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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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Very Tired

I’m tired lately for so many reasons.

My sweet little girl-weasel has been fighting illness for a solid month now. At first she stopped eating and then ran an extremely high fever for half a week. Her weight dropped precipitously and she started coughing in the night, making a sound like screaming in pain. Three courses of antibiotics and three mysteriously, and suddenly, swollen and useless feet later and we are finally beginning to understand her condition: congestive heart failure. I’ve been feeding her the majority of her meals for a month now, alarms set on my watch to go off throughout the day so I don’t forget, and taking her to the vet twice a week for the whole length of her illness. I feel like a single parent without a road map: I don’t sleep at night because every sound she makes wakes me, I don’t eat properly because my focus is on her, I never leave my house to socialize because I have such a tiny, wonderful thing in my care.

Amber Sleeps
Some much needed rest

I keep myself entertained by cooking and rewatching the same 7 films I have downloaded onto my hard drive. Lately they all make me cry. I think my feelings are getting stopped up inside me and the movies pull the plug on the pressure valve and they all come gushing out. I don’t even know why there is so much cry inside me. One guess is that this is years of suppressed emotion, years of self imposed “strength” finally being stripped away and detoxified from my heart, like that cough that lingers long after the cold has passed. I’m trying not to fight it, though the reflex is to choke the tears back every time they well up. It’s natural, is it not?

I find that my emotions tend to come in waves. I’ll get a wave of happy and a wave of sad. Sometimes they’ll overlap each other and I’ll get blubbery looking up at the night sky on the way home. Lately I seem to have tapped into a well of past anger. I’m sure it’s just a massive time lag as the experience when I remember the episode is every bit as bitter as I knew it should have been back when I was busy being rational and cool headed and completely missing my life as it was happening to me. Everything that upsets me now comes out as bitter hatred, whether it’s for the constant construction that I can’t seem to escape no matter how far away I move, or the memory of past lovers’ disregard for my feelings or needs. The other day I nearly lost it because my most recent partner wants to consult my past partner, a man-child who is in our social circle, about being involved with me. Frankly, I don’t give a shit what the two of them talk about, but somehow it made me feel like a commodity being rented out and before I knew it I was spitting rage at the very idea.

Most likely, I am just tired. Everything I do these days feels like a struggle and when I get myself on top of one task, I find I’ve let another fall apart. My stomach is upset, so I go back to my candida diet only to find that my body can’t produce enough heat to keep me warm in the evenings and I end up burning up all my oil to bring the house to a tolerable temperature. Next thing I know I can’t make it to the grocery store because I have to buy more oil and I have to decide if I want to be full and cold or warm and hungry. In the background, my little girl is waiting for me, depending on me, and there is no one to help me out but me. Living alone — not having a family — it’s difficult. It’s not the way humans were built. I often wish society would get it’s shit together and realize that it’s collectively killing itself, but it’s a long way down before we hit rock bottom. It’s long, and it’s lonely and it’s incredibly tiresome.

I’m very tired these days.

A Journay Towards Resilience: Part 1 “Awakening”

It’s a cold, rainy morning in Tokyo. I have all my heaters on, included my electric carpet, and a pot of ginger chicken broth simmering on my kerosene stove. My weasels are in all likelihood cuddled up deep in the folds of my goosedown winter comforter. With a pot of tea at hand and my home filled with the warm smells of winter, this is the perfect time to share the cumulation of many years of thinking on the subject of happiness, health and the future of our planet. So pour yourself a mug, put on your fluffy socks and grab a blanket; this might be a long post.

To say my journey started when I decided to get divorced would be a simplification of the process. Indeed I have felt a strong need to be resilient ever since I was a child. I had asthma and I had to wear glasses and I lived in a house in a suburb surrounded by concrete. I grew up in Miami and hurricane Andrew arrived when I was ten years old. Much to my dismay, I slept through the whole storm. However, when I woke up the world around me was pulsing and shuddering with the aftermath of natural force that had just blown through the city. I felt alive walking through the debris covered streets, climbing over and under fallen trees and feeling the wet exhausted wind against my skin. My house was old, made of solid concrete and we had bolted it down well. We had plenty of water and food so I did not feel afraid, only exhilirated by the jungle that had grown around my neighborhood overnight. To me, the days after hurricane Andrew were not a calamity, but a brief foray into the wilderness where all things truly alive reside.

I remember walking the streets and thinking to myself: I have to do something about my glasses. If a true disaster were to befall us I would be crippled without my glasses. When five years later Lasik became a thing, I couldn’t get the procedure done fast enough. While my Grandma encouraged me to see a doctor for my asthma and always carry an inhaler with me, I chose a different route. At twenty I decided I was done with being physically handicapped and so I began running. It was terrible. I couldn’t make it to the end of the block without a stinging pain spreading through my chest followed by an acute sense of hardening in my lungs. I was ashamed of my weakness and so I would run alone and in spurts. Sometimes not running for months at a time because it was just too difficult for me. My lungs were my weakest point back then and somehow I knew I had to make them strong. Eventually I ran a full marathon and raced a half-century. It took me nearly ten years but now my body is finally strong enough that I can say I am ready.

Ready for what? I am only now beginning to see what it is that I have somehow always known I needed to prepare for. As a child and then as a young adult in school, and even now as a professor of economics, I keep hearing the same story over and over: our world is dying. The foxes have disappeared from the neighborhood, the fish are disappearing from the oceans, the trees are disappearing from the forests and the mountains are disappearing from the horizon. I know that “global warming” is a subject of political debate and many treat it like a religious belief, too, “Do you believe in global warming?” I don’t need scientific proof and I know better than to believe that the health of our planet can only be observed through the minute fluctuations (+/- 4ºC) of the average annual temperature. I can see the death and destruction all around me. Never once in my life have I seen a building torn down and a forest or a park put in its place. It has always only ever gone one way. To me, the growth of human civilization is undifferentiable from the death of the planet. Economists talk about the efficient “allocation” of resources, but we don’t allocate them, we just use them up. We don’t move a rainforest to build a cattle pasture, we simply burn it down.

If you look at the history of humanity it is tempting to conclude that this destruction and greed is just human nature. The endless and single-minded pursuit of profit is built into our DNA. The commercial conquest of the world is simply a modern expansion of our Darwinian need to survive and become fitter. Just as the Europeans outsurvived Africa in the colonial era, and men everywhere have outsurvived women always, today the countries with bigger and more profitable corporations will outsurvive those who have not caught up to technological speed.  Underlying this story of human nature, conquest, growth and destruction is the belief that over time humanity has only ever improved its lot over what it had when it first branched off from the rest of the apes. This belief, however, is dead wrong.

While the old story that women are subservient to men because we are physically weak and therefore necessarily reliant on the stronger sex for protection, food and shelter never sat well with me, I could not until recently put into words my objections. If you believe the story that humans have always and forever been a selfishly competitive lot, then the historical use of women as breeding livestock makes perfect sense. So it wasn’t until I read Sex at Dawn that I learned that humans were, in fact, profoundly happy, healthy, lazy and incredibly promiscuous right up until we figured out how to farm and store food. It’s certainly not an expected connection to make, but it was in my efforts to understand human sexuality that I made my first discovery about the reality of our global economy: The damage that we have caused over the last 10,000 years is not the inevitable result of our evolved human selfishness, but instead it is the result of putting humans who were evolved to be carefree and lazy into a world where they had to work and compete with each other for survival.

My own field can be described as behavioral economics. I study “anomalies” of human behavior that have been evolved into our decision making process, but have not adapted to the modern world of global trade, advanced marketing, financial assets and long range economic planning. Because most economists are still very antagonistic towards the use of behavioral theories in their traditional models, much of my effort goes into justifying why I am not studying a world composed of homo economicii (my pluralization of homo economicus, the fictitional human that embodies the economic ideal of decision making). One of the major sub fields of behavioral economics is what is called “other regarding behavior.” In essence, whenever a person chooses an action that benefits other people when they had the opportunity to benefit themselves even more by ignoring those people, we call it other regarding and label it an anomaly. Most people who are not economists are familiar with this type of behavior and use the colloquial terms “having manners,” “showing respect,” “loving,” or “being decent” instead.  It really isn’t a foreign concept at all, and yet it is aggressively defended against in areas of public policy and economics.

In the process of researching my dissertation on violence, I came across a lay article on biological taxonomy and evolution. Many animals have physical features that cannot be explained well by the simple application of “survival of the fittest/strongest.” In this case, the article was talking about social versus solitary distinctions. The degree of cooperativeness of a species can be measured very reliably by the amount of white that shows around the colored parts of their eyes. The theory goes that a lone hunter would not want to give away the location of its quarry by allowing another hunter to see where it was looking. On the other hand, animals who act as a group for protection or for hunting would want their clan to know where they were looking in order to better coordinate. Among all mammals, human eyes are the easiest to read, moreso than dogs, wolves or even the great apes, considered most cooperative among mammals. Humans, therefore, can be proved on a sound scientific basis to be profoundly cooperative.

In addition to being strategically cooperative, humans participate in what Professor of Sociology R. Collins calls interaction rituals. By participating in a common and ritualized activity, we synchronize our emotional states with each other. A successful ritual leads to greater cohesion in the group while an unsuccessful ritual leads to feelings of isolation or even existential unease. Broadly defined, even sexual intercourse falls into the category of these interaction rituals. Church, spectators sports, and drum circles are other less ubiquitous examples of the same. By synchronizing our emotions we also synchronize our incentives and are more inclined to act towards the unified interest of our group rather than in an independent selfish direction.

Anthropologically, biologically and psychologically humans are clearly a cooperative species hardwired to care for each other and take group actions to benefit the whole. So why is our world so bloody fucked up? Let’s go back to the Story of Isolation*. Even though the science says one thing, “history” says another. History says that we have always been selfish and single minded, but the problem with relying on the historical record is that it does not include the part that happened before we started keeping track. It does not include the part where we did not have civilization and instead lived in relative, albeit primitive, harmony. In essence, history is a biased data set on the nature of humanity.

Now that I know that the wisdom and common sense that I was brought up on is built on the invalid conclusion that humans are selfish utility maximizers, I can begin to unravel the many layers of “fact” that have clouded my perspective over the years. For example, consider the “fact” that land prices always rise. For those of us who love the unbridled wilderness, we must accept that nature is a scarce resource like oil, gold, and leg room on airplanes. That it gets more expensive every year is the inevitable byproduct of human population growth. Those who are most willing to pay for it are those who will be able to enjoy it, and for those of us who “can’t afford” to buy our own piece of nature we must just accept that the rich obviously appreciate it more than we do.  Moreover, not only do the rich and the corporate appreciate the land more than we do, they also put it to better use by ripping it up and consuming its natural resources. For years I thought this was the truth about everything I loved. Sad as it was, I thought it was an unyielding fact about the human condition.

If anything, I think the progression through agriculture, feudalism, colonialism, industrialism and globalism was inevitable, but I don’t think that this is the end of the story for us and I don’t think that the future will follow quite the same course. Instead, what I see as the only sustainable future course for us is one of deep appreciation for the natural world and for each other. Money has proven ultimately inefficient at allocating resources when they are truly scarce. Until now there has always been another continent, another ocean, another oil field… but there are no more places to expand to anymore. Furthermore, we are consuming the earth’s resources at so great a rate that we can no longer afford to make decisions independently of each other. In economics we talk about the Tragedy of the Commons which is the simple premise that if everyone has to share and no one regulates how much each person can use, we will all take too much and cause the collapse of our community. What we are looking at now is a global tragedy which is here because we have repeatedly failed to regulate the use of our shared resource, the planet.

Community will be key in the future to survival on a very very basic level. The tower we have built our civilization on is swaying terribly in high winds and very soon we will have none of the far reaching support we have grown accustomed to. International bananas and avocados, Canadian tomatoes in winter, American beef in Japan, all these things will go away because they will simply become too expensive to continue to consume. Many other luxuries that depend on oil as a material input or for transportation will become very scarce and this is almost everything we consume on a daily basis, right down to the shrink wrap our food comes in. The only viable alternative is one of community resilience. Without the tentacles of a bloated government and commercial system to sustain us from thousands of miles away, we are going to have to make do with what we have available nearby.

This making do is what I call resilience**. It is the ability to live, indeed to thrive, on what is available with what one has on hand. I know now that my calling all this time has been towards personal resilience. Ironically, it is not towards hermithood somewhere far removed from society, but in fact it is towards a strength of spirit and body that will complement the community around me. Because the crises we face are multifaceted and immense each in its own right, the solutions will have to be holistic ones. I believe at this point my body and my spirit are ready. The remaining steps will be to put myself in the right position to act when the storm finally breaks.

Part 2 “Preparation”

*words given to me by Charles Eisenstein.
**words given to me by Chris Martenson.

The Global Community

Just a short note today, but an article on mountain biodiversity triggered a thought in my mind that I wanted to share. Each nation has a right to, but is also independently responsible for its mountains. Mountains are part of this earth and part of this biosphere so their preservation is critical to the longevity and prosperity of all humans. So even while each country has sovereign responsibility for its mountains and other bioscapes, the mere fact that they lie within its borders is not sufficient to grant that country independent sovereignty over those natural resources.

The world belongs to all people and all living things. However, it was only until the last 100 years or so that humans have gained the ability to destroy what belongs to all. So while in the past physical occupation was sufficient justification to do whatever one saw fit with the land inside their borders, it is now no longer possible to make that claim in good conscience. What one does to itself, it does to all and this is no longer belief, but scientifically supported fact.

Harder, Scarcer, Bigger, Faster.

I’m sorry, but when I originally thought of the title of this post, I wanted to talk about the messages that I had been hearing since I was young telling me that things were only going to get harder for me in whatever career I wanted to pursue because the positions available were getting scarcer and more competitive. At the same time the products I have been sold are almost always advertised as better because they are bigger, or faster. I wanted to talk about how the world that I grew up in seems to exist in a fantasy where everything is linear and only more matters.

…but then I watched the section of the Crash Course on increasing waste. I learned what I have always felt to be true:

  • That species are disappearing from our planet at exponential rates
  • That our economy takes out more resources and puts back in more waste than our environment can process
  • That even if we stopped all of it right now, most of us would be dead before the world’s health could recover to what it was just 50 years ago

…and then I learned some more.

  • At the current rates of ocean acidification, driven directly by carbon dioxide in the air, the Great Barrier Reef, my dream since I first set foot in the ocean, and one which has eluded me for nearly twenty years now, will die along with every other coral reef in every ocean on the planet, and it will die before I do.

I’m sorry because I wanted to write a philosophical, romantically tragic blog about our dying world and its capital hypocrisy, but all I can do is sit here and cry because now I’ve seen the numbers. What used to be just a feeling, a suspicion that probably humans were doing irreparable damage to the planet, is now a measurable, quantifiable, unavoidable reality. And the loss I feel is unimaginable. My dream to one day swim in the Great Barrier Reef may never be realized, and not because I can’t afford it, but because it simply won’t be there when I’m finally ready to go.

It’s such a personal loss. The monarch butterflies are dying, too. My mother loves to hatch them in her yard and watch them dry their wings. I used to chase them as a kid. They were everywhere, like flies. There are 5% of them now than there were ten years ago. Just last year the black rhino went the way of the dodo, too. These are animals I love. These are representations to me of freedom, of life itself and they’re dying and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.

Could you stand by and watch your lover slowly burn to death on the stake? Imagine standing there watching everything you cared about in the world slowly and violently be destroyed and then imagine asking someone to help you save them. Now imagine that the people around all tell you they are too busy. “I’m sorry, I have a meeting to get to, but good luck with that!”

My Reef. The Great Barrier Reef was always supposed to be there. We may all be already dead and simply not know it yet.

I’m sorry, I wish I could be more help to you.

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