat and square with great precision and transported over river and land from quarries a few miles to several hundred miles away.

The standard account from archaeologists is that this was accomplished by people who had not yet invented the wheel, or smelted iron tools. Doesn’t it stretch common sense to imagine this could be true?  Can you imagine 10% of the population, perhaps 200,000 people spending their entire lifetimes cutting, measuring, and polishing huge pieces of stone with other, smaller stones?

I think they knew something we don’t know. I don’t imagine backhoes and hydraulic cranes, but some kind of technology that is both alaien to us, even unimaginable, and also quite powerful and reliable.

A slight and unassuming 20th Century Latvian immigrant to Florida claimed to have re-discovered their secret.  He spent 28 years building his own stone sculptures cutting, moving and 10-ton pieces cut from coral/limestone with no power tools. How did he do it? He was fond of saying “it’s not hard once you know how.”

Coral Castle Museum, Leisure City, Florida - The Coral Castle is fascinating. Take the tour to hear the story about a lonely little man with a reported penchant for levitation who built a castle from giant coral rocks for the woman he loved. She never came to him but you can see from the grounds that he had big plans for a wife and several children. He carved bathtubs, cradles, armchairs and lots more out of the stone.