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 …

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 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.

Ministry for the Future

Dear subscribers, i sent this invitation to our local (Manitoulin Island) email group this morning, and decided to include you as well.

I’d like to invite you to a new book club for readers of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Ministry for the Future. It’s set in the immediate future on planet Earth, and the fictional situation is very much like what’s going on around us now.

It’s a gripping story with ecological, psychological, technological, political, ethical and spiritual dimensions. The chapters are mostly short, each with its own point of view, reflecting the diversity of human (and other) viewpoints. The book is widely available in print, Kindle and audiobook formats if you can’t find a copy to borrow.

There are various format options for the book club meetings too. I’m thinking of an in-person gathering at my place (the Honora Bay Free Theatre), perhaps every second Saturday morning, but this can be combined with a Zoom meeting at the same time for those far from Honora Bay (or even from Manitoulin Island). This can continue regardless of changes in public health guidelines.

That regular time and venue won’t be a good fit for everyone, so we could also have pop-up sessions at other times and places (and/or via Zoom) as requested by club members. If needed, I can set up an email list so members can inform each other about upcoming sessions. There is of course no charge and no obligation for club members, except to respect each other’s viewpoints during the conversations. I imagine it might take a few months to talk our way through the book, starting about two weeks from now.

If you are interested, let me know by replying privately to this and i’ll get back to you.

Forthcoming works

My ongoing revision of Turning Signs now includes the first 12 chapters. Along the way, it’s persuaded me that the book contains some important ideas relevant to the personal and systemic transformations we are all living through these days. Later on, I’m hoping to make some of those ideas more accessible through this blog. (More visually oriented, for one thing.)

In the meantime I’m looking forward to a couple of forthcoming books that have been recently announced. One of them is by Jeremy Lent, who’s been quoted here before: it’s called The Web of Meaning and will probably explore some of the same territory as Turning Signs. I expect his approach to it will be different from mine, which focusses on core ideas drawn from Charles Peirce’s philosophy of signs. So it will be interesting to see how much the two approaches agree on scientific, cultural and ethical issues.

Another forthcoming book of great interest is Richard Heinberg’s Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival. If you follow that link and pre-order it, as i did, you get online access to a pre-release version. Based on my reading of it so far, it’s another wide-ranging interdisciplinary book about the biological and cultural evolution of power among humans. By studying the uses and abuses of power, it will draw some conclusions about how we might deal with the economic/ecological mess we humans have gotten ourselves into.

I’m happy to see that both Lent and Heinberg seem to honor the roles of both scientific and religious (or “spiritual”) experience in shaping human habits. There have always been people who were more science-minded than religious, and religious people who tended to distrust scientific thinking, and dogmatically driven people on both sides, but i’ve always found this mutual animosity lacking in common sense. Turning Signs delves fairly deeply into both scientific and religious experience, and the differences between them (see Chapter 8). My own research leaves me with no doubt that both are vital to human guidance systems, as i call them. That’s one example of an affinity i see between Jeremy Lent’s work and Richard Heinberg’s, and my own. But i trust that i’ll learn something new from them too.

more community resources

Thanks to my friend Hugh Smiley for posting an informative comment on my “Social Transformation” post. I’ve added a couple of links to it, including one to the Bahá’í International Community, an NGO representing the international level of the Bahá’í emphasis on community building. There’s also a Canadian Bahá’í website on building community.

In connection with the point about “tackling the root causes of acceleration and growth — the feedback loops that cause most of today’s ecological and social crises”, i can also recommend the current series of Crazy Town podcasts, which focus on the “hidden drivers” of the rush to consume the planet which is threatening all of us Earthlings.

In the between

My slow revision of Turning Signs has now reached the beginning of Chapter 6. Chapter 5 took longer than expected, but the good news is that it’s not only better but a bit shorter than it was before. The downloadable version of the complete book has been updated as of yesterday.

This revision has been sparked by the continuing dialogue between some ancient scriptures and recent reflections on the transition. I’ve been studying Robert Thurman’s book on the Bardo Thödol (known in the West as the “Tibetan Book of the Dead”) – and hearing Laurie Anderson’s beautiful rendition of Songs from the Bardo as well. Thurman explains that the root meaning of bardo in Tibetan is “the between,” and the vast bardo literature reflects a conceptual scheme which ‘is used to create in the practitioner a sense that all moments of existence are “between” moments, unstable, fluid, and transformable into liberated enlightenment experience’ (Thurman 1994, 34). So wherever we are in spacetime, we are in the between.

I’ve also been reading a collection of very recent essays called The New Possible, and to give a taste of it, here’s an excerpt from Jeremy Lent’s contribution:

As long as government policies emphasize GDP growth and transnational corporations relentlessly pursue shareholder returns, we will continue accelerating toward global catastrophe. These practices ransack the Earth without regard to long-term effects. If we are truly to “shift course away from our failing trajectory,” the new era must be defined, at its deepest level, not merely by the political or economic choices we make, but by a transformation in the very way we make sense of the world, and by a concomitant revolution in our predominant values.

The depiction of humans as selfish individuals, the view of nature as a resource to be exploited, and the idea that technology alone can fix our biggest problems are all profound misconceptions that have collectively led our civilization down this madcap path to disaster. We must recognize the destructive nature of the dominant mainstream culture and reject it for one that is life-affirming, embracing values that emphasize growth in the quality of life rather than in the consumption of goods and services. We must emphasize core human values of fairness, justice, and compassion as paramount—extending them through local neighborhoods to state and national government, to the global community of humans, and ultimately to the community of all life.

In short, we need to change the basis of our global civilization. We must move from a civilization based on wealth accumulation to one based on the health of living systems: an ecological civilization. A change of such magnitude would be an epochal event. There have only been two occasions in history when radical dislocations led to a transformation of virtually every aspect of the human experience: the Agricultural Revolution that began about twelve thousand years ago, and the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. If our civilization is to survive and prosper through the looming crises of this century, we will need a transformation of our values, goals, and collective behavior on a similar scale.

The New Possible: Visions of Our World beyond Crisis (p. 5-6). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It’s all one transformation.