I MANAGED to get my mug squeezed into a corner on the edge of the inside back page of today’s edition of the weekly Reno News & Review. I set out to get our entire fasting trio in the article, but this is what we got—and I’m damn grateful for that. It was free publicity. And, it’s a start. And, maybe another step towards more local awareness.
This is not about me, or us, but the issue itself: awakening ordinary, everyday people to action on the climate crisis. Without that, the system is not presently changing fast enough to save itself. And without that, it’s not going to; no politician is going to risk a career-ending backlash for doing the right thing but getting too far ahead of the people.
People don’t like change. I don’t like change. But, either we change collectively and willingly or our grandchildren’s future descends into a brutal, endless nightmare, a relentless battle of survival in an inhospitable climate of chaos and despair.
The science is clear. Its dire predictions are manifesting daily. Time is running out. Either we act now or we don’t. You. Me. Ordinary people. No one else is coming to save us.
We are the people we have been waiting for.
Or no one is. It’s up to you. It’s up to me. Find a way to engage. Or engage more effectively. Me, I’d rather be doing something else. I like eating. And not annoying everybody I know. So find something to do. And do it.
JEFF, JOHN and I did our second “Fasting for Our Future” Friday at City Hall. Although it was just us again, one upside was our local weekly tabloid, Reno News & Review, came out to chat and take photos. Jeri, the reporter, said we’d be in Thursday’s edition. If so, I’ll forward next week.
Interviewed by the Reno News & Review!
The other upside is that students from the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) will be joining us next week. And maybe a few others. It’s a beginning. I hope. Otherwise, it’s the beginning of the end. Of, like, all civilization. Cheery thought, that.
But wait! There’s more! The other news is I actually wrote an optimistic climate crisis marching song in the Pete Seeger folk tradition, call-and-response, sing-along style, backed by—what else—a 5-string banjo! Can’t get any more optimistic than a banjo.
Now all I need to do is get busy recording. I’m already a month late. Stay tuned…
BACK AGAIN and better than ever? Or fasting for futility? Too soon to tell. But we showed up anyway, signs in hand, ready to begin.
Our weekly hour-long appearance in front of City Hall is timed to coincide with the “Fridays for Future” campaign inspired by Greta Thunberg that has grown to countless thousands every week across the globe. In Reno, so far, it’s just the three of us.
It’s not much, but it’s a start. We’ll be back next week. Fasting. Talking. Maybe making a difference before it’s too late. I’ll keep you posted.
ONE OF my favorite lines in the movie “Gandhi” came from one of his maharaja benefactors, complaining that, as a group, it was “costing us a fortune to keep you in poverty.” Now, it seems, I’ve lived my own version of that.
It has cost us a fortune to downsize.
Ironically, it was our idyllic quest to downsize and simplify while moving back to Reno that escalated my concern—from profound to panic—about humankind’s ability to grapple with our escalating climate crisis:
First was all the stuff we still hauled down with us even after shedding much of it.
Along with that, all the fuel consumed and carbon released.
Then, the exponential growth in housing sprawl and traffic during our eleven year absence. (Note: Reno is STILL in the desert).
Then, all the new stuff we purchased (and landfill we created) to make our seriously downsized and simplified new digs workable.
All leading me, like a bullet whizzing towards an overripe pumpkin, to the conclusion that if this is what downsizing and simplifying (AKA smaller carbon footprint) looks like, we are likely doomed as a species.
Thus, leading me to:
My brief public “Fasting for the Future” campaign to at least be doing something to raise some awareness.
Writing and recording a new climate crisis song, that—as near as I can tell—no one likes or feels the least bit uplifted by. And for good reason, I’ll admit.
Getting myself a little bit active with the little bit of climate activism in Reno.
And, hectoring all of you to also get: 1) involved or, 2) more involved before time runs out and our brief window of hope closes.
So how are my efforts working out for you?
Are you feeling:
Let’s talk. Let me know how you see this crisis.
POSTSCRIPT 1: Good news, bad news.
AND YES, many good things are happening around the globe to bend the escalating curve of carbon emissions towards sustainability. However, in total, they are currently far too few to stop civilization’s slide into oblivion. Meanwhile, our emissions continue to escalate. As I’ve said before, if you want hope in this crisis, you’ll have to earn it.
POSTSCRIPT 2: this just in.
TURNS OUT one of the climate activists I’ve connected with here has been fasting every Friday since the Student Climate Strike. I had no idea! So now we’re joining forces—starting next week, fasting every Friday and meeting on the steps of City Hall from 4 to 5:30 in solidarity with Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future campaign. Since change requires sacrifice, I think that should start with we elders who’ve lived the dream of endless consumption as if there would never be consequences.
MY LAST post generated some interesting spiritual feedback on the creation of creation—from religious disillusionment to outright atheism. Meanwhile, on my end, although I’d read articles and watched videos about the “Worm” authors, I hadn’t read their book until this week. Turns out, it’s a great read; but it seems to implicitly default to a pseudo-scientific material creation myth, one I think my responders were also accepting as a proven fact. It’s not.
To start at the beginning, the remarkably profound, breakthrough “denial of death” theoretical work of Becker and clinical work of his followers, all appear to assume that the denial mechanism we subconsciously employ as a basis to build our everyday lives upon is a complete fabrication, a purely psychological defense against the fundamental nihilism of the universe.
This is an assumption, not a fact.
Just because the existence of any cosmic meaning or intelligence behind creation cannot be revealed by materialistic science doesn’t prove it doesn’t exist, just that it can’t be found that way. Likewise, just because a “religion” taught to children becomes nonsensical to adults (or some adults anyway) doesn’t mean it’s not founded on something true. Or more to the point, something true that cannot be revealed through language but only through direct experience—often a high-voltage, transcendent experience that cannot be transferred to another person with words. Symbols may get closer, but still fall short of any direct transmission. That experience, and the resulting revelations, are only true for the recipient. Beyond that, there are only stories. And yes, those stories—passed along by mere mortals—can simply be sandbags, piled up on the proverbial basement floor, covering over the specter of death lurking underneath.
So it seems there is a faith based in knowing and a faith based in not-knowing—or a faith based in faith alone. The first takes courage to pursue, as you are on your own in the wilderness, and the second rests primarily upon complacency and comfort: physical, social, psychological and emotional. That is the faith of fools. Sadly, there are many.
My critique is this: that those “many” appear to be universalized in the work of Becker, et al, as fact—as the human condition—when in fact, no such facts are presented to justify this assumption. Where are the yogis, mystics, seekers and other dedicated practitioners? Or even the everyday people who have had near-death experiences (NDE) and been utterly transformed by them? It’s one thing to harbor a primal fear of extinction when death itself has not been explored; the NDE evidence suggests the outcome can be quite different when it has.
As someone who has experienced death up close and personal, the exploration has been deeply transformative.
So while I value the profound insights this work reveals, I do chaff at their cosmic assumptions and encourage anyone who believes the material creation myth to be a proven fact to reopen the case. It is not proven, and the resulting inquiry can spectacularly transcend the limitations of the intellectual mind.
POSTSCRIPT 1: WRONG AS USUAL.
AFTER posting my little diatribe, I watched this amazing video of a talk by Sheldon Solomon, one of the three “disciples” of Ernest Becker who have done the groundbreaking research validating his theories. In his talk, he mentions their research on Buddhist monks, and that they do not display the “death denial” of ordinary mortals.
Alas. Never fails. There is always more to learn. And more humble pie to eat. Can I have this slice a la mode?
POSTSCRIPT 2: AND WRONG AGAIN…
ALAS, YES. It’s what I do. Turns out Ernest Becker was no longer teaching at San Francisco State when I was a student there. He taught from 1967 through ’69, three years before I showed up. If I’d known that, would I have become such an acolyte? Who knows! But, he did depart in glory, resigning in protest against the university’s violent crackdown on student protestors. Makes me wish I’d known him even more.
MY RECYCLE bin is overflowing with good intentions unaddressed this week. So many interruptions. I haven’t even laid down the scratch track for October’s Song of the Month. Well, I did choose a song, so I suppose that’s a start. Yet I’m still a day late getting this blog out.
Meanwhile, it appears saving the constitution (or not) has trumped saving the planet this week. We only have so much bandwidth for crisis, don’t we? And only so much psychic resolve to face extinction in any form, which is what this posting will be about: the denial of death and how it literally drives us to distraction.
