Unmasked Anti Vaxxers Save America

Many of us are aware and acutely concerned about onrushing environmental destruction from climate havoc, among other causes. But judged by the do-nothing or don’t-do-much approach of all industrialized countries, is there much difference between denial to act on climate science and denial of vaccine efficacy? COVID is small potatoes by comparison.

The anti-vax/anti-mask forces, by setting themselves up as the epitome of self-destructiveness, provide a good if negative example that the rest of us may learn from.

Environmentalist No Go Phrases

Arid country, Brown’s Canyon National Monument

The severity of the environmental crises we face should not be downplayed with poor word choices. Here are my top three:

Tipping Point

The argument in favor of saving nature often goes something like this: “If we don’t start working to curb global warming (or habitat loss or what have you) we will reach a tipping point past which catastrophe will ensure. The time when this will happen is coming soon.” That statement might (maybe?) have been true in the 1970s, but we are long past the time of waiting for the tipping point to arrive. The disasters of crashing wildlife populations, ocean plastic contamination, CO2 emissions led us to pass the tipping point years ago. The Sixth Extinction and global air and ocean temperature rise is well under way. The best we can hope for now: mitigation lessening the long term damage.

New Normal

Permanent drought in arid regions and gigantic oceanic storms caused by human activities should not be normalized. Self-destruction is aberrant, not normal. The new abnormal?

Global Warming

This term glosses over the existential threat posed by human alteration of the climate. Throughout the Western U.S. the annual number of frost free days has significantly increased over the course of several decades. (I have seen this happen in Taos.) Summer nighttime lows are higher now than during the previous century.

Climate disruption. Climate crises. Global heating. All of these are more accurate statements of account describing our situation, although even these are not dire enough to fully capture the existential danger to the biosphere. We need a one to three word phrase that everyone can immediately recognize as encapsulating the growing threat to our survival. The phrase must be powerful enough to convey immediate recognition of the true magnitude of the disaster.

2016 election Academy for the Love of Learning ALEC Ansel Adams Wilderness Banner Peak Big Pharma boundaries California Climate Change Cold War Commies COP 21 Devil's Postpile National Monument Donald Trump ecology Environmental Movement Ernest Thompson Seton Ethnic Cleansing Fish and Game Framework Convention on Climate Change generally true patterns Global warming Herakleitos Israelis and Palestinians John Muir Koch brothers KrellPedophile scandals Lake Catherine Mammoth Lakes Mt. Ritter Nature Nature photography Paris Climate Conference Prison Industrial Complex Putin Sagebrush Rebellion Shiite Starbucks cups Sunni Syria refugees systems Trump Wilderness photo essay Wolves Yosemite National Park

COVID as Our Ally

The struggle against Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is usually described in military terms. We are in a “battle, even a war against an insidious enemy. We must marshal the forces of medical science for a campaign to “defeat” this “enemy” of humankind. This plague challenges, if not our very existence, then at least our way of life. Nature has attacked us with this virus. Nature, our adversary, is at fault.

Or maybe not. Or at least, not exactly.

The physical suffering (a range of horrifying symptoms including immense pain, kidney failure, limb amputations, suffocation and death), the economic calamity (maybe a second Great Depression), and the general disruption of just about everything, is all too real. The lesson we take from this catastrophe, however, could be one of warning about worse to come. This may be our last chance to change our relationship to nature before climate disruption, nuclear war (coming about in part as a result of change in fresh water availability), worse pandemics, and other unimaginable horrors overtake all that we have built (in all social realms) and much of how we self-identify as residents of civilization and the nature which has until now kindly hosted us.

COVID-19 in this perspective is not our adversary, but our ally to averting the much worse which is to come. Sheltering in place from heat storms, continental flash fires, famine and insecure or no access to fresh water is not possible. While clearly not our friend, the virus can be our teacher. The virus did not come out to get us; we went out to find it (even if inadvertently). We disrupted natural habitats giving the virus an opportunity (or perhaps no choice) but to seek a new host (us) when traditional hosts either were no longer available or no longer opportune. Our suffering pales compared to the animal and plant genocide/holocaust we are imposing on the planet’s other life forms.

I was reviewing my list of Generally True Patterns (detailed elsewhere in the radical natural history blog) trying to determine which ones might be most germane to our current predicament. Several of them; I will mention just four.

Major changes in a system can come suddenly. The gradualism theory of evolution in which events progress slowly has its place, but earth history from geology to extinction events to social/political revolutions show that speed overtakes the existing order on a regular basis.

