The scariest thing about humankind

The scariest thing about humankind is this:

  • Our ability to scale.

Or in other words,

  • Our ability to concentrate resources and power. 

Or in other words,

  • Our capacity for removing boundaries for the expansion of power.

Or in other (nerdier) words,

  • Our capacity for removing negative feedback loops (“damping effects”) regarding the concentration of resources and power, making us subject to to positive feedback loops (“runaway effects”).

A capitalist economic society/system is often described in terms of “survival of the fittest”, modeled after the highly potent process of evolution in nature. However, there are some very dangerous differences that a capitalist economic system has by comparison to survival of the fittest in nature:

Nature is full of damping effects:

  • If an elephant gets too large, it will run too slow. It will be eaten by lions.
  • If a population of gazelles gets really large, the population of lions will swell, and then diminish the gazelle population.
  • The same is true with populations of plants and the bugs that eat them, and with the birds that eat the bugs… and the eagles that eat those birds.
  • If you get too many apex predators (birds).

NONE OF THESE DAMPING EFFECTS ARE TRUE FOR CORPORATIONS.

  • Corporations are not allowed to act as predators each other. Proliferation of WalMarts does not trigger a swelling in the population of a company whose niche is to raid walmart stores.
  • Corporations can quickly switch niches. Unlike aphids, if the thing they were doing is no longer available to do, they can reorganize and take on a different challenge. “AT&T” is “American Telephone and Telegraph”. “3M” is “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”. And Google… Google is whatever it wants to be this month! Unlike cacti or freshwater fish, they can quickly add (or acquire!) the capacity to fill a new target market OR IF THEY DON’T, THEY JUST GET BOUGHT BY SOMEBODY BIGGER!
  • Those are literally the 3 things that keep species’ populations under control and dominance limited in nature: 
    • Predator populations swelling.

    • Prey populations diminishing / niche exhaustion.

    • Inability to merge

  • AND NONE OF THEM APPLIES TO CORPORATIONS!!

 

SO. then we are just subject only to RUNAWAY effects among corporations.

  • Bigger corporations ->
    • better lawyers
    • more lobbyists
    • ability to price-gouge in limited space and time to destroy smaller local competitors
    • more capital to buy less huge corporations — within or across niches.

Dear libertarians out there… who it seems don’t like antitrust… and who think The Market is the guide for all of that…

STOP IT!

But before that, let me say,

I GET IT! I LOVE the idea of the free market emulate the ways evolution in nature keeps each species adapted and optimized to its surroundings. And I hate the idea of putting an inefficient beaurocracy in the way. I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. Let me say that again so you know I care and validate you… I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. That would have been great when Mao was (probably accidentally) starving the heck out of his constituents! He just didn’t know that the people were hungry! Supply and demand would have helped!

Okay. Now that you know I care. … I’m going to spend even more time convincing you that I understand, that I care:

Government cronyism really DOES screw up our economies and lives! Look at our addiction to corn syrup… corn puffs… corn everything… because it’s so darn cheap because it’s subsidized!

I hate cronyism too. But let me say this:

Laissez-faire / hands-off economics works great for grass, gazelles, and lions. (In the CIIIIIIIRRRCLE of LIIIIIIFE!)

BUT IT DOESN’T WORK FOR US!

If we’re going to:

  1. protect corporations from their competitors (and individual citizens) physically raiding/looting/conquering them
  2. allow them to switch niches, and
  3. allow them to buy each other

(measures I generally agree with!)

…then we NEED SOMETHING ELSE to stop our current spiral of concentration of power into fewer and fewer companies.

ALSO, libertarians and libertarian-tempted-thinkers: keep in mind that point #1 above is NOT laissez faire / hands off! As soon as a larger force like a government prevents people from stealing each others’ stuff, it creates the “conditions for growth”. It really does. Because in a society like that, most people are generally spending more time creating wealth and less time stealing and protecting it. And that’s generally / arguably / potentially a good thing… but ONLY IF you also create conditions to prevent runaway growth!

Humans generally have unique, non-nature-like capacity for scalable growth, and capitalist governments’ protection of private (and corporate) property causes it to occur specifically within business corporations. (In communism, we can get similar effects but more directed toward governments).

Here is my sense of the 2 things we need to do to prevent the runaway corporate growth:

  • Serious “early-and-often” Antitrust
    • CURRENTLY ANTITRUST BREAKUPS ONLY OCCUR WHEN THERE IS ONLY ONE COMPANY LEFT IN A NICHE!!!!!!
      • So what, then? We’ll live in a world with 2 companies per niche? 2 oil companies, 2 ag companies. Are we sure that’s okay? AND since companies can span niches… maybe that just means 2 companies in total!
      • ALSO, BE AFRAID because think about what happens when a company is bigger than the U.S. (and/or bigger than China). What happens when a company is so big that it can successfully boycott the biggest nation!?!? Good heavens. I’ll tell you what happens then. Then we can’t do antitrust at all. … Unless all the nations merged into one to do the boycott. Also reasonably terrifying.
    • So… yeah. I’m thinking early-and-often antitrust is needed. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I much prefer that over the world being gobbled up into 1 giant ACME congolomerate, and nations themselves become figureheads and cultural niceties.
  • Every measure possible to keep companies out of government.
    • Yup. Every. Possible. Measure.
      • Companies can’t give a dime.
      • Individuals have flat campaign giving caps.
      • No PACS (super or with any other prefix) can advertise.
      • Unions don’t get to give either. (we gotta be fair here. our point is to combat runaway giving.)
      • Lobbyists may not receive any compensation. Or maybe it’s that they can’t give any money to the candidates.

