Eco-terrorist from Park Avenue?

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches…

the fateful year of 2012 is on the horizon…

a hurricane rips up the East Coast, leaving 5 million without power, and billions of dollars worth of damage in its wake;

riots in London are quelled by force;

and dictators who have held sway for 30 years or more in the Middle East are run out of town.

As the debt crisis of the Western world continues, Exxon Mobil opens up new drilling potential in the Russian Arctic worth 500 billion dollars, of which almost nothing will be taxed, while schools lay off teachers, states lay off workers, and municipalities have trouble paying for basic services like road maintenance.

At least we have our iPads and iPhones!

For those able to connect the dots, it is no accident that a major hurricane hit the East Coast this week–given that the ocean is hotter than it’s ever been, thanks to global warming.  More storms like that, and worse, are on the way!  The question is, WILL WE CONNECT THE DOTS????

And more: Can we have a world in which we continue to enjoy our luxuries–a hot shower in the morning, easy internet access, refrigeration and supermarkets full of food–without having to pay any price?

Like anyone of my generation (I was born in 1962) I want to believe that the world I’ve always known will always be here for me.

But I am not so blind as to see that the very luxuries I have taken for granted as necessities are what has driven our entire ecosystem to its current precarious state.

I know this.

What am I going to do about it?

Mark Hertsgaard and others have said very clearly that individual sacrifice or change is not the answer for the planet.  The planet needs us to stand up and agitate for her, to take risks, to be bold.

Getting arrested in front of the White House is not a bad idea.

Lately I’ve been reading about even more radical steps one might take.  Our government might call these steps eco-terrorism.  I might call them standing up for what is right.

In Deep Green Resistance, Aric McBay, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith outline a full spectrum of productive resistance to the planet-killing powers that be, from “propaganda”–ie, what I’m doing now–to actually going out and blowing up dams or cell towers.  

I am reading on, taking it in.  Do I have it in me to become an eco-terrorist?  Me, a sheltered girl from Park Avenue?

We’ll see!  Tune in next week…..

What happened to the Obama we elected?

If you won’t do it, Mr. President, we will!

The Kids Are Not All Right

Corporate Interests Threaten Children’s Welfare –

I agree with much of what this author says about the damaging effect of corporate media and social media on not only the kids themselves, but on family dynamics.

He makes a kind of modified plea for “family values,” which he identifies with the 20th century’s focus on prioritizing the well-being of children (at least, in middle-class white North American families).

I’d like to suggest that we don’t need to look backward to find our way out of the morass of childhood media addiction…we need to look forward.  The digital media is here to stay, at least as long as civilization as we know it holds up.

How can we learn to navigate through it, for ourselves and our children, in a way that feels healthy, balanced and nourishing?

If we can’t figure this out, I fear the computers–and the corporations that are behind them–will suck our souls dry.

Psst–did someone say…CLIMATE CHANGE???

A Year Full of Weather Disasters and an Economic Toll to Match –

Here is yet another example of the way the mainstream press reports on climate change without actually using that oh-so-loaded term.

“Normally, three or four weather disasters a year in the United States will cause at least $1 billion in damages each. This year, there were nine such disasters… These nine billion-dollar disasters tie the record set in 2008, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

The article goes on to say that the NOAA “is taking several steps to try to make the nation more “weather ready,” including making more precise forecasts, improving the ability to alert local authorities about risks and developing specialized mobile-ready emergency response teams.”

But not a word about what really needs to be done to slow down this destructive trend, saving lives and livelihoods, not to mention the environment itself–REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS!!!!

I wonder how the Times is going to cover the big climate change action coming up on Sept 24?  Check out Moving Planet for more info and to get involved.

Information warriors, we need you!

Pretty Ugly

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — er, treasonous, in my opinion.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, speaking about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s efforts to prevent deflation

When I think about Texans “treating someone ugly,” what leaps to my mind is lynching.  Even so conservative a group as the Texas Historical Association is unable to whitewash the truth of white Texan oppression and brutalization of the Mexican Americans (“Tejanos”) and African Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

To be heading into a Presidential election year with this kind of hateful invective being thrown around, especially in a contest where a Black man is involved, is truly frightening.

We who are watching the slow-motion political lynching of Barack Obama unfold cannot afford to be silent bystanders.

The Rick Perrys of our country are treating our President “pretty ugly” every single day.

Although I share many progressives’ disappointment with Obama’s reluctance to call out these ugly folks and fight fire with fire, I recognize the bind he’s in, and I cannot stand by silently while he’s symbolically dragged through the mud (as happened to the victim of one of the most recent Texas lynchings, Brandon McClelland, in 2008).

