Our society is collapsing
I eat chocolate very rarely. Today, my 15 year old daughter, Tara, made me a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I ate them initially out of politeness and subsequently because they were exceptionally good. Now the chocolate is kicking in. So I’ve decided to take you, if you are willing, along with me on a journey as I explore some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.
The reason Tara made me the cookies is because we are in a house in the wilderness together. We don’t know when, or if, we will ever leave this house and its surrounding area because human society is being ravaged by the Coronavirus. Our society is collapsing.
I have to admit that I jinxed myself around the pandemic and our society’s response, or lack of response, to it. Just the other night, it seems, I had translated and was contemplating the words of one of my favorite Chinese philosophers who wrote, “If you can grasp the heart, put it down, set it free and not replace it with human anxiety, thus not raising fire, you’ll have lots of light-quickness.” 1
Light-quickness! Marvelous light-quickness! I spent that night practicing the import of these words again and again, inwardly grasping my heart, putting it down, setting it free and not replacing it with human anxiety. It was heaven.
Wham! Next day, the lockdown. Human anxiety replacing everything. Not heaven. Not light. Quick.
I know how to survive these things because it’s in my blood. My pregnant great great great something grand mother on my father’s side was the sole survivor of a plague during the 1500s in Bellinzona, now a part of Switzerland. She knew what to do.
I also know what to do.
I’ve felt it coming for the last couple of years. Every time I would go outside my home in Tiburon, California, majestic Mount Tamalpais would speak to me, saying, “Get ready to leave…”
It’s not unusual to hear mountains talking to you. It’s unusual if you don’t. It’s unusual when nature speaks and people don’t listen. It creates problems, mostly for the people who don’t listen.
Facing a stranger danger
Daughter Tara’s life has been ripped asunder. As a teenage girl, the entirety of her focus was on school and her friends. Now she has neither, unless you consider electronic facsimiles of those things to be real.
That is precisely the problem. Of all things for her generation to face, it’s this. A generation whose primary identity is in an imaginary, manufactured world, one where nothing can be trusted and everything can be manipulated, one that completely disallows them to develop the basic neurological development of human to human interaction and contact.
Our cultural jingle stranger danger has now gone global. Stranger danger has now evolved to stranger death. Maybe it’s both together now. Stranger danger stranger death. Maybe the new emphasis and beat should be on stranger, because the danger and the death get stranger every day.
Socialization and the free life
Contact is done, over. We are now, like it or not, physically separated, possibly for a very long time, maybe forever. Social distancing is not going away. It will only peak and subside, cyclically in waves, like the ocean, like the Moon.
Like many kids, Tara was a genius in a variety of arenas before she went to school. There, she learned, was forced to learn, how to play the game we were all taught to play. I watched in her how the rude, crude social mind eclipses our natural abilities and talents and subjugates their powers to its own ends.
Socialization, at least the way we do it, denies natural genius, devalues and disempowers innate ability and trades it for competition. It takes away our basic sense of self-knowing and plugs it into a box that is labeled authority.
We are conditioned to obey exclusively this external authority in any of its multiple guises, and off we go in the belief that we are having a free life, but we have been so conditioned that any of our highly celebrated wide-variety of choices always and only go in a singular direction.
Teaching and learning by example
Tara’s shedding her conditioning, but slowly.
“Have a nice time dying alone.” She says if I make even the most tangential reference to her seemingly permanent state of sloth and lethargy, the natural state of anyone who is trying to recover from the death of the world she was so sincerely trying to understand and integrate with.
I feel the truth of her words. I tried to teach her by example, by caring for my Mother at every opportunity as she got older and was less able to care for herself. But rather than bonding indelibly to the virtuous dimensions of that experience, it seems like Tara realized that she would never want to be in a care-taking position like that in a million years. So be it. I will die alone out here in the wilderness, my rotting and withered corpse being devoured by buzzards in a new Californian version of the Tibetan sky burial. Aho!
The naming ritual
Tara puts all of her love and attention instead into her new pet rabbit. Somehow manifested at the exact moment of the full Rabbit moon this year, a white fluffy baby bunny came to her a mere two days before the lockdown. In a miracle of good timing, this tiny creature has brought both of us endless joy at this curiously joyless moment in history.
She suffered over what to name the rabbit, spinning out dozens of generic names that she thought would be good for a pet. My suggestion was not to just make up a name and cast it on the poor animal, but to look deeply into its soul, and after discovering its true nature, let that name arise which would be most descriptive of this quality.
