In response to some post about leaving Facebook — because freedom of speech is not a small thing, I argued — someone asked, “Why not use Facebook as a tool to do some good? Yes Facebook sucks but used right, you can still do good in the world and do so for people you could otherwise never reach. Your Facebook experience is what you make it.”
The question opened a whole new level, beyond the defense of civil and human rights which I feel are essential to maintaining some dignity during the decline of this civilization. I answered that, to a certain degree he was right in saying that ‘concrete is what you make of it’, as the famous slogan goes. But then again we are also responsible for what we participate in (and therefore support). To that respect I recommended the works of Jerry Mander who in his book ‘In the Absence of the Sacred’ argued that you can, by far, not outbalance the negative effects of high tech by using it ‘to serve good’. He writes,
This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios […] We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. This is certainly true of automobiles, […] of television, […] and of electrical energy generation […] Most technologies are actually deployed in the manner that is most useful to the institutions that gain from their use; this may have nothing to do with public or planetary good. — Mander (1992), p73-4
It is profoundly naive for people who work to prevent planetary devastation to speak of the computer as if it were neutral; as if it were as useful for decentralization as it is to centralized development interests. Large institutions that seek the latter benefit far more than the do-gooders who plan to use computers for a high-tech jiu jitsu. It is only misunderstanding the big picture, and a certain conceit, that allows us to think any other way. Environmentalists, bioregionalists, and other progressive activists would be better off realizing that for all the little benefits they offer us, computers set our movements back. We ought to begin dealing with them as an urgent environmental and political issue in themselves. — Mander (1992), p69
Facebook has not been designed to serve the people, and the same goes for the internet as a whole. In the case of the former alternatives can be chosen. In the case of the latter only the return to real life, real communication, real communities, and real friends can stop the destruction that electronic data processing and instant telecommunication wreaks on our ability to connect to what is truly real. I don’t mean to say that, within the mess, there are no pearls to be found; of course there are. I am especially grateful to the people I met online or whose writings I found there, for their inspiration and the willingness to exchange ideas.
But all the evidence tells me that Jerry Mander was right: things are not getting any better. The system’s grip on the individual (not to speak of families, groups and whole societies) is clenching ever tighter. That the gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown wider than ever in history is an in-our-faces reality. What has any of the accessible-to-ordinary-people technologies done to stop or reverse it? What has posting, sharing, commenting, or liking on social media, especially Facebook, ever done but to help the rise of Cancel Culture which creates divisive bubbles of public opinion? Quite to the contrary, it became now obvious that the consciousness gap follows the same trajectory as its social, political and financial equivalents. 9/11, Corona, and now the Ukraine crisis are cases in point, if you needed any.
You may agree with me or not; either is okay to me. I don’t regard quitting as everyone’s duty. But all of this has been, since more than a decade, part and parcel of my written and lived critique of civilization. Now I’m just taking another, overdue, step on this path; a small, intermediary, technically insignificant but still somewhat difficult one — for all the reasons you suspect. I’m human, after all.
In the Absence of the Sacred. The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations, by Jerry Mander. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 1992 (pbk ed.)
With the massive censorship wave sweeping through social media I decided to move to safer places.
Find my video account with its brand new home-made Swabian comedy show on bitchute every fortnight, and enjoy, from now on, the latest English-language essays of my blog here, on this WordPress page. I also consider moving from fb to Diaspora.
I started blogging in July 2004, on 20six, moved to Livejournal in 2008 (‘Wüstenzeitung’), and again in 2010 to Blogspot (‘Mach was!?’). So “Canary’s Dead” is the fourth version. Along with 177 older articles all of your comments have been imported as well.
Let me know how you feel about the new look and which features you would like to see.
Having spent nearly three months in complete seclusion from the outside world, alongside a next-to-perfect disappearance of electronic communication channels for most of that period, I had a lot of time to think about, and feel into, the so-called Corona crisis. It was a time of intense joy over the increased quality of life, owed to civilization’s coming to an almost complete halt, and it was also a time of intense agony over what my growing understanding of the crisis brought to light, both in terms of outer truths and of the resurfacing of psychological traumas. In short, I shifted from ordinary grief via excited free-fall to deep fatigue followed by burning rage within a few weeks only.
