We Believe the Slaughter of Innocents Is Just

Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed 15 story building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Abdel Kareem Hana/Associated Press appearing in Business Insider, May 13, 2021

The world watches as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) invades homes, destroys property and lives, and shoots protesters to maim or kill them as if it were a sport. Earlier, July 23, 2021, I learned of the murder of Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old. He was shot by Israeli soldiers invading his village of Nabi Saleh to suppress an unarmed demonstration against Israel stealing their land. He was shot in the stomach, one of the Israeli Defense Force favored tactics. His family and sister have been very active resistors and thus targets.

 He is but one the latest examples of what I think of as Israeli Army sport killing. This behavior reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Shindler’s List, in which the Nazi Commandant, Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, makes a sport of randomly selecting and murdering camp inmates on a whim. The Israeli’s are far more intentional and murder with purpose.

Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old. Facebook picture posted by Iyad Burnat
Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old

We watch with indifference as Gaza is turned into a pile of rubble. The killing of innocents is ignored. We have been taught to believe it is right and just for the people of one particular nation to steal another people’s land and slaughter them while claiming the right of self-defense and self-preservation. This is the story Palestinians know well and is part of the hell they live and have endured since the 1948 Nakba. That was the day the State of Israel was created, and 750,000 Palestinians were made homeless, and more than 500 villages were destroyed. We pretend to believe that was right and just.

The Nakba would never have happened except for the Holocaust and guilt Western nations felt because of centuries of persecution, oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Jews.

To appease their consciences for the two millennia of persecution, Palestine was given to Zionist Jews. In so doing, they ignored it was occupied by Palestinians and had been for 2000 or more years, but is not that the legacy of the European conquest of the Americas? Is not that the American experience?

I visited Palestine, the West Bank, and Israel in 2016 with the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. It took less than a day to see the complexity of how these people are intertwined to realize the two-state solution was a cruel fantasy promoted to distract us from reality. I saw first-hand the vilest form of racism the world has witnessed since the Holocaust in an atmosphere of arrogance, condescension, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

One morning as our group gathered outside the old city of Jerusalem at the Jaffe Gate to meet our tour bus, a school bus stopped to pick up Israeli elementary students. While I conversed with our group, I happened to look up to see a wide-eyed 7-8-year-old girl staring at me. My looking up failed to break her intent gaze. In her eyes, I saw fear, hate, distrust, concern, condescension, and terror. As I looked at her, I realized she revealed what a government possessed by a poisonous settler colonialist and racist ideology has promoted and taught its children and citizens. Instilling distrust, fear, and hatred of those defined as different is the tried-and-true way to maintain control and manipulate its citizens.

This observation was reinforced by visits to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem where groups of soldiers were guided to specific exhibits that amplified selected patriotic themes.

The same was true of the Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. At its entrance is a quote by German journalist Kurt Tucholsky. It reads: “A country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” I could not help but recognize the cynicism. It was a cynicism that also resonated as I thought about my country.

The design of the Yad Vashem takes you from the light and descends downward into darkness. Its low point is the high point of the Third Reich, then it ascends back into the light. At the exit, there is a large window that looks out onto a lush green garden. What you don’t know is that the green garden was once a Palestinian village massacred by radical Zionists in 1948. Tucholsky’s words and the garden built on the rubble of a village covering the bones of people whose crime was that they lived on land coveted by others reveals more than it hides.

           What is happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is possible because the United States government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans, is complicit by providing billions of dollars to finance and support this regime and its racist apartheid policies.

Giving billions of dollars in aid without restrictions allows Israel to provide its people benefits we only dream of having. They benefit from the third-best free public healthcare system. They have access to free education and new settlers filling the illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are provided free housing and other benefits.

The rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades used to control, oppress, maim, and kill unarmed Palestinian protesters are provided by the United States. On May 18, 2021, in the middle of deliberate unrestrained violence against Palestinians, President Biden announced Israel would receive more than $735 million in weapons to replenish its arsenal. The munitions were used not to protect Israel from foreign aggression but to oppress and kill illegally occupied Palestinians. The United States supports Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinians. Palestinians are armed only to the extent of Hamas having flimsy rockets it can launch into Israel. We repeat the absurd excuse of Israel’s right to protect itself, ignoring international law that obligates the occupying power to protect and preserve the people under its control and the people’s right to resist an oppressive occupation by any means available. 

By its example, the United States promotes and believes the slaughter of women, children, and the aged is justified while uttering mild complaints expressing concern for the safety of journalists. This meek protest caused Reverend Graylan Hagler at the Plymouth UCC in Washington, D. C. to suggest it was like the Biden-Harris administration going to the Grand Wizard of the Klan during a lynching and asking them to “show a little restraint.” 

The theft of Palestinian lands, the destruction of housing and communities, the denial of human rights, and the maintenance of total control over their lives are made possible by U.S. support of these Israeli war crimes. 

Israeli government policies are cancer-destroying democracy everywhere. It has used 73 years of Palestinian occupation to develop sophisticated means of oppression, control, repression, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, racism, and genocide it exports indiscriminately to any regime interested. Israeli writer and activist, Jeff Halper’s War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification describes in detail Israel’s “securocratic” war. That war includes helping militarize American police forces turning them into armies of occupation rather than agencies providing service and protection of citizens. It is no surprise seeing the rising number of cases such as George Floyd, Michael Brown, Brianna Taylor, and a host of others. 

On July 20, 2021, Ethan Paul published a report in Responsible Statecraft titled “Israeli—not Chinese—firm caught exporting its ‘authoritarian model.’ It revealed how an Israeli company with close state ties sold hacking software called “Pegasus” to China that was later used to hack Microsoft and other companies. The Biden Administration joined with the European Union less than 24 hours after this story broke to attack China for organizing a global cyber hacking campaign. Curiously, the Israeli source for providing this technology to China was never mentioned. It also raises the question of U.S. support for promoting authoritarian technology and means of control to what purpose.

America is an example of the tail wagging the dog. Our politics and foreign policy are influenced and controlled by a powerful lobby and a foreign power that interferes in our electoral and political process at will without consequences. 

When I think about that little girl on the bus that morning staring at me, I am reminded of what happens when we allow our fears, ignorance, bigotry, and tribal mentality to drive us to embrace our worst instincts and behaviors. When you hate, you become what you hate.

Israel, regardless of the future outcome in Palestine, will never recover from what it has made itself into. It has been destroyed by its own hate. When I think of this tragedy, I am reminded of another quote by Kurt Tucholsky. “Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.” Sadly, we must acknowledge the final tragic consequence of Nazism and the Holocaust was passed down to the descendants of those who survived that hell. Their embrace of Zionist ideology exhibiting racism and hate exposed by its policies in Palestine is now being spread. It is cancer we must remove to preserve democracy.

More troubling is the United States playing a pivotal role in being comfortably complicit with the slaughter of innocents who protest peacefully against their oppressors. Our support reveals and reflects our history believing murder, ethnic cleansing, denying people their human rights, and genocide are justified and just. Americans would do well to think about Tucholsky’s words that “a country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” Obviously, six million Jews and at least five million others died without learning one of history’s primary lessons expressed by German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” And so, it goes. Love and Serve

Wabi-Sabi       Namaste

Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com & Data Driven Investor: https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2021/08/17/we-believe-the-slaughter-of-innocents-is-just/

Failure and Defeat in Afghanistan

Taliban in Presidential Office in Kabul, Al Jazeera photo

The Afghanistan government fled into the night, taking the last plane to a safe haven, abandoning the people they were allegedly elected to serve and protect. America’s longest war is over. The farce we created disappeared into the night.

