Monday, October 8, 2007
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil--to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks--who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return-- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man--then you are ready for a walk.
[ ... ]
Nowadays almost all man's improvements, so called, as the building of houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap. A people who would begin by burning the fences and let the forest stand! I saw the fences half consumed, their ends lost in the middle of the prairie, and some worldly miser with a surveyor looking after his bounds, while heaven had taken place around him, and he did not see the angels going to and fro, but was looking for an old post-hole in the midst of paradise. I looked again, and saw him standing in the middle of a boggy Stygian fen, surrounded by devils, and he had found his bounds without a doubt, three little stones, where a stake had been driven, and looking nearer, I saw that the Prince of Darkness was his surveyor.
[ ... ]
At present, in this vicinity, the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom. But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only--when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman's grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come.
[ ... ]
I rejoice that horses and steers have to be broken before they can be made the slaves of men, and that men themselves have some wild oats still left to sow before they become submissive members of society. Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for civilization; and because the majority, like dogs and sheep, are tame by inherited disposition, this is no reason why the others should have their natures broken that they may be reduced to the same level.
[ ... ]
We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It is said that knowledge is power, and the like. Methinks there is equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a higher sense: for what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is often our positive ignorance; ignorance our negative knowledge. By long years of patient industry and reading of the newspapers--for what are the libraries of science but files of newspapers--a man accumulates a myriad facts, lays them up in his memory, and then when in some spring of his life he saunters abroad into the Great Fields of thought, he, as it were, goes to grass like a horse and leaves all his harness behind in the stable. I would say to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes,--Go to grass. You have eaten hay long enough. The spring has come with its green crop. The very cows are driven to their country pastures before the end of May; though I have heard of one unnatural farmer who kept his cow in the barn and fed her on hay all the year round. So, frequently, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge treats its cattle.
A man's ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful--while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly. Which is the best man to deal with--he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?
[ ... ]
So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.
IDP CONSULTING GROUP, INC SPECIAL REPORT, AUGUST 1, 2007
PETRODOLLAR WARFARE & COLLAPSE OF US
DOLLAR IMPERIALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
BY CHARLES H. COPPES, AUTHOR OF AMERICA’S FINANCIAL RECKONING DAY
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The people cannot be safe without information.”
– Thomas Jefferson
The term “petrodollar” is a macroeconomic term that is little understood and even less discussed in the major news media today. Exactly how a petrodollar exchange system has helped maintain the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency is a general theme in my book and will be the focus of this special report. As William Clark suggests in his book Petrodollar Warfare, the current “war on terror” has been exploited by the neocons in an effort to establish permanent US military bases in the Persian Gulf and also “dissuade” other nations from switching their crude oil contracts into an emerging euro currency. In what is now being called the first oil currency war of the 21st century, the Iraqi War in 2003 was more about protecting US dollar imperialism and preventing a “petroeuro exchange system” than the alleged threat of WMDs or terrorist links to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. As William Clark is careful to point out, Saddam Hussein had begun to price Iraqi oil contracts in euros starting in November 2000 and the US government was determined to put a stop to this crude/euro currency peg, which they successfully did in the summer of 2003. As Clark mentions:
Not surprisingly, the US corporate media has not run a single news story on the reconversion of Iraq’s oil exports from petroeuros to petrodollars….This hidden fact [has] helped illuminate one of the crucial, yet over-looked macroeconomic rationales for the 2003 Iraqi War. Another goal of the neoconservatives was to use the “war on terror” as the publicly expressed premise in an attempt to dissolve OPEC’s decision-making process, thus ultimately frustrating the cartel’s inevitable switch to pricing oil in euros (emphasis added).
As indicated here, the threat of a “petroeuro” pricing structure among OPEC members is noteworthy and will be addressed in a later section. The fact that only the foreign press carried this “reconversion” from petroeuros to petrodollars is both revealing and disconcerting. Since 1980 the US media industry has been deregulated and now consists of five corporate conglomerates which control about 90% of the information flow in America. There is NBC (General Electric), ABC (Disney Co.), CBS (Viacom), FOX (News Corp.), and CNN (AOL Time Warner). Is it possible that all five major networks could have missed the geostrategic importance of invoicing Iraq’s vast oil reserves back into US dollars? Or was former CIA Director William Colby right when he commented that “the CIA owns everyone of any significance in the major media?”
What does it mean to be happy in a modern consumer society? John F Schumaker argues that the elusive state has more to do with culture than genetics.
But a society of ‘happichondriacs’ isn’t necessarily a healthy sign. No-one is less able to sustain happiness than someone obsessed with feeling only happiness. A happy and meaningful existence depends on the ability to feel emotions other than happiness, as well as ones that compete with happiness.
‘Happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim,’ said Einstein. ‘I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig. The ideals that have lighted my way are Kindness, Beauty and Truth.’
If we’ve become pigs at the happiness trough, it’s understandable. As higher systems of meaning have withered, life purpose has dwindled to feeling good. Innocence, the lifeblood of happiness, is obsolete. We live on cultural soil perfectly suited for depression.
Other happiness blockers include materialism, perpetual discontent, over-complication, hyper-competition, stress, rage, boredom, loneliness and existential confusion. We’re removed from nature, married to work, adrift from family and friends, spiritually starved, sleep deprived, physically unfit, dumbed down, and enslaved to debt.
Health professionals face new epidemics of ‘hurry sickness’, ‘toxic success syndrome’, the ‘frantic family’, the ‘over-commercialized child’ and ‘pleonexia’ or out-of-control greed. Too much is no longer enough. Many are stretching themselves so far that they have difficulty feeling anything at all. At its heart the happiness boom is a metaphor for the modern struggle for meaning.
We laugh only a third as often as we did 50 years ago – hence the huge popularity of laughter clubs and laughter therapy. We make love less frequently and enjoy it less, even though sex is now largely deregulated and available in endless guilt-free varieties. Yet we’re the least happy society in history if we measure happiness in terms of mental health, personal growth, or general sense of aliveness.
A society’s dominant value system dictates how happiness is measured. The native Navajos in the southwest of the US saw happiness as the attainment of universal beauty, or what they called Hózhó. Their counterpart of ‘Have a nice day’ was ‘May you walk in beauty’.
Personal satisfaction is the most common way of measuring happiness today (via something called the Life Satisfaction Scale). This mirrors the supreme value that consumer culture attaches to the romancing of desire and the satiation of the self. When measured this way, almost everyone seems pretty happy – even if it’s primarily false needs being satisfied. A high percentage of depressed people even end up happy when ‘personal satisfaction’ is the yardstick.
By the middle of the 19th century, social critics were already noticing how happiness was losing its social, spiritual, moral and intellectual anchors and becoming a form of emotional masturbation. In his classic 1863 work, Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill scorned this trend: ‘Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,’ he opined.
Total satisfaction can actually be a major obstacle to happiness. Artist Salvador Dali lamented: ‘There are days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.’ To preserve the ‘rarity value’ of life one must resist wrapping heaven around oneself. Keeping paradise at a distance, yet within reach, is a much better way of staying alive. People who have it all must learn the art of flirting with deprivation.
The highest forms of happiness have always been experienced and expressed as love. But happiness is being wooed in increasingly autistic ways that lack this vital dimension. In a recent survey only one per cent of people indicated ‘true love’ as what they wanted most in life. Our standard of living has increased but our standard of loving has plummeted. The backlash against today’s narcissistic happiness is rekindling interest in the ancient Greek philosophers who equated happiness with virtue. Especially celebrated by them were loyalty, friendship, moderation, honesty, compassion and trust. Research shows that all these traits are in steep decline today – despite being happiness boosters. Like true love and true happiness, they have become uneconomic.
If we’ve become pigs at the happiness trough, it’s understandable. As higher systems of meaning have withered, life purpose has dwindled to feeling good. Innocence, the lifeblood of happiness, is obsolete. We live on cultural soil perfectly suited for depression
When author John Updike warned, ‘America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,’ he was referring to the superficial mass happiness that prevails when economics successfully conspires to define our existence. I profit, therefore I am. To be happy, gulp something. Pay later. Novelist JD Salinger was so unnerved by the happiness conspiracy that he confessed: ‘I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people are plotting to make one happy.’ The wrong type of happiness is worse than no happiness at all.
Governments are the biggest players in the happiness conspiracy. Any political action aimed at a more people-friendly or planet-friendly happiness is certain to be met with fierce resistance. The best consumers are itchy narcissists who hop, skip and jump from one fleeting desire to the next, never deeply satisfied, but always in the process of satisfying themselves. Our entire socio-economic system is designed to spew out this type of ‘ideal citizen’. Contentment is the single greatest threat to the economics of greed and consumer happiness.
Our ignorance of happiness is revealed by the question on everyone’s lips: ‘Does money make us happy?’ The head of a US aid agency in Kenya commented recently that volunteers are predictably dumbstruck and confused by the zest and jubilance of the Africans. It’s become a cliché for them to say: ‘The people are so poor, they have nothing – and yet they have so much joy and seem so happy.’
I never knew how measly my own happiness was until one day in 1978 when I found myself stranded in a remote western Tanzanian village. I saw real happiness for the first time – since then I have learned that it has vastly more to do with cultural factors than genetics or the trendy notion of personal ‘choice’.
So it didn’t surprise me that an African nation, Nigeria, was found recently to be the world’s happiest country. The study of ‘happy societies’ is awakening us to the importance of social connectedness, spirituality, simplicity, modesty of expectations, gratitude, patience, touch, music, movement, play and ‘down time’.
The small Himalayan nation of Ladakh is one of the best-documented examples of a ‘happy society’. As Helena Norberg-Hodge writes in Ancient Futures, Ladakhis were a remarkably joyous and vibrant people who lived in harmony with their harsh environment. Their culture generated mutual respect, community-mindedness, an eagerness to share, reverence for nature, thankfulness and love of life. Their value system bred tenderness, empathy, politeness, spiritual awareness and environmental conservation. Violence, discrimination, avarice and abuse of power were non-existent while depressed, burned-out people were nowhere to be found.
But in 1980 consumer capitalism came knocking with its usual bounty of raised hopes and social diseases. The following year, Ladakh’s freshly appointed Development Commissioner announced: ‘If Ladakh is ever going to be developed, we have to figure out how to make these people more greedy.’ The developers triumphed and a greed economy took root. The issues nowadays are declining mental health, family breakdown, crime, land degradation, unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, pollution and sprawl.
Writer Ted Trainer says before 1980 the people of Ladakh were ‘notoriously happy’. He sees in their tragic story a sobering lesson about our cherished goals of development, growth and progress. For the most part these are convenient myths that are much better at producing happy economies than happy people.
When normality fails, as it has today, happiness becomes a form of protest. Some disillusioned folks are resorting to ‘culture jamming’ and ‘subvertisements’ to expose the hollow core of commercial society. Others are seeking refuge in various forms of primitivism and eco-primitivism. Spurring this on is intriguing evidence from the field of cognitive archaeology suggesting that our Paleolithic ancestors were probably happier and far more alive than people today. The shift toward ‘Paleo’ and ‘Stone Age’ diets also reflects the belief that they had happier bodies.
There is an exquisite line by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche which touches on one of the keys to happiness: the need to appreciate ‘the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a moment’. Paradoxically, happiness is closer when we kneel than when we soar. Our own nothingness can be a great source of joy.
We usually hitch our emotional wagons to ego, ambition, personal power and the spectacular. But all of these are surprising flops when it comes to happiness. Today’s ‘success’ has become a blueprint for failure.
Visionaries tell us that the only happiness that makes sense at this perilous juncture in Earth’s history is ‘sustainable happiness’. All worthwhile happiness is life-supporting. But so much of what makes us happy in the age of consumerism is dependent upon the destruction and over-exploitation of nature. A sustainable happiness implies that we take responsibility for the wider contexts in which we live and for the well-being of future generations.
Sustainable happiness harks back to the classical Greek philosophies in viewing ethical living as a legitimate vehicle for human happiness. Compassion in particular plays a central role. In part it rests on the truth that we can be happy in planting the seeds of happiness, even if we might miss the harvest.
Some argue that as a society we are too programmed to selfishness and over-consumption for a sustainable happiness to take root. Democracy itself is a problem when the majority itches for the wrong things. But if we manage to take the first few steps, we may rediscover that happiness resonates most deeply when it has a price.
The greatest irony in the search for happiness is that it is never strictly personal. For happiness to be mature and heartfelt, it must be shared – whether by those around us or by tomorrow’s children. If not, happiness can be downright depressing.
John F Schumaker, a US-born psychologist currently living in Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa, is the author of In Search of Happiness: Understanding an endangered state of mind (Penguin).
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