Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Of Science and Reverance

Last night I stumbled upon the documentary Inventing Tomorrow, directed by Laura Nix, on our local PBS (Public Broadcasting System) here in Colorado Springs. One of the things that struck me about these young women and men was how much they are motivated by reverence for nature and human history. I found the cultures these students live in to be a welcome, but stark, contrast to the culture and society American children are raised in. Science has informed their emotional attachment to nature, amplified their ability to empathize, and offered them real hope for a brighter future, one they can create.

© Quotation.io

Here in the U.S., children barely connect with their elders, let alone respect them. In many other cultures, several generations reside under one roof, or live next door, or no more than a few blocks away, the better to teach their children and grandchildren well. Personal stories are a powerful source of inspiration and action when told to children. Do we relate our own experiences to our children these days, or do we fear embarrassment, or risk empowering our youth to try daring things like peace marches, or poetry? Do we invite our children to sacrifice instead of feeling entitled to material things? Most children who excel have families that go above and beyond mere support. Fathers and mothers may leave jobs or drive their child for hours to participate in activities or meet with a mentor. Sometimes entire families uproot to be in a location that is optimal for the next step in the child's path to greatness.

While the family is usually at the core of a child's developing sense of values, the community, the "village," is also important. Surrounding a child with influential people outside the familial circle further expands the child's realm of experience and knowledge. This happens routinely in non-American cultures, and it once happened here in the U.S., too, but today we are told that every adult is a stranger, a potential pedophile, rapist, scam artist, or other devious criminal. We assume the worst now, and trust no one. We fear that sending the gifted child to university prematurely will forever stunt their growth in the social sense.....

Religion should be working in concert with science to develop young minds. Science can show what is possible. Religion, ideally, creates the bedrock of reverence for creation and cautions against a completely dispassionate approach to research, especially in the biological sciences. That is not what is happening in American Christianity. Extreme conservatism has put itself at direct odds with scientific advancement, even questioning practices like immunization inoculations that have protected humanity from illness and disease for decades (centuries in some cases).

One could argue that the religious practices of indigenous peoples reflect a much greater reverence for the natural world, but Christianity has dismissed such belief systems as "paganism," seeking to convert other cultures at every possible opportunity. Missionary programs offer poverty relief, but with the strings of Jesus attached. Meanwhile, Christianity pays lip service to a reverence for creation, even when it could claim that Noah was the first wildlife conservationist. Prayer is the only action needed to save the world, while you continue your over-consumptive lifestyle.

I have personally exposed myself to both science and religion, and found that science creates a greater reverence for the natural world. It does at times demand a detachment from your (research) subject that I find distasteful, sometimes outright wrong, but it is generally a far less judgmental community, and getting better by the day. It does not retreat into outdated doctrines that have proved toxic to scientific progress, impeded the advancement of women, and suppressed minorities. It is embracing the entire spectrum of gender identity, and continues to welcome immigrants who bring new insights, skills, strategies, and vision in meeting the challenges of the future.

In short, science is what religion should be. Go ahead and pray, it cannot hurt, but please stop wasting energy attacking science. The two should complement each other, not antagonize one another. Practice restraint in your lifestyle, be conservative in your carbon footprint, and joyful in your celebration of all things wild and free. Feed your curiosity, fascination, and sense of wonder. Support your local science fair, as well as the vacation Bible school bake sale.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Chasing Money

At this particular moment in time, I am secure enough in the fiscal sense that I do not need to chase projects for the money. That has not always been the case, and it will surely be a fleeting sense of relief. The welcome respite gives me pause in another way, more restless and disturbing than gratifying. It calls into question the idea that money should be a motivator, that everything be framed in the sense of income and expenditures.

© BayAreaDigitalSolutions.com

The constant implication in our lives is that we have a responsibility to earn an income, a responsibility to spend it and invest it to keep the economy going, and that taxation is the villain that keeps us from fully realizing our financial potential. Those directives come from those already wealthy, who attained their power by hoarding money. We think that money is the matrix that holds our lives together, and we need to free our minds of that foolish belief.

We think that money is the matrix that holds our lives together, and we need to free our minds of that foolish belief.

