Tag Archive 'globalism'

Dec 10 2018

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The Human Condition

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Several years ago, when I first started thinking about wildness and being human, I looked for a way to sync what I feel while tramping alone in a wild place with something that can be said about humankind in general. In my naiveté I thought I could do this without delving too deeply into the human condition. I was dead wrong about that.

We are inherently wild, I believe, because our prehistoric ancestors were wild and the only things that separates us from them are the trappings of civilization. But civilization doesn’t change who/what we are. It is merely a way of life different from how we lived for tens of thousands of years, namely hunting and gathering.

What exactly is civilization? It is the promise of a better world based upon collective action. Agriculture was the first great success in that regard. We work in concert with each other and we all prosper as a consequence. That’s the intention, anyhow. But somewhere along the line, things have gone wrong, terribly wrong.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes said that pre-civilized life was “poor, nasty, brutish and short.” That seems to me more like a commentary about how things are now than the way things were. Not for you and me, of course, because we are the Haves. But the Have Nots are acutely aware of civilization’s broken promise.

In all the world’s biggest cities, there are slums. In the newly industrialized countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, some of these slums run upwards to a million people. A few places even more. Orangi Town of Karachi, Pakistan is currently considered the biggest slum at 2.4 million, bumping out Dharavi in Mumbai, India. By some estimates, over a billion people live in these “informal settlements” without adequate means to support themselves, sufficient food, health care, sanitation, or clean drinking water. And the numbers are growing. Habitat for Humanity claims that by 2030 a quarter of humanity will be living in squalor.

When Mahatma Gandhi heard someone call him a friend of the poor, he felt humiliated. “My friendship for them should be a sorry affair,” he said, “if I could be satisfied with a large part of humanity reduced to beggary.” Yet that seems to be what most of us are willing to accept: the unintended consequences of our industrializing, globalizing civilization. Collectively speaking, are we really better off than we were fifteen thousand years ago? Wealthy people think so, but they’re in the minority. The rest of us are just glad we don’t live in the slums. Not yet, anyhow.



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Jan 17 2017

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On the eve of a major shift of power in these dis-United States, I feel the urge to speak out for sanity even though I don’t know much about such things. My own grasp of reality is tenuous, and I struggle daily to maintain it. All the same, I see madness breaking out all around me – exceptional even by the standards of our time.

It is not just a matter of liberal versus conservative. That’s an old argument, as common as the sun rising. No, it goes much deeper than that. When liberals fight with liberals and conservatives fight with conservatives, you know there is big trouble afoot. As Westerners, we watch Arabs fighting with Arabs then shake our heads at the absurdity of their divisiveness, wondering why they don’t see it. Well, now we know. Now we are the same way.

On a bookshelf in my study sits a ceramic log cabin. It’s a recently acquired family heirloom that reminds me of a fantasy I’ve nurtured most of my life: to someday retreat to a cabin deep in the woods. No, not a Thoreauvian experiment in self-sufficiency, but instead an escape from what I call the madness of civilization. Is such an escape even possible in these modern times? How deep would I have to go to escape property taxes, liability insurance, and all the other trappings of civil society? Could it be anything short of an outlaw existence? Would I still be able to access the Internet?

Whether we like it or not, we are all connected now. The world in the 21st century is truly global. The nationalistic urges cropping up all over the place are only longings for the good ol’ days, when us-versus-them was easy, when our tanks met with their tanks on the battlefield and the winner took all. Hmm… Not so easy nowadays, is it? I know the Chinese are up to no good but I still buy their stuff at Walmart. How about you? Do you really believe that you can live your life these days in any way that isn’t globalized?

Cursed with a tendency to philosophize, I can’t help but see the flaws inherent in any worldview that I or anyone else could possibly devise. Like everyone else, I am only human. My reasoning powers are imperfect no matter how hard I try to make sense of things. That said, just imagine the difficulty I have in the voting booth, thrashing about in the quagmire of good and evil while selecting people to run the government. Oh, the righteous have it so easy by comparison. They know exactly who to pick, and who to shoot at when the war breaks out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no peacenik. I know we can’t all just get along, and I know the difference between right and wrong. I know, for example, that rounding up the millions of people that you don’t like and putting them in gas chambers is a really bad idea. And when a True Believer goes down that dark road, there’s only one way to stop them from creating hell on earth. But the problems that humankind creates for itself cannot ultimately be resolved by armed conflict. That’s a fantasy even greater than my cabin in the woods.

One could argue that globalism is exactly what fuels our divisiveness. When there was plenty of space between the few bands of hominids roaming the earth thousands of years ago, there was a lot less fighting no doubt. With over 7 billion of us crowding the earth now, and technology connecting us, major conflicts are inevitable. We can’t just retreat to our own little corners any more and ignore everyone else. So we must find a way, somehow, to live together. And that begins with tolerance.

Being wild at heart, I still escape to the woods whenever I can, to breathe easy for a while, get a handle on myself, and find my place in the world. But these forays are temporary. I spend most of my days living among my own kind in the developed lowlands where conflicts abound, doing my best to be as civil as possible. And that, I believe, is what all men and women should do: be as civil to each other as possible. The alternative is so ugly that I don’t even want to consider it. That which divides us could easily destroy us all.



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Jan 30 2012

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World Weary

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Thanks to my tech savvy wife, I now get my morning news from an electronic device. Now I can read newspapers from any point on the globe, and keep up with the latest developments everywhere. Talk about information overload! I have to limit myself to half an hour of browsing otherwise I’d be at it all day. There’s really no end to the images and words that are available. With a good internet connection, the world is indeed a small place.

Yeah, now I can read about local, national and international events until I am truly sick at heart. Better than sticking my head in the sand and ignoring it all, I suppose. All the same, I can’t help but wonder what good all this information does me.

Am I better off keeping up with the massacres in Africa, the latest court rulings on crumbling nuclear power plants, or the circus that we call the presidential primaries? How much more do I need to know about the lurid sex lives of the rich and powerful, or the horrific crimes committed by supposedly decent folk? I’m partial to scientific surveys, but the one I read tomorrow will contradict the one I read today. Is eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine good for me or not? I know how they taste. That’s all I can say for sure.

I am world weary. 99% of the so-called information I encounter during the course of a day is tainted with propaganda, and quite frankly, I am tired of sorting through it. I call myself a philosopher because I have an insatiable hunger for meaning, but such a desire is meaningless in the Age of Misinformation. Media buzz trumps reality. And the wider the gap grows between the average person and wild nature, the more this becomes true.

A day in the woods provides temporary relief, but a week or two off the grid only makes it harder to come back.  In the summer of ’92, I went into the Alaskan bush hoping to resolve this matter. I haven’t been the same since. I have directly experienced What-is and know, beyond any reasonable doubt, that it vanishes the moment I step out of a wild forest. So now I turn on an electronic device, searching for more information, substituting that for wisdom. Then I get dressed and go to work on a keyboard, either at home or elsewhere, wondering why I feel so empty inside.

I should be happy. I have my health, a great marriage, my literary work, family and friends, and so much more.  But I am weary in a way that Kierkegaard, Nietzsche or any other existentialist would understand all too well. The gap between the wild and the civilized is wide indeed. And the world we live in doesn’t make much sense.


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Oct 27 2011

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Hard Choices

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Critics here in Vermont say that the huge wind turbines atop our beloved Green Mountains are not just an eyesore, they kill birds and disrupt the forest ecology as well. Solar power is viable as long as the sun is shining, but it’s expensive, isn’t it? Biofuels threaten our food supply. Hydro power screws up our streams. Coal and oil are both dirty, of course. Natural gas is clean, as fossil fuels go, but fracking pollutes the ground water. Nuclear power is both clean and cheap… until the plants leak and it’s time to shut them down. Burning wood is great until you run out of trees. So what does that leave? Tidal power? Hydrogen? Cold fusion?

Have to get our power from somewhere. There are seven billion people on the planet and counting. The demand for power is growing much faster in industrializing countries like India and China than it is in the highly consumptive West. In the near future, humanity will need more power, not less. So where are we going to get it?