Still, she was stumped and frustrated over the name. Tara’s virtual friends chimed in via Instagram and Snapchat to vote on what to call the creature, and amazingly, each of them independently wanted to name it after… themselves. I found this to be a bizarre and revelatory phenomenon. Nothing is random. This was an instant and spontaneous sociological experiment that revealed so much about the social orientation of her peer group: Self. Definitely always with a capital S.
I also began the naming process. My first attempt yielded the name Q-tip. Tara immediately vetoed it, because she said she wouldn’t be able to say it without laughing, which she evidently had a problem with.
I tried another track. There’s something funny, or at least engaging, about calling a thing the opposite of what it is. This is a big piece of what is so hypnotic and captivating about politics. I suggested the name Big George, like a bouncer at a biker bar, back when we had bouncers and biker bars. It worked. Tara was thrilled, yet we both agreed that we hadn’t completely nailed the rabbit’s full name.
We observed the rabbit for several days. It’s a he. At least we were told it’s a he. He spends his time constantly, obsessively, neurotically cleaning, licking, eating and chewing, chewing everything because his teeth never stop growing, like he’s going through teething pains forever.
The rabbit communicates in some kind of primal semaphore with his ears. Cockroaches use a similar mechanism with their antennae, but their language is very different. The rabbit language tends to be pastel, polite and oblique, almost Asian. Cockroach is information dense, gossipy, bickering, bold, direct yet deceitful and always self-serving of the corporate cockroach group-entity. Almost American.
The bunny is cute, quiet, reserved… and inscrutable. There is something Chinese about him. Without a doubt, this is my own projection, just like the kids wanted to name the rabbit after themselves. This is probably due to my own long-standing fondness for Chinese culture, science and customs. One of the things I’m looking forward to in this semi-solitary state of confinement that we call sheltering is having the decades of free time it will take to go through and partially, flailingly understand a Chinese dictionary.
Anyway, after much ado and days and nights of keen observation and intensive discussion, the bunny’s name has become Mr. Chu. George Chu. Big George.
Locked inside for too long
Cuteness is a survival strategy. I compare Mr. Chu to the native jackrabbits that abound in our forest here in the mountains. Most notable is that they are not cute. They’re fast, lean, mean, smart and incredibly alert. They aren’t fluffy, they’re sleek. And they completely lack any of the obsessive character traits of Mr. Chu.
Is there anything especially rabbit about Mr. Chu’s compulsive habits? Or is he simply demonstrating what happens to any of us when we are locked inside an enclosure for too long, regardless of how comfortable that cage may be?
The inscrutable quality of Mr. Chu has me wondering about our projections of darkness onto things we don’t understand. It has me wondering about those days not so long ago when we were so intensely critical of China’s handling of the Coronavirus, exactly when they were taking strong and decisive steps to eradicate it from their society, something that they essentially accomplished in a few very short weeks. Yet we arrogantly criticized China, weaponizing the event with bitter anti-Chinese propaganda while doing nothing about preventing the spread of the virus here at home.
During this time and seemingly inflamed by the anti-Chinese media spin, the millennials partied on, believing that they were immune to the Coronavirus, completely disregarding and dismissing the ill effects that their actions could and did have on others. The health care industry begged them to shelter at home, but still they persisted, becoming stooge-vectors of death to our society. There were entire families in Mill Valley, California who tested positive and refused to isolate, insisting that it would cramp their freedoms and lifestyles. Swanky dinner parties in the Pacific Heights region of San Fransisco delivered their guests within days to intensive care units to die gasping desperately for air. Still, the party continued.2
Passing it forward, not
Are these behaviors really any different from the ones the millennials have demonstrated at any other time?
This is the generation that promised us a revolution and delivered it to us on its own terms. As it turned out, it was a capitalist revolution that propagated a disease of greed and self-interest around the globe while paying lip-service to liberal ideals like equality, environmentalism and ironically, revolution. They spread an infectious belief that we could buy our way into a better world, that this whole new form of super-capitalism would make everything ok, while they were the sole ones who benefitted from it without passing anything forward or backward to the ideals that they used to market themselves.
Which was all fine, until the world broke.
Who do the millennials reflect in me? This would be the question a Taoist would ask, because if they were not an aspect of my inner self, I would not be aware of them at all. I have a hard time owning it, but they remind me of my own blind arrogance in thinking that I know better, in my beliefs around personal invincibility and in my profound lack of empathy for those who are suffering when I am not, or any form of other whatsoever. I am that.
Quick, rewrite history
Just before the outbreak of Covid-19, the media was pushing for the youth, and how youth was going to save us. Greta was going to save us. Youth, pitched in one form or another, is the perennial carrot on the stick for our society. It is the idealism, raw energy and naïveté of youth that makes the wheels on the machine of our capitalism roll. On it, we place all value. Outside of its narrowly prescribed boundaries, we are all exiled to die alone in the wilderness. Just like me.