The only currency of any relevance and importance is energy. Some may equate energy with love, or some other emotion or notion, but what I am talking about is metabolic energy. That is the currency of living ecosystems, and it flows freely among all organisms. There is minimal banking of metabolic energy. Plant tubers might be one example. Bears putting on fat for the winter is another. These situations are the minority, though. Energy usually passes quickly through the food web.

Economies can be viewed as redundant and inefficient ecosystems in which every niche is filled by only one species: Homo sapiens. Energy flow is disrupted as some individuals hoard money instead of releasing it to continue flowing to other niches. Nature is strict in its demand that energy flow.

Perhaps the worst aspect of money is that it has allowed us to assign arbitrary value to everything. "Precious" metals and stones are precious only because we say they are. There is a fine line between priceless and worthless. Arguably, they are two sides of the same coin. The lives of other species are priceless until we decide that the monetary value of the land they occupy can be increased by developing a shopping center....and we arbitrarily decided what the land was worth to begin with.

Money limits our creativity because we think only in terms of how we will benefit financially. We dismiss important endeavors before they get off the ground because [whining] "that's too costly," or "we can't make any money doing that." A cost-benefit analysis too often destroys potentially great achievements.

Money also actively encourages the invention of unnecessary products and services. The marketplace is full of disposable goods, mass-produced decorative objects, and all manner of substances passing themselves off as food and drink that are destructive to our individual and collective health. We are all children in the face of advertising, so easily convinced that we cannot live without a given item. Money fuels the conflict that filmmaker Ken Burns describes as the "I want versus we need."

Money allows us to judge one another not by the content of our character, but by the sum of our bank accounts, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wealthism should be as repulsive as racism, but instead we collectively aspire to be financially excessive. More importantly, we want to exclude others from our sense of entitlement and privilege. We want a very tangible expression of our success, but ironically define success by tangible expression. We never arrive in this scenario. It is the treadmill of status, nothing more. It is a process that erodes society instead of elevating it.

We can no longer afford (and I use that word deliberately) to allow ourselves to be conditioned to believe that money is a limiting or freeing element of our society. What is priceless? Empathy. Respect. Honesty. Patience. Persistence. Volunteerism. Be examples of those things. Add to that list, because it will get you thinking about what is truly value-able. Meanwhile, I challenge you to imagine a world without money. What would it look like? Could we operate more justly and more efficiently without it?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Observing World Population Day

Today is World Population Day. What does that mean to you? What is the intention of this observance; and is it possible to reflect dispassionately but critically on what it means to have so many human beings on planet Earth?

© AskIdeas.com

It turns out that the United Nations established World Population Day in 1989, two years after the estimated landmark human population of seven billion was reached. I dare say it has remained well under the radar of the average U.S. citizen, in part because so much polarization surrounds anything to do with issues affecting population. Were it not for CBS Sunday Morning last Sunday, I would not have known this day existed, let alone that it was occurring this week.

The current UN Secretary General summarizes this year's key points in this statement: "The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day, we recognize that this mission is closely interrelated with demographic trends including population growth, ageing, migration and urbanization." Ok, first I have heard about the 2030 Agenda, too.

When many Americans hear the term "population," they internally add the word "control." Visions of a dystopian society in which the government dictates who can and cannot have children immediately clouds our vision. We even have previous historical examples, the latest being China's experiment with human reproductive....directives, shall we say. Perhaps no freedom is as valued in the U.S. as the freedom to have a family. We have fertility clinics for those facing physical impediments to reproduction. Our entire capitalist economy is based on the assumption that you will bear children that will consume goods and services throughout their lives. Certain religions place procreation at the center of their belief systems, too often with various warped results ensuing. Infringing on reproductive freedoms, or even suggesting that continued population growth is not necessarily a good thing, is met with instant and severe hostility.

Young American women face extreme social pressure to have children, this onslaught coming mostly from other women. It is a very real phenomenon that, like population, is seldom discussed. Meanwhile, economists, business leaders, and politicians whine about a labor shortage should birthrates continue to fall in the Western World. These same men fail to acknowledge that they readily outsource labor as it is, automate jobs where they can, and often refuse to grant paid maternity leave, pay a living wage, or offer health insurance.

We may struggle with these social issues, but other nations suffer poverty, in part because their populations may exceed the carrying capacity of their geographic boundaries, but also due to civil war, diseases afflicting their citizens, and myriad other factors. As much as the "developed world" lives in denial of its overly-consumptive per-capita lifestyle, it runs away at warp speed from suggesting that population is some other country's problem. Consequently, nobody talks about it, let alone takes action.

