Overheard at a Park Bench in Bangor

“Hello Sir. What are you reading?”

“It’s an essay called ‘The Will To Believe,’ by William James.”

William James.
William James.

“Oh, nice, I haven’t heard of him before. what’s it about?”

“Well, basically it’s a philosophical justification of Belief, in which it can coherently exist alongside rationalism and science.”

“Oh, interesting. I’ll have to look into it. William James, you said?”

“Yes, he was an American philosopher and psychologist who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century, around the time that psychology was becoming its own discipline, separate from philosophy. You might be more familiar with one of his most famous books, called The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

“I’ll have to look into it. So, what do you believe?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in belief.”

“What do you mean?”

“Put it this way, I’ll give you another line from one of my favorite writers: Belief is the death of intelligence.”

*blink* *blink*

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I interpret it to mean that when we fixate something into a belief system, we tend to close ourselves off from the possibility of novelty, and seeing the world in a different way than we did yesterday.”

“Ah, so you have to keep thinking and challenging yourself.”

“Sure, something like that.”

“We believe that too. I’m from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

“Oh, cool. I have a copy of the Book Of Mormon in my library. One of your colleagues gave it to me, probably 30 years ago now.”

“Have you read it?”

“Not all the way through, and honestly I haven’t picked it up in years. I find Mormonism to be one of the most interesting religions out there.”

“Oh, how come?”

“Mostly because its history, how it was founded, is a great story. I really like stories about Christ that are outside the norm, as portrayed in the Gospels. Also for other little things that make me go hmmm. For instance, that they call someone as young as yourself an ‘Elder,’ if I’m reading your nametag correctly. In my tribe, that term is used for people with quite a bit more life experience than is possible for one so young.”

“What religion are you?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in Organized Religion with capital letters, and for the most part I think monotheism is a blight upon humanity. But if you want to call me something, call me a pagan.”

“What do you mean, pagan?”

Pagan is Latin for Redneck.”

*blink* *blink*

“Well, that stuff you were talking about earlier, about not stopping thinking when you believe something, well we believe that too.”


“So, would you mind if we stopped by sometime to talk to you?”

“Well, I don’t live here. I’m in town for a gig, I live 100 miles away.”

“Oh. Well, can I give you this card? You should look something up on the web, I bet you’d get a lot out of it.”

“Sure, if I can give you a copy of my Radical Paganism pamphlet. I bet you’d get a lot out of that, too.”

“Have a good night, Sir.”

“You too.”

Radical Paganism pamphlet

Tomorrow is Maine Pagan Unity Day in Portland. I am giving a workshop with C.S. Thompson, that I am greatly looking forward to. C.S. and I both write for Gods & Radicals. This should be a fun workshop.

Radical Paganism: Magic, Capitalism & Resistance

The processes that gave birth to the modern, industrialized world were the same processes that drove people off the land, severed their connections to ancient, magical ways of being, and forced them to subsist as worker/laborers in the capitalist system. People all over the world resisted these changes by calling on Gods, Land Wights, Spirits of Place, Faerie Queens, and other indigenous energies as allies in resistance. In this workshop, James Lindenschmidt & C.S. Thompson of GodsAndRadicals.org will look to their examples as inspiration in our own quests to resist beautifully & re-enchant the world.

There is also a handout pamphlet I made, that you can see here. It’s a 4 page pamphlet, that you can print on both sides of a letter size page, and fold in half.

Radical Paganism: Magic, Capitalism, & Resistance

So yeah. If you are anywhere near Portland tomorrow, you should come check it out. Lots of cool workshops, and I’ll also be doing sound all day.


It has been a busy summer thus far. In addition to my day job at RealTraps, which keeps me quite busy by helping people make their realities sound better, I have been writing quite a bit, and also doing some mixing & recording.

alley-fistMost of the writing has been over at Gods & Radicals, where I’ve written 3 articles since the last update here:

Also, I published here my first ever published article, written way back in 2000 when I was a student at USM. It’s a piece called A Barnraising In Cyberspace: Linux & The Free Software Movement, and is an analysis of my early days using Linux back in 1999, as well as some of my thoughts about the broader potentials of the Free software movement as a commons (though I didn’t really have that language of the commons back then). I think the piece holds up really well, if I do say so myself.