Youth was a last-ditch hope of the media to distract us, yet again, from a public dialogue that was going dangerously in the direction of discovering and finally curing the real causes of our global collective woes. As one of my patients from New York City put it in a way that only a New Yorker would put it, “It’s like the media are playing a giant game of Three-Card Monte with us.” Indeed they are.
How are we learning from the Chinese successes in treating and beating the Corona virus? We are not.
It seemed to me that the media’s focus on youth was also an effort to throw away and devalue the generation of Baby Boomers. The Boomers have always been a vanguard of resistance, of a kind of organic moral fiber that says no, that puts its foot down, one that tries to create authentic, healthier alternatives. The Boomers are the generation that the status quo needs to make disappear, to eradicate all trace of, in order to rewrite history. That’s what is happening, quickly.
A real good time together
Who are the Boomers in me the Taoist asks? They are the part of me that believed that all that I did to make the world a better place actually did leave the world a better place than when I came. No need to elaborate on that.
What of the generation of grandparents? Addicted to Fox news, CNN and whatever they are told to do by the media and the powers that be, they promote the status quo with a vengeance. Just imagine what it is like to be a part of that generation3 now, being constantly told by the icons they most trust that they are going to die from the virus, that they are vulnerable and that their time is over. I was surprised when Trump advised them to give up their lives for the sake of the economy that they didn’t all just walk into the sea.
That generation accomplished something together. They were the ones that hand built the status quo. They manufactured the physical foundation of our society that allowed us to thrive here in the US for another two generations. They were the ones that ‘made America great,’ but it wasn’t America, it was just the US.
The US was great in the eyes of the world back when we were helpful to others. We made high-quality, ingenious things that lasted forever, and we made them cheap so people could afford them. We created a middle class at home and wherever we could abroad that empowered people to live better for less. We created corny upbeat media that told people everywhere that if they tried, they could make it. And if they couldn’t do it at home, they could come on over here and join the party just like we did.
That’s how the US became a powerfully positive mythological force all over the world. Whether our promises held true or not didn’t really matter that much to the myth. We became a place, at least in people’s minds, that they could escape to someday and make it. A place they could go if things got really really bad, or even if they didn’t, they could break free and split to the US just for the sheer fun and adventure of it, because it looked like whatever was going on here, we were having a good time doing it. Together.
A thread that continues
Now we have a different kind of together. I find it interesting that the Korean film Parasite became so popular in the months just prior to Covid-19, that the end of that film left a man forever imprisoned in the home of a man he had murdered, desperately trying to communicate with the surviving members of his family through a system that was developed by his immediate predecessor, who he also murdered in the same prison-home. And here we are, some scant months later, prisoners in our homes, without the sense of pride and repugnance that somebody who has killed their boss probably feels, but in some way desperately trying to communicate with family either through blood, belief or other kind of kinship.
One of the Chinese words for karma, 宿, Su, is a picture of a hundred people under one roof. A roof can be the roof of your home, if you have one, a meeting hall, a civic center, an ideology, the sky, even the skull that houses the millions of your thoughts. One hundred can be the different aspects of yourself and/or anything that you would consider as other, ranging from nothing to the entire universe. 宿, Su means to stay the night, long-standing, old.
Another word that is closely related to 宿, Su is 缩, Su which means to shrink. We shrink when we go into forced containment with others, like in prison, school, jobs, or when we’re under house arrest, like all of us are right now. 宿, Su becomes 缩, Su by adding 丝, Si, thread. Whatever happens when we’re all stuck under one roof binds us together like a thread, a thread that continues, and has continued, and is maybe why we’re all in this mess together right now and may be in strangely similar messes in the future.
丝, Si, the part of 缩, Su that means thread, is a special kind of thread. It’s the thread that a caterpillar, specifically the silkworm, spins to form its cocoon. That thread can be used for its originally intended function of making a cocoon, in which case it builds a house of personal transformation and rebirth, or society can take that thread and do useful things with it-things that are useful to and for society- and it can build a house of karma.
The house of karma
Karma. Does it exist anywhere outside of the imaginative projections of philosophers and other soothsayers? If it does exist, what is our karma as Americans to have gone from being the light of the world, if only mythologically, to the most hated and reviled nation on the planet in a single generation? What is the karma of humanity for doing what we have done to each other and to Gaia, our gracious and forgiving hostess?
For whatever it’s worth, I have not observed that there is an external agent of karma or that it exists as anything outside of ourselves. On the other hand, I have observed in myself and others that when we transgress some kind of an inner moral boundary, a boundary that is completely individually and personally defined, there is often a response from a corresponding inner force of rectification that has the power to arrange circumstances and events such that when the entire scenario plays out over time, an unusual and existential sense of balance seems to be achieved. Karma, if it exists, seems to be directly proportional to conscience.
