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Spinning Among Fields

One happy summer day, years ago now, I went blueberry picking with my eleven year old grandson.  He was all over the place, leaping from bush to bush, getting  scratched up in the brambles, telling me about this, then telling me about that – enthusiastically imparting whole bunches of information, each item related to another, and very interesting to hear.

As we walked home down the hill, I said

“I notice that you haven’t been taking your ADHD medication for the last couple of days.”

“That’s right. I haven’t – and do you know why?”

“No, tell me,” I answered.

“It’s that I like the way my mind leaps around between this and that.  One thing gives me an idea about another other; when things bounce up against each other, they take me along into whole new places.”

That fruit (I also have ADHD) does not fall far from the tree.  I told him about an article I once wrote called “Spinning Among Fields,” based on the story of how different kinds of sheep took to leaping over fences from one pasture to another, leaving all kinds of wool stuck in the wires so that spinners who came along after them found wool to blend into all kinds of new colors and textures.

“That’s ME,” shouted my grandson, tearing gleefully down the hill in a whirl of skipping and leaping.

I am currently reading a book by the physicist Carlo Rovelli, who argues against the idea that important scientific discoveries always contradict previous assumptions. There is something of Aristotle’s theory of gravity in Galileo, and there are elements suggesting quantum theory in Einstein. It is in the places where theories abut each other that important breakthroughs occur:

“The borders between theories, disciplines, eras, cultures, peoples and individuals are remarkably porous, and our knowledge is fed by the exchanges across this highly permeable spectrum.”

Or, as Krista Tippett puts it, “Wisdom and wholeness emerge in a moment like this when human beings have to hold seemingly opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay.” There is a problem, however, This kind of interstitial thinking can really irritate people who like to think one thing at a time and are fond of either/or categories.  It got me into all kinds of trouble in a viciously territorial academic world that values loyally clinging to separate disciples, and you see it, more grimly, in the intransigence of power/over people like white supremacists who resist functioning as one among a variety of races.    

The tangential talkers in our family drive our linear thinkers to distraction as we leap from topic to topic in a conversational style they call “always changing the subject.”   So, with profound apologies to them (we have thrashed this all out and are working to communicate better when we are all together), I will be getting on with my wool gathering.  

Animals at the Cottage: Whole Worlds We Could Never Dream of

When I looked out of my bedroom window to see what was making that strange noise both the yard and the forest were impenetrably dark, though I could hear a light wind moving through the pines. Then the noise came again: a deep cough, a harsh hruff!, and an abrupt bark.

Had the deer caught bronchitis again or, even worse, tuberculosis?   They usually move as they graze, though, and this creature stood stock still.

“I saw him last week,” my daughter told me the next morning.  “It’s a big fox – probably a male.”

A week later, I heard something similar carrying on, father back in the forest this time.  It was a coyote-like call, but more melodic, and hauntingly solitary as the singer moved to a new spot, stopped and called; then to another for a further rendition of what must be the aria of the vixen, seeking her mate.

That’s all guesswork, of course – though I Googled the song of the female fox and it matched up  –  but what either of them were actually up to is probably a far more intricate bit of animal communication than we humans can ever fathom.

I have been reading a book by Ed Yong, Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us , that ventures into the mysterious worlds our fellow creatures inhabit, perceiving things from their existentially non-human perspective by means of a complicated array of senses we don’t have.  Just think of your family dog: “humans share the same basic machinery, but dogs just have more of everything; a more extensive olfactory epithelium, dozens of times more neurons in that epithelium, almost twice, and a relatively larger olfactory bulb.” When he

sits by the river with his nose ecstatically quivering, he is taking in whole worlds through scents we human beings cannot even begin to imagine. That is why you should humor your dog when he sniffs every tree, and especially a fire hydrant: to him, it is as rich with information as the Sunday New York Times!  So make a resolution to take him on a sniff Safari at least once a week- that’s is a walk on a long leash, where he gets to lead the way, and sniff anything he wants, as long as it takes to absorb all the information.

