Tuesday, December 26, 2006

these webcomics make me happy

check 'em out


some essays

i wish i weren't so scatter brained, so i could get through long essays with ease. i don't, but here are some potentially good ones that you might read. the first two are links (and one's fucking 14,500 words long!), the third one's cut and pasted.




We want to save the world, and we want to save ourselves. It's the same thing. The problems confronting us are enormous and at every level: personal, social, planetary. I will spare you a list. My aim is to suggest that they are all symptoms of one problem, and to propose a solution.

The problem: to find a way to live on earth which promotes our health and happiness / is conducive to the full development of our innate potential, and at the same time, is "democratic", that is, available to all / not using more than our share, and harmonious with the biosphere's evident drive toward increasing diversity, complexity, stability.

Our world is being destroyed, in the final analysis, by an extremely misguided notion of what constitutes a successful human life. Materialism is running rampant and WILL COMSUME EVERYTHING, because its hunger will never be sated by its comsumption. Human life has become a cancer on the planet, gobbling up all the flows of matter and energy, poisoning with our waste. What can stop this monster?

Nothing. Just this: walk away from it. It is time, indeed time is running out, to abandon the entire edifice of civilization / the State / the Economy and walk (don't run!) to a better place: home, to Paradise.

Paradise is, first of all, a garden. A garden in which everything we need is there for the taking.

2) And Paradise Gardening is a way of life which serves to maintain the garden, and is in turn maintained by it. Odum calls this the "ecosystem manager... an organism that utilizes a small fraction of the total energy budget and in return provides a service which aids the system in its function and continued survival." ( The concept "illustrates the ideal which man should imitate in his attempts to manage a natural ecosystem.") Genesis, with the characteristic compression of myth, says we were put into the garden " to dress it and keep it." Same thing.

3) Paradise gardening is not work. Work is a subjective concept: one person's play may be another person's work. It has nothing to do with effort: tennis, for example, is usually "play" ( unless you're a pro), sitting at a computer terminal is frequently "work". Work is whatever you are doing when you'd rather be doing something else. Paradise Gardening is not "work" in the same sense that what a bear does all day is not "work". This is the distinction which the Taoists make between "doing" and "not-doing". Genesis refers to the same matter in saying that only outside the garden do we have to earn our living " by the sweat of our brow".

4) Paradise Gardening is not agriculture. From chemical to organic agriculture is a step in the right direction, but only the first step. Agriculture itself is, after all, half of the one-two punch that knocked us out of Paradise in the fist place. (Good) farmers, to be sure, love nature: but they love her in the context of plowing her up every year and deciding what to grow next. Our addiction to annual species and disturbed habitats has put us at odds with the main thrust of the biosphere ( and ourselves).

Oh, Earth is patient and Earth is old
And a mother of Gods, but he breaks her,
To-ing, fro-ing, with the plow teams going,
Tearing the soil of her, year by year.
Sophocles, Antigone

Every spring, nature begins again to clothe the earth in beauty, the process of succession, the initial strands of the intricate web, rebirth of the Tree of Life. An every Autumn we scrape it off, rake it into barns, take it to market: we increase human diversity and complexity (butcher, baker, candlestick-maker...) by appropriating to ourselves processes which are meant to benefit all.

Paradise is a habitat and a niche. Eliade refers to a universal "nostalgia for Paradise". Memories coded into our genes of our place, our fit. How, after all, does a bird (for example) select a place to build a nest? So many factors to consider (and such a small brain!). It just picks the most beautiful spot available. It was born with a "template" for Paradise. Concerning this the Book of Odes says "The twittering yellow bird, the bright silky warbler, comes to its rest in the hollow corner of the hill", and Confucius commented "Come to rest, alights, knows what its rest is, what its ease is. Is man, for all his wit, less wise than this bird of yellow plumage that he should not know his resting place or fix the point of his aim?"
(Pound, trans.)

Like any other creature, we are our niche. By our physiology and behavioral programming we are born to live a certain kind of life. Paradise is our birthright and our duty.

Now, instead, we take up a niche in civilization. The premise of civilization is that if everyone is a less than complete human being (I'll be the brains, you be the back), it will be the better for us all. This insulting premise has guided us for so long that we are unaware of an alternative. We equate "making a living" with "making money". Thus we spend the best hours of our lives pursuing our careers, being part of the cancer.

But everything needful to be completely human is available to us in the environment - the garden and the neighborhood. We can rely on the truth of this because "human-ness" is a creation of the environment, the most recent manifestation of a coevolution between our genes and all the other genes out there that has been going on since the beginning of life on earth. Much chancier is the possibility that everything we need to be completely human is available to us in the city, or through money.

The last time we lived in paradise it was as "foragers": hunters and gatherers, omnivorous, opportunistic exploiters of a variety of environments. Specialists, not of disturbance but of diversity.

This lifestyle has gotten a lot of attention recently ( at the very time that the last vestiges of it are being eradicated). The view that foraging is a superior (to agriculture) adaptation is now well established in academia and the same theme appears in popular literature (E.g. Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines and Varges Llosa, The Storyteller, both inspiring).

A revolution in the study if human niche was prompted by the realization that foragers, far from living on the brink of starvation, as previously imagined, actually had more leisure than anyone else (Lee & deVore, Man the Hunter). Boserup (The Conditions of Agricultural Growth) suggests that there have never been any "agricultural revolutions", in the sense of a sudden invention of a great new way to produce food; but rather that increases in food production always come at the cost of even greater increases in labor (or fossil fuel) input, that the techniques were always well known to the producers, but resisted until finally demanded by the rising population ( or the demands of the upper classes for a surplus, a "cash crop"). "Agriculture permits denser food growth supporting denser population and larger social units but at the cost of reduced dietary quality [less diversity to choose from], reduced reliability of harvest [eggs in less baskets], and equal or probably greater labor per unit of food...agriculture is not a difficult concept but one readily available to hunting and gathering groups..." (Mark Cohen, The Food Crisis in Prehistory)

Agriculture, in turn, allowed population to expand more rapidly. Any attempt to live a foraging life in the modern world would seem to be only an interesting but ultimately irrelevant exercise of the "historic village" variety. That "there is no going back" is merely a truism. What those who recite it mean to say is that there is no changing direction, progress can be only a straight line - from an original home in nature to a world eventually completely human, domesticated, farmed.

At this point, I would rephrase the "problem" with which this essay began: How can we, with our contemporary tastes and population level, live and coexist as foragers (ecosystem managers)? "Caught in the devil's bargain", how can we "get ourselves back to the garden"? (J. Mitchell, "Woodstock")

The strategy here proposed, Paradise Gardening, may be described as "intensified foraging". David Harris, in a series of papers, explored "alternative pathways to agriculture". Particularly valuable is his distinction between "agricultural manipulation and transformation...agricultural utilization may - and, if sufficiently intensive, usually does - lead to the transformation of a natural into a largely artificial ecosystem: the replacement of a tropical rainforest by plantation, of temperate woodland by wheat fields...But agriculture may proceed by a process of manipulation which involves the alteration of selected components of the natural system rather than its wholesale replacement- a method of cultivation which involves substituting certain preferred domesticated species for wild species in equivalent ecological niches and so simulates the structure and functional dynamics of the natural ecosystem". Harris has recently edited a collection of papers (From Foraging to Farming) which which further explores the emerging realization "that many 'non-agricultural' peoples were in fact engaged in intensive and sophisticated plant practices which did not fit our idea of agriculture".

Our goal is to "naturalize" ourselves in the environment. This will involve changing ourselves and changing the environment: convergence toward "fit". Perfect fit means the free and easy flowing of matter and energy between ourselves and our environment; life lived as a complete gift - from the garden to us, from us to the garden.

But that is in the future, what we need now is a process, leading to that goal, which is justified on its own terms. Focus on the ideal Paradise Garden will tempt us to take shortcuts, perpetuating the same old pattern of selling out the present for some imagined "better" future. "No act is good unless its goodness is seen in the immediacy of the act. An act which justifies itself by appealing to a greater good... all appeals to reason, expediency, and necessity, are appeals to the very force that wreck all ideals. One must have courage and be willing to take risks". (Wm. Thompson, Evil and World Order)

Ecology teaches that a "pioneer" (disturbed) environment favors life forms that are fast growing but short- lived, wide-spreading, "greedy"- designed to capture the maximum of sunlight and unoccupied soil. But eventually they are succeeded by the trees, which, because they invest energy in making wood, grow more slowly at first, but are more stable, longer-lived, and finally faster growing, more influential, the "dominant species", towering above.

We have spread ourselves over the earth, and used or burned just about everything that's easy to get. The age of the greedy ones draws to a close ( they don't know it yet). At last, we may hope, the "competitive advantage" passes to the practitioners of permanence, rooted-ness, slow growth and steady accumulation, the vertical expansion of the human spirit into realms uncharted, or long forgotten. A tree derives its satisfaction from the view achieved.

