Where have all the flowers gone?

By h. Gibrain

Not long ago I was standing in a veritable war zone amid the tear gas, rubber coated bullets and stun grenades looking at the little yellow flowers I was unfamiliar with and thinking about how the western main stream media portrays this particular conflict in the usual fairly unbalanced thought-bytes and the only lives that are ever considered are the human ones: some humans matter more than others but the rest of flora and fauna has, essentially, no representation in the media and apparently doesn’t matter at all.

We all know how important the environment is – ever since the word came to be in use – and, as a culture of refugees, colonialists, conquistadors and anything but the indigenous, we are indoctrinated in a culture of denial and disconnect from nature (the environment outside of your skin) and our minds and the language we think with does not contain the right sequences of words to express or question not only human rights and equality in the eyes of international law and human rights law (if that’s your thing), in the eyes of god (if that’s your thing), through a lens of your indigenous roots on Earth (regardless of where you’re from and all of the defining characteristics of your identity), but we never consider the impact of human conflict on the environment.

Trying to unravel the entangling alliances between state parties is as angrifying as actually understanding the often dubious relationships, based on economic and military power, which reak havoc on innocent people the world over. I’m specifically avoiding examples because there are so many to choose from I don’t want to single out one perpetrator over another and draw a chorus of “what about the others’ “. Besides that’s not my point. My point is that all of that is somewhat irrelevant – the behavior is basically universal in that people are making, selling, buying, and using weapons to kill innocent people and it’s generally not sanctioned by the respective civil societies of the nation-states doing the killing. The underlying issue, which gains absolutely no attention in the press, in social media, from political pundits and the politicians themselves, is the simple set of questions everyone should be asking themselves with their morning coffee, afternoon cocktail, dinner and a joint, is “Who is making all of these weapons? Who is selling all of these weapons? Who is using all of these weapons? And why are they being made, sold, bought, used and not regulated in any consistent fashion, let alone produced at all – when they have only one purpose?”


I’m not gonna answer that simple set of questions. I have my own thoughts and beliefs about why this is taking place. The once in a while that I can bear to think about it I just ask myself “why isn’t everyone talking about this and trying to do something about the way these forms of commerce take place?”

Generally, energy flows where attention goes so let us all put some form of attention to this issue. It can be in the form of prayer, mediation, poetry, music, dance, food, letters and phone calls and general lobbying of government officials and weapons manufacturers, letters to editors, peace journalists can participate in focusing their attention on this matter as well. Of course, there are more than one hundred and ninety-eight methods of non-violent armed resistance according to one Gene Sharp (If you’re reading this you know how to use a search engine). I can’t do all 198, but I try a few here and there in a way that doesn’t interfere too much with my white male American middle aged middle classed privilege. I’m asking you do something too. Few are guilty, all are responsible.

Earth, Its Inhabitants, and Their Survival Viewed as a Multi-Stakeholder Process


The basic premise I shall expound upon in this brief reflection paper is the notion that in order for human beings to live more sustainably with the environment they will have to ask all members of the five kingdoms of life, and the natural worlds provisions upon which they are reliant for their survival, what their interests are in the gross interplay of the dynamics of self-organizing organic systems.


To consider this idea immediately poses a problem for most modern civilized westernized cultures – which I shall refer to as occupiers; the situation is quite different for many indigenous cultures whose survival is intimately intertwined with the land they inhabit – thus, I shall refer to these people as inhabitants.


Since we can’t communicate directly to organisms other than humans in a language that is familiar to us we have decided to make decisions for them without asking them what they want. In the best case, we have decided to be the stewards of nature. In the worst case we have decided to consider other living organisms and the organic systems upon which they are reliant as resources for us.


This speciesist arrogance poses a severe problem for humans regarding their survival. Since the air we breath, the water we drink, the land on which we walk, and the atmosphere that protects us are all influenced by human activity and, for so long, humans have not considered the other than human living beings and the water, earth and sky’s needs for their health – if not happiness – humans are finding that the normal structure and function of the earth’s inhabitants and environment have been influence in a way that has not only harmed other organisms and the environment, humans themselves are suffering the consequences of their own actions. Perhaps the most noteworthy examples of the consequences of humans not paying attention to the environment is global climate change and the fifth mass extinction.


It makes sense, however, for an occupier to ask, “What should we do to find out what they want if they can’t represent themselves at a MSP party when we get together to determine how we shall exploit natural resources for benefit and profit?”


The answer to this questions is quite simple: ask them.


“How do we know what the answer to our questions are,” would be a next logical question?


As you might expect, the answer is quite simple: pay attention and listen.


So, for example, if you ask the diatoms in the oceans, which supply a majority of the atmospheric oxygen that people like humans need to survive, if they enjoy and appreciate the temperature changes and toxins we give them as a result of our activities if they are happy and healthy and then listen to the signs they are giving us we might quickly conclude that our actions, which will ultimately not benefit us, do not benefit them. If we ask the tens of thousands of species of amphibians who have gone extinct because of human behaviors which have caused changes in weather patterns and acidification of the rain and earths waterways what they want we shall see and hear no response. However, I speculate we can take their silence as a sign that they are dissatisfied with our selfish behavior. If we ask the river, who provides life for vast numbers of species in vast numbers of ecological niches, if the dam that was built by humans served the river well in providing for the welfare of the interconnected webs of lives, you might speculate that it’s diminished flow was simply a stream of tears from the sadness and humiliation it feels for not being able to provide for the lives of its inhabitants and for not being able to control its own destiny.


These words and thoughts should not be taken to imply that every species that becomes extinct and every diatom that dies is the result of human activity. Likewise, it is also clear that it is impossible to consult all beings of all species all of the time to determine if it is FOK to burn this tree for warmth or to kill this opossum for food. Similarly, there is no absolute proof that global climate change is the direct result of any and all human activities – as local, and even global, fluctuations are perhaps the result of other factors. There is no certainty in these areas. This, however, does not and should not warrant arrogance and ignorance of the lives of others and, of course, the organic systems upon which they rely for their survival.


It is, in my opinion, always better to error on the side of caution. Especially in cases where so much is at stake. If we consider the notion that ‘effectiveness is the measure of truth’ and we ask ourselves how it is that in the last 45 years approximately, since the publication of “Silent Spring”, so much environmental degradation has taken place and so many non-linear changes have taken place in the environment and compare that to, for example, some indigenous cultures of the North American continent who had lived for 12,000 years, sustainably, in their environment who did strange things like asking trees, snakes, spiders, lakes, rivers, streams, and even their dreams, what it is they wanted out of this shared existence – this co-existence – they might very well say something like this, “The same things you want: to be considered, to be cared for, to be loved, to control my own destiny, to provide for my basic needs, and to be happy – as a bare minimum.


The challenges for a culture of occupiers, who consider the earth’s inhabitants and systems as resources for exploitation, to transform their behavior to an inclusive disposition in a global multi-stakeholder process are significant but not, theoretically at least, impossible. In order for a change to take place such that there is a shift in the perceptions of humans to consider the welfare of other living beings and systems as being important to those living beings and systems (let alone important for the survival of human beings) there will have to be a change in the attitudes and behaviors of people and this can be achieved through education. This shift in attitudes and behaviors has certainly begun as it is obvious that there is great attention being paid to the earth’s inhabitants and organic systems by children, educators, scientists, politicians and even business persons for they/we all realize that everyone’s survival, ultimately, is at stake.


While the shifts in perceptions, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors is obvious, the question I have is is it still possible for this shift to be reinstated as a part of a culture of inhabitants in time for the general trends of species extinction, climate change, resource wars, and so on to be slowed down and/or reversed in their course. Clearly, an extinct species will not come back to inhabit the earth, but maybe the general trends of climate change can be affected by changes in human behavior. My knowledge and understanding as a scientist is that it is already too late for the general trajectory of environmental degradation to be changed. The human population is increasing. While first world nations are struggling to limit, not necessarily reduce, the greenhouse gas emissions they produce, the second and third world nations are struggling to exploit more resources and produce more waste.


There are many other impediments to this shift in attitudes and behaviors that prevent attention and energy from going to the dire environmental circumstances on earth that threaten human survival and, of course, the survival of all living beings and the organic systems upon which they rely. I argue that these impediments are largely based in issues of identity. For example, while people are busy with their gender identity, or their national identity, or their religious identity, or their personal identity as relates to things like styles of hair, clothes, shoes, nails, eyes, lips, money, etc, attention to the environment is reduced to a minimum or is simply not there at all.


Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and so, as it becomes more and more necessary for people to focus on survival, perhaps the attitudes and behaviors of humans will change such that they/we begin to take into account the needs, desires, wills and expectations of all of the stakeholders in this multi-stakeholder process of the large scale dynamic of life on earth (generally best referred to as either ‘survival’ or ‘reality’).

Mock Radio Broadcast at WPA: South Sudan Insurgent Media

South Sudan Insurgent Media

The following audio is a mock radio interview conducted as an excercise for a class at the World Peace Academy: ”Power, Resistance, and Participation in Peace Building” with “Peace Worker” Adrian Bergmann.

South Sudan Insurgent Media is an independent broadcast based on Human Rights, Survival, Self Determination, Social/Cultural/Economic Justice, Peace, Freedom and Liberation.

The setting is South Sudan, the issue is transformation of structural and direct violence to a sustainable peace based in human needs, human rights and personal, cultural, historical, religious and gender identities of the South Sudanese peoples.

The issues discussed, through the lens of a history of violence and oppression and the lens of  liberation, are related to deep culture and societal fabric as an element of conflict along with the structural violence related to (lack of) education, agriculture, health and sanitation – a few of the primary issues regarding human needs and human rights.

While some of the facts, intentions and processes are real, the names of the radio guests and their alleged affiliations with the real organizations mentioned are fictitious and hypothetical. The nature of this mock radio broadcast was to demonstrate and emphasize the power of peace journalism, and many theories and practices of transforming trauma,  as well as to elucidate some of the real issues faced in many countries and by many peoples as they work towards independence and sustainabilty – as is the case with South Sudan.


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Music by Head Roc and Godisheus (Pronounced “Gotta See Us”). Song Title “Reparations


Transcend Nationalism to Soften the Blow

Posted on 19th April 2012 in Notes, Self Determination, Theory

Recently, I conducted a survey investigating people’s thoughts on the idea of transcending nationalism. 4 out of 5 people, when threatened at gunpoint, agree that “the only way for civilization to meet its end gracefully, that is – terminating with a soft landing (instead of a harsh and abrupt ending) – is via transcending nationalism, dissolving national borders, and approaching this dire environmental situation together, as one species – instead of a collective of divided nations with individual agendas and goals regardless of the common fate we all share.” Kinda stupid isn’t it – that we know this but somehow fail, or refuse, to act according to this knowledge. This is, people, magical thinking. The problem with this particular sort of magical thinking is that we (humans) are killing the planet and its inhabitants (including ourselves).


Are we suffering from the unintended consequences of enlightenment – unraveling and revealing the mysteries of nature only to use this knowledge to destroy ourselves (you can hear the little godevil screaming a resounding yes)? Are we suffering from the intended consequences of rogue states, groups and individuals who are out to destroy, manipulate, control, abuse and exploit (you can hear the toy poodle barking a resounding “WTF”)?


I think nature is fighting back;  and nature will win. Nature will kill us all for messing with her. She will say, “you tortured and abused me and my inhabitants to a point where you can no longer survive – dummy! Now you must go and I will help you.”


Then, finally, we (they) can all have some peace. And nature, with a few earthquakes,  the destruction of the infinitely intimately intertwined interdependence of the “web of life” due to human activity,  a few volcanic eruptions, a flipping of the magnetic poles, and an asteroid collision or two,  will wipe us all out and the earth will begin her recovery process.


 *                      *                      *

I don’t think the threat we are all facing, that some of us caused and most of us perpetuate (most of us in the so called civilized world, anyway), could be more immediate and more serious. Or, I don’t think we realize the seriousness of this threat; this threat to our own existence.


Let’s try to be rational and differentiate between being an optimist, a pessimist, and a realist with respect to the current state of the global environment and the effect that humans are having on climate change.  Though nobody knows for certain what  is going to happen we really should choose to error on the side of caution and take steps that are necessary to at least, if not reverse the course of events,  soften the blow.


In a  way, we are fortunate because the same actions that will soften the blow will, if possible, reverse the course of the seemingly inevitable path we are on towards a global environmental catastrophe (greater than the one that is already happening that no one notices…that is, one that really catches peoples attention) which will render our species extinct (or radically alter the selection process for reproduction). It is also true that the same actions that will soften the blow would have prevented this global environmental catastrophe from happening at all. In other words, we have to start doing what we should have been doing all along which, to state it simplistically, is to realize that we can not sustain our own existence by continuing to fill our basic survival needs (shopping, weapons, make up, erection pills, etc) as if nature were an infinite reservoir to satisfy our needs.


This simple statement includes, by my saying so right now, all of the factors related to environmental degradation (clear cutting, damming, toxic water, air and land, etc) that are part of the process of supplying our human needs. All of them. As an example consider the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Think about how toxic is the process of extracting uranium ore, processing it for use in nuclear power plants, then converting the spent fuel rods to weapons grade material. So much damage is done just making nuclear weapons there is really no need to even use them for the destructive purposes they are intended (they’re really just for show anyway. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is the name of the game. It’s kind of like a battle of the bands where the bands are really shitty so the only thing to really vote on is their hair and their costumes (which is not much different from the way US Presidents are selected)).


*                     *                    *


While the relationships I will draw are only one set of an infinite set of possibilities (i.e., many of you will be ready to argue your points saying, “no uh this and well uh that and you didn’t calculate this and that’s not true and fuck you and all that”), it can be considered at least instructional to contemplate the ramifications of my conjectures – regardless of their accuracy.


It seems reasonable to suggest that if we, as a species, are going to change our actions, we need another set of principles upon which to base our practices. Or, we can continue the completely ineffective approach of leaving it to governments, their agents, and the global body politic to take care of things. That, of course, would be passing the idiot/insanity test (or failing it).


Since we can’t rely on governments to actually do anything reasonable to soften the blow of human population overshoot and the destruction of much of the the earth’s natural relationships between the living and the not so living, we must rely on the people – the subjects – of those governments. If we are going to need a new set of principles, we will need a delivery system for these principles.


Let us just say,  for the moment, that in light of how dire the situation is, the governments of the world decided they would use their educational institutions to educate, universally, people about survival on planet earth and, along with that, how to be nice to one another. Let us just say, for the moment, that all of the “leaders of the free word (enchanted prison)” had a brief moment of simultaneous enlightenment (like they all ate some Amanita one night/that is, they tripped hard together) and realized that it really wasn’t fun to be a selfish destructive asshole hated by the enchanted prisoners, that they (we)really need to deal with the situation as a species since attempts to deal with global climate change thus far have done nothing to curb the environmental devastation we are causing – and have caused.


 *              *             *


Countries can not be competing to exploit Earth’s resources while attempting to cooperate to preserve and restore the earth’s natural state (by leaving it alone). Therefore, in order to effectively deal with this as a species,  for the sake of our own survival if nothing else (if that is what it takes to get people to think and to act)  it will be  necessary for us, as individuals  and as nation states, to transcend nationalism.


Nationalism is an important part of a person’s identity – part of one’s “nurturing” [read, inculcation]. Asking someone to give up an important part of their identity for any good cause is dreaming big. However, it will be well worth the work that goes into transforming, and transcending, hopefully, the part of one’s identity/ego – actually, the collective ego of a  peoples born within certain geographical borders –  that is the root cause of the conflict restricting, and in some cases prohibiting, meaningful attempts to soften the blow.


Transcending nationalism will be difficult to at first just like giving up anything (one is addicted to), but with time it will become easier and will feel much more natural and comfortable than the current psychological/emotional/intellectual/spiritual/psychical states people are enchanted by – the magical thinking that imprisons all of earth and it’s inhabitants.  To ease us into our new way of thinking and living we could perform certain rituals, if necessary, such as carrying our passports for fun and even trading them with each other and border guards – who could be employed to remind travelers that they are entering into a global historic landmark of a peoples of a culture, a language, a history, a heritage ( just like yours), that they are in love with ( as you are with yours), that they cherish, (as you do yours),  that is filled with great beauty in music and literature and poetry and dance and food and drink and imagination and story (as is yours).


There is no need to give up our cultural, religious, or spiritual identities. In fact, these identities will become of increasing importance in defining our differences, as well as our similarities, and we will engage one another on the playground of our commonalities – finding joy and beauty in the differences of our cultural identities while we work together to stop destroying the earth – and of course, ourselves.


We will have to redefine our relationships as being from a competitive and destructive nature to relationships based on cooperation and creativity.  Part of the process will require reparations and reconciliations from the exploiter to the exploited. A process which, as it unfolds, will end up with most everyone giving everything back to everyone since somewhere in our ancestry it is likely that there were those who exploited others and their where those who were exploited by others.


Once we re-educate ourselves towards survival through preservation of the land base, we will be able to transcend nationalism and prosper in peace, collectively, as a  species.  If we could do it yesterday, we could do it much faster. Please!