It is high time we make human population a regular topic of conversation, debate, whatever you want to call the dialogue. We must begin by having mutual respect for each other's personal decisions as far as child-bearing is concerned. Then we can go on to find agreeable standards for collective conduct and personal responsibility. It goes back to trust, that most fragile of human attributes, so endangered in our fearful society today. We have to trust the judgment of others as to what courses of action are appropriate for them given circumstances of physical and mental health, finances, spiritual subscriptions, and other factors which may be peculiar to that individual alone.

The old saying that it "takes a village to raise a child" has truth behind it, despite the cliché we consider that statement to be. The village is a global one, now. The world is watching. The universe is asking you to be kind, loving, and gentle to your fellow man. We are capable of making this work, but it takes work.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Fizzling of the Fourth of July

I have never felt less like celebrating July Fourth. The nation is a mere shadow of its former self, and it has little to do with this current presidential administration, though the White House and Congress aren't helping much. The problem is our collective lifestyle, our beliefs, and our attitudes. Frankly, we do not deserve a big party.

The official name for the holiday is Independence Day, and the fact of the matter is we have never been more dependent in our daily lives. Facebook goes down and you would think it is the apocalypse. Drop your smart phone and your digital life is over. No big deal, but we forget we are flesh and blood, heart and soul. We cannot separate our real lives from the electronic facsimile. Our avatar is who we are now. Pay no attention to the man standing physically before you.

Meanwhile, we have failed to learn skills that should be universal: cooking, basic home repairs, mending and altering clothing, balancing your checkbook, gardening. If the grid fails, if one of the four corporations responsible for food distribution goes bankrupt, we will be panic-stricken. Sheer mayhem will ensue. How is that independence, self-reliance, or even behaving reasonably, when you have abdicated your personal responsibilities and allowed yourself to become dependent on others to fill all of your needs?

At the same time we are willingly relinquishing control of our lives, we are at an all time low in our trust of other people. Businesses are out to scam us, the government is taxing us into oblivion, and criminals of one kind or another are lurking everywhere. The church is full of pedophiles, and we don't think much better of the Boy Scouts, and other historically trustworthy organizations we used to send our kids to. We have become isolated and overly dependent at the same time. Products, from guns to alcohol, and services are offered as the only solutions to our problems, when our problems stem from our paranoid minds and our lifestyle choices. You are agreeing with me because you do not see your own lifestyle choices as destructive.

Convenience is king now, and we will happily ignore all kinds of unethical business practices if it means we can get candy on the cheap, whenever we want it. Our coping skills are addictions, available twenty-four seven at the corner Walmart, or online with one keystroke. We are prisoners of our choices, unable to see healthier alternatives. We would rather Facetime than be face-to-face with each other, truly present in the moment. It is more convenient to press a key, flip a switch, turn a machine on, ask Alexa.

We are all guilty, to differing degrees, but to paint ourselves as superior to others is just another facet of the same diamond of destructive indulgence. We are nothing if not self-righteous, and we go to great lengths to reinforce it. Is my blogging a way of stroking my own ego? I would like to think not, but I should be acutely aware of the potential. We are asleep too much of the time, too preoccupied, oblivious, dismissive, willfully ignorant. Our culture is pulsive: impulsive, compulsive, repulsive.

We talk much about the kind of world we want for future generations, but I suspect that our founding fathers would barely recognize the United States. Do we not owe as much to previous generations as those yet to be born? Some strides have been great, but we have replaced slavery with alternative forms of racism and oppression including mass incarceration of "minorities," voter suppression, and all manner of discriminatory practices in all our human institutions. Our patriarchy still barely tolerates women.

We are not locked into our current patterns of behavior, as individuals nor as a society. We are no longer purely instinctual animals, though we are animals. The thing that sets us apart from other creatures is our ability to change our minds, and with that our actions. The devil we know is the devil that will kill us unless we take that leap of faith into the "what if" of good deeds, and the substitution of experience for the material goods we cling to presently. Don't wait, don't follow, but lead by example.

The fireworks will still go off tonight, the band will play on, and too many of us will wave our flags mindlessly. Fine. Tomorrow, once the party is over, make a point to give your life meaning. Weed the garden of your heart and soul.