Episode 27, Air Water Food Shelter Kinship Meaning (Part 1)
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- Update on the state of the Podcast
- Request for Feedback from Listeners
- The Human Condition
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Self-Actualization and Flipping the Pyramid
- Maslow’s Revenge
- Current State of Earth Air (Oxygen)
- Our two global lungs; Forest and Phytoplankton
- Current State of Water on Earth
- Current State of Food on Earth
- Principle of Site Repair vs. Inhabiting What’s Left of Natural Places
- Current State of Topsoil on Earth
- Current State of Human Shelter on Earth
- Current State of Social Cohesion – How we form Tribes
- Current State of Human Esteem – Then vs. Now
- Current State of Self-Actualization (Sense of Meaning/Purpose in Life)
- Current State of Energy
- Current State of Economy
- The Tough Questions that Must Follow
Hello my friends, I’m sorry for the long time radio silence I guess I kind of dropped the mic there for a bit, but you know how life is. This Podcast is the labor of love but it’s also pretty time consuming especially because I like to take my time and do quality work and really put a lot of thought into it. But this work doesn’t exactly pay the bills, so last year when the bills weren’t getting paid I sadly had to drop it so I could focus my time on income instead. But I’m starting it up again with a new model to trying to make it sustainable for the long term.
So Patreon is a website service where you can go to become a Patreon to this podcast, which basically means you’re helping to keep the show in the air by contributing just a few dollars a month. Once enough listeners become Patreons then the show will become financially self sustaining. So if you find these Podcasts enjoyable or valuable in some way and want them to continue then please consider becoming a patreon on Patreon.
For this episode I’m taking a kind of a unique approach because it’s been so long since the last episode, I thought it would be good to sort of treat this a fresh start and there’s a really great TED talk by Simon Sinek that’s called “Start With Why”. And he basically talks about you know, when you work in a group of people it’s important if you want to get organized to not just start with talking about what you want to do as a group or how you want to do it, you know the practical stuff but start with “Why – Why we are doing this?”. And that’s really important because that lays the ground work of everything else, all the work that is to come.
I noticed a lot of my thought and attention these days goes into all this political banter and one side or the other and all these different wars and conflicts going on and all these problem and then not to mention my own personal life, all the practical stuff that I got to think about and deal with. But I just wanted to take some time here to try to pull away some of those distractions that are certainly deserving attention and some of them are very important of course and we need to get by in our daily life, but I think it’s also important to sometimes put those aside and try to look at the bigger picture and get a birds eye view of where we came from as a people, where we’re at, and where we’re headed. Or where we can go if we choose.
So that’s what I’m going to try to begin to do this episode, is to try to just revisit some of those fundamental principles, try to get some perspective where we are at in the world, trends, and a lot it is to help me personally to organize my own thoughts. So this is kind of a multi functional little creation here, it’s not just to put out good ideas but it’s also to help me organize my ideas and then I know that inevitably I’m going to be broadcasting not just my good ideas and insights, but I know that I’m going to be broadcasting my biases and my blind spots. So, that’s another point where you can come into this system my dear listeners and provide constructive feedback on these ideas and share your own perspective and stories and thoughts.
Now obviously you can’t do that live, but you know there’s a comment section for this episode on the blog realeyeshomstead.com and if you find the episode on there you can find there’s a comment section below and that’d be great place. We also have Facebook page and all the usual stuff.
There’ll be few main parts to this episode. I’m going to start out by doing a survey of kind of our basic biological human needs. So you know food, energy, shelter, connection, love that type of thing. (our global life support systems) And look at those within the context of how we go about meeting those needs and how that has changed over time especially from pre-agriculture revolution and then after the agriculture revolution and now into modern technological age. So, looking at that transformation in this specific context of how it’s changed, how we go about meeting and supplying our basic needs. I’ll give you a little bit of heads up that there’s going to be some bad news and we’re going to have to go through that stuff because it is important to look at trends and look with very sober eyes at what’s truly happening and where we’re going if things don’t change.
That’d be the first section then the next section is to start to look at possible trajectories for the future, alternatives to choose a different path then the one we’re currently on and then doing a little bit of different trajectories and then looking at some obstacles along the way that we might run into, trying to look at some of the different tools and faculties that we have at our disposal to work with, to work towards those destinations or solutions. And then finally to bring it back to a practical level just to try to think about what we can each do in our personal lives. Just making small changes and how we can just start a small process of shifting our direction, if we’ve been started that most people are already working on that, just looking at answering the question well, “What can I do about this?” There’s these huge global scale issues can become very daunting and make you feel powerless, so I really want to spend a good amount of time focusing on what can I do about it. And what can “we” do about it, “we” being not all humans or the whole country, but “we” meaning you and your friends and your family. The people around you and your sphere of influence.
Without further ado, let’s get started. In the most fundamental ways the human condition hasn’t really changed since tens of thousands of years ago. It seems like most people spend most of their energy simply motivated to find safe secure and a warm place to take shelter, nourishing food to eat, clean water to drink, loving and trust worthy friends and family to share in the joys and work of life with. You know find some meaningful skill or work that you feel contributes to the well being of your community and you’re good at, and go a few layers beyond that. Actually there’s a great model that I often refer back to, that was created by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. He created this hierarchy of human needs, and there’s basically a pyramid. And on the bottom of pyramid are more basic physiological needs, things like food and shelter. And as you move up the pyramid to the next layers, the next layers up would like sense of security and safety. And above that is a sense of belonging, like friends and community, having a tribe. And then above that is a sense of esteem, having a sort of a special place or role that you fill in the community and that sort of look up to you for that. And then at top of the pyramid he adds self-actualization. You could call it reaching your full potential or you could associate with religious ideals or finding your bliss, you know there’s many different things we can associate that with. But basically it’s just being motivated by a good will for the rest of humanity.
And then the general theory here is that, in order to address or put your energy in motivation towards the higher level of pyramid you first need to have the lower levels filled. Like humans are generally not going to be trying to have a sense of belonging in their community if they’re starving or if they don’t have water or they don’t have a safe place to live. Until those basic needs are met, that’s the primary motivating force of a human. And you could say for animals too. So it kind of builds each layer builds upon the next and then of course the humanitarian goal here is to try to ensure that everyone’s lower level needs are met, so that we can all begin to access that self-actualization sphere and when that happens then it’s just puppies and rainbows and then everyone’s enlightened and it’s wonderful, its Utopia. Ok, maybe I’ve gone a little far but you get the idea!
Now for Abraham Maslow the top of the hierarchy was self-actualization but for me it goes quite a bit beyond the self in fact it’s kind of defined as an expansion of your self. There’s this philosopher Peter Singer who had the idea of the Expanding Circle of Empathy and the idea it’s a moral evolution and you start out just focusing about you and your family, and then your circle of empathy gradually expands as you mature and it starts to include your tribe, your neighbors, eventually it can include the whole country, and then eventually could even include other countries and other people, and then as it continues to expand it eventually envelopes basically the entire living world, or even all of existence. So I see that idea which is basically embodying your own kinship with all of life and all of existence and to see the needs of the whole as your own. And I see that kind of like the top or the epitome of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.
People who’ve reached that state, they see their life purpose in service to the healing of our collective wounds, be they physical wounds like the diabetes epidemic, or cancer, or childhood obesity, or social and cultural wounds like economic inequality, status/race/gender biases, or access to education. Or even spiritual wounds like the impoverishment of meaning, the loss of truth as a value, and the detachment from the living material world of creation.
You know, some of our most revered heroes and role models in fact they basically flipped Maslows hierarchy on its head, they flipped the pyramid upside down. And these are people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa and Jesus they were so revolutionary because they put the idea of service and healing for the greater good ahead of their concern for their own personal well-being, they’re physical nourishment and security, and social standing and all that. Instead they insisted and demonstrated by their behavior that if you earnestly put your whole being into the service of the greater good, then all those lower level needs of yours will be met of their own accord. The wisdom of “the crowd” will see to it that you not only have the things you need to get by, but you’ll actually be given an abundance of resources to put into the service of your higher calling.
Now of course these people were not perfect. I think the idea that we often hold of them in our mind, or the stories that we tell creates almost a superhuman idea but they’re still human, they had their imperfections and flaws just like all of us. But still, that idea of putting the whole before the self was partly the revolutionary shift that they inspired, and continue to inspire.
Of course, this is not as simple to execute as it might sound at first. I mean that’s kind of the fundamental principle of so many non-profit organizations and even well-intentioned but maybe unfocused hippy vagabonds both of which maybe they leaped too quickly into the doing without a full analysis or diagnosis of the wound they would be healing and so their efforts or their cures are only partial measures at best, and even a distraction or nuisance at worst. And of course, the wisdom of the crowd is very perceptive to their efficacy, and so their rewards in kind which is not always in correlation with their self-perceived efficacy and this creates a dissonance where we have so many individuals and institutions who, in their obsession with their noble humanitarian mission, end up spending the vast majority of their energy and resources on meeting their basic sustenance needs. Which is kind of like Maslow’s revenge.
So that’s why in these full-self giving endeavors the permaculture principles of small and slow solutions, as well as observation and feedback are so critical. And that’s why the focus of this podcast is a slow and careful analysis of the many interrelated wounds of our world. And the corresponding slow experimentation with potential solutions, then observing and discussing the results of those experiments from a holistic perspective and also discussing their scalability. So that if we are going to put our full-being into something we know for sure we’ve tested it, and we know that it’s going to get results, that the results will be real and lasting, and potent.
Anyways, that was kind of a tangent.
So these are the basic things which motivate people and I’m sure if you look at your own life you can probably see the truth of this theory. And like all theories it’s just a generalization so it’s not always true, there’s always exceptions. But I think it’s helpful to organize our understanding of human motivation.
Alright, so now that we know what people need to flourish let’s do a little report card for the current stage of the planet and where we are at with that, are we meeting peoples basic needs. There’s a lot to cover here so I do apologize that I have to gloss over a lot of things that a lot of the stuff should be revisited and explored deeper, but I’m just trying to give a broad overview and taking kind of a birds eye view at where we are at. It’s kind of like site analysis and assessment of the whole planet.
So if we look at ancient history, air was our oxygen it was never a scarce resource, it was never something that people or animals or anything had to really worry about. And for the most part that’s true today however, if we look at certain trends and project them to the future then we can see problems on the horizon. About half of our oxygen comes from plants on land, primarily forests. And the other half comes from Phytoplankton in the oceans, they are actually converting like fifty percent of our CO2 back in oxygen. So that’s kind of cool I see a little bit of a metaphor there for sort of our lungs, like the plants and the trees and land are one lung, maybe our left lung and then Phytoplankton is our right lung. So how are we doing with forest cover today? Well, actually there’s been a lot of progress in this department. Because it was brought to light few decades ago that deforestation was a huge problem and could not continue. So, a lot of policies were passed and protections were made on the remaining forests. Now it was a bit late because already about eighty percent of the original climax forest had been destroyed, but a lot of them are coming back. But of course it takes thousands of years to get the full multi species complexity of a rain forest, but you know depending what region you’re looking at there’s definitely been some progress. So, North America for the last few decades actually has been stable, the forest cover is not going up but it’s also not going down. In Europe its actually forest covers are increasing gradually, so that’s good news. But there are other places of the world where it’s still declining i.e. South America is the main one with worst declining quite rapidly still also in a lot of Africa, it’s on the decline and definitely large parts of Asia. If you kind of add all that up, then the trend is actually that we’re still depleting forest cover more then we’re allowing it or intentionally planting it, reforesting it back. So, definitely some room for change there but there’s definitely some positive signs that our efforts make a difference. And that forest cover data came from the FAO or the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Now how about Phytoplankton, that’s one maybe a little more mysterious now a lot of people know so much about it, but Phytoplankton is huge. It actually forms the basis of food chain in the ocean. And as I mentioned they convert a