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Bare Bones Biology 251D – Easter Sermon

I have friends, now looking back I think the real reason they befriended me was do-gooderism. That is, their idealism, or activism, around the subject of bigotry. To prove that they were not bigots, they labeled me as homosexual and then congratulated themselves for not rejecting me on that account.

It did not occur to them to make sure their label was factually true, or consider the consequences to me if it were not true; and it did not occur to me that I had been labeled. My life and my goal were, single-pointedly, to be a good scientist. At which I succeeded. But it took about 20 more years for me to figure out that I had been labeled, because it simply never occurred to me. It never was part of my reality, but only someone else’s fairy tale.

Too bad I didn’t know it at the time. It’s not easy to find your way out of a virtual closet, especially when it was an anti-bigotry campaign that locked you in there in the first place. I could have used all those years to do some actual good, rather than have the good sucked out of me to make someone else feel good – all in the name of “tolerance.”

The “Greatest Generation” did indeed aspire to tolerance as a virtue, and the succeeding generations of Americans have progressively refined this same dogooderism under different names. “Compassion,” then “love,” and now it seems that we are in the throes of “passion.” All the while refining and reinforcing our dogooderism, our self-congratulation, our hubris, while losing the root human virtues those words are meant to represent and reinforce, and while replacing any concept of reality with a fairy tale that cannot exist in the real Biosystem, but only inside a viable human culture.

150315-tree-ASC_5595RLSs copyAnd the fact is that our human culture is no longer viable, and it never was more than a small temporary branch off the factual reality of the tree of Life that can sustain itself only by means of an intricate balance of cause and effect. Or, to put it in a different way, what goes around comes around, we do pay for our sins. Or our children pay. That’s why we call them sins.

Human hubris, or pride without regard for or understanding of the reality of the checks and balances of Life itself, does not make things better – it makes things worse, and the harder we try and the more powerful we become in our numbers and in our technology – the more worse things become.

We are still trying to achieve an old dream that simply did not and does not work. It’s time to face the failure, talk about it, discuss alternatives, and try something different.

And yet this new generation is passionately resistant to discussion. They are more frantic, yet further removed from the reality of our situation, and yet more determined to do good by using failed human “solutions” to global factualities that they don’t understand and don’t want to understand. What they are doing is not different from what we were doing – only in their numbers they are more powerful.

Thus, as our human culture fragments in the face of the societal and ecological effects of overpopulation; as we try harder and harder to get what we want using methods that actually destroy what we want; as we passionately try to save everything in sight according to our own heroic vision; by that very act we are destroying everything in sight, even as the inevitable consequences of our actions become plain for the most passionate deniers to see.

That is the sin of pride reverencing ignorance. The odd determination of humans to believe our own labels without regard to reality; to prove that “we” are better, more powerful than “they,” without bothering to find out, factually, what “they” are.

We aren’t.

It’s only a pretty fairy tale. A small shadow on our root reality of Life itself that exists, not through human tolerance or compassion or love or passion, but through an intricate balance of cause and effect that we could understand if we were to reverence the reality of Life, of the Biosystem, of The Creation, of the Creator, not as we are determined to believe that It is — but to drop our own dreams of glory, no matter what they are, good or bad, and study the Creation and the Creator passionately, discuss It, conform to It, as it really is, a balance of good and bad. Not attached to our personal dream, but without and beyond.

Only when we can do that will any of us be truly working for the common good, and if we can’t do that it would be better that we complete our suicide mission as quickly as possible and let the reality of Life on Earth, the works of God, survive.

But that would require real hard work: study of and tolerance of factual reality, what we know and what we don’t know, striving for worldly wisdom. Genuinely working for the benefit of all sentient beings on Earth. Not only us.

I don’t think we have the cajones. We love our own fairy tales too passionately.

Prove me wrong.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, in Bryan, Texas.

An edited podcast of this blog can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 250 – Healthy Eating

There are of course many ways to eat healthy. Mine considers the equipment I have and the fact that, except for a few weeks in late summer when we have a local Farmers’ Market, it’s about a hundred miles to a city to get organically grown. Which does seem odd.

In the local stores there are canned beans, milk substitute, and some frozen foods that are mostly packaging and taste more of spices than of food. I can get eggs from the neighbors, and I really don’t need meat. Certainly not meat (or milk or ice cream) that someone prepped with hormones or antibiotics. Personally, my body makes its own hormones, especially designed and balanced for me, and for the community, too much antibiotics is an even bigger danger. It can lead to epidemics of antibiotic resistant diseases.