In addition to the writing, much of my free time has been spent working on Morgan Lindenschmidt‘s next EP, which is coming along beautifully. Not that I’m biased, but it’s great fun watching this young artist continue to grow in every possible way as an artist. I can’t wait for the world to hear this stuff.

I’ve also been trying to spend more time outside, given that it’s summer and I live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. So, yeah. Busy time of year. Not too conducive to lots of writing online. Let the lamentations begin.


Hey, Polytheists….

Hey, Polytheists…. I love you guys. I absolutely mean that in all earnestness. Polytheists are some of the most interesting people in my reality, whether virtually or embodied as some of my closest friends.

Seriously, I love you guys. And there is no “but…..” at the end of that sentence.

I love your language of divinity. I love to listen to your stories, to learn from your experiences in relationship with your gods. If I’m being honest, I’m envious. I sometimes feel like Salieri to your Mozart. See, I was raised in catholic school and served as an altar boy. They got me early, and I internalized the idea that experience with the divine was not direct, it was mediated through a clergy class.

I remember sitting in a parent-teacher conference with some nuns, who told my parents that I would “make a fine priest one day,” meaning that one day, God might talk to me directly, and that I would interpret the divine for my future flock. Maybe that’s something I still haven’t gotten over. I don’t know. I walked away from Christianity nearly 30 years ago now, and have been a Pagan ever since.

But I am not a Polytheist, in the sense that I don’t experience relationship with gods that manifest as coherent personalities. I’ve tried, and I haven’t given up that it may happen someday. I’d love that (at least I think I would….. as more than one of you have pointed out to me). I’ve spent a lot of time over the years, in meditation, in devotion, in prayer. I’ve burned candles, incense, and bonfires, sitting in contemplation, in service, honoring them, learning about their stories, their personalities. I give regular offerings, mindfully, “from the gods to the earth to us, from us to the earth to the gods, a gift for a gift.” And for me, it’s all just energy.

Energy comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Every moment is a dance between context and novelty, and all of it is driven by consciousness. This is my interpretation of the world I inhabit, more metaphysical than theological.

There is the magic of relationship, the direct experience in each given moment, where we can brush up against the ineffable or up against other personalities. Then, there are our representations of these experiences, linguistic or otherwise. I suspect that this is where we differ the most. The map is not the territory; the menu is not the meal. And this is where semantic quibbling often gets us into trouble. The words and ideas in our minds can almost become more real to us than the original event itself. Words, and our attachments to them, can just as easily divide us as unify us.

But does that mean I think gods are a figment of imagination in consciousness? No I don’t. I accept the idea that there exist other consciousnesses apart from my own, and that each one has its own will that comes along with it. Therefore, if there are gods, and if they are endowed with consciousness, then they will have their own motives and wants. I accept this as axiomatic. And like I said, if you have relationship with other consciousnesses who are gods, I’m envious.

Polytheism excites me, even more than monotheism scares me.

For all these reasons I want you to know that I love you, and I will fight for you. I have your back, because the world needs you.

Politics & Paganism: Facing Our History

godsandradicalsMy first article for Gods & Radicals went live today. It’s called Pagans are a Conquered People, and it is an analysis of how I see pagan values and identities in the context of the modern world:

I am convinced that our history reveals a very strong characterization of our tribe & our subcultural identity in the 21st Century. We Pagans are a conquered people, and we have largely become so within the past 500 years.

The Pagan ways-of-being were much more intuitive and apparent to people living 500 years ago, before the Scientific Revolution, the birth of Capitalism, and the beginnings of European Colonialism. Modernity itself rose from the ashes of the Pagan ethos as it was systematically and globally incinerated from popular consciousness on thousands of pyres and stakes of the victims of the witch hunts.

Indeed, even today the smell of smoke from The Burning Times lingers. This period in history remains the paradox of our age.