Keep on going at all costs
I also think it’s interesting that many of the sensitives of our society have toyed with ketosis, intermittent fasting and other forms of starvation for the last several years as a kind of dry-run for the fallout from our little Covid crisis. Not intentionally or consciously, of course. I even found myself doing it in the first few weeks of the lockdown. I ate very little, almost nothing, to gradually accustom myself to the trials and pains of starvation. ‘This will make it all so much easier because I’ll be used to it!’ I thought. At that time I was doing everything I could do to assist the sick and dying. I wanted to observe everything possible about the Coronavirus first hand for as long as I could while the numbers were with me so as not to endanger myself or others.
After those few weeks of working so hard and eating so little I began looking and feeling like a skeleton. I found that I was in a self-reinforcing cycle that was progressively making its way into the ephemeral, a dematerialization of who I was, down to the bones of an immortal work ethic and a perceived need to be productive all the way to my last breath.
And there it was. There I was. My little version of what we have done to ourselves and our world.
But time and circumstances didn’t allow me to stop, so I thought. People’s lives were on the line. Yet so was mine. I felt the creeping horror and impotence of trying to help in a virtually hopeless situation. I had nightmares about thousands of zombie-like creatures beating at my doors and windows night-of-the-living-dead style, all needing herbs and treatments, clinging to me, needing me.
Light-quickness was nowhere to be found. I began to wonder what part I was playing in this big bad mess. Eventually I realized that if I kept on going the way I was, I would get sick too, if not from Coronavirus, then from something else. From myself.
Confucius said in the Analects, “I stress about failing to cultivate virtue, failing to practice what I have studied, at understanding what is right for the situation but failing to do it, and failing to make right my non-productive behaviors.”4
How appropriate Confucius’ words are today, because this is exactly what we have done collectively. I did it too, with the best of intentions, while precisely trying not to.
The media, which really should be called the medium at this point, is telling us that we are depressed from being at home for such a long time now. Don’t pathologize what’s going on with you. It’s not depression. Depression happens for no external in-the-moment reason. There’s plenty of reason to feel the way you do.
We’re all feeling it. What we’re feeling is the schism between the truth of what’s going on and what we’re being told. We know that something is wrong. We don’t know exactly what it is yet, but we can sense that it is very, very dangerous. This feeling we’re having tells us that we are or will soon be caught in a trap.
We’re faced with a situation where we can no longer trust information because it is all so biased. We can’t use our minds to get through this. We need to use some other kind of force, something more primal, to move us over to the other side, if there is another side. This feeling we’re having is an awareness of predation. There is a predator, or a group of predators, in hiding somewhere, just beyond the edges of our awareness.
The sheep in us wants to run, but we can’t. The wolf in us wants to discover the predator and defeat it, to rip its throat out and eat its heart and liver, but the predator is too big, clever and amorphous to be apprehended. The predator knows us better than we know ourselves. It knows what we’re going to do before we do it. It’s almost like it lives in our smartphones.
Looking for a word
There’s a word we used to have that meant the powers that be were suppressing information and/or reconfiguring and/or making history disappear, but I can’t remember what that word was. And there it is. There’s the trauma. Did I dream that the government was doing that? Is this a completely new concept? Or an old one that I’ve forgotten? In our newly traumatized state it’s impossible to know.
Once upon a time there was a word that would have described what I’m talking about, but nowadays we need to bootstrap ourselves and be creative, so I’ll make one up. Let’s see. Let’s make the word describe a picture of what’s happening to us: I see a boat, a large boat, the large boat of our dwindling and former freedoms, out on the sea. Let’s call it a ship on the ocean. And that ship, the one that represents all of our freedoms and, well, aspirations, it really needs to be on fire because these things are vanishing so very rapidly. And we need to get another sense involved with our image to make it multi-sensorial and more magical. So let’s include smell, smell being the most vestigial and deeply embedded in our neurological matrix. So now we have a ship that’s on fire on the ocean, and it’s filled with people, who represent you, me and everybody else. Oh yes, and the ocean represents the unconscious.
Now here we are on this ship that is burning, quickly, and we have a choice, or at least the people on the periphery of the ship have a choice, to either burn to death, or jump into the ocean and discover what happens next. That’s where smell comes in. When they burn, the people on this ship smell like the ambient emotional flavor of their lives. Representing all of us, they release a variety of aromas, bitter, bland, spicy and pungent, but the optimists and the extreme fundamentalist subset of optimists known as New Agers give off a particularly sweet smell as they burn, much like the incense they were so fond of back when they had the freedoms to do things like burn incense and meditate. The smell of this incense overpowers the other smells as the ship slowly goes down somewhere over the horizon.
