Thursday, February 23, 2023

Alternative Visions


cc Jean Stimmell photo: 2019

James  Speth, the former dean of Environmental Studies at Yale, made this confession. He had previously considered the greatest environmental problems to be biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change, which could be solved with "30 years of good science." But now he thinks "the top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural  transformation.”⁠1 

 I completely agree.

I wrote a column recently about how restoring Gaia to her rightful place might be part of the spiritual and cultural transformation we need, leading us toward human sanity by embracing ecological imperatives. Here’s another perspective: 

What if my fantasy is well underway, altering our image of ourselves in new ways. It happens: Western science has altered how we view the world twice.The first turning point occurred when Newton discovered natural laws predicting how the planets revolve around the sun. Rather than everything being interrelated as indigenous people believe, each element of Newton's world was separate and distinct, like the components of an old-fashioned watch. Mechanical analogies dominated that era, not only for things but for humans, too. For example, Freud used hydraulic metaphors to describe how he thought the human mind works.

Then science made a monumental U-turn. Discoveries in cosmology and quantum physics disproved the notion we were separate, individual actors. Rather than the old notion that we were, like steel ingots, forged for life at an early age, quantum physics advanced the idea that everything, including our human 'selves.' is relational, always in flux.

As professor and author Charlene Spretnak describes it: “all entities in this world, including humans, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity that are both composed of and nested within contextual networks of creative, dynamic interrelationships,”⁠2  These relationships are so encompassing, nothing can exist outside of them.

Because of continuing scientific and technical breakthroughs, the speed of relational change is now unprecedented. Like it or not, we are transitioning into a new way of being. This is a momentous event, the most decisive shift in how we think about ourselves since the Hellenistic revolution over 2000 years ago.⁠3

While this staggering reversal may actually be our long-term salvation, it is causing severe, short-term dislocations. What could be tougher than being threatened with the loss of our identity? It's happening today to all of us. Certainly, it is at the root of the populist revolt today by Trump supporters and other tradition-bound conservatives.

The legendary psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton was among the first to recognize this shift. He saw how we were being "buffeted about by unmanageable historical forces and social uncertainties." Yet, he perceived a benefit: out of this swirling confusion, we "are becoming fluid and many-sided. Without quite realizing it, we have been evolving a sense of self appropriate to the restlessness and flux of our time." He called this mode of being the 'protean self,’ after Proteus, the Greek sea god of many forms.⁠4  

Kenneth Gergen has also written about our postmodern dilemma in  The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. He, too, sees the old unified self losing ground because we are can no  longer ignore the diverse voices of all humankind: “As we absorb their varied rhymes and reasons, they become part of us and we of them.”⁠5 

As we expand our perspective of the world by seeing it through multiple eyes beyond our own, our old sense of an "authentic self" will continue to wither away. Eventually, the fully saturated self will become no self at all. 

Gergen’s forecast seems to me to be a double-edged sword.

Society could become, at the extreme, either a dystopian nightmare or an enlightened state. At the high end, humanity would resemble Indra's Necklace, a revered metaphor in Buddhism illustrating the interconnection of all things: 

If we were to incorporate this ‘no self' metaphor into our lives, each of us would shine like a single brilliant jewel in reality's necklace.  Each jewel would reflect every other jewel, and each of the reflected images of the jewels would bear the image of all the other jewels. Whatever affects one jewel would affect them all. 

In a word, we would all be in it together.

Perhaps such a 'no self' condition is necessary for us quarrelsome primates to coexist together without destroying our home.



2 Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World by Charlene Spretnak. 2011 as noted in


4 Robert Jay Lifton, The Protean Self: Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation (New York: Basic Books, 1993) p. 1.


Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Gambling with our kids future

Gambling with our children’s future

NH has done it again: Increasing our gambling addiction rather than passing a broad-based tax. 

NH has a checkered history. In 1964, we were the first state in the union to legalize a state lottery, patting ourselves on the back because it gave back a portion to educate our children. Of course, that made no noticeable difference: we were dead last among all states in state funding for public education before the lottery – and we are still dead last today.⁠1

Regrettably, our public school students are destined to face even more challenging times ahead now that Governor Sununu and his libertarian educational czar, Frank Edelblut, have begun siphoning off part of the funding pot to students going to private school. But I digress. Back to gambling.

Not content with what we’ve already done, lawmakers are considering a range of new gambling bills that would legalize online casinos, more bingo nights, and larger poke tournaments. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission is gushing praise because these new online casino games could generate up to $17 million annually, with a portion  going into “a new scholarship fund for community college students.”⁠2

Of course, this amount will only be a drop in the bucket because NH also ranks dead last in aid to higher education. According to the NH Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, we currently spend a paltry $1.50 per capita toward supporting college funding.

While these new gambling bills are hyped as “an opportunity to capitalize on a new form of revenue while providing citizens with new forms of entertainment,” the real bottom line is “no new taxes.”⁠3  Such a deal: everybody wins except the poor and the needy.

Study after study has shown that lotteries are most detrimental to the poor. As Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise – hardly a liberal – points out: “lottery players finance their tickets largely by cutting spending on necessities. After a state introduces the lotto, the bottom third of households shift about 3% of their food expenditures and 7% of their mortgage payments, rent, and other bills. Effectively, the lottery works like a regressive tax.”⁠4

Not to be outdone, the latest gambling ploy is playing out right here in Concord, where a “colossal” gambling casino has been tentatively approved to be built near the intersection of Sheep Davis road and Loudon road, wild land where deer and bobcats used to roam when I was growing up.

I’m not a prude: I don’t believe gambling should be banned, but neither should it be promoted by the government at any level: Its mission should be to bring us together and lift us up, not divide and penalize the neediest among us.

Like a good family, a good government should model values that foster responsibility and good behavior. Success is not merely a rational spreadsheet calculated to cut costs to the minimum but, instead, one driven by empathy, aiming to model good habits that benefit us all. As Matthew Loftus wrote in the Atlantic: “Virtue is not simply doing good deeds, but also a set of dispositions and habits that must be practiced in order to flourish.”⁠5

Positive dispositions are activities like the Black Ice Hockey Tournament and Old Home Day, which unite the community while providing wholesome entertainment. Conversely, a gaming casino initiates folks into a solitary gambling habit which too often morphs into addiction, upending their lives and requiring expensive intervention by the community.

The policies we have in place now to raise money are ridiculous: Brooks, a staunch conservative, provides a good example, citing our national lottery system: the $70 billion spent each year is “strikingly close to what the government spends on food stamps. Is there any set of policies more contradictory than pushing lotto tickets on poor people, and then signing them up for welfare programs that make them financially dependent on the government?”⁠6

Rather than justifying gambling by transferring some of the loot toward a good cause, why not simply raise taxes on the wealthy, like those who make over 200K? Or institute a sales tax on luxury items – which would have the added benefit of taxing tourists rather than our own most downtrodden.

We should stop funding our government on the cheap with policies that hurt the poor and start taxing the rich their fair share.





3 Ibid




Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Gais Revisited

Mask by Teresa Taylor, Garlic Scapes from my Garden
CC Jean Stimmell: 2020

Writing my first draft on a computer doesn't work for me: I lose my mojo. Yet, if I scribble my thoughts in my left-handed scrawl on actual paper, I often succeed – sometimes discovering things I didn't even know I knew.

I recently read about a similar phenomenon, much more important and pertinent to our future, by L. M. Sacasas, a Christian philosopher⁠1. He contends that the symbolic language of science doesn't connect in a deep-rooted way with most people, just as I can't connect to my deepest self via a computer.


Sacasas makes his case by referencing Hannah Arendt’s seminal book, “The Human Condition:” To her, our ability to use language is fundamental to who we are: It is language that has allowed us to flourish by giving us the means to communicate, agree upon things, and act in unison.

But science, in the last few centuries, has switched from communicating through words to a symbolic language consisting of mathematical equations – and now algorithms – which Arendt says can’t be fully translated back to human speech. As a result, many folks have difficulty incorporating scientific thinking into the common-sense reality of their lives.

Because of this widening schism, it has become increasingly difficult for members of society to agree on what's real, leading to controversy and distrust. To cope, our government has become more bureaucratic and elite, further fueling resentment.

A recent example is the over-the-top resistance by many folks to getting a Covid shot. While creating this vaccine, based on cutting-edge research and statistics, was indeed a great scientific triumph, it did not translate into society's everyday reality. Instead, for many, it was seen as a plot and an affront to their independence.

Another example, along the same lines, is climate change which science  often describes in a barrage of numbers, such as the following excerpt from a government report:  climate change is accelerating with “an 11 percent increase [in CO 2] since 2000 when it was near 370 ppm… caused primarily by human activities because carbon produced by burning fossil fuels has a different ratio of heavy-to-light carbon atoms.”⁠2

Reciting these numbers and statistics doesn't fully convey the common sense warning that "the sky is falling." Science knows how to rescue us from climate change, but people around the world aren't tuning in. 

I agree with Gregory Sterling of the Yale Divinity School who says.“If we are not going to solve the issue of the environment solely by science and do not have the political will to address it as a country, we must then address the spiritual and ethical dimension.⁠3“ He then presents his solution while here I will offer mine:

 I think we would be wise to take a trip 3000 years back in time to classical Greek culture, back to the days of earthy gods who folks could identify with. In those days, our planet wasn't depicted in mathematical symbols but as a living goddess, Gaia.

Let's face it: it's hard to be selfish,, greedy, or hurtful toward the Earth if she is our mother. Then in the 1970s – in an unbelievable plot twist – James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis scientifically authenticated that she really is our mother!

In 2001, the European Geophysical Union of scientists agreed, issuing this statement: “The Earth System (Gaia) behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological and human components.”⁠4 Further research has confirmed that Earth is such a well-integrated, self-regulating system that now many consider Earth to be alive: an actual living being. 

Let’s celebrate this discovery with joy.

As if by divine fate, ancient myth and modern science have converged. Restoring Gaia to her rightful role may, indeed, be the the solution to climate change, the one we so desperately need.




L. M. Sacasas