The process of Paradise Gardening involves:

-Extricating our life-support system from civilization/the Economy (bluntly, money), and reattaching it to the natural world of garden and neighborhood. This will be a gradual process requiring a real analysis of our needs and expenditures. Thus, for example, cars and gasoline are not needs but only the means to the satisfaction of needs. The solution is not gasohol but reducing the reason for traveling (usually the getting and spending of money). Concerning this the Tao Te Ching says "The country over the border might be so near that one could hear the cocks crowing and the dogs barking in it, but the people would grow old and die without ever once troubling to go there". (Ch. 80. See Needham, Science and Civilization in China, vol. II for a discussion of " the political program of the Taoists: the return to cooperative primitivity.")

The key to the self justifying nature of the process is this: things made or done by professionals or machines may be technically superior to one's own efforts, but are generally lacking in a quality which following Castenada, I will call "heart". Satisfaction from things bought usually peaks at the moment of purchase and declines rapidly. Needs which are met by the interaction of ourselves and nature are more deeply met, and there are wonderful surprises along the way. The truth of this will be evident to anyone who has ever made anything "from scratch". What seldom occurs to us (Someone doesn't want it to occur to us) is that an entire life can be constructed on this basis.

-The (re)integration of needs: not to the market for food, the spa for exercise, the doctor for healing, theatre for entertainment, school for learning, studio to create, church for inspiration, etc., but to the garden for all these at the same time.

-Enriching the garden by naturalizing useful and beautiful species and learning to incorporate them into our lives. We begin , of course, with the present and potential natural vegetation, to which may be added species introductions from similar areas worldwide; then slight modifications of the environment - micro-habitat enhancement - and the resultant possibilities for new species: a palette of plants, a Cornucopia* never available to previous generations.

A well-known biologist proposes "Planned biotic enrichment: It is within the power of science [you and me] not merely to hold down the rate of species extinction, but to reverse it. Among the principal topics of community ecology now under intensive study is the species packing problem...Theoretically, assertive equilibria can be planned that exceed any occurring in nature. Species might be drawn from different parts of the world..." (Edw. Wilson, "Applied Biogeography"). Wilson goes on to discuss " the creation of new (biotic) communities" and "ecosystem manipulation: the ultimate game... the very size of the world biota is itself a challenge that only generations more of study will encompass. The possibilities for ecosystem manipulation...offer creative work that is orders of magnitude even more extensive..."

-Hand labor. We all have two hands, one lifetime, twenty-four hours in every day. These are "democratic" factors. Working by hand on a small piece of land we can create a Paradise with relevance for all. Money, machines can't get us there any faster, in fact can't get us there at all, lead us astray.

We live during a narrow "window of opportunity". Having come, at last, to the realization that a revolutionary shift of consciousness and lifestyle is required, we find that we have only a few generations to do it in, before it will be too late to make a transition (environment degraded, resources depleted, species extinct, soils eroded/ polluted, population doubled...).

Our enemy is a paper tiger because it can't deliver the goods. The world waits for examples; to be shown, not told, a better way. Paradise Gardening is vastly more meaningful than the "biodome" experiment, and anyone can play.

We have been putting this off for too many lifetimes now.

You see the beauty of my proposal is
It needn't wait on general revolution
I bid you to a one-man revolution
The only revolution that is coming
(R. Frost, "Build Soil")

*Cornucopia, S.Facciola. Kampong Pub., 1870 Sunrise Dr., Vista CA 92084. Astounding new publication. Three thousand edible species, many more thousands of cultivars, sources of supply and information for each entry.


This article was written about 20 years ago (which will account for a few dated references) - the result of several winter's reading with the goal of developing a philosophy to underpin the garden-making project which I had already begun. I don't have the heart to rewrite it, but in the interim have learned a few other things which bolster the argument, so I add them here:

What drives (over)consumption?
Civilization (in the original - latin - sense, from civitas, the state), mimics the natural ecosystem. Consider the 'trophic pyramid' - a large biomass of primary producers, above which a smaller mass of primary consumers, above that a still smaller mass of secondary consumers, etc. A lot of plants support a smaller number of cows, which support an even smaller number of lions...The civilized version of this has peasants and laborers on the bottom, above them succesively smaller layers of administrators and merchants, political leaders and capitalists

Consumption (other than a minor component of 'basic human needs' - whatever that may be) is about defining one's place (status) in the hierarchy of civilization. Consumption is communication. I am indebted for this insight originally to Mary Douglas The World of Goods, but by now it's pretty common knowledge - certainly to marketers. And, of course, the old saying 'keeping up with the Joneses' concisely expresses the same idea. Still, it's useful to look at it baldly: consumption is communication, it's about saying who we are, our status, our affiliations. But surely there is a way to communicate that doesn't involve burning down the house?

"Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home. Each is an aspect of the other...politically 'weaker' peoples were confronted with a single set of alternatives...This historical fact [conquest] is then reflected as a law of development; as civilization accelerates, its proponents project their historical present as the progressive destiny of the entire human race...
No matter how far we range in time and space, from Teotihuacan to Angkor Vat the tale is always the same...the history of civilization repeats itself not as farce...but as tragedy. In the shadow of this tragedy, the achievments of civilization are reduced to their proper proportion. They were intended for the use and pleasure of the very few at the expense of the skill and labor of the many..."
Stanley Diamond In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization
'Primitive' people never voluntarily 'acculturate' (become civilized) - they've got too much to lose - but civilized persons, exposed to the primitive, sometimes 'go native.'

Twenty years on, I still hold firmly to the belief that the best way to address global warming, diversity loss and other planetary problems, the best way to address war, injustice and other social problems, and the best way for humans to live on the planet to realize our full physical, mental and spiritual potential are the same 'way'. Mountain Gardens is an effort to act out this theory - we are actors in a piece of 'visionary ecological theater'

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

word of the day: bucolic

of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life. noun. pronounced byoo-kol-ik

o yeah. more AH, AL! is forthcoming. promise on momma earth's menstrual blood.

i was told that the culture(s) in laos and cambodia were really, really cool and utopian in the 20 years before pol pot. i looked into it some, but didn't find anything of value. any info on the matter would be welcome.

i have healthy, alive ginger beer brewing. my hopes are high for that. but really, some personal troubles have come in the way of me blogging. i thought my foot was fucking gonna be good to go, but i have to treat it gingerly for another month and a half. that lays serious waste to some cool plans, but i'm coping. as long as my brain works, i should be copacetic.

i got turned down for La'akea cuz of the depression and eating disorderness (fuck's that about?), haven't heard back from Lost Valley. so i'm looking elsewhere, using fab database of farms that need help/want to teach. i've really had to narrow down the playing field by adopting hard-hitting criteria (enough people, real learning, room and board for work, and focus on egalitarian community skills). some of the way cool finalists have websites, and so in the interest of the holiday spirit, the return of longer days and merriment, here's a smorgasbord of their links: http://www.localharvest.org/farms/M5606 http://www.eastwind.org/ http://www.sustainablelivingsystems.org/ didn't they get the memo? you were supposed to leave the Garden of Eden when God told you to. duh! http://www.cccc.edu/ wow sounds hard but far out dude http://www.postcarbon.org/lifeboat/ http://www.earthaven.org/

here's one without a website of their own, but it's too sick to pass up:

grey owl garden

Activities: magic, love, fairies, wild edibles, brewing, compost, farming, gardening, activism, healing, permaculture, csa, cottage industry, community, arts&crafts, bio-dynamics
Description: we grow food, we enjoy life, we're interested most in: natural farming techniques, mushrooms & berries, wild animals, fermentation, crafts, simplicity, herbs, wildcrafting, solstice, fairies, dragonflies, (there're alotta insects, hella mosquitoes, no poisonous ones - aside from bees which we're also interested in), latin america, anarchy, (r)evolution, permaculture, magic, sewing/weaving, compost, horse manure, musica, weeds, fishing, flowers, strawberries, rhubarb wine, corn, indigenous cultures, zapatismo,...

the land: five acres, two cleared, just outside of fairbanks, beautiful, peaceful, basic, simple, small-scale, tranquilo

we grow subsistence & market foods, use a variety of gardening methods (as natural & simple as possible), are open to new ideas

disclaimer!!! smallscale tranqillo garden life. rootsy simple style. an experiment in magic, a chill home, a beautiful garden.
Program: Open everything: be prepared to get some blisters, to chill out, to share space, to eat vital bioregional foods, to ferment physically & spiritually, to explore personal projects while committing to the work of the garden, and to BE IN ALASKA!

lodging: bring your own tent or feel welcome to create your own simple, temporary structure that we can offer some help with

food: communal meals of staple grains, legumes, garden/wild veggies, salmon, other foods you offer...

we live simply, expect earth-based exisdance: outhouse, no "indoors" (we have a screenhouse), no running water, outdoor cooking, tents, hammocks, possibility of electricty & telephone this year, town 25 minutes away by car (we go 1-2 times/week)

POTENTIAL FOR MUCHISMO MOSQUITOS, and mad amounts of solar presence (i.e. midnight/2/3/4/5 am SUN!!)

we travel a bit in the summer, you're welcome to adventure out as well
happy solstace, ya crazy heathens

Saturday, December 16, 2006


when other folks have mentioned noble savagery on THEIR blogs, i felt very special. so maybe i can make my pal with 10,000 nicknames feel special too. check out his blog! http://samskaracompost.blogspot.com/

Friday, December 15, 2006



a new building!