There we have it, a complete and multi-sensorial image of our situation. But it’s a complex picture, so we’ll need to condense the whole thing into a simple word using the key concepts from our image. The elements that really stick out for me are the ship, because it’s the vehicle for the action in the story, the ocean, and the smell of the incense, because that’s what we’re left with at the end.
There’s no use in including the part about the ocean, because it represents the unconscious, and that would make us instantly forget the word as soon as we invented it. So I’m going to reverse-engineer our word to intentionally disclude the ocean, which should therefore have the opposite effect of helping us to remember our new word forever. That leaves us with incense and ship.
Now I lived in Marin for over thirty years, so I happen to remember that there is a word for a container that one burns incense in. It’s called a censer. This word comes from the Old French word censier, which came from encensier, originally from the ecclesiastical Latin incensum meaning ‘something burned,’ which is the neuter past participle of incendere, to set fire to, coming from in, which is in just like we have it today, plus the base of candere, to glow, which brings a wonderful twilight effect to our word, plus some mediaeval overtones that are certainly appropriate for our current situation.
But wait and isn’t this strange, there was already a word that is nearly homophonous with the word censer! That word is censor, who was some kind of an official who examined material that was about to be released into the public sphere in the form of media, such as books, movies, news and/or art. The censor suppressed any parts of that material that were considered to be obscene, politically unacceptable and/or a threat to the security of the controlling entity. Thankfully, we don’t have people in government who do that anymore, we have technology that does it, but isn’t that remarkably similar in meaning to the word we’re making up here? Weird the mind!
In psychoanalysis, the Censor is an aspect of the superego which is said to prevent certain ideas and memories from emerging into consciousness. Again, bullseye on the concept we’re trying to describe using only our own creative powers!
In ancient Rome, the Censors were two magistrates who held censuses and supervised public morals. The word censor comes from the Latin censere, to assess. The multiple parallels between the fate of our own empire and that of ancient Rome require no flogging of belief nor imagination whatsoever. Done.
Voila! Our descriptive keyword has now arrived, glistening in its dewy newness and ready to go viral to a hungry, soon to be very hungry, public: censership, or with a tip of the hat to the ancients, censorship.
Bunnies are quiet. Geese are not. Tara and I are sonically bombarded by hundreds of geese at all times from the marshland just below our house. Now there are only hundreds of them. Throughout the winter it’s thousands, so many that it’s impossible to hold a conversation outside as long as the weather is cold. Maybe the geese are one reason why the natives of this land, the Tuleome Pomo, were able to live here undisturbed for tens of thousands of years. Until we came.
The rest of the geese are heading north now, toward the arctic over Canada. It strikes me that there’s nothing particularly Canadian about geese, but that’s what we call them. Canadian geese. Even though they immigrate from equator to pole twice a year, we still regard them as Canadian somehow.
I think of the immigrants who are traveling from south to north, and of how we have not even begun to see the tip of the iceberg of the political, economic and climate refugees yet to come. There will be tens, maybe hundreds of millions of them, all trying to squeeze into a smaller and smaller space somewhere to the north of where most of us now live, maybe somewhere in Canada. At some point, perhaps in our lifetimes if we survive that long, we will need to join them. We will all be Canadian. Russian. Greenlandian. Trans-Hyperborean.
A logic all its own
The immigrant issue is an insuperable problem. The humanitarian in us wants to help them, but there will be so many that it would completely crush our mock-government and our few remaining social systems. The non-humanitarian in us, whatever we want to call it, just wants the problem to go away. But it won’t. It will be too big and too heavy to ignore. Just like Covid-19.
Coronavirus has brought the complete failure of our dominant medical, economic and governmental systems to light. The failure of government and the failure of Western medical science are like Siamese twins, because they share very similar and often the same dinosaur-like operating procedures, stuck in singularly self-promoting modes of thought and inaction, completely disconnected from our actual human needs in the moment. That’s why we’re fed up with them.
I don’t mistrust science. Like many others, I mistrust what science has become:yet another group of clown-professionals masquerading under an archetype of who we once assumed them to be, while in reality serving only corporate interests. Clowns willing to massage and even create data to serve those interests. It’s no longer science, it’s fake science, just like we have fake news to support the theater of our mock-government. The solutions both of them come up with only move in one direction, to reinforce the status quo, their status quo, to solidify the mindset and perceptions of a culture that has been meticulously crafted to support and maintain an empowered elite at all costs. And we call it logic.
