Monday, June 25, 2012

The Epiphany

And during the days of the fall of the Great Empire, a story was told of the cult of a Swami Ayn Rand. It is believed that her spirit summoned her followers on a night of a dark moon as the wolves were howling. Haunted by their Guru and by the persistent wailing of the wolves, they traveled in packs to a sacred rock near the tomb of Swami Ayn Rand and they called her forth to ask her bidding. In an angry Russian accent, she immediately uttered:

"I am Ayn Rand, your beloved Master. Go unto the Great Mount and seek a vision from me there on the night of the next dark moon, but not without bringing with you my book on the Virtue of Selfishness. Mommie loves you all." (tender smile)

And just as the transmission finished beaming, the vision began to sink in. They were her chosen! They had to build her a church! And they did, and then they parted to the holy mount. Four Days and Five Nights they journeyed. They brought their Camels, their Horses, their Hundays, their Porsches, their aircars.  At the assigned time, they all met at the Great Mount.

There are four dead kings that rule this sacred mount. Their national cult is known as the Cult of the Presidents. The cult gathers in the vecinity of this sacred mountain to discuss cultish matters. After brief, friendly exchanges with the local cult, the AynRandites went up to the sacred mount and once again summoned their Guru. She simply appeared on their holyvision screen, which was generously provided by Spiritronics, Inc. and which contained an artificial brain that had been uploaded with the entirety of Ayn Rand's ideas and discussions.  She wore a head covering and tunic which should remind us of either Ghandi or Emperor Palpatine.  She looked about her age were she still alive.  Wide eyed, she uttered:

"And?"

"And we are here, as you requested."

Trying a bit not to be condescending, the swami said: "Did you all finish reading my book?"

The group hadn't thought about that one. They brought the book along, but they believed they were called to summon her, not to read her book.

"You're just like the Christians!", she replied in anger. "Read it and summon me then!"

This vision made the ardent followers into teachers of her Gospel. And so they spent nine days and ten nights reading and pondering the Virtue of Selfishness on the holy mount, and then they summoned her again and discussed philosophical matters for another ten days and nights. They recount these dialogues in one of their sacred texts, the Discussions of the AynRandites.

Near the place of her death, a stone church was built for her with the following message at the entrance:

Do not let the fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the net yet and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.

Ayn Rand

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Boycott: A Brief History of the Non Violent Resistance Movement

The Boycott: A Brief History of the Non Violent Resistance Movement

During the 1940′s, India was being exploited by its colonial overlord, Britain, and was fed up. Tired of being servants in their own land, they chose a pious Hindu as their revolutionary leader but he did not take up arms. He believed in Ahimsa, the doctrine of non violence, a pillar of Hindu ethics. Ahimsa teaches that one should not knowingly generate any kind of unnecessary suffering to other living beings, one should not harm them or kill them for food and one should be kind to all.

Before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, hostile groups were used to solving their conflicts through submission or conquest, including genocide, but Ghandi exhibited moral superiority. He would not fight the British and he would also not submit to them: he would instead use the boycott as a non-violent tactic to bring his enemy to its knees.

The British empire was based on economic exploitation. With no participation by the wage slaves, there was no incentive, no production and it was indeed costly to keep the empire.

This way independence was won, not without internal violence – in spite of Ghandi – but much bloodshed was spared. He encouraged peaceful relations between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians by inviting them to occupy the streets and pray together for independence and freedom following the tradition of Kabir, of Shirdi Sai Baba and others. He later created a secular state and abolished the caste system, believing only through secularism could sectarian violence be curbed.

Today, India is the largest democracy on Earth and the title Mahatma, or great soul, is reverently added to Ghandi’s name because he liberated India and inspired millions by exemplifying the doctrine of non-violence.

A generation later, the whole world knew of his feats and he was celebrated even on the other side of the globe. In Bahia, Brasil, a Ghandi brotherhood was created to promote peace and tolerance, and in the sixties another non-violent resistance movement spread: that led by Martin Luther King Jr. whose personal hero happened to be Ghandi. He fought segregation and racism through the exact same non violent tactics: there was a major boycott of all institutions and businesses that engaged in dehumanizing and racist practices.

