Science and the larger world

I read with interest today (Guardian: 17 Feb.) that scientists are on the verge of de-extinctioning the woolly mammoth. In two years or so they should be able to recreate something close to this enormous creature through DNA manipulations I do not pretend to understand. So we'll have woolly mammoths, which lived in the Arctic-like Ice Age, just about the same time the Arctic ceases to exist and elephants become extinct. Forgive me if I'm underwhelmed. Now, I admire science. I love that we explore such astonishing things. What I have trouble with is science that can do amazing things when the larger world seems intent on destruction which renders science's progress useless. For example: We have ever better ways of harnessing solar and wind energy. Yet the US government is defunding that research so we can keep burning fossil fuels. We have ways of reducing pollution ready to hand, yet the US has gutted the EPA. And so on. I hope we can de-extinction the woolly mammoth, and perhaps many other species that we are, every day, eradicating. I just wish we didn't do that eradicating in the first place.

Beauty

Beauty comes in all forms and is never a guarantee of anything -- such as good character, morality, etc. But we can sometimes tell the characters of people by looking at them. With this in mind I've been surveying the pictures of some of the Republican stalwarts. Kellyanne Conway, Paul Rand, Mitch McConnell, Bannon... all of them look like very sad people who have been dragged out of the pit of hell. There's no real life in their faces, just a sort of ghastly, semi-dead mask. They all seem to be suffering. Match that to what they say and all I can point out is that, sometimes, we can see what's wrong without even having to listen that hard. Trust your eyes. These are sick and haunted people.

Focus, people.

George Orwell has been much mentioned recently. For the most part people have chosen to read and discuss his most famous work, 1984. In it we see the ghastly aftermath of a dictatorial government take-over of The United Kingdom. The trouble with this book is that it shows how horrible things will be after a totalitarian take-over. It doesn’t tell us how to resist one. If we shift our gaze a little we can see a different book, also by Orwell, that should perhaps be more considered. I mean Homage to Catalonia, his frequently ignored description of the Spanish Civil War. In it Orwell describes the different leftist and liberal groups that opposed the dictator Franco. While it is a book of complexity and subtlety the biggest point it makes, again and again, is that the leftists could easily have won if they had only banded together. Instead they divided according to political creed and philosophy. The Marxists argued with the Trotskyites; the Marxist–Leninists argued with the POUM (Partdio Operaio Unito Marxista) who were in turn stymied by the OUM, and so on. Franco didn’t so much win as stand by while the various factions of the left destroyed each other. While diversity is always a wonderful idea, what we need to do is focus on defeating Trump. That means we all agree to choose a specific aspect of what he has done (his taxes might be a good place to start) and then we use all our force to impeach him. Immense pressure on one specific point will stop him in his tracks. The Republicans taught us this. Think of the Clintons and Whitewater; think of Bill Clinton and Lewinski; think of Obama and the birth certificate; and so on. The specific target matters less than the powerful ability to do damage using any target at all. It’s time to focus. Let’s do it before it’s too late.

I wish you love

Teaching my class on the Grimms' tales the other day a young woman suggested that a king who fell in love with a picture of a princess is "cursed". I thought this idea fascinating. Love -- passionate and unrealistic and idealistic love for something one sees in another -- can be a blessing or a curse. When we love like that we simply have to do something about it, and that action can open our hearts. It can also feel like an overturning of everything we know. That's why some people see it as a curse. It upsets everything. And that can feel like torture. And that's the point -- it's an opportunity to change everything we know, to become fully human, perhaps. So, next time someone annoys you, disgusts you, or infuriates you, simply wish them the experience of this passionate loving for another. It will either change them utterly, or be torture. I'd like certain politicians to experience this love. I wish them to experience a love that will humanize them.

Hawks

This afternoon as I gazed from the window I caught a flash of movement across the back garden. I looked again, and another quick movement. Whatever it was had gone into the shade and was up-sun of me. Then I saw it; a Northern Harrier had killed and was eating a sparrow (I think) and was now scattering feathers across the ground.It stayed there, feeding, for about 20 minutes. At first I thought how cool it was to see a raptor here in the city. Then i thought about the poor sparrow. Then I found myself thinking that a hawk was of more value than a sparrow. Wait. Really? Both are birds; both are lives. So are some lives of more value than others? Then I found myself thinking that "this was the way of Nature". Some creatures must die and be eaten, clearly, and sparrows are worth less than Hawks. But then I caught myself. That may be true of Nature, and that's fine. But this, where we live, this is Society; and Society stands against the savagery of Nature. It values all lives because we don't have to prey on each other. We don't have to victimize any person or class of people. Society has evolved specifically to offset that. Let us remember that we live in a Society -- and that no matter what legislation is forced on us we are not going to regress to a state of Nature.

Got a few minutes?

Then let me tell you a story. The other day it was snowing and I looked out my window to see my next door neighbor struggling along in heavy galoshes to put birdseed in the feeder. Now, I like birds, but what tends to happen is that the feeder attracts flocks of sparrows who then drive the other birds away. My next door neighbor, I should add, doesn't actually live in the house. He lives some miles away. So he'd driven in, braving rather slippery and icy conditions, to replenish the bird feeder. In summer those sparrows flock to the bushes and sometimes, walking unwarily to the car, I've disturbed several hundred of them - and they've exploded out of the branches, mobbing me, a la Hitchcock. So you can imagine my mindset when I saw my neighbor's semi-heroic struggle to the bird feeder. I recalled that last fall a bird eruption had happen just as I nosed into my driveway, relaxed and with open windows, and sparrows had actually flown into the car, bouncing madly around until I could open enough doors to get them out. Then, just as I was shaking my head at this memory I wondered what my two granddaughters (2 and 4) would have done had they been there. From her childseat Zoe would have watched the fluttering crowd with delight and interest; Ellie would have waved her arms about, hoping to get a bird to settle in her hands, no doubt laughing all the time. So why had I gone to my negative attitude so readily? Today I looked out of my window and saw, beside the sparrows ranged in the hedge, a pair of russet red house finches, poised and absolutely at home, washed in the yellowish light of a new day. Thank you, neighbor.

The Presidency

One of the things about the new presidency is the subtle knock-on effect of his speeches and actions that, when multiplied by millions of citizens, can become catastrophic. I'll give a simple example. If I believe my government cares about the environment I'm much more likely to recycle my household items responsibly, take care about litter, and think about my carbon footprint and how to reduce it. Now, when a president arrives who openly favors fossil fuel use over solar and wind power, who is determined to revitalize the polluting power of coal, and who guts the EPA, then -- gradually I begin to look at my efforts to consume and pollute less and say: "What the hell difference will it make if I act responsibly? Placing this empty can in the right bin won't offset fracking, those oil pipelines and global climate degradation." Now multiply that by every citizen in the US. Multiply that again by every current belief system, such as taking care of the poor, the homeless, the disadvantaged -- and any other cause you can name. Can you see how this goes? Our job is to keep the faith and do what's right simply because it's the right thing to do.

Old story

As Trump lurches towards his inauguration I'm reminded of an old chinese story, much repeated. An ancient sage was sitting by his hut when an excited young man rushed up to him and said, "Some wild horses have come to the village. Everyone's running around capturing them! Isn't that great!" The sage answered: "It could be good, it could be bad. Who knows?" The young man shook his head and left. The next day the young man rushed up to the sage again. "Your son just got thrown from one of the horses he was trying to train. He broke his arm. That's a tragedy!" The sage looked up and said: "It could be good, it could be bad. Who knows?" The young man walked off, shaking his head. The next day the young man didn't come. Instead an old woman hobbled up to see the sage. She said, "This morning the Emperor's soldiers came to the village. They took away the horses and all the young men to fight in the war. They left your son behind, though, because he had a broken arm." We may want to consider this message at such a difficult time.

Manifesting

Several people have written, deeply puzzled, asking about manifesting and wondering how Trump managed to get to where he is. Is that, they ask, how manifesting works? Do we have to lie and cheat and make back-room deals to get where we need to be? The point about manifesting is that we get what we are, not what we want. That's an often repeated maxim, but it has never been truer than now. Trump is a power and money hungry egomaniac, and what he has manifested is a situation in which he has power and money but no certainty, although he has plenty of mania. He has achieved his ends but without any sense of personal peace. Personal peace cannot come to him until he realizes that all his striving will not produce it. He hungers for power - so the universe gives him more hunger. He cares deeply about money - so what the universe gives him is more cares around the issues of money. He wants respect - so what the universe gives him is a situation in which he wants it more than ever, and isn't getting it. He has manifested a situation of wanting. He should be lesson to us. The Law of Manifestation does not discriminate between good and bad. It just is, like gravity. It does ask us some important questions, though, about who we are at the core of our being. Trump has never asked those questions. If we are to manifest the best version of ourselves we have to start by being the best version of that self we are capable of being. That takes work, and care, and love. Are you ready to do that?