lot of our CO2 back to Oxygen. So what’s happening with Phytoplankton today? Well according to our recent studies which was published in nature, the total amount of Phytoplankton and the ocean has declined 40% since 1950. Now that’s a huge number, imagine loosing 40% of your right lung? How much harder it would be to breathe? And the trend is still increasing, at current rate we’re losing about 1% of the total Phytoplankton population per year. So this gives us what, 60 years left? And then we don’t have any oxygen coming out of the oxygen, we lost an entire lung? So the main driving forces major driving forces of this Phytoplankton decline is actually ocean temperatures and specifically all the access carbon dioxide that’s in the air gets absorbed by the ocean. But there’s so much of it now that the Phytoplankton can’t keep up, so it’s actually its decreasing the PH level of the ocean. So this is a trend called ocean acidification. And it’s a very big deal because the ocean becomes more acidic, it kills of a lot of more sensitive small creatures that form the base of the food chain then there could be a cascade of ecological collapse from there. So if I was to give this earthlings a grade on how well we’re managing our air resource, the most vital and essential specifically oxygen I should say. I would say we’re not doing so great, not quite an F but maybe in the realm of the C minus or D. So a lot of improvement there.
Next step, next basic human – no, not just human need, this is just a basic fundamental need of all life, all living things, and that’s water. For life to exist it needs water and our type of water needs fresh water. So what does happen with that? The general trend is that water sheds have become more polluted and they are also being drained down into rivers, lakes and oceans. So less of the water, less of that fresh water is being stored, higher in the land landscape. And the reason for that comes back to plan number 1 which the clearing of land, because when you have hilltop covered in forest, that forest generates a lot of organic matter. And that organic matter can hold on to water moisture and not to mention the tree roots and the plant roots that hold on to that water and slowly release it down in to the water table where it springs back up on the side of the hill and mountains. But if you clear cut the mountain then that water instead of soaking in will tend to rush downhill very quickly all at once causing massive erosion problems and also all the streams that are higher upon the hillside will no longer have a source of water, so they will dry out. So this is a huge issue clearly.
Wet lands is another big one. Wet lands are one of the number one ecological system that clean and filter our water. In U.S and Canada it’s reported that 85% of the original wet lands have been drained or built over. And that trend continues, although not nearly as fast. Wet land destruction declined by 80% in the 90’s and there has been beginning to be some promising policies on a global level is well to protect wet lands, but one of the big problems here is enforcements of those policies, you know you can make all there wonderful treaties and announcements, but if they are not enforced or more importantly if these ideas are not applied in practice then those treaties don’t do much. And I think at one time wet lands were seen as useless, you know because it’s so difficult to build on wet lands and you can’t really do agriculture very well on wet lands on large scale mechanize kind of agriculture, they were very much devalued and hence a lot of them were drained so they could put to better use.
I’ve talked in previous episodes about the water issues as well things like fracking and then the whole flint water crisis. There’s been some really big issues, there’s depletion of ancient aquifers that’s still happening. So not doing so good there either, probably a D minus I would say.
Let’s move on to food. How humans fed themselves throughout all of history and how is it changed? I once spend too much time on this because this is obviously something we discuss on here a lot. But just to give a basic overview, in ancient history or in pre-history times. We’re talking before the agricultural revolution that was roughly around 10 thousand years ago. Well I just want to read a few excerpts to capture a little bit of slightly romantic view of Hunter Gatherer Life in the World. First of all this one is almost canonical here but you know the saying goes, “When Lewis and Clark first encountered the Columbia River in 1805, they wrote about how nearby streams were so thick with salmon that you could almost walk across the river on their backs.” So food was fairly abundant actually with healthy thriving eco systems, there was in fact a lot of food everywhere to enjoy. Sure there were still famines and there were still problems but food was very abundant and how much time did some of these cultures spend in their pursuit of food. Are they just struggling to survive all the time just scrounging around for food, digging and you know all dirty and like we can imagine them all panicked, always trying to find food. I mean look at deer, are they like that? There’s some animals which are like that, like raccoon or something.