 

We need to take these measures because if we don’t, the current runaway growth of corporations will have nothing – literally nothing – to stop it.

The horrors of a world with only one company (or a handful thereof) can only be imagined.

  • But I’ll say this: the past and present can show us horrors of scenarios — whether for coal miners or jim-crow-south sharecroppers — where your life is owned by a single company; where you always owe money to the overpriced “company store” so you can never. stop. working. … where the law exists to bring you back to your boss if you ever try to run.
  • In terms of the environment, we must remember that corporations have almost unilaterally pushed for looser environmental policy, and governments have pushed toward more constraints. Runaway corporate power could generate runaway greenhouse gas-driven warming (sometimes called the “Venus effect”).
  • In terms of war, I imagine corporations with all the power and armies and WMDs of todays nations, but accountable only to their shareholders… I could see them warring for resources or for customer-bases. I’m not fully certain that megacorporations commanding armed forces would be worse than today’s nation-states are, but I’m quite certain that I don’t want me or my children’s children to find out.

This blog post discussed reasons for the runaway affect we’re already seeing, discussed the fact that it is an unfettered runaway cycle with catastrophic possibilities, and discussed what I think needs to be done about it.

To recap:

  • The idea of business mimicking the “survival of the fittest” we see in nature is appealing. Supply and demand, and The Market, truly are powerful effects that can accomplish swiftly what bureaucracies cannot. It is tempting to think that if we remove the regulative interventions of government, those forces will create balance, efficiency, and a flourishing economy that benefits all.
  • This idea, however, is severely flawed, for the following reasons:
    • Businesses do not experience several key damping effects that species’ populations face:
      • Companies do not have to shrink when their niches shrink, as they can switch niches much more rapidly than animal populations.
      • Modern companies are not regulated by the proliferation of predators that normally keeps a growing population in check. Modern capitalist governments actively apply incontestable force to prevent the raiding or takeover of firms or their locations. Even a very libertarian government is not “laissez-faire” or “hands off”, but rather, is applying a strong force in favor of property accumulation. I find deep, or “anti-antitrust”+”anti-social-net” libertarianism to be highly misguided in that it believes it can safely apply the above martial property-protecting force without applying forces to constrain that runaway effect in which property and power beget more property and power for the increasingly few individuals and corporations that hold them.
  • The above “runaway effect” must, I believe, be countered by socialist-capitalist hybrid policy in the world’s most powerful governmental agencies, before those agencies are no longer powerful enough to constrain the worlds’ largest corporations, or we will suffer a one-world-company distopia or whatever bloody revolutionary chaos it takes to break it up. I believe those needed constraints are:
    • “early and often” AntiTrust… I’m not sure how it would work but I’m imagining something like a forced version of how Google is always internally breaking itself up into little competing companies.
    • election reform; i.e. extreme constraints on the degree to which money (corporate or union) can influence government… and in general efforts to make the government accountable to and representative of voters on a per-person rather than per-dollar basis.

7 Reasons I’m TOTALLY a Music Nerd

I took this random internet quiz recently that was supposed to tell you “what kind of nerd are you”. I was expecting, of course, to answer questions about math and Star Wars/Trek and anime — but what I didn’t expect was a ton of questions about music, or that my music nerdiness would rank pretty high!

I was kind of surprised at first… but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’m a TOTAL music/choir nerd. And here are 7 reasons to prove it…

1. I get realllll cranky about flat singing.

The most recently famous instance, of course, is Idina Menzel’s ear-shattering “high” note during a live performance of “Let It Go” on New Year’s Eve 2015.

We had the TV on during our family card games and I literally FLINCHED when she hit (or didn’t hit) that high note. Seriously. I like have a bodily trauma memory of that event. It will be forever emblazoned in my soul. I wince just thinking about it.

WARNING: This is a PAINFUL video… for a music nerd.

(For the record — I do feel bad for Idina Menzel. I know it was cold, and that’s a high note, and belting is SO hard on the voice, and everybody makes mistakes, and it sucks that hers was really public… but that doesn’t erase my ear-trauma. Sorry, Idina.)

 

2. I went to a college with a Lutheran Choral Tradition.

g choir robes padres

Yep, that’s me rocking my big fancy choir robes like it’s 1699… no big deal. We’re just a big deal. #GustavusChoirRules #StOlafDrools

P.S. Those are my awesome parents. They know that being a #musicnerd is where it’s at. (They both did music at Lutheran Choral Tradition colleges, too!)😉

 

3. The ONLY video I’ve uploaded to YouTube is “Snippet of Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom'”.

Yeah… I think that pretty much speaks for itself.

