Wabi sabi

This is my meditation for the morning, after finding the work of Timm Suess while watching another glorious sunrise. The photos below were taken April 3, 2010 in the Cleveland Flats. I felt the light was “all wrong” that day and couldn’t help myself. I haven’t gotten around to moving most of that day’s photos over to flickr, but they are still in a zenphoto gallery here.

The most beautiful thing ever

The most beautiful thing ever

Continue reading “Wabi sabi”

Everett Ruess, the Epicurean?

‎”Are pain and pleasure equally desirable and necessary? They are both good for us if we have the will to extract the sweet from the bitter. No one need seek pain, he will get plenty without searching. He need not seek pleasure, he will get more if he gets it indirectly. He needs rather to go his way regardless of both pain and pleasure. Pleasure is perhaps the wrong word–joy or ecstasy may be better. Ecstasy is the highest of this family of words. It means such happiness that we literally seem to stand outside of ourselves in exaltation.”

Everett Ruess

I was reading this article on an Epicurean basis for the The Seven Deadly Sins and noticed a parallel thought:

“So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don’t understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.”

– Epicurus

The photo below was taken back in the spring of 2009, right before I first registered the domain name wildernessvagabonds.com as an homage to Everett Ruess. I dug the picture out today to post on the new Facebook page I created for this blog: Wilderness Vagabonds.


I had a buffalo skull once that I bought for $75. I gave it away. Now I live in a house where there are two skulls (cow I believe). I don’t stage photographs very often, preferring instead to explore the natural world with my camera. Having complete control over composition of elements is scary sometimes. I like to fall back on the mental excuse “those were the constraints of the environment” when a picture isn’t as good as I’d like.

So here are a couple staged photos.

Skull and lichens

Skull and lichens

Skull trails - 300 frames

Another lesson on propaganda

If you’re going to commit the naturalistic fallacy, you ought to at least get the “is” right.

This isn’t a good quote and the picture makes it worse. The word parasite elicits a reaction of disgust in many people. It is found in propaganda by design for that purpose. The image is reminiscent of propaganda against Jews in Nazi Germany who were depicted with large noses set in malevolent faces, also designed to elicit fear and disgust. The Jews were characterized as parasites too, so the juxtaposition here is unwittingly mimicking Nazi propaganda in theme and method.

I’m not saying that depicts a Jewish person, only that it looks like it was taken from a Nazi poster. This is an example of an image I’m reminded of:

I reject all characterizations of humans as parasites regardless of their political or economic class, and that includes the ruling class. These characterizations are typically done for the purposes of dehumanizing our opponents in order to wipe them out. I oppose the ruling class and would like to have a more equal society, but I don’t want to kill those people currently in the 1%.

I do recognize that Jason Read is repudiating name-calling from conservatives. Throwing the same name back doesn’t elevate anything.

I also know that the word parasite comes from the Greek “beside food” and originally referred to the kind of people who would come around your house every day at dinner time because custom dictated inviting them to eat. Since we’ve come to associate it with ticks, leeches, even botfly larva burrowing in living flesh and other organisms that cause no small amount of human misery.

Jason Read fails at defining parasitism too. It isn’t an economic concept to the best of my knowledge, but an ecological one. There’s nothing about “making its host work for it without appearing as a burden” in the definition of parasite. Many parasites are obviously burdens to their hosts who have no choice but to suffer, for want of the means to be rid of them.

Even moralism about parasites in nature is misplaced and not the thing to base economic metaphors on this way. Carl Zimmer says “By one estimate, parasites may outnumber free-living species four to one. Indeed, the study of life is, for the most part, parasitology.” See Do Parasites Rule the Earth as well as his book Parasite Rex for a whole lot more information than you ever wanted to know but won’t be able to stop thinking about.

Back when I was in college we had the distinction between symbionts and parasites. Today the group called “symbionts” includes parasites too, and what were symbionts are now usually called mutualists.

Some biologists think that all mutualistic relationships where both species benefit could equally be called “reciprocal parasitism”.

There may be appropriate metaphors to be made between ecology and economy, but the lessons from social Darwinism (still too prevalent) have to be integrated a whole lot better. Parasites aren’t the evil we’ve been led to believe in ecology. It now seems likely that the reason we evolved sexual reproduction as an alternative to cloning (back when we were still blobs in the ocean) was due to pressures from parasites (another reason to read Zimmer).

To end this screed on an upbeat note, here are links to a better way of comparing ecology and economy and integrating lessons of ecology.



The good stuff comes toward the end of part 2 and you can get the gist of the beginning with a skim.

Sentimentality and cynicism

Recently I encountered this photo on Facebook with the caption “Make love not war”. It started a debate and was eventually deleted, but I gleaned something from it before it passed.

Make love not war

The first response was a comment that the photo is deceptive because the couple is not kissing. The woman was injured and was assisted by her boyfriend after a riot following a hockey game in Vancouver (they take hockey really, really seriously, like Detroit).

The next response was “who cares? It’s the sentiment that counts!”

Another man said “Every woman thinks this is romantic”.

Unfortunately I’m a a bit of a gadfly. I responded that romanticism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and posted a short screed on sentimentality. I noted that the wikipedia entry on sentimentality even cites “make love not war” as an example of romantic sentimentality from the 60s.

Someone else posted that it is OK to be deceptive with photos like this unless it is a corporation or government doing it. I had a realization at that point. Sentimentality pressed in service of the state is called propaganda, while sentimentality pressed in service of profits is called advertising.

Sentimentality is a cheap appeal to canned emotions lacking depth to the exclusion of the intellect for the purposes of making people feel good about some work of art.

Propaganda uses that same method for the purpose of making people feel bad about their enemies.

Advertising uses that same method for the purpose of making people feel bad about themselves until they buy the advertised good or service.

The chief reason that sentimentality in art is dangerous is that it increases our susceptibility to propaganda and advertising. It also makes for poor art.

Earlier that day before this “make love not war” discussion, I’d been watching the speech by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator:

I took a second look at it after thinking about the relationship between sentimentality, propaganda and advertising. This bit in particular stood out:

We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in:
machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynical,
our cleverness hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little:
More than machinery we need humanity;
More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

I note carefully his assertion that we often think too much and feel too little. Sentimentality and cynicism are both pitfalls, and it would be easy to recoil from one pole only to wind up at the other.

The Need for Enemies II

I awoke one night two months ago and wrote the following piece in one shot. In the light of day I realized this isn’t a particularly joyful nihilism I’m expressing, and I felt a little embarrassed I had possibly overstated my case.

This does relate to my earlier blog today on war propaganda: When we demonize our opponents like this, we give them more room (and possibly cause) for behaving wickedly.

I’ve written about the need for enemies before. I have some further thoughts that are partially inspired by this gawker article about treating pedophilia as an orientation and these facebook comments on it:

We* need our enemies. They define us. They make us feel superior. They give us our virtue.

We need our demons and devils even more than our gods and angels. We want terrible evil to exist in the world so we can feel better about ourselves. The more terrible the evil is, the greater the good we feel about ourselves, simply because we are not that. We do not need to take any positive action to improve the world to feel good. Simply not being evil is enough.

There would still be evil in the world even if we (the righteous) stopped wanting it to exist, but I don’t believe there would be as much. If we didn’t want it to exist and didn’t need to feel superior to the people we hate for being evil, we would better understand the conditions that create them and take corrective measures to not create more of them.

I ran across this quote on Facebook today too: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” -Frederick Douglass

We fear that showing any compassion or empathy for evil (or broken) men means condoning their evil behavior. We cannot allow even the slightest possibility that their evilness is other than a willful choice. They cannot possibly be victims too, because where would that leave their victims? In our Manichean view there is only one victim and one victimizer.

We need conspiracies of illuminati mind control plots. We need reptoids from other dimensions feeding on our misery. We need Xenu and Satan. We need masonic cults and poisonous chemtrails. We need satanic ritual child abuse networks, government health-care microchip plots and 9/11 conspiracies. We create these things from our imaginations and believe in them enough to make them real, when they don’t exist in the world at large, just to feel better about ourselves and make us the good guys. We are all in a battle against the enemies of human freedom. We need the TSA security theater to give juice to our rants about “the fascists”. We need the Rothchilds and Bilderbergs and Bushes. We need “the socialist from Kenya”.

Vengeance is generally more important to us than justice. V for Vendetta invites us to savor vengeance. But in the rush to get vengeance we trample justice. What would justice look like? There must be a strategy to prevent re-offense and rehabilitate the individual, but there must also be some further accounting by the community for its failure, so as to learn from it and fail differently in the future.

I realize that Christians are instructed to love their enemy, and many will object to what I say here. I see very, very little love for enemies in this world. This is a really hard commandment that I think everyone fails at eventually.

There are some people who seem relatively unconcerned with their enemies. They don’t make them the focus of their lives. I think this is the most we can strive for. If you are going to obsess, then treasure the gifts your enemies give you.

Brad Blanton gave me the following feedback on the above, which I agree with:

I think it still leaves out the process of expression sensation and change. Sometimes to love your enemy is to hate your enemy out loud and get over it.

That might look like doublespeak to someone who hasn’t read Radical Honesty. The core idea is simple enough: resisting our experience of the hatred only gives it more energy and makes it more dangerous. If I really hate my enemy and want to get over it, the only way I can truly change is to go through it and be honest with my enemy and express it fully and be willing for it to not change until it does of its own accord.


* “We” is most of us. In the political world, the right needs the left and vice-versa. Sporting rivalries suffice for others. For progressives, corporations are the enemy. For many libertarians and anarchists, it is government. I doubt many humans can honestly claim to have zero enemies they hate. Who among us doesn’t hate child molesters and animal abusers? If you say you don’t, then know that the rest of us hate you for not hating them, and consider you our enemy too. You wind up with enemies trying not to make enemies, see?