"As the days dwindle down to a precious few..."

Author: Brian Vandenberg (Page 2 of 5)

Pandemic Exposure

Crises expose. Some crises are personal; a traumatic event, life-threatening illness, death of a loved one. Some are communal; war, economic collapse, pandemic. Crises rupture our everyday life, upending what we have taken for granted, rendering what we thought essential as trivial, forcing us to confront stark realities about our life—and the impending end of our life.

Crises cloud our vision, as anxiety and dread about our future, our fate, our survival disorient and overwhelm. The rupture of crises also expose, perhaps for the first time, the hidden undergirding that gives our life structure and stability. It can be a clarifying moment, if we open our eyes, allowing us to understand and appreciate what we otherwise failed to see.

The pandemic affords us this opportunity. What is important? Basic needs: food, shelter, health and safety. We discover that those who are essential for providing these are not sports ‘heroes’, media celebrities, or hedge fund managers. The heroes are nurses, health care workers, doctors and hospital cleaning people; truckers, delivery people, mail carriers and supermarket employees; police, firefighters, utility workers and trash collectors. They risk their lives for the greater good, and have performed these tasks, every day, before the pandemic—and with few exceptions, have been invisible, unappreciated, and underpaid.

The previously simple act of driving to the market to buy supper is now a considered act of anticipation (when is the best time?), hope (have they run out of…?) and consternation (will I be able to feed myself and my family?). It is also an act made possible by a dense network of rules, regulations, policies, and fiscal commitments by the government. The extent of this is so enormous that only a small set of examples are needed to make the point.

Get in your car. There is standard, mandatory equipment, critical for travel, such as breaks, headlights and taillights, windshields, wipers, etc., etc. Driving requires everyone to follow an array of rules and regulations, otherwise commerce and travel would be nearly impossible; stay on the righthand side of the road, ‘stop’ on red, ‘go’ on green, etc., etc. All drivers are required to be licensed to guarantee universal understanding and competence. Once we begin our drive, the hidden governmental structures making possible the roads we travel also fill volumes—and we have not even arrived at the market, which possesses its own vast edifice of governmental structures and supports. A simple drive to the market, so critical for sustenance and now a conscious focus of concern, is supported and made possible by the “deep state”. And this is only a single, simple act. Almost everything we do in our modern life would be impossible without government, which enables complex collaboration, commerce and exchange among over 300 million citizens. The past 40 years has been marked by the rise of a powerful political movement that has marched to the slogan, “Government is not the answer, it is the problem”. One of the aims of this movement have been to dismantle programs that arose during the New Deal, such as Social Security, and subsequent programs, such as Medicare. “Wasteful, inefficient, and unnecessary resources given to the undeserving” is chanted under this banner. It has been more than 75 years since the Great Depression and World War II, when we were confronted with a global crisis like the pandemic1.

Individual initiative, drive, and intelligence, as well as corporate profit-making and market forces are powerless to effectively confront the challenges posed in these times of crises. Government is not only the answer, it is the only answer. Massive marshaling of resources, creation and coordination of agencies to address a single aim, and new agencies and regulations for banking, commerce, fiscal markets, and corporate conduct are needed, as is deficit spending and government programs to provide food, shelter, health and safety.

The pandemic, like previous global crises, requires massive government intervention, unprecedented deficit spending, and a new “rulebook”, which is in the process of being written as we go. Very few of either political party object, and there is near universal agreement of the necessity to multiply the size of national debt. And who is at the head of the line, hat in hand, demanding a governmental handout? Captains of industry, CEO’s of investment firms, small businesses owners, and other ardent proponents of “Government is the Problem”.

Crises expose.

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Genitals of the Universe

TRIGGER WARNING!

This post contains explicit sexual images and material.

The intent of this post is to pander to prurient interests and alert to the pan-sexual nature of life. While prurient, this post also introduces an admittedly crude reclassification of the familiar. To de-nude, if you will, our usual nomenclature. But offered in Latin, for scientific purposes.

Shame and Embarrassment

Freud was right.1 We spend enormous mental energy denying, repressing, and sublimating our primal preoccupation with sex. Sex inhabits us, pervades us, surrounds us; it is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the liquids we drink, the decorative patterns we desire, the gifts we give. We engage in elaborate mental gymnastics to transfigure the explicit erotic and sexual nature of our activities, while also joyously continuing our active, enthusiastic participation.

We are a curious animal; singular in our shame about the act of procreation, idiosyncratic in our embarrassment about our genitals. Ironically, we also use our shame and embarrassment to heighten sexual attraction and desire. Mass nudity, ubiquitous undress, bores. But put patches over our genitals, design alluring coverings, pouches, and peek-but-not-boo adornments, we then create “private parts”. The mundane is transformed to the mysterious and highlighted as off-limits. And, thus, is eroticized.

Genitals of the Universe

B. Kilban

The depictions above are the imaginative work of B. Kilban, a noted cartoonist for Playboy magazine in its heyday. The cartoon is funny because it draws attention to the bizarre, weird, and ludicrous shape of human genitals. Oh, what devilish humor doth random mutation possess! And no wonder the embarrassment—for that species possessing a bit of self-awareness.

Kilban’s genitals of the universe bring into relief awareness of the fantastical shape of our own genitals. But we need not speculate about extraterrestrial sex organs to gain this appreciation, for the riotous forms of terrestrial genitalia, and the sexual activity that abound among those with whom we share the planet, are beyond our wildest imaginings—should we care to notice. Indeed, these cartoon genitals are but pale, simple sketches when compared to what occurs in our midst. We do not notice because we use “formal wear” in our language, which serves to cloak our participation in the bumptious debauchery of life. To fully appreciate this debauchery, we must disrobe the “formal wear”; hence this post. Many beautiful, strange, outrageously bizarre forms of genitalia, and the manner of their use, flourish, but space limitations require parsimony.

De-nuding and Disrobing

LABIA MAJORA FLOS.2 (Conventionally called ‘flower petals’) (Often accompanied by an alluring fragrance to enhance sexual contact). There are a number of varieties including:

Labia Majora Flos Laetus.3

Example of Labia Majora Flos Laetus
Conventionally called ‘Sun Flower’

Labia Majora Flos Immanemque.4

Example of Labia Majora Flos Immanemque
Conventionally called ‘Daylily’
What better way to say ‘I love you?’ or ‘Be My Valentine?’ then by giving the gift of these alluring sexual genitalia?5

Labia Majora Flos Periculo.6

Example of Labia Majora Flos Periculo
Conventionally called ‘Fishook Cactus flower’ 7

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OVUM MATURESCERE.8 (Conventionally called ‘fruit’).

Example of Ovum Maturescere.
Conventionally called ‘apple’
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Varieties include:

Ovum Suci9 (conventionally called ‘fruit juice’)

Example of Ovum Suci
Conventionally called ‘orange juice’

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Ovum Induravitque10 (conventionally called ‘nuts’).

Example of Ovum Induravitque
Conventionally called ‘walnuts’

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MAMMALIUM GENERATIUA PRODUCTUM.11 (Conventionally called ‘dairy products’).

Example of MAMMALIUM GENERATIUA PRODUCTUM
Conventionally called ‘cows milk’
Example of MAMMALIUM GENERATIUA PRODUCTUM
Conventionally called ‘ice cream’
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”

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AVEM GENERATIUA PRODUCTUM12

Example of AVEM GENERATIUA PRODUCTUM
Conventionally called ‘eggs’

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SPERMA NIMBOSTRATUS.13

SPERMA NIMBOSTRATUS Particle
Conventionally called ‘pollen’
(Macro image)

Each day, the newspaper publishes the pollen count, giving the values for pollen levels in the air of the various plants and trees that can cause respiratory and allergic difficulties. These, of course, are sperm clouds that we inhale with every breath.

SPERMA NIMBOSTRATUS14 (Conventionally called tree seeds). A cousin to SPERMA NIMBOSTRATUS, these are the reproductive missives that float through the air, helicopter from the sky, and rain down from tree branches.

Example of SPERMA NIMBOSTRATUS
Conventionally called ‘Maplewood seeds’

SEXUS INTERSPECIES.15 We are appalled, and alarmed, at the thought of humans having sex with other animals; bestiality is the common word used, and it is a crime in most localities. However, cross-species sex is a fundamental strategy for the propagation of life. The proverbial birds and bees, along with butterflies, ants, beetles, bats and flies, engage in interspecies sexual commerce that enables much of flowering life to reproduce.

Example of SEXUS INTERSPECIES
Hummingbirds and flowers
“Oral Sex”
Example of SEXUS INTERSPECIES
Butterfly and flower
“Getting it on”

Next Time

Next time you buy flowers for a loved one, or to beautify your house or garden, or take time to nestle your nose in the petals to ‘smell the roses’; next time you pick a floral pattern to wear or decorate; next time you go to the grocery store and squeeze the grapefruit for the juiciest, fondle the apples for the ripest, or sip your morning orange juice; next time you savor your berries and nuts; next time you quaff your milk, nibble your buttered toast, or indulge yourself with ice cream; next time you devour your omelette, or delight in your cookies, cake, brownies, or pie; next time you sneeze, wheeze, cough or your nose runs; next time you admire a hummingbird licking nectar from a flower, a butterfly slowly undulating its beautiful wings on a bloom, or bees humming from blossom to blossom—AWAKE! We are intimates in the throbbing, surging urgency of life on this planet, seeking to thrust itself into the future.

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Songs From The Crib

Долпхин

What in the world is this?

If you have recognized that this might be a word written in a foreign language, you have made a huge cognitive leap; recognizing that bizarre shapes can stand for letters that, in turn, stand for sounds that, when combined, can create the sound of a word that, when spoken, has a shared meaning with others.1 We forget just how strange, magical and shocking written language is. Or how difficult to learn.

Literacy is not natural, does not come unbidden like spoken language; it is a cultural invention, not a biological imperative. It is a tool, not unlike the wheel, that aids mental rather than manual labor. Like all tools, it extends human action in ways that take us beyond our biological capacities. It becomes an extension of ourselves, deeply altering ourselves and our community.

Literacy is the key for entry into the hallways of our highly complex, highly technological culture. It requires many, many years of hard labor, sitting in a chair, stationary, in deep concentration for hours at a time—another unnatural imposition on a body that is biologically primed for movement, action and activity, especially so during the critical years for gaining the foundations of literacy; from 4 to 10 years of age. We frequently overlook this topsy-turvy upending of biology, as school has replaced the natural world as the environment requiring adaptive responses; survival in today’s world means survival in an environment scribed in print.

The reach of literacy in our lives is so pervasive and profound that to be illiterate is to be bereft of significance; to be consigned to a life of ridicule, hardship and a dead-end future. Publish or perish, describes life in academia, where failure to have an authorial presence in the scholarly community is to cease to exist as a meaningful entity within that community. This phrase can be altered to Read or die, to encompass the significance of literacy in the broader culture.

Oral and Literate Cultures

One of the consequences of literacy, and the intense, prolonged training it requires, is that music and dance have been relegated to extracurricular, after school activities. The placement of these activities embodies the transformation from oral to literate cultures. The segment occupied by literacy in the long arc of human history is quite brief. The first written language appeared only 5500 years ago, and of the 3000 languages that have been identified, 78 have had writing.2

Unlike literate cultures, music and dance are the foundational axis of life in oral cultures—the predominate form of culture for most of human history. Lacking writing, these cultures use song and dance to remember, recount, recreate history, and preserve tradition; to celebrate important ceremonial events, evoke the presence of gods and spirits, conduct rites of passage, and enact rituals of religious significance. Music and dance are the repository of culture, which is inscribed, not in a book, but in the body.

The environment of literate culture overlooks the primal power of music and dance in human life, and can lead to the conclusion that these are “after school” activities; auxiliary endeavors, with little importance or evolutionary significance. Indeed, this is the conclusion of some noted cognitive neuroscientists.3 But music and dance make their appearance, developmentally, long before school starts, providing essential scaffolding for the emergence of speech, language and the attainment of literacy.

Songs From the Crib

Music and dance begin in the crib. Human neonates are the most helpless beings born into this world and, from the first moments of life, are beholden to others for the most basic needs; to be fed, clothed, moved, sheltered, protected and soothed. These urgent needs, requiring immediate care and attention, are expressed in urgent ways that are clear and unambiguous; through vocalizations, bodily movements and gestures.

Neonates are exquisitely perceptually attuned to the presence and response of others. They make remarkable discriminations in human speech sounds (e.g., distinguishing ‘p’ from ‘b’), orient toward the human voice (especially female voices), and can identify the voice of their mothers. Neonates are primed to orient toward the human face, can discriminate and imitate facial features of another, and are capable of expressing recognizable emotions through vocalizations, most notably crying, and through facial and bodily gestures. These abilities are quickly elaborated as infants become capable of nuanced, complex, extended communications.

Attunement is mutual. It should not be surprising that adults of a species are especially sensitive and responsive to the signals and cries of their newborns. Adults, without training or experience, understand the meaning of infant cries, distinguishing hunger cries form cries of pain, and also discriminating cries of healthy infants from those at risk for various developmental difficulties.

Not only are adults attuned to infants expressions, they also sensitively adjust their communications in ways that maximize infants attention and involvement. Adults exaggerate and pace their vocalizations creating rhythmic, periodic, tonally heightened expressions. These exaggerated expressions, called motherese, are non-conscious engagements automatically used by adults and children across cultures. Similarly, exaggerated facial and body expressions serve to heighten the salience of communicated meaning.

The resulting communicative exchanges are ballets of sound, movement, gesture and posture. Infants’ communications, such as a cry or smile, possess their own unique body/sound signature that are distinctive, obvious and unmistakable. And powerful. They compel a response—a response that is distinctive, obvious and unmistakable.4

Music and dance, grounded in our bodies from birth, possess the power to sway, to enchant, to entrance, to overwhelm.5 Oral cultures are the natural outgrowths of these biologically given forms of human communication. Although literate cultures relegate music and dance to “after school” status, we are, to the core, creatures of song and dance.

If you can’t say it, you sing it, and if you can’t sing it, you dance it…6 7

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The Time of Our Life

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.    St. Augustine

We typically segment time into three clearly demarked, independent parts. Past: over, done, gone. Present: now, ephemeral, ever-evaporating. Future: yet to be, a horizon beyond the rim of the present. This makes much intuitive sense, and presumes an objective river of time that carries us along in its current, a stream parceled into a regular metronome of moments, pacing off seconds, minutes, hours… We thus can situate ourselves within the surge of time: it is now January 1, 2020, at 10:31.09 AM. Which, of course, is immediately consigned to the past as the present rushes into the future. The flux of time is thus given some measure of order, stability and control.

Physics of Time

This ordering, however intuitively obvious and useful, does not snare time. Modern physics offers a very detailed understanding of the remarkable and bizarre features of time as a physical phenomenon. In the smallest of durations, in the quantum zone inhabited by subatomic and virtual particles, time becomes unmeasurable and merges with mass and energy. What does this even mean? When considering cosmic time of vast dimensions, time and space are welded, and in the proximity of entities of unimaginably huge masses, a time horizon appears beyond which time disappears down a black (rabbit) hole. And everything, including time, began with the Big Bang1. No metronome of regular moments here.

Psychology of Time

The physics of time does not exhaust time’s possibilities. Psychological time, our personal experience of it, is as powerful, meaningful and complex. Here, too, time manifests itself in multiple guises. Our experience of duration is intimately entangled with our encounter with the world. Searing, inescapable pain creates an eternity of seconds. Joy and surprise can halt time.  Boredom, pleasure, play—indeed, the entire range of our emotional life—all have their unique temporality.

Furthermore, while segmenting time into independent zones of ‘past, present, future’ helps order and understand our experience of time, these zones also interpenetrate, mutually influencing each other.

Future present tense: My goals, expectations, wishes, desires, hopes and fears, and how I thrust myself into the future—all these focus and structure my attention in the present. What captures my interests, what priorities I give to my immediate efforts are shaped by the gravitational pull of the future. Change my goals, aspirations and expectations, I change my life as lived in the present.

Future past tense: This same tug of future’s influence extends into the past. How I construct and understand my past is shaped by what I expect, hope, fear. The past, while over, does not sit inertly in my life. What facts do I remember? What meaning and value do I attribute to them? What is forgotten? Our memory is not a photographic plate impassively recording events as they scroll by. It is an active process, influenced by attention, expectations and under constant reconstruction and renovation.

Past present future tense: The past reaches into the present and shapes our anticipations of the future. What we have experienced organizes how we act and respond in the present and guides our expectations for the future. Our experiences in childhood, our prior traumas, trials and triumphs, our relationships of significance with others and much else in the past have enduring influence on our present and future. Habit and memory are powerful ways the past grips the present and reaches into the future.2

Present past future tense: The grip of the past and the pull of the future meet in the present; it is a temporal vortex not only influenced by past and future, but exerts its own power, “on the fly”, on the past (testing, reinforcing, revising, altering and creating new habits and memory) as well as the future (testing, abandoning, revising, renewing and forging new expectations and anticipations).

The very foundation, structure and texture of our lives turn on these dynamic temporal relationships. This is underscored when we try to understand, manage and change our lives. Temporality is the central focus of all therapy, or any agent of personal change, regardless of its form, offering us different ways to understand our past, comport in the present, and anticipate the future. We change the past by changing our present and future. We change our future by changing our present and past. And so on. They are all dynamically connected. The most final and dramatic way to escape when the weight and pain of these temporal dynamics becomes unbearable is to end time; to commit suicide.

Being and Non-Being

Death, and the decision to choose death through suicide, underscores that we are not just in time, not just an object sailing along in the river of time, but composed of time; a song. We can experience ourselves as a biological entity, as a ‘human being’, a noun, but we also are ‘be-ings’, verbs, gerunds of temporality and tense whose plight is shadowed by non-being, death. We are embodied time; a paradox, a befuddlement, an enigma.

We may understand some of the ways time manifests itself that St. Augustine did not. The vexation of time, however, remains, for it is integral to the unfathomable mystery that is our being.

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.    

Songs of Habit Amidst Chaos

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Habit and Time

The biosphere is a teeming, humming, buzzing, riot of life in every earthly nook and cranny; collaborating with one another, competing with one another, eating one another. Each species, each individual, must rely on habits to establish a measure of stability, enabling them to extract the necessary sustenance for survival. Habit forestalls chaos.

All life, in its many forms, from bacteria to insects, fungi to mammals, are beholden to habit, which is as elemental to life as DNA. A primal characteristic of all life is movement and endurance within time. All, also, share a common fate—the end of movement and endurance in time; death.

Habits are fundamental strategies of temporal beings that must anticipate the future. Habits occur when a situation at Time 2 is perceived as similar to a situation at Time 1, evoking the same response at Time 2 that was  adaptive at Time 1. The perceived reoccurrence of familiar events “stops time”, allowing us to steady ourselves in the face of an uncertain future. Habits create routines, establishing an order in time with expected, reoccurring beats. Indeed, survival depends on establishing a vital regularity within the assaultive, chaotic flux of events, circumstances, and contingencies that threaten the delicate, wavering, spider-thread of life.

Habits of Differing Time Scales

Habit is defined as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance1. Typically, we think of habit as behavioral routines that derive from individuals learning about their environment; that habit operates within an individual, not the species, at the behavioral, not biological level.

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This definition need not only apply to an individual organism. Consider reflexes. From the perspective of the individual, reflexes are invariant, unchanging; no habits are acquired. Breathing, pupil dilation, digestion, heartbeat, these arise automatically, without conscious prompting, effort, or control. However, from an evolutionary perspective, which encompasses the arc of the emergence of life forms and their adaptation, reflexes are, as the definition states, “patterns acquired by physiological exposure that results in increased facility of performance”. From an evolutionary time scale, then, species’ morphology and the attendant neurophysiological organization and functioning, and even DNA, can also be considered habits.  What appears to be the static, immutable biological givens of of an individual’s existence—the bones, pulsing blood and breathing—are dynamic properties of an evolving process within an evolutionary temporal frame. We are a composite of the individual habits we acquire over our life and species’ habits conferred to us by our primordial ancestors.

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Culture adds yet another layer of habits. Communally organized daily routines and seasonal rituals organize our bodies to the collective rhythms of our culture. Time is regulated; our calendar and clocks are standardized, establishing a rigid temporal grid that individuals must adopt and internalize if they are to participate in essential communal activities. The year rolls over to the next one on January 1; daylight savings time sets the clock ahead, then it is later set back; school schedules, meal times, business hours, the reoccurring weekday-weekend sequence, and many other micro-cultural regularities pervade our lives. Public holidays, such as Thanksgiving and July 4th, with their attendant rituals, mark time within the broader seasonal round.

Songs

Our bodies are composed of layers of habits, each contributing its own rhythms; the beating, breathing, surging biorhythms that compress eons of prior life, the habits we acquire to adapt to our unique personal challenges and circumstances, and the cultural rituals and routines required for communal life. This complex, multilayered cadence of habits comprises the music that is our song, our lives.

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We are songs of life, sung, for our ever-brief moment, within the roar of flux and chaos. Our plight is most heartrendingly expressed in music:

Music is like the inclusive testimony of a visitor to a wondrous world. As it plays you have everything. When it stops, you are left with nothing. Which is exactly like life itself.2

An inclusive testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBVkYGLEUpg

Jurassic Skies

Birds. No terrestrial creature is more fantastical, more bizarre, more varied or more beautiful than birds. Birds, trees, gems, fish, coral, butterflies and flowers are the primary sources of color in our world. The list is short, and life on a planet without them would be drab and depressing. Color shocks and, not surprisingly, all of these galvanize a large following of enthusiasts. None are more passionate, or as legion, than birders.

Bird watchers are commonly noted for their fanaticism and often viewed, with some amusement, as oddballs. There is an obsessive, competitive, know-it-all subspecies of this flock that is notable on closer viewing of their collective habits. Most are gentle souls who delight in a “walk-in-the-woods.” What animates them all, at the deepest level, is wonder. Birding is a treasure hunt. A speck in the sky, an almost undetectable sound in the thicket, a camouflaged rustle in the reeds, a hole on a tree—or a cactus!—that flicks with movement, suddenly transformed to a bejeweled presence when sighted through the lens of a binocular’s magnification. From mundane to miraculous by merely lifting the glasses. What could be more thrilling?!