…But really — it’s BEAUTIFUL! Gives me chills every time! Just listen!

P.S. Shout-out to my sister, who’s in that big swath of Gustavus choir altos somewhere. =)

 

4. I can totally rock the solfege.

solfege.jpg

Also known as solfeggio in Italian, this is the do-re-mi names for the main scales in Western music.

And yes, I can do do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do OR do-ti-la-sol-fa-mi-re-do, OR EVEN some chromatic action with the do-ti-te-la-le-sol-se-fa-mi-me-re-ra-do. (Thank you, Mr. Haskett and Mr. Duncan!) (Also, I did not look those up until AFTER I wrote them out. That would be cheating.)

 

5. To me, “sounds like a monk chant” is a compliment, not an insult.

As a singer with basically no vibrato and a good ear for sight reading, I’m basically tailor-made to sing complex medieval and Renaissance music because it’s alllll about the parts and not the singers.

Check out this BEAUTIFUL song that was one of my favorites from college. We sang it every year in chapel on Ash Wednesday, and I still try to listen to it every year.

Oh yeah… and it’s like 13 minutes long. And in Latin. #musicnerd

Or check out this AMAZING women-only chant song about the Virgin Mary. (Hat tip: PK directed it for CinCC one year.) I literally bought this on iTunes and listen to it in the car sometimes. (Also it has a sick alto part, which this girls choir totally rocks.) #musicnerd

 

6. I have a favorite version of “Ave Verum Corpus”.

In the (totally not real) words of Jeff Foxworthy, “If you argue with your friends about whether the Mozart or the Byrd version of Ave Verum Corpus is the best… youuuu might be a music nerd.”

Since there are so many different renditions of Latin church texts, there are similar arguments about versions of O Magnum Mysterium, Ubi Caritas, the Magnificat, and dozens of others. (Let the debates ensue in the comments…😉 )

For the record, I am #TeamByrd on Ave Verum all the way, although I do really like the Mozart, too. Listen to both below! Who’s the best? You decide! (But it’s totally Byrd.)

 

Aaaaand reason number 7 why I’m a total music nerd…

7. I literally have nerd bling to prove it.

nerd bling 2

Yyyyyyyep, that’s a photo of me in high school… with a bunch of medals won at the Kansas State Academic Decathlon competition in 2010… the subject of which was the Renaissance and a large part of my success at which was due to several events in Renaissance music. (Did I mention I still own and listen to the sample CD they gave us? It’s got a killer cover of Absalom Fili! #likeyado)

Sooooo here’s some great music!

Aaaaaand since I’m a TOTAL music nerd, that means I now have to share some of my favorites with you so you can appreciate them too!!! (Though how I can pick just one I don’t know — I love my whole ALBUM of the Moses Hogan Chorale…) So here are a couple faves from Moses Hogan, Pavel Tschesnikoff, Herbert Howells, and F. Melius Christiansen.

Moses Hogan:
This has a cool little bit at the beginning about the history and the legacy of the Moses Hogan Chorale. Also, GOOSEBUMPS THE WHOLE TIME!!! If this doesn’t move you, you’re dead.


Also definitely listen to more of the Moses Hogan Chorale here… literally my favorite choral album.

Pavel Chesnokov
Okay. Like the most beautiful, mysterious piece ever is Chesnokov’s Spasenie (Salvation is Created), sung in its original Russian… but since I’m only featuring one I have to share O Lord God because it’s one of the first pieces I sang in Chapel Choir at Gustavus, so it has sentimental value. (Thanks, T Sletta!)

Herbert Howells
This song is so, so haunting and delicate. It affected me deeply when we sang it in college. The story behind it is also really sad — Howells’ 9-year-old son died of polio and this requiem was written for him.

F. Melius Christiansen
And, because I’m a Gustie and you can’t not mention him, here’s good old F. Melius Felius, as I like to call him. 8-part fugal Protestant hymns. Like ya do. This video isn’t the best ever quality, but as it’s our anthem I just had to share a Gustavus version of Praise to the Lord, directed by the indefatigable Dr. A. =)

(And, I GUESS here’s a PRETTY GOOD recording from THAT OTHER SCHOOL too…😉 )

SO — are you a music nerd too? What are some of your criteria? What’s your favorite Ave Verum Corpus or Lux Aurumque or any other choral piece? Share in the comments! =)

Your Chewing Gum is Made of Plastic, and Other Things I Didn’t Know

In this post, I finally read about how plastic is hiding in plain sight in all SORTS of things that we wouldn’t expect, and why that’s kinda not good. Curious? Let’s dive in!

Plastic Kills

Plastic Free - Beth TerryToday I’m reporting back on Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry.

The impetus for this book is the author’s experiencing of one day stumbling upon a photo on the internet of a baby albatross. It was dead and had decomposed to the point where you could see inside its ribcage… to the stomach full of plastic pellets. Its parents had tried to feed it, but they unknowingly fed it so many tiny plastic bits (that looked like fish eggs) that the baby bird starved to death.

plastic bird stomach
Not the same photo, but a similar one.

I mean, it’s pretty horrific, if you think about it: starving to death because you’re filling your stomach with something it can never process. Ugh.

It was an emotionally impactful moment for the author, and she decided to start exploring plastic: What was it? Where was it? Why didn’t it eventually go away? How did it relate to her? This book is the result of that questioning process.

So… what about plastic?

There is SO much information in this book — I could never remember it all, but thankfully the book is organized as sort of a reference manual, so I’m sure I’ll be referring back to it. Here are some of the main “big picture” things I learned:

  • Most plastic NEVER goes away. EVER. To me, this is the same kind of “whoa”-ness as when I read the very first book in this project (like a million years ago) and realized that we have NO safe way to dispose of nuclear waste. We also have NO safe way to dispose of most plastic because IT NEVER BIODEGRADES. Like, when we think of decomposition, it’s not just that stuff sits around and slowly vanishes, it’s literally being chemically broken down by other organisms — basically eaten. So when a tree log decomposes, it’s becoming fungi food. Or when an animal decomposes, it becomes fly food. But most plastic doesn’t EVER decompose, because it’s not anything’s food!
  • Plastic’s longevity (aka FOREVER) is surprising considering our “disposable” attitude toward it. It’s cheap to make… so we feel like it’s “disposable” — but again, it NEVER goes away! Every bit of plastic that’s ever been made is still present SOMEwhere on the earth, as Wikipedia cites, “down to the molecular level.” So that plastic spoon I used to eat my soup after church this morning? I threw it away after using it once, but it’ll still be here — unchanged — when I’m dead. I will turn to dirt before that spoon does. And I used it once. As the author puts it, “Why create disposable containers and packaging out of a material that lasts forever?” (p.28) Well, because…
  • Plastic is flexible (literally) and cheap, so we give it a low value. Many objects in our society are valued based on the rarity of the material or the time or skill it took to make the item. Since plastic is in high supply and easy to mass-produce, that means we think of it as cheap — and it is cheap, monetarily and temporarily. But it’s costly in the long run, because someday we’re going to have to deal with all this non-biodegradable, non-edible, chemical-absorbing matter with which we’re blanketing our planet…
  • But can’t we recycle??? Well… only to a point. Recycling is toted as an environmental “solution,” but the problem is that each time we re-formulate a recycled material (whether paper or plastic), it’s lower and lower quality (it’s called “downcycling”) until eventually it won’t hold together anymore and needs to be discarded. The problem is that even after that much use, remember, plastic is still a polymer (aka holding together) at the molecular level — so even once we can’t recycle it anymore it’s still plastic and it will still last forever.
  • Things I didn’t know were made of plastic: most fabric (“synthetic” = made of plastic), every writing utensil I own, most carpet, many glues, books (plastic coated cover paper), toilet paper (ouch), and even chewing gum (p.206) – GROSS.

WOOF. I don’t know about you, but that feels a leeeeeetle bit terrifying. It’s so ubiquitous, and it’s never going away.

And you know what? I can’t honestly say anything to make it better. There’s not really a “happy ending” to this book…

So NOW what?

Despite the looming-ness of the plastic problem, this book does a GREAT job of keeping a positive, encouraging, non-shaming tone, which is important when you’re dealing with a topic where your reader realizes they are literally CLOTHED IN the problem. It can feel really overwhelming. But Beth Terry really takes time to say, “Hey — small steps. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t get paralyzed.” I really appreciate that about this book — it’s so user-friendly and accessible.

That said, and while I really do support personal steps to be thoughtful about plastic consumption, as Barack Obama is quoted as saying at the conclusion of this book, “We can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed the lightbulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective.” (p.309)

Yes, we started composting at our house. Yes, I stopped buying new clothing and have tried to shop only at thrift stores or on Craigslist for already-made items. Yes, we buy in bulk from the co-op using reusable containers as much as we can. Yes, I’ve been more aware when I’m using or buying a plastic object. Yes, I’ve even started washing out and reusing plastic Ziploc bags, even though I hate the smooshy feeling of washing warm, wet plastic.

BUT. Two things.

  1. Not everyone can afford to do those things. (Heck, not everyone even has access to a grocery store let alone a co-op.)
  2. Washing my plastic bags won’t save the world.

It’s REALLY important to remember that for things this big, change comes both at the personal level AND at the big, systematic level. I really like one idea from the book: the personal changes are daily reminders and conversation starters in the pursuit of bigger, wider change.

And especially because, as I learned in All Our Relations, environmental issues often disproportionately impact poor communities and communities of color, it is IMPERATIVE that we not buy a $30 zero-plastic water bottle, pat ourselves on the back, and go back to sleeping well at night. Environmentalism is not about assuaging our personal anxiety; it’s about working to care well for our fellow Earthlings (and ourselves!) on a large scale.

Conclusion

To me, one of the biggest messages of this book is that even when something is “out of sight, out of mind” it still has an impact. When we put something in the trash (or even in the recycling), we forget about it. It’s done. But “trash” doesn’t mean “gone” — we can’t discard something outside the environment. Likewise, just because I don’t live on an Indian reservation or in Flint, Michigan doesn’t mean I can shut my ears and go back to my nice, clean tap water. Life is relational; ecosystems are relational; so our environmentalism needs to be relational, too, and advocate for all our relations.

Meta-Conclusion

Well, folks, that’s the end! I’ve completed my investigation into Imperial Geography (for now). I answered my questions about why the US government offered tree claims to homesteaders, what happened to the land when European settlers came en masse to Turtle Island, and why environmentalism matters for real people today. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would, but I’m so thankful for all I’ve learned, and I’m sure it’ll come right along with me as I dive into my next reading / learning / blogging project… which I’ll tell you about in another post.😉

Hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about — I know I’ve got plenty. Thanks for reading along with me!  ~Rebekah

Growth

Sometimes it’s cool to look back and see the path of how we’ve grown.

As I approach a lot of big transitions (among them the graduation of every student I’ve ever taught, the completion of several large work projects, and a job change), I found myself appreciating how my artwork captures my emotional growth over time.

2016

Today was a stressful day.

Between balancing two separate work clients, recently deciding to quit both of them to pursue more standard employment, trying to prepare for the transition and wrap up a couple major projects, begin my job hunt, AND, ya know, do the rest of life, all of a sudden it sort of came to a head today as I began to feel the feelings of overwhelm creeping into my body.

So I did what I know is good for my soul — I got out the ink and made some art.

stress no.2 - 2016

Any of you who have seen my art or follow my art blog know that my artwork is very emotional and impressionistic. And, knowing the state of my life right now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this particular image came from.

But it also tickled my memory, because I created a somewhat similar piece of art a few years ago.

2012

Four years ago, in the spring of 2012, I was struggling. I was 7 months into a teaching job that was *supposed* to be exactly what I had wanted in a teaching job — middle schoolers, racial and economic diversity, subject-based teams, even a decent starting salary. And I was sinking.

I hadn’t quite figured out why, but I knew that something was wrong, and I could feel myself drowning as I tried to keep my head above water in the classroom. But the overwhelm kept creeping in.

One day, in sheer desperation, my non-verbal brain took over and somehow remembered where I had buried an old sketchpad and a set of oil pastels, and I drew this:

stress no.1 - 2012

I literally hadn’t done any artwork since high school, really, but somehow my body just made this happen, in the middle of my crazy, crazy stress.

Growth

It’s interesting now to look back and compare the two pieces of art, the two snapshots of myself. There are some elements that are basically the same — the nondescript person, the blue spheres, the chaotic shapes outside — but even just looking at the art you can tell some things are different. In fact, the pictures can tell you nearly as much as I could by remembering.

stress 1 and 2

The person on the left is tiny, infantile, literally in the fetal position, as if seeking protection. She seems to be cocooned in a bubble, but the bubble is tiny and almost recedes into a pinpoint compared to the large, aggressive, jagged shapes that seem to fill the landscape. Inside the bubble is calm blue, but everywhere around are vibrant, loud colors and shapes that threaten to pop the bubble and cause the person to curl up tighter.

The person on the right is standing strong, holding a line. Some sort of energy emanates from her center, seeming to protect her, or at least help to hold the boundary. Outside the circle of calm, chaotic shapes and shadows swirl, but the warmth and the focus of this painting is on the person, standing firm, arms outstretched, exuding calm blue and hopeful yellow light. Although it seems that the bubble’s edge is broken in places, the person seems to still be in it, and a burst of dark and light around her right hand seems to indicate active resistance.

See? That’s just me psychoanalyzing my own artwork. (Lol.)

But since it’s my life, I can tell you the actual story.

Four years ago, I got broken by teaching. Totally wrecked. I felt like I had failed. Not only was I miserable at that job, but I had to live with the fact that I had studied for over four years and dragged my new husband to a faraway state — for nothing. I don’t know if I was actually diagnosably depressed, but it was a pretty low time in my life. I didn’t have a lot of emotional resources. I felt pretty helpless and hopeless, and you can see that in my drawing.

Today, I’ve got a few old scars but those are proof that I’ve come out the other side. Now that I know what it’s like to be stuck in a job that’s a terrible fit, I’m not miserable and I don’t feel stuck, because even the jobs I’m leaving are a much better match for my personality and skill set. Moreover, I know I have a sense of agency to change things if they aren’t good for me. And the transition I’m about to embark on will help me to grow even more, both professionally and personally, as I move on to the next thing I want to learn. Yes, I’m feeling stressed today, but I’m aware of my stress, I know why I’m stressed, and I can deal with it standing up instead of crumpling into a ball. (Most days!) Sometimes it breaks through and gets to me, but with a lot of hard work I now have deeper emotional resources to be able to fight back and keep moving through the overwhelm. (And sometimes, I know when I need to take a break!)

