Short takes: Not just any old biker queen tossing magic

by Yule Heibel on January 1, 2005

Happy New Year, dear reader.

Here’s a quote I came across the other day:

One thing is sure. The earth is now more cultivated and developed than ever before. There is more farming with pure force, swamps are drying up, and cities are springing up on unprecedented scale. We’ve become a burden to our planet. Resources are becoming scarce, and soon nature will no longer be able to satisfy our needs.

According to p.45 of Massive Change (the book), the sentiments expressed above are attributed to Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus (incorrectly identified as a Roman theologian from 200 BC — not bloody likely if he’s talking about Christ, too: bad copy-editing can really ruin an “aha”….). But still, it’s an eye-opener to read an old ancient pessimistic sour-puss grumpy-face anti-intellectual like Tertullian make such a huge blooper, isn’t it? If the human race is dying and killing the planet while it’s at it, we’re sure taking a long long time to die.

Since the editors of Massive Change made such an egregious error in dating Tertullian’s quote, one wonders how they did with the Latin translation. “Planet”? What do you think? Did he say “planet”? Does it matter, though, if the gist is the same?

I read somewhere that preachers and imams in Indonesia are telling the faithful that the tsunamis were a sign of God’s displeasure with humans for having strayed too far from “His” path. They must be channelling Tertullian. I have no charitable feelings toward anyone who calls on God’s pleasure or displeasure to “explain” nature, or politics. On a related note, ages ago my son (who’s a history buff) told me about Prince Vladimir of Kiev (10th century), who figures mightily in the founding of Russia. He wasn’t born into any of the major religions, so he sent his envoys about to inform him about what was available, and to learn what would serve his fledgling empire. In the end, he chose Greek Orthodox Christianity, no doubt because of political considerations, but here’s what my son told me about his other options: He rejected Islam because it wouldn’t allow him to drink alcohol; he thought Catholic ceremonies were ugly; and to the Jews he said something to the effect of, “If your god had loved you, he wouldn’t spread you around like this.”

In the United States, George Bush and his Christian fundamentalist followers think that the end of the world is ok, because they’ll get “raptured,” while the rest of us (including Yours Truly, darlings) will go to hell …or someplace at the mall. This makes the poor preachers in tsunami-stricken communities rimming the Indian Ocean seem like beacons of Enlightenment. At least they are saying, “look, let’s behave and be more moral, and maybe the end of the world won’t hit us …again.” Bush & Co. think the End of The World [copyright!] is peachy-keen. He and his ilk are at least as bad if not worse than the most primitive despots the rest of the world has to offer. The preachers and their flocks, who want to behave, can perhaps be “reached” via education and aid. Bush and friends are beyond the pale.
Before me I have two books. In one of them, Breaking Ground, Daniel Libeskind writes,

Think of it: When we consider history, what we see before us are the buildings. Ask us about the French Revolution, and we don’t visualize Danton, we conjure the image of Versailles. If we drift back to Rome, what we see first are the Colosseum and the Forum. Standing beside the temples of Greece or near the circle at Stonehenge, we feel the presence of the people who created them; their spirits speak to us across the divide of history. (pp.3-4)

In the other book, War, by Gwynne Dyer (although I’m referring to the excellent New Edition, 2004, which should be available beyond Canada soon: you must read it), Dyer calls (among other things) on military history as the backbone of our story-telling traditions:

The soldier was one of the first inventions of civilization, and he has changed remarkably little over the five thousand years or so that real armies have existed. The teenage Iranian volunteers stumbling across minefields east of Basra in 1984 or the doomed British battalions going over the top in the July Drive on the Somme in 1916 were taking part in the same act of sacrifice and slaughter that destroyed the young men of Rome at Cannae in 216 BC. The emotions, the odds, and the outcome were fundamentally the same. Battle, the central act of civilized warfare, is a unique event in which ordinary men willingly kill and die as though those extraordinary actions were normal and acceptable. Changes in weapons and tactics have not altered those essential elements of its character. [p.6, from War; The New Edition (2004)]

A bit further on, Dyer adds, “War is a huge, multi-faceted, ancient human institution that is deeply entrenched in our societies, our history, and our psyches. No matter which angle we approach it from, we will initially be in the position of one of the blind men trying to describe the elephant.” (p.11)

On the one hand, we have the architect’s (and art historian’s) view of history as the story of its artefacts, and on the other we have the military historian who tells history as a series of battles. I think it’s important to keep both perspectives in mind, to hold them in dialectical relation to one another, to regard them as bits of the whole, and to consider, whenever possible, all the other bits we might be inclined to leave out when constructing a story. We should be moving toward a sort of distributed grid of stories, where we no longer need to hold firm to one central cause, metaphor, or agency. God did not make the tsunamis happen. The earth is not on its last legs.

