Soothsayer Day

 

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
— Benjamin Franklin, in reply to a question about what sort of government the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention had settled on.

February 2 is the day some people, primarily in North America, attempt to divine the next six weeks of weather by observing groundhogs who briefly exit from winter hibernation in their burrows. If it’s a sunny day, the groundhog will see his or her shadow and, counter intuitively, those watching the animal will pronounce six more weeks of wintry weather. On a cloudy day, with no shadows in sight, the prediction is for an early start of spring weather. People in some parts of Europe have a similar tradition involving different animals, such as badgers in Germany and hedgehogs in Britain.


Emerged from hibernation in February, groundhog takes leaves to line the burrow nest or toilet chamber DSCN0900
Emerging briefly from hibernation in February 2014, a groundhog takes leaves to line its burrow nest or toilet chamber. Photo by Ladycamera.

This is all silliness, of course, with no proof of accuracy, but it is mostly harmless except for possibly obnoxious intrusions on the lives of peace loving groundhogs. In ancient Rome, prognostication using animals took a more deadly turn. All sorts of animals – chickens, sheep, and goats among them – were confined until the day they were sacrificed for the purpose of having a kind of priest called a haruspex examine the dead animal’s entrails for signs of the future. This was deadly serious business, not only for the sacrificial animals, but for the generals and politicians who often did not make a move unless the signs from the entrails were auspicious.

There is no record proving the consistent accuracy of haruspicy (divination by the inspection of entrails), just as there is no record for the accuracy of groundhogs at predicting the weather based on the presence or absence of cloud cover on a particular day. Nonetheless, people have been wasting their time and efforts on these methods of divination for millennia. The ancient method, haruspicy, was a nasty business all around, while Groundhog Day observations cause little harm and are of no consequence.


The Danish National Symphony Orchestra performs a suite of themes from Ennio Morricone’s music for the 1968 Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time in the West. Tuva Semmingsen performs the vocals that were sung by Edda Dell’Orso on the original soundtrack recording.

 

What about reading the signs of the times, such as looking at newspapers to follow developments in the republic called the United States of America? What about a Senate majority of Republicans who vote to exclude witnesses in the impeachment trial of a corrupt president? What about a Republican state legislator in Montana who maintains that the Constitution of the United States sanctions the shooting and imprisonment of Socialists, merely for being Socialists? What about the chortling lunatics cheering on Orange Julius as he threatens and demeans his opponents at his demented pep rallies? And what about those same cheering, jeering lunatics threatening violence if their Chosen One is removed from office either by impeachment or by the results of an election?

Those signs and others are easy enough to read for anyone paying attention to developments in order to honor the obligations of an informed citizen. There are those citizens, however, who are too lazy to pay attention. Very well; they should continue in their laziness and stay home on Election Day in nine months, rather than show up and vote for the incumbent president simply because the wolf is not yet at their door. And then there are those voters, more culpable in the decay of the republic than anyone else, who are interested only in the health of their financial portfolio, and who are deaf and blind to the cries and despair of anyone shut out of the bounty and suffering under the oppression of the oligarchy. The signs now point toward a Tyranny by Corporate Oligarchy, and if citizens continue to choose it by doing nothing, then after Election Day in November there will be no going back and we will have gotten the government we deserve.


— Vita


For those who can’t get enough of the sound of the loss of the republic, here it is on the theremin. Katica Illényi performs with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra in Budapest, Hungary.

 

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Speaking Volumes

 

What kind of English word is “Winnemucca”? How about “taco”? “Fond du Lac”? People who get bent out of shape over other people speaking languages besides English while out in public in this country probably fail to realize how many English words have their origin in other languages. As much as 30 percent of English words are borrowed from the world’s thousands of languages. It would be difficult or impossible for the average English speaker to use only Anglo-Saxon words.

 

In the United States especially, where nearly 100 percent of the population comes from elsewhere in the world, the English language is a polyglot mixture made up of additions from languages everywhere, and yet it stands apart in its diction, its spelling, and in other ways. Place names preeminently use some version borrowed from the many Native American languages that have all but disappeared otherwise. What does it mean to send somebody back where they came from, when almost everybody came from somewhere else at one time? Send them back where? To Ohio? To Florida? If we go back far enough in time, almost everyone will have to leave, and the Native Americans – what is left of them – will no doubt feel immense relief, as of an oppressive burden lifting away from them.

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The Tower of Babel, a painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525/1530-1569).

Exclusionary talk is loco chauvinism. It is meshuga, and yahoos who go on about sending others back where they came from are clearly non compos mentis. They should examine their own origins, which in the latest generation or two or three might be in places like Tulsa, Santa Fe, Tennessee, or Baraboo, but going back further could be traced to Scotland, or Frankfurt, or Sarajevo, and ultimately to Africa. White folks weren’t always white, and anyway no deity ever descended from the heavens to declare whiteness a superior trait. It only matters to people who are terrified of losing their imagined superior place in society, and must have Others to look down upon. Ordering Others to speak English when they are conversing among themselves is not only high-handed, it ignores how immigrants have enriched and informed English itself with words and expressions from everywhere. The proper remark for an English-only speaker to make in that case, if any is necessary at all, is gracias, or merci, or danke, or mahalo, or arigatô, or . . .
— Ed.

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) sang a North American version of “I’ve Been Everywhere”, a song written in 1959 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack, and which in the original version included all Australian place names, many of them originating in the languages of the Australian Aboriginal peoples.

 

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Daffodilly March

 

In most of the country, daffodils (genus Narcissus) bloom in March and are among the first signs of spring. Some places might have blooms as early as February, and others not until April. In all places, the leaves pop up from the ground while freezing weather is still frequent, and inexperienced gardeners and curious onlookers worry that the plants have come up too early and will suffer damage from the cold. Not to worry. The daffodils have been through it all before and will be fine. Any damage they do incur from late winter weather usually comes from being bent down to the ground or snapped by the weight of a late snow or ice storm.

 

Deer, rabbits, and squirrels do not eat daffodil bulbs, foliage, or flowers since they are toxic. The plants spread by jumping from place to place by seed dispersal as well as increasing into clumps formed by daughter bulbs dividing from their parent bulbs, rather like offspring who have matured and set up housekeeping next door. Not all daffodils are noticeably fragrant, and as often happens with flowers it is the older, original varieties that are most fragrant, because plant hybridizers sometimes lose that aspect in pursuit of other traits such as size or color. Trade-offs.

Narcissus poeticus
Narcissus poeticus. Photo by Jean-Jacques MILAN.

Despite a substantial list of pests, fungi, and viruses that can adversely affect daffodils, in practice they should not gravely concern the gardener since the daffodils seem to cope well on their own. The worst condition affecting daffodils, particularly their bulbs, comes from poor drainage or excessive water, particularly in winter. Hardly anyone likes cold, wet feet, and daffodils are no exception. On account of the wet winter in most of the eastern half of the United States, daffodil displays may be subdued this March.

In the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago, a long winter finally turns to spring, heralded by a field of daffodils.

About the only thing an American gardener can say against daffodils is that they are not native to North America or to any part of the Western Hemisphere. Daffodils originate from southern Europe and northern Africa. That daffodils are not native here is an academic complaint, however, since the genie can hardly be stuffed back in the bottle at this point. Most of the people living now in the Western Hemisphere do not belong here, either, and it’s possible to argue they have done far more damage to the native habitat than anything innocent daffodils could have done. On the contrary, daffodils perform a great service everywhere because their trouble free disposition, loosening of hard soils, and cheerful announcement of spring give a greater portion to the gardener and non-gardener alike than they require in return.
— Izzy

 

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The Christmas Goose

 

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and had it published in 1843, the Christmas goose was a traditional feast, and turkey was an uncommon replacement. Goose was relatively inexpensive and plentiful, and turkey was quite the opposite in Europe at least, where it was not native. After Scrooge, the rich man, has metamorphosed into a warm, charitable human being, he makes a gift of a turkey to the family of his clerk, Tom Cratchit. At the time, a gift of a turkey for Christmas dinner was considered quite an upgrade over goose.

Mixed Greylag & Canada Goose flock, Netherlands
A mixed Greylag and Canada geese flock in a farm field in The Netherlands in February 2011. Photo by Uwactieve. During winter, geese often feed in farmers’ fields, gleaning grain fallen among the stubble of the harvest.

 

Now the tables have turned, so to speak. Turkeys raised on factory farms have become cheap to buy for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, but since they have been bred for size and other characteristics, such as being able to withstand close quarters, flavor has been lost in the breeding. Roast goose, meanwhile, has been largely neglected in Western culture over the past 100 years. At the same time, Canada goose (Branta canadensis) numbers have exploded, to the point they are now nuisances in many urban and suburban areas across North America and even western Europe, where they have been both introduced by people and settled by way of natural migration in the past several centuries.

Canada goose populations have followed a curve similar to that of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), another once common North American animal that European settlers hunted to such low numbers by the early twentieth century that conservationists took measures to curtail hunting and preserve and protect both species. From that low point in the early twentieth century, Canada geese and white-tailed deer have rebounded to numbers higher perhaps than they were before Europeans migrated to North America. Both species have adapted so well to modern urban and suburban development, liking and even preferring some human-made habitats over undeveloped country, that many people now consider them pests, and even expanded hunting seasons cannot keep up with controlling their booming numbers.

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Canada geese have found well-tended parks and golf courses with water features to be ideal habitats year round, making long migrations unnecessary. Photo by Marta Boroń.

Some municipalities in North America hire hunters to cull Canada geese and white-tailed deer, donating the meat to food banks. It’s an interesting development that in 150 years goose has once again become the roast meat at the center of holiday dinners for some poor folks like the Cratchits. They are perhaps eating some of the same Canada geese that have been pestering the rich folks on their golf courses, though naturally the municipalities paying to cull geese to help feed the poor would only do so on public lands, such as public golf courses and parks, and not on privately owned golf courses, since everyone knows rich people don’t believe in government assistance for anyone but themselves.
— Izzy

 

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The Artist’s Rendering

 

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
— Words of Jesus Christ quoted in Matthew 22:21, King James Version of the Bible.

Mona Lisa moustache
Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) Mona Lisa, with digitally added mustache. Derivative work by Perhelion.

 

This past Friday evening at a Sotheby’s art auction in London, the English graffiti artist Banksy remotely activated a shredder hidden within the frame of his painting Girl With Balloon moments after it had sold for one million British pounds. The lower half of the painting shredded, and there is some question now about the status of the sale and whether Banksy’s vandalizing of his own painting will render an even greater value for it.

Discussion of an artwork’s value outside of its aesthetic appeal is a reminder that for the rich who can afford to pay tremendous prices for art the value lies more in other, equally idiosyncratic, considerations than in its aesthetics. For the rich, art is an investment and a step on the ladder of social climbing. They may not find a particular piece they buy aesthetically appealing whatsoever. The essential thing is that enough other important people find an artwork appealing so that its value is driven up, checking off the boxes for high return on investment and an increase in high society credentials for its new owner. The artwork itself may languish in a warehouse after sale rather than go on private or public display.

 

The investment value of an artwork is, like money itself, largely artificial and sustained by the beliefs of the people who hold it or wish to hold it. No one can eat art, any more than they can eat money, nor can they grow food on it like they could on land, nor withdraw food from it as they might withdraw fish from the sea. It has no monetary value unless enough people believe it does. Aesthetic value, on the other hand, is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder, though some people may in their appreciation of art be too dependent on the opinions of “experts”. For an extreme case of wishful thinking brought on by peer pressure, look to the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Titian - The Tribute Money - Google Art Project
The Tribute Money, a painting by Titian (1490-1576).

Before the Renaissance, art was for decoration of public spaces and the homes of the rich, and for religious instruction in places of worship since most people were illiterate and did not receive their education from books. The names of very few medieval and ancient artists have come down to us along with their works. That changed with the Renaissance, when artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael acquired reputations beyond their immediate patrons among the rich and powerful. Note how we have come to know all three by single names, as if they were modern day celebrities. And it was the widening of cultural influence beyond the insularity of any one city-state’s walls during the Renaissance that allowed artists to break out of anonymity.

The international renown of a few popular artists such as Rembrandt was slow to build at first, and their artworks commanded modest prices by today’s standards. It is the international culture of today and the concentration of great wealth among an ever smaller percentage of the population that has enabled the explosion in high prices for the artworks of a relatively small number of well known artists. The last great jump in prices was roughly during the Gilded Age around the turn of the twentieth century, when a great concentration of wealth created a new aristocracy of capitalists.

In the 1941 film Citizen Kane, wealthy newspaper publisher and art collector Charles Foster Kane, modeled on tycoon William Randolph Hearst and played by Orson Welles, discusses his changing economic circumstances with his banker Mr. Thatcher, played by George Coulouris, and his longtime assistant Mr. Bernstein, played by Everett Sloane.

Now there is another concentration of wealth occurring, this time on a worldwide scale rather than limited to Europe and North America. Nothing has changed, of course: as always, the rich get richer. It’s the scale of wealth accumulation that has changed, and when artworks are selling for hundreds of millions of British pounds or American dollars, a mere million for a painting by anti-establishment artist Banksy is entry level stuff. The rich people sitting on mountains of the wealth of the world would not flinch at shredding a million pounds, and the irony of one artist’s rendering matters not at all to them as long as the artist’s growing fame increases their return on investment.
— Vita

10/8/2018 Update: Since last Friday, when Banksy’s Girl With Balloon partially shredded after being sold at auction for about £1,000,000, its value has increased by at least 50%, and may have doubled.

 

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No One Gets Out Alive

 

There’s a wonderful feeling that comes with stepping outside into the cool of the evening after a hot day. There are a lot of little things that go toward making life pleasant if a person has been lucky in their circumstances. Living past middle age into one’s sixties and seventies is a great blessing, and while there may be pain associated with such longevity, most people would accept the trade-off. Asking for more life is almost too much. There are others waiting.

Into the Jaws of Death 23-0455M edit
“Into the Jaws of Death”. United States soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division wade ashore on Omaha Beach, France, on the morning of June 6, 1944. During the initial landings on D-Day, as many as two thirds of the soldiers in some infantry companies became casualties. Photo by Coast Guard Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent.


In the Native American cultures of North America, everything is living and everything eventually returns into the cycle of life when it dies, including people. In Old World cultures, and particularly those of Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, almost everything is regarded as dead or inert, and when people die their passing has finality. No one in either culture knows for certain what happens after death, but it seems evident to some people that in a living world where a person is one part joining a river flowing to the sea, there is less terror in death, and more an acceptance of it as a metamorphosis into another part of life.
— Izzy

 

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The Root of the Matter

 

Growing ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not all that difficult in most parts of the United States as long as the grower understands that except in the warmest zones of the country, ginger is unlikely to produce mature rhizomes. Ginger has a nearly year long growing season, and in three fourths of the country that means it will only produce baby ginger rhizomes even with assistance from the grower to keep the plant warm at the beginning and the end of the growing season. Baby ginger is catching on in culinary circles, however, where it can be used to lighter effect than the full grown type.

Ginger plants
Ginger plants (Zingiber officinale). Photo by Ramjchandran.

The portion of a ginger plant generally used in cooking and medicine is the rhizome, which is technically an underground stem, but to most people it appears to be a tuber or root, and for practical purposes it makes little difference to them what that part of the plant is called. Like a potato, the ginger rhizome has eyes which are starting points for new growth and indicate to gardeners where to divide the rhizome when propagating the plant. Cut up the rhizome with one eye to each section and then plant the sections. In cases where a gardener is concerned with growing only enough ginger for home consumption, the simplest method of planting is one section of rhizome each to wide, shallow pots, which the gardener can move easily from indoors to outdoors and then back again over the course of the 8 or 9 month growing season.

Why go to even that much trouble for a non-native, tropical plant? There is after all a distant relative that is native to North America, known as wild ginger (Asarum canadense), which Native Americans had used in the past as a spice and a medicine, much like its Asian relative. The difference is that scientists have determined American wild ginger can be poisonous, while Asian ginger is safe to consume. In addition to its salutary effect in food and drink recipes, many people believe Asian ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, and anti-nausea properties. Scientists have not necessarily agreed with all those assessments, though they recognize that in the amounts typically consumed by most people there is no harm to eating ginger spiced foods or imbibing ginger infused drinks.

Asarum canadense 03
Wild ginger plants (Asarum canadense). Photo by Michael Wolf.

Djindjipe
A ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome on a Delft blue European porcelain plate. Photo by Lucyin.

Of all the South Asian and East Indies spices that are well known to Europeans from earliest trading days, only ginger rewards the gardener who attempts growing it outside its native region or outside tropical climate zones without resort to expensive greenhouses. Start it indoors in late winter on a sunny windowsill and keep it there until mid-spring, when it should be safe to move it outdoors, but always with an eye toward nighttime temperature dips. In the fall, bring the potted plants back indoors and start harvesting baby ginger to last the winter while enjoying the beauty of an unusual houseplant with a tropical feel and a warm, spicy scent.
— Izzy

 

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Too Much of a Good Thing

 

Sugar can be derived from numerous plants, including beets, corn, and the fruit of trees, but it has come into its own since the Middle Ages in Europe as the refined product of the sugarcane plant, a perennial grass. The plant originated in New Guinea, and from there traders introduced to Asia, where it eventually found its way to southern Europe by way of Arab merchants. As noted from its origin, the plant grows in tropical or sub tropical climates. Europeans quickly developed a taste for refined sugar, but since the plant would not grow well in Europe or northern Africa, they needed to find either another source or another place to grow, or forever be at the mercy of Arab merchants, who kept the price high.

When European explorers stumbled upon the New World in their search for a trade route to the Far East that bypassed Arab middlemen, they were interested in exploiting sugar resources as much as spices. The tropical and sub tropical bands of the New World – the Caribbean, much of eastern South America, Central America, and the far southeastern portion of North America – turned out to be well suited for raising sugarcane. The problem was finding a suitably cheap labor source for the backbreaking and dangerous labor involved in sugarcane cultivation as well as refinement. The Europeans, after exhausting the Native Americans as a labor source, turned to Africa as a source of slave labor.


There were other plantation crops that Europeans raised in the New World exploiting slave labor, such as tobacco (a plant native to the western hemisphere) and cotton, but sugar was the big money maker for them, the linchpin of Atlantic trade from the 1500s well into the 1800s. Sugar grown on plantations in the New World traveled, some in the form of rum, to northeastern ports of North America and then on to Europe, where it was traded for manufactured goods; some of the manufactured goods then were traded in Africa for slaves, who were loaded onto ships destined for plantations in the New World, their voyage across the Atlantic being known as the Middle Passage of this triangle of trade. Some didn’t survive the voyage, and of the ones who did, many suffered abominably under harsh conditions in the sugar growing regions and elsewhere.

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Pancakes with syrup, or syrup with pancakes? Photo by jeffreyw.

Hundreds of years later, sugar is still exacting a toll from poor black people, as well as poor and working class people generally. The European quest for cheap sugar succeeded all too well. Now it’s found in far too many supermarket foods and beverages, where in the case of processed foods it masks the loss of wholesome flavors. Sugary beverages like soda and many fruit drinks are especially egregious sources of the endocrine disrupting carbohydrates present in refined sugar that can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. These processed foods are easy to prepare and are relatively cheap and, because of the sugar in them, to some people they taste good enough.

“Big Rock Candy Mountain”, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928, is about a hobo’s idea of paradise. McClintock claimed to have written the song in 1895, based on tales from his youth hoboing through the United States. McClintock’s 1928 recording was used by Ethan and Joel Coen at the beginning of their 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

People could cut back their consumption of processed foods, and certainly they could drop sugary sodas and fruit drinks out of their diet and not lose any essential nutrients. People can use will power and self control, even though there is evidence that sugar’s effects on their health are more insidious than industry mouthpieces would have everyone believe. People can do all those things. But they don’t. Why not?

What if crack cocaine were as cheap as sugar? How about cigarettes? Opioids? What levels of consumption would we encounter then among the general population, and among the poor and working classes specifically? All those substances stimulate pleasure centers in the human brain, just like a good hit of sugar does in a smaller way, and all are ultimately destructive in high enough doses. Is sugar as destructive as those other addictive substances? No, not in the short term, and it would be ridiculous to equate a cookie with a hit of cocaine. In the long run, however, over the course of ten, twenty, or thirty years, sugar consumption at modern American levels of a hundred pounds or more per person per year is proving destructive enough. Time to turn some of that exhausted soil in the tropics over from growing monocultures of sugarcane for export to growing fruits and vegetables the locals could consume for themselves. We could easily cut back from two or three lumps of sugar to just one.
― Izzy

 

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The Pigeon and the Chestnut

 

Scientists are attempting to bring the Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, back to life from preserved genetic material. The Passenger Pigeon once numbered up to 3 billion in North America, but by 1914 the last one had died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Scientists are also working on reviving the nearly extinct American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, which had once totaled over 3 billion trees in North America before a bark fungus accidentally imported from Asia with some Chinese Chestnuts, Castanea mollissima, destroyed almost all of the trees in the first half of the twentieth century.
Male Passenger Pigeon
Male Passenger Pigeon; digital painting by Tim Hough.
PSM V84 D563 American chestnut central maryland
American Chestnut tree in central Maryland in 1914; photo by United States Forest Service.
The loss or near loss of both these species greatly changed the ecosystem of eastern North America to the point that a visitor time traveling from the nineteenth century would be hard pressed to recognize it as the same place, never mind all the modern infrastructure of concrete, steel, and asphalt. Both species were casualties of the first stages of globalization. The Passenger Pigeons had co-existed with Native Americans for millennia, but it was the mass immigration of Europeans which eventually drove them to extinction through habitat loss and hunting on a massive scale. The American Chestnuts had no immunity to the fungus which arrived with the shipment of Chinese Chestnuts, which had developed some immunity due to having evolved with the fungus in their native habitat.

 

Now scientists are attempting to restore these two species once so numerous that they helped define the environment of eastern North America. Both restorations will require the expertise of geneticists, along with help from ornithologists and botanists, as appropriate. Ultimately the success of both projects will depend on the cooperation of the public by giving both species space and peace, two things that humans struggle to allow for the other beings sharing this planet. People were responsible for the demise of both the Passenger Pigeon and the American Chestnut, and with the ingenuity people are known for perhaps they can restore both species. Successful restoration will also require two things people have not often enough been known for, which are a generosity of spirit towards life and restraint of their violently destructive impulses.
― Vita

 

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The Greed and Amorality of the Suits

 

Take a college course in starting your own business and you will likely find the instructor emphasizing “growing your business”, without ever mentioning why that would be necessary or desirable. It is an unquestioned given that making your business larger will be the determining factor defining your success. Employing other people for your business makes you a “job creator”, though you could be someone who seeks to exploit the labor of others in order to boost yourself higher on the economic pyramid. It’s possible to be an ethical job creator, but unfortunately too many business owners lose sight of that in the daily struggle to grow their business and be seen as successful.


The economist Kate Raworth talks about growth in this animated short for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). She doesn’t use the term “cancer”, but the effects of out of control economic growth brings the term to mind.

The economic model that said the world’s resources were boundless was always a fantasy, but people were able to ignore that for many centuries while the population stayed well within the earth’s capacity to sustain it. Now we are pushing against those limits, yet the business owners at the top continue to insist there are no limits, because it suits their self-interest. In the natural world, populations of animals and insects boom and bust depending on the capacity of their habitat, which is in all cases more narrowly defined than it is for humans. Because humans have adapted to the widest array of habitats on the planet, it does not follow that our expansion can be limitless. The physical problem is population growth pushing earth’s resources to the breaking point, but there is also a mindset problem caused by those at the top of the economic pyramid pushing the snake oil of limitless growth.

 

Native Americans have called this spirit of cannibalistic greed and lust for dominion wetiko, or wendigo. Their culture recognized it, but was not consumed by it, at least not from within. They recognized it in its most rapacious form in many of the white Europeans who started pushing into North America five centuries ago. The white Europeans came from a culture where being fruitful and multiplying was the means to have dominion over the earth and all creation, goals which they saw as not only morally sound, but their religious right and duty. When there were only tens of millions of humans spread out across the entire continent of North America, those beliefs were more defensible than now.
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Dole corporate person parody in Washington, DC, on January 21, 2011, marking the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision; photo by Flickr user palnatoke.

 

In the eighteenth century, a white settler family huddled in their isolated cabin in the vast woodlands covering what would eventually become the eastern United States could hardly be blamed for feeling that nature was hostile, red in tooth and claw, and that a competitive, fighting spirit was the way to eat and not be eaten. Now there are hundreds of millions of us in North America, and billions across the earth, and the technological powers available to us for taking advantage of nature’s resources are well beyond even the imaginings of those early inhabitants. Yet many people cling to the old beliefs, ignoring how destructive they have become, and always were. Some people cling out of ignorance, and there is hope that their minds can be changed; but there are others, often wearing suits and making greedy, amoral decisions in corporate boardrooms, who are possessed by the spirit of wetiko and whose minds either cannot or will not be changed. The rest of us can recognize that on a finite Earth growth has limits, and work to lessen our impact before the Earth takes care of that for us.
― Ed.

 

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