End of the beginning: Chapter 1.3

Our next gathering of the TStudy circle Saturday morning, 28 January, at 10:30 Eastern, will wind up the first chapter, beginning here. The conversation so far has been most illuminating, and prompted me to make a few changes to the text, so i hope it’s a little more user-friendly than it was last year.

This final part of Chapter 1 brings us to the Anthropocene Apocalypse. I see that the Anthropocene Working Group is now trying to pick an exact date for the beginning of the Anthropocene (follow that link for today’s graphic). But the AWG already voted in 2019 that the primary guide for the base of the Anthropocene should be “one of the stratigraphic signals around the mid-twentieth century of the Common Era.” This would mean that the stratigraphic Anthropocene coincides roughly with the cultural Great Acceleration, and with my own lifetime so far. But i don’t suppose my birthdate in 1945 is on the shortlist for the exact beginning of the A-cene, so i guess the “fundamental Anthropocene dilemma” isn’t entirely my fault.

Because: Chapter 1.2

The Turning Signs study circle will meet again Saturday morning, January 21 at 10:30 Eastern time.

The reading will begin at this point in Chapter 1 and will include a Zen koan delivered by Dōgen zenji featuring a dialogue with a wild fox about cause and effect. This will take us into a conversation about turning words and signs and semiosis. We might even reach the apocalyptic end of the first chapter!

If you can’t make the circle, you can still leave a comment here …

Chapter 1: Flight Path

How many birds appear in this image?

The next session of the study circle around Turning Signs will be Sunday evening, 7 pm Eastern. (I’ll be sending the Zoom link by email.) In focus will be the first part of Chapter 1, and the first question i’ll put to the group will be the one above (How many birds?). This question will follow my reading of the paragraph that begins here. How far we get into Chapter 1 will depend on how the conversation evolves, but i expect it will take a few weeks to absorb the first chapter.

This study will be continuing for quite a long time, and slowly, so anyone who wants to can join the circle at any time. It’s just that the longer you wait, the more catching up you’ll have to do!

Announcing: study circles

Welcome to 2023, all. Much of my past year has gone into a complete overhaul of the reverse side of Turning Signs, culminating in the publication of TS 2.2, which is now online. After a few years of focusing mainly on the transition, and trying to make sense of this time of our lives, i’d like to dig deeper into some of the basic patterns of sense-making and choice-making that have evolved on this planet.

This is what Turning Signs is about – especially the patterns that we don’t usually pay attention to, because they are as familiar as the air we breathe, and therefore unnoticed. But after 22 years of gathering information and inspiration from a wide range of sciences, arts and worldviews, and sharing the results online, i’m hoping to engage in some live conversations with other people who can bring their own ideas to the dialogue, using the book to focus the discussion.

So i’m starting a study circle which will meet periodically (mostly via Zoom) so that small groups of us can exchange views on the basic concepts developed in Turning Signs. It’s all explained on a new page of this blog, which contains a link to my email so you can let me know if you’re interested.

The opening session will be Saturday morning, January 7, at 10:30, and will introduce a special kind of meditation that has emerged from Turning Signs. I’ll be using this blog to notify subscribers of upcoming study circle sessions, so you might want to subscribe even if you’re not ready to join the circle this week.

Community Connections part 4

The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.

Thomas Berry (1999, p.3)

This series of blog posts has been mostly about humans connecting with other humans. But Turning Signs (both the book and the blog) has an equally important focus on connecting with planet Earth (biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and all). Instead of repeating anything i’ve already said here, i’d like to direct you to an article just published in Yes! Magazine, “An Indigenous Perspective on Reconnecting With the Land” by Chevaun Toulouse of Sagamok First Nation, which is just across the North Channel from where i live on Manitoulin Island. That should be a good way to wrap up this series on community connections.

Community Connections part 3

In the winter of 2020, the Covid pandemic was making it hard for people to get together in person. I figured that Zoom meetings could be a worthwhile substitute: People can meet and talk face to face without having to leave home, and “share their screen” with the other (to show everybody the meeting agenda, for instance). So I opened a “Zoom Pro” account and put out a message on Resilient Manitoulin offering to host group Zoom meetings using my account. Some local groups took me up on that.

After the group told me when they wanted to meet, I scheduled the Zoom meeting and emailed the members invitations. These include links which the member can click on at the scheduled time to join the meeting, after downloading the free Zoom app that runs on their computer (or their phone). When the person chairing the meeting joined it, i could then hand over the “host” role to them, and leave the meeting. The group could then continue the meeting until they decided to end it.

I also connected with Mary Yett, a permaculture/gardening expert who lives near Tehkummah (southeastern part of the Island), and we held some free Zoom sessions where she could answer live gardening questions from participants. We sent notices to Resilient Manitoulin for those too.

My Zoom “Pro” account costs $200 a year, but a Zoom Basic account is free and allows you to hold meetings with up to 100 people, although they are limited to 40 minutes. So there are ways to meet with people without leaving home that don’t cost anything. Zoom is not the only one, but it’s the one I’m personally familiar with. All kinds of groups and organizations use it now to hold face-to-face meetings without having to be together in one place.

I’ll wrap up this series after the Six Foot Festival at Debajehmujig Creation Center ends tomorrow. This blog is another example of an inexpensive way to connect with people, and if anybody wants to try it (or be a guest writer here), contact me and i’ll try to help.

Community Connections part 2

Social media such as Facebook give you access to their services for free. How can they afford to do this? By keeping track of every click and every “like,” down to minute details of your online behavior. If you have an account on Facebook, for example, it has a secret profile on you. Its algorithms use this profile to target you with information or advertising that you are likely to like, or respond to in some way.

You may be using the free services of Big Tech to make personal connections with family and friends, or your quilting group, or whatever – no problem there. But the hidden system of algorithms can do a lot of damage to community connections, because they foster the growth of all kinds of social bubbles. Some of these bubble-groups connect people who share a hatred or distrust of other groups. They might be white supremacist or male supremacist or anti-immigrant or anti-government groups, and they include members who get their identity from the exclusion of other groups.

Big Tech systems don’t do this intentionally, but they can’t prevent the rise of hate groups on their platforms either, because they have a vested interest in the targeted advertising which depends on the automatic algorithms that grow these bubbles. Those algorithms can turn online communities into “echo chambers” where people reinforce each other’s distrust of “mainstream media,” or the public health system, or the scientific consensus on climate, and amplify each other’s hatred of others.

These groups are held together not only by shared beliefs (often conspiracy theories), but also by their refusal to connect with outsiders. They don’t trust information or opinions coming from outside the bubble, and where there’s no trust, there’s no genuine connection. This leads to polarization and fragmentation of communities. I’ve written about this before in my online book and blog, drawing on a wide range of sources, so i won’t go on about it here.

Turtle Island, including this Island (M’nidoo), has been colonized by invaders from Europe for over 500 years now, and Indigenous people are well aware of the effect of colonialism on them, up to and including genocide. The settlers who are descendants of those invaders, and of other immigrants like my own ancestors, are slowly becoming aware of that shameful history of colonialism. But we don’t yet see clearly how the Internet has been colonized by Big Tech and its algorithms. The effects of that are more subtle and less visible than the 500-year invasion, but they affect billions of people today. We know that they can be used to misdirect our attention and interfere with democratic elections, and that will continue as long as they are profitable for the owners and their wealthy advertisers. That’s the hidden cost of using the “free” services of Big Tech.

In order to make healthier and deeper connections within and between our communities, we need to decolonize the Internet by the way we use it. That’s not always easy. You can quit social media platforms such as Facebook if you want, and use email instead to make connections with people beyond your local neighbourhood. But it may be harder to avoid Microsoft or Apple or Google. Resilient Manitoulin itself is a Google group, because Google groups are free and convenient and easy to create. Likewise you can put your amateur video online for free using YouTube, which is owned by Google. I did that myself two years ago, trying to connect with Northern Ontario people interested in owning an EV (electric car).

But there are other ways of using the Internet for community connections without depending on Big Tech, and without spending a lot of money. My next post will look into some of those.

Community Connections part 1

On this Thanksgiving Day of 2022, my partner Pam Jackson and I are especially grateful for the connections among people of Manitoulin Island which have evolved since we moved here in 2000.

In 2004 we started hosting “Movies that Matter,” inviting people for a pot luck dinner and movie on our home screen (now called the Honora Bay Free Theatre). These were often documentaries about ecological and/or social issues, followed up with lively conversations among the half dozen or so people who were there. Differences of opinion only made it more lively, because we actually listened to each other and respected our differences.

A much bigger and more ambitious gathering was hosted in 2009 by Justin Tilson, founder of Manitoulin Permaculture, at the Honora Bay ski hill lodge. It was inspired by the Transition town movement and brought together a wide range of people working to transition our society into an ecologically sustainable, carbon-neutral way of living. Justin also launched an e-mail group called Resilient Manitoulin, to help us connect with each other. As an administrator of the group, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming scores of new members over the past 13 years. (And as a blogger, doing what I can to further the Transition.)

As a contact medium, email is no substitute for in-person gatherings where people can converse in real time (body language and all). But that kind of gathering became problematic in 2020 when the Covid pandemic hit, and many real-time conversations moved to phone or Zoom (which I’ll get to in a later post). Besides, email has its own advantages. An email dialogue is not limited to a particular time and place, and a message can be considered and reconsidered before it’s sent to others, who can also take their time responding (or choose to ignore it). Whole conversations can be saved “for the record” and revisited later. And email can be used to give notice of in-person gatherings planned for the future.

Resilient Manitoulin has grown to include over 330 members, who often use it to request or share rides, tools, goods and services – all at no cost beyond that of an Internet connection and the device connected to it. Social media such as Facebook can also be used for this kind of connection, and they too are “free” to access – but this “freedom” has a hidden social cost, which I’ll get to in my next post.

Truth and Reconciliation

Today is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. It’s a day to honour the children who never came home from residential schools, and to learn from the survivors of those schools and their descendants. There are many events planned across the country to observe the day and remind the settler community of the horrors imposed on First Nations peoples by colonial powers including the governments of Canada.

I’m hoping to contribute something to the Reconciliation process here on M’nidoo M’nissing by taking part in the 13th annual Six Foot Festival organized by Debajehmujig (October 13-15, 2022 at Debajehmujig Creation Centre in Manitowaning). The theme this year is Community Connections, including connections between First Nations people and settlers/immigrants like me. I’ll be posting more about this over the next couple of weeks.