150227-snowstorm-ASC_4900*sI go down the mountain to buy staples such as flour, dried beans, rice, in bulk from the farmer’s market or a health food store where I know they are non-GMO and organically grown, and as soon as possible I take them out of their plastic wrapping and then keep them in glass jars.

And now it is Spring, so now we start to think about eating the real thing – food from the garden. As I told you a while ago, I have bought my seeds, and in the meantime I have been saving organic food scraps – organically grown egg shells, organic coffee grounds in their brown filters, the ends of vegetables that I bought at Brazos Natural Foods or La Montanita Coop.

So that my organically grown foods will be mulched and fertilized by organically grown foods. As soon as I can get that compost heap working and the seeds in the ground.

You remember the list of seeds I bought by mail (Bare Bones Biology 246, Well, after I bought all that, I talked with my neighbor up top (elevation about 7,800 feet, in four feet of snow a couple weeks ago) who says the sure food crop is peas – snap peas, snow peas, any kind of peas. Talk to your neighbors; I didn’t get peas; will do on the way home.

JoAnn-IMG_20150315_183509018_HDRsIn sultry Bryan, TX (elevation about 100 and getting lower year by year with the progression of climate change), Sheila got Okra, summer squash and beets. I noticed the organic seeds cost only a dollar or two more per package than the Burpee seeds, so if I plant five crops I should be able to eat the food from organically grown seeds for an extra five to ten dollars for the whole summer — and then save my own seeds that I know are neither genetically modified nor chemically adulterated and eat them again next year, and there is no way big business can stop me doing that, hard as they are trying.

But of course, that’s only if I can get the plants to grow and produce. The first year, my entire crop was one ear of corn that never did firm up properly. Probably I can do better this year.

Maybe it was the way I planted in containers with purchased “organic” soil. That might not be the best method of sustainable farming when your back yard is the Rocky Mountain range. And I wonder how much fuel it takes to ship that carefully formulated “organic” soil up the mountain from wherever it came from – in tidy plastic containers?

It’s not necessary to do the math because we don’t care what the “footprint” is. We can do it in our heads. If the imported soil costs more than our compost — and involves things that come out of oil wells (plastics, diesal, gasoline) or things that burn (diesel, gasoline, wood) — it’s probably not sustainable. Not with our current human population overgrazing the oil wells and burning up the trees. Still, a crop of one ear of corn won’t sustain me overwinter. Maybe my compost needs fertilizer. There’s a lot of elk traffic on the trail behind my cabin near the water trough. I bet those elk are organically grown. Let’s add some elk turds to our compost.

Not the dogs’. They get heartworm medicine. I don’t need that in my diet.

Photos by Lynn and Jo Ann

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of and KEOS FM, 89.1, in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of the podcast can be downloaded at:

Bare Bones Biology 246,
Bare Bones Biology 250,


Why do so many people believe

that I will like them better

If they can prove

that they are better than I am??


The P Word

Well Look at This

Conservation Magazine, after years and years of dancing around the May pole has used the P word.

I don’t believe it, especially, the idea that television can give women power, without regard to what is ON the television, but a step in the right direction is a step.

Below is what I have been lately thinking about.

Dr. Susan Clayton
The Psychology of Biodiversity Conservation:
Connecting People to the Natural World
A seminar I recently attended

Front. Ecol. Environ. 11(7):377-382
Front. Ecol. Environ. 11(7):355-361

This is not a summary of what Dr. Clayton said in the seminar, that you can get by reading her excellent papers, so much as it is a description of how her seminar settled in my mind and gave me a new idea about how to approach our common problem. Which I would term more as connecting people to the self-evident reality that we are living in an over-stressed Biosystem.

In my opinion, they already know that; they primarily want to pretend it isn’t so.

Dr. Clayton said – Identity: Our identity is a sum of our experiences
Early experiences
A label embraced by ourselves
A label imposed by others
A framework that incorporates values and worldview.

Me: I recognized our old friends, levels of organization, upon which the Biosystem and all systems are based and which arise out of evolution (as it really is, not as we have been taught).

I find it interesting in that Dr. Clayton’s system of identities recognizes the biological levels of organization that represent the systems of which we are a part, including ourselves as individuals; ourselves in our communities; ourselves in relationship with the corposystem values — of which ourselves and our communities are integral parts — and ourselves in relation to the Biosystem itself, that is the whole of Life.

This reminds me that each system – every system and subsystem that has naturally evolved – has emergent properties that arise as the “phenotypes” that maintain the specific system as a unitary whole. I always think of limbs in animals as my example. However, human social systems also have emergent characteristics. For my example below I will use the corposystem. A very interesting system, and because of my primary interest in ecological evolution, I have watched how it has evolved during this critical late phase of its existence.

The corposystem has a number of obvious emergent characteristics, but I will use for my example a dominant one – growth. This may be a property of all biological systems, but that is a different subject. My question is – why does the system have a property that is not shared by the worldview (identity, values) of many or most of the individuals that make it up? Of course, this is an old question: what are emergent properties? Important, because emergent properties (phenotypes) – and the environment – direct evolution.

And basically evolution is what Dr. Clayton hopes to influence, though she didn’t use that word, and she is not alone.

We all are threatened primarily by our own overpopulation, that arises from the corposystem requirement for growth and the fact that an evolved system’s primary function is to perpetuate itself (that is, to perpetuate it’s own emergent value system, which is growth in this example). But the personal values of most individuals who make up the system, I would reckon, do not focus on growth. Thus, in my opinion, what Dr. Clayton is working to change/understand is not the actual cause of the emergent phenotype, or at least not the proximate cause. (ref. The Shift)

So I think it very likely that we cannot change the growth ethic (which is very likely to be the cause of our demise) by changing the value systems (identities) of ourselves individually. Or at least that is the question that arose in my mind during the seminar. I think the growth ethic of the corposystem is primarily a top-down phenomenon that is maintained as an emergent property generated by the whole of the system, not as an additive bottom-up creation.

Dr. Clayton: “We want to find a way to make an impact in the face of these problems.”
And she discusses experiments that relate to changing identities (worldviews, value systems).

Me: My observation is that most people want to be important within the system – not make an impact on the system (there is a difference, expressed by behaviors but not by language), and that desire is the main driver of the system. Even or especially extreme activists; what they primarily want (if they can’t have both) is recognition within the system — not whatever change they are advocating. I think that is the human driver of our corposystem emergent characteristics.

But the corposystem, of course is NOT HUMAN, and therefore cannot be evaluated using human psychology. Therefore, at the level of the system, neither psychology nor human values is relevant.

It is not at all clear to me that we can change the corposystem by understanding the psychology of humans. I think it’s more likely that the corposystem will find a way to use this information to reinforce its own emergent property (growth). That is, of course, why it supports academic research and keeps the results of that research out of the hands of “us” as individuals.

The human behaviors that Dr. Clayton studies are relevant at the human level. It is valid and useful research. And her experiments seem to rather strongly suggest that our self image and values as individuals are mostly informed by our social environment. So, the social environment would be what the corposystem uses to maintain itself, and what we potentially might use to change the (ex.) growth ethic of the corposystem.

I have been experiencing a strong dose of social influence lately, living for one month in the black community of Bryan, another in the privileged part of Chama NM, back and forth each month, and then all summer alone with the Biosystem. And then when I am brave enough to go back into my former world as one of the first women faculty in the College of Science at Texas A&M, sitting in a seminar, I sense my life and my past to be so different from that of current women students that they cannot imagine who I am. Nor I them. Who we are and what we worry about depends very strongly upon our cultural environment. Much more so than we realize if we stay put somewhere. And we can’t avoid that fact.

What I envision is that the pathway between human self-image and change in the biosystem is mediated via the corposystem reward and punishment methods of maintaining itself. Simply because that’s how systems evolve. Systems evolve by building and testing variations on whatever made them successful in the first place. They become better and better at what they are good at. (As example, the giraffe.) Reward and punishment arises out of this mandate, and humans follow the reward. Not the other way around. I believe it makes very little difference to individual humans what is rewarded and what is punished, so long as they have a chance to be recognized as important within the system.

The result, in my observation, is that “we” will do whatever is necessary to NOT rock the boat — because we do not want “things” to change from those upon which our identity (what I call our worldview) is based. Those “things” values/beliefs are imposed by the system. The function of a system is to reinforce itself, and changing our identities may not be an option until the system crashes. I think Dr. Clayton’s takeaway message points to this reality; but I think the causes and effects are reversed. In other words, we are not at the center of the story; we are not in control of the mechanism, and cannot ever be so long as we believe that we are. We are teaching our women to think like European men, rather than teaching our men to think like Asian women, with respect to systems over which we do not have direct physical control.

The result in my example is that we are all afraid to talk about or study or even think about overgrowth, overpopulation – not because we are physically afraid, but because the corposystem will (1) reward us for doing something else, and (2) it will punish us if we keep trying to point out a truth that is harmful to the corposystem as it evolved. While American individuals and communities espouse our right to our own beliefs, the corposystem enforces our “vow of silence” on the subject of growth, and it is a vow that runs from academia to the highest office in the land and down to the lowest of the low. Even though it is the one subject that must be discussed if we are to survive, we are afraid to open our mouths.