In other words, I see paganism and modern politics as being irrevocably intertwined, as things stand in the world today. For me this is no more than historical fact, and my article explains where I am coming from in this area.

Here’s the thing. For me, paganism is more an ethos — a way of being — than anything else, including theology, metaphysics, dogma, religion, or ritual. Other pagans are fiercely protective of their conceptions of paganism, particularly in the polytheist community, where I saw two articles published today questioning whether politics should be part of religion in general, or polytheism in particular. One of these articles found it “repugnant” to “politicize polytheism.”

But paganism is not polytheism. I am not a polytheist and would not presume to say what should or should not be a part of polytheism. But when we conceive of paganism, which for me is a broader term that includes polytheist pagans, atheist pagans, and all pagans in between, as an ethos, there is room at the table for all of us. Whether your pagan ethos centers around devotional relationship with the gods, or getting lost in the forest bonding with your ecosystem, urban activist work with the homeless, permaculture design, quiet solitary ritual…. it doesn’t matter. There is room for all of us.

Because for all pagans, unity and solidarity is important. Respecting and mutually supporting one another is the only way forward. It need not be either/or.

My Pagans are a Conquered People article has been live for less than a day, and already I have had several comments from friends about it being “depressing” or “pessimistic.” I agree, on the surface, the history of paganism over the past 500 years is distressing. But it is our history, and we cannot pretend it isn’t. I appreciate positive thinking, but I also know that ignoring the unpleasant facticities of our history will do far more harm than good. The sooner we accept what has happened to us, the sooner we can unify, decolonize ourselves, and create a better world.

Rocket Stove

One of the things I like to focus on is how to live more in harmony with nature, and how to live without relying on the fossil-fuel based infrastructure of our society. One word for this mode of being is Permaculture, but there are many ways to describe it.

One of my preoccupations this summer is in learning to deal with fire more efficiently. How to start a fire without fossil fuels, and how to cook food without relying on fossil fuels. I came across the concept of the rocket stove which is a way to concentrate heat, enough for cooking, while burning wood very very efficiently. With a well-designed rocket stove, it’s possible to cook a meal with only a few twigs, and with very little smoke and pollution. Despite the fact that many people are using these indoors, I wanted to build one outside our front door near the house.

The basic concept of a rocket stove is that you have an L-shaped chamber that is insulated. A fire burns at the bottom angle of the L. You feed wood into the bottom part of the L, and the upright part of the L acts as a chimney. When built correctly, these burn very efficiently, drawing air up from the L and through to the top. All the heat is concentrated so that it comes out the top.

There are many different plans for rocket stoves available, but to begin with I wanted to keep things as simple as possible so that I can experiment with the design. For my first attempt I was inspired by this design that uses only bricks that are stacked together, thus allowing for easy modifications or repairs:

I used basically this same design, except I added 4 more bricks to the top to make the chimney “taller,” and I put the entire thing up on cinder blocks so that it was more accessible. Also, the arrangement of the top cinderblocks gives me a place to store processed wood for burning. The longest part by far was leveling the base so that the entire stove is level (I was picky about it so that the airflows wouldn’t be hampered by funny angles), and it came out great, as you can see in the photo here.

The base used 8 cinder blocks I had laying around, which brought it up to a comfortable height, and also gave me 2 spots to store processed wood ready to burn. Then the stove itself used 21 bricks, 20 in the main structure (2 of which are half-bricks), and the 21st is in the front on its side, which gives the sticks a platform to rest on while the burn, while still allowing air to come in from underneath.

This photo shows the sticks in the burn position. As the fire in the main chamber burns, you shove the sticks in further and further. 4 sticks the size shown here (roughly the same thickness as 2 fingers, each about 18″ long) along with some birch bark and twigs as tinder and kindling, burned for about 30 minutes. I still have to learn to be more efficient with the tinder/kindling to main fuel wood ratio so that I get the cleanest possible burns. Once the rocket stove is operating efficiently, it should burn very cleanly with almost no smoke or fumes — clean enough that this design is commonly used indoors.