The other day I looked up the name of a guy I used to fool with lightly 3 decades ago, here in Victoria. His name is Mark, but I heard that he now calls himself by the name of two animals and one galactic object. One animal is a mammal and has a mane, the other is a snake and has knowledge, and the galactic object is “male,” our star, the Sun. Yes, Mark was always very intense, very very very. There isn’t much on the web, but I came across an interview with a Seattle witch who mentions Mark in passing. The Seattle witch has some interesting things to say, along with quite a few things I don’t really relate to at all. For example, re. the former category, he says: “… each person has to come to spiritual truth on their own. You’re not going to significantly change; you never really listen to anyone. Perhaps you should, but you don’t. The most intelligent thing you’ll ever say to your teacher is, ‘Shut up, I’m interpreting.'” Further down, he adds:

The way I look at it, if all magic practitioners in the universe quit doing their work, the sun wouldn’t come up, the seasons wouldn’t come at the right times. The elementals would be totally out of control, and it would be uninhabitable, this place. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be life here, but humans wouldn’t have a place in it.

A lot of what we’re doing to disrupt the environment is a magic we’re doing [ — ] a black magic spell we’re thoroughly involved with. I got a postcard at Momo from this person, and they were saying that Hecate was trying to destroy the planet, and I think it’s just the other way around. From my point of view, it’s the Christian fundamentalists, or the No fundamentalists is more like it, that are out there trying to destroy the planet and wreck the government and social services. They’re doing this because it really doesn’t matter, because it’s all going to be Armageddon soon, in their minds. So there’s nothing to save the universe for.

It isn’t Hecate. She’s the goddess that maintains the universe. She doesn’t want to destroy it. If she did, she’d just quit. [More…]

Excuse me if I say that makes a lot of sense, and I’ll any day take someone like that over a “leader” who tells us that we better straighten out because God doesn’t like us anymore, or that Armageddon and Rapture are ok, or that there’s this really new cool “magical” product down at the local mall that will change my life if I buy it (re: “New Age”).

But that’s just me and my crazy take on this New Year’s Day…
See? It’s a rainbow, and it really takes all kinds. What you put in your parking meter — watch it. And don’t follow leaders.


Doug Alder January 2, 2005 at 3:06 am

I wish I had your confidence in our future Yule but I don’t.

Peter Barrett the lead researcher at the Antarctic Research Center had this to say last month when accepting the 2004 Mardsen Medal

“Thank you Minister and colleagues for this Marsden Medal award and my good friend John Gamble, now a Professor in Ireland, for thinking the nomination was worth a shot.

I am described as a scientist but really I have always been an explorer. And one that never really knew where he was heading. I was just interested in understanding the earth, and working with like-minded people. And was lucky enough to graduate from King Country caves Via the United States to the mountains of Antarctica. Forty years later I am part of a huge community of scientists who have become alarmed with our discoveries we know from our knowledge of the ancient past that if we continue our present growth path we are facing the end of civilization as we know it – not in millions of years, or even millennia, but by the end of this century. But we still have time to convince our leaders so we can at least relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.”

see for his reasons for saying that. I’d like to believe that he’s wrong but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that he’s right.

Yule Heibel January 2, 2005 at 9:37 pm

I think pessimism is highly overrated. Not on the part of scientists and researchers, but certainly as a general popular mood. Unfortunately, I think the same thing about optimism, too.

I could care less about one more prediction that we’re facing the end of civilisation as we know it, the end of the human species, the end of the environment. I’m more interested in finding ways to push the political will of our so-called leadership into action. There’s a lot we can do (and when I read the suggestions on that link about what you, as an individual, can do: well, I’ve been doing all of those things for years — it’s way beyond what the individual can do), but it has to be addressed systemically and collectively.

There’s a neat little audio clip (47 min. long) you can listen to of Bruce Mau (“Massive Change”) talking with Dick Gordon & radio audiences on The Connection. I think it’s in this clip that I heard him say that at the beginning of the 20th c., the US relied on oil for 2% of overall energy usage , and at the beginning of our century, it relies for 2% on solar. Think about that. Everybody knows that the fossil fuel economy and suburban sprawl are unsustainable. What if, by, say, 2020, we (and I mean the world) are relying on solar for say, 30%? And hydrogen for 20%? And wind for 10%? If there’s a political will, this can happen. Keeping people all depressed with endless bad news just makes them either cynical or punchy or …religious. Ugh.

