072712 poisonous cries

October 20, 2014

072712

sometimes a black eye
and bruised ribs
are enough of a fake glass sky
to keep us from our rise
to full height

so we bake like butterlies
bathed in blinding white light
beneath the heat of the lens
looming large over life

sometimes petty white lies
and malicious truths
are poisonous cries
to leave us drowning
in our self doubt

so we forget the fact
that we ever knew how to swim

while the tides ebb on a whim
and flow unexpectedly
from moonlight to sunrise
sometimes we take the long way around
unplug from this rat race to the bottom…
the wind leads
and dreams drain with the gravity
of pristine mountain streams returning
to the subthermal depths of the ocean
and back again, on backs of salmon

sometimes the mere act
of living our life out
loud, unapologetically
with confidence and humility
will bring about a suitable end…
and sometimes we have to fight for that right
with all our might
all day and all night
alongside our closest allies
family and friends


TERMS of Appropriate Technology

October 18, 2014

Appropriate (intermediate) technology calls for increasingly “people-centered, small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled”1 technologies in response to the increasing development, prevalence and dependency upon increasingly complex, opaque, ineffective, unreliable, irreparable technologies of modern, globalized industrial economies. It is a response to technology for technology’s sake.  Many believe EF Schumacher to be the visionary behind the appropriate technology movement with his seminal and very readable book, Small is Beautiful.

Similar to permaculture ethics and principles, I propose five principles and one ethic to our design and use of technology as guidelines to help us ensure that whatever we do with technology is ultimately in our best interests. I package them in an easy-to-remember acronym (TERMS), to facilitate further discussion on this topic.

Five principles (TERMS)

TERMS:  Transparent, Effective (ethical), Reliable (reusable / recyclable), Maintainable (modular), Simple

Transparent:  the technology should let us know what’s going on when we use it, so there are minimal surprises during normal use or when things go wrong.  it should be easy to understand where it comes from, how and why it was created (see story of stuff), and what happens to it at the end of its lifecycle.

Effective:  does it do the job its supposed to do, and do it well?  does it make the job easier or more difficult?  or does it trade one difficulty for another?  On a related note, is it ethical?  Does it provide both short-term and long-term benefit to the entire community (land and people)?  Does it internalize the cost of use?  To what extent is it safe or dangerous for anyone in the community?

A friend recently divided technology into two forms: that which helps us interact with and understand the existing world in new ways, and that which makes us stupid. Using the analogy of storytelling (which is itself an important technology), we can give some examples for comparison:

  • Some technologies help us tell new stories and understand the subtleties and depths of older, more familiar stories (such as through microscopes and telescopes).
  • In contrast, some technologies cause us to outsource the storytelling and become a bored, disengaged, alienated and passive listener or audience member (such as relying on Google Maps and GPS for directions).

Reliable:  technology should do what it’s supposed to do over and over again without needing any special care — durable and reusable.  it should withstand a little bit of abuse or even misuse (what some people might call “use for alternative purpose”). In relation to reusability, does the technology recycle well at the ends of its usable life, allowing us to reclaim its constituent parts and materials to (re)build other equipment? Otherwise, the technology and its constituent parts must readily biodegrade, which is the way the earth recycles materials for reuse.

Maintainable:  it should be easy to do preventative maintenance.  When technology breaks down, it should be easy to repair or replace parts with generic options.   To do this, we need to support and advocate for open standards, maintain standards compliance and design for modularity.  These are not quick and easy solutions, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

Simple:  if a technology is too complicated for the end user to understand all the way through, it’s probably too complicated to be transparent.  Also, the more complex something is, the less reliable it becomes.

These TERMS are relative to the technology, the user, and our performance expectations.  They give us a framework to think about and discuss whether and how technology is appropriate.  Let’s use a bicycle as an example:  It might have some inherent properties that make it more reliable, maintainable and simple than a motor vehicle.  But is it more effective?  It depends:  Motor vehicles can transport many heavy things long distances very quickly.  But bicycles give us exercise while we use them.  When we combine them with racks and saddle bags or trailers, they are often more than effective enough for most of our everyday urban transportation needs.

Ethic:  Balance technomass with biomass

We also need to balance technomass (the physical presence of technology) and biomass (the physical presence of living organisms) in our built environment.  Cities and other high density human settlements can be very heavy on technomass and very light on or even openly hostile to biomass, resulting in an imbalance.  An imbalance between technomass and biomass can cause all sorts of energetic, economic, social, physiological and psychological problems in humans and our habitat (think of the pollutions:  noise, light, chemical, water, air, even highly-processed pseudo-foods).   If cities are going to be viable at all in the future past peak oil, they probably need to achieve a much greater ratio of (non-human) biomass to technomass per land area.  Some people call biomass “green infrastructure” as opposed to technological infrastructure (technomass).  Whatever we call it, biomass helps

  • regulate temperature and rainfall (think: cool in the summer, warm in the winter);
  • clean our air and purify our water; build our soil fertility;
  • prevent and protect us from floods and droughts;
  • provide nutritious food, energy and raw materials;
  • keep us healthy (ref. to the myriad positive effects of forest bathing).

These are all things we want more of, right?  One way we can do this in temperate climates is to increase the surface area for biomass to grow on.  Since we have a finite amount of land in our built environments, our primary strategy for increasing surface area is to use a “lumpy texture” pattern — that is, minimize flat spaces and maximize spaces with vertical diversity.  Think:  goodbye lawns and hello roots, groundcovers, flowers, herbs, shrubs, trees and vines!  In addition to maximizing productivity, there are several other benefits to vertical diversity in our biomass or green infrastructure:

scientific research indicates that structural diversity in forest vegetation, what we call “lumpy texture,” appears to increase bird and insect population diversity and to balance insect pest populations—independent of plant species diversity

(from https://sites.google.com/site/permaship1/permaculture-practice/gardening-and-food/food-forest-concept)

So what is a good balance between technomass and biomass?   1:1?  1:2?   I propose at least 1:10 — that is, 10 times more biomass than technomass.  Here’s why:

  • Technomass depends upon biomass.  Without biomass, technomass would not exist.
  • Technomass, like all things, is subject to the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Based on this premise, we can view technomass like a predator in a food chain organized into trophic levels:  only ~10% of the energy from the things it “feeds” on are available for it to use.
  • Technomass and biomass compete for space and energy.

Within the biomass population, net primary producers (photosynthesizers, namely, plants!) should probably make up approximately 90% of all biomass for the same reason as above.  So our final ratio should be something like 1:10:100 (technomass:consumers:producers), or in percentages as 1%:9%:90%  You can apply these ratios as mass calculations or as land area used for each.

These ratios are difficult to measure empirically.  However they provide an at-a-glance starting point for assessing the sustainability of a human settlement.  If you compare these ratios to most every current-day city, you can see that they are opposite:  technomass is probably closer to 90% of the makeup of city infrastructure.  Bringing cities in-line with these “ratios of sustainability” will probably require both a reduction in technomass and population density in addition to an increase in biomass. I also suggest we add another component to the ratio: wildmass. Based on permaculture concepts, wildmass consists of biomass existing outside of direct, everyday contact with a given human settlement. Again, basic thermodynamic principles might suggest the wildmass necessary to sustain the biomass that in turn sustains a human population and its technologies at 1000:100:10:1.

Summary

We have control over how, when and how much technomass is a factor in our lives and landscapes.  We should take every opportunity we can to minimize its presence while we maximize its positive impact.  TERMS and Balance are a framework that can help us move in that direction.  Maybe this is a framework that the appropriate technology gurus at MIT’s D-Lab can run with…

Final note on the definition of technology. From Wikipedia:

Technology (from Greek τέχνηtechne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία-logia[1]) is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of toolsmachines, techniques, craftssystems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function.

We must overcome our current narrow conception of technology. To illustrate this point, let’s consider a culture’s stories and mythologies: they are, in context of the above definition, are no less a part of a society’s functional technology than a knife or a shelter structure. The narratives they comprise might store and transmit localized, place-based knowledge through the generations. For example, the narrative, although fictional and fantastic, may teach of important plants and animals: who and what they are, where they are located, what they do for humans, and how to best make use of and respect them.

In the above example example, a narrative technology conveys important information about plant- and animal-based technologies. However, those who use such technologies may never describe them as such – the plants and animals are active agents and participants in their communities, rather than mere “things” to be exploited. To reduce them into the fictional framework of objectified passivity is be to deny them their agency and complexity, like reducing forests to “a bunch of trees” to “a bunch of board-feet.” So while our definition of technology must expand, our use of that expanded definition of technology as a “map of the territory” must contract into specific, momentary situational contexts that require an entity to give up its agency in service of the larger community. To put it another way: When you’re in the territory, put the map away and interact with the territory on its own terms, not the terms dictated by the map, because the map is not the territory, and if you know the territory, you don’t need the map. On the other hand, if you always use the map, you will not only fail to learn the territory – you will end up destroying the territory through actions shaped by your dependency on the map.


100912 erasing divine

October 18, 2014

100912

diamonds glitter, gold glistens
money talks, greed listens

food rots, water poisoned
pollution: soil, air, light, noises

dilution:  thoughtful, caring community
vapid distraction through technology

lacking action, short on time
pretentiousness erasing divine

analysis:  slow and steady through the years
hollow eyes, empty tears

zombie lives: follow, conform
accept insanity as the norm

single family, many Mothers
crying, feuding, sisters, brothers

sighting, viewing salvation to come
end of the rope, feeling numb

loss of hope, time to hang
we go alone, without name

we go home together, silently
from whence we came


Defection and Sabotage: Tools of Liberation

October 17, 2014


Defection and Sabotage form the foundation of a pattern language toward liberation.  Here begins a discussion of that pattern language to inform us of potential pathways forward, in three parts:

  1. Visual:  a liberation diagram
  2. Descriptive:  a narrative walkthrough of the diagram
  3. Disursive:  a brief question and answer

Liberation Diagram

A diagram illustrating colonizing processes and pathways toward liberation

A diagram illustrating colonizing processes and pathways toward liberation

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Diagram Description

  1. we all start from a general stage of civilized domestication (to varying degrees with regards to the various patterns affecting us), where we begin to explore various tools of defection.  Tools of defection consist of various processes, attitudes and modes of existence that help liberate us from dependence on and adherence to civilized institutions, attitudes and behaviors.  Defection includes (but is not limited to) capacity building toward communities of localizing, place-based interdependence.
  2. various risk factors conspire to co-opt and colonize our efforts toward liberation in order to maintain the domesticated control of the general populace.  risk factors may also threaten liberating communities.
  3. defectors protect themselves and their allies through acts of defense and sabotage of various risk factors or colonizing forces.  defense helps guard against the onslaught of colonization wherever and however it might occur.  acts of sabotage seek to undermine and neutralize the colonizing threats at their source: the risk factors themselves.
  4. when risk factors overcome the defensive ability of the defection process, then colonization occurs, resulting in the assertion and affirmation of civilized domestication.
  5. when the defensive measures of defection effectively protect against colonization, then the defection process may continue, resulting in movement and momentum toward post-civ liberating community.
  6. post-civ communities will manifest in diverse ways based largely upon resilient adaptation to local circumstances.  therefore, it is largely counter-productive to label such “hypothetical community structures.”  rather, we should allow them to emerge from the efforts of the people working to create them.  much of the process of creating these diverse sustainable place-based communities of localizing interdependence occurs as a result of emergence from and social evolution beyond the colonizing threat of civilization.
  7. by furthering our understanding of civilized risk factors and colonization processes we can continue to protect against the (re)emergent threat of civilization into the future.  one such risk factor is “forgetting or ignoring the colonizing threat or other risk factors” in the first place.

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Question and Answer

What is defection?

Defection provides an empowerment process that helps people — individuals, groups and communities — create time and space to identify and pursue their life’s priorities. Time and space is limited. The institutions and authoritarian hierarchies of civilization co-opt our time and space with their own dictates. In short, we often spend our precious time doing things we hate for people we don’t know and who don’t care about us <ref Alan Watts, or a readable version>. Defection is fundamentally about taking back that time and space so we can spend more time doing things we love for people we actually know and care about.

Why do defectors need defense?

Civilization poses a constant threat toward co-opting and mutilating our lives, lands and communities for its own purposes.  It has developed and refined such colonizing processes over millenia.  As a result, we have a constant need to defend ourselves from this colonizing threat.  Defense focuses fundamentally on setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with abusive people, groups, institutions and, in the case of civilization, entire societies — the protection of integrity.  Effective defense achieves the outcome of protecting integrity with as minimal escalation of conflict and violence (and thus energy expenditure) as possible.

Ok, but why sabotage?  That seems unnecessarily aggressive.

After a certain level of constant colonizing aggression (which civilization has long since surpassed), both the onslaught and the resulting constant (necessary) defensive posturing and readiness in themselves become forms of colonization and may inhibit further progress.  Sometimes, you just want the constant onslaught to stop, for emotional as well as strategic reasons.  So we might more accurately call it “defensive sabotage.”  Sabotage remains a defensive option for dealing with aggressors who refuse to acknowledge or respect the boundaries that others set.  Regardless of the underlying reasons (e.g., inability or lack of caring), we want persistent and pervasive abusive behavior to stop.  If the source of the abuse refuses to stop it willingly, or gives us the runaround, then the target of abuse retains the option of stopping the abuse directly, by whatever means necessary.

Why a pattern language?

At a certain point, we need to move past critical analysis into strategy and direct action while respecting the diverse reasons, backgrounds, intentions and priorities that people have for defecting and defending their process of liberation.  A rigid command and control strategy has several problems, such as limited strategic relevance, structural reproduction of civilized authoritarianism, and likelihood to alienate and oppress more than it will empower, engage and inspire.  A pattern language provides non-linear, intuitive promise and potential to help diverse peoples explore a life worth living in a world worth dying for.

What is a pattern language?

Each stage in this diagram consists of many ingredients or “patterns” that relate in various ways to other patterns in the same stage as well as patterns in different stages to form a complete network or constellation.  Each pattern represents an archetype or collective memory of processes that work (for better or worse!).  By sketching out major patterns and their relationships, we can achieve a strategic understanding of the liberation process and build a comprehensive liberation toolkit:  defection, defense and sabotage.  Such a toolkit may help individuals, groups and communities prioritize and focus as they pursue strategic and collaborative opportunities.

Likewise, we can understand various colonizing forces as patterns or groups of patterns.  Issues such as sexual and domestic violence (part of gender-based violence and patriarchy) serve two larger strategies for control and domestication:

  • divide and conquer (prevent and destroy direct, trusting relationships) and
  • keep us mired in crisis (inhibit our ability to relax, recover, plan and execute plans)

other examples of liberatory patterns

living within a solar budget, relates to

  • ability to live independently of the fossil fuel economy
  • lower average population densities
    • relates to: steady-state or even shrinking population; relates to women’s reproductive empowerment; comprehensive sex ed
  • use of appropriate technologies
    • rocket stoves and mass heaters
    • nutrient cycling
    • use of resources of relevant entropic levels
    • appropriate ratio of technomass : biomass : wildmass
  • minimizing ecological footprints

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101714 Three Nuns

October 17, 2014

101714

Disconnect and self-destruct one Bulleit at a time
What’s your rush now?  Everyone will have their day to die…
~MJK, APC, 13th Step “The Outsider”


A normal fall day.  Hand-pressing apple cider with my dad.  It starts to rain.  We put up the portable gazebo (a fancy name for an open-sided tarp tent).

Dad, working on connecting the perimeter poles: “See, I think there’s a design flaw in the locking mechanisms.  They lock the sides, but not the center.”  The center falls apart as he says this.  I say something like, “Gaa, the center came apart!”  He lets out a cuss.

I put it back together.  The sides fall out.  He says, “Gaa!”  I get the center in.  Something cracks.  I cuss.

“Dad, this isn’t going to hold together.  The center piece already cracked again.  I think we need to chuck it and make a more sturdy replacement out of wood.”

“Probably.  Let’s just try it for now.  I just glued it up, it should hold together.”

I think to myself, “Hear me baby?  Hold together…”  but I’d like to get back to pressing cider.  I hear another crack.

“It’s not holding!” Another side comes apart.

“Will you just humor me?!” he snaps (I make note of his word choice, but say nothing).  “Help me put the tarp over it, that’ll help hold it all together.”

The wind picks up.  Dad:  “This thing’s going to go sailing if the wind gets any stronger.  We’d better guy it out.”

“It stopped raining.”

“I know.  That’s why we put the tent up.  If we hadn’t put the tent up, it’d still be raining.”

“I don’t really think it’s necessary at thi–“

“Will you just humor me?  Please?  I want to see if this’ll work.”

I think, this is what happens when you spend more time than you want fixing something that refuses to stay fixed, and then I took his repeat request at face value.

“Ok…So three nuns walk into a bar.”  Dad looks up at me from the guy line he’s cinching to the picnic table with a mischeivious smile on his face.  So far so good.

The bartender looks up from the glass he’s drying.  He’s heavily tatooed, has lots of piercings, and doesn’t seem surprised at all at the sight of the nuns as they saddle up to the bar.  “What can I getcha?” he says to the leftmost nun only.

She takes a look at the wall of bottles behind the bartender, makes her decision and says, “A shot of Holy Water, please.”

“Right,” says the bartender as he disappears without hesitation into the kitchen storeroom behind the counter.  The other two nuns look at her like she’s crazy, but don’t say anything.

He returns holding a shot glass filled with a clear, odorless liquid and slams it down on the bar.  “One shot, Holy Water.”  He wipes his hands on his bar rag and turns to the middle nun, who’s in a state of shock.

Thoughts fly through her head.  Where did he get the holy water?  Is it really holy water?  We’ll, I’m a person of Faith, and I see no reason not to trust him, she reasons.  She meets his glance and says, “Another shot of Holy Water, thank you.”  Again, the bartender disappears and returns with the shot glass full.

The first sister raises her glass to cheer while the bartender leans on the bar and looks at the third sister.  “Well, what’ll it be?”

Without hesitating, she says, “House whiskey for me, thanks!”  The other sisters stare at her like she’s insane while the bartender fills a shot glass with amber liquid and slides it her way.  She grabs it, downs it in one gulp and looks back at them dismissively saying,  “Baah, it all tastes the same after the third one, anyway.”

I don’t mean to imply that it’s a good joke.  I made it up on the spot, and I’m no good at telling jokes, especially the good ones.  I was hoping he’d get the reference I made, but I don’t think he remembers the original conversation.  It started over a year ago, winter 2012 in Bend with my girlfriend at the time.  We were there for a friend’s wedding.  At a liquor store.  I don’t remember why the liquor store was so important at the time.  But there we were, staring at a shelf wall filled with an overwhelming array of  choices.  So with some hesitation I call my resident alcohol consumption expert.

“Dad, I need your advice.  I’m standing in front of a wall of whiskey.  Which one do I buy?”  We talk for five minutes.  Yes, that one’s pretty good.  That’s a solid brand.  No, stay away from them.  Well, how much do they want for it?  Sounds like a good deal.  I wouldn’t pay that much for a whiskey, even if it is that old.

The discussion started to get circular and repetitive.  In short, we’re not getting anywhere.  He probably senses the frustration in my voice.  Or maybe the fact that I said something like, “I don’t think we’re getting anywhere.”  I knew he was tickled — I heard the twinkle in his eye, even through the shoddy cellphone speaker.

He offered an authoritative, if conservative, conclusion in his response: “Look, go with one of the solid brands.  After the third shot it all starts tasting the same, anyway.”  And that was that.  My girlfriend and I bought the Bulleit. Rye.  It lasted through most of the rest of our breakup.


101212 our debts

October 17, 2014

101212

our bodies, our lives
your eyes, your lies

our desperation, our pain
your money, your gain

our privacy, our danger
your privilege, your stranger

our risk, your pleasure
our performance, you measure

your satisfaction. our action
no more, because you don’t own us.

but you do owe us.
we are coming to settle the score.

we are coming to collect our debts.
tell your family you love them,
say goodbye, and confess.

breathe a sigh of relief, release
your soul in God’s hands, soon
for your sake, we hope you believe
there is nothing here on Earth left for you.


101414 silent sentinels

October 15, 2014

101414

with an accidental elbow brush of intimacy
stranger leaving (if only temporary)
one desert for another
i see the shadows of my past appear
at last, like a mirage it spreads across
the landscape as thousands of silent sentinels
stand a vulnerable, judging watch, measuring loss
without eyes they see in a contorted agony
a mirror reflecting reality
where the steam punk civitas
of urbanizing chaos
trauma reigns supreme.

i live and love beneath the peaceful canopy
of a wakeful Joshua Tree dream.
do i…? Yes, i do. every day.

every time little boxes on the hillside
pass me by, we anthrogens desertify
supplanting farm, forest and prairie
until the inevitable landslide.  Buried

every time i see someone willingly
participate in the empty production
of more toward the endless destruction
of enough, country bleeding mortals
mining diamonds in the rough.

every time this system serves and
protects corporate profit over people
place and communities.
every time i inhale air too acrid to breathe
inside this twisted normality
i believe.

draw the parallels between these things
like a convex prison industrial complex
that confines and murders all who refuse
to fall back into the lines
that connect the space between
control and crime
tough love and abuse.

i seek the liminality
within the phrase of place

every time i see Her
in various forms
standing her sad watch
one of many silent sentinels
mourning the roadside slaughter of her mate
at tire height
by unthinking, unsensing, unrespecting
unexperiencing machines
containing beings
who readily sacrifice
our souls to drive and ride
and drink our devastation, i cry
toward the courage she demonstrates
in solitary defiance as hordes of the
Enemy in their loose alliance pass her by
without so much as the momentary remorseful twinge
of a second look in the midst
of the constant casual threat
of a monster’s ball rolling
drunken gasoline crack pipe binge.  Broken

She resists with wings folded, no fists.
i see how she indignantly compares
the relentless flow of a self-destructing
economy to the forced-flat
two-dimensionality of a lovely
mutilated body splattered, becomes
our love lying shattered, more
with the desecrating roar of the passing teeth
mark on this floor in the mouth
of the concrete metal Beast
a Hell for each self
absorbed into its belly
never food enough
for its eternal Feast.

2014. it’s the year.
to live
to love and die
in the war i need to fight
without the chains of fear.
do i…? Yes, i do. every day
i think about suicide again
and decide instead
to persevere.


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