So close yet so far away
ERNEST BECKER was teaching at San Francisco State University, a third-rate intellectual backwater still recovering from the infamous student strikes, when I attended in the early ’70s. He died in 1974, the year I graduated. I had no idea I was so near genius—at the same place at the same time!—until I discovered his book in the ’80s, much to my eternal regret. Woulda, shoulda, coulda…
His (posthumous)Pulitzer Prize winningthesis was as simple as it was deeply disturbing: that, figuratively speaking, the foundation of the basement of the human subconscious is a concrete slab of death denial, placed there to keep that terrifying subterranean awareness out of sight and out of mind. Consequently, according to Becker, virtually all human actions are subconsciously motivated by avoiding any contact with that foundation and if any cracks appear, by getting as far away from them as possible with a frenzy of distraction that overwhelms any awareness of the underlying terror.
Dazzled by delusion, stoned on the drug of distraction…*
His ideas were both honored and ridiculed at the time, the most common criticism being, “This can’t be true; I never think about death,” inadvertently demonstrating the potential power of his thesis. But it was just a theory, so the deniers of denial held sway for some time.
Testing the hypothesis
THREE OF his students went on to create a series of ingenious experiments that convincingly validated Becker’s thesis. They demonstrated how the power of death denial drives the creation of cultural ideas, symbols and practices to be held as absolutes and then clung to with increasing fervor when threatened by outside forces, as this videoexplains.
The result is Terror Management Theory and the resulting book is accessible to non-psych grads (like me). The implications are profound and revealing for our times.
When everything is on fire
FEARIS everywhere these days: terrorism, mass gun violence, endless war abroad, endless cultural war at home, intractable polarization, increasing racial intolerance and ever expanding fires of rage and resentment that all appear to be tearing our civilization apart.
Are these the causes of moral decay or symptoms of something more profound and universal? I suspect they are symptoms, and while there are many forces in play (overpopulation, extreme economic inequality, shifting demographics, climate dislocation, etc.), underneath those is the denial of the mass extinction—soon to include our own offspring—that we are causing with our insatiable consumption (of fossil fuels and everything else), yet feel helpless to stop. Climate crisis evidence is now all around us as we slog through our lives and yet the denial is manifesting exactly as Becker and his followers predicted—on a global scale: hyper-nationalism; hyper-militarism; doubling down on reckless, irresponsible behaviors; normalizing cruelty against “others”; succumbing to endless, empty distractions; and a parade of additional horrors assaulting us daily that were inconceivable only a few years ago.
Is there hope?
YES AND NO. Changing the whole world is beyond anyone’s reach, although I encourage everyone to try anyway. Life on earth is worth fighting for. But if we don’t know what we’re fighting against, we aren’t likely to succeed. That goes for me in spades, I constantly get it wrong. But, if I were that highly evolved, I could charge a lot more for this blog than nothing!
What we can do is find ways to face our own mortality. That’s not exactly unmapped terrain. In fact, it’s at the root of every major religion, although most end up supporting the denial of death instead, with absurd notions of salvation on the cheap.
Die before you die, and you’re free to live. — Sufi saying
Just dig deeper. Find the teachers, find the teachings, do the practices, bring yourself face to face with death. It is the greatest teacher if you’re willing to lose yourself in the teachings. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s much hope—for you, for me, or for the planet.
WHO KNOWS? Let’s find out. Copy this JPEG. Pass it on. If you’d like a higher res version, let me know. Ideas. Slogans. Graphics. This is something I can offer.
Will it solve the climate crisis? No. But it might help just a little bit. Please think about what you do well and enjoy doing and find a way to contribute. Everything helps.
Is climate the only crisis that matters? Of course not. Income inequality matters. Systemic racial injustice matters. Gun violence, caging children at the border, access to health care, rampant political corruption matters. Every social justice issue matters. But if we don’t solve the climate crisis in the next few years, none of the other issues will matter—because they, along with everything else, will cease to exist.
IS IT just me? My “intuit-o-meter” seems to be tuning into an unspoken “hope” by many people out there—who do not talk about it—that:
Climate change is real but we can only accept incremental change that someone else pays for.
We can probably consume our way out of this with smarter, greener purchases anyway.
And besides, “technology” will solve this by either vacuuming out 250 years worth of atmospheric carbon overnight, scattering a gazillion “reflectors” in the sky (what could possibly go wrong?), or some other scientific marvel soon to be conceived.
These “hopes” are utterly delusional.
We’re down to the wire. We’ve long since blown past the possibility of incremental change. It’s now all or nothing. Either we willingly sacrifice some comforts today or, instead, we mercilessly sacrifice our grandchildren—their hopes and their dreams—on the altar of our inaction. It is still our choice—but not for long.
AS mentioned last week, I’ve just become involved with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby—a national group of citizen volunteers who lobby their representatives to support a Carbon Tax. If enacted, it will allow people free choice while dramatically driving down fossil fuel consumption and creating millions of new, green jobs. However, even though the concept is “revenue neutral”—it periodically refunds all the tax collected directly to the people—it nonetheless inflicts short term economic pain. Because…
There will be no progress without pain.
CCL works for me. Maybe it works for you too. Or not. Doesn’t matter. What matters is to get involved. Find your own place to engage, one that fits you. I’ve made a list of organizations. Check it out. Hope is not going to help. If you want hope, earn it with action. Please.
THANKS to school kids across the globe, my final Fasting for the Future 24-hour fast ended on a spectacular note! Millions of students left class, stood up and demanded action to save their future. And I got to be a witness to their history—and actually felt hopeful for the first time in years, maybe even decades.
In Reno, the first action was at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) at 9am, where a few hundred activists converged on and near the library steps, including scores of high school students, bused in overflowing with their inspiring interest and enthusiasm. Off to a good start.
The second strike started at 6pm at City Hall Plaza downtown, where over a thousand people showed up ready to change the world. Organized by local high school students, the turnout blew everyone away. Great program. Great energy. Reno is in the game!
I JUST(finally) learned how to make audio mixes that POP! So, I redid my two climate YouTube videos with new soundtracks. Give a listen and if you like, please share. Nothing helps move a movement like music.
AS I PREPARE for today’s second Fasting for our Future, I thought I’d pass this along to any of you willing to get involved, or more involved, in this life-or-extinction global issue. For those not following it, the Global Climate Strike has been organized by students around the world to demand the urgent systemic change necessary for a survivable, sustainable future. The strike will begin this Friday in cities, towns and villages spanning the globe.
From my vantage point, those of us like me who have lived lives of luxurious comfort from the present system of inherited privilege, ruthless extraction and mindless waste owe them our support. An apology also seems in order. But maybe that’s just me. Showing up would be enough, so here is your opportunity.
In Reno, the strike will be from 5:30 to 7pm at City Hall Plaza, 10 North Virginia Street.
In Spokane, the strike will be from noon to 3pm at at the Rotary Fountain in River Park Square, 507 North Howard Street.
IT WENT well enough, I suppose. I was mostly ignored, which I expected. I’m just not that big a deal to the world at large. It’s taken me many more years than it should have for me to figure that out. But I have. Still, I was ignored much more politely than I anticipated. Chalk one up for civility.
Of the hundreds of people that strolled by, maybe six engaged with me during my morning shift (8-12:30). The evening outing was a different learning experience. First, the late afternoon wind gusts whipping down from the Sierra scattered my flyers, a kind of blessing in disguise because the people who scrambled to help me were my only connections during that shift. Turns out, downtown Saturday night is agenda driven, and that agenda is escape and entertainment. I might have figured that out myself beforehand, but this way I know for certain. My contribution was to just add background color to the revelry. Don’t need to do that again.
Of the hundred-plus people that walked by, maybe six engaged”
Next go round, I will stay at my morning station and add an afternoon shift. At least there, the people who ignored me still actually saw me. That’s something.
And, also as expected, my coffee invitation for the next morning was a no-show. I thought it nice to give people an opportunity to chat since I was fasting in silence. Not nice enough, apparently, so don’t need to do that again either. Learning as I go.
It is what it is.”
For me, just showing up was success. I needed to do something to abate my baffled rage at humanity’s (America’s?) general indifference to the coming climate cataclysm that is now happening in real time all around us. And, in the actual face of that indifference during my fast, it did calm some of that rage. It just is what it is. Doesn’t mean I’m giving up action. Just seeing more clearly that most people are either unable to grasp what is happening, or if they do, that they have any choice but to let it happen. As Walt Kelly noted way back in 1971…
So I’ll be at it again, at least through September. Might as well. The fasting wasn’t all that difficult, in fact it induced a bit of a nice, spacious buzz. And the sense of doing something, even as insignificant as this, was helpful to my own psyche.