I’ve spent a lot of time this past month wishing I could just move to Canada and be done with the ugliness here in the U.S.

But this is my country, at least for now, and I must do my best to make it a better place, a country I can be proud of.

My ancestors left Russia, Poland and Germany in the 19th century precisely because of the kind of slimy and dangerous hatred that we heard come out of Governor Perry’s mouth this week.  They believed they would find a more welcoming and ethical society here in shadow of the Lady of Liberty.

Of course, America they knew in the early 20th century had terrible problems of racism, elitism and sexism. People fought for change throughout the 20th century, and they won big victories.

We can’t let the clocks be turned back now.  We must fight on, now more than ever!

Kids and Media…at wits’ end

So what’s wrong with this picture?  Here we are, perched on rocky cliffs above the ocean, it’s a beautiful sunny day, full of possibilities…and all four kids, ages 7 – 19, are sitting on the couches, each plugged in to their own little screen.  DSI (what does that stand for?) i-pad, i-touch and laptop….each fixated on the screens, ignoring each other and the incredibly beautiful outdoor scene that beckons right in front of them.

This scene was repeated scores of times in the week that I spent with my two sons and their two cousins at the seaside in Nova Scotia.  Repeatedly, it took the focused attention of the adults present to divert the kids from their virtual reality, forcing them to engage with each other and the outside world.

I find it frightening.

Two of these kids spent their formative early childhood years in a Waldorf environment (my older son went to a Steiner school through 8th grade, the younger one through 5th grade).  The other two are going to a private school that values reading, art and performance.  Yet nothing is more compelling to any of them than the games offered by their devices.  They howl in protest if detached from their digital umbilical cord.

Once re-engaged with the real world, they are happy to climb the rocks, make sand castles on the beach, play chess, or read.  But it takes real work on the part of us adults to make this happen.  The only way to ease that burden would be to cut the wireless completely.  But then we adults couldn’t check our email or read the New York Times or consult Google.  Can’t have it both ways.

Seriously, folks, what is going to happen to the next few generations, if the current trajectory of digitization remains unchanged?

 If the children of today don’t understand the importance of connecting with the real world, will we all become like the humans of Wall-E, couch dwellers totally fixated on our screens?

The problem with media technology today is that it’s totally seductive, and kids don’t get “moderation.”

What’s a parent to do?  If you have any good ideas, please share them….


At wits’ end

Women + Men = Change

The other day I, along with many thousands of others I’m sure, got an email from Jean Shinoda Bolen, the psychologist and activist–author of Goddesses in Everywoman, Urgent Message from the Mother, The Millionth Circle and many other books, most of them arguing that women have a special role to play in healing the world, and urging us to get busy.

This recent email said precisely that, but with a concrete focus: Jean is advocating that the United Nations support a Fifth World Conference on Women, as a follow-up to the Fourth World Conference held back in 1995, in Beijing.  Activists have been calling for another conference since 2004–when the hope was to mark the decade in 2005 with another big event by and for the women of the world.

At this point, we’ll be lucky to get the 5WCW, as insiders call it, in 2015.  But Jean’s letter brought up some deeper questions for me.

As I dutifully signed the online petition, I wondered whether it was really worth the time, effort and money it would take to create another major world conference on women again, UN-style.  Of course, now we have UNWomen, the new and much more powerful agency for women, headed up by the fabulous Michelle Bachelet.

But still–here come the deeper questions.

  • Do women really have some special role to play in peace-making and nurturing civil society, which would be strengthened for us by getting together in a symbolic–and also very real, remember the mud in Beijing?–conference on this scale?
  • If the men aren’t there in the meeting halls with us, will they be fully invested in whatever resolutions are brought forth?
  • Can women accomplish profound, lasting social change on our own, without bringing the men along with us?

Back to Eckhart Tolle for a moment.  I was struck while reading A New Earth that he, like so many other philosophers, seems to see women as fundamentally different from men.  He’s pretty unequivocal about it:

“Although women have egos, of course, the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female.  This is because women are less mind-identified than men.  They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate.  The female form is less rigidly encapsulated than the male, has greater openness and sensitivity toward other life-forms, and is more attuned to the natural world.

“If the balance between male and female energies had not been destroyed on our planet, the ego’s growth would have been greatly curtailed.  We would not have declared war on nature, and we would not be so completely alienated from our Being” (155).

