Author Archives: DP

Nothing To Do But Live

The list of our disagreements with David Gelernter would run to many pages, yet we whole-heartedly agree with his central thesis in The Tides of Mind, that human understanding of the mind must be a subjective process, and thus engage our emotions as well as our ideas.

Of course, this is not a particularly fresh insight within numerous non-Western traditions, nor even in European philosophy; recall Heidegger’s emphasis in his later years on the importance of “meditative” thinking. Nonetheless, given the floods of mind-numbing enthusiasm for the Imminent Singularity and other “inverted utopian” delusions, Gelernter’s ebbing and flowing tides provide welcome relief.

Below, a lucid excerpt from a much longer and frequently baffling conversation with Gelernter published in The Atlantic. Images are from explorations of subjective being, as conducted by artist Natalia Arbelaez.


An Exquisite Diversity

Now comes Courtney Mattison, with her large-scale glazed stoneware, porcelain and terracotta installation titled Our Changing Sea I, currently on display at the Art of Science & Technology Gallery in Washington; those who deny the reality of climate change would do well to visit the gallery and meditate upon the evidence as captured in calcium carbonate.

Below, photographs of the work are interwoven with passages from Mattison’s Artist Statement.

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An update on the status of global coral reef bleaching from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration paints a grim picture (click for link to larger scale):

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A WORLD OF STRESSED CORAL

 

 


On Tyranny

Today we relay excerpts from an exceptionally good Democracy Now interview with Yale historian Timothy Snyder regarding both his important recent book On Tyranny and his related social media posts following the election of Donald Trump.

On resisting complacency:

 

On the long failure of profit-driven globalization, and its consequences:

 

On his first “lesson” for resistance:

The above resonates strong with Jeffrey Rosen’s prescient 2004 book, The Naked Crowd, discussed in our 2012 post Nothing to Hide.

 

On being kind to language:

See also Below the Dead Language, with Solmaz Sharif discussing the role of the poet as caretaker of the language.

 

On everyday connection and civility:

Our coarse and degraded social reality, of which Donald Trump is nothing but a malignant symptom, gains vital sustenance from rage, aggression, rudeness, abusive language, fear and paranoia. Thus simple acts of kindness, civil engagement and calm conversations become essential acts of deep resistance, refusing to let the prevailing ethos take hold of our own souls.


The Strangled City

Amazon, providing endless cash flow to support the delusional aspirations of CEO Jeff Bezos to “civilize” the universe with “trillions” of humans, offers an exceptionally revealing case study for what happens when a republic of citizens deteriorates into a national mall of consumers.

Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell, on behalf of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, have analysed multiple dimensions of Amazon’s tightening stranglehold on American economic and civic life. The entire report is worth close reading; below, a few brief excerpts from their analysis of Amazonian impacts on the social fabric of urban life, with images and editorial captions added by DP.

TWO FLIES CAUGHT IN A WEB OF FULFILLMENT

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SKINNY DIPPING NOT PERMITTED

WHERE MR. BEZOS REALLY STORES HIS CHIPS

THE FUTURE OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT


Double Death

Now comes Deborah Bird Rose, professor in the Environmental Humanities Program at the University of New South Wales and a founding member of the Extinction Studies Working Group. Her brief essay appeared inside the fascinating Multispecies Salon; images from Washed Ashore added by DP.

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Below, a photograph of a crab on Henderson Island, where the phenomenon of double death appears in full swing, amidst an estimated eighteen tons of plastic waste, the highest concentration of plastic pollution yet documented, though we suspect the worst is yet to come.

Jennifer Lavers, from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania commented on the fate of crabs inhabiting the plastic beach:

“This plastic is old, it’s brittle, it’s sharp, it’s toxic. It was really quite tragic seeing these gorgeous crabs scuttling about, living in our waste.”

Tragic, possibly, though another word also comes to mind: criminal.

HenderCrab

LIFE EMBODIES ART


On A Catapult to Infamy

When we published our interview with a real estate entrepreneur named Donald J. Trump on April 1, 2014, during which he described his plans to transform the entire island of Ireland into the world’s largest golf course, we received many emails expressing horror and dismay that such a man might soon walk the Emerald Isle forever, swinging titanium clubs with those miniature hands.

We responded by gently underlining the date of the post, a day when we celebrate the levity of fools, even should they eventually become President. That was our last April 1 offering; we recognized – through Irish fog – that satire could no longer compete with naked reality.

Exhibit DJT: consider the below montage of excerpts from a recent interview between Time magazine and that same individual, in a different suit yet richly endowed with the same toxic persona. Captioned images of his “signature” scrawl, for the most part delivered into the world through the blunt force trauma of a Sharpie, have been added by DP.

BIG JOBS NEED A BIG P.

CAN YOU SURVIVE THE CYCLONE ROLLERCOASTER OF MY SELF?

I WILL MAKE YOU CRY WITH MY WEIRDNESS!

D IS FOR DERELICTION OF DUTY AND DELIVERY OF DEATH.

LOOK AT MY SIGNATURE AND NOT MY HANDS!

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Though corruption and monomania may be endemic in certain circles of the ruling elite, there are countless courageous individuals who fully comprehend their responsibilities to defend the constitution against the impulsive tantrums of an incompetent executive. Today, we single out the Honorable Bob Ferguson, Attorney General for the state of Washington.

Responding to a question put by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now regarding the need for a Special Prosecutor to investigate whether the Trump campaign received any compromising “benefits” from the Russian kleptocracy, Ferguson said:

My goodness. I mean, having the president of the United States fire the FBI director, who was in the middle of an investigation regarding Russian interference related to the president’s key advisers, to take an action like that is, frankly, shocking, from a constitutional sense. And so, what needs to happen is that independent investigation needs to go on. And frankly, a special prosecutor is the path to do it.

I think one key aspect of this that we see from the president is he does these outlandish actions. It’s in an executive order on a Muslim ban or firing the FBIdirector. I think the key to success in taking the president on and restoring the rule of law is put him in a forum that he is, frankly, going to be on the defensive and not as comfortable, and that’s the courtroom. That’s through a special prosecutor. You can’t tweet your way out of an investigation from a special prosecutor. You can’t tweet your way out of a courtroom. What matters there is the Constitution. That’s why I feel so strongly that special independent prosecutor is so badly needed.

Then, later on, regarding the recent executive order to roll back protections of National Monuments:

Donald Trump is the first president since Teddy Roosevelt to take the view that somehow he alone, the president, can roll back these protections for, frankly, some of our most beautiful places that we have in the United States. It’s our view that he’s wrong on the law and is wrong from a policy standpoint, as well. We, of course, are focused on the law. I’ve asked my legal team to go to work on it, because here in Washington state, we have a couple of those national monuments that could fall under the broad interpretation of this executive order that he’s issued. We want to stop that in its tracks.

Once again, to my earlier point, I think, frankly, the way to confront and take on this president is to take him to the courtroom. Right? That is where it’s a level playing field. That’s where the rule of law prevails. And I’m confident that if they go forward with trying to roll back protections for national monuments, they will lose once again in the courts.

From your lips to the ears of many judges, Mr. Ferguson! If, in his shallow twittering and dangerous narcissistic impulses, that existential scrawl identified by the initials DJT refuses to uphold and defend the Constitution that defines the USA as a Republic of Laws and not as a Locker Room of Swinging Ps, then let us build a giant catapult and send him flying towards the infamy that will be his only lasting legacy.

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Lost in Space

As various toxic billionaires continue to fantasize about expanding their contact networks and Twitter feeds into the universe, we turn to a revealing author/reader exchange published in the New York Review of Books. The images, relayed from an exceptional series of paintings by Jeremy Geddes, have been added by DP.

Let’s begin with an excerpt from author/physicist Freeman Dyson, who closes his October, 2016 review essay with the following ecstatic vision of our “escape” from the planetary cage:

When we first read the above, particularly the last paragraph, we thought the former Princeton physicist must be in some sort of perverse competition with Stephen Hawking, the prize being free tickets on the Bezos Express. We filed it away in our ever-expanding Annals of Hubris and Delusion, for future reference.

ASCENT

Thus were we relieved to see a thoughtful response in the most recent NYRB, jointly submitted by the distinguished mathematician Simon Altmann of Oxford; Sa’id Mosteshar from the London Institute of Space Policy and Law; and Alan Smith, from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory:

HYPOSTASIS

THE STREET

We note in particular the astute observation that what earthbound humans think of as “life” may not include whatever other life may exist elsewhere in the cosmos; surface area, starlight and food surely do not exhaust the possible parameters for “life”. While Dyson’s foolish insistence on such narrow requirements are surprising, coming from a scientist of such long and varied experience, his response casts an even dimmer light on the issue of human encroachments elsewhere in the universe:

To construe the issues concisely raised by Altmann, Mosteshar and Smith as “a clash of cultures”, thereby placing himself beyond substantive intellectual engagement, constitutes an astonishing, willful misreading. Yet the dramatic shift in his views regarding human identity at loose in the universe between his original essay and the above response is even more astonishing.

In the original essay, Dyson describes humans as “midwives” and active “creators of a living universe”; highly evolved beings making a conscious science-driven decision to send “Noah’s Arc seeds” into infinity. But in his response to the letter, humans are suddenly reduced to being merely “part of nature”, thus “free to evolve and diversify” — just like a virus or fungus. What’s more, those who voice ethical, environmental or philosophical objections to such a darkly determinist view of human existence clearly do not understand the basic expansionist nature of all life. Fine for gathering taxes and pushing paper, but no room on the Bezos space train for such dolts and ditherers. Oh my….

Finally, while Dyson in all his blustering arrogance hardly warrants analysis of his painfully weak grasp of Shakespeare, he might do well to meditate long and hard upon other words from Twelfth Night, as spoken by the fool, Feste: “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” 

WHITE COSMONAUT


Wild Law

Two highly significant environmental justice victories over the past year flow from courts extending legal rights to two rivers: the Whanganui in New Zealand, a living ancestor to the Maori people; and the Ganges, together with its main tributary the Yamuna, sacred to all Hindus. The decision in favor of the Maori emerged from one hundred and forty years of negotiation, and was cited as a critical precedent by the court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.

Extending from Thomas Berry’s ideas of nature-based jusrisprudence, we excerpt the 2011 manifesto for earth justice, Wild Law, by Cormac Cullinan:

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In a related story, we take note of a clueless tourist and former Playboy model named Jaylene Cook, photographed in her birthday suit in front of Mount Taranaki, considered a sacred burial ground and ancestor by the local Maori. We will not compound Ms. Cook’s naked ignorance by reproducing the image here; it has gone toxic-bacterial in the meme-swamp formerly known as the world wide web.


Deeper Than Life

With a loud shout-out to those assembling throughout the world to deliver a sharp rebuke to those who live in the delusional world of alternative facts, we continue our exploration of the deepening environmental crisis as a crisis of spirit and imagination. The below excerpts from an essay by Thomas Berry date from 1990, though the subsequent years have done little to diminish the significance and urgency of Berry’s message:

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At the Heart of Things

Now comes the voice of Paul Kingsnorth, with an excerpt from an essay recently published in Orion magazine, The Axis and the Sycamore:

Paul Kingsnorth is a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project, with its strong emphasis on conceiving new forms of storytelling as a way of reimagining the world, outside the toxic bubble of human supremacy. The word-coupling “dark mountain” descends from a Robinson Jeffers poem:

Man is not in the persons but in the 
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the 
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain