Saturday, March 26, 2016

Memento mori redux

I return to what appears to be my favorite subject, death. And why not? We are all born to die. That is why we are called mortals. We begin the process of dying the moment we are conceived. The assembly of elements and energies that coalesce into a unique event that each one of us is, is just that, another opportunity for the life force to express itself, trying out different forms and activities. That life force is powered by natural selection and genetic programming.

In true fractal correspondence, or recursiveness, the evolutionary process itself evolves. The trajectory of evolution has shifted from mere genetic variation to memetic development. Natural selection has progressed to encompass the realm of ideas, those combinations that favor not mere survival, but optimal thriving. The bulk of the human species is, however, still operating at reptilian levels, responding to genetic programming to ensure physical survival. Those that have managed to transcend to postgenetic programing in the realm of memes, are yet mostly caught in early memes which tend to bolster the base survival mechanisms around food, sex, and status.

These primitive memes include tribal culture, religion, and my hobbyhorse, the monetary system. These tend to operate at the level of binary and magical thinking that sustains and reinforces themselves and each other. A delusional mythology is perpetrated so unconsciously and pervasively it becomes orthodoxy. Critical thinking, based on logic, rationality, objective evidence, and scientific inquiry are rare, if not actively discouraged. The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is instructive.

These musings have been whirling around in my head for a while but setting them out was prompted by learning of the passing of Sharon Thomas, a singular event i was privileged to witness briefly when she and i were students of Religious Science at the Temple of Light in Kingston, Jamaica, some twenty-odd years ago. She was an angel, a boddhisattva, an emanation of Erzulie, or a singularity - choose the metaphor that matches your worldview - if ever there was one. Certainly her passing is an occasion of grief for her family and friends, each bringing their own hermeneutic response (HR) determined by their worldview, to the loss.

Some may resign themselves to God calling her home, taking back what was always his. Others that she is finally freed of suffering, resting in eternity after years of toiling in the vineyard. That dying on Good Friday indicates a special place in heaven. That she is reunited with her mother who predeceased her three years ago. That she has gone on to greater glory. You know them all and likely have used one or the other when offering condolences. These ready, often automatic, socially-sanctified responses allow us avoid facing fear and anxiety around our own mortality and inevitable death.

My own HR is that she has reverted to source, the elements of which her body was composed recycled back into circulation, never to reconstitute in that particular configuration again; the non-physical aspects revert to the undifferentiated ether, also not ever taking the particular concatenation that we know as Sharon. She has simply returned to what she was before she was born. My other takeaway is to appreciate individual life, my own and others'. I'm reminded to get done what i want to get done. This is the only opportunity to be just me, in just this way, just now, in all of eternity. This is the gift of life which most people choose to squander, caught up in genetically-programmed drives and postgenetic delusions.   

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Done with it ... not

Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
~ John Lennon

Thought i had finished writing about health issues but the universe seems to have other ideas. I had planned to write about the lead-up to my momentous decision to relocate as folks seem to be interested in hearing about that.

There i was continuing exploration of my new abode, walking 3 km in the broiling sun to find Organic Home Farmers Market, only to find it closed - they open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it was Wednesday - when i was subsequently laid low, as it were, by "bad feelings" as we say in Jamaica. I'd had slight intimations the previous week or so but this time i had to lie down.

The old familiar symptoms had returned insisting they not be so easily forgotten: the tightness in the left breast, twinges in the left armpit, uneven breathing, irregular heartbeat. When i can feel my heart working, i know there is a problem. An MRI 6 years ago had shown blockage of the coronary arteries more severe than 85% of men my age based on calcium score. That's the indirect way they state the results. Normally the heart works away quietly and imperceptibly in the background. 3 years ago i embarked on a no-added fat diet (coined the word 'nafvegan' to describe it) and my symptoms went away. This intervention had been inspired by the work of Drs. Ornish, McDougall and Esselstyn. (See also The China Study and Forks Over Knives.)

Since quitting DC i've tried to stick to vegan fare, difficult at that is when travelling, acquiescing to the unavoidably ubiquitous larding of cooking oil, sort of a holiday from discipline. I was savoring all the new taste sensations, flavor combinations and subtleties.

Thai vegan street food 

Fresh, tasty ingredients with flavors of coconut,
holy basil, galangal, keffir lime leaves.
Take-away containers
The oil content made visible

I had gotten away with it up to now but 6 weeks of subsisting on what invariably oil-cooked vegan food i could find had finally caught up with me.

So it's back to the kitchen. One of the reasons i came to Thailand was for what i anticipated was the abundance of fresh, delicious vegan food available on every street corner, but i had not counted on the amount of oil used in its preparation. I was intending to spend less time at the stove and more at the computer working on the 3 projects i have in mind. The best laid plans of mice and men ...  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Healthy back story

Some have remarked on how courageous I am to have picked up and moved half-way across the world. It does take some courage but the alternative stagnation, is a fate worse than death. And memento mori did have a critical part to play. Despite dragging my self to the gym 3 days a week, sitting all day at the computer, I felt the life force ebbing away. Aches and cramps, loss of flexibility, slight dizziness, and losing my balance, compounded by symptoms of BPH (enlarged prostate) were undeniable signs of aging.

An EMI test showed severe blockage of the coronary arteries, an alarming surprise since I have adhered assiduously to a healthy lifestyle, being vegetarian for over 30 years, and vegan the last five (clarification here: I coined the term domestic vegan to describe being vegan at home, but relaxing restrictions when traveling or on the few occasions I ate out). My cholesterol readings were not excessively high but I had been having bouts of tightening of the chest, palpitations, shortness of breath, and low energy. The cardiologist prescribed statins. Not favoring drugs of any kind, I declined, determined to find alternative means of alleviating the symptoms, if not reversing the condition. I reacquainted myself with the work of Dr. Dean Ornish whose book “Reversing and Preventing Heart Disease,” I used to promote after I met one of his recovering patients. I also discovered Drs. Esselstyn, Fuhrman and McDonald. Ornish's most famous patient is perhaps Bill Clinton, interviewed in a CNN documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Dr. Esselstyn is also featured in the documentary Forks Over Knives, along with researcher Dr Colin Campbell whose book The China Study provides statistical support.

Having adhered strictly to the no-added oil regime, within two years I was symptom-free and, as an added benefit, my blood pressure which had been pre-hypertensive fell to normal levels. Another side-effect of the no-added fat diet is severe weight loss. My weight dropped from 142 to 120, the same I weighed when I was 18. To stem any further weight loss I added back avocados and nuts to my diet with no adverse effects, concluding that perhaps only those with severe heart disease need adhere strictly to the no-added fat rule. I add minimal amounts of coconut or olive oil for flavor at the end of making certain dishes, being careful not to heat them as that changes their molecular structure, turning them into inflammatories. I have regained my energy and vigor and realized that instead of an early death alone in my apartment in DC, I had been given a new lease on life. What to do with it?

My hermeneutic response (subject of another piece) was that I had further work to do and though i'm probably good for another 20 years, I should waste no time winding down but get up and go. The challenge was how to stretch my limited financial resources to cover this extended life. The answer was to move someplace with a lower cost of living.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life changes have prompted me to resume writing merely to record and share my thoughts with any that may be interested in a somewhat different take/tack.

Being practical and self-serving, i've accepted the reality that the monetary system is not going away any time soon. My limited financial resources are inadequate to sustain me at even my current frugality in Washington DC. Moving to another location in the US would be marginally better, best candidates from what i gather, being Mississippi, Alabama, or Detroit, but these places hold no appeal for me; perhaps Detroit, were i younger with the requisite energy and stamina for the phoenical challenge it holds for rebuilding from the ground up.

So i've decided to pull up roots and leave DC for a setting which requires less monetary tokens to survive. I had considered Costa Rica and Panama, and was drawn to Ecuador for its progressive policies, but Thailand won the day simply because i had a connection there.

Sidewalk sale to unload stuff accumulated over 15 years despite attempting to live simply
Seeing that my studio apartment in DC was part of a rapidly dwindling stock of affordable housing, i had wanted to extend that benefit to someone in need by sub-letting the unit. There were four prospective applicants but for one reason or another, none came through. Rather than prolong the process, i surrendered my lease, disposed of most of my stuff, putting the balance, mostly books, in storage. I have to confess i was very touched at the expressions of regret at my departure from friends and from some i barely knew. Disrupting the few real connections i made saddens me but i am consoled that i'm still as connected by means of the internet.

Off i flew to Thailand, mostly on blind faith, or depending on your point of view, on a mere whim.    

Monday, July 09, 2012

Of course, i dream a lot but few have been striking enough that i would want to record them - until this morning.