The logic is a fractured, retarded and myopic one that only makes sense if you are playing a game, the game we are all taught to play. Meanwhile, the only real game is that the most aggressive take. They take advantage of every situation they encounter. They game every system that we’ve ever come up with and ever will come up with, and here we are.
Medicine equals governance
Western medicine claims to be based on logical proof. The gold standard for logical proof in the Western medical world is the double-blind random study, which oddly pivots on three bizarre superstitions:
1) that things can be random
2) if people are not told what is happening, they can’t possibly know what is happening
Our current governmental system also pivots on three equally bizarre superstitions, one of which it shares with those of the Western medical cult:
1) that people need to be governed
2) if people are not told what is happening, they can’t possibly know what is happening
3) that people will continue to consent to be governed regardless of how poor a job the government does.
We have allowed ourselves to become a society with no sense of social responsibility whatsoever, and we continue to consent to being governed by a federal government whose sole function is to create self-interested business deals. The dominant form of medicine in our society functions much in the same way. Neither are serving the authentic needs or interests of the people. We are conditioned to obey a very narrowly defined and elite authority who we want and need to trust are operating in our best interests, but that covenant of protection has been hideously and brazenly broken to the point that we are collapsing.
The mechanism of inaction
Myself and a number of other practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine recently made multiple attempts to dialogue with both the governmental and medical establishments regarding a simple fact: one of the main tools that the Chinese used to conquer Covid-19 was traditional Chinese medicine. The conversation with those in the medical hierarchy went like this each time:
“The Chinese are using traditional Chinese medicine to help them conquer Covid-19 so quickly. We have thousands of highly trained practitioners, particularly here in California, who are ready and wanting to assist with stopping this epidemic in its tracks right now.”
“I don’t know of any research on that.”
“There’s plenty, such as X,Y and Z. There’s no question that it is helping significantly. Plus, there’s depth of research, because they also used it to beat SARS and other epidemics as well.”
“Well, I don’t know of any random, double blind studies on that.”
“Those exist as well, X,Y and Z.”
“Well, we don’t understand the mechanism of action.”
End of conversation.
There you have it in a nutshell. A solution is not what they are looking for. They will only accept a solution that fits within and supports their worldview, one that they can profit from. A solution that paints them as heroes.
The governmental conversation is even shorter and more revealing. After taking all of the voluminous steps that are required to present papers, documents and get them through the right channels to the guys at the top, the conversation looked like this:
“The Chinese are using traditional Chinese medicine to help them conquer Covid-19 so quickly. We have thousands of highly trained practitioners, particularly here in California, who are ready and wanting to assist with stopping this epidemic in its tracks right now.”
“I’ll consider that.”
End of conversation.
The scariest thing
Dr. Marcia Angell, who was the former Executive Editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, which is generally regarded as the most conservative and definitive publication in the world of Western medicine, wrote a scathing indictment of the medical industry back in 2004 called The Truth About the Drug Companies. In it, she described how big pharma completely switched directions from its stated mission of discovering and manufacturing helpful drugs to become a multi-armed marketing juggernaut with virtually unlimited control over its own profits, medical research, education and the ways doctors are required to practice medicine.
Dr. Angell demonstrated how the high drug prices that pharma claims are necessary to fund research and development are completely bogus, that instead they use those resources to market seriously questionable and often harmful medications, and to relentlessly push their profit-centered agendas through Congress, the FDA, CDC and academic medical centers. She showed how pharma uses publicly-funded institutions-our tax dollars-for their basic research, falsifying clinical trials to make their products appear to be more effective and safer than they actually are, and using dark squadrons of lawyers to tie down and abuse government-granted exclusive rights.
At that time, now over 16 years ago, Dr. Angell put forth an outline for medical reform in the US that included eliminating the ties between big pharma and medical education and reestablishing medical research without bias. Nothing changed.
The same thing has happened with our federal government over the last few years. One by one, defectors from nearly every branch of our government have risked all to tattle on the system, to expose it for what it really is and is not. An old friend of mine who is deeply involved in government and politics put it to me bluntly, ‘Before you’re in, nobody will tell you what’s going on. After you’re in and you understand, you can’t convey it to people on the outside. The scariest thing is that you learn that nobody is doing their job, and that nobody has ever done their job.’
Again, why has nothing changed?
Holding their own
Our government and big pharma have become a single unit. In the new comprehensive pharmedia spin, far from being embraced as helpful allies in the Covid-19 crisis, TCM practitioners were mandated to close our clinics during the Covid-19 epidemic, being labeled as non-essential services. Beyond that, now we are being cast as enemies of the pharma-state, as elegantly and perfectly portrayed in The Economist essay Fighting it the Chinese way on April 11, 2020, in which every sentence either diminishes, lies about or directly disparages traditional Chinese medicine. I highly recommend looking at this article as a grim foreboding of the attitudes, languaging, propaganda and clampdown that may yet come if we don’t change something. Quickly.
