Sunday, January 6, 2019

Enough Said

      Some years ago, I went to a see the late Daniel Quinn at a book signing for one of his forgettable post-Ishmael-trilogy novels.  The large auditorium was packed.  During the Q&A, a fan asked what big new ideas we hungry readers might encounter in his latest offering.  Quinn replied that he’d pretty much said what he had to say in Ishmael, The Story of B, and My Ishmael.
      At the time, this reply felt like a cop-out.  It made me angry.  Despite the publication and wide dissemination of Ishmael and its sequels, nothing had changed.  The world was still spiraling into chaos, so clearly there was more that needed to be said.
      Now, years later, my stance has changed.  One of the key lessons we industrial consumers need to learn is the concept of enough.  This applies to ideas as much as anything else.  And I see now that the flood of new, new, new in all things, even ideas, imposes the tyranny of time on that which should be timeless.
      Quinn’s words demand generations for proper digestion.  Yet, almost none of the youth I know have heard of Quinn or his books.  And in those books, there is enough to change the world for the better.  He didn’t need to say anything more.
      After thinking all summer and fall about what comes next for this blog, I’ve reached the same place.  With the complete posting of Beyond the Longest Childhood, I feel I’ve said what I need to say here.  In other words, I believe this blog, as it is, could, like Quinn’s trilogy, help change the world for the better.
      And so, with this entry, I conclude this blog.  I know this is not how blogs are supposed to work.  People visit to see what’s new.  Well, newness and oldness are relative.  A new star might be hundreds of millions of years old.  And an old quark might be fraction of a nanosecond in age.
      Regardless, newness for its own sake is a symptom of progress-poisoning.  And the time is long overdue to draw that toxin from the soft tissues of our spirit.  Until we do, wild integrity will remain out of reach. 
      Besides, a certain kind of newness cannot be avoided.  It’s the spice of simply living.  For example, even though I’ve read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard ten times, each reading has yielded new surprises, fresh insights, deeper understandings. Thanks to the changes I’ve undergone and the time to reflect I’ve enjoyed throughout the interval between readings, each one has been like opening the cover of a different book. But thanks to the continuity of memory, the story is also familiar and known, as it must be for a base-line to exist.  And without that base-line, the new surprises, fresh insights, and deeper understandings are not possible.
      Might each visitation to this blog be the same, fresh and familiar?
      Though I don’t plan to add any new posts, I will respond to any comments.  This is, in fact, how I would love for the blog to live on, in a mature state.  In how you respond to it.
      Thanks for your attention and interest.
      Enough said. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Another Summer Round Begins

With the completion of Beyond the Longest Childhood, the season of storytelling (essay writing, blog posting) is now over until the fall rains come and darkness once again eats away at the edges of the day.   Then entries will resume, informed by another summer of listening to the voices of the land. 

Until then . . .

Chapter 9 and Endnotes of Beyond the Longest Childhood: Cultural Maturation and the Challenge of Ecological Integrity

            For those of you who’ve just found your way here, this is the tenth post in a multi-part entry entitled Beyond the Longest Childhood.  Click on the following links to read the  Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, and Chapter 8.  Then you will be ready to proceed with Chapter 9.

Chapter 9: Cultural Maturation Cascade and Endnotes

      To help see through Coyote’s trickery, I offer the following flow chart — the Cultural Maturation Cascade — as a kind of coarse filter.  With it, many existing and potential technologies (as well as words, stories, art forms, songs, dances, ceremonies, rituals, beliefs, ideas, religious doctrines, economic models, skills, vocations, food choices, medicinal treatments, modes of travel and transport, entertainment options, waste disposal methods, addictions and myriad other human constructs) will quickly prove incompatible with the requirements for long-term, optimal, prosperity as mature contributing members of the community of Life.  Their elimination from consideration will help point the way to the viable options that remain. 

      At first, the use of the Cultural Maturation Cascade will likely produce great frustration and anxiety due to the fact that virtually nothing, from the most holy to the most mundane facets of modern life, makes it through, but instead plunge to the pool of discards.  For this reason, the Cascade may seem excessively rigorous, but do a test.  Insert any non-agricultural technology etc. into the subject line and see what happens. 

      You may be surprised that almost every wild subject you insert into the Cascade flows all the way through.  The reason is simple: even though all artifacts have the potential to be used unsustainably, artifacts of agricultural/industrial modernity are inherently unsustainable.  They depend on drawdown and degradation.  There is no wiggle room here; drawdown cannot be engaged more or less sustainably, it can only be engaged only more or less rapidly.  Thus, unlike fire and projectile points, which can be made/used without engaging in drawdown, chainsaws and cell phones cannot.  They simply have to go away if cultural maturity and ecological integrity are to be attained.  No romantic primitivist idealism or Luddite sympathies need be invoked. 

      Rather than being more or less sustainable, these inherently unsustainable technologies have different durations of persistence.  The trend of late has been the employment of ever-more sophisticated means to extend that duration.  For example, electric cars have greater persistence than 1970’s vintage gas-guzzlers.  And it is easy to think this trend represents a step in the right direction.  However, it more accurately represents an effort to postpone crossing the sustainability threshold.  As such, it does little more than produce false hope and further divert attention away from the real challenge before us: cultural maturation and ecological integrity. 

      The Cultural Maturation Cascade is intended to help us succeed.

Cultural Maturation Cascade

Question 1: Does _______________ (insert any human physical, behavioral or conceptual artifact in this space) depend on domestication or otherwise rob the wildness, agency and/or freedom from any living being/place and relegate that being/place to life-long servitude in the fulfillment of singularly human purposes?   If yes, plunge straight to the discard pool below.  If no, cascade to question 2.

Question 2: Does _______________ depend on the mining and/or combustion of hydrocarbons or any other non-renewable fuels or materials at any stage of its conceptualization, manufacture, use or disposal?  If yes, plunge straight to the discard pool.  If no, cascade to question 3.

Question 3: Does ________________ depend on the exploitation of potentially renewable energy/material (like soil, trees and aquifers), but at rates in excess of the solar budget or other natural renewal rates?  If yes, plunge straight to the discard pool.  If no, cascade to question 4.

Question 4:  Does the process by which ________________ comes into existence invariably yield toxic physical, emotional or spiritual byproducts that do lasting harm to the landbase, kindred spirits and/or those who make/use it?  If yes, plunge straight to the discard pool.  If no, cascade to question 5.

Question 5: Is the only function of _______________ to distract and/or entertain?  If yes, plunge straight to the discard pool.  If no, cascade to question 6.

Question 6: Does_______________ provide indirect or direct benefit to the greater community of Life?  If no, plunge straight to the discard pool. If yes, cascade on.

Question 7: Is______________ artistically beautiful?  If no, plunge straight to the discard pool.  If yes, ______________ might have a future.  Tentatively allow it, but continue always to be mindful of its compatibility with local conditions over the long term. 

      If the idea of testing everything seems overwhelming, take heart, the fact that you’re reading this means you’re well on your way.  Keep going.  Patterns will emerge.  And now that you’ve seen how the Cascade works, the process of trial and success (as opposed to trial and error) should be much more rapid. 

      To streamline passage even further, choose components of larger systems (like spokes on a bicycle) and test the components.  If the components fail, the whole system will drop out without having to be further tested (which does not bode well for complex machinery, the internet, processed foods or cities).  Then you can either move on to something else or replace the failed components with alternatives (if there are any) and see if they cascade on.  

      Once you’ve been at it a while, you may be surprised at how quickly discernment becomes intuitive.  The essential awareness is already within you, after all; a hidden spirit, seeking expression.

Discard Pool

      If the answers to any of the questions in the Cultural Maturation Cascade have spilled you here, it means whatever subject you tested depends on drawdown/degradation in one form or another and thus has no long term future.  For the sake of your own heath as well as the health of the Earth and future generations, abandon it.  The sooner the better.

      If the failed subject is a basic necessity and abandonment is not immediately possible, a viable substitute will need to be found and a transition initiated so the failed subject can be phased out.  Finding the viable substitute will very likely require a great deal of imagination, attentiveness and patience (no doubt spanning multiple generations).  It will also very likely require questioning what you consider to be a necessity.  If no viable alternative seems possible, the subject is either not really a necessity or there is likely some cultural taboo in the way of recognizing the alternative.  Finding a viable option might be made easier by remembering that the original tradition of living with ecological integrity in our proper place on the Trophic Cascade satisfied our basic human needs for millions of years, and those needs have not changed.  So that leaves taboo, which may be so thoroughly ingrained as to be invisible.

      But you will come see it eventually as long as you keep plugging whatever alternatives you can imagine into the Cascade and persisting until the questions to which your answers lead open your awareness to possibilities you hadn’t thought to consider before, possibilities that don’t send you to here. 


1) Finlayson, Clive.  The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

2) Wells, Spencer.  Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project. Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2006.

3) Lynch, John and Barrett, Louise.  Walking with Cavemen: eye-to-eye with your ancestors.  London: Headline Book Publishing, 2003. 

4) Flannery, Tim. The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of Australasian Lands and People. Sydney: Reed New Holland, 1994.

5) Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees.  Vancouver/Berkeley: Greystone Books, 2015.

6) Reese, Richard Adrian. What is Sustainable.  Charleston: CreateSpace, 2011. 

7) Ward, Peter D. and Brownlee, Donald.  The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts    the Ultimate Fate of Our World.New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002.

8) Shanahan, Catherine and Shanahan, Luke. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Lawai: Big Box Books, 2009.

9) Cohen, Mark Nathan.  The Food Crisis in Prehistory.  New         Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

10) Kalekna, Pita.  The Horse in Human History.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

11) Schmookler, Andrew Bard. The Parable of the Tribes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

12) Perlin, John.  A Forest Journey. Woodstock, Vermont: The Countryman Press, 1989.

13) MacKinnon, J. B. The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing House, 2013.

14) Fuhrman, Joel.  Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

15) Flores, Dan.  American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains. Lawrence:

University Press of Kansas, 2016.

16) Tenner, Edward.  Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996.

17) Jensen, Derrick.  Truths Among Us: Conversations on Building a New Culture (pages 239-241: interview with      Martin Prechtel). Oakland: PM Press, 2011.

18) Shlain, Leonard.  The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image.  New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. 1998.

19) Glendinning, Chellis.  My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Boston: Shambala Publications Inc., 1994.

20) Berry, Thomas.  The Dream of the Earth.  San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988.

21) Davis, William. Wheat Belly.  New York: Rodale, 2011.

22) Wright, Ronald.  A Short History of Progress.   Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2004.

23) Korten, David C.  Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth. Oakland: Barrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015.

24) Davis, William.  Wheat Belly Total Health.  New York: Rodale, 2014.

25) Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, et al: “A potential decline in life expectancy in the nited States in the 21st century. New England Journal of Medicine, 2005.

26) Kunstler, James Howard.  The Long Emergency.  New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005.

27) Kolbert, Elizabeth.  The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.  New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Chapter 8 of Beyond the Longest Childhood: Cultural Maturation and the Challenge of Ecological Integrity

      For those of you who’ve just found your way here, this is the ninth post in a multi-part entry entitled Beyond the Longest Childhood.  Click on the following links to read the  Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapter 7.  Then you will be ready to proceed with Chapter 8. 

Chapter 8: Maturation Now

      The conceptual, behavioral, technological and artistic changes reflective of a measure of success rooted in cultural maturation and ecological integrity will no doubt be most dramatic for those of us who are alive now at this brief pivot point in time where long-standing non-viable habits must transform into long-standing viable ones.  For example, now is the time to begin phasing out all forms of mining including agriculture.  Now is also the time to shift our dependence from non-local, early successional (immature) staples to staples (yes, nuts and berries) derived from local, later successional (mature) habitats, thereby fostering the essential culture/landscape maturation process that must go hand in hand.  Additionally, ours is the generation in whom the addiction to immature “high” technologies will give way to a lasting desire for technological maturity.

      And rather than framing this process as regression, stagnation or ‘going back,’ we’ll frame it as the attainment of a mature life-way nourished by the gifts of the Sun and Earth for which we are obligated to reciprocate with gratitude, generosity, celebration and responsibility.  We will no longer violate (till) the body of the earth or enslave (domesticate) our wild four-legged, finned, winged, and leafy kin for our sustenance because we will not need to do so in order to feed our optimal numbers and obtain all the essentials of our lives. 

      We will then be living Coyote’s mandate to the fullest.  We will be mature.  And in this state of maturity, far more humans will be able to live (with a far better quality of life) than live now.   They just won’t do so all at once, but over many, many millennia.  Our traditions of caring for a world that make this possible will be our way of caring for them.  And they will remember us and give thanks.  And carry the traditions on.

      There’s no reason such traditions can’t start now.  Almost all of us live within walking distance of fellow humans who could be, and soon probably will be, parts of inter-dependent communities rooted in reciprocity with the land.  Practical, social and legal impediments may, at present, prohibit enacting the turn to this local, ecologically-beneficent, community self-sufficiency, but nothing prohibits nurturing social connections, imagining and planning for the possibility (“making other arrangements,” as James Howard Kunstler puts it26).  In the process, more options for meaningful, practical, immediate expression may present themselves than could have been imagined. 

      By tapping into a human potential for cultural innovation dating back over 70,000 years to the bottleneck that made us who we are, we might just find a path out of the present predicament and into unexpected prosperity the way our ancient ancestors found a path to an abundant world in the hidden potential of an ostrich egg.  And our planetary overkill (now called the Sixth Extinction27) may yet end the same way the Australian Aboriginal’s continental overkill ended twelve thousand years ago, with the attainment of lasting ecological integrity.

      It can only happen however, if personally and collectively we are able to draw forth the humility to admit we are the last human culture on Earth yet to attain maturation and have, in fact, been holding it back for ten millennia rather than living at the forefront of the effort.  This admission may be the most difficult psychological/conceptual hurdle for us to clear.  And so, for that reason, it is our collective rite of passage.  If we can find this admission within ourselves, the attempt to live accordingly in every facet of our lives will turn us in the very direction we need to turn not only to survive but to thrive in an ever more bountiful, diverse and resilient world.  A healing world.

      The time has come for the last immature culture on Earth to stop living in the hubris of self-inflating exceptionalism and, through humility in the face of the Earth Crisis, enter into adulthood.      

      Since doing so now involves only a single culture, success will represent nothing less than the total human attainment of the next stage in the development of the species.  From there, a new kind of bounty will open before us: contentment in the lasting ability to thrive in a world that, at every level, grows increasingly diverse, complex, beautiful, resilient and just, thanks to the contributions offered by every remaining member of the community of Life to the health and wellbeing of the all-inclusive whole: the greater body of the Earth of which we are, always have been, and always will be, inseparable, though distinct, parts.    

      I can’t imagine any greater incentive than that.  Nor a better ending to the story of Homo sapiens, which of course, is no ending at all, but a continuation — the true measure of success!  I for one am thankful that every one of humanity’s ancestral species enjoyed this kind of success throughout all the ages of Earth, for the last 3.8 billion years.  Now, it’s our turn to do our part to pass that legacy on, to accept our place in the story, so that Life will keep unfolding, forever.  For that is the wonderful opportunity offered by, and also the tremendous burden of, living with ecological integrity. 

      Whether we are up to the challenge depends on the story we tell ourselves and so enact in the world.  The story that led to the present state of degradation, a convoluted story riddled with not just glaring inconsistencies, but blatant contradictions with reality, will not take us where we need to go if we keep following it.  Cultural maturation will not happen by happenstance, but must be our guiding intention and given our every effort at every scale of our lives. 

      To make cultural maturity our intention, we must question and change the underlying convictions from which intentions arise.  The word conviction gives some hint as to the challenge this represents; to be a convict is to be a prisoner and so we are prisoners of the convictions that inform our intentions. 

      If cultural maturation is to become our intention, our personal/collective conviction to the immature global/industrial mode of being, and the social reinforcements and rewards money, material possessions, elevated positions in institutional hierarchies and the consequent power over others this mode offers to cement those convictions, will need to be actively and consciously replaced with different reinforcements and rewards personal/planetary health, ecological integrity, a deep sense of belonging in space and time, genuine community, a lasting legacy rooted in the land. 

      The intentional path to cultural maturity is a narrow one to be sure (a bottleneck) and will involve acts of profound personal and cultural re-appraisal aimed at discovering the presently-available beliefs and behaviors capable of fostering the long term well-being of the community of Life as an all-inclusive whole. 

      And this path grows narrower every day, but no other path appears to have a future.  Luckily, we’re the last culture on Earth yet to walk it and so we have many examples from which to draw inspiration.   All we need is a story that lets us see those examples for what they are at the same time it reveals the dead-ends toward which many of the popular paths ultimately promise to lead via techno-fixes, the colonization of other planets and/or increased efficiency as measured by the flawed economic model of modernity, to name a few. 

      For those of us living as captives of a ten thousand year tradition of obligate drawdown, the emergence of a remedial story represents no less than a new way to be human in the world, a way that will unfold concurrently with a new way for the world to be in humans.  This, of course, is exactly what both the world and drawdown-dependent humans need more than anything else.  

      We who face the imperative of cultural maturation will know we are succeeding when forests begin to wash over wheat fields, cow pastures, and cities, without washing us away in the process; when soil layers begin to reknit and deepen even as they feel our footprints and provide nourishment for our bodies; when the plunge in ecological, biological and cultural diversity, and the concurrent plunge in all forms of justice reverse; and when the wild abundance of the other lives of Earth start to rise, refilling rivers with salmon and flyways with migrating geese.  

      This is not a case of going back to some idyllic past condition, but forward with a focus on aligning human intentions with the intentions of all the remaining kindred spirits of Earth, spirits who are bent on filling rivers and flyways, but impeded by a countercurrent will.  It is a case of being ever-responsive to changing conditions, to the movements and reconfigurations of animal and plant populations as they respond to climatic perturbations and infiltrate and create new habitats, habitats into which we can integrate as equal and interdependent participants. 

      The choice is ours: remain developmentally arrested or see through Coyote’s trickery and enter the next stage of our cultural life cycle.

(Coming next:  Beyond the Longest Childhood, Chapter 9 — Cultural Maturation Cascade and Endnotes)