After the fire had been burning for about 20 minutes, I left it unattended for a while to do some other chores. When I came back, this is what was left in the photo to the right. All in all quite a clean burn, and I look forward to getting more practice with this technique and seeing how I adapt it over time. I think I’ll make some lunch on this tomorrow, using an old cast-iron skillet I inherited from my grandmother.

Update, Apr 16

I’ve now successfully made my first meal on the rocket stove. It came out great! However, there are still a few tweaks I need to make. This first update photo shows my grandmother’s old cast iron skillet, resting on 4 small rocks leaving about a 1cm clearing above the mouth of the stove. This allows the heat transfer to happen very efficiently. You can see the sticks coming out of the feed hole below, and the fire happening within.

I think there are a couple of problems with the stove preventing it from giving the desired “rocket” effect, where the flames shoot up into the “chimney” part of the stove. First, I think the opening I have in the feed hole is too large. I need to find a brick that is half the thickness of the other bricks and put it in the bottom to reduce the size of the feed hole. The size of the feed hole is tricky, it needs to be large enough to allow adequate airflow to feed the fire, but small enough that it focuses the heat up the chimney.

Second, I think the chimney is a bit too tall (note the original design calls for a 4-brick height and I have it at 6-brick height). I had read that the taller chimneys draw better, increase the chimney effect, and cause the fires to burn hotter. This was not the case for this fire, 2 different times I had to feed some fuel down into the chimney to get the fire to burn hot enough to cook the food in the skillet.

Despite these problems, I’ll calling this first meal a success! It was a basic pasta sauce with oil, onions, celery, ground pork, celery, rehydrated dried tomatoes from last fall, mushrooms, tomatoes canned last fall, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Delicious!

Looking toward the future I am looking at other rocket stove designs, but this first experiment has been great fun.

Arcane Theology or Practical Ethos?

It’s a strange night. The full moonlight is diffused through the mist, illuminating everything moving in the wind. It’s not as bright as a full moon in a clear sky, but there is plenty of light to see by — everything has a silvery glow. The breeze is comfortable: cool, not chilling, and it smells like a long-lost friend. It’s a scent I know well, but haven’t experienced in a while. It’s the smell of winter. She is coming.

One of my most sacred practices as a pagan is spending time in nature, no matter the season and in all weather, as often as possible. I try to do the best I can with this practice, but the realities of my domesticated life mean that sometimes weeks go by where the best I can do is to put my bare feet onto the ground (or snow!) just long enough to watch the sunset through the trees for a few moments. Most often I am outside in my own local ecosystem, in the woods where I live. To me, being outside in nature is the essence of what it means to be pagan — “pagan” is Latin for “redneck”; literally translated paganus means “country-dweller.” This term came into widespread use in the Roman Empire, with so much of Roman culture centered on the glory of the city of Rome. Paganus was used to describe those alienated from Rome-the-city, away from the direct protections of the Roman Empire, and the nascent conveniences of urban civilization. It described those who lived in nature.

Now in the 21st century, it is difficult to appreciate this pagan way-of-dwelling, this pagan ethos of living in honorable relationship with nature, since the vast majority of us are urbanized, domesticated creatures who have our basic survival needs met by our  participation in the infrastructures of civilization. Our ancestral, pagan lifestyles are no longer the default way we live our day-to-day lives. If we truly want to live as pagans, I believe we must work to learn and reclaim these ways-of-being by not relying upon the very structures that have alienated us from them. It is up to each of us to individually decipher these once-common skills and abilities buried deep within our collective, ancestral memories. Luckily, there are clues everywhere, embedded in our pagan traditions.

For instance, we can look at the four Hallows, the cardinal tools depicted in many  neopagan traditions. These four tools can be found in the four suits of the tarot — blade, cup, wand, and disc. These are powerful symbols and magical archetypes, but they are  also the basic tools of survival our ancestors have carried on their persons for thousands of years, enabling them to live more fully in nature. A knife is arguably the most important tool one can have. It allows one to create other tools — I think of it as a  meta-tool. Its primitive ingenuity is a result of higher circuits of consciousness exhibited in humans: some shrewd primate in our distant past discovered the utility of a sharp stone edge, which later evolved into flintnapping, and still later into the sophisticated techniques of forging metal into cutting tools. Wise, insightful humans imagined and understood these techniques, which over time came to be sacred. Magically, the knife, the blade, the athame, is an air symbol, representing intellect and imagination. The knife allows the magical practitioner to cut through layers of illusion, increasing one’s ability to live well, to adapt to one’s environment, and ultimately to literally carve one’s stake into the ecosystem.

The cup is important in a survival situation because we all need a source of clean, potable water; without it, we will die in a matter of a few days. As a symbol for water, the cup represents intuitive and emotional being. Interestingly, symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, unexplained tiredness, irritability, headache, insomnia, confusion, fatigue, and negative moods. Is it any wonder that the cup represents the emotional realm to the modern neopagan?

The wand is associated with fire, and most of our ancestors carried such wands with them for their use in firestarting. All ancient cultures in all parts of the world have devised ways to create fire using only materials from their ecosystem, such as the hand drill or the bow drill, both of which require wand-like pieces of wood with which to create heat through friction. If one has these tools, along with dry tinder and an adequate supply of wood (fuel), one is never far from fire. The ability to make fire — particularly in colder climates — means the ability to survive. It is also the magical ability of transformation: wood logs become ash; raw animal flesh becomes delicious meat; or a wet, shivering body becomes warm and comfortable. The fact that fire can also transform a vibrant, living forest into a charred wasteland shows us the dark side of its power. Fire’s transformative power is inherently neutral, so those working with it soon learn to be careful. When used skillfully, fire is another tool to survive — and to transform our immediate ecosystem into something that allows us to better live within it.

Finally, the disc (or coin, or pentacle) is the earth symbol, and has the most abstract connection to traditional survival tools. It is the most unclear of the four Hallows to us modern humans. For instance, in the famous Ötzi the Iceman discovery of a startlingly-well preserved 5,000 year old human corpse in Europe, one piece of gear he carried with him was a Stone Disc and its use remains unclear to those studying him. In some Wiccan traditions, the earth symbol is used to cast sacred space, to create a within to which there is an outside. It is a boundary. It is, in a word, shelter, yet another basic requirement for survival. In other traditions, it can serve as a plate for food offerings — food being another earth-nourishment necessary for survival.

Air, Earth, Fire, Water. Knife, Shelter and Food, Firestarter, Cup. Our ancestors were not speaking abstractly or arcanely, they were speaking practically, telling us the Hallows, the sacred tools, necessary for us to subsist in right relationship with nature. This, to me, is the core of what paganism is and should be — a set of traditional practices, rooted in nature, that allow us to live not only as spiritually awake, powerful humans, but also as a part of something greater than ourselves, from our local ecosystem all the way up to the living, breathing Earth itself and beyond. The many, when living this way, become one. This point of view has serious consequences for those of us living in the 21st century. Our planet is in deep crisis on countless fronts, from vast oil spills, nuclear radiation, and the toxins of industrial civilization now ubiquitous in every part of the planet, to the horrors of industrial, monocrop GMO farming devouring all the planet’s topsoil and leaving deserts in its wake. The tragic reality is that there is almost nowhere left on Earth where it is possible for large numbers of people to live in the wild as pagans, even if we wanted to. First of all, virtually the entire planet is now private property, so there are legal barriers. Secondly, 97% of the native forests, and 98% of the native grasslands, are GONE (see Derrick Jensen, “Preface” in Deep Green Resistance [New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011], p. 11.). Gone, as in no longer exist. Gone, as in 1 or 2% of nature is left for us to try to live as pagans, in a time when there are more humans, by far, than ever in history.