The reason I focus on what happened with traditional Chinese medicine practitioners above, and all of us as a result, is because it is emblematic of the bias of the collapse. Expecting the institutions that created this and nearly all of our other really big problems to solve those problems is equivalent to granting criminals the right to hold their own trials and deliver their own sentences. We need another way.
Ending the polarization
We want to get outside. Yet we’re experiencing intensive environmental censorship with the closing of our parks and coastlines. We have been banned from nature, the one place that will heal us and get us back to what is real.
We are being herded into cities and told that it’s dangerous to go outside. There’s an effort to get us all into completely controlled and controllable environments.
From an epidemiological perspective, this movement can only be seen as a culling. To cull means to send to be slaughtered, to reduce the population, usually of wild animals, or sometimes of unwanted livestock animals, by selective slaughter.
If we look at history, every time the balance of the human population shifts from rural agrarian to urban consumer, at a certain tipping point conditions get worse in the cities, a plague breaks out and the system collapses. It’s that simple.
The Taoists in ancient China saw how this worked and advocated for a system that included practices both personal and cultural that would keep the individual and society aligned and in flow with nature regardless of circumstances. We need to retain rurality in urbanity and vice versa to have a sustainable system. We need to end the polarization before it ends us.
The house always wins
The extreme cultural, political, spiritual and economic polarization between the rural and urban United States has been a clear signal of the immanence of our collapse. If you think Trump’s the bad guy, we all lose. If you think the liberals are crooks and hypocrites, we all lose. As long as we continue to point our fingers, we will continue to lose sight of what’s really going on. Not bad guys, bad game.
We touched it at the end of 2019. In November of that year, so very long ago now, Scientific American published a remarkable article called The Inescapable Casino by Bruce Boghosian. In it, he describes how a group of researchers ran a number of different mathematical models on free market systems and came up with an astounding and earthshakingly important observation: Regardless of how you run the models, when you let them play out them at scale with big numbers just like in real life, something unusual happens. One person winds up with all the money and all the resources. Every single time.
It turns out that there is a mysterious and inescapable casino effect with free market systems. They collapse leaving one person or entity sitting of top of all the fat stacks every time. This is something that I imagine many of us have suspected for a while, but could never really nail definitively or quantify. Now that’s been done and it’s right there in black and white.
We’re in one of those model collapses right now. Each of those numbers is a person or a family. It always is. Numbers are abstract until it’s you or someone you care about. So when the feds and the quants talk about what the costs of saving lives from the epidemic will be vs saving the economy, it’s your life they’re talking about. You are that number, we are those numbers.
The only way the researchers can get the free market models to run sustainably is by taxing the top and boosting the bottom. Now that we have that data, I look forward to the day that we look back at free market capitalism and what we allowed it to become in the same way we view the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome.
Free market capitalism is a bloodsport for those who run and own the casino.
There are plenty of people who love casinos. So many, in fact, that there are casinos. No matter how wealthy you are or aren’t, have you ever compared the size of your home to a casino? That should demonstrate to you how much money the casino is making on the aggregate of those transactions. And yet, against all odds, many, many people still go, imagining that they can be the ones who will beat the odds, that some magic like touching a statue of Elvis will make them walk out of the casino a winner.
The word casino is, not surprisingly, Italian. It means a little house. When you play a game at a casino, you are always playing against the house, whether you know it or not. And in the big picture, the house always wins.
Our culture has shifted dramatically toward following the myth of the winner and the loser wherever it may lead us. We glorify winners to the point of religious fervor, and the thrill of competition has become the basis of nearly all of our popular cultural activities.
Competition can breed diversity and excellence when the game is fair. It can even be fun when there are levels of skill that are needed to win. Yet what happens when there are invisible casino effects at play, the entire shebang is actually random, and the number of losers radically and exponentially exceeds the number of winners every single time when we play the game at scale in the real world? We have learned, and now we have proved, that there is only one winner. The House. The Casino.
Forgetting how to read
When the Kogi tribe in South America contacted the outside world for the first time by their choice at the end of the 1980’s, we were impressed that they had a ritual garden in their secret jungle civilization that represented the entire earth. The Kogi elders read that map frequently to stay informed about what is going on with our world.
The Kogi left the forest at that time to issue us a warning. They told us to clean up our act. Or else.
From a Taoist and I would say generally indigenous perspective, we all have that garden. We can look anywhere at all and be informed of the state of the whole because of the holographic nature of all that exists.
Nothing is random. The trick is in knowing how to read what our world is showing us. But our cultural domestication has made us illiterate in the most basic sense. We have forgotten how to read and respond to our bodies and our environment, relying instead on false authorities who act on their own behalf rather than ours, and we are in trouble.
Doing my thing
I do my best to read and respond. All the signs told me to return to the wilderness, to the forest where I belong. I changed my game, put it online, got out of the Bay Area and into the wilderness. I listened to my ancestors who survived the plague. Now, perhaps something like the Kogi, I observe and participate with our world through the forest that surrounds me.
You can witness the stark evidence of my former neglect to take the stewardship of this forest seriously nearly anywhere you look out here. I itch all over due to the fact that poison oak has done its level best to take over my entire sylvan environment. Sixty, seventy, eighty foot long ropy coils of poison oak as thick as bull's cocks have invaded nearly every outcropping of rock, climbing into and up the trees, parasitizing, doing their best to take the forest and all of its resources for themselves. Their children are everywhere.
The poison oak is my fiery aspiration to achieve. It has done so at the expense of nearly everything else in my life. It teaches me how my excessive liberality, in the name of freedom, became permissive of things that I knew were wrong. In my allowingness I became a mute, impotent and passive observer of the world, and this invited the parasites to take over. I invited them with my neglect, with my passivity, by focusing on doing my thing, my plan, rather than what needed to be done in the moment.
The forest is a portal
Dead wood has accumulated both on the trees themselves and on the forest floor. In the last four or five years, bushy hula skirts of wood have flared out from the lower parts of the tree trunks as if to beckon fire to come and cleanse the land and its people, especially me.
The dead wood is my self-neglect, my ability to ignore and dismiss the small picture for the sake of the big picture, again, usually in line with my plans. The dead wood teaches me how small things can accumulate to not only become big things, but at some point they have the power to invoke forces much larger than themselves and of another order altogether for the purpose of forcing a reckoning. When pushed to extremes the small and the large can switch places with lightning speed, with profound light-quickness.
The forest is a hologram of what I have become and what the world has become. It’s more than a window of passive observation. It’s more than a mirror of self and universal reflection. It’s a portal through which I can exert an active influence on all of these things.
When I clean this forest I’m brushing your hair. I’m cleaning the air. I’m tying your shoes. I’m doing the same thing that I do when I do acupuncture and prescribe herbs to my patients. My place, for now, is out here, in the wilderness, keeping something of myself intact and rectifying all that I’m able to. I watch. I listen. I clip, dig, prune, plant, wildcraft and cultivate. I observe and obey the forest and its wisdom. I know my place and I stand in it.
Attending to the small
There are some things that I know already from being in the forest:
I know I miss the life I had. The simple luxuries of being able to get things done, go out for a meal, work with my patients, have a child who loves being in school, and training with Shaolin monks in San Francisco are all things that I would love to experience again someday.
I know that my eyesight is improving. I can read many things now without glasses that I sometimes needed both glasses and a magnifying glass to read before.
I know that I can now sink 12 arrows into an eight inch circle from one hundred and fifty feet away with enough power to make a thirty-five pound archery target recoil several inches each time it is struck. A month ago, I couldn’t even fully draw my compound hunting bow. I’m getting stronger. And Tara’s not far behind.
I know that Coronavirus is only the beginning. Global warming and the antics of mock-governments around the world have created an ideal petri dish for culturing new disease forms on all levels. The ice caps are melting, releasing ancient biological material into the biosphere that hasn’t been active for millions of years. We will experience waves of disease. Waves of immigrants, climate and bio-refugees. We will see governments and other former authorities fall. We are rehearsing a protocol that we will go in and out of for the rest of our lives, with periods of activity and inactivity and a pulse economy, like the ocean, like the Moon.
As we head into this new world, wherever you are, my only advice is; remember to attend to the small. If you can grasp the heart, put it down, set it free and not replace it with human anxiety, thus not raising fire, you’ll have lots of light-quickness.
Perhaps it is an anachronism of my generation, but I look forward to seeing you in person, face to face, someday.
April 30, 2020
1) Wang Feng Yi, Hua Xing Tan, my translation.
2) Even as I write this, patients from around the country are telling me about the Covid parties that millennials are having in their neighborhoods. The party continues.
3) Who are they in me? The builder. The guy that doesn’t mess around. The man that goes for it in the face of all odds. The adventurer, the preserver.
4) Kong Zi, Analects 7.7.5, my translation.
5) The CDC is a branch of the US Navy. The CDC, far from being an independent institution, is riddled with figures from big pharma, as is every medical school in the US.