-my pal Daniel tells me that you can amend overly dense soil with cigarette buttes.

i have been thinking about a lot of different stuff. i'm going to use the blog as a sounding board, but i promise, these thoughts are not uninteligible.

Boondoggled from http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Cove/8286/wigwam.html, here is a description by Thomas Wildcat Alford (in his book "Civilization") of the housing of one of this area's former demographic groups, before the remnant bands:

"In building a wegiwa the bark was obtained by first severing it from the body of a tree as it stood, mostly from elm and birch....the bark was laid flat on level ground, with flesh side under, weighted down with small logs, and allowed to dry to a certain extent, but used while still soft and pliable. Then poles were cut of straight young trees and set into the ground at regular distances apart, outlining the size desired for the wegiwa. All bark was peeled off the poles to keep worms from working in it. Two of these poles with a fork at the top of each were set at opposite ends and at half way the length of the wegiwa. Upon these forks were laid the ends of a long pole...tied securely with rough bark. This formed the top comb of the roof, to which the rest of the poles were bent to a suitable height for the walls and firmly secured there with strips of bark. Then upon and across these were laid other poles at regular distances from the top comb, down the slope to the end of the roof, and on down the sides to form the walls. Upon these cross poles were laid the sheets of bark...securely held in place by other poles laid on the outside of the bark and tied fast to the poles within. The work seems intricate...but to a dexterous Indian woman...it was easily and quickly done."

at this point in time, the wegiwa seems impracticle for Cincinnati's city and suburb residents, and even for the rural residents. there just aren't enough humongous elm and birch trees for everyone. so what's a contemporary noble savage to do? a few months ago i showed you the wegiwa-inspired structure we tried at La Paz. it worked okay, but i want something better!

so i'd been thinking about wattle and daub as an appropriate technology for living space in this area, and searched and searched for some DIY wattle and daub resources at the library and on the net. no dice, until the reference librarian became interested, and found me this, via the papercrete site i posted about earlier this month:

IN STOCK: Survival Scrapbook #1 Shelter . by Stefan Szczelkun 1974. The wacky shelter book is printed in purple ink throughout, with the most amazing drawings and photos of unusual shelter concepts. It extensively covers domes and dome designs out or many mateials, even one PaperPod design that could be the forefunner of Papercrete! ALso shows how to convert buses and small trailers, wattle & daub, stone, log, turf, dugout, a Cinva Ram brick press design, soil cment making, and much more. This book is SO offbeat there are NO page numbers, but I estimate 100 pages, bibliography, 3 color cover. $25.00

if you can put your paws or flippers on it, just to read and take notes as i did, do. it was the shiz, as demonstrated by its inclusion of this New Guinean bachelor-style tree house:

anyway, traditional wattle and daub was sort of the forerunner to today's structurally insulated panels. according to my research, typically you'd begin by making a timber frame, in other words a skeleton to support the weight of the walls. these timber frames can vary greatly in their complexity. then you'd make panels of woven sticks, called wattles, which would then be covered up by and saturated with a "lime stabilized soil plaster". sounds easy. lime's just a byproduct of harvesting limestone. limestone isn't that hard to harvest on a small scale (I think) and is still done industrially, anyway, so not hard or expensive to come by. the rest of the plaster is just, like, clay, i think. so stay tuned, peanut gallery. this could be cincinnati's next evolution in housing! (not)

New Horizons breathing on their necks

New dawning days of creative forces flowing into mass

its in the corners of their eyes while they sleep

Simplistic wonderment

The wind tickles as it whispers secrets unto their ears





it is good knowledge

Thursday, December 14, 2006

in the past, i was a video game junkie. not like the Korean kid who played at a cyber cafe for 26 hours straight, got up to go to the bathroom, and died on the way there. but a junkie nontheless. i've been clean since i left college, with two minor relapses. still, this is so tragic and comical i might go seek it out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

rain gardens

some of cincinnati's people who are interested in rain gardens met today. rain gardens are an organic tool to slow, stop and sink rain water down into the ground. an alternative to this sort of technology in the city could mean doing notihing, which would relegate the water to a storm drain, which depending on you are could trigger a combined sewer overflow response (not good), or at the very least washing some nasty polluted water into the local watercourses (yucky as fucky, will kill all the duckies).

so i tagged along to this get together, and it was interesting. it was in a metropolitan swer district building, though there was some representation of people all over the politcal and activity map. some kind of interesting alliance between different sorts of people should soon be emerging out of it!

an interesting initiative in kansas city was mentioned. here's the website. KC has compacted clay soil, so flooding is a big problem. out of necessity, the people and the government are working to seriously cut into rain water run off by making thoughtfully designed, implemented and maintained rain gardens to make it so the navigable waterways, steams and roads aren't deluged with polluted water every time a big rain hits. In Minnesota, there are some places that did this in a more "grassroots" (aka anarchist), where forward thinking people started doing stuff and the local gov't eventually had to run with it. I'll figure where that was and put it in next time.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Against His-story, Against Leviathan! Chapter 7 (Zoroastrianism and Darius's Persia)

This chapter has one of my favorite quotes from the book. See if ya can figure where it is.

With the Arrival of Medes, Persians and Scythians, we get a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of what has been brewing in the cauldrons of the witches and shamans of the Eurasian steppes and mountains.

When the Guti, Kassites, Hittites and Greeks arrived, we couldn’t look into their past because they forgot or repressed every memory of it. The Greek Hesiod remembered only that the past was golden compared to his own age, but he forgot most of the details.

When the Persians arrive, they remember a visionary, or a movement of visionaries, called Zarathustra, and they will preserve the surviving traces of this memory in books.

It is not known if this Zarathustra lived in the steppes or on the outskirts of the neo-Babylonian empire, or even if he was a man or a community.

Zarathustra reduced Hesiod’s five generations to two: one is outside the Leviathan, the other is inside.

The outsider is Light, Ahura Mazda, associated with the spirits of fire, earth and water, with animals and plants, with Earth and Life. Ahura Mazda is the strength and freedom of the generation Hesiod considered the first, the golden.

The insider is Darkness, Ahriman, also called The Lie. Ahriman is the Leviathan as well as the Leviathanic armor that disrupted the ancient community.

Nietzsche is going to recognize that Zarathustra called on human beings to rise in stature, to be more than merchants of wine and olives. Zarathustra announced and perhaps even proclaimed the war of Ahura Mazda against Ahriman.

This war would not be a polite exodus led by an official. Zarathustra knew that followers led by the nose would not recover their freedom. Ahriman is in the world and in the individual. It is simultaneously a struggle against Leviathan and against the armor. It is waged with fire, the great purifier. The mask is burned off, the armor is burned out, the Leviathan is burned down. And woe to the world if the fire should fall to Ahriman, to the hands of armored men!

In spite of Zarathustra’s warnings and precautions, the fire of Ahura Mazda does fall into the hands of an armored man, Cyrus, great-grandson of Achaemenes the Persian. This Cyrus did not hesitate before leading people by the nose. Trained by the Medes who inherited not only Elam but also everthing the Elamites had learned from a hundred generations of Mesopotamian Leviathans, Cyrus like Moses let himself be pulled by his armor.

Those who are letting themselves be pulled by the nose don’t see Cyrus’s armor. All they see is Cyrus’s mantle, the mantle of Zarathustra. They think Cyrus isn’t leading them back into the same old trap, but to an altogether different place.

Among these followers are numerous outsiders whose communities have been mauled by the Mesopotamian Leviathans, people from steppes and mountains, from Parthia, Afghanistan and India. Numerous armored insiders also follow Cyrus, those who earlier expected Chadeans to destroy, not restore, the Assyrian monster.

One of these armored insiders, a man called Isaiah who can think of liberation only narrowly, only in terms of his own immediate circle, thinks Cyrus is the Messiah:

I (the Lord) have roused up one from the north, and he is come…
And he shall come upon rulers as upon mortar,
And as the potter treadeth clay.

To open the blind eyes,
To bring out the prisoner from the dungeon,
And them that sit in the darkness out of the prison-house.

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have beholden,
To subdue nations before him,
And to loose the loins of kings;
To open the doors before him,
And that the gates may not be shut:
I will go before thee,
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the doors of brass,
And cut in sunder the bars of iron…

The expectations of the less armored are undoubtedly larger. The Persian wearing Zarathustra’s mantle can give rise to such expectations because there is revulsion from the Strait of Gibralter to the China Sea, and the object of the revulsion is Leviathan.

In distant China people are saying that the armor and the mask of Leviathan are not the Way. They are learning to experience joy from the rising of the sun and the gushing of blood from a wound. They are starting to shed the armor. They are saying that the human being, who was so much, is becoming very little.

In India people are saying the Leviathan and its artificial distinctions and hierarchies is not the ultimate reality, is no reality at all. They are breaking all their ties to the Leviathan and concentrating on burning out the armor that has wrapped itself around their innards. They are intent on removing every last splinter, for they too remember that human beings were much, that human beings used to fly.

From one to the other extremity of the wide continent, circles of women are dancing around fires celebrating the emergence of new human beings out of the ashes. All of Eurasia is dancing.

If we must label the dance, we can call it a generalized rejection of Civilization and all its masks and armors.

We cannot call the dance “religion.” The way of a free human being is All; there is nothing above it. Religion is a part of a Leviathan; it may have started as a way but it is no longer one; it has been mangled and turned into a part of a Leviathan’s armor.

We do not learn the revulsion or of the expectation of human renewal from the dancers themselves because ignorant armies, Cyrus’s foremost among them, break up the circles.

We learn from the children and grandchildren who have not themselves danced, but who have heard.

In China the visions of Zarathustra’s equally shadowy contemporary Lao Tze are gathered up in books and come to be known as The Way.

In India the visions of one called Gautama are collected and come to be considered by masked and armored as techniques for removing the mask and armor.

In Greece, echoes of the hopes stay with the women who continue to dance and who remember having seen a new Dionysus emerge from ashes. Echoes stay with musicians who gather with Pythagoras of Samos in order to renew the hopes.

The main outlines of what Turner will call “the crisis cult,” Christianity, precede it by twenty-five or thirty generations. And the main outlines of the inversion of the crisis cult also precede it, and by at least as many generations. The Persian Cyrus who wears the mantle of Zarathustra and the later Indian Ashoka who wears the mantle of Buddha are both forerunners of Constantine and the Popes.

* * *

The Persians who overrun the neo-Babylonian empire of the Chaldeans do not reactivate the Assyrian war engines. Such a turnabout would not sit well with the expectations of the followers.

Cyrus moves slowly, with squadrons of elephants, camels and horses. He doesn’t need Assyrian terror. He simply walks his army across Eurasia. The sheer size and appearance of his moving host inspires terror, and the memory of Assyrian cruelty urges submission.

By the first few years of the reign of Curus’s son, the Persian Leviathan embraces Egypt too, and encompasses worlds the Assyrians had only heard of.

Meanwhile, the visions of Zarathustra are reduced to a religion. People who wanted to be more are urged to remain less and to wait. Priests demonstrate their unfaltering commitment by copying and preserving the Way, the Avesta, in a book. The same priests will convince the people that the renewal will come as surely as day follows night, but not during the reign of the great Cyrus. The renewal will come after the people die, for they will then cross the bridge to the path that leads to the realm of Light and there, only there, Saoshyant the Savior will raise them out of Death’s grip.

After the great Cyrus himself goes seeking Saoshyant on the path beyond the bridge, his son Cambyses guides his armored host across the Levant and all the way down the Nile. The sheer exoticism of the Persian’s traveling circus disarms any Egyptian who has a mind to resist. The Persian mocks the ancient Temple practices when he arrives, but he makes up for his mockery by promising to support the Temple. He promises to care for all the Temple’s needs, so that the Pharaoh and his priests can have even more time to devote to the gods.

What Cambyses doesn’t tell them is that some of his train, Levantine and Babylonian merchants, will stay behind when the great army returns to the Fertile Crescent. Egypt has raised its defenses to spare itself from the rapacity of the Mesopotamian merchant, and it was spared for a hundred generations. But by the time Assyrian merchants came no Egyptian remembered why the first wall had been built, and now that Cambyses leaves, few notice the busy men with wares.

Victorious Cambyses leaves Egypt, but instead of finding garlands he finds half his realm up in arms against him. It turns out that Cyrus’s former followers really did think Cyrus and his son had come from the north to set fire to the tribute-collection machine, not to make it run. Cambyses heads toward ancient Abram’s city, Harran, where the last Assyrians tried to hide from their uprisen zeks, and there, it is said, the son of Cyrus commits suicide.

Persians join with Chaldeans and Arameans in celebrating the death of the tyrant, and a follower of Zarathustra proclaims the end of Leviathan.

But Darius, a distant cousin of Cambyses whose title is in his might, surrounds himself with armored men nostalgic for Assyria, and with these men and methods he represses the rebels and repairs the tribute-gathering Leviathan.

Darius then proclaims himself King of the realm “by the grace of Ahura Mazda.” Whatever hope individuals have managed to keep alive now rot inside them like the empty ships of Tyre.

His-storians will call Darius “The Great” because he restores Assyrian methods to a far larger realm, to a Leviathan that stretches over half of Eurasia, from the southern Nile to the basin of the Indus.

But now, at last, the Egyptians remember why they built their wall. At last they notice that the merchants’ takings are huge compared to those of the tribute-gatherers who take far more than all of Egypt’s Temples need and give precious little of it to the Temples.

Egyptians try to withdraw from the Persian Leviathan, but the great Darius has access to conscripts from half the world, and his recruiters go seeking more in the forests and valleys south of Egypt, disrupting communities, setting in motion waves which will affect Africa as earlier waves affected Eurasia.

The great army beats down Egypt’s walls, definitively. By the time great Persians, great Greeks and great Romans are through with Egypt, the world’s wealthiest kingdom will be the world’s poorest colony.

The Persian Leviathan has now eaten every other Leviathan in the World. The existence of a distant Chinese Leviathan is suspected, but few go there, and the stories told of it by Scythians cannot by trusted.

In any case, the Persians know there’s a world outside of Leviathan closer at hand than China. They turn their attention to the Scythians, the fleet riders and iron-wielders who accompanied the first Persians to the Fertile Crescent but who have not yet been incorporated into Darius’ realm. Darius and his host set out to rpair this oversight. The huge army follows the abandoned Hittite route across Anatolia, traverses the Hellespont, moves on to Thrace.

But the Persians, with all their Assyrian and Babylonian armor, have forgotten just how fleet the steppe people used to be—and still are. The Persians catch a raider here, another there, but can find no city, no palace, no temple, not even a central camp. The armored men cannot imagine how people can live like that: in the woods, without labor gangs. This, to Leviathan’s armored men, is Wilderness. And Darius decides that his army, big as it is, is not yet big enough to swallow the wilderness.

* * *

the tainted nipple; Books 4 Prisoners Packathon Plug; Mickey Z on the #1 Buddhist Shisester of our times

I was supposed to put this up yesterday:
Over the last few years Minneapolis has become the
lauching and focal point for a growing number of 'boat
punks' taking expeditions down the
Mississippi River on homemade boats and rafts. Last
winter six Minneapolis based boaters went overseas and
took a 'Do It Yourself' river trip down the Mekong
River in Southeast Asia. Then
this past summer the largest floatilla yet, 13 boats at
one point, went down the Ohio River. Several of those
boats were made in Minneapolis as well.

This Sunday a new art show will open at the Matchbox
Cafe in Northeast Minneapolis showcasing photos,
articles and other artwork from the Ohio
River trip.

In addition, the new 'zine "Careening down the Mekong:
The Journey of the Tainted Nipple" will be released and
available for distribution.

Sunday, December 10 3-7pm (informal potluck around
4:30-5pm, bring a
dish if you want)
The Matchbox
1306 2nd St. NE

And I should have put this up last week, for the Cincinnati locals:

The Books 4 Prisoners Crews first annual 24 hour Packathon

When - Starts Dec. 17 at 6 pm through Dec. 18, 6pm

Where - Hobo Bookstore, 4040 Hamilton Ave. Located in Cincy's Northside neghborhood

You can get more info at their website, which I humbly suggest you plumb the depths of. I can attest, as can THOUSANDS of prisoners all over this area, that B4P is a marvelous and valuable.
Mickey Z's blog mentions that appearances are decieving when it comes to the Dalai Lama. I read an issue of the match that went more in-depth, and talked about all the torture chambers and slavery that went on in Tibet under Buddhist rule. Too bad the anti-primitivist editor won't use a computer

Friday, December 08, 2006

okay, so i lied. Magical critique of environmental/social/activist community

here's another something to read. it's from a druid, it's on activism. it's outside the box thinking. enjoy. thanks Jeronimo for sending it my way, and no i didn't mispell Jeronimo, J-man's name starts with a J!

John Michael Greer writes:

James asked me for my thoughts on "Globalize Liberation," and I hope
neither of you will mind a lengthy, even labored, response. The book
is extremely thought-provoking in its strengths and weaknesses alike,
and it's given me an opportunity to rethink many of the assumptions
I've had about social change and the potential shape of the future.
Since I come to these issues from a somewhat unusual perspective --
the perspective of a practicing mage and initiate of several magical
orders -- I recognize that the ideas "Globalize Liberation" evoked in
me are perhaps a little different from those common in the
progressive community. Thus I've chosen to explain those ideas here
at some length.

James, we've talked extensively about magic, but I don't know how
much of that you've shared with Patrick. For that reason, not to
mention the off chance you might pass this around to others, I should
probably take a moment to explain what I mean by magic and why it's
relevant to social change at all.

Dion Fortune (Violet Firth Evans), one of the most important magical
theorists of the twentieth century, defined magic as "the art and
science of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will."
While magic as I understand it is more a craft than an art or a
science, the basic principle holds. The medium of magic is
consciousness -- one's own consciousness, that of other people, and
(more controversially, at least within the worldview of modern
industrial culture) that of other-than-human entities of various
kinds. The tools of magic are will, imagination, and the innate
structures of consciousness itself, constellated through formal
patterns of symbol and ritual. The goals of magic are defined by the
individual magician.

The relevance of all this to social change and society in general was
pointed out powerfully by the late Ioan Culianu, one of the few
significant modern scholars of magic who was also a competent mage.
In his groundbreaking "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance" (1984)
Culianu argued that modern advertising is a form of magic, and
proposed that modern consumer societies can be seen as "magician
states" in which social control is primarily maintained not by
violence but by manipulation through magically charged images. It's a
crucial insight; when people treat, say, fizzy brown sugar water as a
source of their identity and human value, their resemblance to
fairy-tale characters under an enchantment isn't accidental. They're
quite literally caught up in a spell.

Those who aren't used to magic may find it easier to think of spells
as stories. Quite a lot of magic, in fact, can be understood as
storytelling. The mage uses symbol and ritual to tell a story, and
makes it so spellbinding that the listeners come to believe that it's
real -- and then make it real by their actions.

Magical combat is a struggle between storytellers, in which each mage
tries to define a common reality in terms of the story that best
serves his or her purposes. The struggle between the global corporate
system and the activist community, to build on Culianu's insights,
can be seen as a conflict of magicians telling opposing stories.

One obvious danger in magical combat is that of falling under the
spell of the other mage's story -- but there's also the subtler
danger of falling under the spell of one's own story, losing track of
the fact that it's a story rather than the raw undefined reality of
human experience out of which stories are assembled.

When that happens, the self-enchanted mage may not be able to let go
of the story, even when it's no longer relevant and another story
would be more useful. As the old tale of the Sorcerer's Apprentice
points out, if you lose control of the magical forces you summon,
you're in trouble. Something of this sort seems to have happened in
large parts of the progressive community.

Reading "Globalize Liberation" highlighted for me three stories, or
spells, in which many of today's progressives seem to be caught.
Let's call them the spell of reification, the spell of corporate
triumphalism, and the spell of rescue. (This last has another name
that's more revealing, but I'll save that for a bit; I'm sure you
know that mages don't bandy about true names too freely.) I'd like to
talk about those spells first, and then go on to talk about the more
hopeful side of the book: some of the ways in which today's
progressive community has begun to master its own magical powers and,
with them, the future of the world.

I. The Spell of Reification To my mind, one of the most striking
essays in "Globalize Liberation" is Van Jones' piece "Behind Enemy
Lines: Inside the World Economic Forum" (pp.87-96). It's especially
valuable because it brings core assumptions of the progressive
community up against the very different world of industrial society's
ruling elite.

Jones was astonished to find that the vast corporate structures
against which he and many other progressives had been campaigning so
hard -- the WTO, the World Bank, and so on -- were treated, by the
people who run them, as mere tools to be used or tossed aside at
will. The elite see themselves personally as the holders of power,
and institutions as their means and modes of power. The activists
outside the police barricades, by contrast, see the institutions
themselves as the problem. The scene from "The Wizard of Oz" comes
forcefully to mind; Dorothy and her friends try to figure out some
way to deal with the terrifying apparition of Oz, the Great and
Powerful, but never notice the little man behind the curtain.

This is only one form of a pervasive problem in today's progressive
politics: the way that identification so often transforms itself into
reification. In magical tradition, names are a source of power, since
to name something is to give it a context and meaning of the mage's
choosing. In struggles for social change, it's therefore crucial to
name what one is fighting; that's identification. But to go beyond
this, to forget that every name is an abstraction imposed on a
complex reality, and to treat the name as though it's an independent
reality lurching around all by itself causing problems -- that's
reification, and it's fatal.

The economic elite Jones encountered at the World Economic Forum use
reification as a form of protective camouflage. The WTO and its like
distract protest from the people and interests who shape, operate,
and profit from them. The elites could discard any of them in a
heartbeat without bringing the world one step closer to progressive
goals. But this isn't the only form of reification that gets in the
way of effective social change.

Starhawk's essay "A Feminist View of Global Justice" (pp. 45-50)
shows another kind of reification at work. Starhawk's a capable mage,
and her essay is a good example of name magic. Responding to claims
that the world's problems are caused by corporations pursuing their
own good under the banner of neoliberal ideology, she argues that
corporations and neoliberalism alike are simply forms of patriarchy.

By this act of renaming she subordinates anticorporate language and
analyses to the feminist philosophy she's defended so ably in her
many books.

But what is this thing called "patriarchy"? As feminist philosophers
have rightly pointed out, there's nothing in American society or
culture that isn't part of the system of privilege subordinating
women to men. It's useful to glance a few pages ahead to Betita
Martinez' article on racism, which argues that the system of white
supremacy (the name she places on racism, in another act of name
magic) similarly embraces every institution in American society. If
every part of American society is part of the system of patriarchy,
and every part of American society is likewise part of the system of
white supremacy, are the two systems actually different?

I'd point out that human relations and exchanges in American society
(and indeed most others) suffer from systematic inequalities along
lines drawn by gender, color, age, ethnicity, social status, sexual
orientation, body weight, physical appearance, and many other
factors. None of these divisions exist outside the whole system of
privilege. It can be good strategy to use labels such as "patriarchy"
to focus attention on some particular group suffering under the
system, but it's crucial not to fall into the same mistake as those
who protest the WTO, and forget that patriarchy is simply one mode of
privilege, a manifestation rather than a cause.

Failure to realize this burdened an earlier generation of activists
with bitter, divisive, and utterly futile quarrels between men of
color and white women as to whether racism or sexism was the "real
problem," when the real problem is a system of privilege that treats
gender and color, among many other things, as grounds for unequal
treatment. But reifying privilege as something separate from society
as a whole doesn't advance understanding either. The word "privilege"
is merely a way of describing systematic patterns of inequality in
the fabric of human relations and exchanges; it doesn't exist outside
that fabric, and it can only be changed by changing the fabric thread
by thread, weaving it into new patterns of equality and mutual

Of course systematic oppression of women on account of their gender
is a reality, and something that any progressive movement worth the
name needs to confront. In that Starhawk's essay focuses attention on
this, it's performing a valuable service. But it's crucial to
remember that many women also suffer oppression and injustice for
reasons unrelated to their gender -- reasons such as color, ethnic
background, and body weight -- and that women can also be privileged
by social divisions, and inflict oppression and injustice on others.
Using a label such as "patriarchy" for the whole problem obscures
these issues and, as I'll show a little further on, closes off
potential avenues for effective action. Beyond this, insisting that
one particular mode of privilege is more important than others is
itself a claim of privilege, and -- as in the case of the quarrels
just mentioned -- commonly accompanies attempts to claim that one
group's experience of oppression and injustice deserves more
attention from the activist community than others.

Reifications are problematic because they can distract progressives
from points of access where their actions can make a difference.
Consider George Lakey's fascinating account of the Otpor movement
against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in his article
"Strategizing for a Living Revolution" (pp. 135- 160). One of the
tactics Otpor members used to halt police violence against them was
to take photos of their wounded and make sure the family members,
neighbors, and children of the police got to see them.

This was a brilliant bit of magic. The individual human beings who
made up that reified abstraction, "the police," were stripped of that
identity by a spell of unnaming, and turned back into neighbors,
husbands, children, parents: people who were part of civil society,
and subject to its standards and social pressures.

That couldn't have been achieved if Otpor had reified and protested
"police brutality," since that act would have strengthened the
reification of police as something other than ordinary members of

The same point should be made about one of the most pervasive
reifications in "Globalize Liberation," the reification of the
existing order of society itself. David Solnit's otherwise excellent
introduction (pp. xi-xxiv) falls headlong into this trap. Solnit
confidently proclaims that "the system" is the cause of the world's
social and ecological problems, and then goes on to define "the
system" as the sum total of those problems: war, economic
exploitation, and so on. It's a breathtaking display of circular
logic, and invites the retort that "the system" is simply an abstract
reification of everything about the world that the progressive
community doesn't like.

Again, Lakey's account offers a potent alternative. Otpor strategists
recognized that the Milosevic dictatorship wasn't an independent
reality imposing itself from above on a passive society. It was
simply an arrangement of things within Serbian society, and could
only exist with the constant cooperation of millions of ordinary
Serbs. The same is true of today's global corporate economy; it
exists because people throughout the world, and especially people in
America, uphold it by their actions. In effect, we are "the system."
If we recognize that fact, instead of reifying "the system" as some
force alien to us, we can own and then wield our power over it.

II. The Spell of Corporate Triumphalism The notion that "the system"
is something outside the society that constitutes it goes hand in
hand with the claim that the struggle against "the system" is
entering its most desperate phase right now. Patrick, I'm going to
pick on you here, mostly because you indicated a willingness to
accept scathing criticism; plenty of other essays in the book fall
into this same rhetoric. You start your thoughtful essay
"Decolonizing the Revolutionary Imagination" (pp. 161-212) with the
words: "Our planet is heading into an unprecedented global crisis.
The blatancy of the corporate power grab and the accelerating
ecological meltdown is evidence that we do not live in an era where
we can afford the luxury of fighting merely the symptoms of the
problem." Language like "doomsday economy" and repeated insistences
that we have no choice except all-out struggle feed this sense of

There's a strong confirmatory bias at work in discussions of these
topics in the activist community, which has resulted in the
widespread acceptance of statements that can't be justified by the
facts. You comment, for example, that the current ecological
transformation is "the sixth great extinction," that it's more rapid
than any other, and that it threatens the survival of the Earth's
biosphere itself. This rhetoric is extremely common in activist
circles these days but it's not actually supported by scientific
research into the Earth's past extinction crises, which I'd encourage
you to look into. There have been more than twenty great extinctions
since the end of the Precambrian Period, not five (or six); many past
extinctions were much swifter than the present example (the K-T event
that wiped out the dinosaurs was almost instant, since it involved an
asteroid smashing into the Earth); and the Earth's biosphere has
easily weathered crises much more drastic than anything it's facing
now. The current crisis is a reality but it doesn't threaten the
survival of life on the planet.

Does this mean that we needn't worry about the ecological and
climatic shifts now under way as a result of human blundering?
Hardly. Given that global warming alone may well drown every coastal
city in the world under rising oceans, wreck the global agricultural
system on which six billion people depend for their daily meals, and
send tropical epidemics raging through the temperate world, just in
the next century, we have plenty to fret about. As James Lovelock has
shown, the earth's biosphere is an intricate, powerful system that
responds homeostatically to cancel out imbalances. Our society's
inept prodding at the biosphere risks kindling a homeostatic response
that could flatten the proud towers of our cities and push Homo
sapiens to the brink of extinction.

This view of the situation has a solid foundation in science. As a
tool for raising questions about the existing order of society and
mobilizing individuals and communities, it's likely to work at least
as well as the rhetoric of desperation described above. Yet it's
received very little attention in progressive circles.

Partly that's an effect of the third spell I'll discuss in this
essay; partly, it's a rhetorical habit, common on the American left
from colonial times to the present, of using apocalyptic rhetoric to
prod people into listening (though by this point people are pretty
well immunized to it). Partly, though, it's the result of another

This factor is a mythology of corporate triumphalism. Today's global
corporate economy presents itself as the inevitable wave of the
future, a rising power that will master the destiny of the planet
sometime soon if it hasn't done so already. Francis Fukuyama's widely
read essay "The End of History" typifies this myth: "liberal
democracy" (that is, corporate socialism manipulating the republican
systems of an earlier era of politics) is the most efficient and
therefore the best possible form of government, and so history
defined as the evolutionary clash between competing forms of
government is at an end.

Fukuyama's essay is a masterpiece of unintentional comedy, with its
implied portrayal of George Herbert Walker Bush as Hegel's
"world-historical personality" -- am I the only person who thinks
that Bush the First talks like Hardy Har Har, the chronically
depressed hyena in the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons? -- but it also
offers a glimpse into the workings of the myth. It starts with a
clever reification, turning six thousand years of wildly diverse
events into a single process called "history," which by Hegel's
definition has one driving force (conflict between forms of
government) and one goal (the triumph of the "best," or rather, the
most efficient form of government). By this act of name magic, all
previous time becomes a process leading inevitably to today's global
corporate system, and the total triumph of that system becomes the
natural conclusion of everything that's come before: the end of

Progressive activists might be expected to challenge this forcefully,
and present new ways of seeing the past that either dissolve
"history" altogether or redefine it in ways that foster social
change. Instead, most modern progressive thought accepts the myth of
corporate triumphalism intact, merely changing the moral signs
("good" becomes "bad" and vice versa) and tacking on a final chapter
in which, at the last possible minute, the good guys win out anyway.
The resulting story makes for good fantasy (it's the basic plot of
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings") but bad strategy. Worse, by fitting
the social change community into the dramatic role of heroic fighters
for a lost cause, it subtly encourages activists to put themselves in
positions where they will heroically fail to accomplish their goals,
thus playing the part the story defines for them.

As a contrarian thought experiment, imagine that by some accident (a
head-on collision between two time machines?) you find yourself
holding a history of the world published in San Francisco in the year

You eagerly turn to the pages about the early 21st century, hoping to
find out how a triumphant, expansionistic corporate system was
defeated by a heroic minority of global activists. What you find
instead is something quite different...

"By the dawn of the 21st century it was clear that the ramshackle
structure of economic and political compromises that followed the
disastrous Great European War of 1914-1945 was falling apart, and
taking Euro-American global hegemony with it. Efforts to expand that
hegemony's technological base in the late 20th century by introducing
supersonic transports, large-scale nuclear power, and other dubious
advances went nowhere in the face of popular resistance and economic
realities, while spectacularly inept handling of currency exchange
problems by would-be "global managers" among the governing elites put
formidable strains on a faltering system. The triumphant imperialism
of the 19th century had given way, and the global capitalism that
followed it proved too weak to resist the forces of change.

"From 1970 on, elite groups knew they faced severe resource and
energy shortages in the near future, and from 1990 on the
catastrophic threat of global climate change could no longer be
ignored (though it was publicly denied), but the system they were
expected to manage lacked the flexibility and resources to respond to
these hard realities. Nor could it cope with the ballooning of a
fictive economy built on exotic financial instruments -- essentially
unpayable IOUs with nothing backing them -- which emerged in response
to pervasive weakness all through the productive sectors of the
economy. Increasingly frantic transfers of jobs, resources and wealth
across nation state borders propped up the system over the short
term, but the resulting ecological and economic damage fanned the
flames of popular discontent and brought the final collapse steadily

"2001 marked the beginning of the end. In that year, another fiscal
crisis mismanaged by the elites pushed the nation state of Argentina
(now part of the Confederacion de Vecindades de America del Sur) into
economic and political meltdown. Argentines responded by building
new, locally based networks for decision making and exchange, and as
these expanded the remnants of national government slowly flickered
out. Fiscal and ecological crises elsewhere in Latin America, Asia,
and Eastern Europe in 2005, 2008, and 2010 saw more than a dozen
nation states start coming apart in the same way. Even in those
nation states that managed to hold together through the troubled
first decade of the 21st century, economic dislocation and political
failure drove the growth of new local systems on the Argentine model.

"As news of these spread over the Internet, it fed a growing
awareness that the old order's days were numbered.

"In the end, the breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet in 2012
proved to be simply one crisis too many for a beleaguered,
malfunctioning, and overloaded system. Faced with rising sea levels
and coastal flooding worldwide, hamstrung by an unmanageable burden
of unpayable debt from the fictive economy, and targeted by
overwhelming popular resentment due to their failure to take
preventive action against the global warming crisis, the world's
economic and political elites were left without any viable options at
all. Most members of the elites were killed outright or fled into
hiding. In their absence, the old society fell apart in a matter of
months, leaving local networks and neighborhood councils to pick up
the pieces."

Take a moment to think of your own place today in that history of
elite failure and collapse. To mimic the effects of confirmatory
bias, think of everything you know that fits that vision of the
future. Make an effort to experience the world around you as though
today's global corporate system isn't a triumphant monster, but a
brittle, ungainly, jerry-rigged contraption whose managers are vainly
scrambling to hold it together against a rising tide of crises. See
the issues that engage your activism in that light, not as though
you're desperate, but as though the system is. It's a very different
perspective from that of most activists, and reaching it even in
imagination might take some work, but give it your best try.

The point I'd like to make, once you've tried on both stories of the
future, is that both of them -- the story of corporate triumph and
the story of corporate failure -- explain the past and present
equally well. The actions of the IMF and the World Bank in the last
decade or so, for example, can be explained as a power grab by a
doomsday economy in the driver's seat, but they can equally well be
explained as desperation moves by a faltering elite faced with a
world situation that's more unsteady and ungovernable by the day.

The same is true of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and anything else from
the current-events page you wish to name.

Which of these stories is true? Wrong question. The events that
define either story haven't happened yet, and which story people
believe could well determine which way the ending turns out. If
people believe that the global corporate system is invulnerable, most
of them will make their peace with it and come to rely on it, and
their actions will give it more power. If people believe that the
global corporate system is doomed, most of them will withdraw their
support from it and begin seeking alternatives -- and that in itself
could doom it. Ask yourself, then, which of these stories fosters
more hope, gives more encouragement to alternative visions of
society, and more effectively cuts at the mental foundations of
today's economic and political systems.

Yet of course these aren't the only two choices. Philosophers of
science have agonized over the hard realization that any given set of
facts can be explained by an infinite number of hypotheses. Mages, by
contrast, revel in the freedom this implies. The freedom to
reinterpret the world, to abandon a story of desperation for one of
possibility and hope, is basic to the worldview of magic. It's a
freedom that today's progressive community might find it useful to
embrace as well.

III. The Spell of Rescue But the progressive community's embrace of
the rhetoric of desperation and the mythology of corporate
triumphalism have another source, as I've suggested above. Another
spell or, to use a model that's particularly appropriate here,
another story keeps these patterns in place.

Patrick, I'm going to pick on you again, though I could as well
discuss most of the essays in the book.

"Decolonizing the Revolutionary Imagination" tells a story with three
characters. One is innocent, helpless, and in need of rescue. The
second is sinister, devious, and the cause of the first character's
predicament. The third is heroic, idealistic, and the first
character's only hope of rescue. The biosphere, the corporate
"doomsday economy," and the activist community are the names you give
these three characters. Other essays in the book tell the same story
but give the characters different names. Still, you know whose story
I'm talking about. It's the story of Dudley Do-right.

On the off chance that you somehow missed out on watching the Rocky
and Bullwinkle Show, where he originally appeared, I'll summarize.
Dudley Do-right was a Mountie, blond, heroic, and as thick as a brick.

His girlfriend Nell Fenwick was always being tied to railroad tracks
by the villainous Snidely Whiplash.

Dudley rescued her time after time, to the sound of Snidely's
trademark line, "Curses, foiled again!" The next episode, though,
there's Snidely tying Nell to the tracks again as Dudley gallops to
the rescue. The roles of the three characters are as predictable as a
corporate press release: Snidely has the active role and gets the
action going in each episode, Nell's role is passive (getting tied up
and rescued), and Dudley's is reactive (foiling Snidely and rescuing

Map the story of Dudley Do-right onto your article and it fits down
to the fine details. "The system" has the active role, and it's
always tying someone or other to the railroad tracks. The biosphere,
in this case, waits passively to be rescued. The progressive
community reacts by galloping to the rescue, and Whiplash Petroleum
issues a press release saying "Curses, foiled again!" Dudley uses
direct (re)action of various kinds -- at the point of assumption (he
tries to talk Snidely out of tying people to railroad tracks),
destruction (he unties Nell from the tracks), production (he flags
down the train), and so on. The next episode, though, there's Snidely
tying Nell to the tracks again. And again. And again...

What's happened here is another bit of magic gone awry. The magic in
question is what the system of magic I practice calls "assuming a
godform." For certain kinds of magic, mages in my tradition choose
one of the gods or goddesses of ancient Egypt, based on the energy
they want to bring into focus -- Isis for love, Horus for power,
Nephthys for wisdom, and so on -- and first visualize, then actively
experience themselves as that deity. In its psychological dimension
(it has others) assuming a godform is a way of temporarily redefining
self-concept. Who you think you are defines what you think you can
do, and that sets the limits on what you can do. Assuming a godform
allows the mage to step outside the limits of ordinary self-concepts
by taking one aspect of human potential and raising it to the power
of infinity.

People do this in a less conscious way all the time. Kids assume
popular culture "godforms" right and left -- look, I'm Spider-Man!
Most adults do it a bit more subtly, but if you watch them and know
your pop culture you can usually figure out what images they've
assumed. You'll also notice, though, that many of them are stuck in a
single image, repeating the same role over and over, even when it's

I suggest that this is what's happened to the American progressive
community; it's gotten stuck in the godform of Dudley Do-right.

No, I don't think today's activists literally spent too much time
watching the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and got mesmerized by Canada's
least intelligent Mountie. Like any satire, Dudley Do-right pokes fun
at familiar themes; we laugh at him because we all know the story
he's lampooning. The self-concept that the progressive community has
embraced is the one Dudley Do-right makes fun of, the image of the
heroic rescuer. Assuming that image in the first place was good
strategy: an effective counter to negative images of "protesters,"
not to mention a way to impose the image of Snidely Whiplash on
defenders of privilege. What makes it a problem is that activists got
stuck in the role and can't step out of it. They can't see themselves
as anything but heroic rescuers. As confirmatory bias comes into
play, they inevitably see the world around them in terms of Nells to
rescue and Snidelys to vanquish.

The spell of Dudley Do-right has much to do with the purely reactive
stance of the American activist community. When activists define
their role wholly in terms of resistance and refusal, of
"articulat[ing] a NO to the system" (David Solnit's phrase, p. xv)
rather than pursuing a positive ideal, they guarantee that they'll
perpetually be scrambling to counter some new assault by the system,
trying to maintain an inadequate status quo against the threat of
further losses, rather than making the system and its defenders
scramble to counter efforts to change the status quo for the better.
This reactive stance comes out of the Dudley Do-right role, since the
heroic rescuer is always reactive; it's the Snidelys of the world who
get each episode moving by grabbing another Nell and tying her to the
railroad tracks.

Dudley also underlies some of the less productive rhetorical habits
of the activist community. Patrick, I'm going to use your sidebar
"Framing the Climate Crisis" on p. 182 as an example; it's fairly
mild compared to some of what we've all seen, but it'll make the
point. You argue that "[i]t's up to activists to ensure that people
understand that a small cartel of energy corporations and their
financial backers knowingly destabilized our planet's climate for
their own personal gain. This may turn out to be the most devastating
crime ever perpetrated against humanity, the planet, and future
generations." Grand rhetoric, but I trust you're aware that it's a
fantastic hypersimplification of a hugely complex issue. To be
precise, it's a Dudley Do-right definition, in which activists are
Dudley, energy corporations are Snidely Whiplash, and "humanity, the
planet, and future generations" are a collective Nell.

Is it a useful redefinition? Depends on what you're trying to
achieve. It sounds as though you hope to target the energy companies
for destruction by using them as scapegoats for disasters caused by
global warming. If that's indeed your intention, it might work, but
since global warming's sources go far beyond the mere Snidelyhood of
oil companies (and include the actions of the energy-squandering
American middle class you skillfully dismiss as "soccer moms"),
having oil company CEOs torn to pieces by howling mobs won't actually
do much for humanity, the planet, or future generations. In the
meantime, the rhetoric of demonization helps guarantee that the issue
of global warming will become more fiercely polarized and further
from a solution than ever.

An alternative approach might be worth considering. Again, George
Lakey's discussion of the Otpor movement is relevant. The Otpor
strategists deliberately avoided polarization of the sort that
American progressives embrace reflexively. Instead of demonizing the
police, they pursued a policy of outreach, building bridges that
ultimately reached into the upper levels of the police bureaucracy.
That paid off handsomely in the final crisis of the Milosevic regime,
when the police stood by and did nothing as crowds seized the Serbian
Parliament building. If activists in this country took an Otpor
approach to people in the energy companies, instead of painting
Snidely Whiplash's long black mustache on them, they could get
similar results.

Of course this would require giving up the very real emotional
payoffs of the Dudley Do-right role; the rush of being a rescuing
hero is a potent drug, and so is the righteous indignation of knowing
your enemies are Satan (or Snidely) incarnate. Letting go of
Dudleyhood can also require giving up more tangible payoffs; as
Patrick points out in an excellent analysis of the
professionalization of dissent (pp.193-199), significant parts of the
activist community have been bought out and turned into junior
partners in the corporate system. Playing Dudley Do-right is among
other things an effective way to ignore one's own complicity in
arrangements of privilege and exploitation, since everything can be
blamed on a Snidely Whiplash of one's choosing (such as "the system").

IV. Binaries, Ternaries, and Shifting Levels I'd like to shift gears
here and talk a little more directly about the magical dimension of
all this. One of the interesting things about the spell of Dudley
Do-right is that it's a dysfunctional ternary. James, we've discussed
magical number theory at quite some length, but again I don't know
how much of that you've shared with Patrick, and if either of you
show this to anyone else the chance that they'll have the least idea
of what I'm talking about is pretty slim. So I'll try to sum up the
elements of magical philosophy in 500 words or less.

Toward the beginning of this letter I mentioned that the structures
of consciousness are tools of magic. In the system of magic I
practice, those structures are identified with the numbers from 1 to
10, understood not as quantities but as abstract relationships. You
can experience anything through any number (though numbers above 10
denote relationships too complex for the human nervous system to
handle). Each number has its strengths and its weaknesses. If you're
working deliberately with the structures of consciousness -- which is
to say, if you're a mage -- you choose the structure/number you use
based on the effects you want to get. Most of the time, for reasons
too complex to get into here, you choose one, two, or three.

Anything seen through the filter of the number one is called a unary.
When you see something as a unary, you highlight qualities in it such
as wholeness, indivisibility, and isolation. See it through the
number two, as a binary, and you'll highlight different qualities
such as division, conflict, balance, and complementarity. See it
through the number three and still different qualities such as change
and complexity will be highlighted. All these have practical
implications. If you want people to cooperate and build community,
get them to think of themselves as part of a unary; if you want them
to quarrel and resist change, convince them they're on one side of a
binary; if you want them to make change, make them think of their
community and their world as a ternary.

Our society has a persistent habit of always seeing things in
binaries. The binary is symbolically masculine -- think of the
ithyphallic straight line, defined by any two points -- so this isn't
surprising! Our politics divide up into left and right, our ethics
into good and evil, our most popular religions oppose one god and one
devil, and so on. Campaigns for social change are no different, and
plenty of activists think they can get where they want by opposing
something. In a binary, though, every action is balanced by an
opposite reaction, so thinking in binaries is very problematic if you
want to foster change.

If you're a mage, you respond to dysfunctions of this sort by
shifting numbers. The traditional rule here is that numbers always
change in a specific order: one becomes two, two becomes three, and
three becomes one and shifts to another level. (The reasons for this
rule, again, are too complex to go into here.) Thus if you've got a
situation that presents itself as a binary, and you want to change
it, you can't effectively turn it back into a unary -- it'll just pop
back into being a binary again -- but you can turn the binary into a
ternary by redefining the situation in terms of three independent
factors, rather than two.

This is called neutralizing a binary, and it's a very common bit of
magical strategy.

The "good cop/bad cop" routine is a move of this sort. The cops
redefine the binary between policeman and suspect by having one
officer act friendly, while the other comes on like Attila the Hun.
The binary opposition dissolves, and fairly often the suspect talks.
The American political establishment uses the same move on the
progressive community every four years, with the Democrats playing
good cop and the GOP playing bad cop; activists time and again get
sucked into the ternary, and put their time and energy into a
candidate whose only claim on their attention is that he's not quite
as bad as the other guy.

It doesn't help that the two parties switch roles and do the
identical move on conservative activists too.

James, you and I have talked at quite a bit of length about ways that
activists can take control of this dynamic and use ternaries for
their own purposes -- for example, by having "good cop" moderate
progressives and "bad cop" radicals double-team a corporation or a
government. But it's a crucial mistake to oppose "good" ternaries
with "bad" binaries, and thus turn the relationship between them into
a binary. Every number is appropriate in some places and a waste of
time in others, and the Dudley Do- right scenario is an example of a
ternary that's a waste of time. The three characters circle endlessly
around one another; you've got action, complexity, and an addictive
emotional payoff of self-regarding heroism and self-righteous
indignation. What you don't have is a resolution of the problems the
progressive community thinks it's fighting.

The magical response to the Dudley Do-right trap is to shift from
ternary to unary, which means recognizing that Dudley, Nell, and
Snidely aren't three independent factors at all, but three
interdependent elements of a single structure of experience. As long
as activists see themselves as heroic Dudleys, they'll inevitably see
every problem in terms of Nells to rescue and Snidelys to rescue them
from. Any one role defines the other two. Leaving that behind, in
turn, involves shifting to a new level of self- awareness. Many
activists these days honestly believe that the three roles are out
there in the world, that the biosphere really is tied helplessly to
the railroad tracks and the board of directors of Whiplash Petroleum
really are twiddling their black mustaches and going "nya ha ha" as
the train approaches.

Banishing the spell requires waking up to the fact that these roles
are in the mind of the observer, and that it's possible to define the
situation in other ways.

This is one of the reasons why, earlier on, I deliberately proposed
several models for the current situation that don't fit the Dudley
Do-right scenario at all. For the biosphere to be a suitable Nell for
Dudley to rescue, she has to be helplessly tied to the railroad
track; the fact that this particular Nell might actually be an
irritated grizzly bear, fully capable of breaking the ropes and
tearing Snidely (and Dudley) limb from limb, doesn't fit the story
even though it may fit the facts. In the same way, the future history
that shows Snidely himself tied to the railroad track, flailing about
helplessly as the train approaches, chucks the Dudley scenario out
the window. Redefine one role and the entire story changes.

It may be high time for some such redefinition. I'm heartened by the
words of the anonymous aboriginal woman quoted on p. 417: "If you
come only to help me, you can go back home. But if you consider my
struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can
work together." In the terms I've used here, she's saying that she
isn't a helpless Nell awaiting rescue, and progressives from the
industrial world aren't heroic Dudleys riding to her help. She's cast
a spell of renaming that turns the Dudley Do- right ternary into a
unary of equals working together for survival. Can that same spell be
extended to the entire project of social change? I believe so.

V. Learning New Magics I've put quite a bit of time into critiquing
aspects of the activist community in this letter, and for all I know
one or both of you may see that as a frontal assault against
everything you believe. That's not my intention, though. I've tried,
borrowing your language, to apply some direct action at the point of
assumption -- that is, to challenge some of the inadequately examined
assumptions that are hindering a powerful global movement for
positive change.

What I see in "Globalize Liberation" generally is a situation in
which theory hasn't caught up to practice.

Shopworn slogans and reifications long past their pull date jostle
new tactics and strategies that the old language doesn't really
describe. Patrick, I've lambasted your essay "Decolonizing the
Revolutionary Imagination" several times, but it's also in many ways
the most impressive and magically sophisticated section of the book.
Yes, it suffers from each of the problems I've noted, but it also
breaks very promising ground.

I'd like to point out two things it does that put it way past many
other attempts to analyze the situation and propose strategies.
First, it focuses on the central place of imagination in the making
and unmaking of social reality. That's spectacularly important. The
politics of reality, as Theodore Roszak pointed out in "Where the
Wasteland Ends" (1972), is a politics of the imagination. It's not
just that change has to be thinkable before it's possible, though
this is true and important; it's also that imagination can change the
world by itself. The collapse of eastern Europe's communist bloc in
1989 happened because people stopped imagining themselves and their
societies in ways that made putting up with a bad system reasonable.
Remember the dazed expressions on the faces of so many former
communist heads of state and secret police chiefs? Their power had
always been imaginary; political power always is. What happened in
1989 was that people recognized that, and imagined it out of

The essay goes on to say that "[i]f we want to talk about reality in
the singular...we must talk about ecological reality" (p. 200). Here
you're selling your own insights short. I grant that as mental maps
go, ecology -- with its keen awareness of limits and consequences --
is a helluva lot more useful now than the economic models that
powered industrial society through the glory days of the Age of
Exuberance, but it's still a map, not the territory it tries to
describe. If it's allowed to fossilize into a dogmatic ideology, it
could become just as toxic as the mental maps it's starting to

If we want to talk about reality in the singular, we haven't yet
grasped the power of the imagination, because "reality" is always in
flux, shaped by a complex dialogue between the blooming, buzzing
confusion of the universe of our experience and the world-defining
powers of the imagination -- and the result is never quite the same
for any two individuals, ever. The Zapatista quest for "a world where
many worlds fit" offers more than any one vision of what's real. That
being said, I find the idea of earth-centered politics very useful,
since it focuses attention on the raw experience of natural systems.
If I may speak briefly from a position wholly within the magical
worldview, how trees and stones imagine the world is at least as
important as how human beings do so, even if the human beings are
ecologically literate.

The second crucial thing "Decolonizing the Revolutionary Imagination"
does is encourage self-awareness in the activist community. The edgy
discussion of the professionalization of dissent, and the brief but
lethal definition of "defector syndrome" in the appendix, challenge
two of the most obvious places where activism has become its own
reward rather than a means to an end. My comments about the spell of
Dudley Do-right are aimed at another. When activism becomes a
masturbatory act of self-gratification, as it sometimes does, it's
just another part of the existing order -- a pressure valve that
allows the disaffected to vent their passions harmlessly.

This is where "Globalize Liberation," with its focus on Third World
activism and experience, has the most to offer American progressives.
The essays on Zapatismo and the Argentine experience are among the
most promising things I've read in social change literature in the
last two decades. They point to powerful redefinitions of activism
and the transformation of society, and if activists here in America
pay close attention the results could be spectacular. The principles
Manuel Callahan cites in his essay "Zapatismo Beyond Chiapas" (pp.
217-228) -- refusal, space, and listening -- would be worth applying
within the activist community, as well as in interactions with the
rest of American society. Can you imagine a group of radicals from
San Francisco moving to Pittsburgh, and subordinating themselves to
the community in the middle of the Rust Belt? If you can't, work on
the idea until you can.

I could go on about many other strong points in the essays in
"Globalize Liberation," but this letter has already ballooned to
unjustifiable size and I'll limit myself to one: the theme of Marina
Sitrin's brilliant piece "Weaving Imagination and Creation: The
Future In the Present" (pp. 263-276). The notion of prefigurative
politics itself is profoundly magical. Ritual magic, after all, is
prefigurative politics on the individual level; the mage works with
symbols, and focuses will and imagination through that act to make
the symbol prefigure the reality. To do the same thing on the scale
of nations and peoples is an immense challenge, but it's also a
powerful possibility. It also points toward modes of politics --
parapolitics might be a better term -- that use the prefigurative
power of the imagination to change the world without using anything
that looks like politics in any sense we'd recognize today.

What I'm seeing most clearly in "Globalize Liberation" is a movement
in transition, partly anchored in tactics and analyses from past
decades, partly working with the improvisations of the present,
partly reaching out to the new possibilities of the future. It's a
promising sight. As I've suggested in talking about the myth of
corporate triumphalism, the existing order may not be nearly so solid
as it tries to make itself appear. It can't be repeated often enough
that the modern industrial state isn't the natural endpoint (or
endgame) of some inevitable historical process. It's what
philosophers call a contingent reality; things happened to turn out
this way, but they didn't have to, and there are good reasons why the
future probably won't be a duplicate of the past. As we move into the
twilight of the industrial age, the old bets are off.

So those are my responses. I hope some of this turns out useful. Call
me or drop me an email any time if you want to talk about any of it.

With my best as always, John Michael Greer

(added bio): John Michael Greer is the author of eleven books and
many articles on magical philosophy and practice, including "Inside a
Magical Lodge" (Llewellyn, 1998), "The New Encyclopedia of the
Occult" (Llewellyn, 2003), "A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into
Polytheism" (ADF, 2005), and the forthcoming "Druidry: A Green Way of
Wisdom" (Weiser, 2006). An initiate in the Golden Dawn tradition, he
has also been active in the Druid community for many years; he
currently heads the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), holds
the highest level of initiation in the Order of Bards Ovates and
Druids (OBOD), and received OBOD's Mount Haemus award in 2003 for his
research into Druid history. He lives in Ashland, OR, with his wife

More information and a complete list of his book publications are
online at http://www.aoda.org/about/greerbio.htm