Yet, there is not enough outrage in our community. And if there is outrage, it is often squelched by other neopagans as “being negative” or “attracting negative energy” or “practicing bad magick.” As pagans — as those who aspire to live in harmony with nature — we should be on the front lines, protecting our ecosystems from the assaults they’ve been enduring for centries. Most of us, myself included far too much of the time, continue our domesticated lives as if nothing is wrong, divorced from authentic, meaningful relationship with nature except in the abstract, complaining about politics or climate change while living our lives as part of the vast machine causing the destruction in the first place. Lierre Keith sounds a wake-up call to the neopagan community in Deep Green Resistance:

Some white people say they want to “reindigenize,” that they want a spiritual connection to the land where they live. That requires building a relationship to that place. That place is actually millions of creatures, the vast majority too small for us to see, all working together to create more life. Some of them create oxygen; many more create soil; some create habitat, like beavers  making wetlands. To indigenize means offering friendship to all of them. That means getting to know them, their histories, their needs, their joys and sorrows. It means respecting their boundaries and committing to their care. It means learning to listen, which requires turning off the chatter and static of the self. Maybe then they will speak to you or even offer you help. All of them are under assault right now: every biome, each living community is being pulled to pieces, 200 species [that go extinct each day] at a time. It’s a  thirty-year mystery to me how the neopagans can claim to worship the earth and, with few exceptions, be indifferent to fighting for it. There’s a vague liberalism but no clarion call to action. That needs to change if this fledgling religion wants to make any reasonable claim to a moral framework that sacrilizes the earth. If the sacred doesn’t deserve defense, then what ever will (see Lierre Keith, “Culture of Resistance,” in Deep Green Resistance [New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011] pp. 165-166)?

Keith is right to criticize us in this way. We, as pagans, must lead the way by rediscovering ways of living that are not in conflict with our metaphysics, our theology, and our ethics. This Yule season, I challenge the Maine pagan community to begin embracing the pagan ethos by spending more time in nature and to reduce dependence on the “grid” for one’s sustenance. These are not abstract bits of theology, these are real things you can do immediately, things that will enrich your life, exercising mind, body, and spirit. For most of us, the following step would be a radical change: spend a day — or better yet, commit to one day per month or even per week — where you go off-the-grid entirely. Power down all electricity in your house. Turn your heater off for the day. Spend as much time outside that day as you can. Observe the flows of nature around you. Learn how to make fire using only materials found in your ecosystem. Don’t eat food from the grocery store; spend the day fasting or eat only what you can forage or hunt in your ecosystem. Drink only water from melted snow, hand-pumped from a well, or best of all collected from a spring if you have one near you.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting you endanger your life here. We are domesticated humans, and it will take time for us to re-learn how to subsist outdoors for extended periods of time in a Maine winter. But we can do it. Even if it’s only for an hour, for many of us that’s more time than we would normally spend outdoors in the winter. Take your first steps in this direction, be mindful of how you feel while you are outside — it is likely you will feel more alive than you have in a while. If nothing else, this is good training for the frequent power outages that come with the Maine winter.

As you get better and better at these practices, take fewer and fewer things with you, ultimately taking only your 4 personal Hallows (knife, cup, firestarter, shelter). If you make this a regular practice, journal it each time you do it. Record what you did that day, how you felt being in the wild all day, along with any lessons or insights gained. Nature in all of her vast forms will speak to us using her many languages, but we must be present in order to listen.

thoughts for/about Isaac Bonewits

The Neopagan community is losing one of its pioneers and Elders. Isaac Bonewits is nearing the end of his journey with cancer.

I never met him, but I really loved his writing. His book on Druidry was the first one I read on the subject, and I loved the humor lurking behind each sentence. It was a great introduction to this branch of neopaganism.

I don’t have much else to say, other than I’m thinking of him, and those close to him, and sending energy for a peaceful and inspiring passing-over.

Also, his medical bills are piling up, so head on over to neopagan.net and support them, either by purchasing products or simply making a donation.

UPDATE: Isaac passed on around 8am on August 12. He indicated that he wanted his memorial to be a good party, with “Into The West” (from the LOTR movies) to be played in his honor. I’ll raise a glass of mead to you tonight, Isaac.