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Then  there are our Wood Turtles.   We have seen them every year since 1998, crossing the road from the forest to the Betsie River and laying their eggs in the meadow between our cabin and the water. I wrote to Michigan’s beloved “critter guru,” Jim Harding, an instructor in Integrative Biology at Michigan State University before his 2020 retirement.

This beloved turtle rescuer replied that he is glad that Wood Turtles are still here and so frequently seen in the Betsie River habitat, as “they have declined greatly over the state in recent decades.”  I was surprised to learn that they are an endangered species “of greatest conservation need,” requiring clean flowing rivers near forested area, and pleased that our river’s protection under the Natural Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968) has spared them the loss of their favorite habitat. Forestwildlife.org

Wood Turtles are between six and eight inches long, sporting shells patterned with pyramids.  They are said to be friendly and curious, which may be a human projection, but they do have some interesting habits.  Did you know that they stamp their feet and their shell on the earth to imitate rain falling so that a meal of worms will rise to the surface? In late June this year two of them crossed the road and headed in our direction, taking up temporary residence under our deck. They seemed to hang around to greet us in the morning before heading for the river.  And – what do you know? –  the female spent a whole day digging twelve separate holes in our clearing and laid eggs in each one of them.  Why so many separate nests, we wondered?  We got our answer that same afternoon when a raccoon turned up, but he went hungry.

Are Wood Turtle eggs scentless?  I hope so, as they are clearly in danger from animal predation as well as from habitat loss.   Keep tuned – they are scheduled to hatch on or about August 5!

Earlier in the summer, a Porcupine descended the tall pine he almost never comes down from to stand on our swimming stairs.  “What is he doing?” asked my grandson, but I had absolutely no answer.   It had an elegant set of quills – shaded from white ends to brown and beige- the kind that Native Americans fashion into components of their elegant embroidery.  I read that, if you don’t actually touch them, they won’t shoot quills at you – but what might be going on in their heads remains an utter mystery.

And may it be so.  We humans, who think we know so much, clearly don’t; these wild creatures we occasionally encounter remind us that there are other sensations and other worlds that, for all of our elegant philosophizing, we can never even dream of.

The Fox illustration is by Angela Harding, a British Printmaker whose book, Wild Light, has just been published. I have my copy and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Homo Puppy

I have always assumed that human evolution was brutal, a matter of the survival of the fittest, with only the meanest and strongest among us getting to reproduce.   What do you know?  According to Rutger Bregman in Humankind: a Hopeful History,* it’s not that way at all.  Instead of evolving to be ferocious, we have evolved to be loveable.  Here is a useful outline of Bregman’s theory that we have evolved as Homo Puppy.  

  • “Our brains are smaller than those of some of our predecessors, our teeth and jaws are more childlike and partly because of that we have become great in cooperating: we have become hypersocial learning machines,
  • We are born to learn, connect and play and that makes us strong as a species.
  • The Homo Puppy has an antenna that is continuously tuned to others. We are good in connecting to other people and we enjoy doing it, consciously as well as subconsciously; emotions are leaking out of our bodies all the time, waiting to be picked up by the other puppies.
  • Our minds need contact in the same way as our bodies need food.”

Bregman prefers Rousseau’s theory that we were better off in “a state of nature” to Hobbes’ and Machiavelli’s belief in an existential human nastiness that is only kept in check by a thin veneer of “civilization.” He is skeptical “of the notion that human beings are inherently selfish, or worse, a plague upon the earth.  I’m skeptical when this notion is peddled as ‘realistic,’ and I’m skeptical that there’s no way out.”

He demonstrates the “way out” in historical examples when, instead of acting at our very worst in times of great danger, we act out of community-mindedness, kindness, and mutual cooperation.  Agreeing with Gustave Le Bon’s theory in The Psychology of the Masses that civilized behavior crumbles in the face of catastrophe, Hitler thought he bombing the hell out of their cities would easily undermine British morale.