I'm climbing up what seems to be a sheer rock face, one that's been designed, much like one of those impossible scenarios typical of video games. Each pixel of this contrived universe is a three-dimensional cube rather than a square, so irregularities in the rock surface provide stable toeholds, making my ascent swift and almost effortless. I realize i'm wearing only my beat-up bedroom slippers but that does not hinder my progress. There is an unidentified colleague a short distance below me and to my right, intent on reaching the top in friendly rivalry. We feel we are about to breach the top when i realize there is a cast concrete ceiling that caps the entire structure preventing further progress. On closer examination, i can just make out a terrace set back in the cliff face, and just below the ceiling. Preparations are being made for an exclusive party with tables and chairs set out.

Climbing the rock face represents the formidable task of taking on the monetary system on which the entire world as we know it is built. On closer examination, this is a man-made, artificial world. What is constructed, can be deconstructed. Its intrinsic properties provide the toeholds that allow access. The bedroom slippers signify that i am not particularly prepared, nor suited, for this task, yet i am able to perform effectively. The colleague represents others necessary for the process but who do not grasp the extent as fully as i do, and while actively seeking alternatives, are somewhat conservative/conventional/cautious in their approach. The concrete ceiling gives the appearance of impenetrability, an insurmountable barrier since it offers no purchase, but the party on the terrace, representing unconscionable "high living" provides an opening. There is no security since no one is expected to approach from this side.

The whole video game sense of unreality reflects my belief that all of existence is leela, a game. It is nothing more than Being playing itself. This world-view makes it easy to recognize the game that the monetary economy is. It is just as easy then to change the game as it is to change the rules. The impenetrable fortress that the Powers That Be have constructed can be breached not only by the lack of vigilance at the top, but by the very greed and uncaring consumption that typifies the elite.

Note: Never play video games, yet this meme obviously fit the bill.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Another solstice and i'm reminded more than ever that i don't have any time to waste. I feel there's still work for me to do before i shuffle off this mortal coil. I had thought my contribution was to organize the world's wisdom but it seems Intelligence has other ideas and has hit on me, innumerate candidate that i am, to bring a new economic theory to light. It struck me as ironic but, as the theory took shape, i realized that conventional economic minds, steeped in the dismal science, would be the last to admit the possibility, much less grasp the import, of an alternative system. They are doctrinally blinkered with what i call moneytheism and brook the existence of no other gods.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few.
~ Shunryu Suzuki ~
My unlikely qualifications include being born under the counter of a chaini shap; seen imperialist extraction and wealth appropriation first hand; witnessed and endured class, race and colour prejudice; been an entrepreneur, artist/designer, social deviant and intuitive empath; combined with a boddhisattvic compassion, all contrived to prepare me to question deeply the current status quo as the Occupy protesters are doing. I had at first only vague intimations that would coalesce into a coherent system. I daresay not many others, certainly not economists, can claim a similar hodgepodge of experience. That seeming diffusion resulted in a generalist overview with a holistic grasp of systems. Life prepares you for itself. You just have to be ready to see the opening door.

Like everyone else not part of the 1%, i was faced with diminishing financial prospects, qualifying me for food stamps, Medicaid and a free monthly cell phone service, without a single dollar coming to me. This basic life support allowed me to work in the community and on creative projects, work that is not readily counted in GDP or that attracts remuneration. Granted my needs are minimal but could this safety net not be extended universally and distributed digitally? There are enough resources to go around if some don't get too greedy.

I became aware of the the work of Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project proposing, with the help of The Zeitgeist Movement, a Resource Based Economy where all the world's resources are owned in common and managed rationally. It is a single system after all. Everyone would share access to these resources without the need for money. Considering the ongoing financial crisis which seems to have no end, every day bringing new problems resulting from the last round of adjustments, precipitating further tweaks in a downward spiral, money seemed to be the central problem, so why not do away with it? Money is after all only a symbol of wealth, a means of exchange. Somewhere along the line, we have mistaken it for wealth itself, even trading it as a commodity. Systemic change is needed and not structural adjustments as proposed by conventional economists.

My concerns with all the moneyless proposals i came across was a conspicuous absence of a means to control distribution. As evolved as we'd like to think that human beings are, fear and the greed that it engenders are part of our survival responses. I have seen near riots when rice was rationed in our shop in the 1970s, and the behavior of Black Friday crowds is evidence that the instinct has not been restrained by conscious evolution. It is very difficult to overrule the reptilian brain.
We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination.
~ Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976

Without the incentive of profit, would creators and producers continue to innovate and produce? These two concerns led me to consider an index similar to GDP but greatly expanded. This index i call Net Planetary Value would be calulated by algorithm using three types of criteria — ethical, social and environmental — over time — past, present and future. Each individual, company, product and organization would be pegged according to how much it contributed to NPV. That index would in turn determine how much access they had to goods and resources, a reciprocal effect.

The system would be self-regulating with a constant flow of information providing feedback in a fractal-like structure, like this animated graphic. I believe this arrangement would be a tool for the rational management of resources and provide the incentive necessary to motivate. I have grandiosely dubbed the system PANACEA, an acronym for Planetary Accounting Network Affording Communities Equitable Access. Communities are defined to include ecosystems, bioregions, animal populations and indigenous tribes which are all recognized as sovereign entities, much in the same way that Bolivia has recognized the Rights of Mother Earth in its constitution. You can Like PANACEA on Facebook.

So imperative do i regard this contribution at this time of imminent global economic collapse, compounded by climate change and the growing unavailablity of fossil fuels that i have devoted most of this year to documenting and propagating these ideas. I've stepped down from leadership positions with Ecolocity, Petworth Market and our tenants association, all initiatives i helped start, but happily they have matured and can stand on their own. I feel like Paul of Tarsus must have felt when struck by revelation on the road to Damascus. My world view has been completely changed. To quote myself, once you know something you cannot unknow it. The response so far has not been encouraging; though it's early days, this is no time for dawdling. We'll see whether i come to be known as a crazy, if harmless, eccentric, or if like Copernicus and other proponents of unorthodox views, time will vindicate me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Outline for a new economy

I fully support the Occupy protests and gratified that some people are waking up and making their objections known. I place the demonstrations in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings and other demonstrations throughout the world. They have a common cause even if they have not identified it exactly - the economic inequity of the monetary system. To be successful, the single demand of each of these movements ought to be the phasing out of money to be replaced by an accounting system based on a value index.

To replace the irrational, inequitable and inefficient monetary economic system which prevails, a new rational, self-regulating system is necessary to meet current and projected global realities. The present model is ultimately based on the barter mechanism which grew into trade and digital exchange. Units of exchange came to be standardized to facilitate trade but the issuing of these units is strictly controlled, creating an artificial scarcity, and converting the currency itself into a commodity. These units are further hoarded and manipulated in such a way as to create debt, inequity and poverty.

It is difficult to displace such an entrenched paradigm, so embedded in every aspect of life that most people cannot even conceive that there could be an alternative. The silver lining to the current economic crisis is that people will be forced, perhaps for the first time, to examine their unconscious assumptions and stretch their cognitive range to allow for a different approach.

A value-based economy would look like this:

New Planetary Economy

The planet can sustain all life on it, though not at the level of consumption that obtains in developed countries. Everyone and everything has value. The sum of all unit values is Net Planetary Value. Value is potential until triggered into manifestation by activity. People realize value by accessing goods and services.

Each entity – individual, corporate, municipal, national, bioregional – is assigned an index relative to its contribution to NPV, which index determines its level of access to goods and services. Particular elements or activities may be indexed positively or negatively as it affects populations, infrastructure or the environment. Indices are computed algorithmically from a matrix of nine criteria: ethical, social and environmental qualified by a time dimension that embeds past provenance, present utility and future impact. Entities acknowledge each transaction by digital and/or biometric means. Data is transmitted to a distributed network which continuously updates all indices using algorithms in a self-regulating feedback loop. Built-in checks and balances adjust indices to mitigate excesses, waste and abuse.

Since it is not dependent or contingent upon monetary values, NPV can be implemented by any functioning economic unit. It will run parallel to the monetary system until that system strangles itself with its own contortions or belief in it is withdrawn, whichever comes first. Increased parity and efficiency are realized with the accession of each additional entity until universal inclusion is achieved. Each person is automatically assigned an index that gives access to food, housing, education and healthcare. Personal index is increased by life stage, training, skills and accomplishments, affording access to levels beyond basic needs.

There are no monetary limits. No budgets, no debt, no banks, no inflation, no price distortions. There will be less government, less corruption, less crime. Land ownership will revert eventually to occupancy rights. With basic needs guaranteed, many will no longer work at jobs. Traditional jobs are becoming obsolete anyway. People will choose vocations. It is a means to advance their indices. Every service rendered is rewarded. Each corporate entity likewise is assigned a base index that allows access to infrastructure and services. All corporate entities are by definition non-profit. Businesses compete and prosper by offering superior goods and services thereby increasing their corporate index with concomitant access to higher levels of goods and services.

Everyone counts. Everything is counted.