A great little short… very power-packed.
Most of the problematic tendencies in our disaster-prone society seem to be aspects of one simple principle: being willing to use your power to gain more power is the way to success and general approbation.
I suppose this is an unsupported generalization, and that I’m painting things with a broad brush. I’d certainly be hard-pressed to come up with a large array of supporting instances of this principle, but it is an idea that’s been growing in my mind for some time now.
The most recent events on the national stage that have brought this up for me are the Republican tax bill, which they’ve finally managed to pass–an act of pure power in itself–and the flurry of defensive rationalizations around the men who’ve been accused of sexual predation. Though these two things seem to be unrelated, they share an etiology: abuse of power.
The tax bill is essentially a bold, crass move by the people who hold the reigns of power in the U.S. (the wealthy owner class, not the pathetic politicians who do their bidding for the crumbs from the table) to consolidate their gains as they become more and more in control of everything. They don’t really need more money, but they have an insatiable need for power, and that’s what control of so much of our national wealth gives them: nearly unlimited power. Including the power to keep us convinced that it’s in our interest.
Why they want this power is a question for deeper psycho-social analysis than I’m equipped to make, but it seems to be a product of some pretty deep-seated emotional hurt and fear that just grows as it is fed. I’ve long been convinced that most anger and hatred and evil-doing is based in fear, which usually has come from some kind of hurt. Like most of our negative psychological states, when we feed it the emotional poison of exerting our will over that of another, the negative state grows and requires bigger and bigger doses of power to assuage the pain.
In the same way, the sexual predators are not really interested in sex, they’re much more into the wielding of power over others, because that’s what seems to satisfy the need for self-reification and aggrandizement that drives them. Since sex is, in some ways, the ultimate thing one can give another person, it’s also the ultimate thing one can forcibly take from another person when one has some kind of power over them.
I can’t imagine how such so-called sex could actually bring the kind of gratification that sex does, because in these kinds of forced sex, one would be aware that the only reason it was happening was because of the power relationship. The truly bonding and gratifying aspects of sex, the source of the happiness it brings, are that it is freely engaged in between people who love and appreciate each other and who give of themselves to each other. Willingly. Elements which are totally lacking in forced sex.
Whether the power is physical, as in the normal idea of rape, or some kind of control over the conditions of the others’ life, as with bosses or directors or such relationships, it’s still power, and it’s the abuse of that power that is wrong.
Putting the other person in the position of having to make a difficult decision… assent or lose a vital job, role, or other aspect of ones life, that is the crux of what makes this behavior wrong. Saying, as some defenders have, that the victim should have ‘just said no’ or some other facile notion of resistance and refusal, ignores the true nature of the power relationship between the perpetrator and the victim in these cases.
Digging into this national pathology is painful, but it seems necessary if we are to grow and develop in constructive ways as a society.
These times do try our souls, as Thomas Paine said. Ole Thomas would have been aghast at what’s going on in our world today!
One of my Buddhist mentors, Maia Duerr, has a beautiful response to the general malaise and the current insanity in her Full Moon newsletter today, noting that the recent horrendous tax bill is is just more of the same, another example, certainly a more extreme one, of the power that greed, anger and delusion hold over our society.
She also says, as I’ve been saying for a while now, and just mentioned recently, that the wisdom of our indigenous cultures is an important source of help for all this insanity.
I felt a bit better reading her thoughts. She offers some positive suggestions for dealing with the stress it brings. Maybe others would also benefit from hearing her perspective on things:
This full moon snuck up on me… feels like the past 28 days went by so quickly! Have you felt that too? The quickening of time, along with the shortening of days…Feeling into the preciousness of each moment we have here in this crazy mixed-up world
Yesterday I awoke to the news here in the U.S. that the Senate passed a horrendous tax bill. As one friend said, there’s all kinds of evil written into it. The full ramifications likely won’t be known and felt for some time, but they will be huge. No doubt this is a further redistribution of ‘wealth’ of a certain kind upwards to those already have it, and a further marginalizing of those who already live at the edge.
This isn’t new, though. It’s an intensification of what has been there all along, no matter which political party is in power. The seeds of greed, hatred, and delusion have grown into fully toxic monsters.
And yet the medicine is also here, hidden underneath the toxic overgrowth. I look to my Indigenous sisters and brothers for a blueprint on how to live a life that is in right relationship to each other and the earth… they’ve had generations of experience in doing that, and learning from mistakes. I look to teachings of simplicity and renunciation in my own tradition of Buddhism for similar gifts.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s not a matter of finding the best new technology. The way through this is what has been there all along… to not take more from the earth than we can give back, to respect each other, to be kind to each other, to respect earth and water and sky. And yet the way will be full of challenges and pain and suffering as we reckon with all this.
I think a lot of another friend’s gentle yet persistent warning — soon we’re going to need to feed each other. What will that look like? How can we get there, together? How can I opt out of this system that has caused so much harm to people and creatures of all kind and the planet we rely on for life? How can I be part of a community that truly cares for each other, and mindfully walks on this earth?
I don’t have the answers. I know it will take greater effort and creativity than I’ve given these questions in the past, and greater commitment on my part.
In the midst of all this, I’m trying to observe a 7-day at-home version of Rohatsu, the intensive sitting meditation retreat that Zen Buddhists do during this first week of December. I’m taking this as a time to slow down, stop, and sit with all these questions.Nature is by far the best medicine during times like these. … I want to share this short video from a recent
journey I took to a beautiful place near Santa Fe, Diablo Canyon. I invite you to take a half a minute to simply notice what you feel as you watch this video. I hope in the coming weeks you’re able to make time to visit a place that speaks to your heart and soul. If you do, I’d love to hear about it and even see pictures! You can always reach me by replying to this email or writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is from Aeon, a really great online magazine.
Traditional buildings are designed to provide protection against a savage world, with us safe on one side and our waste on the other. Architects have long relied on ‘hard’ materials such as masonry, aluminium and glass, specifically chosen to prevent the outside environment from getting in. Impermeability was, and is, a driving goal.
It is time to rethink that approach. Our current built environment squanders too much fresh water and other vital resources, and tips too many poisonous substances into our surroundings. To develop a more sustainable relationship with the natural world, we need to allow chemical exchanges that take place within our living spaces, and between the inside and the outside. We need to embrace permeability.
Until the rise of modernity, a certain amount of the outside world always leaked into our living spaces, entering through crumbling brickwork, broken seals and open windows and doors. However, with the rapid growth of industrial cities in the mid-19th century, pollution, overcrowding and disease posed new external threats. The remedy was to exert tighter control over our habitats, with the result that buildings became true barriers.
Today’s building ‘envelopes’ seal off our living and working spaces to a degree previously unencountered. In many offices, it is no longer possible to open windows manually to let in a breeze. Automated air-conditioning systems (often answering only to sensors and software) blast summer heat out into scorching walkways, amplifying the urban heat-island effect and contributing to heat-related health risks. Such buildings ignore the metabolism that is the dynamic scaffolding of living systems.
During the 1970s, the ecologists John and Nancy Jack Todd and William McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute – now the Green Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts – to reconceive building spaces as part of a self-sustaining human ecosystem. Such spaces would not be hermetically sealed, but rather open to the flow of natural elements. The research institute experimented with integrating a range of sustainable systems, such as solar power, organic agriculture, aquaculture and bio-shelter design, which went hand in hand with the permeability of these living spaces. Their results pointed a promising way forward.
Incorporating permeability into architecture begins with a building’s composition. In the past 20 years, engineers have developed organic construction materials that have various degrees of permeability. Mycotecture – architectural building blocks that are formed from the fibrous material of fungal roots – are as strong as concrete and as insulating as fibreglass. BioMASON bricks are built by microorganisms; they do not need firing and are as strong as traditional masonry. Bioplastics are produced by bacteria using biogas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Since they are not derived from petroleum, bioplastics have lower carbon footprints. Like wood, they are ‘farmed’ into existence.
Riddled with spaces, these ‘soft’ materials allow a whole different set of geometries, structural properties and effects than are possible with traditional construction. David Benjamin’s Hy-Fi tower, constructed from mycelium (mushroom) bricks, offers a hint of the vast potentials. Yet even when modern builders use the new organic materials, they generally treat them so that they present ‘hard’ interfaces to the environment.
Fully embracing permeability opens up broad ecological and environmental possibilities. Semi-permeable ceramics in particular can be treated to provide binding surfaces for biofilms, large coordinated colonies of bacteria or other microorganisms. Biofilms can be grown to have semiconductor properties, akin to solar cells or computer circuits. When treated with manganese, biofilms can become filters that regulate the flow of air and water into a building.
Builders are starting to explore the possibilities of strategically placing ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ interfaces within a structure to regulate the delivery of resources and organic responses to these inputs. For example, the BIQ House in Hamburg has a façade of thin-walled tanks filled with microalgae. The algae harvest sunlight and carbon dioxide, and produce biomass that can be used to generate electricity. The translucent, living tanks also regulate the building temperature by absorbing more sunshine as the biomass increases. In this case, the glass of the tanks is impermeable to water but lets in sunlight – a different kind of permeability, which is critical for the organic exchanges within the façade.
The Living Architecture (LIAR) project, funded by the European Union among others, is a fruitful effort to create showcases of semi-permeable design. For instance, the project aims to transform bathrooms, kitchens and commercial spaces into environmentally sensitive, productive sites. Wall sections in the rooms are replaced with bioreactors, self-contained microbial systems. One type of bioreactor is a fuel cell that houses anaerobic bacteria to produce electricity and clean water. Another is an algae photobioreactor that produces biomass for fuel or food. The third type is a synthetic bioreactor that can make alcohol or other plant-based materials.
Bioreactor walls are strong enough that they can form interior partitions, but they are also active, functional parts of life inside the building. They can recycle detergents from domestic wastewater, produce fertilisers for the garden, and synthesise new, biodegradable detergents – just from grey water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. Future bioreactors could also generate bioluminescent lighting, produce nutrient-rich food supplements, and remove problematic oestrogen-mimic compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from drinking water. In commercial spaces, living walls could recycle water, fertilise green roofs, and purify air to make building interiors healthier and more like natural environments.
The LIAR project is still in a prototype phase. Quantitative inputs and outputs have not yet been formally established. But project leaders expect to see integrated bioreactor wall systems in real homes within the next 10 years.
Hard, inert interfaces are unlikely to become obsolete any time soon. The real impact of living architecture will be to introduce a new palette of structural and functional systems that change how we think about sustainability and resource management within the built environment. In particular, the LIAR project raises the possibility of a new, active relationship with natural processes.
We could develop new ways to speak with the living world physically, biologically, mechanically and even electrically. Breaking down the barrier between inside and outside will allow us to choreograph a flow of vital resources such as water and minerals. The end result will be a kind of artificial metabolism for our homes, commercial spaces and cities – a long-overdue realisation of a more ethical and symbiotic relationship between the built and the natural worlds.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Trump has become a trope.
Many groups have taken our intense emotional reaction to the Trumpian antics and begun to use them to further their own agendas — and some very diverse agendas they are, including both right and left on the American political spectrum.
This blog post by Caitlin Johnstone, the Australian writer I’ve been reading recently, lays it all out. I’m not sure she’s spot-on about everything, but she certainly does give us food for thought…
Another great article from Caitlyn Johnstone, who’s becoming my favorite new writer on Medium… very astute political perspective, partly on account of the Australian viewpoint, but just very perceptive in general. This is the kind of feminism we need…
As are we all.
This post from Medium is absolutely required reading if you want to understand the world today. We are the pariahs of the world, yet we pride ourselves on being the bringers of ‘freedom and democracy.’ We are being manipulated and used by the powers of the Empire.