Anyway, I don’t really have like a moral to this story — I just am thankful for what I’ve learned and for such a vivid opportunity to reflect on one piece of growth in my life. And I thought I’d share with you all, because sometimes it feels like the internet sort of skims over the tough stuff in life. But the thing is, sometimes the tough stuff is the stuff you’re most proud of.

Fight on, fellow warriors. Fight on.

stress no.2 - 2016

Humans and Earth: My Thoughts on ‘Earth Then and Now’

In Earth: Then and Now, we see “before and after” photos of sites around the world that have experienced massive change, both for better and for worse. Ready? Then let’s get started…

Okay. So. Here’s the world…

earth then and now fred pearceSo honestly, there wasn’t really that much TO this book. After a short foreword and introduction, the only significant text was a brief section intro page before each collection of photo pairs — so I’ll share a quick thought and then some photos and we’ll call it a day.

I somewhat expected this book to make a pretty strong case for — well, anything. But I was surprised to find it actually coming off pretty neutral. The author stated his thesis right out the gates:

Is there a final lesson here? I think so. Nature is not as fragile as we think. She is resilient. With time, she may recover from the worst we can throw at her. It is we, ultimately, who are the fragile ones. Look at these pictures and fear not so much for nature: fear for us. (p.18)

I actually totally agree with this statement. While I do think that ecosystems and species (including us…) are fragile, I think that Nature / Earth as a larger entity is way bigger and more resilient than any craziness we can cook up. I mean, all this life is still here even after giant meteors and whatever else made alllllll the dinosaurs go extinct. So I think that life on earth will survive… it’s just whether human life on earth will survive, or for which humans, or for how long.

That said, once the author made that point it was pretty much a fairly even spread of good news / bad news photos. Here’s one of the “good news” pairs:

ozone then and now

Good news: Seems the Earth is able to heal its ozone layer from the hole we burned in it. Hooray!

Of course, then there’s some bad news as well, like the massive drainage of the Aral Sea that turned most of it into a desert…

Aral Sea then and now

Where folks used to fish for food, now they raise cattle. Think about THAT for a minute.

And, a “bad news” a little closer to home — the much-disputed Tar Sands mining operation in Canada, from a beautiful sunlit forest to a dystopian slurry-field…

Tar Sands then and now

A pretty sweet world, you might say…

After all these photos, really I just return to the author’s (and my ) original point: yes, humans are capable of causing massive transformation, for better AND for worse. But even if we try our hardest to ruin everything, the Earth will live on. That sentiment is, I think, quite aptly captured by this photo pair:

Chernobyl then and now.jpg

Yep, that’s Chernobyl, still too radioactive to be safe for humans but being slowly reclaimed by the forest. (Nausicaa, anyone??)

Bottom line: We are simply one in an array of God’s wondrous creations. Whether we’re living, breathing participants or returned to dust, God’s good plan will continue.

And with that, I’m now off to start reading my next and final book in this reading project — Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. I’m excited for some really practical stuff to conclude this journey!

[P.S. Thanks to “The End of the World” video for my header titles. What weird, bizarre little throwback to high school! (“But I am le tired…” “Well, go take a nap. THEN FIRE ZE MISSILES!”)]

Why I View ‘Sailor Moon’ as a (Mostly) Feminist Show

WARNING: APPROXIMATELY ONE MILLION SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

sailor guardians teamI never watched Sailor Moon when I was growing up. I really didn’t even hear about it until I was older and got into nerd culture through some manga-loving high school friends of mine. My knowledge was pretty peripheral, but enough that when I heard the original TV series was going to be slowly re-released on Hulu I decided to give it a try.

I’ll be honest — at first I was a little flabbergasted. I thought Usagi (the main protagonist, aka Sailor Moon) was childish and annoying and not very heroic. I couldn’t see why on earth this was supposed to be some girl-power hero show.

And, honestly, even as I kept watching, there are a bunch of reasons to view Sailor Moon as not very feminist and reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. For example, many of the worries and problems the girls are portrayed as caring about seem rather petty and gendered, like boys, becoming a ballerina, having a crush on a famous fashion designer, entering a beauty contest, etc. And there’s the fact that sometimes it seems like the only consistent male protagonist (Tuxedo Mask) is the one who actually defeats the monsters, arriving just in the nick of time to rescue Sailor Moon and co. Plus, all the Sailor Guardians (and all the girls in general) have pretty much the same idealized body type.

sailor venus
I mean really. Fifteen.

(And don’t even get me started on the sexualization of the title sequences and the sailor transformation sequences for these girls who are supposed to be fifteen.)

However.

Despite these (very real and legitimate) flaws, ultimately after watching much of the show’s run I still read this series as empowering to women. Here are three reasons why:

1. Sailor Moon is the real hero.

usagi the klutzDespite the fact that Tuxedo Mask does show up to help quite often, at the end of the day the only one who can save the day is Sailor Moon.

This is significant not only because she’s female, but especially because out of all the Sailor Guardians, Usagi (Sailor Moon’s real life “alter ego”) is the one who is consistently portrayed as the biggest simpleton: bad grades, immature, a huge klutz, irrational, infatuated with romance, and having a love for food that sometimes even distracts her from the important business of defeating villains.

usagi faith 2 smSailor Moon is the one who always keeps the faith in the face of evil even when it seems stupid or irrational to do so. And her simple faith, which is sometimes written off by others as the foolish naivete of a young girl, is actually the very thing that gives her the ability to save the whole world — including the teammates who are more “put together” than her and the boyfriend she seems so infatuated with.

2. It doesn’t belittle girls, it validates them.

sailor moon - trampling hearts rebukeWhile the antics especially of Usagi are sometimes the source of the show’s comic relief, it’s significant that in each episode, the onus of the blame is put on the villains.

Whenever the Sailors or Tuxedo Mask confront the villains, they always make it clear that the villains are wrong for taking advantage of the hopes and dreams of young girls. In other words, the problem is not that young girls have silly dreams or are so naïve that they have allowed someone to take advantage of them. The problem is that the villains have taken advantage of or exploited something pure and innocent and good. This directly combats the rape culture narrative of “she asked for it” or “she should know better” or “how could she be so naive”, which blames the victim for what others have done to her. In Sailor Moon episodes, not only is it not the girls’ fault, but they are praised for having “beautiful dreams” while the villains are directly rebuked and then “punished” for infringing upon those dreams.

3. Girls are friends and it’s GREAT!

Often when girls appear in movies or shows, they’re set against each other as catty rivals for popularity (Mean Girls) or the affection of a man or boy (every movie ever; ask the Bechdel test). While that does happen sometimes in Sailor Moon, rivalry is never the PRIMARY function of the girls’ relationships.

Small squabbles about boys or hurtful words are usually resolved by the end of the episode, and even more long-standing issues (like the frequent antagonism between Usagi and Rei) are put aside in the face of defeating real evildoers.

sailor power finaleIn fact, one of the most moving moments of the series so far for me was the season finale where (I REPEAT, SPOILERS GALORE!) all the other Sailor Guardians have died, but when Sailor Moon’s power alone is not enough to defeat the villain she calls on the love and friendship of her team and their ghostly hands support her from beyond the grave. (I may have cried.)

THIS is the kind of big-picture love and support that we want to teach our girls — that when you’re carrying more than you can bear alone, your loved ones (including other girls and women!) will help you.

4. It’s about girls/women.

sailor friendsAt the end of the day, even just the fact that a popular show has a recurring case of 6 (8 if you count cats) and only one is a man is a huge deal. Seeing five different girls navigate the transition into adulthood in their different ways is HUGE, and something we don’t often see as the main focus of a long-running show.

I really appreciate that the writers actually let us see the characters doing normal life things like fighting with each other, resolving their conflicts, struggling in school, wrestling with and pursuing their vocational dreams, and working through their feelings about romance. …all while doing their best to protect Tokyo and the planet. Whether you’re a studious nerd girl, a strong giant girl, a fiery career girl, an effusively social girl, or an emotional screw-up girl — or even, thanks to Sailors Neptune and Uranus, a mysteriously feminine girl or a standoffish masculine/trans/lesbian girl — you will find yourself in this show.

And that, to me, is what makes this show feminist: feminism is about empowering women, and this show depicts all kinds of women who are all worthy of life and respect and empowered to pursue their beautiful dreams, no matter how silly or naive the world might think them.

The World Through the Lens of “All Our Relations”

This week in Imperial Geography, I learn where we dump all the waste that no one wants… and why just reducing our carbon footprint isn’t gonna cut it. Intrigued? Then let’s dive in!

All Our Relations

all our relations - winona ladukeWhen I first planned out this project (now over a year ago, woof!) I was really excited to take a tour around the continent through the eyes of Winona LaDuke in her All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life.  I know she is a well-known political activist, and I was expecting exciting and powerful stories of daring protests and demonstrations.

But that’s not what I got. What I got was an eye-opening spotlight into why environmental issues are so vital to many Native communities and activists.

We put… what? Where?

Remember wayyyyyy back in my very first book of this project, when the geography textbook I read freaked me out about nuclear (and other undisposable) waste?

Is anyone else REALLY REALLY DISTURBED by the fact that there is NO way to prevent all our nuclear stuff from seeping into our environment? I get that we didn’t necessarily know this when we first invented nuclear power and stuff, but I mean… now that we know… you think maybe we should stop making more until we’ve figured that one out? I mean, I’m no nuclear physicist, but… I kind of like not eating radiation… Just saying…

Anyway, consider me officially alarmed by what seems like a rather imminently dangerous situation in terms of waste generation and disposal. I’m urgently looking forward to learning more (hopefully!) in my last few books for this project, All Our Relations and Plastic Free.

Well, here I am at All Our Relations, and yes, I have learned more. I wondered where all the waste no one wants near them goes in this country, and the answer is, it goes to Indian reservations.

Incredulous? I was, too. But one thing this book doesn’t skimp on is examples. Here are just a few:

  • “According to the Worldwatch Institute, 317 reservations in the United States are threatened by environmental hazards, ranging from toxic wastes to clearcuts.” (p.2 — yes, she hits you with that on PAGE TWO!)
  • “Today, an estimated 25 percent of all North American industry is located on or near the Great Lakes, all of which are drained by the St. Lawrence River.That puts the Akwesasne [Mohawk] Reservation downstream from some of the most lethal and extensive pollution on the continent.” (p.15) This has led to Mohawk mothers having contaminated breast milk. The “progress” so far on this is that GM agreed to dredge some of the gunk out of the river… and then shipped it off “to some unlucky community in Utah” (p.23).
  • In Florida, “America has lost half of its wetlands… due to agricultural conversion” (p.30), and the now-rare Florida panthers are being slowly killed off by infertility due to acute mercury poisoning.
  • In Canada, a US Air Force base runs test flights low over the forest where the Innu live, creating “sonic booms” that are “generally exactly at or above the human pain threshold of 110 decibels” and “produce a constant shock wave, traveling along the ground like the wake of a boat over water” that can “lift the water off the lake and tip a canoe and can drive animals insane: foxes have been known to eat their kits, geese to drop their eggs midflight, as a consequence of the sonic boom.” (p.55)

And these are just the first few chapters! As I read through case study after case study of governments and corporations dumping their unwanted chemicals/sound/industry/etc. onto or near Native peoples and Native land (what’s left of it), I started to see why environmentalism isn’t just a fad for many Indian folks: environmental issues are literally killing them. LaDuke sums up this urgency well: “We are the ones who stand up to the land eaters, the tree eaters, the destroyers and culture eaters” (p3).

Seriously — what’s more innocent and natural than a woman breastfeeding her baby? And yet that, too, has been made poisonous. As LaDuke writes in the chapter on poisoned rivers and contaminated breastmilk, “Women are the first environment” (p18). It’s atrocious to think about our waste causing a Mohawk woman to poison her own child.

And why does this keep happening to them? Because in a country where they make up like 1% of the population Native peoples and nations are relatively powerless to stop it. LaDuke does share stories of lawsuits and protests and attempts to get companies and/or governments to respect their sovereignty and treaty rights, and there is a little hope… but it feels like a very David-and-Goliath sort of a battle.

The Mirage of “Clean Energy”

Another huge theme in this book is that the solution isn’t just about limiting ourselves. I kept being like “Okay, so THAT kind of energy isn’t ‘clean’ either… so what’s left?”

But that made me realize that the point isn’t finding an unlimited energy source that keeps our hands clean in terms of environmental sustainability — the point is that we place our desire for unlimited energy and productivity above all else. We only question HOW we will get “all the energy we need”, not WHETHER we actually “need” it.

So the core of the environmentalist conflict, for LaDuke, is not “clean energy vs dirty energy”, or even “conservationism vs extinction” — the conflict is really about an extractionist, resource-based view of the earth and nature versus one that views the earth as an entity in its own right. This giant paradigm shift is summarized well by this passage:

There is no way to set a price on this way of life. That simple truth more than anything else encapsulates the Anishinaabeg [Ojibwe] people’s struggle with the federal government, the miners, and the logging companies. For the past hundred years, Native people have been saying that their way of life, their land, their trees, their very future, cannot be quantified and are not for sale. And for that same amount of time, government and industry accountants have been picking away, trying to come up with a formula to compensate Indians for the theft of their lands and livelihoods. So long as both remain steadfast, there appears to be little hope for a meeting of minds in the next generation.” (p116)

Rather than urging us to exercise self-control within the existing energy-consuming paradigm, LaDuke calls us to completely transform our relationship with the earth. Instead of our current linear, resource-focused, consumeristic, anthropocentric worldview, she offers a more indigenous perspective — one that holds a more spiritual, holistic, circular, relational attitude toward life and the earth.

“When you step on one strand of a spider web, it all moves.” (p191)
“We are walking upon the faces of those yet to come.” (Iroquois teaching, p.194)

Conclusion

As I think I said at the start of this project, I never expected to be an environmentalist. I always thought environmentalism was like a hippie white people thing about saving the whales, and it seemed rather irrational and pointless to me, because humans > whales. What this book really cements for me is, (1) it’s really important to listen to people’s concerns without writing them off, because when you choose to care for the person by listening it lets you in to what really matters to them, and (2) environmental issues are less about restraint (aka only driving one car instead of two, or killing fewer whales) and more about fundamentally rethinking how our society and culture view our earth (aka why is our society car-based, and why do we feel we need to extract so much energy from the earth?). I’m excited to get practical with the last two books in this project!

Next up: Earth Then and Now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World.