Again, there was violence (and these two particular leaders were killed) but we must make note of a couple of things as we assess the history of the boycott as a revolutionary tactic for social change:
  1. that these revolutions could have been much more violent,
  2. and that both peaceful revolutions achieved their ultimate purpose: India got its independence and the U.S. got its Civil Rights Law enacted and was able to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter of its history.
All of this proves that the doctrine of non-violence can and has been efficiently applied to change an entire society and bring freedom to vast groups of people and that this has historically been accomplished via the tactic of boycotting the perpetrators, usually with the assistance of religious and community organizations that have the ability to mobilize a large number of consumers and workers.

We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. - a Yoruba proverb

Anyone that considers the huge amount of unnecessary human suffering that was avoided through this proud tradition, inevitably ends up agreeing that supporting the boycott was a moral imperative of those generations.

But what about today? Is it not time to reactivate our army of non-violent non-consumers? We should carefully study the theory and practice of non-violent resistance. What we’re facing today in the world is a financial crisis whose perpetrators are also vulnerable to the same tactic. It should be applied intelligently so that it affects those in power and give the poor, middle class, and working class a stronger standing in the economy and more control of our fiscal lives.

Since we have seen that the charismatic leaders of past boycotts have been martyred, it can also be said that Occupy provides an ideal platform for a boycott due to it being a leaderless movement. We all share the sacrifices that must be made, and no one leader is targeted. We are a legion, each one a minor leader of a leaderless global campaign of conscious consumers.

Having said that, we should not underestimate how difficult it would be to implement an efficient boycott. In A Month Without Monsanto, April D├ívila demonstrates how difficult it is to avoid Monsanto’s genetically modified crops and provides some guidelines on how to facilitate a lifestyle that does not support cancer, monocultures, obesity, destruction of biodiversity and of local farms, suicide by Indian farmers, genetically modified and interspecies foods and the many other evils that plague our planet due to companies like Monsanto.

Like the banking industry, Monsanto has its tentacles almost everywhere and it’s truly intimidating how much control they already exert over all of our lives. We should produce our own food whenever practical and possible, or at least buy them locally and organically. Most localities have food coops where local farmers may easily sell their goods to local consumers. We should support these initiatives.

For many years I’ve been critical of the Dalai Lama, who preaches ahimsa also, but has never tried to implement a boycott against China in order to liberate Tibet. He probably fears for his people, who are defenseless against China’s huge military.

Recent news about pills made in China from human fetuses, plus stories about lead and other toxic substances that have been found in Chinese-made toys that American children play with, should have raised awareness of the many, very serious problems associated with products made in foreign countries. There are many reasons to support products made in the USA.

Would it be possible to organize a decentralized boycott efficiently through social media and alternative media outlets? Maybe, maybe not. We’re creatures of habit and new patterns of consumption take time to develop but there does seem to be a massive awakening happening and a long journey always begins with one step.
In 21st century America, most of us don’t expect to meet our maker in certain arcane ways: arrow wounds, say, or Viking maurauders. Or the Black Death. And yet a man in Oregon has contracted the most feared disease of medieval Europe and is in critical condition.

The unidentified Oregonian, in his 50s, fell ill from the disease on June 2 when he tried to grab a mouse away from a cat. It is unclear which of those two animals bit his hand.

The disease — technically, an infection by a strain of bacterium known as Yersinia pestis – is the same plague from the Middle Ages that you read about in high school. The Black Death spread through Europe from 1347 to 1351, killing an estimated 25 million people. It is still carried by fleas, and humans can contract the disease either through flea bites or contact with an animal infested with diseased fleas (such as a rodent). Four other people have been diagnosed with the plague in Oregon since 1995, all of whom people survived.

-Time.com article The Black Death Returns: Oregon Man in Critical Condition with the Plague

Friday, June 1, 2012

Zombies and Snakes and Entheogens! Oh My!

Zombies and Snakes and Entheogens! Oh My!
For years we’ve said that 2012 was going to be a great paradigm shift, but every day we see stranger things happening. Zombie folklore used to be part of our Halloween tradition. Interesting how culture and art become life.