He goes on to talk about the Inquisition and witch-burnings, and the ways in which, in all the major world religions, “women’s status was reduced to being child bearers and men’s property.  Males who denied the feminine even within themselves were now running the world, a world that was totally out of balance.  The rest is history or rather a case history of insanity….In time, the ego also took over most women, although it could never become as deeply entrenched in them as in men” (156-57).

The post-structuralist feminist in me says “whoa, Eckhart!  You’re claiming essentialism here, that women are essentially, that is, really and fundamentally different than men. Feminist philosophers have resisted this because so much oppression happened because women were said to be fundamentally different than (and lesser than) men. Do we really want to go there again?”

But then there are many older feminist camps, including the “goddess within” folks like Jean Bolen–and Audre Lorde, and Alice Walker, and Gloria Anzaldua, my heroines–who would be greatly cheered to hear this kind of admission coming out of a man like Eckhart.  He only talks about it for a couple of pages, and he makes a curious move of deflecting guilt onto “the ego,” which is oddly personified–see for yourself:

“Who was responsible for this fear of the feminine that could only be described as acute collective paranoia?  We could say: of course, men were responsible. But then why in many ancient pre-Christian civilizations such as the Sumerian, Egyptian and Celtic were women respected and the feminine principle not feared but revered?  What is it that suddenly made men feel threatened by the female?  The evolving ego in them.  It knew it could gain full control of our planet only through the male form, and to do so, it had to render the female powerless” (156).

This almost sounds like an angels and demons scenario, with demons, acting through “the ego” in each one of us, working to gain ascendancy, and being more successful in “the male form” than in women–because we women are more intuitive?  Or at least, we used to be, before the ego got to us too?

Eckhart finishes up his brief discussion of the differences between men and women on an upbeat note, saying that “because the ego was never as deeply rooted in woman, it is losing its hold on women more quickly than on men” (157).

And presumably, that means that he’d agree that women should step up and take a leadership role in helping humanity out of its current crises (environmental, economic, social) into “a new Earth.”

I think I’d have to agree.  But is convening thousands of women from all over the world in a physical place on Earth the way to go?  Or would it be a better strategy to focus on empowering women where we are, and maybe trying to do more with technology to link us so we can share strategies and become collectively empowered?

Just thinking about the amount of paper that would have to be shuffled at the United Nations to make a big women’s conference happen; and the amount of jet fuel and other resources that would have to be spent to get everyone into that one physical arena, makes me wince.

I’d rather see a series of smaller conferences, all happening simultaneously all over the world, linked by teleconferencing, with extensive, easily accessible video archives produced for later consultation.

And although these conferences would be led by women, I’d like to see men there in the audience too–and even at the podium, if they come to the microphone with their feminine half fully engaged.

Women do have something special to offer the world, but just as we need to activate our masculine side to become warrior leaders for change, we need men at our sides with their nurturing, peacemaking sides ascendant.

If we could manifest this vision, we could change the world.  For the better.

Did someone say young people are apathetic?

Well, not in Chile!  We Americans could learn a thing from the student movement there, which has been pressuring the right-wing government to move in a more social-democratic direction.

What are their tactics?

How about a kiss-in, for example?

Or a mass “suicide” to make the point that young people are “dead” without accessible education?

Or a downtown dance-in, complete with super-hero costumes?

Others are jogging in relays around the presidential palace, carrying flags that proclaim “Free Education Now.”  They’re trying to complete 1,800 laps to symbolize the $1.8 billion a year that protesters are demanding for Chile’s public education system.

The students are protesting the neo-liberal policies of the government, which are, as they do everywhere, creating greater income disparity and putting good education beyond the reach of big sectors of the society.

Remember, this is Chile we’re talking about, where many of the parents of these students were imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet government for daring to speak out.

This new generation is taking a creative approach to protest, and it will be interesting to watch how it plays out.  Will the government actually stoop to breaking up those kiss-ins with water guns and tanks?

Or will they do the smart thing, which would be to learn a thing or two from these courageous student leaders?

I mean, who wants to look at pictures of skinned baby seals?

Doing Battle with the Blob

I had a moment of eerie and upsetting disjunction this morning while listening to the CBC (that is, Canadian Broadcasting Co) radio news.

The announcer says that humanitarian aid organizations believe that 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died in past 90 days as a result of the famine now afflicting southern Somalia.  He goes on to say that nearly half a million young children are expected to die during this latest Somalian disaster.  Then, his voice shifting to an almost chirpy tone, he says, “Sports is next, after this break.”  And an ad for furniture begins blaring, and I change the channel.

The most upsetting thing about this is that I might not even have noticed it had I not stayed up past my bedtime last night reading Thomas de Zengotita’s fascinating new book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It.  De Zengotita (yes, that is his real name, apparently), argues that because of the way we are all supersaturated by the media now, we are forced to adapt by mentally “surfing” what we take in, on a generally unconscious level.

“The moreness of everything ascends inevitably to a threshold in psychic life. A change of state takes place…[as] the mind is forced to certain adaptations, if it is to cohere at all.  So, for example, when you hear statistics about AIDS in Africa for the 349th time, or see your 927th picture of a weeping fireman or an oil-drenched seabird, you can’t help but become fundamentally indifferent–unless it happens to be “your issue,” of course, one you “identify with,” a social responsibility option you have chosen.  Otherwise, you glide on, you have to, because you are exposed to things like this all the time.  All the time. Over breakfast.  In the waiting room.  Driving to work.  At the checkout counter.  All the time” (24).

De Zengotita says that as a result, we are cocooned inside what he calls a “Blob,” or others might call a bubble, which “mediates” between us and the outside world.

“Once in a while, in the public realm, some eruption of fate or evil–9/11, obviously, but also, say, a school shooting, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the hostage beheadings, something like that–will feel as if it…might pierce the membrane and…at least interrupt the Blob’s progress through the universe.

“But no.  Watch as the media antibodies swarm to the scene of those nascent interruptions.  These are the junctures that require the most coverage–and the latent meaning, the ironic dialectic implicit in that word emerges.  What must be covered is any event or person or deed that might challenge the Blob with something like a limit, something the Blob cannot absorb, something that could, in resistance or escape, become the one thing the omni-tolerant Blob cannot allow, something outside it, something unmediated–something real.

“But not to worry.  The Blob may have to devote some extra time and energy to these challenges, but in the end it prevails.  And how is the moment of its victory marked?  By your indifference….That’s when the original being of the real thing has been fully mediated.  It becomes representational, and that means optional.  You can turn it off, or on.  It’s up to you again (27).

I have of course noticed this indifference in myself and others–this ability to ignore anything disturbing that we learn of through the media.  I knew it was related to being overly saturated with bad news, to the point where our ability to empathize becomes numbed and disabled.

But I hadn’t really considered the extent to which this mediation process is alienating and impairing our fundamental ability to connect to the real.  We are so used to seeing emotion and action happening onscreen that even when it is happening to us directly, de Zengotita says, we “perform” as if we are acting in our own personal movie. And it becomes harder and harder for us to “turn off” this performative state.

De Zengotita gives several caveats about how the mediated public he’s talking about are the wealthy First World types like you and me, the ones who spend half their waking hours online, and are more at home with a keyboard than any other tool.  We do not represent the majority of humans yet, by any means, though our ranks grow every day.

Because we are so globally connected via the media, we know about the thousands of Haitians still living without permanent shelter 19 months after the big hurricane hit, and now going into yet another hurricane season.  We know about the famine in Somalia, and the polar bears swimming to death as the Arctic ice melts.

That’s part of the eeriness of this–we know about them, but they don’t know about us.  We have an almost godlike power to look down on the globe, Google-Earth-style, and watch what is going on everywhere.

And then we have the power to click another link and move on.

Hence the huge challenge for activist movements today to arouse  the masses to action–especially, it seems, young people.  We saw what happened in the so-called “Arab Spring” when the youth there texted their way to revolution.  But here in the US, our kids seem to be too busy enjoying life, playing video games and going to the mall, to worry about difficult issues like climate change or economic meltdown.

De Zengotita observes how activist organizations spend millions of dollars to create “hard-hitting films” that will break through the Blob/bubble and galvanize people to political action.  “Kids today have been subjected to thousands and thousands of high-impact images of misery and injustice in every corner of the globe before their are old enough to drive,” he says.  “The producers of these images compete with each other to arouse as much horror and pity and outrage as possible, hoping that this encounter with a person dying of AIDS or that documentary about sweatshop labor or these photographs of recently skinned baby seals will mobilize commitment.

“But what the cumulative experience has actually mobilized, in the majority, is that characteristic ironic distance that aging activists mistook for apathy.  But it wasn’t apathy as much as it was psychological numbness, a general defense against representational intrusions of all kinds–especially painful ones.  I mean, who wants to look at pictures of skinned baby seals?” (135).

True that.  And perhaps we mediated folk are doing the only healthy thing we can do faced with such a barrage of psychically inflicted pain–tuning out.  But there seems to me to be something profoundly immoral about all of us sitting pretty in front of our screens here in the heart of Empire, knowing about and ignoring the suffering that our lifestyles have done so much to cause.

So the question becomes: how to do battle with that Blob?

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