It is a measure of the numbing effects of routine and habit that we travel our days largely unaware or uninterested in these creatures in our midst. Language, one of our most precious attributes that joins us together, also anesthetizes. This was dramatically demonstrated to me on a summer visit to a new place, when, surrounded by the novelty of the unfamiliar, I heard a raucous, rowdy, insistent call of a bird. I was able to spy it through binoculars and was stunned by its exotic beauty. From behind, it shaded from an indigo blue at its head through azure, finally ending in almost aquamarine at the tip of its tail. The wing and tail feathers were ridged in black stripes, etched with contrasting splashes of white. A white chest and neck lead to a face with black stripes through the eyes that connected with a ring of black that circled from under the chin across the crown of the head. And, atop the head, a crest. I called to Sharon: “Come, quick, see this!”. She did; she said: “It’s a blue jay.”

Bird Without a Name

For that brief moment, I saw this remarkable being, free from the encumbrances of language, habit and routine. It exposed the power of naming, which domesticates the world, providing us handles  and footholds that allow a measure of perceived control, intimating understanding and thereby assuaging the anxiety, fright, and wonder of being in the world, naked, without a fig leaf.

I have had other disorienting encounters with birds. Rounding a curve in a path, I came face to face, eye to eye, with an owl. Two piercing yellow eyes that peered directly at me; unlike most birds, its eyes are not on the side of its head, but fronted, like human eyes, in a direct, unnerving stare. Human-like consciousness was intimated in this locked-gaze encounter, but a disconcerting difference was signaled in their alien yellow color.1

Great Blue Heron

Then there was seeing a great blue heron in a marsh near the LA airport. This huge bird, 4 feet tall, taking flight, with its long neck leading to a pointed head with fierce war-like coloring and a crest, ending with a dagger-stabbing bill, majestically lifting off on a 6 foot wing span. Suddenly, I saw a dinosaur—a  pterodactyl, in my midst. Dumbstruck, I realized that progeny of creatures from the Jurassic age fill our skies.

Pterodactyl

Birds are everywhere. Hiding in the bush, stealthy stalking in the glade, plunging into the lake, gliding in the updrafts, bobbing in the water, scurrying across the desert, skimming the water’s surface, dodging the in-and-out ocean wash, burrowing in the sand, hunting in the tundra, swooping and diving, darting from flower to flower, marching across ice flows, roosting in the tropical canopy.

Meadowlark

They fill our world with their voices: mourning, crowing, peeping, chirping, quacking, squawking, drumming, hooting, whistling, warbling, cackling, cooing, screeching, “drink-your-tea”2, and larking. Life-music signaling, saying, singing their urgent desires of warning, mating, and “calls of contact”.

Birds can be found day and night, in all seasons, in all locals. Their flight underscores that we are inelegant, lumbering bottom feeders. The wide universe of their shapes, colors, and strangeness are beyond what we are capable of dreaming; they are an alien presence alerting us to this uncanny world that is our home.

Birds “brain” us, club us into the miracle of this moment. They are just outside the window, beaconing…go forth and birdwatch, bird-listen—without words, naked.

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Church and State

Agrarian Legacy

Church and state—inseparable since the beginning of civilization, when Homo Sapiens first developed agriculture, exchanging hunter-gathering for a settled life in large communities. All of the early, great civilizations, from China to Egypt, Inca to Sumer, as well most others, were characterized by a typical organization structure. Peasants, who cultivate the crops, tended the livestock, provide the food for survival and the labor for buildings and projects. Soldiers, who collect taxes and tributes, enforce order, and protect the community from outside attack. Priests and spiritual leaders, who serve as emissaries to the sacred realm of gods and spirits, seeking their favor, divining their intentions, offering sacrifices to appease and please, and performing religious rites and ceremonies. And royalty, who rule with the authority to orchestrate, organize, and command, providing the leadership that enables a large community to cohesively function. Peasant, soldier, priest, and royalty — interlocking pieces, held together by their scared beliefs, rituals and practices.

Agrarian cultures, because they are dependent on the food provided in large, cultivated crops, and dwell in large settlements with people living in close proximity to each other and their domesticated animals, are especially vulnerable to droughts, fires, floods, earthquakes, storms, plagues, crop failure, illness, and disease, as well as attack by nomadic and warring neighbors, any of which can bring dire consequences. This chaotic, turbulent, calamitous cosmos is under the sway of the Gods and spirits. The priestly class, imbued with powers that partake of the divine, are especially important for the survival of the community. Royalty, too, are divinely touched, conferring special powers, potency, and force. Priests and royalty—united by their shared privilege of being agents and messengers of the divine.1

Religious practices and cultural beliefs, everyday life and legal order, church and state, are of a single piece, woven seamlessly into a cultural tapestry. The hierarchical social order—that some humans have higher value, possess special powers and attributes, and should be conferred special positions and privileges as their birthright—is assumed; an obvious consequence of a divinely-given hierarchical cosmic order.

Self Evident Truths

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This famous line in the Declaration of Independence is NOT self-evident, especially at the time of it being penned. Indeed, it is a manifesto of revolution and rebellion, announcing its radical intent for a new order. And in this new order, each individual, not just special privileged classes, is divinely consecrated. Hierarchy and the privilege of rank are tossed overboard, replaced by equality and unalienable individual rights.2

The rending of Church from State was an especially important outcome of the Revolution in a new country composed of immigrants of various religious sects, many fleeing persecution for their beliefs. This separation is historic, and essential to establishing a new order based on secular, civil authority and laws.

Profits and Rebellion

In 1776, the same moment as the Declaration of Independence, a revolutionary book was published: The Wealth of Nations. This is no coincidence. The Industrial Revolution was creating upheavals in every corner of British culture. The Wealth of Nations, the first systematic treatise addressing economic philosophy and practices in a market economy, provided guidance to prosperity in this bewildering time. It is still oft cited, chapter and verse, as if Biblical scripture, to justify and support contemporary economic policies.

America, and its Revolution, is a child from the loins of this new economic order; money, business, and profit shape our origins, our Revolution, our laws, our culture, our selves. The founding of New York City, the heart of the American colonies, and a place of primary influence to this day, bespeaks this history. Originally settled as New Amsterdam by the Dutch, it was not founded by the Dutch government, but by the Dutch East India Company.3 New Amsterdam was a corporate trading outpost.  And a very profitable one that passed into the hands of the enterprising British, for whom the entire New World, including the New York, became an engine of imperial wealth.

The American colonists became very British, who, in very British fashion, protested when Parliament pinched their pocketbooks. The American Revolution was ignited by taxes; by injustices perceived by the merchant class, whose income was threatened by the tax levies. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were prominent, wealthy merchants and businessmen, and the Revolution was fueled by Britain’s violation of the rights of the enterprising class to earn the profit they thought their due.4

Entanglements

Church and state were separated after the Revolution. A new entanglement, however, perhaps as invisible to us as the Church-State entanglement was to earlier civilizations, has emerged. Money, business and profit, the DNA of this new order, accelerated post-Revolution. Individual rights, a foundational belief for our democracy, was extended to African Americans by the 14th Amendment after the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, it was extended to…corporations!

What kind of twisted logic could render an Amendment for enfranchising former slaves to include conferring rights to a fiction that derives its existence from a legal contract? Answer: A logic that is “reasonable” within the cultural DNA of money, business and profit. It is an analogous “logic” to that which gave coherence to early civilizations, whose foundations were tethered to the divine. The absurdity of our logic is less visible to us because we are less aware of our foundations.

The consequences of our cultural DNA, and its resulting “logic,” are far reaching, pervasive and profound.  Corporations possess freedom of speech and religion, and have the right to refuse goods or services on religious grounds. When they break the law, nobody goes to jail—because there is no body.

Unlimited “dark money” campaign funding by corporate-backed groups now fuel a politics that is unconstrained by libel, lies or scruples. Lobbyists swarm legislators, plying them with milk and honey in exchange for legislative favors; there are 23 lobbyists for every member of congress, spending over $3 billion. Lobbyists are routinely appointed to government posts that oversee the industries they lobbied for (the current administration has appointed 187 former lobbyist to government positions). And, lobbying is the single most popular post-retirement career choice by Congress members. The revolving door spins, and the line between public and private interests fades.

Is bribery a crime if it is called lobbying?
Is extortion criminal if it is called “soliciting campaign contributions”?
Is a government auctioned to the highest bidder corrupt if it is called a democracy?

How easy the transformation from criminal to legal when meanings are reconfigured to align with axiomatic cultural logic. ‘Church and State’ has been replaced by a new, double helix entanglement: Corp. and State.

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Truth and Trust

Compelling memories of something I am sure happened to me—there was little doubt because the recollections were so vivid and detailed—have proven to be wrong. My memories inaccurately conferred a reality to my experience that was false. I know my memory was faulty because others, who were privy to relevant information, informed me I was wrong. The reason for these errors was that, while I may have vividly recalled the particulars of an experience, I failed to remember the context of it; whether somebody told me it, I thought it, or I dreamed it. We can ascertain the veracity of our recollections by consulting independent sources to confirm if, in fact, it really occurred, and if it occurred as we remember it.

It is a bit disconcerting how convincing our sense of truth can be, how real it seems, and how wrong we can be. Trusting our experience, exclusively, can lead us astray. Ascertaining truth requires additional, independent corroboration. Of course, this is not always possible, and of course, we need not doubt every memory. But the possibility of these misattributions alerts us to the need, when circumstances arise, to trust other sources to confirm the reality of a situation.

The relation between truth and trust runs much deeper than the veracity of our personal memories. It is the foundation of virtually everything. Is the earth flat? A surprising number believe that it is, indeed, flat. Why? Because they do not trust the sources of the information that support this truth. They rely on direct, personal experience, which reveals that the earth is obviously flat, as anyone reasonable person who has observed the sunrise or sunset over the straight-edged horizon can attest. 

Why should we believe otherwise? Most of us do so because a large body of scientific knowledge, astute deductions, and many practical activities (i.e., oceanic shipping, air travel, etc.) proves otherwise. We trust other sources of truth outside our own immediate experience. But what if we don’t trust them? After all, most of us are not scientists and would be hard pressed to provide the facts proving the earth “round”. Even if we could, the argument would rely on secondhand information; facts that we, ourselves, have not directly collected but derived from trusted sources.

Is global warming occurring? Doubts arise when the supporting sources for this conclusion, scientific evidence, are challenged or dismissed. Many believe that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by liberal elites. If the sources are not believed, then these doubts are not eliminated by simply providing more facts. If a single individual, with little cultural authority, disbelieves, they may be considered misinformed, misguided, or perhaps, delusional. If disbelief is voiced by someone with cultural authority, like the President, or groups with access to cultural power, like the Koch brothers, Mobile Oil, or Arch Coal, then the source of the facts becomes the focus of dispute and the argument turns, not of facts, but on, “Who do you trust?”. And “Who do you trust?” turns, not on facts, but who we believe will protect us, understands us, shares our values and our moral universe.1 2

When not only critical scientific findings are challenged, but the foundational sources of a culture’s authority, embodied in fundamental institutions—-those governing order and law (Department of Justice and Federal courts), managing our fiscal integrity and security (Federal Reserve and Security and Exchange Commission), protecting our collective security (FBI and CIA), insuring food and water safety (Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency), and providing disaster warning and assistance (National Weather Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency)—-then we face a deep, ruinous crisis of faith.3 When these sources are challenged by a leader with the cultural power to hold sway, then the leader can become the oracle of truth and the savior of a nation in tumultuous times.

If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

Puzzlement, and condescension, often occurs over how an entire culture, especially a highly educated one like the Germans, can come under the sway of a despot; be swept into in a collective delusional frenzy of madness and violence resulting in an epic, world-wide catastrophe. How can this possibly happen?  We Americans, champions our own exceptionalism, are experiencing how.

Between Sunlight and Darkness

We find ourselves in the place where the life-giving source of all, the sun, appears daily, yet we cannot bear to look at it for more than a few heartbeats; a truth so strong that it blinds. We are also shadowed by the event that will end our existence, forever. Death. There is no escape. It will happen, and could happen, any moment, without warning, looming over us—the promise of no-more.

We carry on as if these elemental, pressing weights do not exist. We live a dream, travel along our everyday paths, oblivious to these existential truths, elevating the mundane to pseudo-cosmic significance. The soporific effects of habit and routine confers regularity, familiarity, and banality to our daily round. We do not do this alone. We are born into the ready-made world of culture that confers established meanings, practices, rituals and rites to stabilize the flux. These group habits, which exist before and beyond any single individual, provide comfort and assurance that our world is mastered, that all can be explained, that there is ground beneath our feet. The rhythmic incantations of habit and culture arrest time, confer predictability, and provide a home in an uncanny universe. Our eyes are diverted from the blinding light of being, and death is forestalled, moved to the cheap seats in the balcony, while we play-out our predictable days. And this must be so, for to be alive to the truth of existence with every tic-tock would be a frenzied, paralyzing, madness.

But our burden, and our gift, is that we can be aware of our plight. We grasp the fundamental truths of our existence in a primordial way: fright, anxiety, angst, as well as wonderment, awe and bewilderment. These are the wellsprings that urge us, compel us to find our way between sunshine and darkness. Bestowed with consciousness, we are creatures of the in-between. It is terrifying and thrilling. Our challenge: to avoid being pulled beneath the waves by the under-toe of habit; keeping our heads above the surface so that we may sing our song, reveling in finding ourselves here, now, alive in the jaws and splendor of life.

Haiku Potpourri

summersaults, baseball, balloons
gravity
at play

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in sleep
she mumbles
my name

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old records
familiar tunes
songs from the dead

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...hea...mur...rt...mur...

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3 AM hard rain
beats on the roof
of my brain

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city rhythms
horns, sirens, shouts
urban rap

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blown from their perch
autumn leaves
dance1

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summer solstice
empty classrooms
thresholds

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privileged 
to observe
my decline

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eclipsed sun
stars appear
aging

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