And what about all the successes we’ve had in ecological restoration? When my mother was very young, she used to swim in the Rhine River. Then it got so polluted that, if you threw organic matter into it, the thing you threw in would practically dissolve. Now it’s “clean enough” once again — you can go swimming in parts of the Rhine (not that I’d want to: fast flowing rivers scare the shit out of me). Who would have thought?

We’ve gone from 1 bil. people a hundred years ago to 6 bil. now, and while that’s freakily shocking, think about it this way: we’ve exploded the population like this without yet blowing ourselves up in the process. I think that’s pretty amazing, yet we’re complaining that there are all of “them” out there in the 3rd world who are going to want what “we” take for granted. Shit, my mother used to do laundry by hand, boiling water on the stove (coal-fired) to heat the water for it, scrubbing it on a washboard. Tampons? Sanitary napkins? All rags (hence the expression, “I’m on the rag”), all had to be washed out by hand. Snotty hankies, too. To hell with that. Why shouldn’t women the world over want some of those things that “we” (excepting those of us born to really old parents or born into poverty) take for granted? Build more efficient washing machines, develop fabrics that compost or repel dirt, etc.: make it possible to escape from grinding poverty. Give me a tax break for buying a front-loader (uses less water & less energy, spins clothes drier so they need less time in the dryer, which uses less energy, too) instead of a top-loader: that would be good policy. Sure, that’s only a “little” thing, and can’t compete with rising sea levels. But it’s all those little things — helped along by the right government policies — that will and do add up, and therefore contribute.

When more and more people migrate to cities, they will have fewer children, and land will get freed up (I’m not talking about the North American suburban sprawl, but again, that’s why I already live in a city, why I’ve never lived in “the country” [which, unless it’s a hundred miles from a town and means no houses around for ten acres or so, is basically suburban sprawl-land], and why I don’t understand the “get back to nature” movements — yeah, it’s true that sustainability is impossible if we’re all going to insist on having our eco-friendly bit of 2-acre turf abutting protected forest conservation lands, as we moan about population explosion; I had friends like that in Massachusetts: “ooh, I’ve got my 2 acres in a Boston commuter-village with conservation lands next door — and an suv for getting around”…). Empower women, too: does anybody think “Third World” women want to have 8 or 10 or 14 children if they have the choice?? Fuck that, they don’t. And if you finally let them have power over their own reproductive rights, they won’t. And if you finally let them have education, many won’t have children at all, or they’ll have them really late, because there’ll be other things to do, too. And if you let them live in liveable cities, many won’t feel the need for big families as safety nets. And equall rights for women, finally, irrevocably, written into law and legislation.

As I replied (yesterday) to Melanie in my “sharia in Ontario” post from December 20, it’s a quantity-and-quality issue, too. We need to learn to think both more critically and more mathematically.

Think about the 2% figure — and how drastically that changed over the course of 2 or 3 generations. It can again. Think about the furious increase in population in the last hundred years, and how we haven’t demolished ourselves yet. We have the ability to steer this thing in the right direction. We have to.

maria January 4, 2005 at 1:49 am

It seems our household is in that 2% of solar users. Since we have sun around our hosue from sunrise to sunset, instead of buying mor trinkets, we invested in a solar power system on our roof, so that int he summer, we are actually giving power back to the grid … and during balckouts, we still have power, thanks to the battery system that our installation came with. Also, I switched years ago to a front-loading washing machine, saving not only on energy, but also water, which in California is becomign a scarce resource. Since I have been doing (or rather “not” doing my own gardening) I have saved on water usage there too … as well as not having to employ people with oil-powered leaf blowers!!! (A big thorn in my side — for many reasons).

In California and espeically where I live, we recycle paper, plastic and cans. Most of us have composting bins — and yet, even here, among the “enlighted,” I see increasingly more Hummers … and it just boggles my mind!!!!

But, as Yule said, “we do have the ability to steer this thing in the right direction,” so I have just enough hope not to let pessimism narrow my vision.

Yule Heibel January 4, 2005 at 2:13 am

I remember your entry from Dec.7 when you blogged about the power lines going down, but how your household kept going because you have those solar panels — that’s a great story, as well as being terrific that you have those solar panels. (We’ve had a very overcast winter, but maybe we could use an improved technology for the summer months here?)

