Bare Bones Biology 134 – Community and Ego

I had a dream last night about human ego, whatever that is, I will not try to define. In the dream, some guy was driving the bus and I was picking up the pieces. Literally, I mean, I was picking the pieces of newspaper and trash, old egg shells, gum and plastic wrappings — out from under the gas pedal — as they kept rolling back in there — while two other people sat behind, telling me what I was doing wrong, and the trash kept piling higher and deeper.

You will never guess what this dream was trying to tell me, because I didn’t until I started to write it down, and immediately came to mind my persistent question: “Why did The Creator give us our ego in the first place?” The thing causes so much pain and suffering to us and our communities, convincing us that our own belief system, our own need to be more right, is more real than reality. It isn’t, you know. Nobody is “right,” because nobody understands everything. And if we believe that our mind, emotions, intellect (reference), or our world view (reference), are more powerful than the biological reality. Well, that’s a pretty good definition of pain and suffering, now or later.

Pain is life enhancing. It guides our choice of behaviors so that we avoid drowning in the river when its currents are swirling in flood, or burning our little hands on the stove. Because we were formed within the biological community – our response to pain is biologically life enhancing.

To understand why we were given an ego is more difficult. What good is the blasted thing, if the use of it causes us emotional pain and suffering, but it doesn’t tell us what the danger is? Well, of course, that’s one function of community – to help us avoid emotional suffering by passing down the wisdom teachings of the ages. The harm caused by our ego-trips is well and often explained in all the wisdom teachings, and better behaviors described.

Maybe that’s what the ego is meant to do. Maybe our ego suffering is meant to enhance the welfare of the community by passing on some wisdom from now to benefit the future. I hope so, because our age is growing new problems faster than any before, and with these new problems, we must learn new lessons (or apply the old ones) about what not to do if we don’t want to suffer.

Our origins designed us genetically and behaviorally to live in a biosystem that functions to support life, but our human culture now has grown an artificial corposystem that functions to make money. And the power of this corposystem seems to lie mostly in our human ego needs.

So many people so filled with the fear of not being better than other people. Is that our ego? Why do we feel that we must be better than someone else? We can’t discuss the important issues, because someone might go into a one-up or one-down tizzy, or just turn their backs and walk away for fear that we might know something they don’t know. But isn’t that the point of discussion, that everyone knows more than only one? Don’t we WANT to deal with the problems? We keep saying that we do, and then the next thing you know we are debating irrelevant questions for no better reason than to satisfy our never-ending need to win. Even though the floods of climate change (climate change series Bare Bones Biology 092 through 100) are already tickling our toes – even though everyone really does know the end result of these ego trips, in our modern times, will be disaster.

So now my question is: how can we be aware of our ego, and all the negative, painful behaviors that it generates — how can we use that knowledge to grow a more positive, life-supporting human community?

Lynn Lamoreux
Photos by Lynn

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at

Recommended Action/Question for Discussion: I’m tempted to suggest that you start an argument and consider what methods you use to win. And what are the results. But in fact I doubt that you need to know more about how to argue. So instead I suggest you find a person with whom to discuss an issue and see how long you can keep it going without either of you having an obvious emotional reaction (because this will be a serious subject.) Maybe you could try this one – http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/26/why_birth_control_is_still_a_big_idea
“In the United States, especially this year, any occasion when contraceptives and public policy overlap seems to be an excuse to fight about other issues.”

Bare Bones Biology 121 – Hollie

Podcast of this program can be downloaded here
Or later at http://traffic.libsyn.com/fff/Bare_Bones_Biology_121Final_-_Hollie.mp3

Last week Father John Dear described the Peace march at Los Alamos on Hiroshima day, the third day of the Vision without Fission Conference. On the first day, in Santa Fe, I met Hollie Ambrose at the art exhibit and tried to photograph her with her art piece.

“(LL) At the Vision without Fission Art Exhibit. We were taking your picture, and I was interested in a more sad looking picture, and you were preferring to look a little more joyful.”