First, a naked man is found eating 75% of the face of a homeless man. He growls like a beast when the cops find him and they have to shoot and kill him. His victim remains in critical condition.
Now, a 21 year old student from Baltimore confesses that he ate the heart and brain of a man whose dismembered body was found in his apartment.

The first attack is being credited to a new synthetic drug known as “bath salts,” which produces psychosis and extreme paranoia and whose side effects are being compared to zombification. The phenomenon is more widespread than originally thought. This video mentions several places in the US and elsewhere where zombie attacks have been documented.

Before the recent attacks, the zombie phenomenon was attributed to tetrodoxin (aka the zombie powder), a venom that was developed by Haitian voodoo priests. It induces a temporary death-like trance.

With zombie powder, after family members bury their relative, thinking he or she is dead, the voodoo priest comes back and digs the grave. The victim is then used as a slave for the rest of his or her life.

Some victims of zombification in Haiti have been found by family members years later, but the brain damage induced by zombie powder is such that the victims are speechless and dysfunctional.

Whoever created this new synthetic drug is the modern version of a voodoo witch. Science, when used for evil purposes, would have been black magic to our ancestors … and the process of experimenting with these drugs can be understood as a modern attempt at shamanic trance, except that it’s generally completely void of any spirituality.

The fact that our drug policies are anything, but pragmatic and have created an underground market where substances cannot be tested by any official or trusted agency to determine how dangerous they are makes things worse. Legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol generate many more deaths than illicit ones, but at least when people consume them, they are educated about what they’re doing and they are generally making educated choices, even if bad ones. Labels are placed on cigarette boxes and alcohol bottles.

In our modern urban shamanism, we have none of that. It’s impossible for consumers to assess their risks and to make fully educated choices. They have to rely on the word of their illegal drug provider.

No less sinister is the news about Mack Wolford, a West Virginia pastor who was bit by a snake during a snake handling ceremony. The evangelical preacher wanted to demonstrate that, as per the Gospel, he would not be affected by the venom.
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. – Mark 16:17-18
Although he was bit at two in the afternoon, he was not taken to the hospital until ten in the evening, shortly after which he was declared dead. His family hoped that his faith would save him, in spite of the fact that his own father, who was also a snake-handling preacher, had died a similar death.

I wish to share an interesting note on snake handling. The side effects of the venom include pain and delirium, at times ecstasy. It affects the nervous system and produces altered states of consciousness.

Religious people might be particularly susceptible to these types of experience. It’s possible that people who get bit often by snakes and survive several bites may develop some level of resistance to the venom and might begin to enjoy these experiences of altered-state of consciousness. This is just one hypothesis.

Perhaps part of what our civilization needs are healthier and less dangerous ways of experiencing a natural high. Perhaps this need to escape ordinary reality is part of what makes us human and we should embrace it, recognize it, and then find wholesome outlets for it. People, I think, might be much happier. These experiences were always tied to the realm of the sacred.
entheogen
any substance, such as a plant or drug, taken to bring on a spiritual experience
etymology: lit. ‘generating the divine within’
- dictionary.com
Native Americans in huge numbers degenerated due to alcoholism after the denial of their culture and spirituality for several generations under the colonial policies of previous generations. A similar phenomenon took place with Siberian aboriginals when the Russians converted them to Christianity.

It’s possible that the imposition of sobriety and the repression of their particular cultural expression of the numenic and magical created a type of cultural anxiety whose only expression was alcoholism.

I’m not saying that the shamanic practices of these tribes and nations had been entirely safe, but they did take place within a sacred context, under the guidance of an experienced mentor, and were not habitual practices. There was a time and place for them, and there were clear boundaries between ordinary and extraordinary awareness.

Smoking was also not a habitual practice to Native Americans: tradition dictated that the use of sacred tobacco was only for praying. Today, Native Americans also suffer from high rates of lung disease due to habitual smoking.

Perhaps we should go back to creating spaces and traditions where people are able to experiment with their awareness in a less hazardous way than what’s available now, using healthy, natural entheogens like kava kava instead of toxic, dangerous legal and illegal drugs and venoms.