However, the cooperative behavior of Londoners, accomplished in a mood of mutuality, courage and care for each other in the face of horrific danger, proved the opposite. Nevertheless, both Churchill and Eisenhower bought Le Bon’s argument, though their carpet-bombing of German cities produced the same result of deepening community ties, morale, and solidarity.   (And, then, consider Putin’s “ten-days-and-it’s-over” presumptions about Ukraine).

 William Golding, in his 1954 Lord of the Flies, adheres to belief in our propensity to social evil, a personal bias that Bregman refutes in telling what actually happened when six boarding-school boys survived on an island for a year in 1966: they cared for each other, invented fair rules for dividing up chores, and came up with reasonable punishments for misconduct while devising cooperative methods for hunting, fishing, and gathering fresh water.

 Humankind is structured on a series of similar examples that demonstrate how our puppy-like geniality (manifest in the evolution of our appealingly rounded eyes, our ability to make eye contact with each other, and the distinctly human tendency to blush with shame) result in a complex social wiring enhanced through our development of language and our delight in learning things from each other.

Bergman hypothesizes that their (puppyish) eagerness to trade with and even leave their bands to join others, enhanced by their curiosity and copycat propensities, are the reasons why our hunting and gathering ancestors prevailed.   Although Neanderthals had much bigger brains than ours, our social/linguistic skills and propensity for learning from each other may have been the key to how we lived through the onset of harsher climate conditions.

The problem with civilization is that it brought ownership, then rivalry over what was owned, and then misery for those who owned less or were cut out of owning anything.  Bregman finds operating on a hierarchical power/over rather than the community power/with basis tragically corruptive: People in power “literally act like someone with brain damage. Not only are they more impulsive, self-centered, reckless, arrogant and rude than average,” they cheat and are shameless and loose the capacity to blush. . .Power works like an anaesthetic that makes you insensate to other people” and see them “in a negative light.” 

When sociopathic autocrats call the shots, puppy-like communities can morph into ferocious packs.  By the time a regime’s propaganda machines have done their work on us, along with threats of torture and execution at the least appearance of dissent, it is no wonder that we do what we are told.  Bregman, however, sees the “just following orders” argument, as used at the Eichmann trials, as a short-sighted iteration of the veneer theory; he posits something more (tragically) puppy-like as the motivation which made high level Nazi officials devise, and then carry out, the precise, viciously evil workings of the Holocaust.

Bregman suggests that, though his psychopathic antisemitism was searingly evident, Hitler’s orders were actually so vague that officers like Eichmann chose to act within “a culture of one-upmanship in which increasingly radical Nazis devised increasingly radical measures to get in Hitler’s good graces.” In other words, years and years of the propaganda machine had brainwashed the German military into thinking that killing Jews was an act of personal virtue.  Bregman argues that Hannah Arendt’s understanding of “just obeying orders” has been misinterpreted:   she “was one of those rare philosophers who believe that most people, deep down, are decent. She argued that our need for love and friendship is more human than any inclination towards hate or violence. And when we do choose the path of evil, we feel compelled to hide behind lies and cliches that give us a semblance of virtue.  Eichmann was a prime example:  he’d convinced himself he’d done a good deed, something historic for which he’d be admired by future generations.” In other words, he was so eager to wag his tail for Hitler that he did profoundly evil things in order to please him.  Clearly, homo-puppyness does not always lead to a good outcome:  it can embroil us into a “negative spiral [that] can also factor into deeper societal evils like racism, gang rape, honor killings, support for terrorists and dictatorial regimes, even genocide.” And so, our evolution as tail-waggers has its dark side if we copycat ourselves into conformity with systems of injustice.

During the years of the Weimer Republic, Hitler had replaced the Rule of Law with a despotic antisemitism and diktats against dissent.  As a remedy, the nations that won World War II used the Nuremberg trials to establish international standards to prohibit crimes against humanity, including “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population.”

