Recycling progress?

In their recent report East Cheshire council was pleased to report that 55% of garbage is now recycled. That means it went into the recycling bins. How much was really recycled is anyone’s guess.

This reminds me of the first Knutsford Lectures in 1994, the days of the single black rubbish bin. We had subsidiary short talks on matters of local interest and one was given by a man from the then Macclesfield Borough Council. He had the good news that recycling was to begin soon, which indeed it did a few years later. So this was progress of a sort, and people are now furiously engaged in playing a part in recycling. Of course this led to the plague of wheelie bins that now disfigures streets and alleyways across the world. [One day we will get back to a single bin which is automatically recycled, like the mostly manual French dechetterie we toured round many years ago, but that’s not my main focus here.]

It feels that we actually generate more rubbish than we did 25 years ago. Now why is that? Packaging – both plastic packaging from supermarket products and the endless excessively large cardboard boxes and internal wadding from ever more internet purchases. Amazon and product producers are actually filling up the recycling bins and thereby increasing that recycling statistic. It seems like two steps forward and one step back.

And of course Amazon avoid paying the tax that would pay for the extra cost of all this recycling. Politicians seem so slow to grasp these nettles!

Featured image shows bins in Christchurch, New Zealand
by gobeirne via Wikimedia Commons

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Hen Harriers

Northern_(Hen)_Harrier
Hen Harrier, see credits

The UK habitat will support hundreds of hen harriers. They were once a common sight. In reality there are now very few.

They have been protected by law since 1954. Numbers have not increased since then.

There are many instances of individual hen harriers simply disappearing, even when tracked electronically.

Despite this, the RSPB and many volunteers is making heroic efforts to increase numbers.

The hen harrier is emblematic of the problem in England for all raptors including eagles.

It is believed that gamekeepers on driven grouse shooting moors are responsible for killing the birds.

When evidence was gathered and individuals prosecuted the case was dismissed on a technicality.

Driven grouse shooting is a sport for the rich, or rich wannabees. It has support in high places in the UK establishment.

Essentially, driven grouse shooting is incompatible with healthy populations of raptors, or so gamekeepers appear to think.

If that is the attitude, then ultimately the only solution would appear to be another law – to ban driven grouse shooting. This would have other environmental benefits, such as reduced flooding after heavy rains in the north of England.

Note this is a problem that can be solved with the will to do so. See for example the success with red kite populations in Wales.

These are my impressions from the Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate on 12 August 2018. Hen Harrier Days are usually held on or around the so-called glorious twelfth when the carnage begins. Go to one, and support the RSPB and other organisations involved.

Feature image shows speaker Mark Avery at the event
Photo of hen harrier by Len Blumin, via Wikimedia Commons

 

What’s primary?

I was interested in this post from The Two Doctors which brings philosophy into the consideration of wine tasting. He writes of the philosophy of  John Locke (1632-1704):

“Among Locke’s simple ideas is a distinction between those experiences that are primary qualities of objects and others that are secondary qualities. The distinction divides those qualities thought to be essential and inherent to all objects and those that are apparent only on account of the effect that the objects have on our senses. Primary qualities include solidity, shape, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities are those such as scent and taste. These are secondary because, according to Locke, they do not inhere/reside in the objects themselves, but are causally produced only in our minds by the effect of an object’s primary qualities upon our senses. Another way of conceiving them is to say primary qualities are objective (really exist) and secondary ones subjective (only exist in the minds of observers).”

This suggests an interesting point in history, where a judgement is applied to the inner/outer or subjective/objective polarity that lies at the heart of existence. In defining the objective (left brain) stuff as primary, and the subjective (right brain) stuff as merely secondary, Locke is applying a judgement that resounds in history, leading to the modern materialistic world and much denial of interiority and spirituality.

Locke could have expressed it the other way round, ie that the subjective is primary (really exists) and the objective merely secondary (only exists as a mental construct). This might have led to a world view where consciousness is seen as primary, rather than the material world. How different history might have been!

Of course, actually there’s no question of primary and secondary, we are speaking of two aspects of a fundamental polarity of existence.

Competition and Co-operation

Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.

The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.

Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.

Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.

Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.

The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.

Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

 

Dog Walkers

dog walkers

At first sight this image looks rather dark and unpromising, and yet on the other hand I find it a very pleasing composition. It was taken in the deep gloom of gathering dusk; the ability of a handheld modern camera to give a image of this level of brightness and detail in such circumstances is quite amazing.

The featured image shows a cut of the original image, centred on the two human figures and their dogs. The lack of detail due to the low light gives a rather impressionistic picture, which is also quite pleasing.

Picture taken end  June 2018 in auto mode by Panasonic ZX100
on the Wirral Way near Thursaston, Wirral, UK.

Be Gentle with your Mind

Here’s another poem by Steve Taylor, a message to all of us embedded in the constant involvement with media and other busyness: 

“Be gentle with your mind.
Don’t overload it with demands
or fill it with too much information
or pressurise it with too many deadlines
until it frazzles with strain
and refuses to work for you anymore.

Your mind isn’t a machine; it’s a sensitive artist.
It gets agitated easily, if conditions aren’t right.
And then it can’t think clearly, or give birth to new ideas and insights.

The energies of your mind are pure and powerful, like a clear fresh stream,
but they get polluted easily, if you don’t protect its environment.
And then you feel uneasy, as if your life is out of harmony,
and the world is conspiring against you.

So be gentle with your mind.
Give it time to rest and regenerate.
Allow it to be filled with space, not clogged up with information.
Allow it to be soothed with quietness, not bombarded with stimuli.
Let it be open and clear, so that you can feel its ease and stillness.
Let it be a pure channel, so that the universe can flow through it,
directly into you.”

Featured image shows Dee Estuary when sun going down

Comma

commaAt first sight you might think this is an old and rather scraggy butterfly, but it’s actually a comma in rude health. With wings outstretched this butterfly is quite spectacular. This one wouldn’t co-operate, but the underside of the wing visible here is also rather beautiful, and the white comma is clearly displayed.

This one seen on the Wirral, end June 2018.

 

A three-way Brexit poll?

I found an article in the 21st July edition of The Economist quite intriguing. It analysed the results of a YouGov poll in June 2018 which actually did a 3-way poll on preferences for Remain, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit (as suggested in June by MP Justine Greening). The intriguing part was that several voting systems were used.

First past the post: 1. Remain 40, 2. Hard 37, 3. Soft 14

Shows the country deeply divided. Few people profess to want the soft Brexit being pursued by Theresa May.

Alternative Vote: 1. Hard 47, 2. Remain 44

When the 14% soft votes are apportioned according to second preferences, the result is reversed and Hard wins. Of course, this pretty well reflects the result of the 2016 referendum.

Comparisons (Condorcet Method): Soft beats Remain, Soft beats Hard, Hard beats Remain

When people are asked to compare the options, two at a time, Soft comes out as the winner. So deep down this suggests that the soft Brexit being pursued by Mrs May is the compromise that in the end satisfies most people.

Beware voting system!

Although plausible, a three-way referendum could actually be rather problematic and totally dependent on the voting system used, let alone the interference effects of Big Money and Russian Bots!

 

Cistercian Simplicity

I’ve long found inspiration and sustenance from the beauty and simplicity of the Cistercian abbeys, still found in various states of repair across Europe. For me their simplicity of form is unfailingly beautiful.

In this context I’ve also been aware of the towering spiritual figure of St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the main instigators of the Cistercian movement, and wondered what sort of person he might have been.

spirit of simplicitySo I couldn’t resist the book ‘The Spirit of Simplicity’, being translations of classical French texts by that modern spiritual seeker Thomas Merton. The book is in two parts. The first part is a text with the book’s title, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Chautard in the mid 1920s. The second part contains selected texts by St Bernard himself on Inner Simplicity. Could this explain what lay behind the beauty of those old Abbeys?

The original Cistercian movement was one of renewal, aiming to return to the Rule of the monastic life originally established by St Benedict (c. 480-550 AD). Inner simplicity was a founding principle, and from this flowed the external simplicity of the forms created. The fathers of the first Abbey at Citeaux in the early 1100s were dedicated to this.

Chautard suggests that there was a golden age of 150 years for the Cistercian movement, when this simplicity was effectively maintained. This was followed by a silver age of another 100 years when it was not so effectively maintained and embellishments crept in. After the middle of the 14th century decline set in – with several causes: the Black Death, religious wars, and then the Reformation. (Paradoxically, Protestantism saw a return to simplicity in the form of religious buildings. Many of the older decorated Gothic buildings now show an almost Cistercian simplicity.) Another renewal movement at the end of the 19th century ensured that there are still some Cistercian Abbeys operating today.

St Bernard himself is regarded as the finest exemplar of the movement. The second part of the book contains his reflections on that simplicity, the need for humility, and obedience in the context of the monk’s life, the importance of the monk knowing himself – so actually quite modern psychologically – the overcoming of pride and dedication to the love of God.

I was quite struck by one particular quote:

And what greater pride is there than that one man should try to impose his own opinion upon the whole community, as if he alone had the spirit of God?

Modern dictators and populists please note. Pride always comes before a fall.

So the outer simplicity of the Cistercian abbey is a reflection of the inner simplicity of the monks. The evident beauty is a reflection of the inner beauty of their souls.

I would not suggest that the life of a monk is right for everyone, but it is clear that this dedication to inner simplicity produces this wonderful contribution to the beauty in the world. Go see some of these superb buildings for yourself – Fountains Abbey in UK, Fontenay, Senanques, Silvacane, Fontfroide, Pontigny and many others in France, Orval in Belgium. There are far too many to list them all. Here are just a few random selected photos.

For most, you must travel to less frequented parts of the country. The communities were built to be self sufficient, away from centres of population. These journeys provide a scenic mini pilgrimage in themselves. Even the less well preserved abbeys, such as Abbeycwmhir in an isolated valley in mid-Wales, once one of the largest abbeys in the UK, have a special atmosphere about them.

abbeycwmhir
Abbeycwmhir

And the book is certainly very readable if it aligns with your interest. Merton knew his stuff.

 

Truth

Ideas from a talk given by Patrice Brasseur at 2017 World Goodwill seminar, summarised in World Goodwill Newsletter. The quotes are from Patrice’s talk.

Truth is only a symbol or representation of reality, which is always something more.

“The quest for truth is a mental process of discerning, of understanding the fundamental laws of the Real; and this Real is always beyond the truth we are to approach.”

Until we become genuinely intuitive, we will struggle with the many different symbols of truth in the mind. All truths are partial and need to be grounded in personal experience to work out.

For example, if we hear that “Everything is one”, can we integrate this understanding into daily life? If we do so, we may find that our attitudes to others change, with increasing interest in cooperation and a broader expression of brotherhood. It is by applying truths in this way that we can convince ourselves of their validity “we must become scientists of the inner life.” In so doing we learn that every truth forms a part of a wider truth, and our understanding can continue to widen:

“At whatever level we may be, the truth is always the next step.”

So we may say that we do not go from error to truth, but that we progress from smaller partial truths to larger ones. In that sense the truth is everywhere, no matter where we stand on the path of the evolution of consciousness.

“Truth is the certainty to which everyone has access according to his or her level of consciousness, the certainty that serves as a basis for his or her evolution, up to the next step.”

This helps us to understand that every teaching is true, as all are useful at specific points on the evolutionary journey; and once a teaching has been integrated, one can move on to wider truths, but those teachings still remain useful to those who have not yet encountered them. This underlines the need for continuing education.

All truths are not equal – the more global in application a truth is, the more important it is. But we should not neglect smaller local truths because of this. The main question we should ask ourselves regularly is “What useful truth am I willing to implement?”

The global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are not the final truths for the planet, but are a very useful stepping stone that everyone can grasp.

What’s Living?

It seems the indoctrination starts early. At six-and-a-half years old, granddaughter brought home from school some beautifully drawn pictures marked with whether the objects shown are living or non-living. Trees, bushes and people are living; necklaces, houses, chairs and flags are non-living. We all recognise this because this is how we were brought up. It’s so obvious to us it even feels intuitively ‘right’. Yet does it bear scrutiny? Or is it part of the materialistic backdrop to our culture that has no basis in reality?

Consider the well-accepted theory of evolution, and the story of coalescing of planets around our solar system, the combination of atoms into molecules, molecules into bigger molecules, into viruses, bacteria, fungi and other primitive life forms, gradually increasing in complexity to plants, fishes, birds, animals and eventually human beings. At precisely what point in this process did the ‘living’ start? How can there be an answer to this question?

This is related to my post on materialism – if we accept that everything has an inner and an outer, then there is no artificial boundary between the living and the non-living. Obviously there are qualities of ‘livingness’ in those interiors that we recognise with immediate perception. There are other qualities that we have maybe become desensitised to, compared to earlier cultures that were more embedded in the stream of being, or perhaps the imaginal world in the terms of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book reviewed in another post. (Maybe some of them were called gods?)

Let’s just consider the example of a river. Rivers are clearly coherent wholes that exhibit apparently intelligent activity, changing flow, changing channel, increasing or decreasing width according to circumstances. We even personify them, eg ‘old man river’. But the interior of a river is something we cannot logically comprehend. It does not mean it is not there, but it is well beyond petty human concerns. Just sit by the river for a few hours and you might begin to comprehend.

Then there is the earth and the solar system itself. How can we say these are not living beings, which has always been well understood in the ageless wisdom?

And then there’s the question of death, and what happens to the inner livingness…

The mystery is always greater than our verbal comprehension of it.

Featured image shows bonnet mold on feces, with dew
by Andrea massagli via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Next Crash

Why should I lie awake in the middle of the night thinking about the next financial crash, when we’ll again see failing banks and governments frantically trying to stabilise ‘confidence ‘?

Of course there will be another financial crash. There always is. It’s built into the system.

Maybe next time we should apply some common sense, says my feverish nighttime reverie.

  • Put failing banks into special administration, keeping current contracts going where possible.
  • Remove and investigate bank directors, recovering mis-spent money where possible.
  • Break up big banks rapidly into saleable and social banks eg regional banks.
  • Crucially, the money it costs should be created by central banks as ‘sovereign money’, not taken from the people and public services by increasing public debt and resulting ‘austerity ‘.
  • Of course this will slightly devalue the currency, but then that is simply a recognition of its true value in this situation.

If only…

Featured image of bank run 1933, via Wikimedia Commons

Red Kites at Rhaedr

According to the RSPB, the red kite was a valued scavenger during the Middle Ages that helped keep streets clean, and was protected by royal decree. However, by the 16th century a bounty was placed on its head. Kites and other birds of prey were persecuted as vermin. By the the early 1900s red kite were extinct in England and Scotland, and just a few were left in remote parts of central Wales. Conservation efforts have been ongoing since then.

This has been particularly effective in central Wales, helped by the regular kite feeding programme at Gigrin Farm near Rhaedra Gwy (anglicised name Rhayader). The success of the programme has been amazing, and a visit to the farm at kite feeding time sees the amazing spectacle of hundreds of kites converging on the farm. The sky is literally full of these beautiful birds. Amazingly, all are descended from a single female, which shows just how close these birds came to extinction in the UK.

red kite 1

 

This shows just what might be achieved in England, where prey birds (including marsh and hen harrier, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, buzzard) are persecuted to this day, particularly in areas where driven grouse shooting is prevalent. See eg RSPB report.

Red kites are regularly seen throughout this sparsely populated area of Wales. These two were following a farmer’s tractor ploughing a field, along with tens of other kites and seagulls.

 

red kite 2

Note that Gigrin Farm has specialist hides available for the more professional photographers.

Judgmentalism reveals our insecurities

I read this post a while ago but didn’t think to reblog it, which I am now doing. Not being judgmental is a challenge for us all, and Dave DuBay expresses well how to handle it.

The Painted Porch

And that also puts other people’s judgmentalism into perspective.

© Dave DuBay

Everyone knows that a stronger person can overpower you. But perhaps that’s not quite true.

Physically, yes, you can be overpowered. But even if they threaten to kill you they still can’t make you do something that you think is wrong. Socrates chose to die rather than agree to something he thought was wrong. Jesus is probably the best known example.

They can’t even make you believe something that is false. If you verbalize agreement when really you disagree then they haven’t truly changed your mind.

Philosopher Epictetus points out that at noon when the sun is shining brightly someone cannot really make you believe that it’s nighttime, even if you say it’s night. If someone sincerely thought it was night they would be mistaken. That’s why he thought that most people hold false beliefs (which they might act…

View original post 464 more words

Polarity

Polarities obey polar logic, which is not the same as having logical opposites. Polar opposites exist by virtue of each other – they need each other. Eg day/night, inner/outer, understanding/imagination, left/right brain, material/spiritual, masculine/feminine, magnetic poles, yin/yang.

Shifts in the relationship between the poles give rise to imbalances that inevitably need to be rebalanced. This is not a logical process but requires imagination and creativity.

If the imbalance is not corrected, stasis occurs, the polarity loses its active, creative, character – the polar system is not working. Eg if we focus entirely on the outer at the expense of the inner, life becomes shallow and without meaning, meaning coming from inner experience. One might imagine a materialist world devoid of inner/spiritual experience to be meaningless (cf Beckett, Sartre) or a surface life of triviality and entertainment (cf today’s popular culture).

Look at politics for another example. There is a clear polarity between the capitalist entrepreneur and the needs of labour – if you like, capitalism vs socialism. Since the 1970s the balance has been shifting away from socialism, a process driven by people who believe that one ‘side’ can win. They are deluded. Inequality gets ever greater. In a dysfunctional system, no one wins.

Or consider integration of UK with EU (remainers) vs UK being totally independent (brexiteers). Full independence is an illusion, just as full integration is probably not desirable. We need the benefits of both. Theresa May seems to be trying to tread that necessary balancing line between the two, as is, probably, Jeremy Corbyn. Good luck to them. A sudden ‘hard brexit’ would simply mean years of hardship, until a new balance of the inevitable relationship is achieved.

The Chinese yin/yang picture perfectly encapsulates the nature of these polarities.

Inspired by Gary Lachman’s book ‘Lost Knowledge of the Imagination’, p122. 

Can computers ever be conscious?

This question is posed in an interesting paper True Artificial Consciousness – Is It Possible? from Sean Webb on the IONS blog. The paper is quite detailed and worth a read if you’re interested in the subject. My take is somewhat simpler, as follows.

Everything has an ‘inner’ and an ‘outer’. Science and technology deal with the ‘outer’, consciousness is a feature of the ‘inner’. Could the twain ever meet? Explaining consciousness is regarded as a ‘hard problem’ of science – too right – they operate in different domains.

So-called artificial intelligence is basically technology that emulates the real intelligence that flows forth from consciousness. This emulation can increasingly appear to be conscious, and even pass the so-called Turing Test of intelligent behaviour, but I would suggest it is not really conscious – could its ‘inner’ conceivably emerge from the ‘outer’ algorithms?

So, if we let machines control things we finish up with a mechanistic universe that is devoid of the spark of consciousness, indeed could become its persecutor.

Featured illustration of the Turing Test by By Mushii , via Wikimedia Commons

 

Crane Fly

craneflyAt this time of the year these crane flies frequently appear inside the house or a vehicle, and have to be persuaded to go out. With their long legs they seem to flap around all over the place. I’ve always known them as ‘daddy longlegs’.