Land Acknowledgements and Cognitive dissonance.

What I wrote in response to “Against Land Acknowledgement” written by a self proclaimed ‘Georgist’.

I also consider myself to be a ‘georgist’ and if by that you mean having the economic view that all living humans share equally in the planetary resources, then there are a number of issues pertaining to colonised indigenous lands, like my own Australia.

1. There was no treaty made or properly observed with the original inhabitants of the land. if you see a legal loophole then shame on you. The land is stolen and never ceded. To imagine otherwise is to say that I can come onto your property and just camp there, erect a building, force you out, and there would be no legal support you could turn to. Although this does happen in the west bank of Israel, it is anathema to most most civilised people;

2 The evaluation of land to be shared can only come about with full agreement of all parties from the get go. When one party has been force to concede, then no georgian equation can be made except on the restoration of a fully agreement of all interested parties, and that would mean dealing with restoration claims. To take that off the table is only to enact domination over part of the community, rather than any sense of equity.

3. How do we truly evaluate the resource that has been conquered, stolen centuries ago? Think of the value that has been derived from the resource of the Australian or North American continent, for that, in Georgian terms, is the full evaluation of the commons. Our failure to evaluate the commons has lead to the modern tragedy of the commons called climate change, but also the poorer developmental situation of all colonialised indigenous peoples. Why, because the failure of appropriate taxes on the value of the use of resources has lead to essential overuse, ecological systems destruction, climate change and an enormous mountain to climb in relation to social and economic equity. How do we know that? Because by definition, when resources are borrowed from the commons by a company, individual or even government as a whole, the taxable level for the use of that resource is set at a rate that allows the commons to conserve and even improve the resource. The appropriate tax does slow down the rate of development to a degree that allows conservation while placing a greater contribution from product to the community at large, thereby paying for equity in public accessible advancements – ‘highways and Byways’ like transport, energy, education, communication, knowledge growth etc.

All that being said, what has it to do with acknowledgments of country? Firstly, and as we include in many of our acknowledgments in Australia, the land was never ceded. It is a reminder across boardrooms, universities, government departments, and the self-centred, that we haven’t paid the rent. We are, like parasites, living off other people’s lost lives, and we are living off the rewards of theft, piracy, conquest.

Yet there is a deeper proposition also at stake. The proposition that, entangled with our conquering, we have overlooked important cultural resources. That too is part of the commons. And a Georgian would wonder, why are we not utilising that resource at all? Why is that human resource left to sit segregated, stagnating. My own view is that it is left to stagnate for the same reasons that up until recent decades, there was a single world view about productive agriculture and, regardless of the damage it has caused to our food quality, soils, and conservation of production for future generations, an ecological view of agriculture was laughed out of town.

But now the chickens are coming home to roost. The piper needs paying all the same, for as you imply, it is the land, the ecosystem, that requires the appropriate equities to be followed, and failing that, the ecosystem will languish, become unbalanced and ultimately become dangerous to the human being. And part of restoring those equities is fully acknowledging what we had been denying, who we are as a complete community, a commonwealth of diverse peoples, which diversity is a large part of the value of the commons.

If it feels humbling to acknowledge what you are complicit against others, then rather than give into your cognitive dissonance around it, trying cleverly to avoid what it is, you would best sit with your dissonance. Perhaps there is indeed a fully human answer that will come to you.

The Narrative through Narrative.

In reading a beautifully narrated essay on “Narrative” by James Jeffrey, a freelance journalist and writer, I pondered on the remarkability that the ‘answer’ to our propensity to be stuck in a narrative of our own narrow perspective on ourselves, the world, and others, is for us to stay in the conversation of narratives.

We are beginning to get quite sophisticated in the practice of looking at language and it’s anchoring with our identities. We all(?) know that to attack someone’ s world view is more than likely going to ‘harden’ it. Yet leaders who practice deep listening and really ‘get’ the other, have been responsible for the transformation of aggression to peace, misery to hopefulness even joy, becoming powerful in the workplace, or leaving a job to take a risk on a life preferred, and being a contribution to community or the world.

However unless we are prepared to enter our narrative into a bigger conversation then stuck maybe declining, we may perpetually find ourselves. The more we are able to coax our identity to sit with the discomfort of the dissonance that will come up, the more we gain being human. In one sense, this is the epitome of sacrifice, the giving up of the lesser for the greater. And when that conversation is impactful on a large level, then we begin to see it translated in political terms.

If anyone reading all this is inclined to think “Oh, hippie BS”, then can I suggest re-read the sentence about dissonance. And have a very good life.

In Appreciation of Jesus

In a meditation, today, I found myself contemplating my experience of God. I have always thought I believed in God. Today, as I looked I saw that belief as an inner construct correlated with action, didn’t portray my relationship with God, at all. Did I only have a thinking-about-God, then? I concede that at the heart of my relationship with God is a thinking-about, yet that thinking about is mostly in discarding all thoughts-about as disproven of anything I would call, God. I seem to be left with an experience of something tantalising, beyond reach.

I wonder why I feel there was something there, beyond reach. I pondered the word’s of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith, who described God as unknowable, unapproachable, and essence. Essence of what? And I found myself recalling the fragrance of the Frangipani tree flowers I smelt yesterday and how their essence (aroma) spoke to me of frangipani, yet which held no frangipani tree. What then speaks to me of God? I thought of those names we might use, All-Might, All-powerful, Unconstrained, Omnipotent, All-merciful, Just, All-loving, Most Generous etc etc. And when I see something in action, like fairness, generosity, power, and that these displays could be the reflection of All-, as if on a lake or mirror. No a perfect rendition, sometimes a clear rendition, and oftentime as if the reflection was on choppy waters, or a grimy mirror. Yet, as if my appearance in the world was to be alive to noticing any rendition, and, following it, finding myself in a delightful garden full of the essences. Yet somehow, running here and there, as if I might catch a glimpse of God find only the way undefined, like a complete whiteout. Perhaps this is what is referred In the Arabic sadratu’l-munaha, the tree beyond which there is no passing.

And, although I imagine I can reach with mind or spirit into that nothingness, I concede that any foray might just be to open up a little more garden in an unending garden tended only by words. This suggests then, to be resigned to a giving over, then, to what might rise above ‘syllables and sounds’. Here I find the delight of a forgone moment, perhaps as complete a nothing as possible for a wordy existence, drawing like the gravitation field of any planetary mass. Yet it is enough to allow the opportunity for clearing all things, and in those clearing(s), actions and company. 

And I wonder about the clearing and contexts create by His Holiness, Jesus. Perhaps, of his experience, unrestrained of the essences of God, and turning to the circumstances of humanity around him, uttered extraordinary words not only to cut through that contemporary situation but created openings in the great sea of the future, catching fish tossed by the stormy seas of the Roman empire and, following, the Byzantine, the dark ages, even the misalignments around His word, until indeed, we can say, everything He taught has been immeasurably fruitful. 

A New Gratitude for Anti-Vaxxers & Climate Change Deniers

In The Fire Tablet, Baha’u’llah asks of God, “Coldness hath gripped all mankind: Where is the warmth of Thy love, O Fire of the worlds?” To which He, later in the exposition, replied, ” “Were it not for the cold, how would the heat of Thy words prevail, O Expounder of the worlds?”

While Baha’u’llah was lamenting the dearth of spiritual characterisation among the people of His time, there are implications here for acknowledging certain social realities and, how those realities provide the possibility for Baha’u’llahs’ core vision, “an ever-advancing civilisation”.

While the totalitarian sovereignty that ruled Persia and the Ottoman Empire in Baha’u’llah’s 19th century, allowed little in the way of dissent, the rapid uptake of His teachings support the rule of thumb that there are always about 10 % of people ready to push back on the status quo or move towards a more enlightened future.

There is a distinction between the 10% who push back on the status quo and the 10% who move towards an enlightened future. The 10% who push back are exhibiting, I think, an anti-authoritarian trait. The 10% who move towards an enlightened future are exhibiting an adventurous trait.

The anti-authoritarian trait leads to resistance to government regulation and individualism or tribalism. They are found among political conservatives and progressives, hippies and traditionalists, capitalists and marxists.

The adventuring trait leads to finding ways forward through, over, around, and underneath government regulation. The adventurer, likewise is found across all social world views.

There is an overlapping group with anti-authoritarian and adventurous traits. I will call these triple-A’s. These people, like the suffragettes at the late 19th and early 20th century, are the social spearhead of the world. Their anti-authoritarian stance has the government comes down hard on them, while their adventurous proclamations are castigated by the majority, Eventually, from their spearheading, cracks emerge in the traditional socio-political argument. More people start to support the enlightened view. Laws are improved, society changes. Eventually all but 10% of people proclaim “I always thought so. It’s just obvious.”

The triple-A shows a particularly courageous intelligence. In WWII, France, Holland, Belgium, Norway etc were mostly engaged through the small population of resistance fighters. These were from all ages and status in the communities and had one thing in common, a triple-A streak. Many of these fighters are honoured as heros of nations, today. In other part of the world, the triple-A leader has de-colonised their nation. Some of these, have, themselves, come to show a totalitarian mindset.

So, here’s the rub. We can’t have social change, we cannot resist the really nasty possibilities of political life, without anti-authoritarians. We cannot have an enlightened future, a new political possibility, without adventurers. We cannot have the undoing and the transforming without the triple-A. And this is not a rational thing. This is not someone gets up one day and say, “Today is a good day to become an adventurer or anti-authoritarian. This is a trait. Something fundamental to our evolution as social primates. It is not predictable who will be born with either trait. Most families will have someone born with one of these traits, given that they appear in about 20% of the population in one form or another.

People with any of these traits tend to find a home whenever there is a desperate existential moment for their society. They then are immediately in action and are able to play a vital role by either pushing back on capitulation or problem-solving to a new status. At less dire moments in society, the anti-authoritarian will link to whatever is around, like a rise in climate change acceptance, or a status quo like vaccination uptake. The adventurer, in the less dire today, will be dancing with the possibility of solving a problem for today and the future. Both anti-authoritarians and adventurers will tend to express their actions in terms of a rational construct. I think this is a post-enlightenment behaviour. However, the actions whether of an anti-authoritarian or adventurer or triple-A or an individual slap smack in the mainstream status quo, are simply an accident of inherent circumstances.

This is not to say that rational constructs are wrong in any way. Certainly, although the rational constructs will tend to be biased by the trait exhibited, the rational construct expressed through these traits are vital to socio-political well-being. In less dire periods in national life, these are the people who draw the lines in the sand for society and governments. As someone who is an adventurer, I hold to a particular line among those lines drawn by adventurers. Anti-authoritarians and other adventurers might draw lines differently to mine. However their lines do define my line in conversation with what I fear about politics and economics, and what I support about the development of human-ness, social capacity, democracy, science and problems-solving.

While I am fully aware of the political and power-grabbing humbug that is exploiting them, I have slowly developed a new gratitude for the anti-vaxx or climate change denial person. They provide the edges of the clearing of who I am, and, at that edge is also the question, what would I sacrifice and what for? I may never need to extend the clearing of who I am into the forest of I-have-to-put-my-life-on-the-line, but by listening to my more paranoid friends, I have more clarity where that is (and isn’t). And tomorrow, if the existential crisis arises, there’s a good chance they’ll be at my shoulder.

Consciousness – The Circular Condition.

I really enjoyed a lot about the recent TED Ideas article on consciousness by Anil Seth, Professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex, and co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. His final words are reassuring, just as they are, quite possibly, wrong. He writes, “Our conscious experiences are part of nature just as our bodies are, just as our world is. And when life ends, consciousness will end too. When I think about this, I am transported back to my experience — my non-experience — of anesthesia. To its oblivion, perhaps comforting, but oblivion nonetheless. The novelist Julian Barnes, in his meditation on mortality, puts it perfectly. When the end of consciousness comes, there is nothing — really nothing — to be frightened of.”

Seth has made what I think of as a common yet most important error made by most students of consciousness, the circular argument.

Seth’s story of his own experience of anaesthesia on his consciousness, can be rendered as this: I am conscious because I am self-conscious. When I am under anaesthetic I , later, remember my consciousness fading, and then I remember my consciousness reasserting itself. I am surprised to find out that xx time has passed, of which I have no experience. This time is perfectly correlated to the actions of the anaesthetist delivering and withdrawing anaesthetic. …So far so good.

Almost, I suspect, unconsciously (all puns about the content of Seth’s article, intended) Seth’s argument lives in the premise that only nature as experienced by our consciousness, exists. This implies two things: 1. Our consciousness is omniscient because it knows that only nature exists, and it could only know that if it is omniscient; and 2. Nature is all powerful because it led to something omniscient to exist. Why don’t we see this error in our usual thinking about consciousness and nature.?

We usually don’t see it for the very reasons Seth highlights in his article. Firstly, because the brain is something that evolved out of the ‘natural’ processes, it is completely integrated with that process and bound by it. Secondly, because the primary driver of our behaviour emanates from brain activity that is outside of conscious access, we do not relate any of our fading and reasserting of the consciousness from anaesthesia to the anaesthetic’s real purpose which is to stop motor responses to pain. Once we are conscious from anaesthesia, as a rule, we can also move, and do not have any awareness nor relatable memory that the body was immobile. The elimination of the consciousness of pain is quite secondary to the purpose of anaesthesia. Without any consciouness, the body will still squirm as a response to the pain nerves firing to the pain centres of the brain, making surgery difficult. It’s beyond the scope of this post to fully elaborate on how we might know this, except to point to neurophysiological research on the activation of sensory & motor system pathway loops, how hypnosis works, and perceptual limitations.

The circular condition (I see this is more of a situation than a thought issue) extends from that the brain cannot derive anything that it has not accidentally evolved to derive. All that the brain derived is from a phenomenon we call nature. We are only conscious of the phenomenon called nature because of the evolved structure of the brain. This tight loop creates, as a thought experience, the hidden circular argument that consciousness is an experience of ‘nature’. ‘Nature’, as here, to be distinguished from any meta concept of nature as everything we might yet learn about reality that we don’t currently experience.

So once we see that what we are dealing with is simply a self-assertion of a probably very limited sphere of perception through consciousness, as if it is the whole thing, then we can posit that ‘nature’ is only a very limited aspect of reality. The circular condition imposes limitations on what we, as part of ‘nature’ can render in consciousness. So the premises that : 1 Our consciousness is omniscient; and 2. ‘nature’ is all powerful, gives way to a question, “Then, what of the rest of reality?”

The possibility that there is a rest-of-reality outside of our structural brain effector-affector system including that part of the system that provide consciousness implies the possibility that our evolution has not only unfolded inside the laws of ‘nature’ but of other laws of the larger reality, and therefore not only along the lines of the physical structures we are aware through our limited conscious applications that we call knowledge. We can posit that there is, indeed, a larger structural reality that not only lies outside of the limited aspects we call brain and consciousness, but that reality has higher orders of evolved consciousness.

The implications for such a positing is that our arm is not just the arm we experience but a part of a larger form of that we define subjective experience ‘arm’ by self-awareness that is a small part of a larger consciousness. In the readiness of Seth and others to conclude that a period of blankness under anaesthesia is a proof of brain=consciousness, they fail to wonder whether anaesthesia of our brain is to our consciousness as a local anaethesia is to that local part of our body, just a numb, an unfeeling, and unmoving area. In the case of positing a larger reality, a larger consciousness, we can construe of ourselves as an entity that mostly exists outside of ‘nature’, time, and brain. From this vantage point, our consciousness is contiguous with the large consciousness and all that an anaesthetic causes is a numb spot on that larger consciousness.

So how does the brain fit in. Considering that the brain is a structural apparatus that ‘in-nature’ conducts electrical current and makes neurochemicals and hormones that effect other ‘in-nature’ physiological structures. Further, in line with the posited larger reality, the brain is contiguous with a larger reality structure that is by far the greater aspect of the reality. That larger reality structure is also correlated with a larger reality consciousness. So when an anaesthetic ‘numbs’, turns off nearly all our brain functions, there is no information either effective or receptive along a small contiguous pathway of the larger reality. We perceive a large time period of blankness. Our larger consciousness may, actually, be barely impacted.

Death, indeed, may be more peculiar than anything we currently imagine. There will be, I suspect, as Julian Barnes says, some moment of nothingness. Yet, as time-brain is completely denigrated, perhaps it is no more that sloughing off placental tissue. Ego self is certainly gone forever. Yet our larger reality consciousness continues to derive for it’s vitalised form, all that ‘in-nature’ activity of our living a conscious life. And now has all of this life-in-time, life-in-nature, informing a consciousness life form of the larger reality.

The great Educators have never been wrong about life after death or soul. They have only been limited for ways of expressing that reality in the limited culture and knowledge perspectives of the people. To be sure, their followers managed to build dysfunctional theologies around those ideas, just as other followers got right on the money how it is to live a fully conscious life. While we now have a vastly great know-how and a greater array of tools for getting behind out perceptual limitation, we can still under-read the teachings of Great Educators through a lense of ‘nice stories, shame about the fantasy’. Yet the modern tools of reflective inquiry do allow us to truly explore what it might have been about reality that the Great Educators had access, and come closer to vastly increasing our access to it.