Climate change is the sword of Damocles hanging over us. The more we mess with Mother Nature, the more she messes with us. It’s just a matter of time before all hell breaks loose. Can we avoid global catastrophe? Collectively we seem to lack the political will to do so. Besides, denial runs strong and deep among those who immediately benefit from the status quo, and they cast just enough doubt on the subject to keep the rest of us complacent.  More to the point, it’s hard for the average person to think beyond what he or she is paying at the gas pump.

So what are we to do? Gnash our teeth and say we’re all doomed? Protest our least favorite energy source? Blame those whose economies are stronger than ours? Simply ignore the situation?

Clearly we have plenty of choices, there’s just no perfect solution. The big question is this: Do we have moral courage enough to make the best possible choices for our great grandchildren? I’ll leave that for you to ponder, dear reader, and keep my cynicism to myself.


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Apr 02 2009

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Building Walls to Save Forests

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I read in the newspaper yesterday that the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro is going to build ten-foot walls around the slums of that big city in order to protect the nearby urban rainforest from further deforestation.  This is wrong on so many levels that it makes my head spin.  But I can’t think of a better issue to ponder today, as the G20 tackles the world’s economic woes.

Naturally, as a guy who has made woods wandering the central focus of his life, I’m all for preserving forests wherever they may be.  That’s why I get this sick feeling when I read stories like this one.  The Rio government is pandering to the likes of me – to affluent, nature-loving people in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, who are deeply concerned about the mass extinction of plants and animals as well as global warming.  Yeah, they know how to package it.

Reality check:  the burgeoning slums in question have destroyed 500 acres of urban rainforest during the last three years.  Since 2000, about 150,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest have disappeared.  Quite a difference, I’d say.  Besides that, isn’t the term “urban rainforest” something of an oxymoron?

Using the Internet, I dug deeper into this matter only to learn that the project managers think this wall will significantly reduce the drug-related violence spreading from the slums to the city’s richer quarters.  How convenient.  Two solutions for the price of one.

Yes, Brazil is one of the countries attending the G20 summit.  With the world’s tenth largest economy and a population of nearly 200 million, it’s force to be reckoned with, no doubt.  But when I read about walls being built around slums to save urban forests, I can’t help but wonder who’s in charge there and what their priorities are.  Looking out for their poorest citizens isn’t at the top of their list, obviously.

The world is small and getting smaller.  What happens in a rainforest thousands of miles away affects those of us living here.  What happens to the Brazilian people affects us, as well.  Both the economy and the environment are global, so we should care about what happens in faraway places.  But in the Age of Information, bullshit travels at the speed of light.  We would be wise to keep this in mind the next time the politicos here, at the G20 summit, and elsewhere tell us what they are doing to make things better.

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Nov 06 2008

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A Seismic Shift

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Like most people living in America these days, I am deeply concerned about the state of the economy and have been closely following the presidential election as a consequence.  A seismic shift in the political landscape occurred two days ago – there’s no doubt about that.  But it remains to be seen whether or not this shift signals a real change in the way we do things in this country.  Maybe it’s just another swing of the pendulum.

Partisan fighting has been the standard operating procedure in Washington for as long as I can remember.  I worry about terrorism, war, climate change, the mass extinction of plants and animals, a failing social net, and economic collapse, but what I fear most is the kind of left/right squabbling that has paralyzed our country for decades.  If we do not snap out of it soon, we are doomed as a civilization.  I sincerely hope that the current regime change will lead to a major shift in the way we do business.

The whole world is watching.  It begs for leadership worthy of the name.  It hopes that we can overcome our self-righteous, self-absorbed, bullying tendencies and get the global economy moving in the right direction again while addressing planetary matters that touch us all.  There will always be terrorists and tyrants among us, but they can’t get very far until all hell breaks loose.  It is up to us to minimize their impact by making both our country and the world a place where every man, woman and child has a chance, at least, to live a long, happy and healthy life.

I am just a woods wanderer.  I amble about the forests and fields while pondering the human condition, then sit down at this desk to verbalize my take on things.  I am not a voice from the wilderness, a religious or political leader, or an expert of any kind.  But this much I do know:  Either we go to the bargaining table with our foes and work up some kind of deal acceptable to all parties involved, or we fight them to the bitter end.  So what will it be then – conflict or cooperation?  I suspect that more can be accomplished by the latter than the former.  But not everyone shares this view.  Time will tell what those in our new government think.

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Oct 14 2008

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Land Navigation

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Every once in a while, I get this urge to wander aimlessly through the woods. Don’t get me wrong.  I like gliding along a well-worn trail as much as the next guy.  But sometimes I have to leave the trail and walk that ragged edge between knowing exactly where I am and being lost.  I find it quite instructive.

A second-class dirt road took me to a height of land where I could access the main spine of the Cold Hollow Mountains.  After parking my car in a logging yard, I followed a skidder trail halfway up the nearest mountain.  Then I followed an ATV trail to the summit.  On the south side of that summit, the ATV looped back towards the road and I had a choice to make: either follow the ATV trail where I didn’t want to go, or set forth into the trackless forest.  The next summit was about two miles south.  I checked my compass then stepped off the trail.

Hiking a trail is sweaty work; bushwhacking is harder.  I tramped through the woods, following a compass bearing due south, hoping to find a game trail along the way.  No such luck.  I followed a set of fresh moose tracks for a while but lost them in a wetland that suddenly cropped up.  It sprawled across the saddle between the summit I’d just hiked over and the one I was headed towards.  Wetlands aren’t easy to navigate, not even relatively small ones like this one.  I read the vegetation and muddled through it the best I could.  Then I started climbing the next mountain.  About ten minutes into the climb, I tagged a game trail following the remnants of a woods road that was at least half a century old.  It crept laterally up the side of the mountain, so I changed my compass bearing.  Yeah, land navigation is tricky that way.

I stopped for lunch halfway up the mountain, resting on a rocky outcropping that sported a fair view of Jay Peak and other mountains to the northeast.  My dog, Matika, helped me drink the better part of my two-liter water supply.  That and the dark clouds blowing in from the northwest forced my hand.  So after catching my breath, I headed back the way I’d come.

Every morning, the newspaper reminds me that a major financial crisis is still underway. What was a national problem is now a global one, and no one’s quite sure what to do about it.  Every pundit keeps to his or her philosophical traces, of course.  The liberals blame the current mess on evil corporations, and the conservatives blame the liberals for gumming up the free market system with their meddling.  Meanwhile, the average guy on the street wants to pin it all on a handful of greedy bastards.  Truth is, the global economy is a big, complex system and no one is really in control.  We want our fearless leaders to navigate us through this mess, but confidence sags when they slip back into the kind of partisan bickering that we’ve all heard before.  So we listen, wait rather impatiently, and hope they’ll come to their senses.

I missed a landmark on my way down the mountain and had to radically adjust my course in order to reach the saddle between the two summits.  It was a humbling experience, certainly, but at least I had sense enough to abandon the game trail I’d been following, admit my mistake, and change direction.  I was greatly relieved to tag the familiar wetland and slowly ascend the first summit.  I congratulated myself when finally I stepped onto the ATV trail.  Then I eased back to the parked car.

If my dog had used her keen sense of smell, I could have relied on her to find my way out of the woods.  But she was oblivious to her surroundings – too busy chasing chipmunks back and forth to even know how close we’d come to being lost.  It’s for the best that she remained oblivious.  I didn’t want to follow her anyway.  It’s better that I had to navigate on my own, thus keeping those skills up to snuff.  After all, you never know when you’ll suddenly find yourself off the familiar and well-worn trail.  This happens more often than any of us are willing to admit, and it’s never wise to rely too heavily on the aptitudes of others.

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Sep 02 2008

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Thinking Big about Clean Energy

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A few months back, after taking a long hard look at retirement with my wife, Judy, I started investing in the stock market. I’m addressing this matter woefully late in life, I realize, but better late than never. At any rate, I looked around for places to put the meager sum I’d scraped together and soon found myself researching alternative energy companies.

I focused on “clean tech” companies for two obvious reasons: first because the recent jump in the price of oil means this sector will soon be on the fast track, and secondly because renewable energy is a good thing – something the world desperately needs. A book called Green Investing, written by Jack Uldrich, turned out to be a great place to start.

Come to find out, there are companies all over the world, both private and public, working hard to provide us with wind, solar, tidal, geothermal power and more. We’ve come a long way from the days when renewable energy was some pie-in-the-sky notion entertained only by hippies and other social outcasts. On the business television channel CNBC, as well as in investment periodicals, there is much talk about Big Solar, as if it might someday rival Big Oil. I take this as a good omen – a sure sign that renewable energy’s day has finally come.

Now I know what all you Greenies out there are thinking. I use words like “business” and “big” in the same sentence and you write me off as yet another nature lover gone over to the enemy. You still believe that anything associated with Corporate America is patently evil and that good things come only from people organizing at the grassroots level – from people who work the earth with their own two hands and those who support them. But the world needs power and lots of it. If big corporations don’t provide clean energy on a grand scale, who will?

Back in the 70s, I read Schumacher’s book on appropriate technology, Small Is Beautiful, and was greatly moved by it. But socioeconomic forces are moving towards globalization faster now than they ever have – towards the very big and very integrated. To think we can reverse these forces is sheer folly. The best we can do is to channelize them. And if we do so correctly then maybe, just maybe, we can prevent this beautiful planet of ours from burning up. So I’m all for Big Solar and whatever else it takes to quit fossil fuels once and for all.

At long last, we have a real chance to change the way we live. The trick is to look beyond old-fashioned, short-term, parochial solutions and embrace innovations that work on a grand scale. So think big about clean energy, I say. Only then can we reverse global warming and tap the clean, inexpensive, long-lasting sources of power necessary to make us all happier and more prosperous. The future can be very green if we want it to be.

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Jul 16 2008

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Thinking Global, Hiking Local

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French Hill is only four miles away from my doorstep. With gas over $4 a gallon, I’ve been going there on a more regular basis. The main spine of the Green Mountains is thirty miles away so a trip to it now costs as much as a movie ticket. That’s food for thought.

French Hill isn’t much of a hill, really. It’s a long, broad ridge just east of my home town. It’s roughly two square miles of undeveloped woods, destined to become a town forest someday. Not exactly wilderness, but when cash for gas is tight, it’ll do. A couple days ago, I entered it by the main logging road, then bushwhacked along a due north compass bearing, occassionally catching a glimpse of the beaver pond located in the heart of those woods. Eventually I tagged a trail and followed it northeast. My dog, Matika, led the way – her nose close to the ground, sniffing fresh deer tracks. The warm, still air made us both easy prey for deer flies.

While swatting away flies, I thought about how actions taken by those living on the other side of the planet were now changing my behavior. The increasing demand for energy in China, India and other emerging economies has driven the price of oil over $100 a barrel during the past year, so now here I am, hiking closer to home more often than not. Although I’m a passionate advocate of Yankee individualism, I can’t ignore the reality of globalism – a force that has become increasingly more powerful since the end of the Cold War and the birth of the Internet. To what extent will it redefine me? To what extent will it redefine all of humankind?

The opponents to globalism come in a variety of flavors: Luddites, environmentalists, trade unionists, nationalists, small businessmen, religious fundamentalists, indigenous peoples, local farmers, leftists, reactionaries and so on. One would be hard-pressed to find anything these groups have in common other than their fear of homogenization and multinational corporations taking over the world. But I’m convinced that stopping globalism is akin to keeping the sun from rising in the morning. It’s a force greater than any nation, group, business or individual, and it’s going to change us all whether we like it or not.

After passing through an open meadow, I noticed that the half dozen deer flies buzzing around Matika’s head had thickened into a small cloud of them. Because my long-haired German shepherd heats up faster than I do, she was getting the worst of these critters. So more for her sake than mine, I cut the exploratory hike short. I turned southward and looped back to the car. I’d stretched my legs for a few miles, touched base with the wild, and that was enough for the time being.

During the short drive home, I resolved to head for the mountains soon, expensive gas or no. All the same, that won’t change the global situation, or make it any easier to ignore what’s going on around me. Now more than ever, I feel a sense of responsibility to do whatever small part I can to direct the forces of globalism, inasmuch as they can be directed, so that they do more good than harm. Tall order, I realize, but the alternative isn’t acceptable. I’m not one to look backwards and pine for the good old days. Bring on the future whatever it may be.

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