Anyways this is from this blog rewild.com, “Between October 1963 and January 1965 Richard Borshay Lee conducted field work with the Kung Bushmen in the Dobe area of Botswana. Presuming that forgers leaving and returning to camp to hunt or gather, presented the closest point of comparison to workers and in the industrial society leaving for the office or factory and coming home at night. And so this is Lee 1968. In all the adults of adobe camp worked about 2 and a half days a week, since the average working day was about 6 hours long the fact emerges that !Kung Bushmen of Dobe despite their harsh environment, devoted from 12 to 19 hour a week to getting food. Even the hardest working individual in the camp, a man named Oma who went out hunting and 16 of the 28 days spent a maximum of 32 hours a week in the food quest.”
It doesn’t sound so bad now when you put it that way.
By the way, I’m not trying to argue that we could or should all go back to a hunter gatherer way of life. That would be a disaster at this point. We have devastated so much of the natural world already, and there are SO many humans. No, I agree with the principle of site repair from Edible Forest Gardens. In order to re-inhabit this planet, as a species, we need to instead go into those places that we’ve damaged and destroyed; old degraded farmland, clear cut forests, old stripmines, vacant lots in cities, heck even the rooftops, and restore them to ecological function. Build soil and restore the nutrient cycle, soak in water and restore the hydrological cycle, and introduce diverse plant-life. This work takes a long time before you start to see the returns, and especially before the land is producing enough to sustain YOU which makes it all the more important that we get started on it ASAP before we reach an emergency when we HAVE to rely on what we can produce from the land around us. Of course it’s much easier to go into an intact ecosystem, which still has fertility in the soil and get it to produce for you, why that’s what we’ve been doing these last 1000s of years and partly what got us into this mess. Lets not go and make the same mistake again. Inhabit the marginal lands and bring them back to life. Do it now, while you don’t have to depend on those lands for your sustenance.
Now with the advent of the agricultural revolution, first of all there’s a big shift to grains and growing grain, and some of the primary reasons there is that grain can be stored for a long time which is good for couple of reasons. Helps to get through periods of famine but also it means that the food supply can be controlled. And so thus, the people can be controlled, so also the advent of agriculture brought about more social hierarchy. Actually it led to a decrease in health and nutrition for quite a while, because the adversity of people diet was a lot lower with agriculture whether growing big mono cultures of just too few different species rather than hunting and gathering from dozens and dozens of different plants and animals for their food. Now the reason that shifted, now we have improved health but that has more to do with industrial and technological revolutions and a lot of advances happening in medicine. So we do have a medicine to compensate for the depleted nutrition of our agricultural diets. However, if you look at how much is spent and how big of a medical business industry is, especially in our country here in the United States. You can clearly see that there are costs to that, that’s why the old principal of let that food be their medicine is so wise and timely, I highly recommend this Podcast with Toby Hemenway who recently passed and it was very tragic but Toby Hemenway the author of Gaia’s Garden. He did this talk at permaculturevoices.com called Liberation permaculture and it’s just excellent they way he outlines and explains how the transformation from a horticulture society to an agricultural society changed, the structure of society and how it affected so many different aspects in layers. So I highly recommend that, and that was actually big inspiration for this Podcast here. Although I’m definitely not trying to reach his level of communication and delivery of understanding.
Now there’s another side issue that is important to talk about when we discuss food and that’s topsoil. So topsoil is created by living organisms, it’s got a lot of decaying organic matter in it and that’s also where most of the nutrients and vitamins and minerals are present and that’s what plants need to grow, especially food plants. So if you want to have nutritious vegetables, then you need nutritious topsoil. Without topsoil, we don’t have food. Without food, we don’t have civilization. So the current trend on a global scale, due to human activities, we have depleted about half of the topsoil that was once present. We continue to deplete it at a rate of about 1% per year, much like the phytoplankton. So that means we have about what — 50 years left if we don’t change our procedures? Now, I’m not going to do a full on analysis of this. This really deserves its whole hour or more.
Basically, the methods of agriculture that had been used and been in practice for the last few thousand years do not manage topsoil in a sustaining way. It actually depletes the topsoil. So what that means is that after people have been farming on a certain patch of land and for a long time then that land gets depleted and then they need to move on to some other piece of land, maybe clear out more forest acreage where there is healthy topsoil because forests generate topsoil because they know what they’re doing. But a typical practice is to clear more forests so that you can move in and extract that rich topsoil with your agriculture. So this is a trend that is also tied to deforestation, so that’s important to understand. The good news is that there is a huge movement now for sustainable agriculture that rebuilds and enriches and protects the topsoil. There is a very strong sense of transforming the food system and how we feed ourselves. That’s really promising. There are still, of course, issues and obstacles especially with regards to access and the costs of real food versus the cheap monoculture, almost nutrient-less food and so on. We’ll definitely want to get into that stuff later but at least it seems like there is an awareness out there and people are taking action. Still there is a long way to go in terms of actually providing most of our calories from sustainable forms of agriculture or better yet, horticulture. But it’s within sight, it is certainly graspable.
How did we need our shelter needs in the past and how do we meet them today? In the past, our shelter will be built with local. Natural materials because it’s a lot of work to haul all these heavy materials long distances. So why not just use what’s available? Also, typically the whole tribe would work together to help build the shelters. In the end, you’ll end up with a shelter that was built out of local, natural materials and you wouldn’t have any debt other than when someone needs a house, then you go lend them a hand. I very much prefer that form of non-measured debt that doesn’t have interest. It’s very different than the debt-system that we have now which is one means of providing ourselves with shelter. Plus, nowadays, a lot of the building materials are of course created in unsustainable ways. A lot of building materials end up turning into landfill problems. A lot of issues there. A huge one is heating our shelters, how actually the energy that we use to heat our shelters. I know this is not directly tied to shelters, it’s more of an energy issue but they’re connected because if we built our shelters a lot bigger as we are today than what we used to and they’re not very well insulated, that means it’s going to take a lot more energy to heat them and energy is a limited resource. This is something that’s very hard to change but there is a natural building movement that’s awesome, just communal events coming together ad working together and building each other’s homes without any expectations of a debt to be paid.
Another big transformation that’s happened is in how we connect to our tribe or our community. So in the past, your tribe was whoever was living immediately around you because there were limitations on travel so inevitably, the people that you live closest to were the ones that you interacted with most and hence, the ones that you depended on the most, the ones that you had the strongest relationship with (usually that was with family). It all kind of made sense. Now, with the advent of fossil fuels and the convenient transportation system, typically our tribe is a group of people who live all over town, distributed. So then we must use more resources and energy in order to get together and have our gatherings. Our gathering are no longer simply just being together to do the work of life (harvesting, milling, building, etc.), we have to make an intentional, separate event where we’re all just getting together for a specific purpose of being social and being connected to others. So very, very detached from the ecological land base that we’re all sharing here. When we look at family, families have also (especially in the US) really spread out all over the country. So that now requires an even bigger investment of energy for people to make regular cross country trips to go visit their various family members.
How about esteem? In the past, I think people got their esteem by having skill and being of service to their community using their skill. Maybe it’s a good hunter, or someone who is really good with plant medicines or a builder or something like that, that’s what gave you your esteem, your sense of esteem. Now, at least in popular culture, esteem for a person comes more from their material outward signs of success, such as their luxury and their consumptive lifestyle. That becomes the goal that other people measure themselves against and try to live up to and it doesn’t really enrich others or the natural world around them.
What about the top of the triangle, the self-actualization?
It seems to me that in, more traditional cultures the living world was seen as sacred and that humans were just one small part of this much larger, much more powerful living world. And that this world around was full of invisible, animate forces and entities. They had certain people in the community, Shamans, who communicated between the human world and the spirit world and that helped enable the tribe to survive, to foresee maybe some of the weather patterns that were coming or understanding different plants and how they can be used in their environment for the benefit of the people. Also, when the dead would die, they stayed in this world. Our ancestors are ever present, rather than going off to some other place like heaven. So this pattern is something that I learned from the book, “The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram, which has been a very influential book and I highly recommend it. He went and traveled the world and lived with a lot of the medicine people of more traditional cultures in an effort to learn about medicine, the relationship between magic and medicine. But he ended up having a whole different discovery and insight which is the connection between the Shaman and the natural world. This is how he describes the situation. “The medicine person’s primary allegiance then, is not to human community, but to the earthly web of relationships in which that community is embedded — it is from this that his or her power to alleviate human illness derives and this sets the local magician apart from other persons. Countless anthropologists have managed to overlook the ecological dimension of the Shaman’s craft while writing at great length of the Shaman’s rapport with “supernatural” entities. We can attribute much of this oversight to the modern civilized assumption that the natural world is largely determinate and mechanical and that that which is experienced as mysterious, powerful and beyond human ken must therefore be of some other nonphysical realm above nature – “supernatural”. Yet we still refer to such enigmatic forces respectfully now as supernatural for we’re unable to shed the sense so endemic to scientific civilization of nature as a rather prosaic and predictable realm unsuited to such mysteries. Nevertheless, that which is regarded with the greatest awe and wonder by indigenous, oral cultures is, I suggest, none other than what we would call nature itself. The deeply mysterious powers and entities with whom the Shaman enters into a rapport are ultimately the same forces — the same plants, animals, forests and winds that to literate, “civilized” Europeans are just so much scenery, the pleasant backdrop of our more pressing human concerns.” I really want to do a whole episode on this but as human civilization or human society moved out of the natural world and into this almost exclusively human-built environment of buildings and fences and roads and other tools of human culture, we’ve also felt like the spirit realm is no longer here with us. We’ve sort of displaced it into some alternate dimension, the supernatural realm and only in very infrequent, rare and subtle ways do these two worlds interact. It’s a very different concept than you’re in a continuous communion with the spirts and some of these other forces. I think there is definitely something there that deserves a closer look and a closer analysis.
Energy. This is not actually something that humans needed, at least in its current form, in the form of electricity and fossil fuels. Those were not even necessary for life for most of human history. It’s only a very recent invention and now we’ve become so dependent on them that we consider them a basic need so I’m going to discuss them in this list of basic needs re-sustenance. In 2013, of the total energy consumption on the planet, about 87% of it was fossil fuels. That 87% is divided pretty evenly between oil, gas and coal with the remaining 13% a pretty good chunk is nuclear, a pretty good chunk is hydro, and then some very small slivers for the rest of the renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and bio-fuels.
There is actually a huge discrepancy between different countries and how much energy the average person consumes. This is really fascinating stuff to look at. This is just to give some perspective on how much we depend on fossil fuel energies, specifically oil, in our everyday lives. How so much of the way we organize our everyday as possible because of oil. This is from “The Transition Handbook” by Rob Hopkins, which is another great one and it’s actually a whole movement — the transition movement. I highly recommend to try to reconnect with them given that support. “It is estimated that 40 liters of petrol in a tank of a car –” (so that would, what, 10 or 20 gallons?) “It is estimated that 40 liters of petrol in a tank of a car contains energy equivalent to 4 years human manual labor. It is no wonder that we, in the west, consume on average about 16 barrels of oil a year per capita. Less than Kuwait, where they use 36.” He says, “What do they do? Bathe in it? But far more than China’s 2 barrels of oil per year or India’s less than one. The amount of energy needed to maintain the average US citizen is the equivalent of 50 people on bicycles pedaling furiously in the back gardens day and night. That’s how much energy it takes to sustain one person in the United States”, (an average person, which is most of us by definition). “We have become dependent on these peddlers, what some people refer to as “energy slaves”, but we are. It should also be acknowledged extremely fortunate to live at a time and history with access to amounts of energy and a range materials, products and possibilities that our ancestors couldn’t even have imagined.” What’s amazing is that we are at a point in history where we have the power to do so much, do just about anything and yet we are abusing that power by destroying the very foundation of what made it possible.
Now, another add on basic needs for humans in this day and age that is developed that wasn’t necessary in the past is money, income, finances. Money’s been around for quite a long time, thousands of years but still there was tens of thousands of years before written in history when there aren’t records of money being used. So how did people get by? How did they meet their basic needs if they didn’t have money? Clearly, they had a direct relationship with the source of their needs, they engaged directly with the ecosystems that produced their needs, to meet their needs. They fished for their fish. They didn’t have someone else fish for them that they didn’t have to pay to fish. As this side grew a little more complex, certain people are better at fishing than others and other people are better at building baskets. So maybe they would do exchanges. Sometimes, these would be closely measured and watched like a bird and other times it was more free flowing, it was more a gift economy. As long as everyone kept giving and giving then everyone would have what they needed.
There’s a really nice description of an example of this in the book “Sacred Economics” that I wanted to share. So this is a famous example of the gift economy. It’s called the “kula system” of Trobriand islanders in which precious necklaces circulate in one direction from island to island and bracelets in the other direction. It was first described in depth by the anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski. Kula, which literally means “circle” is the lynch pin of a vast system of gifts and other economic exchanges. Marcel Mauss described it as follows: “The system of gift through exchange permeates all the economic, tribal and moral life of the Trobriand people. It is impregnated with it, as Malinowski very neatly expressed it. It’s a constant give and take. A process is marked by a continuous in all directions of presents given, accepted and reciprocated. While the pinnacle of the Kula is the highly ritualized exchange of ceremonial bracelets and necklaces by chiefs. The gift network surrounding it extends to all kinds of utilitarian items: foods, boats, labor and so forth. Outright barter, according to Mauss is unusual. In any event, generally, even what has been received and comes to one’s possession in this way, in whatever manner, is not kept for oneself unless one cannot do without it.” In other words, gifts flow continuously only stopping in their circulation when they meet a real present need.
Here is Lewis Hyde perception of this principle of the gift. “The gift moves toward the empty place. As it turns in its circle, it turns towards him who has been emptied the longest and if someone appears elsewhere whose need is greater, it leaves its old channel and moves towards him. Our generosity may leave us empty but our emptiness then pulls gently at the whole until the thing in motion returns to replenish us. Social nature abhors a vacuum.” That was from “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein’s but he was quoting other sources. So that’s one example of how it used to be and potentially how it could be as well but today, instead, we have a massive wealth inequality. We have wage slavery and debt slavery. We have a poverty trap because of the control of access to land and resources. We have fiat currencies and fractional reserve banking that inflate the value of these currencies which essentially steals the value out of those who have so little already. This is another topic. I’m just getting into studying a lot the economic system and I hope to do a lot more on it. A critical piece to understand here is that all these other needs that money has become the middle man to accessing all those other ones. So it’s become a very basic need. It becomes one of the main motivations of most people because they’ve been removed from their land and they’ve lost the skills to take care of their needs themselves for the most part.
There’s obviously some contrary examples but for the most part, people need to make money in order to have their shelter, in order to have their food, to have access to their water, to be able to go see their friends and family. So we’ve replaced a connection with the surrounding ecosystem and a dependence on it with a connection to and dependence on the economic system, which is much more recent development. How long does the economic system been around, a few hundred years? The ecosystem as a whole has been around for millions and billions of years. An important question has arisen: which system is better at meeting the needs of most people? Anyway, things to address in the future.
Now, you can take a deep breath here because that part’s over. But now comes the important questions.
What do we do when faced with the stark realities presented here?
Stay tuned next week as we grapple with these questions more.
Thank you for listening this week. 🙂