The United States has spent at least $6.4 trillion since 2001 on wars in the Middle East. According to a report published by The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, those wars have killed 801,000 people. The report says of those dead, more than 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to the violence.

In Afghanistan, 2,448 American service members have died along with 3,846 American contractors, bringing the total to 6,202 American dead plus another 1,145 dead from NATO allies. The acknowledged dead stands at 7,247, a number that no doubt understates the reality.

We spent 20 years on a fool’s errand in our Middle Eastern adventures, wasting and squandering more than $6.4 trillion of our treasure to be defeated and run out of Dodge by an opponent lacking any of our weaponry or sophisticated technology. What did the American people get in return?

We did not spend money on repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure. Our bridges, highways, and other services all require massive reinvestment. We have allowed our education system to deteriorate. We deny the validity of science. We have reduced vital social services, and health care is on life support. We did this for the sake of empire.

The question before us as we see pictures of the Taliban sitting in the presidential office in Kabul, Afghanistan, is what and who do we want to be? We can be an empire or a democracy, but we cannot be both. We are an economic empire that uses over a hundred military bases and outposts in over 100 countries spread around the world to protect, project, and spread our influence and control. We do this at tremendous cost in every respect: economically, environmentally, socially, politically, psychologically, and otherwise.

The Pentagon is a virtual black hole where money is sucked in, no accounting is done, and the value is disproportionately small compared to the money spent. The military-industrial complex is the primary beneficiary. When we see what Russia and China can accomplish with much less investment, we should be concerned.

The question today as we absorb the loss of another war is what we want to do. Who and what do we want to be? The present course of empire is dead-end. At home, our democracy is under attack and in peril of being destroyed by those who desire its demise.

Our defeat in Afghanistan can serve as a wake-up to change our direction and abandon the quest for empire and control, or we can descend into the darkness of authoritarianism, fascism, autocracy, and superstition. The choice is ours. 


Also at Jerrymlawson.medium.com

The Value of Trees and Combating Global Warming

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

I love trees. Maybe that makes me a kind of an outlier because we Americans and most of humanity seem to hate or only want to exploit them for whatever cash we can squeeze. The economic paradigm we adhere to and have believed since at least Adam Smith’s publication of Wealth of Nations in 1776 holds that land has no value unless it is improved. So, cutting down the forest improves and increases its value. Draining wetlands raises the land value. Extraction, drilling, and fracking all have a higher value than protecting and preserving what exists. Nature and people have no value in this model, beyond providing what our greed and lust for material wealth and profit offer. We are human production units with limited value or utility.

We are the only species on this planet that take what we want and return nothing to replenish and reinvest in the Earth to ensure its sustainability. Our economic model is narrow, short-sighted, fatally flawed, and will soon lead to the collapse of our civilization and quite possibly the extinction of our species. 

How different we might be, not to mention the Earth, if we had developed an understanding and appreciation of the value of things surrounding us, we take for granted. What if we had retained what our alleged primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors knew well. Our approach to global warming and climate change would be seen from a different perspective. Imagine if we did not believe the value of land cleared of trees and turned into a pasture or a parking lot as having a higher value than if we left the trees alone.

Kurt Vonnegut once suggested we need a Secretary of the Future whose purpose would be to represent the future of the yet-to-be-born. Native Americans, whom we saw as savages to be exterminated so we could have their land, saw it as their responsibility to look ahead seven generations to ensure their sustainability. Savages indeed! Think about what that would do to the way we view everything. Unfortunately, the economic paradigm we have developed is based upon dominance and giving no value to people, the environment, and no thought about the future. Both people and the Earth are viewed as being disposable. 

The question we have never bothered to ask is what the value of a tree is. At least, until now. Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta decided to try and answer it. Professor Das determined a tree of any variety living for 50 years generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 of air pollution control, controls soil erosion, and improves soil fertility amounting to $31,250. This partial list does not include the value of any fruits a tree may bear, lumber, or intangibles such as beauty and shade. Das puts the value of an ordinary run-of-the-mill 50-year-old tree at $193,250. Scientists recently noted if we were to engage in a massive restoration, planting 1.2 trillion trees, we could cancel a decade of CO2 emissions.

Since our current economic models attach no financial worth to the environment, nature, or to people, we fail to take these values into consideration when we are ripping up and burning down forests to make way for ‘improvements.’ Our current economic model does not consider a forest or woods to be the highest and best use of the land, and trees, unless they have a commercial value as lumber or produce fruit, nuts, or some extractable products are just something in the way of achieving what we desire. So, we cut them and turn them into pulp to make paper or simply burn them, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere and adding to global warming.

On October 13, 1994, the late Astronomer Carl Sagan made a powerful observation about our predicament as a species in a speech at Cornell University about a photograph taken by the Voyager I from six billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth. In the photograph, our Earth was a barely perceptible tiny blue dot. Sagan said,

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturing’s, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves…”

I hope you can see the irony in our behavior as a species, especially at this moment when we have more than adequate data and information to alert us to the self-defeating, absurd, and irrational behavior we continue to engage in. We continue to divide ourselves into little tribes or nations and become slaves to the behavior encoded in our DNA and seek to destroy “others” we perceive as competitors seeking resources necessary for our survival or simply having a skin color that is a bit different from ours.

You would think 26 years after Sagan’s speech that some of it would have sunk in and awakened enough of humanity to help shape and alter our course, but looking around, we see the fires burning, the temperatures rising, the ice melting, floods, and continuing slaughter of each other, apparently not.

Dark as the picture is and may seem, there are signs of hope mostly tucked away from view and our awareness. One such sign is the results of an experiment on tiny Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

Ascension is an island of only 34 square miles (88 square kilometers). The British Overseas Territory was essentially a barren rock pile when Charles Darwin visited there at the end of his second voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in 1836.

The Spanish explorer, Joao da Nova, discovered Ascension Island in 1501. It attracted no interest due to its dry climate and little freshwater. Passing ships continued to stop so sailors could catch seabirds and turtles, but no permanent habitation.

Settlement of Ascension did not arrive until the British Navy placed a garrison in 1815 as insurance against any attempted escape by Napoleon, exiled on Saint Helena some 800 miles to the southeast. It became an imperial outpost and a rest stop for scientific explorers like Darwin and his friend botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker.

Darwin was on his way home after his five-year exploration mission on the HMS Beagle when it stopped at Ascension Island in 1836. He had visited Saint Helena first and came to Ascension out of curiosity and a desire to compare the two islands. He found little on Ascension Island. It was an arid island buffeted by dry trade winds from Southern Africa with sparse vegetation and few animals or insects. There were no trees, and the little rain that fell quickly evaporated. The Scarcity of freshwater impeded the growth or expansion of the imperial outpost.

Despite its shortcomings, Darwin was intrigued. A few years later when Joseph Hooker embarked upon his scientific study, Darwin encouraged him to stop at this barren outpost. After returning to London in 1843 and with encouragement from Darwin, Hooker, the botanist, devised a plan to alter the Ascension Island environment.

Hooker’s father was the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Hooker, assisted by his father, arranged for trees to be shipped to Ascension to use them to capture the rain. They hoped that using trees to capture moisture from the rain would help make the soil fertile and change the barren island into a lush garden. It was hope without any evidence or example suggesting the plan might work.

Over the years that followed, new shipments of trees of many varieties were shipped annually from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa, and Argentina. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the island was home to Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, and banana trees. The 2,817-foot Green Mountain, highest on the island, was transformed into a cloud forest characterized by a persistent low-level cloud cover.

The trees drew moisture from the clouds, enriching the soil and allowing other vegetation to thrive as hoped. Darwin and Hooker assisted by the Royal Navy turned the barren island landscape into a lush oasis. The success of this experiment was far beyond their expectations.   

What Darwin, Hooker, and the Royal Navy created was the first self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem. What might we learn from this first attempt in terraforming? The environment they created is artificial. It has a mixture of plants and trees that do not belong together in nature, but they are growing side-by-side. Such ecosystems as this should take over a million years to develop through a slow process of co-evolution. This ecosystem was built over a few decades by the Royal Navy. The lessons learned here are of immense future importance. It tells us we can create a fully functioning ecosystem through careful planning, trial-and-error, and aided by a few chance accidents.

The process is now known as ecological fitting. The plants on Ascension were collected from locations around the world and have self-organized into a thriving artificial system. The success accomplished on Ascension Island remains relatively unknown and largely ignored by the scientific community. Its implications have immense potential importance both in our need to restore the Earth and when we try to reshape environments on other worlds.

To combat and mitigate the effects of global warming, we must change our thinking and behavior. Rather than taking from the Earth by drilling, extracting, stripping, and pumping resources, we must invest in restoring the environment and ecosystems to protect its health, sustainability, and welfare. Creating artificial ecosystems by planting large-scale planned forests may not be our first choice, but it may become the only choice. The knowledge and expertise we acquire have implications and impact on what we do later elsewhere on the Earth. We may learn how to turn deserts green again that we created by our rush to extract, drill, and pump Earth’s bounty to support our greed and lust for material gain.

Green mountain shows us much about how ecosystems form and function in ways we never imagined. It may help us understand how an ecosystem can be constructed and used for carbon sequestration to combat global warming. Planned forests may lack the diversity and the regional peculiarities we find in nature, but they may be the price we have to pay to save our world, given what we have lost and are losing in our currently rapidly warming one.

History and experience suggest humans do not want to face reality. We try our best to avoid difficult choices and making painful decisions, even when our very survival is at risk. We seem unable to defer on pleasure even knowing continuing a behavior leads to death. Consequently, acknowledging we must learn to live within the sustainable limits of Earth’s capacity to regenerate is a requirement and not a choice.

Why? Because it is the only path that does not lead to the destruction of the Earth and our extinction. If we survive this test, we may finally understand wherever we go into the cosmos we will take Earth with us. We share half our DNA with every living thing in this world. Before we go elsewhere, we must have a healthy Earth to draw from and return. We must recreate Earth wherever we go. Any life we find elsewhere will undoubtedly be toxic to us. Bringing the Earth with us wherever we go is not a choice. It is a necessity. 

Global warming and climate change make studying and understanding what has taken place on Ascension Island imperative to restoring the Earth. Here lies a gift for us, hidden on a small forgotten island in the middle of nowhere. We only need to see and take advantage of what we have inherited. It may provide us with what we need to know and use to save ourselves and most life on Earth, but the time for action is now.

Love and Serve           Wabi-Sabi                   Namaste

Also available at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Tree of Infinite Possibilities

The tree above represents more than I can convey in words. It is a visual reminder of where I am, what I face, and what the end of my journey may be. It is also an image of hope, possibility, potential, and promise. It is the symbol of life overcoming death. It is the symbol of renewal and vitality that comes with the birth of the new. It embraces its past while building upon it to create a different future. This is where I stand at this moment.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. There is no promise of a cure. Death and adversity are at the edge of my consciousness watching. The future will be as it will be. My choice is to use whatever there is of it in the best way I can to love and serve others. That is my intention and my quest. It has many different manifestations. I have a range of options available to fulfill my purpose as revealed in the clarity, awareness, and truth gifted to me in an instant on Valentine’s Day, 2021. Over the days, weeks, and months that have followed, I have watched the wall of fog recede as my consciousness evolved. I am in awe and gratitude for this gift.

To help you understand, I will share what another more famous person who had a similar moment said about his experience:

“I had an experience I cannot prove; I cannot even explain it. But everything

            that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real.

            I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever.

            A vision of the Universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how

            Rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something greater

than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us is, alone.     –Carl Sagan

Sagan’s words echo across time and space, revealing the simplicity of truth. We fail to see because our reality serves as a veil that becomes an opaque barrier we cannot see through. We are trapped by the very nature of the world we’ve constructed. To see through the veil, we must dismantle the reality we believe, adhere to, and uphold. The lens we see our world through. We need insight and clarity. We need to be in this moment. We need to abandon what we’ve known and what is comfortable, warm, and reassuring.

Our lives are a journey into an unknown future accompanied by three companions whose presence we either treasure or try not to recognize nor acknowledge. They are death, adversity, and hope. They are never far away, one or another often intruding and interrupting our journey for good or ill. Fortunately, we have hope as our ally in our third companion. Hope, a little four-letter word so filled with possibility. It is with us and is the buffer between our other two companions. The challenge we face is to always be flexible, adaptable, aware, open, and willing to surrender to the direction our journey takes us.

We do not quit when challenged. We do not give up, but we surrender. Surrendering is a different proposition. Surrendering allows us the means to overcome, persevere, and grow to be more than we were before meeting and surmounting the adversity we are faced.

We must take to the road of the twisted path and unknown adventure with death and adversity always following close by. We often have help from friends and family, but we face these two companions alone. Who we are and what we become have much to do with our interacting with them. We grow only by facing and overcoming the obstacles they place in our path. Resilience, a positive attitude, and focusing on living life to its fullest in this moment, are our most powerful weapons in overcoming their menace.

To make matters more interesting, I learned from my doctor that my form of lung cancer is caused by a mutant gene. Being told this, I smiled. But of course, it would have to be a mutant, a rogue. A mutant gene explains why I’m facing this challenge. The rebel. The outlier. The non-conformer, a mutant that answers the call of its own selfishness. It is a metaphor for all we must face. Let the journey begin. Love and serve. Namaste


Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

My Mother’s Cacti

My mother’s Thanksgiving (left) and Christmas (right) Cacti

My mother had a mystical nature and was quite intuitive. To help you understand this story a bit of background needs inclusion to further insight into what unfolds. The Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti in the pictures above were my mother’s. She lived well beyond 103 years old and spent her last six-and-a-half years living with us. The cacti have been here for more than 10 years. They bloom either around Thanksgiving or at Christmas. They never bloom any other time. Never! Ever!

I know there are many varieties of these plants, and many bloom at other times throughout the year. Recently we visited a local art gallery where I saw a couple of large cacti in full bloom. My point with these two cacti is that they bloom only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My mother was deeply religious. Her faith was forged in tragedy and pain. Raped by a neighbor at 13, she held that secret inside for 90 years before blurting it out to me a few months before she left us. In that instant, I knew my mother for the first time. Her behaviors and attitudes my older brother and I had pondered throughout our lives were answered at that moment. Later she endured the extended illness and loss of her first son to polio. It became the defining event of her life. It was the anchor she used to affix her faith and her purpose. It was also the moor for her pain and grief.

My parents divorced just after my sixth birthday. We moved to live with grandparents where my mother, with no education, marketable skills, or good advice, had to figure out the best path for raising two sons and making a living in an environment hostile to women and particularly a young divorcee in 1951 in Indiana. As I noted earlier, she was intuitive and possessed a mystical quality. She employed both to set a course to achieve her goal of raising two boys to be the best men they could be. Mother approached her task with courage, determination, perseverance, and grit. She was determined to set a high bar for her sons to emulate. She was my first hero. I recall watching her in the bathroom staring into the medicine cabinet mirror, almost green with flu and flush with a fever. She looked into the mirror, set her jaw, and proclaimed for anyone near enough to hear with a determination that stuck with me, “I don’t have time for this.” She then turned, went out the door to work. It was an act of pure will.

I am sharing this bit of backstory so that what follows will resonate with you at a deeper level of understanding. It is not the bad news or the tragic things that determine the course of our lives it is our response to these things that matter.

At this moment, as you see, my mother’s two cacti are starting to bloom. The brain tumor that was between my right ear and temple was removed on February 22, 2021. The blooms above appeared on March 5, 2021, the day I learned the tumors in my lungs are small, haven’t spread anywhere else in my body, and are very treatable. The news was as good as I could have hoped to receive. The treatment program will evolve as we know all the chemical and genetic information about this cancer and I complete a series of 10 radiation treatments on the spot in my head where the lump was removed.

What happened on Valentine’s Day brought back memories about an incident in 1966 and a story about David Whyte, a renowned Anglo-Irish poet. I read his Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, where he related a harrowing adventure while working as a guide in the Galapagos Islands. He and an assistant had guided a group of tourists to a blowhole where the ocean serf shot up through a hole in the rocks to create a spectacular show. At some point, he and the assistant, thinking the show was over got too close and were surprised and nearly swept into the hole and death by a rogue wave. They struggled for some time before they seemed to have been magically released from the ocean’s grasp.

Whyte returned to England and went to see his mother and was silenced when she interrupted his reporting this incident to her. In the course of the conversation, he described what had taken place, but she stopped him mid-sentence and shared she had seen the whole thing in a dream in which she had reached out and pulled him from the sea’s grasp to save his life. He was speechless.

On May 4, 1966, I was with two fraternity brothers riding in a car north of Muncie, Indiana, while we talked and shared a sixpack of beer. We three often did this as a way of marking the end of another school week. On this occasion, a drunk being chased by a local town marshal came out of a crossroad and made a wide arcing turn going off the opposite side of the highway before hitting our car head-on. The accident happened at exactly 2:30 a.m. I was in the backseat and suffered a laceration to my right temple and was briefly unconscious. John, the driver, was unconscious for a time and suffered some cracked or broken ribs. Phil, in the passenger front seat, suffered a broken leg, hip, and other injuries. An interesting irony, in the wake of the accident on May 4, 1966, it was also the date I started smoking cigarettes.

Phil was admitted to the hospital but by 6 a.m. John and I had been examined, treated, stitched, and released. I took a moment to call my mother to tell her what had happened and assure her I was all right. When she answered the phone, I told her I had been in an auto wreck but was okay, and she responded, “I know.” She told me she had awakened at 2:30 a.m. to see me standing in her bedroom dresser mirror. She knew I had been in an auto accident, but that I was fine. I was speechless.

I share this story with you because seeing the blooms on these cacti, I was transported back to that event and reminded of Whyte and others who have experienced similar moments. Learning that my tumors are small, contained, and have not spread, I felt a sense of relief. not only for myself but especially for my wife and sons.

The energy I experienced on the evening of Valentine’s Day I described as being hit by a jolt of electricity is to help you gain insight. The person I was disappeared in that instant. I was transformed into who I am becoming. I wrote earlier that I knew I was free and that saying the word could not begin to convey the depth of its meaning. But more importantly, the gift I received in that instant that gave me clarity, insight, intention, purpose, and awareness is not because of something I actually saw. To see would make me a mere observer. I did not see anything. I “knew truth.” That is the difference. Each day I have been in awe of my evolving consciousness and expanding awareness as the person I was fades away. I see the layers of that other me peel off, crumble, and disappear. We live in a wondrous universe. This is what I “know.” Love and serve.



Also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Greener Pastures – Humans Move Rather Than Solve Their Problems

I remember reading a short story titled “Farmer on the Dole” by a science fiction writer that first appeared in Omni Magazine (October-November 1982). Fredrick Pohl’s career (1937–2012) spanned 75 years. His numerous works earned him many prestigious awards for the following: Gateway (1977), The Years of the City (1985), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (1980), Heechee Rendezvous (1984), and Man Plus (1976), Jem (1980). Also included were short stories Fermi and Frost (1986), The Meeting (1973).

This story became unforgettable and continued to trouble me because it contains a hint of what concerns me most about humanity. What it suggests about us leaves a negative aftertaste that cannot be washed or flushed away. It is a story where robots are created to imitate and replace the humans who have abandoned the planet they ruined to go to new worlds to repeat the process. Those humans remaining behind on the dying planet are a bit lonely and nostalgic and want company. It is a repulsive view of man and his unwillingness to solve the problems he created. It reveals the principal flaw in our species. We run from problems. We do not like having to work to solve them.

Farmer on the Dole focuses on an old human experience and attitude. Pohl merely changes the time, place, and circumstances. He takes the story out of our time and simply inserts it into the future elsewhere. Our species pollute, abandon, and go elsewhere to do the same all over again. We never learn. We never really grow or evolve in our behavior. It is a continuation of our stone-age primitive slash and burn agriculture practices to planetary levels. In Farmer on the Dole, mankind has launched himself into the stars, but his brain is still the naked ape hunter-gatherer. We are still the clever monkey of our dimming past.

Following his line of thought, we must ultimately accept mankind as incapable of learning from even the vilest of his past follies. Looking at our world at this juncture, we must accept that verdict as plastics flood the streams and rivers, clogging and collecting over vast stretches of the oceans that determine life. The conclusion is clear. We proceed to flatten mountain tops to extract fossil fuels raising the planet’s temperature and threatening to end civilization as we know it. It continues so a few can live luxuriously for a bit longer before the curtain falls.

Rather than solving problems, Pohl’s humanity leaves and creates a complete fleet of robot androids to carry on in their absence. What a novel idea; our ultimate dream. Androids have all the appearances and behaviors of living creatures like us. We are capable beings; however, we are not smart. Is this not the way we are currently treating the Earth, our home? Do we just go on wasting the land and ruining the water and air until the planet becomes a desert (physically and spiritually)? Will Ursula K. Le Guin’s observation in passing in The Dispossessed become our reality? Why would we bother to use science and technology to create phantom robot images of ourselves and an equally ridiculous likeness of a plastic replica of our world? What a ludicrous farce.

Our ‘slash and burn’ thought pattern has persisted from our prehistoric predecessors extending back for more than fifty thousand years. The world view of the last 300 years has been dominated by a Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm (Renee Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton) that operates on the assumption mind and body are separated, that the body is a clockwork machine, and reality can be learned or determined by the study of the smallest constituent parts. Not even Quantum theory and Relativity have managed to change the multitude’s thinking in this regard. Everything we have learned in the past 30 or more years with the rise of social media and the implications of our use of big data has not penetrated these beliefs among most. Our faith persists the universe is an orderly and predictable machine. Isn’t God in control? What is there to be concerned about? The book has been written, and events appear as written. We need not be concerned or worried. This has been a useful approach for many, however, the ideas we invent to explain and ensure our survival today become the cause of our demise tomorrow.

Philosopher William Irwin Thompson said the future belongs to the mystic and the systems analyst. Thompson suggested we get beyond our simple exploitive view of nature as a machine to be manipulated. We need to adopt a compatible view of nature that sees its parts as revealing its function rather than defining the entire system as a function of a few elements. We will appreciate the complexity of the system and act more harmoniously. The systems analyst will monitor and report on the organism’s health and the day-to-day conditions of things. The mystic will be the interpreter of the direction the organism must move in the future. The description and terminology Thompson uses are dated in light of all we have seen change over the past 40 years, but his thoughts are relevant and understood. Maybe there is a beneficial use for big data other than using it to control, manipulate, oppress, and enslave humanity.

Human minds internalize objects and make patterns. We internalize the universe as objects. These patterns, once constructed, are not easily changed or altered. The only way of altering embedded thought patterns, according to Thompson, is by one of three means. These changes result from insights often revealed in humor, because of a fortunate accident, and what the late creative thinker Edward De Bono called lateral thinking.

Our perception, according to Thompson, is based on the internalization of the mother/infant relationship, money (economic system), and religion. This illustrates how hard it is to change our way of thinking and perceiving reality. Our view of reality is dominated by ideas from 300 years past. The dominant economic paradigm dates from the same era. It threatens to destroy the planet, most life, and our civilization, but we resist changing or seriously questioning it. In addition to humor, the infant/mother relationship, and economics mentioned above, we should acknowledge our thinking also can be changed by catastrophic events. The ecological collapse caused by global warming and climate change, a massive planetary war, a meteor or asteroid strike, and the crumbling of governments across the planet due to the economic catastrophe caused by any of the above serves the same purpose. The universe within us is inseparable from the universe outside. One is the mirror image of the other. What we perceive influences, determines, and defines our reality. History shows us we rarely make such fundamental changes.

The human flaw may be due to our short life awareness of the consequences of our actions. We seem unable to appreciate the long-term implications of our behaviors. It reveals the inadequacy of our educational processes to foster a longer view. We have the acquired wisdom and knowledge of overcoming these shortcomings, but we refuse to employ them. Our resistance and comfort in wallowing in denial, ignorance, and superstition prevail. We must develop our awareness of the interrelationship of all things. We must acknowledge our role in the process. We must find and learn new ways to think about and approach our world. We must change our thinking from destruction and extraction of the planet to investing in its health and sustainability we require to survive and thrive. We will have time to explore the vast universe beaconing us. First, we must learn to solve problems in our own yard before we go about spreading our garbage and refuse across the cosmos. Wabi-sabi. Namaste.

Originally published at https://www.datadriveninvestor.com on March 4, 2021.

Also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

I Received Life’s Greatest Gift on Valentine’s Day

Jerry M Lawson, “De omnibus dubitandum”

Photo by Chandan Chaurasia on Unsplash    

March 1, 2021

What you see on the surface often obscures what hides underneath. On Valentine’s Day, I decided to make some chili for a cold winter day. After my wife left for a short errand, I put some items in the laundry, refilled my coffee cup, and sat down in front of my computer to work on an essay I was trying to birth.

I began to study what I had written when I was overtaken by a strange sensation. I had the feeling my consciousness was fading, yet it was quickly replaced by the feeling of being detached. I was an observer but not in control of my senses. This feeling lasted several seconds, followed by an involuntary jerking of my neck on my left side while simultaneously experiencing a twitching of my left eye and eyebrow. This continued for about 30 seconds and vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. I was able to move my hands, arms, and fingers throughout. When it stopped, I grabbed my phone and called my wife, who quickly quit her errand, came home in less than five minutes, collected me, and took me straight to the nearest hospital ER.

Valentine’s Day is a day we traditionally celebrate our love and commitment to our special ones, wives, and sweethearts. This year I surprised my wife with a bouquet of red roses. It is not something I do every year. Over more than 50 years of our marriage, I did it when it seemed especially appropriate. I should add we are not inclined to show the importance of our love and commitment for each other in material ways. We do it daily. We skip commercially co-opted and promoted events.

This year I was moved to celebrate it when an opportunity appeared. I was in the store and saw the flowers. My wife divided the roses and placed them in several locations around the house. It added beauty, color, vibrancy, and a happy mood. What followed changed none of that.

I was admitted to the ER and interviewed by a physician assistant. As the assisting nurse prepared to transport me to have a CT scan and x-rays, I experienced another short seizure of twitching that lasted for about 10 seconds. This time my wife and the nurse were able to observe what was taking place. I was taken for a CT scan and x-rays. Upon returning, I had another conversation with the physician assistant. She identified the cause of my seizure as a small mass on the right side of my head. I was taken back for an MRI. When I came back, the ER doctor soon joined my wife and me to explain my medical situation. His demeanor was stiff and restrained. He chose words carefully, delivering a straight, honest, and factual message, no fluff.

The seizure was caused by an approximately one-centimeter tumor on the right side of my brain. It was located above the ear toward the frontal cortex and near the surface toward my right temple. It was causing a larger area of inflammation and swelling, thus the seizure.

Two days before I had become vaguely aware, I was having some difficulty while writing down a few reading notes. My muscle control seemed compromised. I had trouble writing legibly. I took notice and thought it strange but passed it off since I rarely write in cursive anymore. It was a clue I chose to ignore.

The doctor saved the most important news for the last. The mass in my head did not originate there. It had migrated from elsewhere, and when they x-rayed my lungs, they found some small nodules in my right lung. Here was the smoking gun. He said they could not make an accurate determination of what we were facing until a biopsy of the mass could be done to identify it precisely. He added these cases usually could not be cured. He left those words to hang in the air.

I returned to the hospital at 5:30 am on the following Monday, February 22, 2021, to be admitted to surgery to remove the tumor. I will not know what I face until the biopsy of the mass the doctor extracted from my head is identified. But some things are clear and do not require me to wait for an answer.

My response to this new reality was to accept whatever the future brings, knowing it will be challenging, difficult, probably painful, with an uncertain, or possibly a dreadful outcome. It is what it is. My choice is to play the hand I’m dealt with as much skill I can muster and hope to buy as much time as possible, taking advantage of each minute to do all I can to enrich this life and leave no stone unturned. But a greater awareness soon overtook me.

My life has been dominated by two diverse themes. One was the six decades of periodic severe depression that plagued every aspect of my life. The second theme was my having faced my death 35, now 36 times stretching over the whole of my life. I suddenly realized they were all aimed to this moment. My purpose was and is wrapped in these events. They prepared me to meet this challenge at this moment and in this place. The sudden insight unleashed a powerful jolt of energy. On this Valentine’s Day, I was gifted, granted, and bestowed the greatest gift I could ever dream of receiving. I was allowed intense insight, clarity, vision, intention, awareness, and purpose I could not have achieved by any other means. I am free! Writing that word does not begin to express the depth or breadth of its meaning. I perceived truth as taught throughout the ages and revealed in all religious traditions. It is overwhelming in a most profound way.

I am aware nothing is certain. Nothing is determined. Everything is impossible until it is done, or you do it. My mother was adamant in teaching me during her almost 104 years of life to never, never, never, ever, give up. That is how I am made.

That said, there are other equally or more important things to be shared and acknowledged. While I will never ever give up, I do understand surrender. I surrender to the experience and the challenges that lie ahead. I am comfortable with who I am. I know my reason and purpose. I live with intention. I understand today is all I have. What is most important is to live in this moment, do all and accomplish all I am able each gifted minute I am given. It is my way of honoring my creation. My gift of having received this wonderful life is filled with the love of family and friends.

I have goals to reach, tasks to complete, and promises to fulfill. My sense of urgency is increased, but I accept that as my motivation for becoming more focused, more intentional, more purposeful, mindful, and fully aware. I live my life with intention and purpose while pursuing work to awaken others to the perils we face. I encourage movement in the direction of restoring our Earth as we restore ourselves to lives filled with meaning, purpose, and love.

I focus on teaching and trying to be an example for others. My work is laser-focused on the questions that lurk behind every issue we humans face. We enter a future no less challenging than the one I am facing immediately. My goal is modest. I strive to change one person, change one life, make one more person aware, encourage one person to get involved and committed to changing our world. If I accomplish that, I view my work as being a success and my purpose fulfilled.

The filters, the governors, the censors have been removed. I am free to share as I feel. I know that I will without fear of what comes.

In the course of my more than 75 years of life, I faced my death 35 times. Before Valentine’s Day, I had hoped 36, the terminal event, would be delayed indefinitely. What is clear to me is these 35 moments were all designed to get my attention. Number 35 in May of 2018 did. I suffered a heart attack. I had experienced no symptoms nor prior indicators that would have been forewarnings. It was pure genetics. My father died of a sudden heart attack at age 73 with no previous conditions.

The heart attack got my attention. I took an extensive and intensive inventory of my life and decided what I should keep. I dumped the rest. It resulted in my making some profound life changes. A lot of things were cast off. It provided better insight and pointed to a different future with more purpose, intention, and practice living more in the moment.

This Valentine’s Day was a different kind of awaking. I face something I never considered as more than a remote possibility. There is no history of cancer in my long line of direct ancestors. Genetics may be missing, but environment and lifestyle also are a factor, however, none of this matters. I take what I know or will soon, and we will decide on a path and see where it goes, cherishing and relishing each moment we have together and enjoy the moments.

This event is a call for waking up. I have work to do, and each day, each moment is of much greater value and importance to use as best I can. I feel up to the challenge and surrender to the adventure. As described in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, I seek the magic elixir to bring home so I can share its wisdom and its secrets with all others. The outcome of my path is unknown. I see the Balrog waiting on the precipice. I know I will prevail regardless of the result.


Also at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Reporting the News

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The decline of American democracy has a long history with many actors. There are multiple domains, one of which is getting news and information to the public by sources independent of government control. It is the vital link in the health and welfare of any democracy. It is one reason why our founders enshrined freedom of the press in the constitution.

No discussion about reporting the news can ignore how news outlets have been gobbled up by a few large conglomerates. Comcast, Disney, ViacomCBS, Fox, AT&T, and Charter Communications are among the largest in the U.S. There used to be a local spin or angle to the news that came off the wires. Today there is sameness and uniformity in coverage and presentation that reminds me of how we once viewed Pravda in the former Soviet Union. All corporate news comes essentially from the same sources. Our alternative is to look at and read the many alternative news sites that have appeared and are continuing to grow. Some are practicing real journalism.

One who has written extensively about the problems of American media is Robert McChesney. He states, “Democratic theory posits that society needs journalism to perform three main duties: to act as a rigorous watchdog of the powerful and those who wish to be powerful; to ferret out truth from lies, and to present a wide range of informed positions on key issues.”[1] Our media fails at all these tasks.

The decline in our getting the news and information we need and the rise of fake news, alternative facts, and post-truth can be traced back to the early 1970s. That is when the news became the news show. Up to that point, the evening news focused on providing the major news events and information to the public. There, were commercials, but they took a backseat. It was not the primary focus. True there were omissions, but news organizations did try to inform. That changed in the early 1970s when ratings became dominant and news became just another network profit center. The evening news ceased to about what was happening in the world, or often what was paramount, and transformed into an overpaid personality parade whose prime purpose was to hold the audience’s attention between commercials.

Blanket, non-stop news coverage of celebrity woes and high profile crime while ignoring or downplaying issues such as racism, inequality of wealth and opportunity, Medicare reform, healthcare costs and coverage, climate change and global warming, corporate crime, and a long list of other issues amounts to providing the public a lollipop in place of a meal of substance. It may satisfy your immediate desire to eat something sweet but does nothing to relieve your hunger. The media act in concert with government acts and corporate dictates by providing mental masturbation to distract us from our problems. Alas, it is no surprise their credibility has fallen faster than the stock market in the great crash.

Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency would never have happened without his celebrity TV program, The Apprentice, fueled by $1 billion in free advertising and television exposure supplied generously by all the major television and other news outlets. 

The vulgar over coverage of celebrity shenanigans and bizarre crimes trivializes our institutions and their processes. Nowhere is this more evident than in what happens in high-profile criminal cases. What the public needs and deserves to know should not overshadow the accused’s right to a fair and just trial, including the presumption of innocence until otherwise proven by a preponderance of the evidence or beyond reasonable doubt presented at trial. Frankly, the public has no automatic right to know “anything” before its presentation at trial. That is the proper forum for the release of most information. The fact it floods the press shows us how corrupted we have allowed the process to become in the interest of achieving public relations and media rating objectives. I seriously doubt any of these high profile trials are in any way fair. It’s all about money, exposure, timing, appearances, and the 24/7 news feed. How sad this is for all of us.

The second and more profound change that impacted receiving the news and being informed was the bi-partisan act of repealing the fairness doctrine during the Reagan presidency that had required TV and radio news outlets to allow equal time for opposing views. Its elimination led to opening the doors and windows to talk radio. Fox News, Sinclair Media, and others moved in to flood the airways accentuating one highly biased point-of-view with nothing to contest it. It opened the door to fake news, half-truths, innuendo, lies, and more.

It cleared the way for a number of online sites and broadcast media to promote hate and lies that ultimately led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the Congress by an enraged mob egged on by the Liar in chief on January 6, 2021.    

There was an important reason freedom of the press was enshrined in the constitution by our founders. They understood the importance of the public having access to accurate information about the actions, behaviors, policies, and character of those who held the levers of power. What has occurred over the last several decades is the erosion and suppressing of that function. Six media conglomerates control more than 90% of media in America. The people who are employed by these six media giants are paid lots of money. Money is, it’s not rocket science, very intoxicating and enticing. You do not have to spend a lot of time watching the commercial network media news to discover their boundaries. They know their limits; it is self-censorship. They have a higher priority to adhere to. It is a personal priority. The network news organizations will never allow an expose’ of their conglomerate employer. ABC is not going to investigate Disney. CBS is not going to reveal dirty laundry from VIACOM. NBC is not going to disclose anything derogatory, Fox, well, it is Fox. As Sinclair Lewis noted long ago, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding.” The quote applies to far more than he originally intended.

I find watching the evening news more interesting for all they ignore to report rather than what is covered. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, I knew they were there 24 hours before the American media announced the invasion. How did I know? I was monitoring the Times of India at the time and saw their report. It pays to cast your net for news far and wide. Today that means looking at several online independent news outlets where the motivation is providing the public information unimpeded by concerns for a bloated salary.

It is no surprise American media are held in such low esteem. On some level, we know we are not being provided the information we need. We know crucial information is being either ignored or withheld. It is instinctive. The public does not trust the messenger, and for a democracy that cannot be. If we want our democracy to prosper, we must change how we are provided the news and information we need to be responsible and participating citizens. That means we must find a way to decouple the delivery of the news from profit-driven corporate conglomerates. We need some kind of independent funding of news providers.

Print media is in peril in America. I do not know if it is the same elsewhere. Our peculiar focus on profits skewers our approach. The newspapers I am familiar with first eliminated the composing room and gave the editorial staff the responsibility for pagination. That meant most of a reporter’s time was consumed with putting pages together, not digging for news. It meant calling contacts on the phone rather than seeing them and eyeballing their responses to questions. It meant developing relationships and seeing idiosyncrasies that reveal far more than words.

My local newspaper is slowly evaporating. The daily paper comes in four sections. The sections once were composed of many pages and multiple sheets. Today these sections are often no more than four pages. The Sunday paper is today the size of the daily paper of decades past. It also has changed from an eight-column to a seven-column format. Less is less.

As the size diminished did the coverage. Maybe if there was a focus on providing news readers were interested and cared about, they would find more readers. But, no, instead they cut more staff and deliver a shoddier product at a higher price. Such is the road to extinction.

The most dramatic change in media has been the emergence of the talking heads, or should I say thought shapers. Thought shapers are what they are. Fox News is the perfect example. Fox has a loyal cultish following. Its viewers believe without question the presentation they are getting is fair and balanced because Fox says so. This loyal cultish following can only repeat what they are told. They glued to or have Fox News on their TVs throughout the day. Fox is the only view they see, hear and believe. They become entranced. They repeat what they are told to think. It is as if they no longer have a mind of their own. I have many former friends to draw from. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels would be ecstatic

These thought shapers come in all political stripes. They are on the left as well as on the right. Our most dramatic failure as a society and nation is our failure to adequately prepare our public to develop the critical thinking skills needed to identify bias, fake news, lies, and half-truths. Doing so, we arm them and immunize us all to the inevitable effects of the relentless repeating of the big lie. We must learn to seek out diverse views from a diverse number of sources, domestic and foreign. Of course, corporate America might then find using some popular forms of advertising ineffective. The government might have a more difficult time misleading all of us about its activities and intentions. Some preachers might find their ability to fleece followers more difficult. Things might actually have to work, and wealth might be more equitably shared. Imagine that.

[1] The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communications Politics in the 21st Century, NYU Press, Monthly Review Press, 2004, page 57.

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The Relevance of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed

Urras and Anarres. Photo by Antonis Dimopoulos@menacius

The 1974 science fiction novel The Dispossessed has relevance for us today. Ursula K. Le Guin’s works are filled with her concerns for the environment and health of planet earth and the dark underside of man and our governing institutions. In The Dispossessed, Urras is a mythical planet in the Tau Ceti star system in the constellation Cetus. Tau Ceti is a star closer than 12 light-years from the Earth and is spectrally similar to our sun, although possessing 78% of its mass.

Le Guin places a planet similar to ours with a larger moon in orbit around it. Environmentally, Urras is like Earth. Politically it mirrors what ours was during the Cold War in 1974 when the novel was written. A-Io, the dominant world power, is similar to the United States in 2013. There is the illusion of liberty and freedom, but everyone and everything is under constant surveillance by the state. It is a society driven by a lust for wealth and acquiring material possessions, and unrestrained corporate greed and power.

A-Io is a two-class society defined by extreme sexism. There are the very wealthy, a small struggling middle class, and a vast underclass of working poor who live in poverty. The poor are excluded and denied access to a more abundant life. They do not have access to human services available for the elite. A-Io is a fascist police state with an appearance of civility. Its resemblance to what we have become makes the careful and reflective reader more than uncomfortable.

The other principal power on Urras is Thu, a highly centralized socialist state resembling the Soviet Union of the 1970s. Urras has a planetary government similar to the United Nations. Thu and A-Io are careful never to engage in a war directly against each other. Engagements are limited to fighting in lesser developed parts of the planet without using weapons that might cause undue harm on a planetary scale.

The planet remains free of the environmental havoc and destruction we are experiencing. Those from the Earth who come to Urras see it is still a green garden, a reminder of what the Earth was.

The planet has experienced its own unique development. The moon of Urras, Anarres, is large enough to support life. More than 170 years before the story in the novel takes place, the poor rebelled. They had been inspired by the ideas of a woman philosopher named Odo. She promoted a society founded on anarchism combined with libertarianism and socialism.

The revolt ended with an agreement allowing Odo’s followers called Odonians to leave and be transported to Anarres. Anarres and Urras are actually a dual planetary system where each is seen as the moon. Anarres is not altogether hospitable. It is arid and has a less dense atmosphere, and most of its native life found in its small oceans. Anarres possesses limited plant and vegetable life, which means there are no land animals other than those transplanted from Urras.

The terms of separation closed most access to either world by the other. But Anarres has mineral deposits in critical need on Urras, and Urras has finished goods, plants, animals, and other products needed by Anarres. Transports arrive periodically on Anarres from Urras at tightly controlled designated areas for purposes of trade.

Anarres is a harsh world that requires much cooperation from its inhabitants. It has no highly centralized governmental bureaucracy or governing institutions. After enduring over 150 years living in a harsh environment, the Anarreans have found ways to effectively preserve their individuality. They learned to work harmoniously together to reach shared goals. They avoided having governing institutions that become self-perpetuating, self-sustaining, oppressive, and detrimental to their needs and interests.      

Shevek is an Anarren mathematician/scientist who has made a scientific discovery he wishes to share with humanity. I-Ao wants to prevent his sharing his work and use it to their advantage. Shevek is hopeful sharing his discovery can become a means of bringing Annarens and Urrasns together, or at least open dialogue and increase contacts between the two worlds.

Ultimately Shevek realizes he is being used by A-Io and attempts to meet ordinary people who have been kept hidden from him. Becoming aware of A-Io’s intentions and the fact he is now a fugitive leads him to seek safety at the Earth embassy. Shevek gives his discovery to the Earth ambassador to ensure his discovery will be shared with all humanity.  Earthlings not only save him from arrest and probable torture by I-Ao but also open their own contact with the Annarens that had been closed to them return him to Annares.

LeGuin’s fiction is a snapshot of the height of the Cold War in the mid-1970s. Both sides finally realized that nuclear war was unwinnable and would lead to the extinction of our species. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions. But the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union served only to expose our own weaknesses. Like the people of I-Ao, America needs an external enemy, a boogieman. We need an enemy to maintain our focus, provide purpose, distract us from more important issues, maintain control, and keep us from fighting amongst ourselves.

The end of the Cold War-era introduced far more uncertainty. We are faced with increased competition for increasingly scarce resources, locked into an economic model destroying habitability and the ability to sustain life. It is worth noting that although Le Guin makes little mention of what Earth is like, she leaves no doubt about where we may soon find ourselves. She provides us a picture of what we face if we continue our current path, addicted to fossil fuels and failing to invest in the Earth rather than continually taking from it.

If climate change and global warming are ignored or given little support or effort beyond lip service, the consequences are dire. Le Guin mentions in passing what our world had become. It was ravaged by war, destruction of the environment, and the collapse of ecosystems caused by the rush to extract natural resources fueled by greed and lust for money. The few who survived were forced to live under a totalitarian system necessitated by extreme circumstances.

We govern our activities adhering to an economic paradigm from another time. Neoliberal globalism is wreaking havoc on the planet, putting all civilization at risk. Our political system, considered brilliant for its time, was developed 250 years ago in a vastly simpler world that is no longer relevant or able to cope with and solve problems. Populations across the globe are growing restless. Global temperatures are warming, causing drought, famine, and increased desertification. Sea levels rise as ice caps and glaciers melt. Soon, two billion or more people will be forced to move elsewhere to survive, threatening global stability and order. Chaos looms on the horizon, and no wall will stem its flow. Desperate people will do whatever they must to survive. Our world is ripe for someone, an Odo, to redefine and re-state and enunciate the meaning and purpose of human existence and civilization in a new age.

As always, Wabi-sabi

Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

The Romance and Magic of Steam Locomotives

Restored Union Pacific 4014 Steam Locomotive at the Yermo UP yard

What is it about a steam locomotive I find so alluring? Why do I feel such deep emotion whenever I hear its whistle? Why do so many others find it so enticing and enchanting? On Wednesday, October 10, 2019, my son and I got up before 5 am, and left Santa Monica for Yermo, California. Newly restored Union Pacific 4014 steam locomotive stopped there overnight before continuing to LA in preparation for scheduled weekend excursions.

More than 100 enthusiasts gathered at the Yermo UP yard to take pictures, stare, talk with the crew, and watch the dragon come alive in the predawn darkness. The assemblage included railfans, photographers, children of many ages, old railroaders, and the curious.

After leaving Yermo, we stopped in Barstow, CA, to watch the monstrous #4014 pass. The locomotive has a 4-8-8-4 configuration and is 132 feet long. After Barstow, we proceeded to Victorville, where 4014 paused, to perform routine greasing of vital parts and a 45-minute rest. A large crowd packed the area of the Amtrak station with those wanting to see this marvelous machine.

The rest of the day was more of the same. Wherever we went, there were hordes of people assembled eager to see this almost 80-year-old mechanical marvel come alive again.

My fascination with steam locomotives began sometime around age 4 or 5 in Fortville, Indiana, a small bedroom community northeast of Indianapolis. It is located on what was then mainline of the New York Central Railroad. I was drawn to and fascinated by the big locomotives hauling freight as they passed through the center of Fortville at 60-70 mph.

Why do I react so emotionally? Is it pure nostalgia, or does it originate somewhere in my psyche? Maybe I connect these machines from my early childhood to my feelings of rejection by my father. He ignored me and showed significant partiality to my older brother.

I understood at 4 or 5-years-old, my father didn’t care about me, wasn’t interested, and purposefully ignored me. It was only the last year of my mother’s almost 104 years of life that she revealed he had tried to have the doctor abort the pregnancy and thus me.

I was reminded of when our youngest son purchased throttle time for his brother and me to control another steam locomotive. Nickel Plate #765 is owned and operated by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It has always been and remains one of my most memorable moments. To be in control of a machine weighing close to a million pounds was an unforgettable experience.

I have shared many such moments with my sons throughout our lives. We lived close to the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and our oldest son was fascinated and attracted to every freight train that passed by. His younger brother later joined him, but the big turning point came a bit later.

Locomotive Nickel Plate #765 was rebuilt in 1979 after spending almost 20 years perched along the St. Mary’s river in a Fort Wayne park. The “Berkshire” locomotive was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944. It was principally used to haul freight. Nickel Plate 765 weighs 800,000 pounds, loaded with 22,000 gallons of water in one tender and 22 tons of coal. Because the water towers once used to refill steam locomotives have vanished, 765 has an auxiliary tender with a second 22,000 gallons of water.

Nickel Plate 765 Steam Locomotive returning to Fort Wayne, Indiana after an excursion

When our sons were 8 and 10-years-old, I took them on an excursion behind Nickel Plate 765 from the railyard in nearby New Haven to Peru, Indiana, and back. The excursion route flooded me with many boyhood memories. It passed through Wabash, Indiana, where I saw what remained of the woods and fields where I played. I saw “my” house from the railroad standing on the hill in the distance. It was home to three generations of my family and to me for 18 years. I felt a momentary pang of pain.

The old Wabash line of the modern Norfolk Southern Railroad follows the broad flat Maumee Spillway carved from the glacial lake once covering the area. The railroad was built in places on the old Wabash & Erie Canal towpath. You can often see the old canal bed. You also see the remnants of the old interurban railroad that ran along this same route.

The rich farmland, some of which was once a swamp, appeared as a sea of browning corn broken by the green trees. There were birches, willows, box elders, maples, ashes, hickories, oaks, some walnuts, and others.

There has always been something special about steam locomotives and listening to their high-pitched whistles piercing the stillness. I recall listening for two longs, a short and another long blare of the whistle as the engine approached another crossing. Seeing a steam locomotive and especially hearing the whistle lying in bed in the still of the night is akin to the mystical experience many feel going to the ocean. It is a compelling experience.

The old Wabash Railroad line is physically a central feature of my life. My paternal grandparents lived in a house located next to the Wabash yard in Peru, Indiana. My maternal grandparent’s house, where I grew up, is located near the railroad. The house we lived in when my sons were introduced to trains was close to the railroad. I have lived somewhere near this railroad most of my life.

These thoughts filled my mind as I sat in the backseat while my two sons discuss our route and strategy for chasing Union Pacific 4014. We stop periodically at strategically identified locations where we can get out and find a vantage point to observe and take countless pictures. At every stop between Barstow and the Union Pacific’s West Colton Yard in Bloomington, California, east of Los Angeles, we are met or joined by hordes of others gathering for the same ill-defined mystical purpose. We are all attracted to the same magic and enchantment of this magnificent relic of a lost world.

As the days passed, my thoughts turned to my hometown of Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society proposed a rail and transportation history center to be included in the city’s riverfront development plans. Some who are influential in this proposed development have failed to see the value of such an attraction. Sadly, they recently removed the idea from the riverfront plans with a promise to help The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society find a suitable site nearby. I hope they are sincere, but experience has taught that governments are overly adept at using this tactic. It is a useful tool derailing and putting in “as soon as hell freezes over” projects and ideas beyond their vision. It’s analogous to Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football.

Headwater’s Junction, as the proposed rail history attraction was called, would attract thousands of visitors to the city’s downtown. The plan included a roundhouse filled with other FWRHS locomotives and rolling stock, Interurban display, meeting room, restaurant, and other facilities. The proposed location placed it on a site where a railyard had been. It was also adjacent to property connected to the city’s interurban past. It would also have allowed for building a future short connecting these attractions to the city’s acclaimed children’s zoo. It did not happen. Vision is the rarest of traits and is not often associated with politicians and established interests. We can hope the next turn of the wheel will bring new leadership with a different perspective and willingness to take advantage of the opportunity it represents. At this point, it is only a wish and a hope.

Throughout the days of these excursions, I watched the large crowds in wonder. People lined the more than 100-mile route. They chased 4014 in cars and gathered at the most photogenic locations. As a witness, I could not help but ask myself what it is about these awe-inspiring mechanical machines of a simpler age that so many find enticing and irresistible. Large caravans of cars jammed Interstate 15 and side roads, doing best to tag along, follow, and chase 4014 wherever it went. I watched as we stood in awe, joy, and even a few tears. These machines invoke something deep inside us. They rouse emotions, unconscious feelings, and yearnings we never realized were there, waiting for the proper stimulus to be awakened.

I stood on the bridge over the West Colton Union Pacific Yard surrounded by 200 or more people of all ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities. We were all part of the same tribe with the focus of attention on a colossal black bemouth belching smoke and steam, filling the air with its rhythms and its music as it passed under us.

I cannot explain the attraction. I have tried to understand it. I have tried my best to understand and express it, but I really cannot explain it. More importantly, it does not matter. I simply enjoy being in the moment and letting the experience wash over me and consume my awareness. Next year, if the opportunity arises, I will do it all over again.

As with all things, Wabi-sabi    

Also available at: jerrymlawson.medium.com