“Well, it’s hard for me not to laugh, I’ve gotten in a lot of trouble, but I really feel that even when subjects are very serious it’s important to experience joy in the moment, even if it’s maybe not the best thing to do. That’s part of who I am as a person. I’m sad about things that have happened; I wish some of them didn’t happen; I wish a lot of things didn’t happen. But at the same time, you’re photographing me, we’re trying to get me and my piece in the picture, and it’s kind of funny in a way. It has some irony to it.”

“(LL) You’re piece is pretty dark.”

“I do a lot of pieces that are macabre, and that’s because I experience those things in life, just like everyone does. Life isn’t just Disneyland. It has the ups and downs, it has suffering, and it has joy, and I think that these are things you never want to forget. Even if you know there are people in the world who are suffering, and there’s violence, and there’s bombing, at the same time it’s important for us to experience our lives with joy every single day, and not to let these things rob us of that joy.

“It’s just like when 9-1-1 happened, it really brought to life for a while the things that are important and brought people together in a different way. I wish that would have lasted forever. Americans are always really good when things are at their worst, but we have a short memory. I feel like if we let them take away our joy. I think it’s important to focus on the things that are happening, but I think the best way to have peace is to live a life in which you are experiencing joy every day and be creative in doing the things you want to do, because if you’re joyful, doing what’s important to you, you have the ability to respond to the things of the world that are –

“(LL) more effectively.”

“Yes, much more effectively if you’re a happy person. There has been psychological research that people who are happy are more generous, and more likely to help someone across the street –“

“(LL) and be thinking more clearly about the problems –“

“Right,”

“(LL) and discussing them, rather than bemoaning them.”

“Right, because if you just sit around and get depressed about them, you can’t do anything about them. You’re not able to respond to situations that need your help if you’re depressed. If you’re sad all the time about them. You can’t help people if you’re in that state, and think you don’t have the ability to call attention to the atrocities of war if you’re not celebrating life. The real difference is at the individual level. Peace starts with us, and every day that we’re having interactions with other human beings we have the opportunity to propagate peace instead of war, in terms of how we respond to people and how we think of them as individual human beings who have the same feelings that we do, and it’s just important to be conscious of that, moment to moment, as much as we can, and I think if you’re having a good life and not letting your life be stolen by these things, that you can respond to them a lot better.”

Hollie’s art is posted on my blog, but I decided not to post my picture of her, because my art was not up to the task of representing her art.

Recommended References:
Hollie has a beautiful blog, full of joy and life in Santa Fe:
http://chasingsantafe.blogspot.com/2011/11/hollie-ambrose-art-home.html

Bare Bones Biology 092 – Climate Change

I try not to be one of those snobby scientists. I know they exist. That’s why I try not to be one, and what do I get for it? Some of the politically active people who aren’t scientists try to prove that they know more about biology than I do. Perhaps I should think about them as snobby non-scientists. However, a knowledge of biology among non-scientists or other powerful people is really important. Likely it will make the difference between whether or not we humans have a future on this earth. And I’m speaking literally. But that’s not why I continue to try to make the information available. Extinction of the species is not such a big deal. I mean, who cares as long as I’m OK. The reason I keep writing these things is not about extinction. It’s about the amount of suffering that we are causing to ourselves and to others. We do not have the right to cause suffering for others.

So I gave him a book. If you want one, you can download it free on my website.

OK, I admit it, right now I’m thinking about one particular extremely snobby non-scientist, and you don’t know him, so I’m using him for an example of how to not solve problems. He didn’t understand a word of the book. That’s OK, nobody understands everything. Or more likely he didn’t try to understand it, and he also did not ask any questions about it; it wasn’t what he wanted to talk about. What he wanted was to kindly explain to me all of this biology stuff is only my personal opinion, and there is a debate about whether or not I am right about climate change. What debate? Me and Rush? Certainly no debate between me and other basic biologists. Some discussion, sure; no debate, and at least I read all that stuff about biology and understood most of it.

I mildly suggested to this fellow that he check the facts. Mine and his. I mean, it’s all there on the internet and in books and scientific papers, with the evidences. And his response? I quote: “I’m trying to teach you (that would be him trying to teach me) to THINK!” In all capital letters. He wants me to waste my time thinking about fake debates among people who have not even tried to read the evidences. Maybe he believes the ecosystem was put here on this earth to serve our needs and it never changes.

Look around you folks. It changes all the time, but only in response to physical cause- and-effect realities that are on the ground. The earth ecosystem does not care about anyone’s opinion. Opinions do not change anything except your mind. Sometimes. That’s why the facts are so important.

The ecosystem we live inside of was not put here on the earth. The ecosystem IS the living earth and all its parts. It is alive. That’s a definition of life. The ability to change in response to changing conditions. When it’s cold we shiver, because we are alive. When the living earth changes over time, the name for that change is evolution, and climate change is all about evolution.

Climate change is about life — biology, because this earth would not exist – but maybe I should define biology. I just realized you might be thinking about technology, or medicine, or physics, or physiology or biochemistry or even sociology or politics. Nuhuh. Biology is the study of life and how it stays alive. Biology is not physiology, which is primarily the study of humans, nor is it sociology, which is primarily the study of humans. All of those things we study are primarily the study of humans, as is anthropology and – well almost every study we do is primarily about humans and that is NOT ABOUT LIFE ITSELF. Because humans, contrary to the common perception, are not the center of life.

For about 500 years we have known that the earth is not the center of the solar system.

And neither are we.

These are two facts that will not change regardless of how anyone learns to think, or what anyone believes.

Bare Bones Biology 092 – Climate Change
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at http://BareBonesBiology.com

Recommended References: Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook free download on the lower right side of my blog.

Play to Win

Our culture is a fascinating imitation of reality:

Fake love/compassion of the hero-winner who must rescue the victim, in order to believe that he is doing something worthwhile;

Fake victims, must espouse (or truly have) some kind of malaise, so the hero-winners will have someone to rescue;

Even – God help us – fake villains to make sure the hero/victim game keeps on cycling and recycling so that the majority of people will continue distracted with their communal malaise — while the villains gather in the fruits of everyone else’s (fake) emotional energy.

It’s the co-dependence game played out at level two (the community/cultural level) and formalized at level three (the corposystem).

Down here at level one (the individual) it’s not easy to see how to lead a successful life without getting tangled up in all the fake games. Especially because the players get real upset with non-players. But the first step might be to look to the future instead of to one’s own self, and try to image and now live the kind of culture that we say we are trying to build. This helps to clear away the clouds of fake conflicts enough that we can then look at how all these games feed our own egos but do not build real community.

Everyone gets to pretend she is better than some one of the others. Heroes are better than villains and victims, villains are better than heroes and victims. The victim lifestyle feeds the infinitely voracious egos of the villains and the heroes. And we spend all our lives either doing something “worthwhile” or making someone else feel “worthwhile.” And we never get wherever we thought we were going, but only pass this lifestyle of suffering on to the next generation.

Look around you – whoever you are! The nicer we are the more suffering we are causing, and we are all spinning that wheel harder and harder and harder, like a bunch of little mice all running in the same direction in our self-enforced categories on the wheel of our culture – sacrificing our personal power on the altar of our co-dependent culture.

It’s time to wake up and look at the reality of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and the pain it causes us and each other. Certainly we are not changing anything about the future that we claim to be working for. We are working like hell to reinforce the system that we claim to fight against, and in so doing we are causing yet more suffering for future generations.

But it’s really hard to opt out. The Heroes won’t like you and the villains will try to extinguish the flame of your personal power.

Whoever wins this game – loses, because we cannot stop the game by playing the game. Nor can we find love or compassion in a life-style that is so focused on ourselves. Because everyone else is also focused on themselves, and none of them really cares about a compassionate whole. They think they do — but love is NOT a game, and it is not about focusing on ourselves, whether we are victims – or heroes – or even villains.

Bare Bones Biology 060-Fracking I

I have lived in a Tokyo suburb, and in the shade of a mountain in Montana, but it’s in rural loneliness where I learned the most about community. I learned to sit under a tree in the forest until the little creatures gathered around to investigate this stranger in their midst. Almost like a Bambi forest glade with the little birds and flowers, but I learned this before I ever saw a motion picture. And I always knew it was no fairy tale, but the deepest source of life itself.

So I already knew this when I went to college, and there I found the wonder of basic science and I dedicated my life to learning how we humans can use our knowledge of basic science to bring to ourselves a life of ordinary happiness, in a perpetual way, like a forest glade that blooms for us and for our children unto the seventh generation yet to be born, and beyond. I mean learning how the whole system works so that we can help us to continue nurturing us on into the future. And now we know; we are choosing not to do it, and that is our human tragedy.

For a long time, I have been wondering how anyone could make that choice.

This morning I woke up remembering how exciting it was in college, that three year period when I understood how forest glade ecosystems function – using all the species at once, and all the cycles, and the flow of energy at all the levels (see the Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook) – to maintain the well being of us all, the rabbits and birds and flowers and all of us who are a part of the ecosystem.

This morning after the fracking ]presentation, I woke up remembering how that felt and wondering how anyone, as we heard yesterday and have been hearing for the past 15 years or so – how anyone could dedicate his life to tearing down this wonderful dream of a forever fine future.

And then I realized there isn’t very much difference between a young person who dedicates her life to understanding the factual truth of a functioning world ecosystem (that would be me). There isn’t that much difference between me and, say, a young man who grows to that age of enlightenment and observes the amazing power of the workings of the corposystem. A young man raised on Star Wars make-believe instead of the beauty of factual reality can believe in the corposystem very much in the same way I believe in the ecosystem. Very much as Bernie Madoff’s clients and even his sons believed in his Ponzi scheme, even though anyone can do the math and know there is no future in it. Star Wars economics is of course impossible to sustain for the same reason that any Ponzi scheme is impossible to sustain within a universe that operates according to the laws of energy and the law of cause and effect. Anyone can do the math. But when we are dreaming big dreams and deciding where to devote our lives, if we don’t know about schemes and scams and the first and second law of thermodynamics we get big ideas and are willing to make big sacrifices for them. That’s the tragedy of human kind.

Of course there are no tragedies at levels three and four (corposystem and ecosystem), so far as I know. It’s all about cause and effect. But level one, the individual person and level two, the communities – the tragedy is all around us now, in the air and the water and the soil and every forest glade. Not only the sacrifice of our best human values – honor, honesty, compassion — but also the promotion of suffering – and the effort it takes for idealistic people to believe that what they are doing is for the best.

Even though anyone can do the math.

Bare Bones Biology 060 – Fracking
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
Audio download later this week at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 055-Susan Crane

Susan Crane created “Ploughshares” as part of her lifetime commitment to ending nuclear proliferation by nonviolent means. Of course she’s only one of so many people who act upon their convictions, even including many people we do not admire. But we do admire when someone gets it right in the compassion department, and then does her homework so that she understands both the facts and the implications of her actions – and then she acts upon her convictions — that’s what I call wisdom compassion. Wisdom compassion looks upon suffering and then tries to understand the causes of that suffering. Wisdom compassion looks at all the levels of human involvement, from the individual level to the community (in this case the communal rule of law), to the level of the corposystem and the ecosystem. All the living levels. Wisdom compassion says: “Let’s look at the root causes of (whatever is the problem) and see what we can do about it that will not cause more suffering from the cure than from the cause.

Susan Crane was interviewed on Sprouts a few weeks ago (Pacifica Radio, not to be confused with Jane Goodall’s Sprouts clubs). Sprouts is hard to find on the web, so I will help you by linking it to my blog. On KEOS radio, 89.1, Sprouts is aired on Sunday mornings at about 6:30. I started listening because I don’t want to miss Bare Bones Biology on Sunday mornings at 6:55. And neither should you. But Sprouts, and sometimes Sierra Club Radio that precedes it, are equally as good as the Monday evening programs you hear on KEOS. So the full story is available on the Sprouts podcast, and I have a copy of that if you want to hear it.

The short version is that Susan Crane broke into a nuclear facility to smear her blood on a nuclear submarine, and has been sentenced to quite a long jail term for this action.

For me the bottom line of this story is the way it demonstrates the difference between heart compassion and wisdom compassion. Your basic heart compassion imagines what it would feel like to be under a nuclear bomb exploding. Your wisdom compassion studies the effects of nuclear technology through the levels.

So to really simplify this, in terms of suffering the nuclear sub gets negative marks at the individual level, and the ecosystem level, while it contributes positively to the economic level. At the level of communal rule of law – it is against American law to smear blood on a nuclear submarine, but it is against international law even to have submarines ready to drop nuclear weapons on anyone.

Clearly, Susan Crane has spent a lot of effort evaluating the complexity of the problem, before dedicating her life to nonviolence. In my perspective, this means she is acting from heart compassion that has been informed by her wisdom compassion to dedicate her life to others in a way that causes the least overall suffering in the world.

Do I believe that Susan Crane went through such an analytical step by step approach to evaluating her actions? Of course not. The stepwise evaluation is only a study aid to help us remember that more is involved, and often more of importance. The point is that Susan Crane evaluated all the parameters, in her own way, to make sure she is not causing more harm than good by her actions.

But wait. There is another, higher level for Susan Crane. Listen to her own words.

“I was at the Methodist church one night preparing for a little gathering we were having, a pot luck, and I was talking about nonviolence, so I had this piece of paper, and I was writing the attributes of nonviolence on it, and on the opposite, violent responses to things. The way the culture often teaches us to respond. And I realized at that moment that all the attributes I had for nonviolence – compassion, love, forgiveness – are the attributes that many of us call God.“

Photograph – volunteers at Brazos Valley Food Bank
Volunteers from the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue
Gause Full Gospel Church
and others

Bare Bones Biology 055 – Susan Crane
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at factfictionfancy.wordpress.com
Audio at http://www.BareBonesBiology.com

There is Nothing Wrong with Suffering

If you believe in the law of cause and effect, then you must know that suffering is not the enemy. Just as death is necessary to maintain life, so suffering is necessary for us to learn how to live properly in the real world. We would never learn to take our hands off the hot stove if it didn’t hurt. We will never learn to live until we stop trying to defeat death and suffering.

If there were no suffering, we would long ago have defeated life by doing whatever we damn well please, and if there were no death, the biomass of the earth would by now have reached way far beyond the moon. The earth would have perished long ago. The tragedy is that we do know about the law of cause and effect, and we know how life survives on earth (physically) using both the law of cause and effect and death itself to maintain the balance that is necessary for all living things to stay alive. And we are destroying ourselves anyhow.

Living productively cannot be defined as growth; growth destroys balance,* and a productive culture, society, agriculture or economy must maintain a healthy balance (or it fails to be productive). Living productively is giving the real world what it requires to be alive, and the primary requirement for all kinds of life is balance. Think what happens if your body does not stay in physiological balance. You suffer. Or you die. That is the message of the law of cause and effect. I think it’s wonderful that the Buddha and his followers figured this out long ago.

But I don’t see how suffering can be a good reason for raising a shield of any kind – not a shield of disengaging from empathic interactions to reduce our own suffering, nor a shield of misinterpreting the message of the religions into one of power over nature, nor a shield of fake happiness induced by drugs, sex, violence (winning), technology or television propaganda – to shield ourselves from the basic laws of The Creation. Without suffering, we would destroy the whole living earth; with it we destroy ourselves (individually and collectively) unless we decide to stop the suffering by growing a productive (balanced) civilization. Human suffering is exactly what it should be; we know the rules; the choice is in our own hands.

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*If you want to see the process in action watch the movie Ancient Futures.