Saturday, May 31, 2014

Let's Take Responsibility

As I’ve blogged before, we live on the slipping edge of a vast transformation. Scientists now think that the West Antarctica ice sheet will melt, raising sea levels enough to swamp cities all over the world. It’s inevitable. As if this wasn’t enough, humans are fomenting the sixth major extinction that the Earth has experienced in her three billion years of harboring life:

Let’s continue to fight to minimalize the damage. And yet it’s time, I think, that we faced up to the awful truth: the Earth’s lands and oceans, and perhaps every species on them, including homo sapiens, are going to be radically affected, much more so than they have been already. Above I list two big environmental changes, but there are many others I cannot mention here, either out of time constraints or simply because I just don’t know about them. In a sense, especially concerning the specifics, none of us knows what is going to happen to the rhythms, surfaces, currents, and the biomes of our planet. There are many, many actors, such as the rainforests and coral reefs; the plankton that give us oxygen and the micro-creatures that teem in our soils; the average regional temperatures and the ocean currents such as El Nino.

And on and on.

I’ve sketched a few of the environmental tranmogrifications. But how will this affect the psychological beast that is human society? We all know the probable answer: very badly. Greed, panic, fear and hate, already such powerful dynamics, are going to rear up even uglier heads. I’d predict that in the USA Empire, the Democrats are going to blame the Republicans and vice versa. It’s obvious the Democrats are right on global warming (Republicans claim it is a hoax), but in a way it doesn’t matter: what matters is that schisms will form, grow, and worsen, leading to recriminations and, I fear in many cases, widespread violence. It could well be that within the next hundred years, the USA will suffer a second civil war. Indeed, the ill feelings from the last civil war are still strong in the South (and the entire South, except maybe for Florida, is a Republican stronghold).

If civil war is possible in the Empire, a wealthy, industrialized, and relatively educated and decent country in terms of human rights, imagine how much worse it is likely to be in countries in worse shape. Add to this volatile mix the sprinkled presence of thousands of nuclear weapons. North Korea, an especially awful country in terms of torture and dictatorship, has already threatened to launch such apocalypse-bringers (and does possess them). The most powerful country in the world within the next thirty years is likely to be China, a police state with no Bill of Rights and huge amounts of State-sponsored oppression and censorship. Indeed, China tolerates North Korea’s concentration camps, which are worthy of Auschwitz.

So, yes, we need to keep working to bring about the best possible results. But it is also time to acknowledge our wrongs and apologize to future generations. Why? First of all, it will help us to change our own behavior. The US (or industrial) citizen uses a huge amount of dirty energy compared to the typical third world citizen. Our pampered narcissistic consumerism is at the heart of the absolutely wrong attitude in terms of positive change.

Second, it is courageous and ethical. I know it is tempting to go into denial and just not face our failures and wrongs. The people we need to apologize to have not even been born. Why bother? We will be tucked in our pricey "I'm-special" caskets before the seas rise up and the anomies come down fast. Why not just enjoy our lives and refuse to acknowledge the horrors ahead, including our role in instigating them?

It’s tempting, I know, but ...

Think about how selfish that would be, the same sort of selfish that got us into this mess. Change in future generations to a healthy mindset is more likely if we set an example of at least partial virtue. We can’t erase our wrongs, but we can still face up to them.

Another thing, very important, perhaps the most important: denial is a wonderful thing for those in denial, but for those denied, it really really hurts. It wounds and even cripples the mind. For instance, parents deny they did something wrong to their children. Works for them. Disfigures the child. Another case: A plutocracy denies it is being cruel to those outside the elite cadre. Works for the rich, but creates a sea of outrage that damages the fabric of souls, and can lead to vicious retaliation.

Again, the US Empire denies it has exploited third-world countries (as the Colonial Empires denied they hurt the colonized during the Age of Imperalism). This works fine for the US citizen, who gets to traipse through a giant supermarket and buy plentiful foods grown and harvested by the oppressed; but, across the world, the cries of those seeking justice fester unheard; and they struggle not to succumb to hatred for the stone-eared “imperalists.” If we don’t even acknowledge their suffering, which we contribute to, and benefit from, why shouldn’t they hate us? Everyone’s mind gets poisoned by denial.

To deny, I conclude, is vicious to those denied. It is a quintessentially selfish act, the prerogative of those with the power to live happily by ignoring the injustices they inflict. And so we should not go into denial when it comes to those we potential deny : the people of the near future.

Isn’t it enough that we trash the world, disrupt the seas, extinct the animals, and breed volatile circumstances assured to invoke tremendous emigration and epic bloodshed, without us also refusing to apologize and take responsibility?

Let’s face what we are, what we’ve done, and bravely take the first step toward changing the psychology of selfishness to a psychology of care. Of empathy. It might well make a difference to those not born yet if we acknowledge our wrongs and apologize. And if we don’t, it is more likely that they will simply loath us. And then the cycle of hate is likely to continue--until the end comes.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Acceptance: Negative Capability


Such a great honor to have my poem “A Lack” accepted by this longstanding and top-quality press, which focuses primarily on book publishing these days, but is running an anniversary issue that honors its formidable presence as a literary magazine, too. From what I can tell, the new issue will be absolutely packed with great poets and poems. The prodigious Marge Piercy will be included. And also Lissa Kiernan, a fabulous meticulous resonant bard whose first book of poems will be coming out soon with NCP.

The mighty mental force behind the scenes is Sue Brannan Walker, who is so humble yet so accomplished, as a poet in her own right as well as a leader, in many ways, in the literary world. I can’t even begin to do her justice here. Walker is the Poetry Laureate of Alabama, has published nine books of poetry and is the Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama. Negative Capability has been publishing poetry since 1981, and in the early 1990’s was ranked third in the nation in poetry by Writer’s Digest. Brannan has been there all along, a soft-spoken yet effective mover of mountains, promoter of brillance, and shining beacon of perseverance. You have to google her name to even begin to see what this incredible woman has done to help so many writers, and advance and empower the realm of poetry with her own craft.

Every once in a long while--longer and longer, it seems--I get a rare acceptance that completely regenerates my morale and gives me a tremendous sense of recognition for all the hard work I pour into creating drafts and editing my work month after month, year after year. It’s the kind of acceptance that makes it all seem worthwhile; that bolsters the hope of purpose and ethos we obsessive artists foster and reinforce within ourselves, by ourselves.

This is truly a moment of tears for me. I don’t get many of them anymore. Too grizzled, I guess.

Thank you Editor Brannan! Thank you, indeed.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Poem: Sink

Originally published, courageously, by Full of Crow.

Fly Well In the Dark,




flies over the sink.
he had more patience for them now,
didn’t care to note
the swerves of their Doppler whines.

some might accuse him
of lax affect.
or anhedonia.

but it was mystical, if only by default.
a new kind of (lack of) etiquette.
a brand new take on death.

it had never made sense,
the wholesomeness of enamel.
could be a killer’s shine:

thinking of knives and forks
as bones.

the crud
glued to misstacked plates
had been bitten once:
a chomp on the flank of a pig.
a gobble of turkey.
dentures probing the chest of a cow.

it didn’t matter much how you interpreted it.
but then again
not all of the objectified beast
would go down.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

The West Antarctica Ice Sheet and Us

Pretty often, my conscience takes a hit from the ongoing alteration of this planet Earth that we have decided we own. A huge complacency-shattering moment came a few days ago. Two papers in separate scientific journals concluded: (a) a huge chunk of the West Antarctica ice sheet is melting away and it is inevitable, (b) this strongly suggests that the whole ice sheet will melt and that other big sheets could melt as well. What does this mean? Think of a coastal urban area anywhere in the world. Now image it underwater.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times article:


A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries ...

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”


This is the kind of announcement I’ve felt was coming but had hoped never to see. My longstanding sense of dread no longer just potentially has teeth: it has very sharp fangs of prophetic truth. Our legacy to our children is going to be a world disfigured by myopic consumerism. These unfortunate inheritors will stand on hills above metropolises that have gone into the brine, and shake their heads at those pitiable effigies of the mythical Atlantis. I am assuming, of course, that the anomie precipitated by displacing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people, will not lead to the complete breakdown of civilization.

I mean ...

if just one hot-headed country launches a single nuclear weapon, it could precipitate hellfire of biblical proportions. Even without nukes, it is easy to envision militias staking out territories, returning us to feudal if not despotic times.

It’s happening. Planetary cataclysm will be our legacy. We are as fated a force as the archean algae that oxygenated the primal methanous atmosphere. We are, in this sense, as programmatic as a primitive plant. It took humanity only 12,000 years from the rise of agriculture to radically rewrite the ecological script. And, as my analogy to algae implies, we did this not of choice, but rather driven by the spurs of denial, avarice, and selfish acquiescence.

It’s convenient and economic for us to buy “Made In China,“ ignoring the cost in coal emissions, sweatshop labor, animal cruelty and Earth degradation. A few get rich, a sino-bourgeoise grows, the citizens of the US empire gain a trifle of satisfaction--the vast rest of the world suffers. “Greed is Good,” although steeped in drama off the lips of Gordon Gekko, is indeed the overarching maxim of our capitalism-ravaged times. Police state capitalism, ‘free market’ capitalism, in both cases the plutocracy takes and takes.

What can I say to future generations? I doubt anyone in the far, or even relatively near, future will ever read my words. But let’s pretend that in the early 22nd century, archaeologists dig an internet mainframe out of some submerged structure, and somehow Owl Who Laughs blog gets retrieved.

I’ve already apologized to the future, over and over. How did it happen and why were we so callous? There are many themes to our failure, like strands in a carcinogenic DNA.

Part of it is just the old story: elites focused on maintaining and expanding their power. To do so, they need a loyal base, the fanatic masses. This goes back to the basics: humans are programmable via culture. Social programming can be immensely more powerful than common sense, reason, justice, or even all three combined. And as history shows, social programming replicates from generation to generation.

As long as no major catastrophe shakes up the status quo, social programming is highly resistant and resilient. Isolated individuals or splinter groups that challenge the ‘mindware’ succeed only at rare times when the system is at a vulnerable point. Even when a challenge is successful, it is usually only partial. Reasonable analysis rarely results in a gestalt shift in terms of societal values. So, for instance, it took thousands of years for women to begin to get even a semblance of recognition as intelligent equals, and to not be treated as property or slaves.

Note that when a society is in crisis, as in pre-WWII Germany, demagogues strive to harness anger and turn it into the fuel of hatred, creating stronger and stronger fascist parties. The spread of the Tea Party in the USA has some of these elements. Under such conditions, the spread of reasonable, ethical awareness is dubious at best. More on this below.

Fully amenable to cultural programming, as if the two were made for each other, are the common psychological habits that we have just begun to examine objectively: denial, projection, repression, reaction formation, splitting, and so on. A major problem here is that facing global warming is extremely painful, but when faced with such an intense stimulus, many people simply repress it.

Don’t want to deal with GW? Go into denial. Problem solved for the ego in question. There are plenty of demagogues eager to help you keep your repression strong.

Our very distant ancestors had little knowledge of psychology, or the concepts of free will, autonomy and human rights (let alone the moral standing of animals and nature). However, we ourselves, the beneficiaries of the Enlightenment, don’t get to appeal to this somewhat plausible excuse. We have an intellectual inheritance that was hard won over centuries: in our day, Western civilization has dug a niche for rational autonomy, equality, and a corresponding empathy.

The Native American philosophy was far ahead of ours long ago, and still is; but when Europeans 'discovered' this continent that I write from, typing away on my weird device known as a laptop, the resulting holocaust showed the extent of human idiocy even in the face of monstrous wrong-doing. I mean, how more plant-like, or virus-like, in our behavior can we get? Our ancestors don't get a pass on this centuries-spanning genocide, whose tendrils still infect our society today.

We also, today, have the advantage of hindsight. We can see how women were denied fair treatment for thousands of years and reflect on how to avoid such dysfunction. Educational networks are in place today that allow for a far-sighted self-programming. Such self-programming, aka a liberal education, can override entrenched cultural programming. Women’s Studies, for instance, is now an academic discipline. The study of how oppression and ignorance work within culture has a global body of networked scholarship.

Therefore, you could say that the failure of our time, in relation to environmental disaster, is a failure to give people the ability to self-program, and thereby challenge the conformist social programming. It’s a tough battle. On one side, you have television and other mass media spreading consumer narcissism and all the denial and repression that entails. On the other, you are asking people to break out of what they are being told by their beloved ‘conservative’ leaders, including charismatic Christian preachers, entrenched legislators, and ‘heart-of-America’ firebrands like Rush Limbaugh, who claims that global warming is a hoax, a conspiracy perpetuated by scientists all over the world to undermine the Republican Party (the only major party in an industrial, democratic country to deny human-caused global warming).

A lot of people simply have no time or energy to think about these matters. They are toiling simply to get by, or raise a family. Of course, the plutocracy likes it this way. It does not want people to think for themselves--to start self-programming--because that would challenge their cultural programming.

The right-wing propaganda machine includes:

Welfare is bad, ‘freedom’ for corporations is good.
(keeps people too busy to think, helps advance de-regulation, more tax breaks for the rich, etc.)

If you fail, you didn’t work hard enough.
(creates obedient workers, takes the focus off of the corrupt system)

Schools, universities should be privatized, made cost-efficient, and tenure eliminated.
(gives corporates control of education so it becomes an arm of their cultural programming)

Higher education has been made a luxury in the Empire, and as the Empire declines, expect less people to have access to it, and therefore more vulnerability to the persuasion of powerful interests.

So, my ultimate answer to those who wonder how we have done so much damage is this: as civilization currently stands, the large majority of humans are programmed by avaricious forces outside of themselves, instead of thinking for themselves with the open-mindedness exemplified in, say, the scientific method, and in the liberal-arts tradition of the humanities.

We are such conformist creatures--though we can learn to be more. In a way, though, our potential to be better only magnifies the tragedy of our actual failure.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Acceptance: UMVA Magazine May 2014


The Union of Maine Visual Artists recently published an Ekphrastic issue, and I am most pleased that my poem “Capitol Shirt” is included, along with its inspiration: an acrylic on postcard by Natasha Mayers. This postcard (also named “Capitol Shirt”) draws from the World Bankster postcard exhibit at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine. I love Mayer's artist statement:

The banksters are the predators, profiteers, the money men, the global banking cartel that I insert into each postcard scene, in every possible situation, where you least expect them. They are anonymous, faceless, often headless, trapped in a suit and tie, which is like a costume/uniform, straitjacket, a mask, like armor. Sometimes they are a dominating, looming presence, usually unexpected and inappropriate (what the f—is going on??!!!!). Postcards share a moment, a quick connection from far away, tell little stories, serve as a travelogue. They are often from exotic places. These little paintings are my comment on capitalism, post-colonialism, globalization, cultural appropriation, cultural authenticity and differences, sexism, etc.

Part of the genius of Mayers is her prolific creativity. I don’t know how many ‘postcards’ she has painted, but it could be thousands. Her mind seems constantly streaming with fresh ideas. For quite a while, until she decided to refocus her energy, she was the main artist for, supplying them with a new piece of art every day. As far as I can tell, her flourishing expression goes back decades. She has also supervised the construction of over 500 murals (!) and is a true leader in Maine’s art and counter-political scene.

I can’t begin to do justice to her many accomplishments and brilliancies here. I recommend googling “Natasha Mayers artist” for a much better glimpse than what I supply, though still only a glimpse.

To see my poem and Natasha’s postcard, click on the following link and scroll down:


If you are at all drawn to the realm of visual art, as a connoiseur, dilettante, or just an observer on the zesty edge of the bohemian scene, I strongly recommend UMVA Online Magazine. It takes about 30 seconds for my browser to load, so packed and profuse are the contents with art and aesthetics, all intriguingly formatted. You'll also find a down-to-earth groove, and engaging essays that ring with joi d'arte.

UMVA recently launched a major effort to reach every artist in Maine (and anyone interested beyond) and recently christened a new chapter. Such enthusiasm, a collective radiance of elan, buoys this organization!

Go see what some of the greatest artistic minds in the Northeastern corner of the US are up to.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Hope of Hydrogen Amid US Decline

If you’ve read any of my essays on this blog before, you’re probably inoculated against the depressive aspects. If not, be ready for a big dose of downer! There is a positive theme in the second half, though, one based on the very-real hope of hydrogen power.

It’s awfully clear that the US Empire is sinking while China rises. It should also be obvious that this is due, in large part, to a transfer of wealth from the US to China. The simplified reason is that a lot of things we buy say “Made In China” on them. Indeed, consumer capitalism has trained the imperial citizenry to focus on shallow-pleasures at low price while ignoring the unseen long-term costs: to the environment and also the moral and economic health of the nation. The neurotic greed of many elites, who hoard wealth, has a counterpart in the rabid buying of the hoi polloi. As the plutocracy gains in proportion to the rest, it becomes more able to dominate the government and subvert the already feeble level of democracy allowed by America's two-party system.

The rise of China coupled with the sad decadence of the USA has tragic ethical consequences. The most powerful country in the world will soon be one that is anti-freedom: of speech, of religion, of thought, of public assembly, and so on. It is heavily sexist, racist, and homophobic. In America, some inroads have been made around equality and professional opportunity. Not so in China. Also, torture is widespread there. An example is placing dissidents into mental hospitals, where they undergo faux psychiatric treatment. People do not vote in China to choose their leaders. Slavor labor in factories, which fuels cheap prices in the US, is an abomination.

It is not as if China is ‘evil’ while the US is ‘good.’ The US tortures “detainees” through “rendition”--effectively kidnapping people in one country to fly them to other countries to be tortured. The word “detainee” is legalese to get around the Geneva Convention. The “detainees” in Guantanamo are also tortured. We can thank George W. Bush for a lot of this. However, for decades the US has been overthrowing democratically elected leaders in the third world and emplacing vicious tyrants who use death squads. The half-million deaths in Indonesia in 1965 are in large part our doing. Vietnam was basically a genocidal campaign, de facto, at the psychological and strategic level (see the book, Kill Anything That Moves). There are many more cases of horrible outcomes like this. Satan-worthy stuff, all excused by ‘the end justifies the means’. US corporations vacuum up profit from government-inflicted atrocity whenever they can (often the atrocity involves installing/supporting a dictator friendly to US business).

Sadly, the US and China are more similar than we like to admit (another example, the US has more citizens incarcerated, per capita and in total number, than any other country by far. Over two million Americans are in jail). And yet, despite its great wrongs, the US has stumbled forward in terms of certain critical liberties--thanks to brave protesters and martyrs, given some protection by Constitutional rights.

In sum, world civilization is slipping backward, into a status that will be significantly more anti-human. We can expect police states to gain in popularity as China ascends. The danger and nadir of this trend is already present in China’s semi-ally, North Korea. North Korea uses Hitler-like prison camps to keep its citizens fanatically worshipping its current dictator, the son of the last dictator (please note: I do not use the reference to Hitler lightly; I know the name is overused, but it is completely appropriate here). This entire nation is divorced from reality into an extreme cult-like status of paranoia and hatred for the USA and other countries. They have developed atomic weapons and soon will have the capability to launch at the United States.

Nuclear war is continously a distinct possibility, especially as more countries gain such weapons. This increases the odds of an eruption of nationalistic frenzy and all-out war--and a chain-reaction of launches extending through many countries, out of reflexive fear. We only avoided nuclar war in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 by the barest of margins, with considerable luck (for instance, a russian sub commander, who lost contact with his superiors, was talked out of launching by the staff medical officer).

A sad corollary to the growth of police-state orientations is the spread of so-called state capitalism, which will continue the trend of huge wealth gaps. This harkens back to an ancient pattern (feudal, monarchic, despotic) of wealth-concentration in a very few hands. The rest struggle at various levels of descending obeisance. You have an artisan class and soldier class; and yet the majority languish at the level of peony. The peony’s education level is kept quite narrow so they can be manipulated easily by propaganda.

The spread of police states and state capitalism heralds grimmest of times for the environment, as both these systems tend to support a leadership of callous people with selfish egos, focused primarily on short-term power/money accumulation. Brilliant demagogues with sociopathic traits tend to do well in these systems, as they are geniuses at manipulating the masses via class hatred, fear of the enemy, patriotic fervor, and so on--and not shy about using the most violent, ugly tactics.

That’s a summary of some of my recent dismal thoughts. On the positive side, electricity that is derived from breaking water into hydrogen is here. The US Navy, in fact, plans to run all its ships on sea water in ten years. Possibly, the effects/fear of global warming will catalyze a shift to reliance on water for powering our homes, cars, everything! The chemical reaction is similar to how plants conduct photosynthesis. One big question is whether the propaganda of oil companies and right-wing magnates, such as the super-powerful Koch brothers, can be overcome. If so, the world can shift away from reliance on fossil fuels to a new energy whose pollution-effects are extremely minor in comparison.

Can this shift to hydrogen power have a moral effect on civilization? Possibly. Greater respect for Earth could engender greater empathy and hope. These, in turn, could propel a social movement toward long-sighted virtue and away from a paradigm of short-sighted ego competition (i.e. more money = better person).

And example of empathy and hope in action: the worldwide women’s movement continues to challenge ancient sexist stereotypes and patterns of violent oppression (e.g. women en masse protesting the engrained practices of rape in India). Again, the spread of equality could bring 'consciousness raising', which can alter behavior on a grand scale. If people realize that culture is more powerful than human nature, they might fight more for cultural change.

Indeed, the global women's movement transcends nationality and class and directly concerns the specific social status of over half the human population. If hydrogen power enhances environmental awareness and empathy, it will not replace feminism or other 'isms' but will rather work with them to modify the psyche of the 21st century. It will encourage people to spread their care over a large holistic field of geography, ethnicity, gender and time.

As technology rushes ahead, so do those who are masters of exploiting it for their own gain--but each advance (e.g. the internet) also offers new opportunities to re-think our role, to gain more freedom (from the oil companies, for example), and to generate empathy for Earth, animals and the oppressed.

These are critical times, my friends, in which idea-systems struggle with each other, within the arena of mass psychology, to determine the vector of civilization and--because humans are so pervasive and transformative--the state of the planet Earth for a long time, if not permanently.