Tuesday, April 9, 2024

It’s our choice: Back to the future or no future at all

                                                                    CC Jean Stimmell 

What would an old Yankee think? Around Jenness Pond, it used to be an April Fool’s joke to tell folks the ice was out when it wasn’t. But this year, it’s no joke: the ice is long gone, along with skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing…, and a whole way of life.

‘Is winter really gone?’

I posed that question to my local shaman, Andiron Owl. She responded fiercely, withered grass sprouting from her eyes, a nagging reminder of the deadly effects of climate change, ‘Can’t you see the havoc you two-legged creatures have wreaked on us and the Earth itself? 

‘Now,’ she promised, ‘it’s time to face the consequences!’

Right on cue, I woke up the next morning to howling wind and a foot of wet snow, heavier than concrete, flattening my shrubs and small trees. Worse yet, it knocked out my electricity, causing my old generator to have a panic attack and die on the spot.

 There was no doubt that Mother Nature was exacting her punishment by casting me back in time: I  found myself once again a homesteader like my forebearers, warming myself by my woodstove, toting water from my farm pond, and writing by an ancient family oil lamp.

“Behold! This is your future,” the owl snarled. But if you are smart, it will teach you an invaluable lesson, a paradoxical truth: Learning again how to subsist isn’t a curse but the path not only to sanity but to earthly bliss. As a refresher course, she referred me to a recent Atlantic Magazine article, “A 600-Year-Old Blueprint for Weathering Climate Change.”⁠1

Beginning in the 13th century, the Northern Hemisphere experienced extreme climate change. “First came drought, then a period of cold, volatile weather known as the Little Ice Age.” It snowed in Alabama and South Texas. Famine killed perhaps one million people around the world. 

European countries doubled down, carrying on as before, concentrated in large cities with centralized, top-down organizations.  The end result was a disaster. Although it is little recognized, Native Americans had also “built grand cities on the scale of those in Europe with hierarchical class systems ruled by powerful leaders.”

But in response to the climate crisis, Native North American societies transformed themselves, spurred on by “a deep distrust of the centralization, hierarchy, and inequality of the previous era, which they blamed for the famines and disruptions that had hit cities hard. They turned away from omnipotent leaders and the cities they ruled and built new, smaller-scale ways of living, probably based in part on how their distant ancestors lived.”

They left behind ruins, such as those at Chaco Canyon and Cahokia, for smaller communities with more sustainable economies that encouraged balance and consensus. Oral histories from the generations that followed this radical shift described their new lives as greatly improved over the old. 

The secret of their success involved decentralizing governing structures with a variety of political checks and balances to prevent dictators from arising. “Power and prestige lay not in amassing wealth but in assuring that wealth was shared wisely. Many policies mandated councils of elders and balanced power by pairing leaders: a war chief alongside the peace chief” and a female counsel next to the male counsel.” 

As the historian Cary Miller has written, Native American nonhierarchical political systems “were neither weak nor random but highly organized and deliberate.” By living simply and sharing power widely, they were able to weather this 600-year mini-ice age with aplomb while the top-down European societies were mired in misery.

We would be wise to follow their lead today. Indeed, leading political theorists on both ends of the political spectrum have proposed decentralization as a means to bring democracy closer to the people – and, in the process, slow the rate of destructive climate change by learning to live sustainably like the first inhabitants of this land. 

Left and right could help make it happen by joining forces to break through our current political stalemate: Create a more grassroots democracy that fosters greater freedom while ensuring it is fair and equitable for all.

My shaman, Andiron Owl, tells me what we already know in our hearts: the alternative is bleck: a continuing upsurge in name-calling, insurrection, famine, and plague.



1 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2024/04/little-ice-age-native-north-america-climate-change/677944/

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Invasive Forces Plundering NH

Governor Chris Sununu, VP Charles Koch Institute William Ruger, and Free-State Project Founder Jason Sorens at the Cato Institute celebration of NH as their choice for "freest state."⁠1

Traditionally, NH folks have been known to be self-reliant – maybe to the extent of appearing standoffish – because of our ‘live and let live’ philosophy.  Yet, while flinty and frugal, we believe in community: coming together to raise barns, build schools, and practice home rule through direct democracy in our town meetings. That is until three Republican governors have come along to disrupt our Yankee ecosystem just as invasive species are decimating our forests.

First came Mel Thompson, a law book publisher who became our 73rd governor, aided and abided by William Loeb, the fiery, right-wing editor of the Manchester Union. Both of these carpetbaggers were cosmic bad luck, warping our destiny to this day. They were the ones who brainwashed us with the motto, ’No Broad-based Taxes, which is still reverberating in our heads like a stuck record, continuing to wreak havoc on our poorer schools.

It was Meldrim, you may remember, who lobbied to arm the NH National Guard with nuclear weapons, coincidentally or not, at the same time the Clamshell Alliance was holding mass protests against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.  It was also Mel who led the push to construct a huge oil refinery in Durham – it would have been the biggest in the world at that time – defiling, in the process, the Great Bay Estuary, that precious jewel on our already minuscule 19 miles of ocean coastline.

Then we have Governor John Sununu, Chris’s Daddy. As chief of staff to President George H. Bush, he thwarted the US from joining the international conference to address climate change. In addition, he single-handedly pushed through the completion of Seabrook, that colossal white elephant first championed by Mel. 

The reactor ended up costing seven times the original estimate, causing the utility owner, Public Service, to go bankrupt. Of course, we, the NH taxpayers, had to bail them out. We are still on the hook to shell out the fortune it will cost to decommission Seabrook, which is supposed to happen soon, hopefully before it blows a radioactive gasket.

Now, let’s move on to John Sununo’s son, Chris, who has served as our popular governor for four terms now. His affable-appearing personality hides a dark agenda.

Governor Sununu has ties to Koch Industries, The Free State Movement, and the Libertarian Party. The Koch brothers (Charles is now deceased) own Koch Industries, the largest privately owned company in the country. The Kochs were instrumental in creating the Libertarian Party in 1989, using it to increase their business profits by maximizing individual liberty, no matter the social or environmental cost. They and their colleagues have spent hundreds of millions to weaken democracy nationwide.⁠1 

At the state level, Sununu has installed Frank Edelblut, libertarian-leaning with a divinity degree, as our commissioner of education. Together, they are laying the groundwork to eliminate public education by promoting private charter schools and giving folks vouchers to defray the cost of private schools, which will be paid for by—you guessed it—our hard-earned tax dollars. 

Governor Sununo also has ties to Jason Sorens, founder of the Free State Movement, who has recently moved to NH to become a professor at St Anselm’s College –  conveniently appointed to the post after the Kochs donated $1 million to the college in 2018.⁠2 

Another strand of this dark web is Koch’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), an anti-public education PAC based in Texas that has made significant inroads into our state, listing nearly 100 NH GOP state house representatives as members of its coalition.⁠3

These extremist groups are planning a coup that would spell disaster for NH. As Leonard Witt explains in InDepthNH, “Almost half of the GOP members of our state legislature have become YAL-inspired ideologues, not guardians of our children’s future and certainly not champions of fiscal responsibility.” Public schools are just the beginning, a wedge issue followed by plans to end Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”⁠4

If we do not confront these dark forces now, our traditional way of life will be dismantled in the same way invasive species like the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle are demolishing our forests today.



1 https://mailchi.mp/granitestatematters/march2024?e=00177fab1c

2 Ibid.

3 https://indepthnh.org/2024/02/19/op-ed-dark-money-texas-pac-has-foothold-on-half-the-gops-nh-state-reps/

4 Ibid.

Monday, March 4, 2024

A Modest Proposal to Save the World

The art that united early Patagonians1


With our mild weather so far this year, NH has avoided calamitous climate change. Texas hasn’t been so lucky with its still-raging, million-acre Smokehouse Creek Fire. Neither is the rest of the world.


We are turning parts of our planet into uninhabitable deserts as rising waters from melting glaciers threaten coastal cities and freak storms erupt everywhere.  In the words of UN chief Antonio Guterres, we have ‘opened the gates of hell.’1


Our polarized, growth-at-any-cost society has hit a potentially fatal roadblock that could be the beginning of the end. All because we think we know everything. If we don’t make drastic changes, we, along with most of our fellow sentient beings, will soon be pushing up daisies.


This need not have happened if we had taken a different path, one suggested in a recent article about early Patagonians in Argentina.2 Around 8000 years ago, they were challenged by extreme climate change lasting 3000 years that would have spelled doom to our fickle, tech-consumed culture.


The secret of their survival is revealed in their cave art, which, over this enormous span of time, stayed true to a single motif, dedicated not to gods, great deeds, or military victories. Instead, their symbol simply consisted of wavy lines, looking much like an out-of-focus comb.


Anthropologists say this motif “represented a resilient response to ecological stress,” 2a acting to preserve cultural knowledge and maintain collective memories, critical to survival during thousands of years of extreme drought.⁠ 3  


While scientists understand the function of this symbol, they have no clue what it signifies. Solving this mystery would be a priceless achievement because it would likely equally apply to us today. If so, it might forestall our pending nose dive into oblivion.


I came across a theory that sheds light on this mystery in the work of Alan Watts, the writer and speaker who was instrumental in introducing Eastern philosophy to Western audiences – and a guru to the Sixties generation. Steeped in Eastern thought, he viewed the Tao as the source of all existence: Agency unseen but not transcendent, all-powerful yet humble, the root of all things.4


Watts’s Taoist perspective can appear elusive or paradoxical: a good example is its slippery definition of ‘non-acting,’ which can mean not acting, not forcing, acting spontaneously, or flowing with the moment.5


Two elements of Watt’s philosophy stand out: humans, rather than being the dominant species, are but a tiny thread, which, when woven together with all other sentient life on earth, form an interdependent whole. And second, life is change or, in Watt’s words – wriggly.


In that regard, early Patagonians and Watts have much in common.


 The Patagonian’s common motif was wavy lines, while, for Watts, it was wiggly lines: “Everything wiggles: the outlines of the hills, the shapes of the trees, the way the wind brushes the grass, the clouds, tracts of streams. It all wiggles.6


Meanwhile, Westerners, as Watts points out, live by straight lines: “You know, wherever human beings have been around and done their thing, you find rectangles. We live in boxes.7


Because we think in straight lines, it follows, according to Watts, that we spend our lives trying to control things by trying to straighten out the wriggly lines. Of course, that’s a fool’s errand because our very essence is wriggly. 


Just before Watts died, James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis came out, lending credence to Watts’s theory by proposing that the whole earth was not only wriggly but a single living organism.


Watts expressed it this way: “Just as there is an interdependence of flowers and bees: where there are no flowers there are no bees, and where there are no bees there are no flowers. They’re really one organism… I am, as it were, one of the cells in this tremendous brain.”8


Watts’s conclusion is “that our failure to feel at home in this astonishing brain in which we live is” due to our inflated view of ourselves, coupled with our mistaken attempts to improve our lot through technology. As a consequence, “we seem to be destroying the planet by our very efforts to control it and to improve it.”9


So, there it is in a nutshell: The ancient Patagonians believed they were essential components in a magical, wriggly world that gave their lives meaning, so much so that they painted that symbol on their cave walls as their anthem. 


Our only hope for long-term survival is to adopt their way of being, replacing our nationalistic symbols – like taunts hanging from pretend fortresses by immature boys – with banners of wavy lines, peaceful and enduring like waves of amber grain.



My Photoshop illustration


 2a https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adk4415





Watts, Alan. Tao of Philosophy (Alan Watts Love Of Wisdom). Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition. Loc. 1112



10 Ibid.


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Are We Humans or Machines?


My neighbor's beloved horse

We fool ourselves by believing if only we had more facts and better technology, we could solve any problem, even climate change and,  perhaps,  even death itself.  

But that’s not how the world works, according to psychoanalyst and philosopher Jonathan Lear. He says it’s pure fantasy to believe that every want can be gratified, although it is a phase that babies go through.  That’s because, for the baby, it’s all or nothing: “Either you want to be omnipotent, or you want someone else to be omnipotent for you, or you want to kill everyone else.”⁠1 (Doesn’t that sound like someone currently running to be president? But that’s a story for another time.)

Lear’s psychoanalytic insight – so essential for us today – is that healthy development requires outgrowing the notion that humans have god-like powers. “Approaching the world with the expectation that every problem must be solved, soon and completely, comes from a failure to reckon with our own and the world’s limits.” 

But, even though we may be frail and flawed, we can’t curl up in a ball when an overwhelming crisis arises. We have no choice but to stand tall and do what we can: “Take care of the people close to us. Work politically to improve things. Appreciate beauty and nobility in others. Be an exemplar for others. Make meaning. Creatively and repeatedly engage with the past. Have hope. Resist despair.”⁠2

Conducting ourselves in such a stand-up manner – beyond the actions themselves – has existential importance because it is precisely these relational qualities that make us uniquely human and give meaning to our lives. Unfortunately, for some time now, rather than celebrating our humanness with gratitude, we have been seduced into worshipping the false god of technology.

Yes, technology has augmented our limited capabilities, but in doing so, it has hoodwinked us into believing humans can do anything,  replacing our caring human values with machine algorithms prioritizing efficiency and profit. 

Rather than paying attention to others through kindness and empathy, we are being forced into an ‘iron yoke of efficiency and meritocracy” by technocrats like Elon Musk, Bill Ackman, and Mark Zuckerberg.⁠3

We are rapidly being transformed into automatons who meekly report to our online masters, obeying online prompts to wait for hours to speak to the next customer representative, who, at the end of the call, tells us they can’t help us. Personally, I look to the past for wisdom and guidance from mentors like that living exemplar of the past himself, Wendell Berry. 

Berry has long warned us of the dangers that lie ahead: “It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”⁠4

Berry disputes the notion that the definition of an intelligent person is “the Quiz Kid—a human shape barely discernible in a fluff of facts.” Instead, he proposes a solution remarkably similar to that of Jonathan Lear:

“To think better, to think like the best humans, we are probably going to have to learn again to judge a person’s intelligence, not by the ability to recite facts, but by the good order or harmoniousness of his or her surroundings. We must suspect that any statistical justification of ugliness and violence is a revelation of stupidity.”⁠5

In the end, Lear and Berry both contend that no matter what happens – or how catastrophic –  we will be judged in the end, not on whether we won or lost, but by how we lived our lives.

Or, in Berry’s words, quoting an earlier student of agriculture, “The intelligent man, however unlearned, may be known by his surroundings, and by the care of his horse, if he is fortunate enough to own one.”⁠6



1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/books/2022/11/09/imagining-end-mourning-ethics-lear-review/

2 Ibid

3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/02/10/bill-ackman-end-dei-industry/

4 Berry, Wendell. Standing by Words (p. 84). Catapult. Kindle Edition.

5 Ibid. Page 84

6 Ibid. Page 84