Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Leaving

Hi friends,

I'm leaving Google at the end of next week.

There's too much I want to say.  :)

I spent the summer away from work, outdoors in Oregon, awash in beauty.  I learned a lot.  I wept at how we're treating the earth, as I rode past mile after mile of logged forests, polluted streams, and lifeless monocrop fields.

I got to be part of what I'll call "alternative culture", to explore ways of meeting all of our human needs through local community alternatives to basically everything we currently use money for.  I wrote some about this time here on this blog.  I barely scratched the surface though.  More and more people, perhaps millions now even in the West, are devoting their lives to new (and sometimes ancient) ways of living in healthy relationship with each other and with the earth.  While they are usually partly within the current system, when all of these new ways of living come together, the current system becomes obsolete.  I see joyous glimpses of this everywhere.

Meanwhile our dominant civilization is killing its own foundation: the healthy web of life on earth.  Through deforestation and pollution we are destroying the ability of the planet to support all forms of life.  We can see this in the oceans where the fish populations are collapsing, the silent fields that were once thriving forests, and the deserts where millions of people go hungry in drought.  This ecological crisis can't be solved simply by swapping oil for solar panels.  I'm no longer optimistic that we will soon fix these problems with some new technology.  It's quite possible that climate change is exacerbating the storms and droughts and fires, and that these will continue to become more severe in the next years.

The effects are not evenly distributed.  The unhoused breathe wildfire smoke while many of the housed have filtered air.  Some of us see our homes flooded or burnt while for others business continues as usual.  Most communities in the country and increasingly in the world have lost the ability to sustain themselves from their land, and now must import almost everything they need from elsewhere, which becomes precarious when those importing the goods see no profit in it (food deserts), or when disaster breaks down the supply line like in Puerto Rico.  Many communities no longer have access to clean water, or are losing it as I write.  On Monday I listened to a man from Guatemala talk about a new silver mine near his home that is polluting and drying up the water supply for many villages there.  Almost all silver is used to produce electronics, and demand is rising.  In Oregon this summer, ancient trees thousands of years old were cleared for fire breaks.  The entire planet is being saturated with chemicals that we ought never to have created.  These kinds of damage cannot be undone or fixed by technology.  The story for other species is even worse, as most wild animal populations have died off and we pack billions of animals in cages in horrific factory farms.  The coral reefs, the rhinos, the ancient forests, the whales, and even the insects... who speaks for them?  Some people do, and they end up in jail if their actions threaten profits.  Profits are made at the expense of Life.

And within our civilization, we have more prisoners and refugees, more drugs and anxiety and depression and stress and addiction than ever.  Even in wealthy regions, most people don't like the work they do all day.  It's also not physically healthy to be indoors or using a computer or riding in vehicles for as many hours as many of us who are "successful" do.  What is happening to us?

It seems the leaders of our world are apathetic or powerless, as they fight over the most gaudy deck chairs on this titanic.  While it pains me, I don't hate them for this; their actions are the product of a traumatic history that touches all of us.  They don't know what they're doing.

I envision a more beautiful world where humans have a healthy part to play, to love and respect the earth, not to dominate and exploit it.  I see many people living that vision already, and want to live my life in service to it.  I see the extremes of both ugliness and beauty grow more stark.  Ugliness as we close down and protect ourselves from the 'other', beauty as we come together in community, in love with mother earth.  Will "society" as a whole make some kind of transition, or continue the march into dystopia and eventual chaos?  I don't know.  It will be both at the same time.  Some people are already in an obvious dystopia, some are in a beautiful place yet in the shadow of a collapsing ecosystem.  To hope for a peaceful transition would be to ignore the incredible violence on which the current system lives.  It will be violent because it already is.  May we learn to be kind to each other as these changes unfold.

It's been said that we need the darkness to see the stars.  We can open ourselves to what is happening, feel and honor our pain, grieve what is lost, and revel in our deep gratitude for the beauty of life.  I don't mean to be a downer pointing at all this ugliness.  I feel that we have a deep need to see it and acknowledge it.  It makes the beauty that much more precious and worth living for.

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
-Mary Oliver

What should we do then?

I don't know exactly what we should do.  I don't have a rational "here's what everyone needs to do" that will resolve all of these crises.  I want to let go of my need to control what happens, because I'm really not in control.  At the same time, even if I let go and accept whatever comes, I am a human being and it is natural for me to care and want to help, to serve what I love.  I will not deny that part of me either.  So I find myself thinking about how to help, even if it seems "hopeless" overall.  I need not stress about the outcomes, but I will still act.  What else would I do with my few short years here?

So what might I do to be practical?

I don't believe our technology is serving us well.  We, the wealthy humans near the top of the power hierarchy may see it as indispensable, but if we consider the animals or the fish or the trees or the laborers in the sweatshops and mines and plantations, it's not working out so well.  Yes, our technology relieves some suffering in some places, but at what cost?  We simply do not, and probably cannot, count the costs of development.  I am not enthusiastic that further technological progress will heal us.

I also don't believe that our problems are mostly due to money being in the wrong hands.  Measuring everything by monetary value seems to me one of the roots of the crises.  The mentality that values money over life drives much of the pollution and resource extraction and oppression around the world, since humans first accumulated "property" and enslaved each other.  I don't feel that getting as much money as I can and giving it to the non-profit side of the system is the best way for me to serve what I love.  I feel that the money abstraction and the distance it puts between us and the effects of our actions makes us feel disconnected and alone.

I also don't like our culture's valuing of measurable impact over everything else.  Much of what is precious to me cannot be measured.  What's the measurable value of a 5000 year old yew tree?  What's the measurable value of caring for a disabled child?

“May what I do flow from me like a river
no forcing
and no holding back
the way it is with children.”
-Rilke

So I don't know what we all should do exactly, and I don't know what I will do beyond the short term.  I'm skeptical of money and the dominant culture's value system.  I want to trust what makes me feel alive over our culture's normal stories that usually are rooted in fear.  I recognize that I'm one of the most privileged people in the world.  I know most people do not have the options that I have.  I don't mean to judge, only to encourage.

Right now what's happening is I've been living in a homeless protest encampment in Berkeley the last couple months, which has given me still another perspective on our society.  It got interesting this weekend and we're fighting eviction, hoping to benefit and inspire homeless communities around the country.  With all of the disaster and war refugees today, and housing crises in many places, there are more and more people who can't have regular housing, and we could learn to live together with more kindness and understanding.  I'm also involved with the community here in other ways like Food Not Bombs.  I expect soon I'll be moving on to other places, to learn and to live in service to what I love.  To restore soil and help plants grow and be community.

I've learned I don't need much money to live well myself, so I don't need to earn it for myself.  Perhaps my perspective on money and impact will change and I'll eventually decide that earning money and supporting my many friends who don't have much money in their various causes is the best way to contribute, and then I might return to a job, but we'll see.  "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

Wherever I am, I'll be with some kind of community learning how to live in healthier relationship with each other and with the earth.  There'll be dark moments and joyous moments, and this is life.  Life is good.  Whatever comes, I will give attention to the beauty around me, the beauty of community and of nature and of every form.  Beauty everywhere begs our attention.

“An eye is meant to see things.
The soul is here for its own joy.

A head has one use: For loving a true love.
Feet: To chase after.

Love is for vanishing into the sky. The mind,
for learning what men have done and tried to do.

Mysteries are not to be solved: The eye goes blind
when it only wants to see why.”
-Rumi