Avatar, Allegory, and Capital

I just got back from seeing the film Avatar. I enjoyed it greatly, it pretty much instantly propelled itself into one of my favorite films of all time.

Visually, of course, it’s stunning, but I’d expect nothing else from the WETA crew in New Zealand. Great eye candy, especially in 3D. I haven’t seen a 3D movie in 25 years, since Jaws 3 was out. My, how technology has changed. I think Avatar will be regarded as a revolution in filmmaking similar to the LOTR series earlier this decade. Certainly, the computer animation and stop motion technology recalls Gollum but with another several years of refinement.

But apart from the eye candy, I was interested in the plot. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The main theme, of course, is Soulless Greedy Capitalism vs. Enlightened/Attuned Indigenous Population, or simply an allegory on Colonialism. I wasn’t sure what to expect, normally I don’t like to be spoon-fed which is what allegory turns into all-too-often. But there were some subtleties that I really appreciated.


The Na’vi, who are the indigenous population, exist on Pandora, a stunningly beautiful moon teeming with unbelievable life. This race of humanoids is deeply attuned to the life on the planet, fully aware of their connections to one another, across species, past and present. Their greeting to each other is “I see you,” where “see” is something akin to “grok” in Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land. It is a verbal acknowledgement that the seeing speaker has fully focused their attention and consciousness on the other individual. This reflects a common pattern with indigenous peoples all across planet Earth: these people often have a way-of-seeing that is much deeper than awareness of resources to exploit so common in our western culture.

The Na’vi have a sacred tree, called the Tree of Souls. The scientist characters are intrigued by this tree, apparently it has a network of intermingling roots not unlike a neural net, with a complexity on the scale of, or superior to, a human brain. This network reminded me a lot of the mycelium network that mushrooms create in forests, acting as the “brains” of the forest, and shunting nutrients from one part of the forest to another as needed. The Tree Of Voices also allows the Na’vi to commune-icate with their ancestors, and even to transplant consciousness from one body to another.

Of course, the capitalists don’t care about this sacred neural net. They wish to destroy it to intimidate the Na’vi and get them to abandon the Tree, so that they can mine for the (horribly-named) Unobtainium that exists in abundance near the tree.

This is the central part of the conflict in the story: the military/capitalists (mechanized thinking) wanting to exploit the ineffable natural resources the native people have attuned to over thousands of years (organic thinking), all in the name of short-term profit and without regard to the damage this exploitation will cause.

The Na’vi, of course, resist. They are portrayed as the “white-hat good guys” in the story, and the militaristic capitalists are the clear bad guys. The Na’vi have a Mother Goddess called Eywa, and when the protagonist prays to her for help “defeating” the Evil Greedy Capitalist Fuckers, he is told that “the mother doesn’t take sides, she protects the balance of life.”

This statement got me thinking. Let’s assume the Gaia hypothesis for a moment, here on Earth. If this is true, then Gaia will understand that our present system of Capitalist expansion and Colonialism is completely unsustainable; all Gaia must do is wait it out until “victory” occurs and the Capitalist Empire crumbles under its own weight. Once this occurs, in a planetary blink of an eye (a few generations in human terms), the planet will reclaim the earth to Nature.

Of course, this is a Hollywood movie, so the good guys always win. On Pandora, the Colonialists are defeated, despite their superior technology, when Eywa hears Jake’s prayer and sends the various denizens of the forest to fight the Capitalist Machine. Apparently in this world, set about 150 years from now, Capital has lost its ability to morph and adapt into a new role able to exploit each situation as it changes and evolves.

Not coincidentally, tonight I got into a “comment discussion” on Facebook with a Democrat. There I said that I believe our current system of government is broken, probably irrevocably, and the only way out is for more people to wake up and abandon capitalism as an ideal.

Hopefully, a few people will get their head cracked open by this film, and begin to see Capital for what it is. Ironically, Capital (and more specifically, James Cameron and the Hollywood MegaCorporations) has already profited $400 million within a week of this film’s release.

What was it I said about Capital morphing to profit from any situation it finds itself in?