Another system belief that we have currently taken to our hearts is that human systems are more powerful than natural systems,, a false believe shared by most highly educated people. But I will stick with growth for my example.

Dr. Clayton discussed ways in which “nature” can be linked with our identity and some very interesting experiments around that question.
Political identity
Social identity

Me: I came away with an impression that our social identity is so powerfully connected with our environment (“peer pressure”) that the effect is close to irresistable. Thus, what we say we want, and we believe that we want — are not connected with what we actually do want.

When I talked with Dr. Clayton after the seminar, I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to find that she is very concerned about overpopulation. And yet the word was not mentioned. And when I mention it in academia, the reaction is essentially the same as when I mention it anywhere else. We can’t talk about that. Usually with no reason given.

My bottom-line take-away for myself and my own activism is as follows:

1. The corposystem tells us that we must not talk about overpopulation. Mostly it tells us this by telling us how we MUST talk about issues, in a way that excludes real discussion of solutions and instead mandates “aintitawful” ranting and/or sound bites or euphemisms in our public utterances. I have chosen not to participate in these “acceptable” displacement activities, basically because I believe in not “feeding” the growth of the corposystem (as described much better by the attached

And yes, the punishments exist. First, you can’t get published if you fail to conform to the norms defined by the corposystem, which as far as I know are not based on anything except how to get published. (Research papers excepted, as they are. originally at least. based in the scientific method. However, we do not see the word overpopulation in scientific or political discussions of the causes of our wars, starvation, extinctions, climate change, and it is the most obvious thing in the world that these social phenotypes would not be necessary if human populations did not exceed the carrying capacity of the earth. And that we cannot resolve them so long as our populations do exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.)

2. “Peer pressure” or “social identity” seems to be the strongest direct influence over human behaviors, and the emergent “value” of the corposystem itself (growth in our example) is an indirect, but stronger influence on our identity-based behaviors. The result is that individuals don’t, won’t or can’t act out their own personal value systems.

Of course my efforts have been strongly negated by this astonishing “conspiracy of silence.” The sky is falling on our species, but we are not permitted to talk about it, and if we can’t talk about population, then we can’t talk about what conditions the Biosystem must have for its healthy sustenance.

My takeaway conclusion from this seminar is in fact very useful to my activism. Obviously, I cannot change an emergent property of the system of which I am a part, but possibly I could influence the social values of the subunits (us).

I already know that ranting and raving about things that other people don’t understand is of no particular use in getting them to understand; I also know that they aren’t interested in understanding (they would rather be important within the corposystem, or just carry on the lives they expected to have), so logic and evidence won’t do the job.

What I learned from the seminar is to fit peer pressure into this schema; to simply act and speak and converse, on a regular basis, as though EVERYONE DOES TALK ABOUT IT and refer casually, as though it were common knowledge, to whatever references I choose to mention. I will no longer be afraid to talk about “it” because “they” are afraid to talk about it. Instead I will pretend that discussion of overpopulation is commonplace, normal, non-threatening in all contexts, and anyone who is not discussing overpopulation must be a member of the out-group.

Bare Bones Biology 149 – Earthrise

Today, I will read for you a Huffington Post article called Earthrise: A Mythic Image for our Time, that is based in some statements made by one of our most popular thinkers of the last century, Joseph Campbell. Probably I will have to edit out some words, but I find the thoughts beautiful, and my writing time this week has become miniaturized by circumstances beyond my control.

“So you suggest that from this,” Bill Moyers asked his guest, “begins the new myth of our time?”

He was referring to “Earthrise,” the now-famous photographic image of our planet rising into view above the lunar horizon.

The crew of Apollo 8 took the photo on Christmas Eve Day, 1968.

“Yes,” replied mythologist Joseph Campbell. “This is the ground of what the myth is to be.”.

What in the world is a “myth for our time?” And what could Earthrise have to do with it?

Earthrise“Myth” is a funny word in American culture. We tend to think of myth as a lie or as an outdated explanation for a mystery long since cleared up by science. But as Campbell and a host of other mythologists, writers and storytellers have observed, myth is actually a framework of meaning, a set of collective fantasies that story our relationship to each other, the world and the cosmos. To tell a myth is to tell a culture’s dream about its inner workings and truths.

Myth does not convey these truths literally, however. A myth tells its tale through symbol, image and metaphor. That is why a literalistic approach cannot grasp myths. They are too slippery, too rich, too multidimensional for that. They don’t explain so much as offer an enchanting, elevating or disturbing experience, sometimes giving off bright future visions and sometimes warning us about where we should not go.

Myths continually come back to life all around us. No age or people leaves them behind because we always face the recurring problems of life they address. The Big Bang theory is, mythically considered, our Creation Story about how we got here — a story similar to the cosmic egg that opens in so many myths of other cultures. “Apollo” is an apt name for a space program determined to hit a distant target, for Apollo was a far-seeing god of archery.

If myth is a storied way to feel out our place in the world, then we can grasp the significance of Earthrise by considering what it rode in on. The Environmental Movement, ecopsychology, Systems Theory, the Internet that joins us across the globe, global structures of finance, the Goddess movement, the push toward sustainability, organic agriculture, Brian Swimme’s inspiring cosmological reveries: these and other worldly-circling matters grew up in the light of Earthrise. This image did not “cause” these movements so much as announce them as they swarmed into collective consciousness.

Campbell explained this to Moyers about Earthrise:
“The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it….When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come. That is the country that we are going to be celebrating.”

140907-moon-asc_1192sAs we face the increasingly disturbing news about global warming, and as its effects — including disastrous weather and mass displacement — accelerate into public view, we might keep Earthrise in mind as a hopeful image around which to rally our efforts to create cultural structures capable of adapting intelligently to a changing planet.

We’re going to have to be resilient, personally and collectively, as weather worsens and governing institutions either reinvent themselves or shatter. To stand up to what is coming, we must outgrow the kinds of splits that led to such dire results: splits like us and them, self and world, inside and outside, North and South, nature and culture, head and heart.

Thank you Huffington Post, this is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1 FM, in Bryan, TX.

A copy of the podcast can be obtained at:

Bare Bones Biology 248 – Instinct and Learning

“One essential step in learning to more genuinely see each other is to bother to look. . . if they don’t make much of an impression on us … it is all too easy to look right through them.” – Sharon Salzberg., “A More Complete Attention”

Bare Bones Biology 248 – Instinct and Learning

When you raise a child, you try to give it the knowledge that it needs to lead a successful and rewarding life.

150308-WinterP-ASC_3821RLSs copyIn the first stage of life, humans and also other higher animals learn about the world. All organisms have instincts that are in our genetic code. Higher mammals, such as ourselves, grow bigger brains, and as we grow up, our brains are able to merge the instincts that come from our genetic makeup and the experiences of our early days, to grow a worldview that will guide our successful and rewarding lives if the world stays pretty much the same as what we experienced growing up.

Our instincts and our experiences become entwined into our worldview, and we keep adding to this awareness throughout our lives. It is our world view that makes it possible for us to survive in the world, and by the time we are about ten or twelve years old we have an image of reality that will or will not help us to lead successful and rewarding lives – depending on whether or not our worldview matches the world we end up in.

We are barely aware of our worldview. It just feels to us as though it were reality – just what is now and always will be. But it’s not reality; it was our reality when we were growing up. But meantime the human world changes.

There are so many humans on earth today, with so many different worldviews, that we are causing the world to change so fast that nobody’s feet are firmly planted in reality, and the young people who are raised so carefully and conscientiously by their parents must go out into a world that does not match the world they grew up in.

I think you know all this; you are aware of a myriad of “different opinions” held by the people all around you, arising from what they believe to be reality, and because our parents wanted peace among all the people, most of us were taught that “everyone has a right to his own opinion.”

150320-Canyon-ASC_3953RLSsLike most sound bites, that one is not true, because some opinions are harmful, but it is true that everyone in modern times does have a somewhat different worldview, basically because we all were brought up in different realities. And pity the children who were raised in a television world that never was real and never can be.

Nobody knows everything about reality, and therefore everyone makes mistakes, and so people evolved to live in social groups, because a group of three people, for example, knows more about reality than one person alone. Each person of a group or a culture has a different skill-set and wisdom-set to offer the group, and the society is more or less successful according to how it takes advantage of the whole set, using that set to grow a successful and rewarding cultural worldview within the reality of Life of the time.

But no society understands all of the mind of God, or reality, or the Biosystem, because each of these entites is bigger than all our worldviews combined. That’s why societies make mistakes and fail in the same way that individuals do. And as an individual, when your social belief system – the worldview it has engrained into your brain so deeply that you believe it to be ultimate truth – when that turns out to be wrong – it feels like God died, and our first reaction is denial. Then we cling with all our might to our limited little window/view of God’s reality rather than deal directly and responsibly with what is happening. That seems to be just how it is – how human minds are made to operate.

Though if we think about it, we could probably do a little better.

A boddhisatva is a person who knows all this and nevertheless reaches out her hand to share in the world of the sinking ship.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of FactFictionFancy and KEOS radio, 89.1 in Bryan, Texas.

A copy of this podcast is available at: