notes from occupy: 2011

 

I sat on this for long time, because I was frankly embarrassed by some of my conclusions and loss of objectivity during the heyday of the occupy movement.  Looking at it again, there is a lot of merit in the theoretical side, so I’ve decided to let it out.  Try to appreciate my flawed predictions from the time, and I’ll bookend this from my current perspective with new podcast sometime soon.

Podcast page HERE

Direct download: OCV2011.mp3

two years since my last released recordings? yup.

Forgetting to Remember

If nothing else, this site and all the work on it, serves a very important purpose: it is a snapshot of my mind at its best and worst moments, all my best ideas and best thinking preserved, in some kind of context, a kind of a lifeline to lead me back out of the occasional blind alley. I suppose that is one of the points of having a journal in the first place. Even deeper though, I have come to think of this place as a concrete manifestation of a guiding spirit. It is odd to be able to go back and hear my own voice telling me things I ought to know, and once did, but forgot.

If human history were just a matter of us learning things once and moving on, of a painfully slow yet incremental and one way ascent into the light of understanding, things would be drastically different for all of us. But of course, they are not that way at all. We receive lessons, then forget them, then struggle bitterly to win them back again, time and time and time again, until the world around us bears enough marks of the lessons that they become burnt into the very landscape, and we simply live in the space that has been carved out, whether we have ourselves actually understood anything or not. In a very real sense, it is not people who learn, but the world. It is the lessons embedded in the world that shape our behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you understand how cars work, how electricity is generated, why slavery and child labour are immoral. Those lessons are carved into the social economic and even physical landscape. You are surrounded by cars, you use electricity and there are no slaves. Similarly, it doesn’t really matter how often you think you understand something, it isn’t until you reprogram the environment, that your actual behaviour changes in a lasting way. We are only weakly creatures of rationality, and very strongly creatures of instinct and habit. the best use of our fleeting rational faculties, of our transient willpower, is to change the world around us, to make into a manifestation of understanding. To make the world into an extended mind. Our guiding spirit.

Once you begin to see this, it is utterly clear why few positive changes get much traction, and what does happen appears often to be utterly inexplicable or orthogonal to our intentions. If all you do is think of choice and action, and the childish democratic calculus of getting everyone to think the same ideas as the only way to improve our situation, you will miss the way the manifest conditions override even the largest electorates. Millions of people protest the second iraq war before it even starts, net effect? Zero. Design a cellphone cheap enough that everyone on earth can own one? Sooner or later everyone will.

Philosophically speaking, I am closer and closer to be a thoroughgoing monist: whatever is going on here is all one thing, one fundamental substance. There is no point talking about matter and mind as separate things. In a very real sense, if you want to change enough minds, and it’s abundantly clear that is what we need to do, then it’s all about moving the right kind of material stuff around in a way that our collective extended mind has finally learned something in a way that sticks. Instead of letting ourselves get lost in mere rhetoric about justice, peace, freedom and evolution, while embedded in the material assumptions of corruption, warfare, coercion and stagnation, maybe we should struggle always to remember that justice will only be guaranteed when injustice becomes physically impossible. We should remember to ask ourselves what a manifest justice looks like, the same way we are often asked to visualise a ‘free market’.  We should remember to ask what we look like in the mirror when our lessons are written in our very flesh, and the world itself has been transformed into our guiding spirit. The ‘true will’ only matters if it strong enough, for just a moment, to move us closer to that.

broken links II

 

so, continuing the theme of wayward links and sundry fellow travellers, it’s good to consider the dimension which we might call ‘spiritual’, which I increasingly think is an obscurantist and unhelpful term and perspective, or the meditative/cognitive, which is not tremendously better, but at least more clear. As a ridiculously quick yet at least somewhat cogent aside, the more I study western philosophy, the more I get the horrible sensation that a lot of the western discourse on enlightenment, as imported in the form of buddhism or vedanta, is badly recapitulating the work of early modern philosophers like david hume, and getting utterly mired in the ditch of metaphysics and cognitively meaningless gibberish. I defy anyone to read something like hume’s treatise of human nature alongside almost any enlightenment text you care to name, and see which one describes our moment to moment experience more clearly. Much of what’s being peddled out there, is the would-be enlightened getting lost in the weeds of what are known as the corruptions of insight. From Plato on down, western culture has been grappling with questions more devastatingly real and obvious than most gurus or teachers would dare tell you, we just don’t do it consciously that much.

Which I suppose actually leads me back on track, because what I wanted to talk about was the toll taken in the form of what I will call ‘insight casualties’ to coin another category to go with our ‘doomer fatigue’ from last time. In some ways they are actually sides of the same coin. If they are not the same thing, they are at least closely related. Insight casualties are more from introspection than outward premonitions of doom, and tend to follow a characterstic pattern best described in the stages of insight of vipassana, but appear in similar forms in many traditions, even something as banal as kubler-ross’s stages of grieving. It’s about how the mind processes and eventually transcends identification and loss of identification with its own contents, or all of our experience basically. The doomer tends to experience this as outward instability and the insight casualty as inward destabilization of the sense of self. One can easily see how these can go together and often do. The main difference is that doomers are often at least partly grounded in a hard analysis of objective facts, and this is what brings on the distress, while the insight afflicted get into trouble from a reflective self-observation that many doomers will simply lack.

The other main difference with the insight casualty is that there is an explicit exit to this situation, or at least, periodic exits that come from fruitions, paths, or peak enlightenment experiences. That is, if your practice is well-articulated enough for you to find the exit, which it frequently isn’t, often for the reasons I’ve described above. I cannot tell you how many chronic dark night meditators are wandering down blind alleys of impenetrable bullshit and deepening in the identity of spiritual basket case, or even worse, projecting their inner disorientation and distress onto the world, but it’s a lot. There is the odd person who manages to find their way out of this rat maze and if their internet presence was tied into their period of rat-mazery, one can easily see why these folks would just as soon drop that shit and move on. So whether you’re up and out or down in the ditch and simply non functional, I’m willing to bet this accounts for more than a couple missing voices. Since some of these I would consider my friends and collaborators, I will tactfully not name names, but you know who you are, and you probably even know which category you’re in, better than I do, anyway.

broken links I

freshening up my page today, and updating my blogroll, and realizing that the whys and wherefores of that constitute some interesting stories in and of themselves. If I mean to continue, then it helps to reflect on why some of my peers and influences don’t, can’t, or simply change. It’s good to internalise feedback and the lessons of others, and several years into the initiatory crisis that more and more looks to be mutating into an open-ended crisis transition-to-nowhere , there’s more than enough room for some tweaking of assumptions and course corrections.

More than anything, the toll taken in my little corner of the blogosphere is down to what I have come to think of as doomer fatigue. Seeing one sickening lurch into the abyss after another, from 911, to katrina, to bush’s second term, to 100$/barrel oil, to the 2008 market crash, and now the parade of helplessness and absurdity of the obama years, deepwater horizon, fukishima, endless churning chaos in the euro zone, the breaking upon the rocks of occupy, soon to give way to the Mormon yoke of Mittens Romney in the US, inevitable default of some kind in europe, and the ongoing reign of a tinpot thug with all the personality of a plastic doll in canada, PM stephen harper ( imagine bush, but even more of a blatant oil crony, and even less of an interesting target for ridicule)… but the fabric never quite rips completely, and the ongoing nervous exhaustion of hoping/wondering/fearing what’s next just burns people out from both ends and the middle. There’re sound technical reasons why the real life crisis never seems to quite match one’s intuitions about it, and sound reasons why few people ever assimilate the perspective needed for the long game. For a lot of people this genre of analysis is a kind of escapism, wish fulfilment, or ongoing bellows for rage and misanthropy, and making it your daily bread with no real outlet or catharsis is eventually toxic. It exposes some very dark and twisted things in certain personalties and even if you can keep your own demons at bay, seeing lots of others who can’t takes its own kind of toll, as does the other end of the spectrum which is blatant denial of what is going on, for lack of insight or a adequate attention span. I have had enough of people who are actually waiting on the crash of the global industrial economy and the ensuing mass starvation of 75% of the human race, just as I have had enough of picking over the gothic horror show of failed institutions pretending they can still do something, to maintain their illusion of legitimacy.

matt savinar, creator of the life after the oil crash website really kicked a lot of my thinking off on these subjects, but his last nerve eventually gave out under the parasitic needs of chronic doomer headcases, and now he’s made his peace and preparations, folded up shop and is evidently doing astrology, of all bloody things. He’s either lost his shit completely, or gone somewhere I cannot follow. Godspeed.

jeff wells of rigorous intuition is probably the biggest influence on my style of writing. he likes to tell a scary story, in an interesting way. Alas, he never learned the secret of magick: write your stories carefully, because they might eat you. At least have an exit hatch from your reality tunnel. wells doesn’t seem to have one, and his audience never rose to the task, sadly, and he has mostly gone under the waves. This kind of writing is like tibetan buddhism: you need to be able to bind demons and turn them into benevolent spirits. Nobody can pull you back out of that hole against your will, once you’ve gone in.

There’s an interesting kind of thing that happens when you develop a large disconnect between people’s psychic condition, and the environment they live in. I talked before about ‘the psychic apocalypse’ that has to precede the temporal one, the kind of revolution of the mind that has to take place before upheavals in the physical world take hold. I think you have increasingly large numbers of people cluing in that the, for lack of a better word, psychological moorings of our civilization have been terminally compromised. But when the outer world doesn’t reflect your inner condition, when you see this weird aimlessness and blithe accommodation to stagnation and ruin everywhere, and no sense that anything can or will or even needs to happen…this can fuck up your mind.

The flipside would be hysterical optimists, particularly of the techno variety. The thing to always remember, and I have failed to do this a number of times, is that all trends occur in a whole system. Peak oil, moore’s law, the maps of insight progress, the kabbalistic tree of life, climate ‘change’, whatever, these all are subject to various negative feedbacks, because a system could only sustain itself if runaway positive feedback loops didn’t blow the whole thing apart during its formation. A runaway train is not a system, at least not for long. Whole systems require homoeostasis, and homoeostasis requires buffers, sinks, and negative feedbacks to dampen accelerating positive feedbacks before they explode or plunge the system into chaos. This explains why we are unlikely to accelerate straight into a singularity, nor dive directly into the maw of malthusian hell as we traverse hubbert’s curve. What’s interesting to consider is how much things can actually change without triggering negative feedbacks or overwhelming the buffers altogether and flipping over into some new condition. I spent a day or two thinking that ‘the singularity’ is not likely to refer to some godlike AI tipping over the applecart of human history, but rather the point where the planet becomes essentially a telepathic hivemind stitched together out of ultracheap mobile devices and ubiquitous computers of other sorts, powered by little more than background radiowave radiation. What does a singularity of social media look like? I think we are basically living it. Pretty soon the phones will be smarter than you are, if not singly, than collectively. Think about it. That by itself, combined with the fact that these things will be running on almost no power at all, tells me that we will never see the deleted scenes from ‘The Road’. The function of information in evolutionary terms is that it makes energy expenditure more efficient and forestalls entropy. That level of ubiquitous information transfer and connectivity will be the king buffer of them all against system disruption due to resource depletion and at the same time a driver for changes we cannot really forsee from here.

basically, extreme optimism and pessimism are not adequate to the level of weirdness we are likely to see. They are ways to not grapple with the real issues at work. I have no time for that anymore.

to be continued…

The Next Right Thing

I didn’t notice the flag behind me at the time

I wanted to dust things off a bit and get my writing muscles going again, if for no other reason that to get ready for school again, more  on that later: I do frequently think about doing things for the site, I have ideas for new podcasts, quite of lot of new meditative insights, a number of changes to keep people updated on, and clearly the world situation and our ongoing march into the crisis narrative has a lot to it that can be spoken of.

In large part I worry I may have succumbed to the general disorientation, fecklessness and helplessness that appears to have infected almost every aspect of social discourse and people’s attitudes to it, and expressed itself most acutely in the sad spectacle of the occupy movement, so I’m making a conscious effort to shake off my ambivalence about engagement with these issues, at least long enough to check in with my audience. gotta start somewhere, so I’ll just uncork the bottle and see what comes out. Bound to have few posts in me this month.

From the top: My plans to follow up on the hunger strike for economic justice were sort of pre-empted by the explosion of the occupy movement last autumn. People have sometimes asked me to talk about my ocuppy experience in more depth, and hopefully this will be a small start in that area.  I mean, I certainly cannot take the slightest shred of credit for kicking off a global backlash against economic and political corruption, but I can least be gratified I was still a couple months ahead of the zeitgiest on that one, and maybe helped to seed the public mind, at least in my neck of the woods. The odd timing is an ongoing source of bemusement to me, I assure you.

I just got finished last summer trying to launch a thoughtful public dialogue about resource distribution and the necessity of moral progress in this area, and suddenly thousands of people are marching the streets to this very tune. And yet I could not for the life of me get any of these ‘general assemblies’ to engage in any substantive political dialogue, let alone converge around actual action points with any mass traction.  the whole thing devolved into a nightmare of orwellian ‘consensus’, politcally correct censorship masquerading as ‘inclusiveness’, explosive outbursts of barely disguised Oedipal  rage at the authorities and each other, and a general inability to think coherently about anything besides nebulous affirmations of good feelings and the importance of a utopian commune in the public square. If it sounds like bad comedy, sort of a reprise of Ariostophanes Clouds, but with more urine flinging and Reiki priestesses, that because it was and is.  If it sounds like I am bitterly disappointed, particularly now that it is clear the mass upsurge died on its ass last summer and won’t be back this year, that’s because I am. Maybe I’m wrong, but if the the people I met are anywhere near as shocked and disgusted as I am about the state of mass movements in the 21st century, I don’t think I will be.

I think the failure of mass movements in this setting are a sign of state power reaching diminishing returns.  The tea party lunatics probably seized the last real window to hijack the political system for their agenda, and even they have not amounted to much, except for increasing the rate of stagnation and ruin in the political and economic spheres. Mass movements generally work by applying pressure on institutions, which only works if the institutions are actually capable of doing anything. However most of the institutions in question are essentially bankrupt along every axis; financially, ideologically, morally, you name it. Applying pressure to these structures right now will only cause them to fracture and devolve into less and less useful forms. You go out into the street to protest bankers and fight austerity, they ignore you, toss out your elected officials and replace them with banker technocrats, tighten austerity and proceed to the next bailout. Think I’m exaggerating? Look at Greece.

You try to change the dialogue, it changes right back, and stupider than before. You try to educate people and build political consciousness, you get called out for being a shill of the united nations, an intelligence agent, a malthusian, heckled for being a white male, shouted down by angry homeless people, chastised by decrepit old hippies, drowned out by drum circles. You want to involve unions, teachers, nurses, working people, and debtors, and they get alienated by hitler quotations, child porn, and chemtrail enthusiasts… and all that’s before the media and the cops go to work on you. Decades of culture war have rendered us into the psychic equivalent of child soldiers in uganda: fucked in the head and shooting each other for no good reason.  Alex Jones is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture. Fuck me, Joseph Kony is the Joseph Kony of the western activist counter-culture, as I found to my dismay on campus this year. Are people really only noticing this now?

Something else needs to happen. And what is that you may ask? The state knew it was hitting a wall decades ago, that is why they keep trying to unload everything onto ‘the market’, but as of 2008, ‘the market’ has hit its own wall. The brits are now being fed the next thing which is called The Big Society, which is more or less a code word for ‘you’re on your own’. Cue London Riots. Fingers crossed that open source, superempowerment ala John Robb, network culture, fab labs, and radical consciousness change will pull a rabbit out of the hat. More and more it’s looking like the good old bottleneck at the end of history. Except there is no end, and nowhere to go for there to be a bottleneck to, only a webwork of chasms opening up between those of us who actually want to understand what is going on and do something about it, and those who just want it all to go the fuck away.

One mustn’t underestimate the death instinct; the part of us that wants to destroy itself and everything around us, rather than deal with guilt, shame, despair, anger and the failure to deal with responsibility. You gather people together in the name of ‘consensus’ and they end up hating each others guts and agreeing on nothing at all, because they’re all too involved in their own solipsist bullshit. This is the way the world ends. Yeah you got hurt. Join the fucking club. the solution is not to get the entire world to acknowledge and share your pain. If we need group therapy for everyone before we can feed and house the poor, we might as well fold up the world now and and go home.

Sometimes the apocalypse can look better than admitting you were wrong, working hard to be better, swallowing your pride, and facing that there are precious few magic bullets and tipping points in life. If you want to be fit you have to watch what you eat and exercise every day. If you want to live in a better world, you have to think hard about the next right thing, and do it, every day. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. There is nothing else.

Personal Organismic Resiliency: -or how to stay healthy while the world goes to hell -Part 4

Psychology, or;  Keeping the Mind Alive

The Hard Swallow

I will not mince any words: things are bad. Objectively. They are probably worse than most of you know, or could bear to know. Every system that we rely upon to maintain a safe, ordered and livable world is in crisis. What’s more, nothing is being done about any of it, at anything like the scale needed to make any headway on these problems. The best you can ask for right now is that a few million hopeful gestures might add up to more than just hopeful gestures.

Does anyone think that the institutions of society, at any level, are going to somehow untangle their organizational failure enough to do what they are elected and appointed to do? No, I don’t think so either. Not until things get a lot worse than they are, and maybe not even then. The activist situation ‘on the ground’ is not appreciably better either. My close up experience with the occupy movement shows that while there are large numbers of people willing to become engaged with issues in a meaningful way, the well of social discourse has been so poisoned and polarized by decades of culture war that even there, the only things that can be agreed upon are nebulous affirmations of good feelings, and, perversely, that things are also really fucked up. This is as good as it gets right now, unless you happen to be a builder/hacker/innovator of some kind, and then you have the privilege of standing around with perfectly good ideas that cannot get any lasting traction in a toxic environment of meandering social dysfunction and calamity.

I do not say this to make you feel worse. Quite the opposite, I do this to point out the necessary condition for you to begin to feel better. It is a relatively recent historical phenomena for standards of living and social complexity, let alone moral progress and reason, to predictably increase for any length of time. Many of us grew up/are growing up in the tail end of a period where things were ‘getting better’, and so it was relatively easy to feel good about the world and yourself in it, just by looking around, even if that looking was rather selective in its scope.

That option of general optimism, however, is no longer on the table, and it is time to dust off some very old facts of life: sometimes shit happens. In fact, shit is usually what happens, and if you hitch your psychological well being to that, you might as well just check out now. Working ( and I mean ‘working’ in a way that is probably a bit foreign to most of you) to survive is going to be the new normal, and that’s just how it is. Being happy and healthy in your mind, is going to have to be a subjective matter, or it won’t be on the table at all. If you’re looking for the return of social optimism, ‘market growth’, political progress, reasoned discourse, accountability, safety and certainty, then my friend, I fear you are simply out of luck. Your ancestors knew that life was inherently precarious. They had to have, or they wouldn’t have survived. Now you need to know it, too.

The good news is, we now understand more about how to actually be happy than we ever have, even if we don’t apply this knowledge very well. Knowing how to do something is not the same as actually doing it, of course. It has generally been simpler to trust the clergy,  buy some new shoes, watch tv, or smoke a fatty, than take responsibility for your psychological stability. You didn’t need to know how to do this, so you didn’t bother to learn and master it. Okay, fine. Now you do need to, so you better get on with it.

For simplicity’s sake, I will assume that you are not insane. If you are, or fear you might be, or you are simply so far down the road of neurosis and rampant social psychosis that you don’t feel able to engage your own psyche in a meaningful way, then you probably ought to contact a qualified professional to at least help you stabilize enough to do some of the things I am talking about. FYI, the success rate of freudian and jungian analysis, or psychiatric committal is pretty dismal, but that’s realistically the only way to access certain kinds of meds that will stabilize things like psychosis and schizophrenia. Better to go on your own terms than not. At the milder end, you’re better off with some manner of cognitive/behavioral therapy or some other variety of results-oriented treatment than will help you get yourself under control. At the mildest end, low grade depression and anxiety can be helped rather a lot through herbal remedies that won’t have potentially very bad side effects. Research carefully. If you can read my words without wildly hallucinating or going into psychotic rages, however, then chances are you can look at my recommendations and start to shift yourself in a more positive direction.

This perspective on psychological health is organized along three lines, in steps of increasing overall importance.

Positive Sensation

The fact is, you are a mind that is embodied in a network of nerve tissue, and that nerve tissue is there to receive signals from its environment. If the balance of those signals are painful, your mind will begin to withdraw from the environment, to escape pain. If,  due to unremitting pain, fear or anxiety, your mind withdraws too far from the senate world, then you are no longer functional. Further, inability to escape or relieve negative sensations, without any other mitigating factors, will progressively lead to mental and physical breakdown. This phenomena is easy to observe amongst the chronically injured or ill, or even the advanced elderly to some degree. Yes, people cope with constant stress, pain and fear, but they need a powerful reason to do so. Absent a powerful reason, you will die, or lose your mind.

Dealt with strictly on this lowest level then, psychological health is about creating and amplifying positive sensation, limiting negative sensation, and keeping the balance shifted as far in your favor as possible. When you feel good, purely on a sensate level, you can at least count on your body not to quit on you, and your mind not to retreat from reality, and sometimes that is as good as it gets.  This is what drives a lot of drug use, for example, but the problem is drug use eventually takes on a life of its own, and isn’t helping you get by anymore. There are undoubtedly people who are reacting and will continue to react to social crisis by getting high, but this is not what I’m proposing as a long term solution, since anything that impairs your ability to engage the real world in a crisis is a non-starter.

From the outset, keep in mind that most of my earlier recommendations directed towards physical health also serve the dual purpose of warding off pain and thus warding off the erosion of mental stability that pain causes over time. Adopting a good strategy towards physical health is also much of the way towards a strategy for psychological health as well. We will build upon that.

The body is to a large degree a mechanism for accumulating and discharging tension. You experience the discharge of tension as pleasure, unless you are conditioned in a fairly unusual way, which some people in fact are, but this is not average. So, the best and most sustainable way to give yourself positive sensation is to afford yourself opportunity for discharge of tension, as often and as completely as possible. Things like hot baths and showers, physical idleness and relaxation, sexual activity, recreational physical exertion, massage, or, at the exotic end, bliss states from skill in meditation, all healthily serve this function to greater or lesser degree. We often categorize these things as luxuries, but I suggest you make a certain amount of positive physical sensation a priority both now, and in difficult times. Learning a bit of acupressure and therapeutic massage is a very sustainable and low maintenance way of going about this, and also will help keep you physically functional if you learn how to address sprains, bruises, and other low grade muscular-skeletal complaints. It is also a pleasurable social activity that doesn’t have all the possible gender connotations and emotional baggage of sexual intercourse, which is probably most people’s go-to form of discharge, but may not be workable in a number of different crisis scenarios.

Mental Engagement

The simplest way to express this is ‘not being bored’, which right off the bat tells you that most people are failing this a lot of the time. The same way the body atrophies from lack of activity, the mind deteriorates from not getting things to do that command your full attention.

The low end of mental engagement is simply being distracted. Any novel situations and information will function as that, so social interaction or surfing the internet are  how most people manage the mental engagement issue. This is pretty weak nourishment, because mental engagement only really takes off when we are using our capacities at or near their full extent, and most people do not pick friends on the basis of being challenged and pushed to evolve their limits, nor do they surf the internet in anything other than the repetitive browsing fashion of an ungulate animal. In uncertain times, of course, one cannot even be sure of ‘hanging out’ with friends, let alone hitting boing boing for the latest tidbit. This is compounded by the likely prospect of having to do a lot of repetitive, arduous, yet necessary, tasks to maintain your existence, like intensive gardening, maintenance to home and household items, or just plain foraging around.

Boredom dilates the experience of time, and doing monotonous  things in a boring way under conditions of dilated time will gradually erode your psychological condition in a similar way to outright negative sensations like pain and fear. Conversely, high levels of mental engagement can almost erase your awareness of time passing altogether, in addition to being inherently pleasant in and of itself, and psychologically salutary. This is what is often referred to as ‘flow’, and is nothing more than using your competencies at a high enough level to stay interested, but not so high you are at risk of catastrophic failure. It is in this narrow band or ‘zone’ that the mind operates in an optimum way.

The most consistent way of approaching this is to first of all have a good idea of what your skills and strengths actually are, the things in which you can operate at a fairly high level without undue effort, and then to shape your daily activities in such a way as to use your strengths as much as possible.

I suggest you take a loose view of what is a strength, in this sense, as to fit it to the greatest number of possible activities. One of the benefits of a large complex society is the division of labour which lets more people fit themselves to their strengths than they might otherwise, but you cannot count on being able to survive a social crisis by making ornamental candles or writing star trek fan fiction on a google adwords site. You might however apply the same skills to making ordinary candles, or other related practical craft items, or break the different steps into their applicable areas and afford yourself more mental engagement that way, or find ways to apply your imagination, creativity and writing skills to something that serves some survival purpose. Failing all that, which you may well, you can keep your hobbies in reserve for down time to get at least some of the psychological benefits of flow states.

Looked at from the other end, the more you learn how to involve your mind and become interested in what you end up having to do, the less it will seem like a burden. There is a certain zen that can be found in austerity, simplicity, humbleness… chopping wood, carrying water, right? The more you can fit your mind to your circumstances, instead of rebelling, then the more engaged your mind will be, and the healthier and saner you will stay. Which is not to say that you should accept your circumstances, however benighted, but even working to improve your situation will involve a lot of things your aren’t used to doing or all that interested in, necessarily. The better you can absorb yourself in the grunt work of stabilizing your daily living, the less it will seem like grunt work at all.

Meaning and Purpose

Positive sensation and mental engagement are both beneficial to the mind, but there is really only one essential thing the mind actually needs in and of itself, and that is meaning. In the broadest sense, meaning is the ability to discern ordered patterns in the world, to make sense out of what is happening to you, to see a reason and purpose in what is going on, to feel like you understand what life is, and why it is what it is, not just in some abstract sense, but from day to day, moment to moment.

One mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that all meaning is good. It often is not, but the point is that it’s there. Even if your understanding of life and world is that it is all pain and suffering to be endured, you will endure it, if there’s a reason for you to. It is the reason that makes the difference. Imagine a life of pain and suffering that had no purpose, no escape, no reward, no redemption. Such a life would be extremely short, simply because the mind would reject purposeless meaningless pain, and would find a way to die. Simple as that. But as I’m sure you well know, people endure the most horrific circumstances on the strength of the thinnest threads of hope, and that is all a matter of finding something meaningful to hang onto.

The mechanism behind all this, if you care, is basically that not being able to understand your environment well enough to succeed, escape pain, make discernible progress, or assume even the most minimal control induces depression, progressive biological shutdown, and death. Perhaps you have heard of the ghastly experiments where lab animals were subjected to arbitrary punishments with no way to escape  and no discernible pattern. Eventually they just lay down and take the punishment until they die, because their brains simply can’t figure a way out of it, or see that there even is one. You are not that different.

Meaning is a big deal, and what it comes down to is understanding what is going on, and seeing a point to going on with it. It is easy to lose track of what is really meaningful to us, in the blizzard of distraction, consumerism, superficial sensation and polished inauthenticity that passes for ‘culture’, but my whole point at the beginning was that culture is not your friend right now, and even at the best of times, it isn’t very good quality meaning. The best kind comes from within, is measured from within, and sustained from within. Relying on the world to explain itself to you, to reassure you of your success, to provide you with achievable goals and ways of meeting them, is setting yourself up for grave disappointment, especially in times like these.

There are literally as many ways to have a meaningful life as there are people, but the best ones are about something that transcends your own limited and selfish perspectives. The love for others is classic. Specific people is good, humanity in general is better. Unconditional love for the world is about as good as it gets, for three specific reasons:

-it is entirely self generated

-it is independent of changing external conditions

-it is concerned with giving, not taking, and so is not tied into the success or failure of your ego.

To whatever degree your meaning incorporates those three features, to that degree your meaning will be more durable, and to that degree you will find a way to keep going when things look bleak.

Postscript

We don’t get to know how things will be, we just have to take the ride and see for ourselves. One thing is for sure; the world may not be going good places right now, but the only way it ever will is if enough people of good will remain to guide it there, which is why you need to take care of yourself. It is natural to look at things now and feel sad, sick, angry and overwhelmed. But our ancestors walked naked across the desert, huddled in glacial caves, struggled with millennia of the most abject ignorance and fear, threw off monarchy, slavery, human sacrifice, pharonic death cults, genocide, and plagues or disasters beyond number. They made it, so can you. I firmly believe that everyone, in their psychological growth, must sooner or later come to terms with the fact that living only for yourself is a doomed endeavor, and the shortest road to madness. Despair is just, at the end of the day, another kind of self destructive egotism. You have no right to give up on yourself, or anyone else, when the mind contains all possibilities. No one can ever open that door for you, but the door is there.

Personal Organismic Resiliency: -or how to stay healthy while the world goes to hell -Part 3

pretty cursory overview, then we’ll wrap up with psychology next time-

Hygene:

This is a blanket heading that deals with a number of things that can loosely be described as ‘pathogenic’ in your environment. Toxic chemicals, bacteria and fungi, and some of the side effects of same.

