Category Archives: empathy

The Antierra Manifesto – blog post #11

[start blog post #11]

“This be warning”  one of them intones, “You know rule: No wailing. No disturbance permitted.  All of you we flog too, happy to do.  But owners, they say too much cost, so you lucky today.  Proceed with training and maintenance of weapons.  Any talk; any whisper, you flogged same as that gorok.  He spits in the direction of the dead girl.

The message is delivered without inflection or passion.  It would appear these men do not feel the least amount of the pain, fear or any other feelings they cause others to experience.  No empathy.  To them we are less than animals, although I believe the expression here is quite meaningless.  There are no domesticated animals that I am aware of in this society.  The food we eat contains no meat.  But again, I’ve been wrong so many times about so many things in the few days I’ve been here!  Days?  No, not days.  I’ve been here an eternity that will never end.  I’ve fallen in hell and there is no doorway out of it.

Three handlers walk among us as we exercise or work, pick a half dozen of the youngest trainees and escort them through one of the stone doors.  One by one they shortly return.  One of them had been a virgin by the blood that runs between her legs.  She is ordered to wash and continue with training and work.  For the handlers, the flogging death they observed had given them a powerful sexual desire they needed to sate and that is also what we are for.

The day wears on, oppressive, endless, silent.  When the sun passes beyond the battlements, painting the eastern sky a lurid reddish brown fired through thin stratus type clouds, a reminder of drying blood, we are fed and returned to our cages.  The body of the flogged child, for she had been no more than twelve or thirteen years of age, now covered with some sort of black fly I hadn’t seen before, is removed from the post by two gladiators.  She is stiff and cold.  They carry her to the same door used to remove the body of her friend and is dumped in a similar conveyance.

And out of the blue my mind is asking, “What do they do with our bodies?”  I know that the dead men are taken to a hill outside the city and buried with much pomp and ceremony, but what about the bodies of the gladiators?  Or women in general?  In the field they leave them to wild beasts.  Do they take ours from here and from the arena to be eaten out there?  Or do they perform some kind of hellish rituals upon them?  

A cold chill goes through me and I try to change the subject in my mind.  Is there something else, something beautiful, I can think about?  Well, why not engage myself on my reason for coming here, instead of bemoaning a fate I deliberately chose or engaging in bouts of self-pity and self-doubt? 

Come on, woman.  Where is all that courage and bravery you were so quick to talk about once, far from here?  Where is your compassion now that you are living in hell?  Don’t both victims and oppressors need to find their freedom?  Think.  Why is this world, a place that could be so beautiful, such a horror?  What feeds the misogynist males and their killing instinct?  Why can they not sexually engage a female except by doing her violence?  Why is the beating of a woman such an erotic event for all of them?  Or is it all of them?  Could there be exceptions among the male population, and if so, how can I find them?

When the doctor had sex with me he did not use force or violence on me.  Well, yes, some force because he knew I could not refuse, but no overt violence.  In fact his handling of my wound was uncharacteristically gentle.  Who is he?  He is taller than other men I’ve seen, and his face is broader, flatter.  Could it be that he’s from another place?  That he’s not a true Tassardi?  Push this a bit further, could he be an alien like me?  If so, why is he in this place?  What is he to this place?  Why did he whisper to me “we want him dead” of my first engagement in the arena?  Who are these “we”?  And his friend in the white uniform.  I sensed a mantle of authority over him.  Authority from whom, where?  When he looked at me, it wasn’t out of lust; in fact I’d swear he was not sexually interested in me at all.  Who or what, is he?  What are they planning and how do I fit into that plan if at all?

Many questions.  Good questions engender good answers and keep my feverish mind occupied.  I will find out.  I will know.  I’m glad that tonight I’m alone in my cage.  My thoughts are so loud I’d be afraid to think them if another was lying with me and after Tiegli I’m not ready to “make love” to accommodate another.  I have no passion, no feelings.  My heart is numbed from so much violence and loss in so short a time.  I listen to the rustling of moving bodies in the fresh straw.  I hear muted sobbing. 

Later, a scream, quickly stifled, then silence – the silence of death.  A large bird or some nocturnal creature ululates a macabre call outside, the sound coming in from one of the square openings high in the smooth stone walls to echo as the voice of the dead throughout the compound.  Water drips outside.  It must be raining.  Yes, let it rain, hard and long.  Wash all the blood out of the courtyard.  Wash all the blood from this world until no world is left.

Rain – the tears of the goddess, she whom I must re-awaken in the hearts of these women.  And I too begin to cry and my own tears become an endless river of sorrow.  Tiegli’s hoarse whisper comes to my mind: “We be strong; we be courageous; not tough like stone; not fearless.  We be only women, not robots or evil beasts.  We have heart… feeling.” 

In that on-going nightmare I am finding my own power, not the power I dragged in with me as from my other self, the Avatari Al’Tara, but a power I have created from the mix of love and terror I have experienced here.  From the blood soaked stones and sand of the arena.  From the many fights I have already entered and “won” if one can call that winning; survived is a more accurate term.