Shamefully, both the United States and the USSR left their ongoing crimes against humanity out of the new international formula: “The final version of the charter limited the tribunal’s jurisdiction over crimes against humanity to those committed as part of a war of aggression.” Both the United States—concerned that its “Jim Crow” system of racial segregation not be labeled a crime against humanity, and the Soviet Union, wanted to avoid giving an international court jurisdiction over a government’s treatment of its own citizens.”

The problem for Homo Sapiens today is that, if such self-interested, piecemeal compliance prevents out adhering to environmental covenants like the Paris Agreement, we may not be able to save the human race from global warming. In order to prevail, we will have to undertake an unnaturally swift evolutionary leap to a global homo-puppyhood that accepts the whole planet as our commons.  Is this too much to hope? Or will our devotion to charismatic dictators and their propaganda appeals to a narrow and destructive self-interest lead to a far more tragic outcome?

Here’s Rutger Bregman’s take: “There is no reason to be fatalistic about civil society. We can choose to organize our cities and states in new ways that will benefit everyone. The curse of civilization can be lifted. Will we manage to do so? Can we survive and thrive in the long run? Nobody knows.”   

*Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History.  Little Brown & Co: NY 2019

The River Flowing in My Heart

I never had a visitor to my river cabin who left the same person who arrived.   Whatever their delight – painting, basket-making, birdwatching, swimming, canoeing, fishing, reading, kayaking, or just  plain sitting and staring – something about the Betsie changes everyone who spends time along its banks.

The Betsie River runs for 55 miles from its source in Green Lake to its mouth in Frankfort, a Northern Lake Michigan port.  It is a narrow river of sunlit vistas alternating with shady banks, full of birds and frogs and fishes and turtles and people like me who find solace in its meandering course.   It is a fisherman’s delight, teeming with Rainbow, Brown, Brook and Steelhead Prout along with pickerel, Pike, Muskellunge and a stunning summer surge of Salmon.

It runs free and clear because it is protected under the Natural Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1973. With the nearby Boardman and Jordon Rivers also under the  act,  and the Conservation Resource alliance stewarding even more of our local rivers, Our Northern Michigan Watersheds are a wonder of pure water and biodiversity.

The CRA is a non-governmental project supported by a varied group of stakeholders, including businesses like Consumer’s Energy. sport fishing associations like Trout Unlimited, and the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes, all maintaining the riverine health of our watershed ecology under a River Care program.  

My husband Henry and I bought our A-frame Cabin in 1992 and enjoyed our summers there before, alas, he died eight years later, never to know all four grandsons who would caper along its banks, their spirits flourishing from long summer days musing over snails and spiders, butterflies and crayfish, mink and muskrats. Two of them, in their twenties now, have kayaked the entire length of the Betsie; lately, a family dog has joined us, with his own door so that he can romp down to the river any time for exuberant swims and sniffs and forest excursions.

There is a kind of assertive forcefulness about the Betsie that gets into the creatures that live here.  When we arrived, we had a determined clan of dam building beavers who, when the Department of Natural Resources “removed” them so that their deftly engineered constructions would not cause flooding, turned themselves into bank beavers instead, denning underground, building river entrances, and going right on felling whole swathes of trees for winter fodder.  There is also a tribe of river mink that have little fear of humans, scampering much too close to our bare feet for comfort.  One summer when the grandchildren were just toddlers, we were haunted by a puma screaming at its slaughter among our deer yards.  

Then there are the Robins: These are not your little hop and peck back yard friends – Betsie River robins have attitude!  During breeding season, they streak in and out of their nest trees. If you go anywhere near, they attack from above, like Red- Winged Blackbirds.  They sing in the summer mornings, but these are different songs than their down state numbers – no mere warbling, but deeply resonant and assertive arias counterpointed against anything local Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks can come up with.

From midsummer on, gangs of robins rampage along the river, doing the kinds of things you associate with bigger, tougher birds.  When there is a hatch of flies, they decide to be Great Crested Flycatchers, soaring on the updraft and swooping down on their prey.  Sometimes, they transform themselves into Kingfishers and dive straight down, veer at the very last moment, then soar to a high branch, where they munch their catch and scream like Kingbirds.  

I have been a life-long birdwatcher, but. by the Betsie, my bird lists have given way to a kind of wild-eyed feeling that I have died and gone to heaven. Just being by the river rivets my soul:    I become less of a nature observer than a nature contemplative as I lay  my binoculars aside to just sit and stare.

One of the things I stare at, whether walking along the banks or drifting in my kayak, is the river bottom, where the clarity of the water renders everything translucent as if seen through a watery but precise microscope : the freckle on the trout’s fin, the stripes on the smolt and the transparent minnows’ inner organs, the geometry of the wood turtle’s shell as it plows along the pebbles, the pebbles themselves in all their tawny variety, and up spouts of bubbles bursting from underground springs. I take it all in, my mouth open and the agitation of my life vanished as I drink in the utter calm of nature’s multiple and minute particulars.

Years ago, I admired a bench some friends had built near their cottage, and they gave me the plans.  It turned out to be a meditation bench designed by Aldo Leopold to hold your back at just the right angle – not straight up or lolling –  for sitting and staring.   I hired a carpenter to build mine between two trees along the river bank, at a spot where it is shady even at noontime, and there I go to lose myself in the flourishing banks, a muddy little beach across the way and whatever catches my wondering eye.

write me: I’ll send you the building plans.

 In the spring, Yellow Flags  (the  original wild Irises) spring from the water among emerald reeds; later on, St. John’s Wort and Vervain, Milkweed and Goldenrod bloom in their season, with effusions of Cardinal Flowers springing up between. In Autumn, the brush is heavy with elderberries, wild grapes, dark blue dogwood berries, and high bush cranberries – all feasted upon by flocks of birds preparing for migration.

Birds that land on the beach across the river from my bench are always  blessings. Grackles love the watery pools, and Song Sparrows dart in and out among the tree roots. During mating season, the Common Yellowthroats and Rose-Breasted Grosbeak are in full chorus.  Shorebirds sometimes peck tiny crustaceans from the mud, like a Solitary Sandpiper that stopped along its way south one August, every waxy feather demarcated and  eyes like little black pebbles taking me in.  

One day a slender snake poised among the reeds, brown with yellow dapples; another time, I saw a stick swimming upriver, and realized how amphibious our Betsie River snakes seem to be– I have seen the Blue Racer and the Hog-Nosed snake go swimming as well.  Muskrat often swim by, trailing leafy branches. One  June, a flock of Swallowtail butterflies gathered on the mud, all piled on top of each other, though whether they were ingesting minerals or making love, I couldn’t tell.

Bowie the dog often emerges from the woods when I am sitting there, and comes over to put his paw on my knee and look up at me with his brown, brown, eyes so like the river at its deepest. Although I take pleasure in his affection, there is something deeply mysterious in his eyes that I can never quite fathom.

There are stairs going down to the water in front of the cabin, where the river has deposited enough sand for a narrow beach.  After a bit of wading, there is a nine foot deep swimming hole, cool and dark –   the home of a great big fish none of the fishermen have ever been able to catch.   One April opening day they had all gotten drunk (very unusual, they are a quiet, even meditative lot) and after standing around the hole raucously casting for hours, they finally went home.   As dusk fell, I sat on the stairs to take in the sunset.  Up from the darkness lept the huge Brown Trout, twirling on its tail as if mocking we puny humans. I could see a reddish-brown fin as it arched out of the water, only to dive back down to its dark dwelling, flexing every arrogant muscle, a vision of something vital and deep and overwhelmingly strange.

That huge fish is an inexplicable conundrum. The dark from which it comes is unfathomable. The river retains its secrets:  when I am there, I am a mystery, even to myself.     

Let it be so,  Blessed be.

Chat GPT and Me

So, with all this fuss about Artificial Intelligence, I went to the horse’s mouth. ChatGPT, it turns out, lurks in the Bing search engine in my Microsoft Word. Here is my article on the subject, along with my conversation with my Chat BOT: bit.ly/3ILUihg

Me to Chat GPT: “What is AI.? What is OpenAI and how does ChatGPT relate to it? What is a Bot, and how do these work with Large Language Models?”

Chat: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience¹. AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence displayed by humans or by other animals². At its simplest form, AI is a field that combines computer science and robust datasets to enable problem-solving³. (the sources are www.brittanica, Wikipedia, and IBM)

OpenAI is a research institute that focuses on developing artificial intelligence. One of their products is ChatGPT, which is a chatbot that interacts in a conversational way.

A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

A large language model is a type of neural network that has been trained on lots of text data.

ChatGPT is a version of GPT-3, which is a large language model also developed by OpenAI2.

In summary, OpenAI developed ChatGPT, which is a chatbot that uses a large language model (GPT-3) to interact with users in a conversational way. Learn more: 1. openai.com2. technologyreview.com3. arstechnica.com

Chattering and Mattering

After a long, dry stretch in a particularly reserved (okay, anally retentive) academic department where I felt that my humanity was being drained out of me through my toes, I wrote a poem asking “Did anyone ever die for lack of gossip?”  I answered myself that “We are born for a web of words, an embracing patter,” and then I threw my Full Professorship out of the window to find a more socially nourishing life.

From birth, we live in a rich matrix of other people talking to us and to each other. As toddlers, we begin to formulate our replies within that context of interactive chatter; by the time we are six we are skilled linguistic manipulators within our particular social milieu.

Chattering generates mattering: we figure out our place in our world through verbality.  Feral children raised without language – let’s say by wolves –  communicate in wolf submission gestures, taking their correct place in the pack on hunts, and in growls and grunts, but remain poorly wolf-socialized because they lack non-verbal wolf information like smell – the enormously detailed array of scents wolves respond to – and the multiple meanings that a tail can express.  If rescued, it is often too late for feral children to acquire human language and live fully as humans.

A lone wolf ejected from the pack for bad behavior is not likely to survive on its own. American culture, in contrast, often considers an individual the center of the universe, despite our Surgeon General’s warning that the current plague of isolation leads not only to mental but also to bodily disease (apparently, we can actually die from lack of gossip).

Our development of language, with the evolutionary outcome of a larger and more complex neo-cortex than other animals, enables us to transmit a considerable body of how-to and what’s-it-all-about information among each other and down the generations.  For many millennia after we came down from the trees, we did this by word of mouth, orally. Think of the West African Griot, responsible for keeping centuries of tribal history and genealogy in his head; of “Homer,” who was actually a group of people writing down a cluster of epic narratives; or of the New Testament Gospels, stories told in the Christian communities that remained oral for most of the first century after the life of Jesus.  

Unfortunately, this treasure of human knowledge can be used for evil as well as good: it all depends on that ambivalent human gift, the gift of choice.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, we assumed that our bright new technologies would, in and of themselves, lead to human progress.  Silly us: we got a century of total war.  As Justin Gregg puts it in If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals about Human Stupidity: “If Nietzsche had been born a narwhal the world might never have had to endure the horrors of the Second World War or of the Holocaust.”  Unlike animals, which seem to know what they are doing, human beings – for all of our linguistic skills and our museums and libraries and symphonies – are tragically prone to muck things up.

Gossip is that way too: talking about whose mother called, what he said, then what she said can lead to kind understanding or turn toxic in the blink of an eye.   Nevertheless, we can’t live without it: we feel all creepy crawly if we go even one day without talking to someone.   So, if you live alone, like me, find somebody to chat with today, even if it is a familiar stranger like the check-out lady at the supermarket; she probably hankers to verbalize just as much as you do.

Chattering matters!

Moral Harm and the Comfort of Accountability

Since 2016, those of us who love justice and fairness have been floundering in a gloom-inducing mire of injustice and inequity, for which almost none of the principal perpetrators have been held accountable.   This apparent failure of our country’s social contract has left us dizzily boundaryless.  If moral harm involves being psychologically damaged by seeing social wrongs which are loathsome to our sense of what is right and good continuously going unpunished, we have become the walking wounded.

Now, just in time for our battered spirits, here comes the Rule of Law in the form of 30 points of indictment decided upon by a Grand Jury of 23 of former President Trump’s New York City peers.

One of the elements of the moral swamp we have being lost in for the last 7 years is the relentless flogging of everything that is unjust and loathsome by the progressive media we like to watch – MSNBC, in my case, but also CNN and, sometimes, Public Television itself.  It doesn’t matter how scornful the pundits’ tone in reporting it:  continuous streaming of morally disturbing speech and acts rattles our minds almost as badly as watching Fox News.  

For example, on the Friday when the former president announced that he would be indicted the following Tuesday (he wasn’t), MSNBC spun a relentless loop, all weekend long, of his accumulated misbehaviors, unaccountably illustrated by one exceptionally dignified Presidential photograph after another.  Just as we thought that the Rule of Law had guided us to the safe edges of the moral swamp, the (liberal) media’s relentless footage went right on immersing us in moral miasmas of reminiscence.

During the coming months (perhaps years?) as indictments come down and trials drag on for all four offenses, we must find ways to protect ourselves from media driven moral harm.  Some of my friends have turned off their television sets and canceled their newspaper subscriptions. Convinced that a democratic citizenry must be an informed one, I am keeping up with my New York Times and my cable news, skipping Trumpy articles and muting every fulmination from the far right that MSNBC gives space to.   I will only pay attention to news of accountability in analyses and commentary about the heartening workings of our Rule of Law.

Have you found firm paths out of the swamp for yourself?  Tell us about them!

Are We Still Evolving?

I have always assumed that we human beings have evolved as far as we can go, that our neo-cortexes are as advanced as they are ever going to be, and that the processes by which our hearts and minds blend to make decisions are completely finished off.

There are some doomsayers out there like Adam Kirsch who are convinced that our very advancement, our “traditional role as earth’s protagonist, the most important being in creation” might be bringing us to well-deserved self- extinction, given that we have used so many of our talents for degrading the very environment that sustains us.

A dear friend of mine has moved to a community for retired clergy, theologians, and missionaries where they improve the shining hour by “hearing each other into speech,” publishing their interesting discussions in a series of paperbacks. In the most recent edition that I have read, William Moreman brings up the idea that we are still evolving in ways that make surviving the chaos of our times quite hopeful. He explores “the notion of evolution as a driving force pressing the human race to take a leap to a new stage, a new consciousness and a new ordering of our life on this planet…to be a fractal part of the larger chaotic, evolutionary thrust.”

According to the paleontologist/theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the entire cosmos is conscious, with human beings as integral elements in its continuing evolution. Tuning into that wider consciousness, we find that we are fractals in the heart of everything – all paradigms aligned. Teilhard’s ideas have led Al Gore to hope that human beings can evolve toward an Omega point where a harmony will be achieved with the inherent balance of the universe.

Surrounded as we are with doomsaying media (if it bleeds, it leads), I think we take the world, and our role within it, far more gloomily than we need to. I certainly felt more optimistic after reading Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, a data-driven analysis of how violence has actually diminished over human history, And, more recently, I have been cheered by the news that mitigation of carbon emissions has become so economically and technologically effective that we may be able to use these tragic brains of ours to halt our destruction of nature in time to save the human race.

And how about what goes on inside each of us – haven’t we felt some kind of lifetime evolution within ourselves? When I consider my own personal evolution, -not my predictable developmental from child to adult, but the changes in the way I have understood things so much better and act on them far more effectively since my sixties – there is a delightful and significant evolution in my life.

Discernment (seeing how things have gone over and over again when I behave in a certain way) has combined with determination to improve my act until I have got my heart and brain to act in entirely different ways than before. How about you?

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