We are in constant battle with microorganisms. They live on our skin, on surfaces, in our bodies, in our food and water, in the nooks and crannies of our homes, and we maintain a very delicate balance with these things that is very easy to upset, and would have dire consequences, if not for the huge infrastructure and weight of consumer products designed to protect us from things like giardia, toxoplasmosis, ringworm, hanta virus, dental carries, or simple infection of trivial wounds, which in prior ages often led to septicemia, gangrene and death. It is water purification, penicillin, bathing with soap, ammonia and bleach, doing laundry, flushing toilets, and brushing with fluoride toothpaste that keeps most of this at bay. Don’t take it for granted, because it may not always be there. It’d be pretty stupid to have your stored food and your community support group in place during an economic collapse, then die from stepping on a nail, or an abscessed tooth that closes off your windpipe, or contracting some hideous parasite from your ‘organic’ vegetables.

Half the solution is making sure you have the simple and cheap amenities to manage these problems. The other half is USING them, which a lot of you don’t even do now. If things get out of hand now, it’s easy to thump the difficulty with some prescription or a visit to a professional and consider yourself chastened. Not so when life gets turned upside down and you don’t have a job, the shelves aren’t being stocked, the care delivery infrastructure isn’t being funded anymore,  or the whole shebang is just being overloaded by sudden catastrophe.

So: things you need to be doing now-

Brush your teeth. At least twice a day. I carry a kit with me to school and do it during the day. At the very least, rinse your mouth out with water after eating or drinking something with sugar in it. Floss daily as well. These little jobbies are cheap, durable, and quite easy to use. 

 

You can even re-use them for a while if you absolutely need to. Invest in any deferred dental care you might have piled up. It may be scary and expensive, but not as scary as it will be when the dude next door is yanking your wisdom teeth with a leatherman and nothing but an icepack for anesthetic.  Untended teeth are basically ticking time bombs in your head if things break down in society, and while it’s easy to save toothpaste and floss, dental surgeons aren’t likely to be readily available.

Keep your skin and hair and clothes clean. I assume most of you shower or bathe or do laundry on something like a regular basis, but it can’t hurt to emphasize that bad things multiply on your body if you don’t keep it relatively clean. Things like scabies mites or head lice are an absolute nightmare, and they multiply rapidly in groups of people with bad hygiene. Bacteria and viruses spread in large part from people who fail to wash their hands regularly. Do your part to keep them under control. At a bare minimum, if you lose access to running water or soap, you can trim your hair as short as possible, keep your hands relatively clean with soap substitutes, or just wear gloves, and air out your clothes, rinse them in running water or partially disinfect them with UV light on sunny days. You only need to contract a fungal infection on your skin once to understand the importance of staying somewhat clean and dry. This will also reduce the risk of infected wounds from just being generally dirty.

As far as toxins go, this is mostly a matter of education and prevention. The body is pretty good at handling low levels of poisoning as long as it isn’t overtaxed. A cleansing fast or some herbs like milk thistle to clean your liver will shore you up in this area. Long term low level toxicity from food additives usually shows up in autoimmune disorders like allergies, food sensitivites, or in general lethargy. In my experience, dark circles under the eyes are a good indicator that your liver and kidneys are being overtaxed in some way. Water intake will help, as well as herbs, cleansing and elimination of problem items from the diet. If you really screw up and have to cope with heavy metal poisoning or major toxic exposure, and there’s no help in sight, eating activated carbon, milk thistle, or bentontie clay is about all you can do to mop these things up, or draw them out of the body.

Wash things that grow in and on the ground before you eat them. Fruits and veggies that flower more than a couple feet up are okay, but anything else needs to be washed in the sink, with a few drops of plain chlorine bleach ( the same kind you would use to disinfect drinking water) or some food grade hydrogen peroxide. There’s just too many things in the dirt, or in animal droppings ( especially urban cats or raccoons ) to take the chance. You do not want flukes, worms, amoebas, nematodes, bacteria or viruses taking up residence in your body by way of your organic garden. There are actually some good points to industrial agriculture and pesticide spraying. Saves us having to worm ourselves a couple times a year, for instance. Never mind the odd chance of brain abscesses from toxoplasmosis. An ounce of prevention and all that…