It’s true that it’s a couple of steps forward (recycle, compost, energy-efficient appliances), and another step back (there goes another Hummer or whatever — Massive Change has this example of a 125 lb woman taking her Toyota Sequoia to the local video store/ strip mall to drop off a video and pick up a container of milk: she drives a car that weighs 44 times as much as she does, which amounts, in medieval earlier terms, to her sitting on a chair being carried by 44 people: absurd, right? — so why isn’t more done to make it possible for her to take, for eg., a Segway [not that I like them], which weighs 60% of her body weight?), and not just Hummers, but how about a Maibach which costs about as much as 15 average families make in a year? So now you have a man (gender parity) being carried by 15 families consisting of 4 to 6 people each to the video store…. Brrr! That’s a pretty huge step backward, and it makes the coffee grounds I shake out into the compost container every morning and every afternoon look like …crap. But things add up, even on the paltry side of the register.

Anyway, re. my little outburst about the laundry and rags above, what I also meant to suggest I guess is that women have been cleaning up after themselves and after men for quite a long time, in no small part because they’ve been shamed into it (as in: women are “unclean” and “leak” and “bleed,” so I’d like to see the reaction of men if they tripped over women’s rags in living room or bedroom; women need to be segregated because they are “unclean,” women need to wash up after themselves and after their children and after their men; women need to hide and be hidden, and all the usual bs), but men have always expected women to clean up after them. This isn’t to say that men haven’t had a rough deal and haven’t worked hard in other spheres — they have. But there’s this idea that cleaning up (along with fetchin’) is women’s work, and all of a sudden it’s global, and men are finally noticing. Housework — don’t get me started. There’s an analogy there, somewhere.

Kate S. January 4, 2005 at 4:18 pm

THIS is why I didn’t want to get married in the first place. You can take the boy out of the woods of Arkansas, but you can’t take the woman’s head out of the toilet.

Alas, at least there are much easier ways to scrub the toilet bowl now and if I hum a tune, I stop grinding my teeth, cleaning up after Himself. HIM, who would rather shoot himself than lift a finger around the house. Ack. Don’t get ME started. Women’s work. Bah. The only “women’s” work I know of is birthing babies.

Doug Alder January 4, 2005 at 5:52 pm

I have always cleaned up after myself, even through a couple of marriages 😛 then again Virgos tend to be neat …..

Yule Heibel January 5, 2005 at 1:24 am

Kate, I remember an entry you had about a year ago: wasn’t it that you were practically killed in your own home by carbon monoxide fumes, due in part to Himself’s lethargy at getting out of the chair to see if there was something wrong with the furnace?

My husband is pretty good about cleaning, except when it’s clearly the case that he’s been sitting at his desk for 50+ hours per week, trying to do his part to get this start-up he works for to begin making any money, while I (the homeschool parent) have been making no money at all, and when we then both spend our Saturday cleaning the house, I hear an awful lot of griping. To avoid that, I now try to get it done myself, before the weekend rolls around. It’s efficient, but it’s not fair. It would be easier if I were a natural-born slob, but unfortunately, I’m not: I can’t stand clutter beyond a certain point, and I hate it when the dust starts to obliterate the outlines of the furniture so that you can only guess at the shape of the table or lamp. 😉

Doug, you are a noble exception who’s probably not so very-very rare — I’ve known a number of male neat-niks, just as I’ve known a number of female dungbeetles. But it’s still something drummed into us (women), mirrored in all that religio-cultural (and utterly unscientific) baggage of uncleanness.

(I think shame has a lot to answer for. If I were Emperor, I’d get rid of it.)

Kate S. January 8, 2005 at 3:34 pm

Yes, I wrote about the co2 fumes — and not being heard, till I had to raise my voice to a shrieking pitch, then was treated with patronizing condescension by both Himself and the furnace repair man.

After I wrote about that, I received many nasty emails and comments from people calling me a “typical feminist,” a “feminazi,” and a typical “woman, who’s never satisfied,” including one accusing me of suffering from both “PMS … AND cabin fever, simultaneously,” making me a danger to be around and he wished my husband “good luck in the handling” of me.

I almost stopped blogging.

Doug, you are a jewel. (I’m not even going to mention that both my husband and myself are Virgos.)

Yule Heibel January 10, 2005 at 7:35 pm

Good grief, Kate, that’s just terrible that people are so …I don’t know, what’s the word?, “stupid” comes to mind, as “benighted,” that they would send you emails & comments just because you spoke up. That’s really upsetting.

Now, as for Virgos: one of the messiest women I ever knew was a Virgo… Musta had something in her Ascendant, eh? 😉

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 12:57 am

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