A Berlin Wall Moment?

It seems that the more progressive UK media, including the BBC, have finally taken on board that global warming/climate change, pollution, species extinction, population are major issues of our time that need to be urgently addressed. Many of the issues aired at our New Renaissance Lectures in 1993 onward are becoming mainstream, covered in ‘the news’ almost every day. But they’re not yet ingrained. There are still many news media, corporates and governments in denial, actively blocking change because of their perceived self-interest.

Yet can they resist the surging tide of realism? It feels like a ‘Berlin Wall’ type of time in history. The ice floes are melting. Humanity is turning to face reality, startled at where it has come to, as it followed the materialist dream and for half a century largely ignored the problems being created. The spectre of floods, fires, wars, epidemics, on a scale hitherto unknown, haunts us all, especially the young.

But there is an aspect of those lectures that is less mentioned, less easy to popularise – that of inner spiritual renewal. The outer is a reflection of the inner. Until our compassion for others and for the natural world rises to meet the occasion, and our conscience is heard and acted upon, we may alleviate but not resolve the problems we have created.

Featured image: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989 (at the Brandenberg Gate).
By Lear 21 via Wikimedia Commons.

Sefton sundown

I spotted this silhouetted curlew on the rocks, against the backdrop of this sundown picture at Crosby, Merseyside.sefton sundown

The sun is not yet low enough to produce the longer wavelength reds and yellows, but as we drove into Southport, a bit further up the coast, these colours had become quite magnificent, but for only a short while.

sefton sundown 2

Quite a difference!

The metropolitan borough of Sefton extends from Bootle, on the edge of Liverpool, up the coast as far as Southport.

Paddleboarding

We were in the car park by Southport’s Marine Drive having lunch. Out of the dunes at the back of the parking area came several youngsters carrying what looked like a couple of canoes or surf boards. Not thinking much of it, we carried on eating. A few minutes later their two tiny cars drove away, and we realised there was no trailer, no roof rack, the boards had somehow gone into the cars. Now that was a mystery.

Lunch over, we went for a walk with the dog over the said dunes to see the Marine Lake. On the lake were a couple of similar boards, with people standing on them and apparently punting or paddling. A friendly local, who turned out to be their mother, was standing by the waterside, so we asked her what these things were – paddleboards. Apparently they fold down for storage but you pump them up to make the boards, which are then driven/steered from a standing position by a long paddle.

The slowly declining sun provided a super backdrop for a photograph or two.

southport paddle boards

According to our informant, the Marine Lake is a popular venue for paddleboarding. She had tried it on the sea, but got seasick!

Internet research shows that paddleboards have been around for a few years and are a rapidly growing trend. It looks fun. We should keep up!

 

Kindness, compassion, and post-truth

In this post Jane Fritz highlights one of the most disturbing trends of my lifetime – that to ‘post-truth’. To me, this is an evil in the world, in that it enables the manipulation of populations, to the disadvantage of all but a few.

I would suggest that the world needs precisely the opposite – a dedication to understanding reality in order to effectively address it, which is the only way humanity can negotiate the potentially catastrophic world we have created. Post-truth is the precise negation of the true (outer) science and (inner) spirituality that is needed.

Robby Robin's Journey

My philosophy discussion group is “studying” Post-Truth this term. More often than not we’re exploring a philosophical topic where the ideas are so challenging (along with the writing) that we spend ages trying to make heads or tails of what the philosopher is saying. (It’s really way more fun than it sounds!) In this case, however, it is painfully clear. There’s nothing difficult to understand about what post-truth is; the difficult thing is figuring out just how we can get past it.

Post-Truth?! What is that, anyway, yet another catch phrase of our times, like fake news and hoaxes? When are we going to get past this strange world of alternate universes? Well, it turns out that Post-Truth really is an accepted and accurate term to describe the world we now find ourselves in. The mainstream news sources that people used to count on for thorough investigative reporting (the most…

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Parkgate sunset

It was over 50 years ago that I first experienced a wonderful sunset at Parkgate on the Dee Estuary. So incredible it was, that I had some sort of peak experience. Unfortunately  (from this perspective) I was with very materialistic university friends who were not impressed and could not understand my elated state. The effect soon passed, as the beer took over.