I dream again, but it’s a no-dream.  A “locator” to help me find my mind’s feet on T’Sing Tarleyn, my chosen and adoptive world.  Yes, after all, what I dream of is loving, caring and giving.  I am; I am here; I am real.  And because I exist here, in this time and this place, everything will change.  I know this.  I am all the women I have been in every life as far back through time as I can remember.  Each with some memory of power gained from some great personal loss and deep sorrow and each willing to give her share of it to Antierra.  Together we will discover the true pulse of T’Sing Tarleyn and change its name to T’Sing Tallala (pronounced sing tayala); the land of freedom and hope.  All I have to do is survive the years ahead and not give in to fear but in particular, to hate.  Anger is permissible to me I think, as long as it isn’t based on fear and isn’t allowed to develop into hate.  I need to express anger as a psychological release mechanism.  If I do not I will break or become a complete hypocrite.

[end blog post #11]

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I Had to Write This…

I had to write this…
[thoughts from   ~burning woman~  ]

Just finished watching, for the umpteenth time, the movie, “The Statement” (2003) with Tilda Swinton and Michael Caine.  Basically another story of hunting down Nazi murderers of innocent and helpless Jews in WWII, this time in France under the fascist, heavily pro-Nazi Vichy regime led my Marshal Petain. 

The point here is that these mass murders happened 80 or less years ago – one Earthian life time and here we are, poised to do it all over again.  Isn’t that just fantastic how quickly we forget our ignorance, stupidity and murderous mob tendencies just to start again? 

Granted, we haven’t yet quite decided which race or class of people are going to suffer our wrath, but we’re ready to “do it”.  Most likely the educated and well-informed voting mob will pick on people of some sort of colour to slaughter. Refugees, they’re pretty safe, not too dangerous.  The Muslims, well, that’s a different matter, they tend to fight back. We’ll definitely need the police, the Security state, maybe the army on our side for this. It’s but a matter of putting the right people in government to pass the laws to legitimize the slaughter and that’s never been a problem.  The problem is motivating those still sitting on the fence.  They may have to be our target this time.  Great, those stupid liberals won’t expect to be a mob’s target: sitting ducks.  

You see? That’s how it goes.  The circles just get bigger, nothing essential changes.  And why is that? Why doesn’t anything change and why do we put on the rose coloured glasses and insist that somehow, yes, things have gotten better? Was the 20th Century with its two devastating world wars followed by endless wars and the cruelest form of exploitation of resource rich emerging countries really better than the Hundred Years War?  Is that a rhetorical question or what?

What is our problem?  I’ll tell you, and I’ll keep telling you, as long as I have breath: our problem is that as a species, as a collective, as a “civilization” we don’t give a damn. We are not the least empathetic, though we can be so easily conned by our various propaganda machines into believing that we are, indeed, kind and loving “at heart” and that it is only the few; the minority; that is psychopathic and loves war and killing.  It isn’t. It’s a very, very big majority that is in love with violence and that never gets enough of it. If you don’t believe me, check out the internet and video games. Check out how much money derives directly from violence or the promotion of violence.  

Not all violence means bloodshed and death, though we certainly enjoy doing that best. Violence is everything that causes some sort of harm to others; to another – human, animal, plant or planet, for one’s selfish benefit or one’s enjoyment.  We need to get that very clear in our head for it is the same as what religion calls sin: the inflicting of pain and loss upon any “other” for one’s own satisfaction, benefit or pleasure. 

There is but one antidote for this Earthian condition that is destroying this world and possibly much of the biological life on and in it, and that is for all *ISSA beings to choose to become compassionate.  How many times have I said that? Doesn’t matter because it’s like the wind in the leafless cottonwood trees here in winter: sound and either you like it or you don’t like it, but the wind doesn’t change its tune whether you’re comfortable with it or not.

I’ve been following the current protests highlighting climate change and elitist rip-offs called the economy and assessing the chances of such protests actually accomplishing anything at all. My conclusion is predictable: the protesters are going nowhere.

Oh, what a terrible thing to say! Of course they’re going somewhere; they’re making some politicos change their minds… wow! Problem with that is, these mind-changing chameleons are opportunists. They can see the tide flowing in and they are just smart enough to move the blanket, the umbrella and the cooler a bit higher up on the beach. Still same beach, same picnic, same people. They’ll be safe from the rising waters and who cares about those who are already up against the cliff? Their problem.

If there is one thing activism has taught me back then, it’s that to address one “big” problem it is absolutely necessary to address all “big” problems. You cannot address climate change without addressing global poverty. You cannot address poverty without addressing over-population. You cannot promote alternative sources of energy if you are not condemning consumerism outright. You cannot blame right-winged politicians for screwing the planet if you are blinding yourself to the fact that your “left winged” politicians (the ones you would happily put back in charge) are as corrupt and often more so.  You cannot address justice if you are not, first, dedicated to destroying your billionaire elites – and I mean destroy utterly.  You cannot address and hope to make a dent in any of the above if you are not primarily committed to stopping all wars, genocides and where police operate out of control as in the US, stopping all government sanctioned mass murder.  You cannot in all honesty address and oppose any of the above if inside yourself resides one ounce of racism, misogyny, bullying and oh yes, patriotism. How many realize that patriotism is fanaticism that leads to terrorism?  It’s always been that.

Finally (this has to stop somewhere) nothing at all will ever change as long as there remains one Earthian anywhere convinced that s/he is entitled; if particularly blessed in some way or is superior to anyone else.  In other words, until Earthian pride is completely subdued by humility… we are doomed. We were taught; we were given chance after chance; we know right from wrong and as long as we choose wrong we can’t expect that anything will ever come out right. 

“We knew that the Earth was flat, we knew that we were the center of the universe, and we knew that a man-made heavier than air piece of machinery could not take flight. Through all stages of human history, intellectual authorities have pronounced their supremacy by ridiculing or suppressing elements of reality that simply didn’t fit within the framework of accepted knowledge. Are we really any different today? Have we really changed our acceptance towards things that won’t fit the frame? Maybe there are concepts of our reality we have yet to understand, and if we open our eyes, maybe we will see that something significant has been overlooked.”Terje Toftenes (take from the film “The Day Before Disclosure”)

*ISSA: intelligent, sentient, self aware

Biological Annihilation-a Planet in Loss Mode

 How to introduce such an article? I copied it verbatim from TomDispatch (http://www.tomdispatch.com/) and although I am certainly aware of the devastations being caused by “climate change” I am most certainly not ascribing most of it to climate change.  Rather it is obvious that our standing on the cusp of  an “extinction protocol” has mostly to do with Earthians consistently refusing to consider changing their lifestyles, their obsolete traditions and their belief systems – all of which are guaranteeing the end of civilization.  I therefore must introduce it with these hated words: How about “you” taking responsibility for the state of the world? You will say, “How?” and I can tell you that there is an endless list of effective “hows” by which you can make a difference. But not one of these efforts will mean anything if you don’t become the change you wish to engender.  That’s right: the only way to make change is to become the change.  It begins by caring as if your life and the lives of your loved ones, depended on it.  *By the way, it does*

Obvious question here: How long can we condemn all other sentient life on this planet to massive dieback and not bring it upon ourselves? When does the “bad predator” realize that the prey he killed off was essential to his own survival?   ~burning woman~

Biological Annihilation
A Planet in Loss Mode
By Subhankar Banerjee

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s happening to the nonhuman life forms with which we share this planet, you’ve likely heard the term “the Sixth Extinction.” If not, look it up.  After all, a superb environmental reporter, Elizabeth Kolbert, has already gotten a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book with that title.

Whether the sixth mass species extinction of Earth’s history is already (or not quite yet) underway may still be debatable, but it’s clear enough that something’s going on, something that may prove even more devastating than a mass of species extinctions: the full-scale winnowing of vast populations of the planet’s invertebrates, vertebrates, and plants.  Think of it, to introduce an even broader term, as a wave of “biological annihilation” that includes possible species extinctions on a mass scale, but also massive species die-offs and various kinds of massacres.

Someday, such a planetary winnowing may prove to be the most tragic of all the grim stories of human history now playing out on this planet, even if to date it’s gotten far less attention than the dangers of climate change.  In the end, it may prove more difficult to mitigate than global warming.  Decarbonizing the global economy, however hard, won’t be harder or more improbable than the kind of wholesale restructuring of modern life and institutions that would prevent species annihilation from continuing.   

With that in mind, come along with me on a topsy-turvy journey through the animal and plant kingdoms to learn a bit more about the most consequential global challenge of our time.

Insects Are Vanishing

When most of us think of animals that should be saved from annihilation, near the top of any list are likely to be the stars of the animal world: tigers and polar bears, orcas and orangutans, elephants and rhinos, and other similarly charismatic creatures.

Few express similar concern or are likely to be willing to offer financial support to “save” insects. The few that are in our visible space and cause us nuisance, we regularly swat, squash, crush, or take out en masse with Roundup.

As it happens, though, of the nearly two million known species on this planet about 70% of them are insects. And many of them are as foundational to the food chain for land animals as plankton are for marine life. Harvard entomologist (and ant specialist) E.O. Wilson once observed that “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

In fact, insects are vanishing.

Almost exactly a year ago, the first long-term study of the decline of insect populations was reported, sparking concern (though only in professional circles) about a possible “ecological Armageddon.” Based on data collected by dozens of amateur entomologists in 63 nature reserves across Germany, a team of scientists concluded that the flying insect population had dropped by a staggering 76% over a 27-year period. At the same time, other studies began to highlight dramatic plunges across Europe in the populations of individual species of bugs, bees, and moths.

What could be contributing to such a collapse? It certainly is human-caused, but the factors involved are many and hard to sort out, including habitat degradation and loss, the use of pesticides in farming, industrial agriculture, pollution, climate change, and even, insidiously enough, “light pollution that leads nocturnal insects astray and interrupts their mating.”

This past October, yet more troubling news arrived.

When American entomologist Bradford Lister first visited El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico in 1976, little did he know that a long-term study he was about to embark on would, 40 years later, reveal a “hyperalarming” new reality. In those decades, populations of arthropods, including insects and creepy crawlies like spiders and centipedes, had plunged by an almost unimaginable 98% in El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest within the U.S. National Forest System. Unsurprisingly, insectivores (populations of animals that feed on insects), including birds, lizards, and toads, had experienced similarly dramatic plunges, with some species vanishing entirely from that rainforest. And all of that happened before Hurricane Maria battered El Yunque in the fall of 2017.

What had caused such devastation? After eliminating habitat degradation or loss — after all, it was a protected national forest — and pesticide use (which, in Puerto Rico, had fallen by more than 80% since 1969), Lister and his Mexican colleague Andres Garcia came to believe that climate change was the culprit, in part because the average maximum temperature in that rainforest has increased by four degrees Fahrenheit over those same four decades.

Even though both scientific studies and anecdotal stories about what might be thought of as a kind of insectocide have, at this point, come only from Europe and North America, many entomologists are convinced that the collapse of insect populations is a worldwide phenomenon.

As extreme weather events — fires, floods, hurricanes — begin to occur more frequently globally, “connecting the dots” across the planet has become a staple of climate-change communication to “help the public understand how individual events are part of a larger trend.”

Now, such thinking has to be transferred to the world of the living so, as in the case of plummeting insect populations and the creatures that feed on them, biological annihilation sinks in. At the same time, what’s driving such death spirals in any given place — from pesticides to climate change to habitat loss — may differ, making biological annihilation an even more complex phenomenon than climate change.

The Edge of the Sea

The animal kingdom is composed of two groups: invertebrates, or animals without backbones, and vertebrates, which have them. Insects are invertebrates, as are starfish, anemones, corals, jellyfish, crabs, lobsters, and many more species. In fact, invertebrates make up 97% of the known animal kingdom.

In 1955, environmentalist Rachel Carson’s book The Edge of the Sea was published, bringing attention for the first time to the extraordinary diversity and density of the invertebrate life that occupies the intertidal zone.  Even now, more than half a century later, you’ve probably never considered that environment — which might be thought of as the edge of the sea (or actually the ocean) — as a forest. And neither did I, not until I read nature writer Tim McNulty’s book Olympic National Park: A Natural History some years ago. As he pointed out: “The plant associations of the low tide zone are commonly arranged in multistoried communities, not unlike the layers of an old-growth forest.” And in that old-growth forest, the starfish (or sea star) rules as the top predator of the nearshore.

In 2013, a starfish die-off — from a “sea-star wasting disease” caused by a virus — was first observed in Washington’s Olympic National Park, though it was hardly confined to that nature preserve. By the end of 2014, as Lynda Mapes reported in the Seattle Times, “more than 20 species of starfish from Alaska to Mexico” had been devastated. At the time, I was living on the Olympic Peninsula and so started writing about and, as a photographer, documenting that die-off (a painful experience after having read Carson’s exuberant account of that beautiful creature).

The following summer, though, something magical happened. I suddenly saw baby starfish everywhere. Their abundance sparked hope among park employees I spoke with that, if they survived, most of the species would bounce back. Unfortunately, that did not happen. “While younger sea stars took longer to show symptoms, once they did, they died right away,” Mapes reported. That die-off was so widespread along the Pacific coast (in many sites, more than 99% of them) that scientists considered it “unprecedented in geographic scale.”
Baby Starfish, Olympic National Park. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2015.

The cause? Consider it the starfish version of a one-two punch: the climate-change-induced warming of the Pacific Ocean put stress on the animals while it made the virus that attacked them more virulent.  Think of it as a perfect storm for unleashing such a die-off.

It will take years to figure out the true scope of the aftermath, since starfish occupy the top of the food chain at the edge of the ocean and their disappearance will undoubtedly have cascading impacts, not unlike the vanishing of the insects that form the base of the food chain on land.

Concurrent with the disappearance of the starfish, another “unprecedented” die-off was happening at the edge of the same waters, along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada.  It seemed to be “one of the largest mass die-offs of seabirds ever recorded,” Craig Welch wrote in National Geographic in 2015. And many more have been dying ever since, including Cassin’s auklets, thick-billed murres, common murres, fork-tailed petrels, short-tailed shearwaters, black-legged kittiwakes, and northern fulmars. That tragedy is still ongoing and its nature is caught in the title of a September article in Audubon magazine: “In Alaska, Starving Seabirds and Empty Colonies Signal a Broken Ecosystem.”

To fully understand all of this, the dots will again have to be connected across places and species, as well as over time, but the great starfish die-off is an indication that biological annihilation is now an essential part of life at the edge of the sea.

The Annihilation of Vertebrates

The remaining 3% of the kingdom Animalia is made up of vertebrates. The 62,839 known vertebrate species include fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

The term “biological annihilation” was introduced in 2017 in a seminal paper by scientists Geraldo Ceballos, Paul Ehrlich, and Rodolpho Dirzo, whose research focused on the population declines, as well as extinctions, of vertebrate species. “Our data,” they wrote then, “indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations.”

If anything, the 148-page Living Planet Report published this October by the World Wildlife Fund International and the Zoological Society of London only intensified the sense of urgency in their paper. As a comprehensive survey of the health of our planet and the impact of human activity on other species, its key message was grim indeed: between 1970 and 2014, it found, monitored populations of vertebrates had declined in abundance by an average of 60% globally, with particularly pronounced losses in the tropics and in freshwater systems. South and Central America suffered a dramatic loss of 89% of such vertebrates, while freshwater populations of vertebrates declined by a lesser but still staggering 83% worldwide. The results were based on 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species, which meant that the study was not claiming a comprehensive census of all vertebrate populations.  It should instead be treated as a barometer of trends in monitored populations of them.

What could be driving such an annihilatory wave to almost unimaginable levels? The report states that the main causes are “overexploitation of species, agriculture, and land conversion — all driven by runaway human consumption.” It does, however, acknowledge that climate change, too, is a “growing threat.”

When it comes to North America, the report shows that the decline is only 23%. Not so bad, right? Such a statistic could mislead the public into thinking that the U.S. and Canada are in little trouble and yet, in reality, insects and other animals, as well as plants, are dying across North America in surprisingly large numbers.

From My Doorstep to the World Across Time

My own involvement with biological annihilation started at my doorstep. In March 2006, a couple of days after moving into a rented house in northern New Mexico, I found a dead male house finch, a small songbird, on the porch. It had smashed into one of the building’s large glass windows and died. At the same time, I began to note startling numbers of dead piñon, New Mexico’s state tree, everywhere in the area. Finding that dead bird and noting those dead trees sparked a desire in me to know what was happening in this new landscape of mine.

When you think of an old-growth forest — and here I don’t mean the underwater version of one but the real thing — what comes to your mind? Certainly not the desert southwest, right? The trees here don’t even grow tall enough for that.  An 800-year-old piñon may reach a height of 24 feet, not the 240-feet of a giant Sitka spruce of similar age in the Pacific Northwest. In the last decade, however, scientists have begun to see the piñon-juniper woodlands here as exactly that.

I first learned this from a book, Ancient Piñon-Juniper Woodlands: A Natural History of Mesa Verde Country. It turns out that this low-canopy, sparsely vegetated woodland ecosystem supports an incredible diversity of wildlife. In fact, as a state, New Mexico has among the greatest diversity of species in the country.  It’s second in diversity of native mammals, third in birds, and fourth in overall biodiversity. Take birds.  Trailing only California and Arizona, the state harbors 544 species, nearly half of the 1,114 species in the U.S. And consider this not praise for my adopted home, but a preface to a tragedy.

Before I could even develop a full appreciation of the piñon-juniper woodland, I came to realize that most of the mature piñon in northern New Mexico had already died. Between 2001 and 2005, a tiny bark beetle known by the name of Ips confusus had killed more than 50 million of them, about 90% of the mature ones in northern New Mexico. This happened thanks to a combination of severe drought and rapid warming, which stressed the trees, while providing a superb environment for beetle populations to explode.
Dead finch on my porch. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2006.

And this, it turned out, wasn’t in any way an isolated event. Multiple species of bark beetles were by then ravaging forests across the North American West. The black spruce, the white spruce, the ponderosa pine, the lodgepole pine, the whitebark pine, and the piñon were all dying.

In fact, trees are dying all over the world. In 2010, scientists from a number of countries published a study in Forest Ecology and Management that highlights global climate-change-induced forest mortality with data recorded since 1970. In countries ranging from Argentina and Australia to Switzerland and Zimbabwe, Canada and China to South Korea and Sri Lanka, the damage to trees has been significant.

In 2010, trying to absorb the larger ecological loss, I wrote: “Hundreds of millions of trees have recently died and many more hundreds of millions will soon be dying. Now think of all the other lives, including birds and animals, that depended on those trees. What happened to them and how do we talk about that which we can’t see and will never know?”

In fact, in New Mexico, we are finally beginning to find out something about the size and nature of that larger loss.

Earlier this year, Los Alamos National Laboratory ornithologist Jeanne Fair and her colleagues released the results of a 10-year bird study on the Pajarito Plateau of New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains, where some of the worst piñon die-offs have occurred. The study shows that, between 2003 and 2013, the diversity of birds declined by 45% and bird populations, on average, decreased by a staggering 73%. Consider the irony of that on a plateau whose Spanish name, Pajarito, means “little bird.”

The piñon die-off that led to the die-off of birds is an example of connecting the dots across species and over time in one place. It’s also an example of what writer Rob Nixon calls “slow violence.” That “slowness” (even if it’s speedy indeed on the grand calendar of biological time) and the need to grasp the annihilatory dangers in our world will mean staying engaged way beyond any normal set of news cycles.  It will involve what I think of as long environmentalism.

Let’s return, then, to that dead finch on my porch. A study published in 2014 pointed out that as many as 988 million birds die each year in the U.S. by crashing into glass windows. Even worse, domestic and feral cats kill up to 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals annually in this country. In Australia and Canada, two other places where such feline slaughters of birds have been studied, the estimated numbers are 365 million and 200 million respectively — another case of connecting the dots across places and species when it comes to the various forms of biological annihilation underway on this planet.
Dead piñon where birds gather in autumn, northern New Mexico. Photo by Subhankar Banerjee, 2009.

Those avian massacres, one the result of modern architecture and our desire to see the outside from the inside, the other stemming from our urge for non-human companionship, indicate that climate change is but one cause of a planet-wide trend toward biological annihilation.  And this is hardly a contemporary story.  It has a long history, including for instance the mass killing of Arctic whales in the seventeenth century, which generated so much wealth that it helped make the Netherlands into one of the richest nations of that time. In other words, Arctic whaling proved to be an enabler of the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, the era when Rembrandt and Vermeer made paintings still appreciated today.

The large-scale massacre and near extinction of the American bison (or buffalo) in the nineteenth century, to offer a more modern example, paved the way for white settler colonial expansion into the American West, while destroying Native American food security and a way of life. As a U.S. Army colonel put it then, “Kill every buffalo you can! Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”

Today, such examples have not only multiplied drastically but are increasingly woven into human life and life on this planet in ways we still hardly notice.  These, in turn, are being exacerbated by climate change, the human-induced warming of the world. To mitigate the crisis, to save life itself, would require not merely the replacement of carbon-dirty fossil fuels with renewable forms of energy, but a genuine reevaluation of modern life and its institutions. In other words, to save the starfish, the piñon, the birds, and the insects, and us in the process, has become the most challenging and significant ethical obligation of our increasingly precarious time.

Subhankar Banerjee, a TomDispatch regular, is an activist, artist, and public scholar. A professor of art and ecology, he holds the Lannan Chair at the University of New Mexico. He is currently writing a book on biological annihilation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2018 Subhankar Banerjee

 

God’s Wife

The following came from a long time email friend of mine. She lives in Oklahoma and I, in Western Canada and we’ve never met, but over the years she has sent much wisdom my way. This is one of those, and thank you, Ellie.  [Sha’Tara]

  Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge.  The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child.  Apart from the winner, there were 4 others that were special:
  
1.  A four-year-old child, whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. When seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old Gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there.    When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy just said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’
 
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 2.  Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family. One little boy in the picture had different hair color than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted.    

A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted.’
 
 ‘What does it mean to be adopted?’, asked another child.
 
 ‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’
 
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 3.      On my way home one day, I stopped to watch a Little League baseball game that was being played in a park near my home.  I sat down behind the bench on the first-base line and inquired from one of the boys what the score was.    

‘We’re behind 14 to nothing,’ he answered with a smile.
 
  ‘Really,’ I said. ‘I have to say you don’t look very discouraged.’
 
  ‘Discouraged?’, the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face… ‘Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t been up to bat yet.’
 
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4. Whenever I’m disappointed with my spot in life, I stop and think about little Jamie Scott.
 
Jamie was trying out for a part in the school play.   His mother told me that he’d set his heart on being in it, though she feared he would not be chosen..
 
On the day the parts were awarded, I went with her to collect him after school. Jamie rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement..  ‘Guess what, Mom,’ he shouted, and then said those words that will remain a lesson to me….’I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.’
 
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5.   An eye witness account from New York City: on a cold day in December, some years ago,a young boy about 10-years-old was standing before a shoe store on the sidewalk, peering intently through the window. He was barefoot and shivering from the cold.
 
A lady approached the young boy and said,  ‘My, but you’re in such deep thought staring in that window!’
 
‘I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,’ was the boy’s reply.
 
The lady took him by the hand, went into the store, and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He brought them to her.
 
She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his feet, and dried them. By this time, the clerk had returned with the socks. She placed a pair upon the boy’s feet, then bought him a pair of shoes..
 
 
She gave him the remaining pairs of socks, patted him on the head and said, ‘No doubt, you will be more comfortable now.’
 
As she turned to go, the astonished kid caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, with tears in his eyes, asked her.   ‘Are you God’s wife?’
 
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SEND TO ALL WHO LOVE AND CARE FOR CHILDREN.

After listening to Lakme, the Flower Duet

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ ]

I like beautiful music and although I prefer music over song, either can be from any era, just as long as it is beautiful to my ears and it moves me. So I was listening to Lakme, part I, The Flower Duet (in this case performed by Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca – See YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf42IP__ipw)

…And I was thinking, again, about Earth and about “Man” as Earth’s current lord and master. I was thinking of a line by Carl Sagan in “Contact”: ‘You are capable of such beauty, and such horror.” (Quoting from memory but the gist is here)

Whenever I engage myself, mind-wise, on Earthian matters, I get confused as to how I should approach it. Is it “you” and me as the cosmic observer, or should I include myself in among the observed? How do I decide this? First, I must be sure it isn’t a matter of hubris; that if my observation runs into negative judgment, that if I remove myself it isn’t in any way because I think I’m superior to the rest of Earthianity, but because I no longer think, speak or act as most of “you” do. This process, this judgment, must be impeccable on my part.

I believe it is, therefore I am going to be the observer and use the “you” though certainly in the generic sense. I do not know “you” as individuals, therefore it will be according to your conscience whether you “fit in” or can truthfully remain outside the picture. For you, today, I will once again take up the role of the Trojan prophetess Cassandra and say things you will not find acceptable.

You are capable of great beauty… certainly, and the piece of music I mention above proves it even by itself. You don’t have to be able to write, play or sing such, you just have to be able to listen to it and have the capacity to let it enter you and fill you and for the three or four minutes it takes, let it displace all other thoughts, feelings and emotions. Simple, really.

The problem however is that too often it seems impossible to let go. The “immediate” presses upon the mind and demands full attention. That immediate could be anything from the most pleasurable to the greatest pain or loss. The mind-heart refuses to let go of its current obsession driven by anticipation or the immediacy of physical or mental pain.

Earth is not a place conducive to an overall sense of peace, comfort and wholesome satisfaction. Even in the most remote corners, surrounded by nothing but nature, unless one is blind, the reality of the turmoil taking place in the skies, the seas, the trees, the soil, impinges on one’s awareness: predators, everywhere. You see, your world’s natural motive force is based on predatorship or perhaps I should coin a word here: predatorism, because in fact that is the concept that rules Earth. Some are born to kill, many, many more are born to be killed, eaten or absorbed into the natural fabric, their lives cut down long before they can complete their natural cycle. Even your great mountains are worn away by waters and passing winds.

I realize that most of you do not engage your world this way. You do not sense this, though you may be vaguely aware of it, and you generally shrug it off, or use it as an excuse for indulging in what Sagan called, “great horror.” You call it the food chain, and that’s that, as if somehow that explains it away. As if that same nature you want to wax poetic about can also be the brutal barbaric entity that supports your convenient food chain. As if there is no unacceptable dichotomy here, no problem.

That’s the problem, you see, the fact that you don’t see a problem with how nature works. You don’t see a problem because you don’t realize the direct relationship with your own social failures: your wars, genocides, social injustices of every possible kind juxtaposed with those of the world you happen to be temporarily using as a base because… you have no choice: you can’t get away, and if you could, you would have no clue where to go. Some of you feel that your species is a failure, but how many see your world’s “procession” as an equally and connected abysmal failure?

I feel both, the horror that is the working natural system of this world, and the greater horror that is an intelligent, sentient, self aware (ISSA) species calling itself “mankind” that refuses to question the modus operandi of its natural world; refuses to question its own modus operandi; refuses the simple expedient of connecting the dots in order to realize why things are as they are and why no lasting (real) solution to man’s social problems has ever come forth. The only times some significant change has ever happened was through the exercise of violence. That true statement should make any rational being stop and take note: why must it require violence to make significant change within the social structure, and why is it that any and all such changes have failed and are in the process of failing right now?

To me that would be the “why?” question of all the “why?” questions. Why do you always fail? Look, even now, while shooting off on all kinds of tangents based on IT and AI, you are helplessly realizing that this technology is quite likely going to supplant you, perhaps destroy you as ISSA beings. Barely has the technology begun that already you know without a doubt that some way or another it is going to bite you in the ass, and that severely so.

You see? There is no win-win here, not under the current hegemony; the current “force” or “power” that operates this planet. You, people of earth, are not that force or that power, but its slave species. There, I’ve said it, and but for rare exceptions, that is not something you will find acceptable, therefore you will find it necessary to reject the thought outright. If you did not, guess what? You would be forced to look into this in depth and who knows where that would lead? To confront your real nemesis?

No. I can easily tell you where it would lead: back to organized religion. Without self empowerment; without the power to cancel out all input and replace it all with your own thoughts, your own self-made ISSA reasoning, the forces or powers I speak of, will seem to smile in your brain. They will prod you along, with fine words or goads, down the chute into a ready-made religion that will, of course, explain it all. You will then accept the “new” ideas this “new” religion programs into your mind and who knows? It could explain how the AI is a divine power, or it could just as easily make you believe that the time has come to launch a “revolution” against science and technology and you will go off to destroy all vestiges of science and technology, mindlessly following the dictates of a few madmen who will tell you they are “making the Earth great again.”

Either way, you see, you’re not your own person: you are an actor, a puppet, a robot because you are not in control of your own mind. So you will go along (or you will be of those who will violently oppose the barbarians) and indulge in much, much more horror and under your feet, in the seas, in the trees and in the air, predators will continue to kill and eat, and billions of lifeforms will die premature deaths in attempts to sate the hunger of an insatiable system – as Costello would say, “Same as you!”

Quote: “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty- five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” (Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt)

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

[thoughts from ~burning woman~ ]

Monday morning. Blank screen. Emails read and responded to. Breakfast of protein powder mix, raisin bread toast and a few sips of hot coffee. Drab grey drizzle day, same as yesterday.

Thoughts pounding in my head, no particular order. Climate change is raising sea levels world wide; is it man-made? The science bloc increasingly thinks so; some have theories. Religion has doctrines, science has theories. Both are right. Both continually change their beliefs without ever admitting they were ever wrong.  It’s how the faith is propagated.

Remembering weird dream. Young, still on the old homestead. The father and eldest son have invented a machine to travel space. All must get on board and leave. Ever the practical, I look around and find many things left undone, tools not locked up, as well as house and sheds. I argue about it and set out to secure the property. My phone rings, I don’t answer, keep on working. Then comes the call of nature. After that I think, ‘It’s too late now, they will have left.’ I’m hoping I’m right – I realize how much I don’t want to go with them. I want to stay here and take care of things. The space machine I think is a very dumb idea. I say to myself, ‘It’s not how it goes, it’s not how we should do things. You don’t just leave.’ I walk down a city street, past a restaurant. I go in and recognize the owner, I’ve worked for her, waitressing. I lose my favourite ball cap and go look for it. An old man has it and is admiring it. I say, ‘That’s my hat sir, may I have it back please?’ He seems not to understand so I snatch it out of his hands and leave. I can’t wear it because I already have a hat on. I feel a great deal of confusion and uncertainty and the dream ends.

There are people in this world who are empaths. I’ve read about them and met some. They are people driven to take care of others but in most cases they can’t take care of themselves. They don’t understand themselves. Their lives are a mess, as are their homes and their finances. They don’t eat properly and have a great difficulty deciding what to wear. It seems as if their own person is a dilemma to them. Give them someone to care for however and suddenly they come alive, they are energized. They know the right and wrong words and action. I have maintained throughout my “aware” times that to be an empath on such a world as this is difficult, if not impossible. To function, something has to give. These empaths forget themselves and live according to their calling. Then there are the non-empaths who want to emulate them, who choose a path of service and turn into machines. It becomes a profession, a job, and there is no healing from their hands, even if they are taught proper bedside manners, they are transparent by their lack of heart. I try to keep my own place clean, and to wear proper and clean clothes but when it comes time to clean I have no heart for it. I need to be needed. That’s how empathy is measured if indeed it can be measured.

I wonder sometimes, well all the time, if the world is in as much of a mess; as chaotic; as my mind insists it is? I shouldn’t have to wonder, the evidence is all around me. Can I trust that evidence though, or am I too sensitive to the pain and suffering to the point where I no longer see or sense the pleasure many derive from the way they live their lives? Perhaps it’s a question of awareness. Do animals realize their dwindling numbers, the decimation of their particular species? They cannot express themselves as we do so we can’t know, but are they even aware of their loss in the face of human encroachment? Are we the ones who are supposed to be aware for them? Yesterday I saw an ad for a store that sells all sorts of hunting and fishing equipment. It’s a popular store but I don’t shop there. I have gone in that store and I smelled death and it made me sick. That’s the problem with being an empath.

I spent a lifetime working for others. When I got a job, it was basically my life for 42.5 years. Now I’m retired, have been for a few years, but the “call” is still there, as if next morning I will get up, eat, get ready and head off to work. That’s the normal and it’s been interrupted. I can’t get used to it. This is Canada Thanksgiving weekend, day 3. Fortunately I have a job to go to tomorrow morning that will probably take all day. So a bit of the “old normal” to rely on.

Perhaps, from someone else’s point of view things aren’t as bad as they come across to me. Perhaps what’s real is actually what’s fake? Yet I must ask, where are the birds? Many birds pass through here in the Fall migration yet this year there are so few and basically they are the ones who reside here year round. I’m thinking that those fires that have raged through and devastated so much territory north of here are responsible. Millions of nests would have been burned in the fires and many adult birds fallen prey to the thick smoke and died too. There are many, many unfelt costs to our mindless expansion and raping of our wilderness. There are many warning signs being given to us to mind our ways, but are we minding?

I read a terribly sad story this morning about a terribly abused child who for years relied upon his faith in God to see him through his ordeals. Later in life, sick and broken from the earlier abuse, he finally realized no help would come to him from God. He said he walked out a final time from his church with tears in his eyes, realizing he was alone, had always been, would always be. I have done the same, for similar reasons, even if the “abuse” wasn’t on me in this life, it was in my past life, and I can feel the abuse that so many endure at this very moment. That too is me and no escape from it. What will this man do now, finding himself alone? Will he find another broken life to share with and limp along to death? Or will he discover self empowerment? I could make a bet on that were I a gambler.

Who am I? I am an empath. I am everybody, I am Nobody. I borrow feelings, or rather they come to me, as thread for my needle, and I patch and patch and patch but my civilization is a tattered rag.

Mt. 9:16 “No-one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.”

180924 – Dear Diary #1

[thoughts from   ~burning woman~ ]

Am I “in the mood” for this? Can’t say, but let’s try.

Good morning diary. I know you have no idea who I am, or why I would be addressing you in such familiar terms. Well neither do I. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Introductions, perhaps? My name is Sha’Tara. Pleased to meet you. No, don’t read between the lines, I know I’m pretending but we have to start somewhere.

Where? Well, we’re in my back yard under a very bright Autumn sun and enjoying the latent heat. Got the garden mostly cleaned up – this is a text editor so no pictures – and I’m looking at some little things I could do to “the homestead” to forestall some more frost damage due to those bitter eastern winds I’m anticipating by at least 3 months! I think closing that garage entrance “wind tunnel” with a wide half-glass door would be good.

For now, everything is very green and lawns are still being mowed, including a contract one I have to get to tomorrow afternoon on “Little Mountain”. I’ll try to get some pictures, something I’m definitely not reliable at doing. That’s it for the small talk, diary. Now to what I really meant to say.

I woke up this morning, as on so many mornings now, with a weight on my heart as if I was carrying the whole world. Was it due to dreams? I don’t know, I cannot remember having any, just the weight that with a nice light breakfast of protein mix and a slice of thick, raisin toast, seemed to lighten up. The feeling is still here though, as if it is begging to be analyzed and understood.

I’ll tell you what, diary. I think these heavy mornings are due to a rise in my level of empathy, stretching out further and farther upon the planet, picking up “stuff” that unfortunate “others” are experiencing. Wouldn’t that make sense? It cannot be from my own life: there’s nothing personal in it that one could label as negative. Peace, relative quiet, health, enough money to live comfortably, a small mortgage carefully managed. A few friends also carefully “managed” so there are no cling-ons in the mix. So, definitely not about me.

What about “out there”? Well I know that there is a lot of trouble brewing and spewing out in many places. I know there are literally millions of people, animals and “others” suffering terribly because of the greed and presumption of some and an uncaring attitude from many. Am I one of those, diary? If I take my comfortable life as pivot point, then yes, certainly I could be accused of not caring.

But it’s not that simple, is it. I know that I could throw in the towel, as far as this middle class lifestyle of mine is concerned, settle my “debt” with the bank and take the left-overs, something like a half a million dollars of “cold hard cash” and go out into the wild blue yonder looking for more effective ways to help the downtrodden. Yes, technically that is a possibility. But realistically?

Back to working with those ubiquitous “charitable organizations” being told how to dress; how to behave towards others; how to speak and what to say – most of the emphasis being on conformity to some group rather than on the work at hand. Chances of that happening, diary? Nil. Binder Dundat, never again.

Other possibility, give it all away. Sure, then become a burden on “the State”? No, that isn’t happening either. And at my age, how long in any case before the body does a back flip and it’s all over?

So, back to analysis of this heavy feeling upon awakening – using that term in the literal and etheric way. It isn’t about “me” doing “more” for the oppressed, it’s really about sharing that place and space with “them”. It is how true empathy develops and makes its home in the mind and body. If I live with this growing sense of empathy I know that it puts me in a differnt space, from selfish to selfless. If-when someone calls for help I know I will be “on-call”, ready and willing to respond. That’s what this is all about: a tuning of one’s attitude to the world, from one of taking, to one of permanently ready and willing to give or share.

Right now. From right here, from within my comfort zone, independently in charge of my choices and movements, self empowered and fully responsible. What do you think of that analysis, diary?