A Brief for the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay. Continue reading
May 30, 2018
Dear Commonweal Friends:
I hope this Spring Letter finds you well.
We live in unimaginable times. The forces working against freedom and the earth are global: climate change, war, terrorism, authoritarianism, and more. I return to the global challenge later—first an overview of our work at Commonweal. Continue reading
Dear New School Friends:
My last posting to you March 12 was a working paper called Courage in Dark Times: Choosing Resilience in the Face of Global Systems Collapse. It was reprinted by the Health and Environmental Funders Network as a newsletter and on its website.
One of the best books on the subject is Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization. It has been praised by tough-minded critics like Stanford professor Paul R. Ehrlich and investigative journalist Robert Kaplan. Ehrlich says, “Anyone who doubts the seriousness of the human predicament should read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s brilliant The Upside of Down.” Kaplan says, “Homer Dixon has provided that rare thing: a bridge between leading edge research and the lay leader…Addressing the greatest problems of our time, he points us toward a path forward.” Continue reading
Choosing Resilience in the Face of Global Systems Collapse
This is a working paper. It is in a period of rapid evolution as of 3/12/18. Comments are welcome, though I cannot respond personally to all.
What does the future look like? We cannot know.
To the best of our knowledge, humanity faces an unprecedented global crisis. The prospects for social, environmental and economic collapse, degradation, and transformation are unmistakable.
I do not preclude some miraculous way out of this dilemma—a non-polluting safe energy source, a transformation of human consciousness, a global commitment to sharing resources, an ethic of providing food and shelter for all, an end to tribalisms, a deep acceptance of diversity, a commitment to ending population growth, green chemistry, control of technologies, and more. But the probability of whatever combined miracles we would need is rather low.
There are, it is true, signs of hope. There are global improvements in public health and education, and reductions in extreme poverty. There is global awareness of climate change and global efforts to combat it. There are global movements toward environmental protection, democratic norms, human rights, women’s rights, the rights of other disenfranchised communities, and other important causes. New technologies also bring gains as well as dangers. There are also techno-optimists and those like Harvard’s Stephen Pinker who argue these are the best of times. Continue reading
I’m reading a slender volume by Claudio Narano—Ennea-Type Structures: Self Analysis for the Seeker. Naranjo is a Chilean psychiatrist, now in his 80s, who lives in Berkeley. He is a founding interpreter of the enneagram of personality. He was a close friend of Carlos Castaneda, a pioneer of entheogenic studies, and one of three named successors to Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy.
Naranjo learned the enneagram from Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian-born founder of the Arica School.
The Enneagram Institute website is an excellent starting place to learn enneagram. Here is its historical section.
Enneagram was brought to the West by G.I. Gudjieff, the Armenian-Greek spiritual teacher and founder of Fourth Way studies. Continue reading
Dear New School Friends:
Thank you for being so generous in supporting The New School in 2017. We depend on you. You have been most generous.
What can I say about the new year? The political drama continues, but the culture is responding. The #MeToo movement is an extraordinary cultural phenomenon. It is perilous to read history in the making. But this does appear a lasting step forward for women — and for men as well.
I won’t let the political drama take over my life. This is an article of faith for me. So I devote my evenings especially to the concerns of The New School — nature, culture, and the inner life.
Over the holidays, I read Charles Dickens seriously for the first time. Hard Times, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield.
I also read a biography of Dickens — not among the best, so I won’t name it, but it got me started reading the novels. Continue reading
Dear New School Friends,
We just completed our 197th Cancer Help Program. We will hold our 200th in April. Each time eight people show up from a cross the country — and often around the world.
Many have recurrent cancer. They come for many reasons. They come to find others who understand what they are going through. They come in hope of learning about integrative therapies that might enhance or extend life. They come to process what they have been going through in life-changing treatments. But above all, they come to find a way to hold this part of their lives with greater peace of mind.
I turned 74 on October 22nd. I entered my 75th year on this sacred earth. I live at the place where the land meets the ocean, where the earth meets the sky. Each day I give thanks for Commonweal — for our community, for our work, for this place.
I live in a place where light meets darkness, where love meets loss, where understanding meets mystery. I live in gratitude for it all. Continue reading
The confluence of catastrophes that have been circling the globe has landed in Northern California with disastrous fire losses in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties.
Commonweal has many friends, Cancer Help Program alumni, staff, and board members in the Fire Zone. The stories of those who have lost homes, been evacuated, or moved out themselves because they could not breathe or saw the wisdom of leaving are flowing toward us like an incoming tide. Commonweal is just south of the Fire Zone, so we have not been directly affected yet.
New School Coordinator and Commonweal Communications Manager Kyra Epstein is organizing our resources on FaceBook and our website to gather stories, resources, and ideas of how all of us can help. We also have placed a NorCal Fire Fund option on the Commonweal donation page. We’ll give 100% of donations to fire victims and their communities, guided by the local knowledge of our board, staff, and friends. There are many good places to donate. We just want to offer a place for people who trust our approach to healing work.
Monday morning at 7am, I woke up in my Sonoma County home when my neighbor tapped on my door. “Pack a bag,” she said. Cable, Internet, and phones were down, and had been since late the night before, though I hadn’t known it. Something had happened. The sun was blood red and the sky was glowing. Ash was sifting down and collecting on surfaces. The air smelled like campfire. Continue reading
The Noise of Time is the title of a novel by Julian Barnes based on the life of the Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovitch. Here is the beginning of an elegant review in The Guardian:
Julian Barnes’s last novel, the Man Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), engaged in subtle and sustained dialogue with the book whose title it pilfered, Frank Kermode’s brilliant 1967 work of narrative theory, also called The Sense of an Ending. Barnes’s latest, The Noise of Time, borrows its title from Osip Mandelstam’s memoirs, and again the earlier work casts interesting light upon Barnes’s project. Mandlestam was one of Stalin’s most outspoken critics, his fate sealed with the words of his 1933 Stalin Epigram. He was exiled in the Great Terror and died in a Vladivostok transit camp in 1938. The subject of The Noise in Time is not the brave, doomed Mandelstam, though, but a rarer genius, one whose art continued to flourish despite the oppressive attentions of the Soviet authorities: Dmitri Shostakovich.
Dear New School Friends,
A 79-foot young female blue whale washed up dead near Agate Beach in Bolinas on Friday, May 26. For our community, it was one of the most significant events in the 45 years I have lived here. A lot of us felt deep grief about her death — she was hit by a ship and her back was broken.
Below you will find two reflections on her death — by Burr Heneman and Howard Dillon. Burr is a co-founder of Commonweal and directed the Commonweal Oceans Program for decades. Howard is a close friend of the Commonweal community and a gifted actor.
We welcome your thoughts and reflections.
Michael Continue reading