Last weekend the sunset and the effect were much less spectacular, but still provides a decent photograph. A good birding pool in the marshes gives the foreground, with the dark hills of Flintshire behind. The channel of the River Dee now flows along that side of the estuary, leaving Parkgate, which was once a port, with just marshland at the quayside.

parkgate sunset

I think awe is probably the right word to describe my reaction to these spectacles of nature.

God and good

god coverStruggling through the brainache of what is it all about soon leads you on to the subject of God, and what constitutes a good life. This is another source of brainache, but fortunately there is a guide, in the form of Keith Ward’s book God, subtitled A Guide for the Perplexed.

Why did I read such a book, published as it was in 2002? It was actually a posthumous present from friend Chris Lyons, who died 3 years ago now. A wonderful part of Chris’s funeral was the opportunity to select one of the books from his extensive library as a gift. Browsing through the books available I was drawn to this one by Keith Ward, who is variously described as priest, philosopher and theologian. I had some years previously seen Keith give a stimulating talk at a Mystics & Scientists conference.

My conclusion

Keith Ward has made a valiant effort to take us through and help understanding of some of the many contradictory strands and threads in the Western understanding of God over more than two millennia. Most major prophets, philosophers and theologians are there.

This is not easy reading. but rewards the effort taken to understand. There is no final answer to the question ‘what is God?’ Ward stresses that “thinking about God is not just an intellectual exercise. It is thinking about the best way to live as a human being, and about the deepest understanding of the world in which we live”.

I’ve found this book a helpful guide, but it’s in the nature of the subject of the mystery at the core of human existence that, although somewhat enlightened, I am no less perplexed than I was before reading it!

Also perplexing is the insistence of materialists in regarding the ‘hard problems of science’ as a more helpful concept than ‘God’.

Overview of the content

How does Keith go about this exploration into God? It is impossible to give any sort of summary, but I will at least give his chapter headings and some idea of the topics covered and the luminaries involved.

1. A feeling for the gods,

Once the world was seen as full of gods, such as in Homer’s Iliad. These gods are now seen as symbolic constructs of the human imagination, representing creative energies and deep powers. This was a world of the poetic imagination, that we struggle to understand today, and that poets such as Blake and Wordsworth tried to reconnect with.

2. Beyond the gods

Then came prophets and seers who spoke with inspiration from deep within. They saw beyond the world of the gods, culminating in the second Isiah who came to the concept of the one God, unknown and unknowable. Monotheism. This idea of God, adopted by the Christians when they came along, culminated in the work of Thomas Aquinas in 13C. This God of classical Christianity could not be defined or described: “We cannot know what God is, but only what he is not.” This unknowability of God lies at the heart of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other traditions. There was no old man in the sky.

3. The love that moves the sun,

God is said to have passed down to the Jews, via Moses, the (ten and more) commandments, included in the Torah. Two great commandments were emphasised – to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. These were later adopted by non-Jewish Christians who renounced the Torah around 7C but retained the spiritual essence. In 17C Calvin developed this to such a demanding ethic that it could not be fulfilled, so required the forgiveness of God. The rationalist Kant actually retained a religious approach to morality, contrary to how he has been sometimes reported.

4. The God of the philosophers,

Plato’s (3C BC) philosophy of love of wisdom turned from the world of appearances to the inner vision of goodness itself, and beauty and truth – the true home of the soul, as in the Upanishads. Platonism was largely adopted by Christianity, notably through Augustine in 4-5C. God was the creator of matter and of the form of goodness. Aristotle’s vision was slightly different, but God was still there as the perfect being, acting as an attractor to all beings. In 11c Anselm defined God as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’.

5. The poet of the world

The classical view of the timeless immutable God dominated European thinking about God for 1000 years, culminating in Aquinas. The Protestant revolution introduced God as entering into human history. Rather than turn towards the eternal, man would shape the material into perfection – the world of science and technology. Established authorities were challenged and in 18C came the American and French Revolutions. The incomprehensible Hegel proposed that the whole of temporal reality was the self-expression of Absolute Spirit/God, seeking to realise its own nature. (Marx and Darwin turned things round, and matter was at the centre of existence – nature evolved and history was a dialectical process). Pantheism and panentheism are perhaps the ultimate expression of Hegel’s view. In 20C Whitehead’s process philosophy sees the world comprising countless millions of agents each making their own moral choices towards the good, guided by love – all experienced as part of God.

6. The darkness between the stars

In 16C Francis Bacon heralded the coming science and its practical impact in ‘bettering’ the human condition. In 19C Kierkegaard went in a different direction ‘subjectivity is truth’. Faith in God is a subjective matter, a commitment of the self despite objective uncertainty. In 20C Ayer and logical positivism took things to ‘logical’ extremes – all meaningful statements must be verifiable, talk about God was meaningless. Even he later admitted this was going too far. For Sartre life is absurd, except for the meaning we give it for ourselves, there is no God. Tillich is more traditional, seeing God as the power and ground of being, the ultimate symbol of the good we strive for. Wittgenstein said little about God: “Whereof we cannot speak, therefore we must be silent.” Modern spirituality tends to emphasise the good rather than God.

7. The personal ground of being

There is an interesting discussion of the problem of evil, with thinkers Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietsche. God needs to be in some way transcendent to avoid being tarred with the inevitable evil. Tillich suggests that God is the personal ground of being, but not a person.

Featured image fresco Creation of Adam from Sistine  Chapel ceiling, by Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada via Wikimedia Commons

Stakeholders and Davos

It was around 1985/6 that I became aware of shareholder capitalism. Up to that time, our company had been a business that designed, produced and sold computers, and was proud of its contribution to the local economy. Then along came these ideas of shareholder value, and suddenly the accounts became oriented to optimising the share price. My area, software, became ‘capitalized’ and included in the sums.

It was not evident to me at the time where this was headed, and indeed in the early years of the Blair government (late 1990s) I remember quite an excitement at the idea of stakeholder capitalism, whereby the purpose of a company was not just to make money but to be concerned with all its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and the surrounding society. Unfortunately, this idea gradually seemed to disappear and full-blooded shareholder capitalism resumed – all that mattered was to make money for shareholders.

Since then, the dysfunction of this system has become apparent, in that companies have become global, relocate operations at will, produce obscene inequality, and avoid paying local taxes that enable governments to adequately function in their sphere. And the corporate world does not appear to accept responsibility for addressing the social and climate breakdown they have caused, indeed some actively try to avert action.

Now, the World Economic Forum and the annual Davos gatherings do not have the greatest of reputations, but their founding ethos is undeniably good – seeking to provide a forum where corporations and governments can discuss key issues and the way ahead.

The Davos Manifesto 2020 outlines what I’m sure most of us would like today’s corporations to be like. If only they were, we could all have more confidence that humanity was at last headed in the right direction.

The companion page why we need the Davos manifesto articulates well why such stakeholder capitalism is desirable and why it is better suited to addressing today’s challenges than is either current shareholder capitalism in the West or state capitalism in the East. The thing is, it allows its management to act as moral agents, rather than as self-interested accountants.

It will take a long time to convert all the diehards, but all power to Davos for its annual meeting 21-24 January.

It might help if we each hold them in mind, send positive thoughts, or pray for them!

How can climate change not be the main goal of all countries in 2020? Canada?!

Here’s another great post from Jane Fritz, expressing the frustration of all who have been struggling to get climate change, now climate breakdown, on the agenda of governments since Rio 1992 and before. As she says, there is no Planet B.

Robby Robin's Journey

Australia is burning. California’s been burning. British Columbia’s been burning. Portugal’s been burning. This summer, the Arctic broke records for wildfires in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia. In the Arctic!  We’ve seen storms more volatile and ferocious than ever before, bringing destructive flooding.  Massive glaciers and ice sheets melting at unheard of rates. Threat of coastal flooding of epic proportions. Island nations fearful of being swallowed up by rising seas in the foreseeable future. What could possibly be more important to every country and every political leader than addressing climate change?

You got it, money. Not the money needed to make radical changes. Not the money needed to support innovation in developing new sustainable energy sources. Not the money needed to incentivize people to embrace new technologies free of fossil fuels. No, it’s all that money flowing from fossil fuel-based industries that decision makers are loath to give up…

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Redwing

Taking a short break while looking for raptors out over the Dee estuary at Parkgate, we took the dog for a short walk and happened across a largish group of (maybe 20) birds running about and feeding in a grassy field. They turned out to be redwing, easily identified by the reddish underwing.

Click twice to see an image full screen.

As is suggested by their shape and patterning, redwings are distant relatives of thrushes. These would be winter migrants to UK. According to Wikipedia, they often form loose flocks of tens or even hundreds of  birds in winter, often feeding together with other types of bird. We did notice a few starlings mixed in with them.

Tinder Fungus

These rather fine specimens of tinder fungus, or fomes fomentarius, sat proudly on a dead silver birch stump in Brereton Country Park. These bracket fungi were quite large, around 1 foot in height.

This species typically continues to live on trees long after they have died, changing from a parasite to a decomposer, helping the dead wood to rot.

The name derives from the fact that it was found to be useful as tinder in making fire.

tinder fungus 1tinder fungus 2

This could be the identity of the queried oyster shell fungus in an earlier post, which was found in the same woods.

Antibacterial soaps

I’ve always been very suspicious of products labelled ‘antibacterial’, in a way that makes you think they might be in some way better. So I’ve always avoided them. Bacteria are ‘generally’ good, and certainly should not be over-destroyed. Mother always said a bit of dirt never did you any harm!

The simple truth is that plain soap is just as effective. The products added to give the ‘antibacterial’ label are pesticides which are potentially dangerous to the environment, our water systems and our health. See this US FDA post. or this comprehensive item from EcoWatch.

Although some such products are banned by the US FDA, I can still find them on the shelves in my local supermarkets, even the more upmarket Waitrose.

It seems we must always be on our guard against supposedly ‘new’ and more beneficial products that can actually put us in jeopardy. One could argue that this is because we do not correctly apply the ‘precautionary principle’ to the introduction of new technologies.

Thanks to this Magical Elements post on water for bringing this to my attention.

Neumann’s Flash

Neumann’s Flash was formed when a salt mine collapsed in 1873. The Northwich salt mines had expanded rapidly without due safeguards, so inadequate supports were left to hold up the ground overhead.

A chemical industry developed around the production of salt, so the enormous holes created by this collapse, and the even more dramatic collapse of the nearby Ashton’s Flash in 1880, were in the 1950s used to dump lime waste. After dumping ceased, nature gradually began to recover and since the 1970s the area has been gradually developed into a country park, now part of the Mersey Forest initiative. Yes nature will recover, if given half a chance. See the story here.

Today, this is a great area for walking and birding, joining up with the nearby Anderton and Marbury parks.

neumans sunset

The picture shows Neumann’s Flash from one of its three hides, with a fair sprinkling of birds on the water, as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon.

The featured image is a crop of the central area.

Crystallised thinking?

“There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all.”
Michel Foucault

Political theories and movements come and go. Similarly, scientific theories and paradigms become obsolete, out of date. The reason is well articulated in a recent Arcane School letter:

“…as the evolutionary process moves on, that which once expressed truth and served as a liberating force, eventually crystallizes.”

So as we search for the way to address the problems of the human world in 2020, we must move beyond the stale answers and prescriptions of the past, notably the neoliberalism that exploits nature to the benefit of those who have, against those who have not, and the scientific materialism that sets us apart from (rather than within) the natural world. And the necessary way is not backwards to the nationalisms and populisms of yesteryear or any perceived historic ‘golden age’.

And soberingly, this applies to our own thinking and habitual ways of seeing things. We each need to see the world anew every day, and treat each situation as it comes, unencumbered by previous patterns.

Sounds a bit like total mindfulness. Keep trying!

Picture of osmium crystals by Alchemist-hp via Wikimedia Commons.

Maintain Your Rage

This is  powerful piece on the current state of Australian wildfires and the credibility of world ‘leaders’ in addressing climate breakdown. Yes, they seem to have run out of ideas, other than maintaining a ‘status quo’ that cannot be sustained. We need real leadership, and need to ‘rage’ until we get it…

(Featured image via mronline.)

Musings and Wonderings

Someday soon you may be like me, watching your homeland burn while its leader betrays it.

Ian GillToday | TheTyee.ca Ian Gill is a journalist, author and conservationist currently working as the inaugural Dan and Priscilla Bernard Wieden Foundation Salmon Nation Storytelling Fellow. He is a contributing editor at The Tyee, and co-creator of a new initiative called Salmon Nation. He lives in Vancouver and Clayoquot Sound.

FireAftermathNewSouthWales.jpg

A few minutes before midnight on the last day of the year, Pacific daylight time, I began to cry.

I’m a purportedly “grown man” and I’m not easily moved to tears, but as is the way with emotions, there wasn’t much I could do when the tears came but to wipe them away and trust that they would stop, which eventually they did.

I cried for my country, for my Lucky Country, the wide brown land, the Fatal Shore — for Australia…

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Climate Stripes

I’m obviously not keeping up. Fortuitously, son slipped me the ‘climate’ issue of The Economist from September 2019, which features these ‘climate stripes’. (Our children are of course there to educate us!)

Each stripe in the featured image represents the global temperature averaged over a year, from 1850 to 2018. You can see that the stripes “turn from mainly blue to mainly red in more recent years, illustrating the rise in average temperatures”.

As well as being informative, this presentation is aesthetically pleasing. What a wonderful way of communicating the reality of global temperature change. It was created by scientist: Ed Hawkins of Reading University, using data from Berkeley Earth, NOAA, UK Met Office, MeteoSwiss, DWD. The stripes have been widely used worldwide for some time, see the story.

The show your stripes website enables you to download the stripes for your own country. For example here’s England and then Texas (with slightly differing start dates).

_stripes_EUROPE-United_Kingdom-England-1884-2018-MO_stripes_NORTH_AMERICA-USA-Texas-1895-2018-NO

One can speculate on how the stripe pattern in different areas might reflect their different attitudes to climate change.

Interestingly, the debate has moved on from September, in that ‘climate breakdown’ is now the commonly used terminology instead of ‘climate change’ as in the above Economist article – but that is of course a mainstream business magazine.

Shaggy Scalycap?

Throughout the autumn we have passed this patch of fungus at the base of a roadside tree. My smartphone captured stages of its life. Click twice for more detail.

Identification of fungi is not easy. The scales on the cap suggest this is a shaggy scalycap, which is typically found at the base of trees. It is not edible, although some birds(?) appear to have taken pecks out of it.

The final picture, taken recently, is a rather disgusting mess.

Wrapping up a tumultuous year

Matthew Wright’s posts from New Zealand and others across the world show that there are a lot of people who are disturbed about the direction humanity is going, and the apparent regression to the mentality of the 1930s (and we all know where that finished up). Yet his call for optimism and hope is surely the only sensible response for us.

Matthew Wright

It’s almost the end of 2019, and I am wrapping up my blog for the year with a few thoughts; some joyous, some sombre.

The joy is that, for some, Christmas is upon is, as is the New Year. It is a time for family, and to enjoy a brief respite from the labours of the world. As has been earned, and as we should.

But for me this year is also set against a sombre darkness. When I look around at what is happening globally; at the ugly end-game of greed and entitlement into which the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s has fallen; at the way certain social media platforms amplify polemic and reduce reason to asserted slogans – a litmus test, perhaps, for human nature; and when I look at the way national sentiments around the globe are becoming polarised for deeper-running socio-economic reasons, I have to wonder…

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