As I haven’t been bombarded with the news as heavily as most of you were. I was enough at ease to ask questions and look for the answers in places that were not mediated, not agitated, not trying to pull me one way or another. When there was opportunity I also did some research, and I could draw from having witnessed first-hand the severe Influenza pandemic of 1996 during my service as a state-qualified geriatric nurse, when most of the personnel including myself got sick and seven inmates died before my eyes.
From the evidence I saw I came to a conclusion that not only positioned me on the side of the critics of the shoddy science behind the corona scare, but caused me to disobey orders.
What’s more – and this is my meta-critique to the situation – the factuality of the health threat becomes a side issue when regarded from a different angle.
I direct my hardline opposition to the Corona regime first and foremost against the fear-mongering, health-impeding, manipulative, cruel, out-of-proportion, brainwashing, dehumanizing, patronizing, authoritarian behaviour of media, governments and the people who regard themselves as their gate-keeping subjects, the Soap Police. I would sustain that opposition whether I believed in a serious health threat or denied it altogether. (I do neither.) What happens here – 8 bn people taken prisoners, many of them driven to the edge of existence if not actually killed, but kept from speaking their truth and exposed to psychological brutality – is outright WRONG and completely unacceptable to me, no matter the reason it happens for. This position is based on direct, lived experience, not on mediated information or hypothetical considerations. The outrage runs deep, for it has a valid foundation built from suffering and pain.
During those months, when anger gave me funny ideas, I wrote satirical pieces sharply attacking the regime: the incapability of allopathic medicine to understand life in any other way than mechanistically, the irrational fear of micro-organisms, the death-phobia, the permanent irradiation with disjointed factoids, the manufacturing of news, the total disregard for people’s needs, feelings and traditional understandings, or the pre-emptive surrender to the totalitarian order to shutting up anyone and everyone who showed even the slightest sign of disagreement. Where are those pieces? Am I going to substantiate my opinions and claims with official figures, scientific reports and case studies?
Well, apart from the quick note of last Monday – a few lines of concern and two links – I decided that first of all, we have spoken enough to that topic. For months all the other oh-so-important issues, from Russiagate to North Korea, from rising poverty to dying polar bears, have been drowned out completely, even in personal conversations and alternative media. I do not want to contribute to the craze by putting more fuel into the propaganda machine of either side. Let disagreements not come between us.
It’s time to re-discover our common humanity and the huge pile of pressing issues we need to look at right now.
And what about the bright sides of life – shall we explore whether they still exist?
Secondly, although I was tempted to respond to some of my friends’ postings and the judgmental accusations and authoritarian demands therein / thereunder, I decided to drop the matter altogether; I continue to take care not to comment on Corona-related issues, at least for the time being. I do have an opinion, and so does everyone else; so what? I speak up considering that others may have good reasons to come to different conclusions. This hurts only as long as one stays attached to one’s being right. Believe it or not, you have a better chance at convincing others of your views when you enter into an open exchange, allowing yourself to change in the course of it as well. Repression causes resistance. Always.
I do empathize with the utterance of concern in dedicated places. Those who feel the need for protection from Corona have a right to act accordingly and to discuss relevant topics without getting exposed to harassment, censorship or conversion attempts.
A gentle reminder to you, my dear friends, that, in my places and in my writings, I take the same liberty to express the truth I understand asyou do in yours.
And I won’t be stopped. It’s fine by me if you signal disagreement in response to my postings so long as it happens in a respectful way. But some of you need to ask themselves why they are jumping at my bringing up the topic, trying to prove me wrong, when they rarely ever cared to comment before. If you think I”m principally fighting for Corona truth you are mistaken. The central theme of my blog was – and continues to be – the problem of civilization, the wholesale destruction, the distorted reality, the mental sickness, and the trauma it causes, and the illusion of separation it is based upon. Whether we are discussing healthcare or governance or economics or arts or racism or language or climate collapse, the issue at hand serves always merely as a case study of that central theme, and the next good example is just one media hype away.
My credo though – whether explicitly or implicitly stated – remains the same throughout: this culture will eat the world alive and turn it into poisonous trash. By design it can neither be sustained nor reformed; it will end, and soon, taking most everything and everyone down with it. Those who are looking for sanity don’t empower it by listening to its voice, believing its media, letting themselves get scared into panic and then soothed by false hopes, craving its offers, buying its goods, working its chores, paying its bills, divorcing themselves from others along predetermined breaking lines, or by obeying orders; to no greater extent, at least, than necessary. This means, how to face the current situation – in which ever way you define it – should become more clear as you are listening quietly for an answer within yourself rather than from external sources, approved or not.
If you feel that you can’t stand what I’m saying, if you believe that certain views are dangerous and must never get expressed publicly you have not understood a single word of what I’ve been saying all those years.
You’ve been following or friending the wrong person all along. Do yourself a favour, take a conscious decision now, like that fellow Aurovilian did who – rather than questioning me face to face – unfriended and blocked me immediately after my one-off posting. He’s a wise man, knowing too well that I’m lost to the culture of make-believe. Saves us both some breath. In a few years it won’t matter any longer anyway.
Two negroes are taking a walk in the woods. Suddenly one of them exclaims, “Look, there’s a mushroom!” – “So what!?” says the mushroom.
Such runs a Sponti joke I’ve heard back at school; it stuck in my mind ever since. The absurdity of the described situation is hilarious as such, the choice of words is peculiar, and the multi-layered observation embedded in it is highly accurate. .
What is your immediate response to it? Are you taking offense by my using the n-word? Or do you see the underlying satirical remark on people pointing fingers at something that (or someone who) is disturbing their perceived state of normalcy? .
When I grew up in Germany’s seventies and eighties people would stand and stare at anyone and anything that seemed sort of off of what they were used to encounter: people of colour, long-haired men, bald-headed women, patchwork clothing, homeless folks, Turkish couples (her dressed in a chador or hijab, following two paces behind him), sports roadsters, wheelchair drivers, atheists, unmarried mothers, or two-headed cats, to name few typical examples. The Spontis – leftist political activists of the students’ and pupils’ movements in Germany who thought that spontaneity and humour were revolutionary elements – with their above-quoted joke pinpointed the discriminatory finger-pointing goggle-eyedness and threw it back at a blaming and shaming duplicitous society. “Everyone’s a stranger – somewhere,” the Spontis noted accurately. .
One would think that those times are over. But not only does discriminatory thought persist in backward countries like Japan where I – the tall blond long-haired stranger – got photographed and giggled at underhandedly on the Tokyo metro, and in India where I get invited to random people’s weddings or excluded from farmers’ meetings merely because I’m fair-skinned; the discrimination in our heads survived in Germany just as well as anywhere else. That it’s not showing as obviously today as it did in the seventies and eighties doesn’t mean a thing. What we are engaged in since the nineties are political correctness (pc) debates which in their mind-fucking sneakiness are far worse than the obvious separation and animosity of earlier decades. .
On the surface pc seems to address discrimination against others by shaming the use of certain vocabulary while underneath the emphasis on the right to be different crystallizes the specific phenomena of human existence – skin colours, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, nationalities and what not – into distinct identities such as politics, genders or races. For example, as pc does not address racism as such, merely its ways to express itself, a politically-correct racist simply takes over the new pc lingo for spewing hatred against people of colour. And thus we shift from nigger to negro to black to Afro to coloured to pigmented and so forth in a constant effort to evade the discussion we have to have in the overcoming of racism and xenophobia (as well as sexism, genderism, speciesism and other low-consciousness notions): that there is a focus on differences rather than similarities, that there is an arbitrariness to what marks someone as different, and – most significantly – that difference is perceived as unnatural or evil. .
The terms used for pc speech – which are really the same as those later-on used for discriminating against others – are subject to a self-perpetuating process called the euphemism treadmill. This means that whichever correct term is chosen for a person discriminated-against, it eventually turns into an insult, triggering the quest for a new pc term. .
The other day (sorry for being so day-istic) I have been writing a comment on one of my favorite topics, what makes wild communities generally work as compared to the multiple ever-increasing, ever-worsening problems that civilized societies experience. Both consist of human beings; almost everything else is different. With both populations being of the same species the traps of whether “human nature” exists and what it implies – the nature-vs-nurture debate – is irrelevant to the discussion. Me using the term “wild,” though, became an obstacle for people looking for a pc word pointing at the non-civilized. Someone argued that “wild” and “civilized” were the language of the European colonizer and that these words were discounting the deep wisdom and cultural sophistication of these “indigenous people,” as he called them. The whole notion of “wild” needed to be rethought after we found out that “jungles” like the Amazon, the Mayan heartlands or the North American west coast have actually been food forests, carefully stewarded lands at the time of European conquest. .
Those were careful considerations, but like so many post-modern thoughts they have not been mindful of the difference between judgmental discriminatory dominator language and distinctions consciously introduced for communicative or research purposes. The use of “wild” alone implied “colonizer” mentality to them. .
I have to admit that it is not so easy, these days, to tell the difference when our whole language, including ordinary words like “green,” “democracy,” and “free,” are getting hijacked by the corporate dominator culture. Think of the facebook “friend” and other “social-” media “community” fakery, think of “humanitarian aid” (weapons deliveries), “peace-keeping operations” (invasions), “health insurance” (enslavement to a system of chemical poisoning) and countless further examples from the Falschwörterbuch(German: fake dictionary) of Neoliberalism. More important than the face of a book is the idea it wants to sell. As all views are perspectival, all communication of views, all writing is in a sense propaganda, with the ambiguity of words (and images) used for this or that purpose. No statement, no information can be taken at face value. The recipients’ job is to notice the sales pitch and to inquire within for the deeper truth about it. So let’s do this as an exercise in the context of my distinguishing “wild” peoples from “civilized” humans. .
Regarding “wild” peoples, there is no (other) word that is fully and properly including everybody we mean by it: modes of being that are not domesticated, not based on abstraction and abstracting, on strong hierarchies, strict separation of labour, state institutions, large numbers and growth, categorization, separation – in short, not civilization. The way I have put it in the above sentence suggests negative phrasing: not-civilized, un-domesticated, non-hierarchic etc., which I find weird because it implies a lack of something. In the same way, our culture could be called un-free, non-egalitarian etc. — which I actually use sometimes for breaking the spell of mainstream vernacular. By pointing out in which way we find a culture wanting does not describe its asili, its core and ultimate cause of collective thought and behaviour. I would like to say somehow that certain cultures exist in their own right rather than being underdeveloped predecessors to the crown of human evolution. .
In many of my writings I have clarified what I mean by “wild,” and it is so obviously not derogatory of those cultures – neither consciously nor unconsciously so – that anybody with a different opinion who notices it would have to wonder why. That the term loses its negativity anyway can be seen in the establishment of “wilderness reserves” and the emergence of the “rewilding” movement. While for some there is certainly a derogatory (or romanticizing) connotation to the word, it is the only phrase that people from across the spectrum may understand, while it is not reducing the “wild” to the negation (or lack) of “civilization.”
Is there no other positive term we could use for talking about the common denominator uniting the thousands of different communities outside of civilization?
I find “Intact” is a wonderful word, though it requires a lot of introductory explanation as to what it relates to. Basically, “intact” can only serve as a label in the face of disturbed societies, and it becomes increasingly inaccurate with civilization’s progressing encroachment. The introduction of so much as a simple idea embedded in the seemingly harmless question of an anthropologist may already disturb social peace within previously intact cultures, like asking men who have no knowledge about fertility on the tribe’s means of birth control.
I also like “free” as an attribute, but it would surely be misunderstood in the sense of our shallow civil rights.
“Primitive?” I have used it, explaining that I mean it in the sense of ‘originally, appropriately human;’ its derogatory meaning “underdeveloped” nevertheless co-vibrates.
“Tribal” – another phrase I like to use, seems almost perfect… if it weren’t abused for “tribalism” (as in “groupism”).
“Indigenous” (from Latin, born on the land)… well, no; Italians and British – melting-pot peoples – are indigenous to Europe, Japanese are indigenous to East Asia (though the Ainu have been preceding them), modern US citizens are indigenous to North America; it’s a matter of where you draw the historical-ancestral line required for someone to count as “native,”– 200, 2000, or 10000 years ago – and it does not define culture, the issue I’m pointing at when distinguishing the wild and the civilized. The whole concept of cultural indigeneity / nativity makes little sense without its historical perspective of conquest, colonization, displacement, domination and elimination of preceding peoples and species.
Struggling with finding a positive vocable for non-civilizational cultures since years, I have come to the following conclusions:
In principle, one word would be as good as another if it weren’t for the fact that, by using language, we attempt to tap into each others’ concepts for communicative purposes. So what I am looking for are terms that express shared concepts.
European languages, especially in recent decades, have been altered to a degree that they have become hardly recognizable to someone from the past. In Germany, the expression “Falschwörterbuch’”– dictionary of falsehoods – has emerged, a word that implies that meaning in language gets turned upside down so much so that e.g. ‘freedom’ has become the constitutional freedom of subjects being allowed to chose their oppressor. Has any word remained untouched, untainted? I don’t feel so.
The Falschwörterbuch means to hide what’s beneath, similar to politically-correct phrasing which hides (for a while) an ugly notion, basically the idea of separation. The “indigenous” debate falls in the same category as the “Negro” debate and the rapidly expanding gender alphabet (LGBTQIA+, for crying out loud!). As long as words are to express or whitewash the notion of complete separateness and dehumanization of Other there is no end to such debates. So when we communicate to others and interpret incoming communication, a word’s meaning has to be derived from context and/or explanation. Therefore I’m happy when people question my wording. This is the moment we actually have a debate.
Every word is a symbol for the “object” it creates in the mind, an abstraction from the world. The Latin root of “abstract” points out that a piece of the All is conceptually ripped from its context. As an abstract, symbolic representation of reality, a word both generalizes diverse phenomena, while at the same time it creates distinct boundaries where there are shades of gray. For example, “Germany” generalizes the many differences between regional ethnicities such as Bavarians and Saxons while it creates an artificial boundary to neighbouring countries such as France and the Netherlands where there live German minorities, derivates and mix cultures; it also reduces people’s identity to being born within Germany’s boundaries. Definitions of words are arbitrary, objectivity is an illusion. It is in the responsibility of each the speaker and the listener, to be aware of the virtual reality that words create. Without that awareness language-based communication, through illusory precision, paradoxically becomes more fuzzy than it needs to. The Falschwörterbuch’s successful manipulation of our shared reality seems, to me, a sure sign that we are generally not aware and awake.
My aim is the raising of awareness and the sparking of consideration of what makes us the culture we are, and wild peoples the cultures they are. The search for matching terms continues, probably with someone coining new pc ones.
As for the ancient cultures of the Mayas, Anasazi, Songhai, old Zimbabwe etc, I would classify them as civilizations, as they were based on separation; they were practicing domestication and were held together by force, for the benefit of a wealthy elite. Consequently they collapsed after having over-exploited their habitat and overstretched their citizens’ capacity for suffering. Obviously, Californian Indians, Mbuti, !Kung, and Aborigines lived a different kind of approach – which is what I’m pointing at when distinguishing between “wild” and “civilized” cultures.
The other day, and not for the first time, I heard the statement that science concerns itself with what “everyone can see, feel, touch and get the same results” from, and that this is why science was THE system having reality better than any other culture’s approach, because it was able to communicate truth in an unbiased way. But that is a misconception, and it refers to science, to justify the claim that science is quasi-synonymous with reality – and that’s a bias in and by itself.
All ontologies i.e. systems of knowledge, are cultural. Science, like all the other stories about what is true and real and knowable, is subject to interpretation, it is, on top of that, shaped by physical abilities and constraints of the observer (Six Blind And The Elephant…), and this affects especially every deduction produced from it by logic, math, theory, symbolic or language representation. This is why, and how, humans developed all those different ontologies and mythologies (incl. science) in the first place, and none of them has it any better per se; it is the cultural context that provides it with truthfulness and usefulness. If you want to fly to the moon science does a great job. If you want to live in harmony with all of creation try something like animism or Buddhism.
Where science claims exclusive access to, and representation of truth it becomes a totalitarian ideology, the religious doctrine of scientism which is holding that thought and symbolic/written representation of a scientist’s observations are more real than reality as such.
We need to be open to the fact that most of the things we thought were true, including scientific research results, have contributed to the unfortunate situation the living planet is currently trapped in, and that we need to rethink them and be open to other pathways.
So I am not railing against science here, I simply deny its claim for exclusive universal truth. All one has to do to falsify that claim is to immerse oneself a while in a non-materialistic culture, to understand where those people are coming from, or to practice Meditation, Contemplation, and Inquiry as proposed by Zen or mystic traditions like Sufism. I can assure you that the insights you get from there are the exact opposite of “making things up”.
Have you ever had the feeling that every word said leads you one step further away from the truth?
photo by Land Between the Lakes KY/TN, CC 2.0 by-sa 2015
Have you ever got the impression that you — and with you, all of mankind — are already trillions of miles away from it? Like, flying away on a wave to the edge of the Universe, at the speed of light, with no chance of ever returning in the same way you came here?
Have you ever seen so clearly that every single concept you held dear in your mind, thinking it was true — actually every concept that anyone ever has ever conceived of — has been nothing else but a trap, keeping us stuck in that ever-expanding wave of nonsense we call reason? And still, there was nothing you could have done about it, other than abandoning it?
Ah, welcome to my world. The ever-recurring question of the meaning of communication, it has me again. And I wonder what will become of the words I have uttered, the essays I have scribbled, the books I have written… maybe I sell them for what they are: entertaining hullaballoo.
This is the transcript of my second interview with Wolfgang Werminghausen, for his podcast Faster Than Expected, episode 20, which has been published last night. Smaller corrections have been made to clarify the core message and to give a more pleasant reading.
FTE: I want to talk with Jürgen about living with animals. Since some years Jürgen is living in India in the small town Auroville. There he is working as a farmer and librarian. We had a talk in the 16th episode of the Faster Than Expected podcast.
How does working as a farmer and living with goats and other animals change your life?
Me: Hi Wolfgang, thanks for the opportunity to throw a few words into the conversation. I really appreciate that.
I’d like to add that it’s an organic farm within a spiritual commune, which is not at all comparable to industrial agriculture. I think that organic farming and industrial agriculture are actually two very different activities that only can be seen on the same level if you think both of them are about keeping animals or planting food crops. Apart from that, they got nothing in common. Our animals are part of the family, which means we have a symbiotic relationship, not the kind of exploit-then-throw away situation of a typical cowcentration camp.
On a physical level my work is of course completely different from anything I ever did within my life as a wage slave or as a self-employed retailer. It sort of reconnected me with the realm of true life, basic needs, eye-to-eye interaction and so on; these elements in our lives have been largely lost. I can say that because I am currently going through the experience of regaining them, finding them again in my life, and finding a place for them in my life.
The work takes some discipline, the kind I expect Kevin to know closely, because as much as you sometimes would like to leave the boat – to jump ship – you can’t. Kevin has physical barriers in the way; there is a vast ocean all around, and I have emotional barriers which I cannot cross.
FTE: Like a lifeboat.
Me: Yes. You got to be there, day by day, event by event, whatever happens. It’s three o’clock in the night and I hear some of the animals shouting in some sort of distress, eg. there is a predator in the cage or someone stepped on their toe. Whatever it is, I go there and look. I can’t say, “It’s night time, I want to sleep and my working hours are long past.”
And it’s a very direct thing: There is no space for electronic gadgets, or complex ideas. Another element that is also important from that perspective is: We use to throw money at a problem, like, something is missing and you go into the shop to buy what we need. That’s not possible in this case. You can’t throw money at a problem an animal has, or at a problem you have with an animal, and make the animal behave as you want it to. Meeting their needs, that’stheir currency, and to become aware of what the need of the moment might be I have to be with them, meaning, I have to be with them very often, repeatedly, and also mentally I have to be prepared to be present with them to understand what’s up. By that practice I learn their expressions, the signing, the body language, and communicate with them. Though it’s not like the twitch of one eye means the word so-and-so, and the blinking of the other eye means, I’m hungry. It’s not as direct as human language, rather some intuitive kind of communication. It’s not coherently the same all the time. The same sign may mean something different in a different context. Understanding is a matter of intuition, I think. By being together with the animals they learn what I am up to. Do I understand them? Am I ready to meet their need? Or am I rejecting it?
I am entering into a mutual relationship with them which means, I acknowledge them as people, as characters, as unique personalities. It’s not all that complicated and you could compare it to instances when people understand each other without words. Everybody has them. You have a friend, a partner… you don’t need to speak but you know what the other person is thinking or what they want to do. Like in a good rock band, the guitarist and the drummer know exactly their timing. We like to refer to this as „magic moments“, but that’s really just because spoken and written language has so removed us from our original state of consciousness and from the things that truly matter. Ok, in a way it’s “magic” because it’s not rational, but it’s not special in the sense of being a rare thing. You could have it every day.
So I highly recommend people to consciously enter into close relationships with someone whose psyche is not fucked up by civilized thinking and by thinking in linguistic terms. We find those very rarely. When are you able to get in contact with a wild person – with a tribal human? It’s hard to find them anywhere. So the only people left that are sort of unspoilt are animals who are available to us for that purpose.
If you let yourself – just for a minute – feel the sorrows of another being you get an understanding of the heaviness of the burden that’s hanging from the world’s neck, this civilized madness which is to me a mental disorder, a derangement even. I don’t know how else to get rid of this. It’s something no shrink can ever heal. To me, the way out of this madness is to reconnect through beings that are less impaired by it.
The fate of the biosphere is depending on us because we are the dominant species – or rather, the dominant culture, because it’s not humans as such, it’s our culture, civilization, that’s fucking up the planet, and therefore we do have a responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone else: plants, animals, ourselves of course, for the pain, the suffering, and the survival of everyone else in this world, just like we do have a responsibility for our children and our pets, or to phrase it in another way, we have a responsibility for the captive children and the animals that we domesticate for civilized use; that’s what we do to our own species even.
FTE: Thank you very much for your touching and impressive words. In Western industrial agriculture animals are a product kind of thing. Is there a different way to view animals in India?
Blister beetle devouring an ocra flower
Me: Yes, certainly. There is this funny story told by Arnold Stadler, about a calves extermination program that an agricultural minister of the German Green party has set up to curb an outbreak of BSE. I think it happened in 2001, I’m not sure. 400 000 cow babies were to be culled, meaning, killed for health issues; potential health issues even, to stop an epidemic, and most of those cow babies were not actually sick. In India, there were people and organizations who thought about how to save those animals from their pointless death. Like there is civil war in some foreign country and we think about how we could help these people. The Indians were thinking about how to help these animals that we were mindlessly killing.
To understand the Indian way of seeing animals one may look into Karma. Karma means that the depth of your insights gained throughout your lifetime and the extent at which you are putting those into practice define the situation into which you are going to be reborn. For Indians, life does not end with death; it doesn’t start with birth either. It’s an endless cycle in which we come back again and again, and that can be as a demon, a god, an animal of some kind, or as a human.
That means that animals are regarded as relatives. It expresses in language, when, in Tamil, we call a young female animal ‘paapa’, younger sister and a young male animal ‘thambi’, younger brother.
Indian philosophy has it that physical pain is a normal, natural phenomenon. Our nerve endings help us sense the world, see the world, hear the world. The same nerve that can feel the texture of a book or a peace of clothing can also feel pain which is just an increase in intensity of the same impression. Pain happens to everyone and it cannot be avoided. So it does not matter much if we beat a cow or keep a calf from having its milk and make it feel hungry, because this pain is a natural thing. Our duty in our karma as living beings is to understand this and to surrender to the necessity of pain. To understand this necessity and surrender to it means that you do your yoga.
If we don’t do our yoga, if we don’t understand, we suffer psychologically. Suffering and pain are different. The suffering is in your own responsibility. You cannot avoid pain but you can avoid suffering by understanding the necessity of pain. And as long as we suffer we cannot leave the wheel of rebirth. We are caught in the world of pain.
But as all life is also yoga, ie. the search for the Divine, Ultimate Consciousness, God – however you want to call it – and therefore we must not interrupt this search by cutting a life short. Sure, you can do it anyway but it has an impact on your karma. That’s why people on one hand have no problem with heavily beating a cow while on the other hand making efforts to saving its life, no matter how miserable that life is.
[To repeat a story given in my last blog here:] Just a few days ago I came to the house of my Tamil sister where two hibiscus bushes are standing in front of the door which were a gift from one of our friends. The flowers were full of blister beetles which were eating the flowers. I said, “Look!” by just pointing at them. She replied: “What shall I do? They are hungry and they need to eat. We can’t just go around and kill everyone.” This illustrates their view on animals, encompassing both the domestic and the wild animals. This is of course going away the more India gets industrialized but it is still present within the countryfolk.
FTE: I see. We can learn very much from the Indian attitude towards animals and towards life. Thanks for your insightful words and the metaphors; now I imagine you with a goat rock band in a lifeboat[both chuckle]with your brothers and sisters. Thank you very much for this talk.
Me: Thank you for having me on the show!
Karma is, of course, a way more complex topic than described here, and the ramifications of inflicting pain and causing sufferings on others must not be neglected, but killing weighs heavy on the karmic balance sheet.
With all the generalizations made here, I must amend that, for anything you may say about India, the exact opposite is true as well. Its culture is enormously rich and diverse; as a civilization, it is almost as old as the Western cultural lineage. Indians’ basic assumptions on the nature of existence and therefore on the proper way of treating the living planet, as fundamentally different as they are from Western views, are certainly not perfect but at least they keep the door open for each individual life to improve its situation. With the influx of Western ideas and technologies, though, this culture is developing into one of the most explosive population bombs the world has seen.
Sheila Chandra: Lament of McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee