Compassion and Empathy

Compassion means that one realizes that, “I am not separate from this suffering” – Joan Halifax

When one talks about compassion,equality, social justice, and the act of becoming a community, it is important to understand that even though we all have unique personalities (soals, spirits, et cetera..), the reality is that we are all literally of the same body. During conception, a new baby is not created out of nothing. A cell, who’s essential components come from mom and dad, splits. This is important because we are not the completely unique individuals that the American dream professes that we are. We are a part of a infinitely long process of continuous creation. What we see when we look at each other, the trees, the animals, butterflies, is a reflection of our literal selves.  The genetic difference between a mouse and a human is very, very small, and that matters when we talk about how we treat other people, and how we treat other species. Violence toward “others” is really violence towards ourselves…the effects of poverty and climate change are proof.
Gaia Theory, following this line of thought, claims that the earth is a single living organism, where everything is integrated and networked into infinitely complex relationships. Middle class white men are a piece of that network, but so are monkeys, soil, air, penguins, water, and every other living and non living component on earth. The living cannot exist without the nonliving “stuff” that supports it, making that non-living stuff just as important as the living stuff. The continuous flow of materials (carbon, oxygen, etc,.) and information (DNA) between the living and non living really blurs the line as to what life is. This is why the Native Americans felt that rocks and water and stars had souls, and were alive. They recognized the infinitely complex relationships of which they were a small part of.
The privilege, and curse, to people is that they are self conscious. Remember that we are made up of molecules of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, et cetera. No where else in the entire universe has structures of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, risen to the level of having feelings of love, hatred, and compassion. Think about that. It is truly an amazing thing, but it puts a tremendous burden on us to find a healthy place for ourselves in this universe. We have to make decisions. Rocks don’t make decisions. Animals make decisions, but they live in the moment, and can’t comprehend the gravity of their actions onto others. When humans hurt others we know it, and we choose to do it usually for personal or family gain. It hurts everyone involved, simply because we are all of the same body, and we are self conscious.
The idea of the Beloved Community, as popularized by Martin Luther King, is to hold that paradox in your hands gracefully. We are actually all of the same physical body, and we have risen to the level of self consciousness where we must make difficult choices. All choices we make have consequences, either directly or indirectly through the people and environment that we live with(in). Creating the Beloved Community is about effectively playing our small, but important, part in creating the infinitely complex and beautiful world that we are. Seeing others as the same, but unique, special, but not exceptional, simply follows from this line of thought. “Social Justice” becomes just a word. Compassion becomes natural.

…more on Monsanto

Yesterday’s “Life on the line” post left me thinking, and I wanted to pass along a few more important thoughts. These genetically “enhanced” plants, in most cases, are designed to not be affected by the pesticides (RoundUp) that are sprayed on them. The pesticide is intended to kill everything but the genetically modified organism (GMO), which is protected. This simple-minded thinking forgets that these plants are still dependent upon healthy relationships with other natural processes to survive. When you think only of the object that you’re designing, without thinking about the entire system, you’re bound to fail. Gee, I wonder why the bees are dying off…if only Mansanto would genetically modify the bees so they are not affected by Monsanto’s pesticides, then Monsanto would have patent rights to all the work that the bees do as well! Be damn sure that no Monsanto bees pollinate your crops – you could be sued! Oh wait, the bees have relationships with other organisms that ensure their survival as well. Better modify their genes as well….Hmmm….

Second, from Monsanto’s own website, and interesting article about Mansanto’s involvement in the creation of Agent Orange. That’s just wonderful news. Our world food supply is dominated by a chemical weapons manufacturer. Awesome.

Third, there are many, many articles about Mansanto’s history of disregarding environmental policy. Here is a famous one from the Washington Post, dated in 2002, where Mansanto had knowingly, and secretly, dumped PCB’s into an open sewage pit for 40 years.

Also, as you would expect, Mitt Rob-me is in bed with Mansanto.  In fact, Romney helped to put Monsanto on its current trajectory, and was a part of the dump and run of PCB’s mentioned above. The choice for our US President seems pretty obvious! I just wish there were some better and bolder cantidates out there.

And finally, for those who don’t know, there was an Occupy Monsanto worldwide protest yesterday. I haven’t heard much in the media about it, but I’m sure the media is not able to take the risk of providing the publicity for these protesters. It would be interpreted as supporting the efforts of the protesters. Damn liberal media!

Go check out your local farmers market.

Life on the line…

Beautiful Old Minnesota Barn – Spring 2008

The hope of The Comfortably Numb is to make obvious the unsustainable actions of our fragmented socio-economic capitalistic culture thereby awakening the senses of intelligent people who have been blinded by the industrial/scientific spectacle of our time. Our fragmented world collectively supports the top 1% with ever-increasing effectiveness, and simultaneously blinds the average person to the tragic, and unusually dangerous, outcomes of our socio-economic/industrial processes. Each of us 99%ers are, at best, experts in a very narrow field, rendering our ability to comment on the human condition insignificant. It has become someone elses problem, because the individual’s authority has been taken/given away.

However, many of the actions of modern organizations are so outrageous, so extreme, that anyone can see the hateful outcomes, and demand appropriate change.  Dashka Slater recently published a fantastic article for the NY Times Magazine, on what she feels might be the most dangerous thing in your house. Surprisingly, she suggests that it is your couch. More specifically, it is the fire-retardant chemicals added to the foam in your couch. The article is great, and it reflects a favoritism toward creating wealth for a few powerful individuals, over our sustained health as a species. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it. In the article she says:

“Logic would suggest that any new chemical used in consumer products be demonstrably safer than a compound it replaces, particularly one taken off the market for reasons related to human health. But of the 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because industrial chemicals are presumed safe unless proved otherwise, under the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act.”

“Safe unless proved otherwise” is a reactive attitude that implies that the industrialists can make as much money as possible until the true effects of their actions become readily obvious and scientifically proven. Thousands must become gravely ill, or disfigured to raise serious questions. Millions, if not billions, of dollars will then need to be spent in scientific research, grass-roots organizing, marketing efforts, and legal fees to prove that a single material is legally dangerous for public use. Since there are tens of thousands of “designer materials” that have been introduced for public consumption in the past 50 years, the task seems overwhelming. William McDonough, in his book “Cradle to Cradle,” claims that we are designing a system of production that,

  • puts billions of pounds of toxic material into the air, water and soil every year,
  • produces some materials so dangerous they will require constant vigilance by future generations,
  • result in gigantic amounts of waste
  • puts valuable materials in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved
  • requires thousands of complex regulations-not to keep people and natural systems safe, but rather to keep them from being poisoned too quickly,
  • measures productivity by how few people are working
  • creates prosperity by digging up, or cutting down, natural resources and then burying them or burning them,
  • erodes the diversity of species and cultural practices.

It simply makes public health, and economic sense to force companies to prove their materials in a lab before they prove them on my children. Any average person should agree that there should be some basic level of safety required for the man-made concoctions that modern engineers dream up, before they are released upon the public.

The attitude toward the tinkering with the genetic codes of life are the same. The farming/agricultural industry would like us to visualize them as cute red barns, with white picket fences, and maybe a tractor or two lightly plowing a pastoral landscape. That children’s book version of food production is a joke! Agriculture is one of the most corrupt, destructive industries that we inflict upon ourselves and the natural world. They have destroyed millions upon millions of acres of forests and grasslands to produce just a handful of crops, severly limiting the diversity of life that nature depends on for her resiliency and stability. Most of the meats, fruits, and veggies that you buy at the grocery store have had their genetic code altered such that they are more profitable to produce. Companies are now inserting genetic markers into living organisms to both alter the qualities of the organism, and to protect their legal rights to their “invention.” (…sounds like playing god to me!) Meanwhile, by consuming these foods, we are injecting strange, and untested genetic codes, into our bodies and into the general environment, with absolutely no understanding of what those outcomes will be. The 5 giant multinational organizations that control nearly all seed production have virtually no responsibility to prove that what they are doing is safe until things start to go wrong.

Jeffery Smith has created a free online movie entitled “Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives“. I highly recommend watching this movie. It is a fairly aggressive, and totally biased, look at our indifference to the potential outcomes of such a dangerous game. I usually have a bad reaction to these types of highly aggressive messages, because I question their truthfulness. However, I watch them because the overall idea is based on a sound question. They may, or may not be providing perfect arguments, but they are certainly dovetailing into a larger question about societies indifference to life’s future. They are certainly asking the right questions.

Nearly all the food in the world is touched by the 5 or 6 large pharmaceutical companies that design seeds. If a farmer is caught illegally growing plants containing the genetic markers of one of these companies, they can be heavily fined. These seeds are allowed to be used for only one season. A farmer is not allowed to use the surplus seed from one season in the following season, without paying a fee to get a license to do so. In fact, they cannot use seeds generated from the plants grown in one season, to re-seed in following seasons. These few companies are determining the direction for hundreds of millions of people. The fines can be steep. In this NY Times article, issued just last month, Andrew Polluck writes about a billion dollar win for the pharmaceutical company Montsago, over Dupont, for patent infringement. These unbelievably powerful cartels are buying up all of the seed companies throughout the world, making it increasingly difficult for smaller more conservatively minded farmers to avoid genetically modified seeds. Phil Howard of Michigan State University has produced a diagram that only begins to capture the size and power of these companies. In this diagram, he only looks at the influence that the pharmaceutical companies have over the seed companies, but the influence actually moves throughout the entire food production process. It is a powerful diagram worth checking out.

Are we, as a species, willing to risk our lives on this genetic gamble? Are we OK with presuming innocence until proven guilty for these companies, when they are screwing with the very foundations of life itself? Are we OK with the idea that a company can patent living organisms? Are we OK with mixing and matching genetic information, to a point that we’ll feed it to our children? Is it unbelievably arrogant to think that DuPont, or Mansanto, can improve life beyond what billions of years of evolution has done. We barely understand the role of genetics in the web of life. It would take the very sophisticated tools of complex dynamical theory to even begin to understand the outcomes of these changes to the genetic structure of life, and those tools are in their infancy – nowhere near ready to tackle this monster. These pharmaceutical companies are not that smart, they are just clever and greedy. This shoot first, and aim later approach needs to be stopped.

A simple blog post can’t begin to capture this. Learn more. Here are a couple of websites to further your understanding:

Thanks for your comments.

Taking Responsibility

Early Spring – Lanesboro, MN

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in the history of the United States. It happened in Mankato, MN on December 16, 1862, during the Dakota War of 1862. Thirty eight Sioux men were publicly hanged. The Minnesota State leadership (many of which are now MN iconic names) had claimed that the Sioux prisoners had raped and murdered European settlers, therefore demanded that all 303 prisoners be publicly executed. In a rash and hateful attempt to circumvent due process, the Sioux people were given military tribunals, some of which lasted less than 5 minutes, with no legal representation, nor explanation of what was happening, and sentenced to death.  President Lincoln personally reviewed each case to determine who had committed rape and murder of civilian people, and who had been engaged in the Dakota War. In the end, Lincoln commuted the death sentence of 264 Sioux people, yet this public mass execution of 38 is still the largest in American history.

The Chief of the Sioux People during the Dakota War of 1862 was a man by the name of Little Crow. At the time, it was government policy to offer money to anyone who could produce the scalp of a Native American person. Sometimes this could be as much as $200, which was a considerable amount of money to an average farmer. Purely by coincidence, Little Crow was picking raspberries on July 3rd, 1863, with his son, when a farmer shot him for scalp money. The farmer had no idea that he had shot Little Crow, but was happy to find out that he got $500 for his killing. His son was condemned to death for his participation in defending the native people and his land. Little Crow’s head and scalp were put on display as trophy, in St. Paul, MN until 1971!!

It is difficult to overstate the horrible things that have been done to the Native People of North America. The Native American population was massively reduced by millions through warfare, disease, alcohol, exploitation, massacres and displacement. Their children were taken away from them and forcibly brainwashed in boarding schools, with hateful conservative religious teachers.  Their languages were erased from memory. Their art was destroyed. They were forced onto foreign lands, where they didn’t know how to find food, make shelter, or cloth themselves. Some of their beautiful creation stories have been lost. It is nothing short of genocide.

Although the Native American perspective is still not taught in schools, some version of the story is in all of the history books. A recognition of events is there, and most modern-day people recognize that this was a horrible thing to do to another culture. Yet, to this day, there has been no formal apology. The recent exhibit at the Minnesota History Center, seems to be a very small, and very timid, step in this direction. They have made an effort to talk to the people we have victimized for the past 150 years, and faithfully tell their stories, as well as the usual European stories.

We could learn from others. We are not the first to be in this situation, and we can heal relationships. Back in 2008, the Australian leadership accepted the awesome responsibility of their hateful actions by issuing the following motion, to be voted on by their governmental house of representatives:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our national history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page, a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia

The motion was met with grand applause from all members of the House, and the Aboriginal People as well. I can’t even imagine what courage it took to say these words, and how deeply, and profoundly moving it must have been to hear them. It is easy to hate the other, and difficult to embrace diversity. Deep and profound meaning, however, is always found in the difficult challenges in life. Rarely does the easy life associate itself with the good life.

It is time that Minnesota (and the US) take responsibility for the actions of its forefathers, and apologize for the extraordinarily hateful actions it has committed against the native people living amongst us.

puncta lucis

points of light in particular arrangements

The Quotidian Diary

The beauty and quirk of the everyday, common and mundane

West Seventh Freelance

Photography, seeking, writing...and learning along the way. Want to come along?!

Latham Photography

Art Portfolio

Jim Caffrey Images Photo Blog

photography from the ground up

Photo Nature Blog

Nature Photography by Jeffrey Foltice

Edward Echwalu - Documentary Photographer

Seeking to Creatively Document Life’s Passing Moments, One Shot at a Time

Toby Gant's Photography Blog Just living the dream.

%d bloggers like this: