A Path of Hope for the Future

 Hope for the Future

Keynote address delivered at the 2000 Houston Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, 1/26/00

Yesterday a teenager sent me an email letter in which he said, “I feel cheated that it’s all UP TO ME. By being in the younger generation, I have to save the world before I can even begin to think of building a life for myself, or there will be nothing to build my life on.”

I think this is a profound statement and a statement of profound importance to this particular audience. I’ve known several generations of kids your age, and I can tell you that feeling cheated is something NEW, and something new is always worth paying attention to.

The kids of my own generation didn’t feel cheated, we felt terrified. We grew up in the coldest part of the Cold War, cowering in the shadow of the H-bomb, expecting at any moment to see the world come to an end in a nuclear holocaust. All we knew was that we had to get down to the business of getting as much of the good life as we could before the end came. We were the Silent Generation, and all we wanted was to get out there and get a job, a career, a marriage, a family, a house in the suburbs, squeezing in as much as we could before it all went up in smoke.

The kids of the sixties and seventies didn’t feel cheated. They were just fed up with their parents’ idea that the best life was the one the Silent Generation was struggling to get–the job, the career, the marriage, the family, the house in the suburbs. They wanted to LIVE, to have a little fun, and to hell with the goddamned H-bomb. Who could blame them?

Michael feels cheated, he says, because it’s all up to him. If you haven’t yet been told that it’s “all up to you,” believe me, you will be. Of course, this business of it all being up to you is pretty standard commencement day rhetoric. Every commencement day speaker worth his or her salt has got to say, one way or another, “The future is in your hands. Today the torch passes from one generation to the next,” blah, blah, blah. This in itself is not new. I heard the same thing when I was your age.

But it meant something different when I heard it. It really was just commencement day rhetoric back then. Nowadays it means something different.

Nowadays it means something like this. My generation and my parents’ generation and their parents’ have really screwed things up here, and that’s no joke. I can’t even bring myself to look at the latest WorldWatch Institute estimate of how much time we have left to turn this around before we head down a slide from which no recovery is possible. It was 40 years the last time I DID have the nerve to look, and that was about ten years ago.

What does this figure mean? It doesn’t mean human extinction in forty years. It means we have 40 years to find a new path for ourselves, and if we let those 40 years go to waste and just go on the way we are, the momentum that is carrying us forward to extinction will be too great to overcome. So that date is not the end of it all, it’s just the point of no return. Irreversible.

So when people tell you now that it’s all up to you, they really mean “If you can’t find what we were unable to find and our parents were unable to find and their parents were unable to find (which is another way for us to go), then you may very well live to see the extinction of the human race.”
I’m sure you haven’t failed to notice what a monstrous copout this is.

 

Oh yes, we–your parents and their parents and their parents–have screwed up the world royally, and we admit it!! But if YOU don’t find a way to FIX what WE’VE done, then it will be YOUR fault! Not OUR fault, because we have an excuse. We were just dumb and greedy. And because WE’VE been dumb and greedy, YOU’RE going to have to be smart and self-sacrificing. Got that?

Michael puts it in a nutshell: “By being in the younger generation, I have to save the world before I can even begin to think of building a life for myself, or there will be nothing to build my life on.”

Your parents didn’t have to save the world before building a life for themselves. Maybe it would’ve have been a good idea–but they didn’t HAVE to. So they didn’t.
You HAVE to, because if you don’t, as Michael says, there will be nothing LEFT to build your life ON.

So that’s the deal. Forget about having fun. Forget about taking up some career just because it happens to appeal to you. Forget about getting the good things in life that your parents have. Forget about the six-figure salary. Forget about the BMW. Forget about the 8000 square foot house. Those things are okay for people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Donald Trump and Steve Case, because they belong to the same old, unregenerate generation as your parents. They can AFFORD to be dumb and greedy. They don’t HAVE to save the world first. YOU DO.

Is it any wonder that Michael feels cheated?

When he speaks of being cheated, Michael unconsciously brings into play the language of games. I mean that Michael dimly recognizes that a game IS being played with him, and I’d like to take a few minutes to examine the game that’s being played with him–and with you when people tell you that “It’s all up to you.”

In his book, The Book: or, The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts examines the notion of the “double-bind.” “A person,” he writes, “is put in a double-bind by a command or request that contains a concealed contradiction. ‘Stop being self-conscious!’ ‘Try to relax.’ . . . Society, as we now have it, pulls this trick on every child from earliest infancy. In the first place, the child is taught that he is responsible, that he is a free agent, an independent origin of thoughts and actions. He accepts this make-believe for the very reason that it is not true. He can’t help accepting it, just as he can’t help accepting membership in the community where he was born. He has no way of resisting this kind of social indoctrination. It is constantly reinforced with reward and punishments. It is built into the basic structure of the language he is learning. . . . we befuddle our children hopelessly because we–as adults–were once so befuddled, and, remaining so, do not understand the game we are playing.”

I hope you’ll leave here today with a better understanding of the game that is being played with you. “The child,” Watts says, “is taught that he is responsible, that he is a free agent, an independent origin of thoughts and actions.” This is what you’re hearing when people of an older generation say, “It’s all up to you.” You might say that this is HALF of the game. They themselves were told, “It’s all up to you,” when they were your age. But if you watch them in action, you’ll see very clearly that they don’t act as if it were all up to them. They act as if it were all up to SOMEONE ELSE. They were taught, just as you were, that they are responsible, that they are free agents, but they know perfectly well that this is make-believe. SOMEONE ELSE is responsible for saving the world. SOMEONE ELSE is a free agent CAPABLE of saving the world. It may not come to mind immediately who this SOMEONE ELSE is, but you’ll certainly recognize it when you hear it.

Who is everyone WAITING for to save the world? Who is EVERYONE waiting for to save the world?

They are waiting for our LEADERS, of course. This is the other half of the game. The first half of the game is: It’s all up to you. The second half of the game is: they don’t have to do anything because they’re waiting for the President to save the world. They’re waiting for the Secretary General of the United Nations to save the world. They’re waiting for some unthinkable industrial giant to save the world. They’re waiting for some great thinker to save the world. They’re waiting for Mikhail Gorbachev to save the world. They’re even waiting for Daniel Quinn to save the world!

Someone UP THERE, someone in AUTHORITY!

Well, guess what, folks. There is NO ONE “up there” who is remotely CAPABLE of saving the world. Most of the people I’ve just mentioned aren’t even THINKING about saving the world. Trust me, you will never hear Al Gore or Bill Bradley or George Bush utter one word about saving the world*. And whichever one of them is elected our next President, he will not spend a single minute of his administration thinking about saving the world. This is not something they should be blamed for, in all honesty. We don’t ELECT presidents to save the world, and any candidate that campaigned on that basis would be laughed off the stage. We elect ALL our political leaders to address SHORT-TERM goals.

The kids of your grandparents’ generation were told, “It’s all up to you”–and they waited for SOMEONE ELSE to save the world.

The kids of your parents’ generation were told, “It’s all up to you”–and they waited for SOMEONE ELSE to save the world.

Now the people of your parents’ and grandparents’ generation are continuing the game by pointing at you and saying, “It’s all up to YOU.”

I’d like to try to persuade you to REFUSE to play the game. Don’t let anyone get away with saying, “It’s all up to you.” No. It’s all up to EVERYBODY. Refuse to accept your parents’ and grandparents’ copout. It’s not good enough to say, “We’ve failed, so it’s all up to you.”

Tell them, “STOP failing!” Which means stop WAITING!

Tell them, “There’s nothing to wait for. There’s no ONE to wait for. No one is going to save the world but the PEOPLE of the world, and you can’t make it the sole responsibility of MY generation. We are the ones with no experience, no clout, no connections, no power, no money–and it’s all supposed to be up to US??? What are YOU going to be doing while WE save the world?”

Obviously in the few minutes I have here I can’t give you a blueprint for saving the world. But I can give you a couple of fundamental notions that I think you can follow with complete confidence. The first of these might be called Quinn’s First Law. It won’t surprise you. It may even strike you as obvious. Here it is. No undesirable behavior has ever been eliminated by passing a law against it.

The second is Buckminster Fuller’s Law, which is this: You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Most of the time when people write to me to ask what they should be doing to save the world, there is in the back of their minds two general notions of how change takes place. One is the notion that passing laws makes things change. The other is that fighting makes things change. We’re trained to think that you really are DOING something if you’re out there fighting and getting laws passed.

But if you heed these two laws, you may think differently about this. Once again they are Quinn’s First Law, No undesirable behavior has ever been eliminated by passing a law against it, and Fuller’s Law, You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Here is Quinn’s Second Law: What people think is what they do. And its corollary: To change what people do, change what they think.

At the present time, there are six billion people on this planet pursuing a vision that is devouring the earth. That’s our problem. Our problem is not pollution. Our problem is not consumerism. Our problem is not capitalist greed. Our problem is not conservative selfishness or liberal utopianism. Our problem is not lack of leadership. Our problem is a world-devouring vision that six billion people are pursuing.

Now what can we do about this vision? We can’t legislate it away or vote it away or organize it away or even shoot it away. We can only teach it away.

If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, people with a new vision. It will not be saved by old minds with new programs.

Vision is a flowing river. Programs are sticks set in the riverbed to impede the flow of the river. But I don’t want to impede its flow, I want to change its direction.

Is it so easy to change a cultural vision? Ease and difficulty are not the relevant measures. Here are the relevant measures: Readiness and unreadiness. If people aren’t ready for it, then no power on earth can make a new idea catch on.

But if people are ready for it (and I think they are), then a new idea will sweep the world like wildfire.

In our culture at the present moment, the flow of the river is toward catastrophe, and programs are sticks set in the riverbed to impede its flow. Our path of hope is not to add more sticks to impede the flow. Our path of hope is to change the direction of the flow–away from catastrophe.

I think people are ready for this new idea.

Don’t pay attention to people who talk as if saving the world is someone else’s business–bigshots in international politics or bigshots in international commerce. I say again: If the world is saved, it will be saved by people with changed minds, and anyone can change a mind. I mean that. Back in the seventies, a lot of eight-year-olds came home and told their parents, “By God, you’re going to stop smoking!”–and they made it stick. Back in the eighties, a lot of eight-year-olds came home and told their parents, “By God, we’re going to start recycling aluminum cans!”–and they made it stick.

I’ve changed lots of minds, through my books–but the absolute fact is that my readers have changed more minds than my books have. A lot more.

One by one, readers did the work. Not me–people like you. Having done this work, having carried the word to parents, to children, to teachers, to friends, to relatives, even to strangers, they would then sit down and write me to say, but how can I help save the world? And I’d write back and say, “Look, you’re already doing it!”

If the time is right, a new idea will sweep the world like wildfire.

Let me share with you the most inspirational story I’ve heard in a long time. This story comes to me from a high school teacher in Alaska who was using Ishmael in a third-year science course. One of the students in his class was recognized as a probable drop-out. She was a lukewarm student at best–indifferent and uninterested. But instead of dropping out, after reading Ishmael, this young woman did the strangest thing anyone had ever heard of, including me. She took it upon herself to buy copies of Ishmael for her parents and to organize a week-long seminar in her own living room that her parents were commanded to attend in order to engage in a Socratic dialogue on Ishmaels themes. From that point on, she never looked back, and no one thinks of her as a probable dropout any more.
Let me make it clear that I’m not telling this story to because I’m proud of what Ishmael did. I’m proud of what this seventeen-year-old girl did! She found a path of hope for the future–all on her own. She didn’t ask me, she didn’t ask her parents, she didn’t ask her teachers, she didn’t ask her friends, she didn’t ask anyone.

If the time is right, a new idea will sweep the world like wildfire–because of people like this seventeen-year-old girl.

Because of people like you.

Because of this seventeen-year-old girl, there are two more people in the world with changed minds. That’s no small thing, believe me. Because where there are two with changed minds, there can be four. And where there are four, there can be eight. And where there are eight, there can be sixteen. All because of that one that started the whole thing by saying, “I’ve got to change these two minds.”

That’s exactly how new ideas sweep the world like wildfire–and that’s how I see it.

That’s our path of hope for the future.


*At the time this was written Al Gore was one of the folks “up there,” where it was best to keep one’s mouth closed about “saving the world.” Being no longer “up there” Mr. Gore is now free to express his concern about the future of the world (and this speech, if it were being written today, would not include his name in this list).

#dq, #future, #hope, #soviet-union, #united-states

Super diverse Amazon microbiome

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Is super-diverse Amazon microbiome something to strive for?

The Yanomami people in the Venezuelan rainforest have the most diverse population of gut microbes ever seen, far more varied than Western guts. Does it matter?
Hunter-gathering in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern #Venezuela, the #Yanomami eat a high-fibre diet based largely on cassava. For thousands of years, some groups have lived without contact with the rest of the world and are thought to be some of the few remaining communities never to have been exposed to antibiotics, which can wipe out the microbes in your gut.
So in some ways, the discovery, announced this week, that they carry the most diverse gut microbiomes ever documented is unsurprising. However, there is increasing evidence that our health is linked to the well-being of the microbes that call our gut home. So is the unspoilt, diverse ecosystem of the Yanomami something we should strive for?

Vaccination trip

Every year, the Venezuelan ministry of health visits newly identified communities to provide them with health services such as vaccinations, in part to protect them from diseases they could catch from gold miners that visit these regions. The decision to visit the particular Yanomami village that has now been studied was taken after it was spotted from the air in 2008.
Accompanied by interpreters who could explain the experiment in the Yanomami language, in 2009, scientists joined the medics and took mouth and forearm swabs and faecal samples from the villagers. The people they encountered had T-shirts and machetes and knew the Spanish word for “medicine”, but said they had never encountered non-Yanomami people before.
Sequencing the genes in the faecal samples revealed that the Yanomami carried nearly double the diversity of microbial species in their intestines compared with people living in the US. They also had about 30 to 40 per cent more diversity than a less isolated group of Venezuelan hunter-gatherers that has largely maintained its traditional lifestyle but has occasionally used antibiotics and eaten processed foods.

The Western way

“Our results suggest that Westernisation leads to the reduction of diversity, to different microbiota compositions,” Maria Dominguez-Bello of the New York University School of Medicine, who led the research, told a teleconference on Wednesday.
Her colleague Jose Clemente of the #Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said the results suggest that even minimal exposure to modern lifestyle practices such as using antibacterial soaps and cleansers, taking antibiotics and having Caesarean sections, which mean babies don’t pass through their mother’s birth canal and pick up her microbes, can result in a dramatic loss of microbial biodiversity.
It can be difficult to disentangle which medical and lifestyle practices have the biggest impact on the microbiome says Jens Walter of the University of Alberta in Canada, who worked on both the Yanomami study and another one published this week that showed that the microbiomes of rural Papua New Guineans are also more diverse than those of US residents.
However, antibiotic use is high in Papua New Guinea, suggesting that it is other factors that are responsible for the relatively high microbiome diversity observed there.

Does it matter?

So does a more diverse microbiome make for a healthier person? Possibly. Healthier people do seem to host a more diverse array of microbes but it’s hard to know whether one causes the other. There is some evidence that losing certain microbial species is linked to some cancers, plus giving mice antibiotics can make them gain weight, so perhaps a good mix of microbes in your gut can keep you from piling on the pounds.
“It is an interesting hypothesis that the rise of Western diseases might be caused by the depletion of the gut microbiota,” says Walter. But it’s difficult to draw any conclusions about the benefits of microbial diversity by comparing ourselves directly with the Yanomami or Papua New Guineans because overall health and life expectancy is greater in modern societies.
Walter doesn’t recommend striving drastically to make the paltry Western gut look more Yanomamian. Poor sanitation is probably one factor contributing to the Papua New Guinean’s high microbial diversity, but they have high levels of infectious diarrhoea as a result – not a situation that Western urbanised nations would want to return to.
And a quick-fix method, like receiving a faecal transplant from a Yanomami person, would not be safe, says Walter. But restricting antibiotics and Caesareans to medically necessary cases can’t hurt, neither can eating more fibre, he suggests.
While visiting the village, the medics administered some antibiotics. Depending on the specific antibiotics given, one of the last remaining examples of a pre-antibiotic microbiome has probably already been sullied, says Björn Olsen of Uppsala University in Sweden. “It’s becoming harder and harder to find people like these Amerindians in our extremely urbanised world,” he says.
Journal references: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500183 (Yanomami people); Cell Reports, DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.03.049 (Papua New Guineans)

#hievoo, #olive-oil, #united-states

10 Quotes From a Sioux Indian Chief

Originally seen on Wisdom Pills
Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman#Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of life of the Indigenous people of the Great Plains before, and during, the arrival and subsequent spread of the European pioneers. Raised in the traditions of his people until the age of eleven, he was then educated at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School of Pennsylvania, where he learned the english language and way of life. (Though a National Historical Landmark, Carlisle remains a place of controversy in Native circles.)
Like his above mentioned contemporaries, however, his native roots were deep, leaving him in the unique position of being a conduit between cultures. Though his movement through the white man’s world was not without “success” — he had numerous movie roles in Hollywood — his enduring legacy was the protection of the way of life of his people.
By the time of his death he had published 4 books and had become a leader at the forefront of the progressive movement aimed at preserving Native American heritage and sovereignty, coming to be known as a strong voice in the education of the white man as to the Native American way of life. Here, then, are 10 quotes from the great #Sioux Indian Chief known as Standing Bear that will be sure to disturb much of what you think you know about “modern” culture.
1) Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners and fine, high-sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere, and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless. Conversation was never begun at once, or in a hurried manner.
2) Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and the older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right.

3) Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that ‘thought comes before speech.’…and in the midst of sorrow, sickness, death or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect… strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given the false characterization by the white man of being a stoic. He has been judged to be dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling.
4) We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as ‘wild’. Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was it ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.

5) With all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
6) This concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all.
7) It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth… the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.

8) Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.
9) …the old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.
10) Civilization has been thrust upon me… and it has not added one whit to my love for truth, honesty, and generosity.
I hope some of these quotes have moved you and influenced you the way they have for me.  It seems as though our modern culture could use a little guidance from ancient wisdom.

#dq, #europe, #great-comet, #tribes, #united-states