A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment. The environment may be physical (fewer people going to tourist destinations), but it can be mental as well. Here is our opportunity or downfall depending on the choices we make: Recognizing ourselves as a part of nature of continuing to see nature as the enemy. (The virus is evil!)

The closer a system gets to equilibrium, the less resilient it becomes to any changes in the environment. In our century’s long addition to carbon fuels (coal, oil) we have achieved a comfortable equilibrium as all other aspects of the planet from animal species to beauty itself has been compromised. Our civilizations great collective mantra is: we cannot change, we will not change. But what happens when the natural environment really does change?

All systems are dynamic and evolving or in stasis and dying. The system known as world civilization faces a choice of learning from the current disaster, or ignoring the COVID warning and likely not surviving (in any recognizable form) coming disasters that will be magnitudes of awful greater than we are currently experiencing.

The current malicious virus will not kill all of us, but it might save us should we heed its lessons.

(Image above: a Bobcat took over our driveway once we mostly stopped driving to stay at home.)


Hammett, William James, Van Leeuwenhoek explain Trump Cult

If you are like me, you have been looking to Nick and Nora Charles to solve the mystery of the Trump cult-like popularity. The novelist Dashiell Hammett created the crime solving couple in the 1930s; they appeared in movies starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. I don’t know if Nick and Nora were familiar with psychologist William James or with optics scientist Van Leeuwenhoek, but those gentlemen also belong in this conversation.

Laura Snyder, Eye of the Beholder

The historian Laura Snyder published a book (in 2015) about the 17th century Dutch geniuses Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek and Johannes Vermeer. She combined optics and art history and much else. The kind of realism demonstrated by Vermeer’s work conveys a “sense of bouding, that make-believe space that feels real.” I don’t know about Dr. Snyder’s qualifications in political science, but I felt that, even if a different context, she could have been describing the current political situations in the U.S. or U.K.

I could not find bouding in Ralph Mayer’s A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, so perhaps nether Mayer nor Snyder will object overmuch to my borrowing the term, peculiar to the Dutch language until appropriated here. I have not found a better term than bouding to describe the Trump cult or its appendages such as climate change denial.

Snyder explains, “Dutch theorists and artists used the term bouding as a blanket term for the many strategies that could be combined to create a compelling mimetic or imitative picture.” Or fantasy, if you will.

Fantasy is harmless until it is not. It transforms to harmful when mistaken for reality: guns don’t kill people, worldwide temperature is not rising, women have no right to control their own bodies. Enter the Trump cult.

Snyder notes an important observation: “Van Leeuwenhoek realized that what one thinks he sees is related to what he wants to believe. Believing is seeing, sometimes.”

She confirms this with a reference to the work of William James who coined the phrase ‘will the believe,’ noting that “sometimes we convince ourselves to believe what we choose to believe, even without rational evidence; so to, it can be said, we sometimes will ourselves to see what we want to see, or what we are accustomed to seeing.” [William James, 1956, The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy {and} Human Immortality. Dover Publications.]

The Thin Man

Which brings me back to Hammett. In one scene, a police officer, speaking to Nick Charles, anticipates our current political situation by eighty-five years: “It’s a funny thing—I suppose you’ve noticed it—the people who lie the most are nearly always the clumsiest at it, and they’re easier to fool with lies than most people too.” [Ukrainian conspiracy theories anyone?] “You’d think they’d be on the look-out for lies, but they seem to be the very ones that will believe almost anything at all. I suppose you’ve noticed that, haven’t you?”

At a later point, Nick himself makes a similar observation: “Most people—even women—get discouraged after you’ve caught them in the third or fourth straight lie and fall back on either truth or silence, but not Mimi.” [A character in the novel. Substitute Trump’s name here.] “She keeps trying and you’ve got to be careful or you’ll find yourself believing her, not because she seems to be telling the truth, but simply because you’re tired of disbelieving her.”

I am in no way suggesting that Snyder or Hammett would endorse my positions of politics or the environment, but James, Van Leeuwenhoek, and Hammett bring important insight to contemporary times.

The above, as a Generally True Pattern: The vitality of any system depends on the free flow of information.

One more unsolved mystery: Why did Hammett write only one Thin Man mystery?

Animal IEDs

Wolf Bounty by Ernest Thompson Seton

Wolf Bounty by Ernest Thompson Seton

Sodium Cyanide

For those who believe that animals have no consciousness, that is, those who purport animals as non-sentient, animal cruelty cannot exist.

Historically, Theodore Roosevelt and John Burroughs were in that camp, and stayed there so as not to endanger trophy hunting. But that began to change when Ernest Thompson Seton argued the contrary (he passed the 73rd anniversary of his death a few days ago).

Not everyone got the Darwinian memo about animals as relations. Case in point: Intentional cruelty in the form of M44 devices. Wild Earth Guardians and others refer to them as poison bombs or cyanide bombs.

I would like to suggest Animal IEDs as a more graphic term. IEDs became all too familiar during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Targeted Indecency

Animal IEDs have a different target, often coyotes, but like their anti-personnel counterparts, anyone or anything getting too close comes to a bad end. Animal IEDs attract by scent, luring large wild predators, but also skunks, raccoons, foxes and dogs.

In human war, civilians and soldiers are killed indiscriminately. In our war on nature, all manner of curious or unlucky creatures, treated with the same insane disregard for life, meet the same end.

IEDs of both kinds represent an absence of simple morality and decency. I urge everyone to take action against these things. There are several groups leading the charge to ban these things once and for all.

And while we’re at it, all commercial animal trapping must be banned, from whales to foxes. The Middle Ages are over, we have no excuse to continue such practices.



Cthulhu, Morgoth, Trump, Explained

What Lovecraft saw. Posted on Wikipedia.

What Lovecraft saw. Posted on Wikipedia.

First, here’s my take: assigning the evil of the Trump era to Cthulhu and Morgoth seems entirely reasonable. This is a time when America has fallen into its most morally weak state. Actually, the only state possible under para-fascism. At our moment of greatest vulnerability, we are faced with certain environmental catastrophe, with America at its most morally weak state. (Thanks a lot Trump.)

Cthulhu (discovered by H.P. Lovecraft) and Morgoth (discovered by J.R.R. Tolkien) come from very different ideological places. I will use examples from my Generally True Patterns (GTP) to show that difference.

A thing becomes a thing following its move from an abstraction to a concrete reality or process (Chapter 8 GTP)

The origins of Cthulhu are obscure. It simply is and always has been. As a non-rational being, it has no motivation perceivable by us. But like measles, it is something one best get vaccinated against. Otherwise, look out. Its allies: people who convince you that prevention is your enemy and the disease unimportant. (Raison d’être #1 of the Trump administration.) Manifestation: white supremacists such as skinheads who particularly hate other white people.

Morgoth is rather more interesting. First for having a history, e.g. it was created as an Ainur, one of the first beings in existence. Also, it has motivation: wrecking havoc for the pure enjoyment of it. (Raison d’être #2 of the Trump administration.) Its allies: the Mob. It has a long rap sheet at the FBI, known as “Melko” on the street. Manifestation: Wahabbi jihadists.

Both of them start as enfolded potential—look out when they become unfolded reality.

All things, events, and processes arise in our perception from somewhere. (Chapter 2 GTP)

Morgoth is like “a cloud that cannot be seen or felt,” kind of like carbon monoxide. Pissed off since getting the stuffing knocked out of “him” at the end of the First Age, he reanimates out of our own perception generally, and out of need, specifically, by some among us. (As an aside, Morgoth got his comeuppance from Fionwë who was the General Dwight D. Eisenhower of the First Age and reputed to be a political moderate after the war.)

In the beginning Cthulhu “had shape…but that shape was not made of matter.” Whoa! A nihilist! For all that these creatures are like ether, and in most ways beyond our comprehension, when the form they take is what we define as evil, their presence or at least their influence can be perceived.

A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment (Chapter 6

An example of this is the increasing prevalence of flood-drought cycle disrupting the climate in previously stable areas. Existing life forms may be eliminated as the changed conditions create better conditions for new ones, or for returning ones in the case of Cthulhu.

So at a time and place of weakness, bad things find the opportunity to creep in. But all this is about symptoms, not causes, that is, Trump as symptom of things going wrong, not the cause. My guess is that Eärendel, wielding a disinfectant light known as a Silmaril, who chosen by the Ainur to guard the borders of our world from evil at the end of the First Age, has fallen down on the job. Low battery warning perhaps.

The above argument is proven by the fact that both Cthulhu and Morgoth have certainly returned. (Thanks a lot Trump: these beings are irresistibly attracted to moral weakness.)

By the way, I have heard that there is an evangelical-run museum somewhere maintaining that dinosaurs and cavemen inhabited the earth at the same time. Now that is ridiculous.

Be Somewhere Else Now

Dog Wisdom

Dog Wisdom

If Ram Dass  was still here, would re really be here now? Or would he be somewhere else? If here, he might be lonely. Being somewhere else might be safer. Over several years and with increasing frequency, environmental reports suggest the coming end of civilization (such as it is). See my Help Nature section for a range of reports from the Pentagon to United Nations on climate change, etc.

Bill McKibben in his new book Falter and in interviews suggests there is still hope to avoid complete catastrophe. But being here now myself, I am less certain.

Environmentalists vs. Deniers

Environmental groups continue their excellent work of convincing the already convinced about the trouble nature is in. Climate deniers and their Saint Ayn Rand still prefer the virtue of short-term selfishness over long term survival (at least if that survival requires socialist cooperation.)

If anyone can claim to be here now, it is the Deniers, at least based on who has political and social control. We are all victims of environmental destruction. We are all also perpetrators of it through consumption of everything from rare earth minerals to hamburgers, use of close dryers, the coming endless numbers of driverless cars that will soon swarm over the earth like locusts.

In my series on Generally True Patterns, the cornerstone of this site, I have stated that if we truly believed ourselves a part of nature, we would behave differently in our relation to the earth than as we do at present. The way we be here now is not working terribly well. Everyone participates in the destruction, either reluctantly out of necessity or joyfully out of whatever maliciousness motivates the Randians.

The Solution: Be Somewhere Else

The mind-set and moral change to a less consumptive, less destructive way of life is nowhere on the cultural or social horizon. Rather than continue to beat a dead world (so to speak), I am thinking that I should instead write about dog wisdom and post pictures of wildflowers and other lovely nature scenes to Facebook and Instagram.

Beyond documenting what is being lost, this won’t much help much but being somewhere else may hold more solace than being here (now).

Photo image: Luca the dog by David L. Witt

IPCC Climate Change Report

Sunset for Civilization

Sunset for Civilization

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put out a monumental report. Ninety-one authors from 40 countries, plus 133 contributing authors, cited over 6,000 references, creating the Special Report on Global Warming of more than 700 pages in length. The results predict sunset for our civilization.

We have a decade or so to work on changing our anti-environment ways. But maybe we have no time left to gradually change. We must do so immediately in order to reach “net-zero” human-caused carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Opposing this view, the British scientist Mayer Hill, among others, believe that achieving net-zero by mid-century will come much too late.

Whatever the timeline, every day during which CO2 does not diminish makes achieving net-zero more difficult to achieve. Making this worse is the increasing methane leakage from Artic permafrost, which will almost certainly require us to reach net-zero before 2050. (I experienced alarmingly hot Arctic conditions on my two trips to the far north.)

The IPCC report received scant attention from the major television news networks. The same networks refuse to acknowledge climate change in their hurricane news coverage. One could argue that the impending end of civilization deserved a bit more. But try convincing their commercial sponsors of that. (Parts of the print media have given better coverage to the issue.)

Would it be possible to mobilize against big-Carbon (or if you prefer, mobilize for net-zero) in the way we did for World War II? Back then, our way of life was at stake. Now, it is our lives that are on the line. And if so, who might lead us to net-zero?

The prevailing political conservatism is hostile to anything that might be anti-capitalism and even more so when internationalism is involved. If you believe with President Reagan that government is the problem or with President Trump that globalism is the problem, then pro-environment mobilization by all the world’s governments becomes an impossibility. IPCC is for them just another example of a world government agency run amok.

This is not trivial: the very psychological identity of the conservative is at risk. You can’t admit the existence of global climate change when your entire being is based on an ideology of anti-domestic big government and opposition to international bodies infringing upon national sovereignty.

American liberalism, in its current pro-Corporate incarnation (President Clinton’s contribution), is no less destructive to the environment. Liberal flirtation with identity politics doesn’t help, because “Nature,” as an identity in and off itself does not find a home in that worldview.

Free market capitalism (North America, Western Europe, etc.) and state sponsored capitalism (China, etc.) believe only in resource extraction for economic growth, in contradiction to the laws of biology. Our prosperity comes at the expense of all the other life forms on the planet.

Theological concerns largely center on human-to-God issues without recognizing Nature as a part of the mix.

We all have our political, religious, national, ethnic, gender identities. Have many of us identify first of all with nature itself? Narcissism is triumphant: we won’t/can’t give up our identities even if it kills us.

Modern civilization’s great political philosophers such as John Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and John Stuart Mill did not prepare us for a challenge of this magnitude. Our great naturalist philosophers including Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Ernest Thompson Seton demonstrated insight into our relationship with nature, but neither did they prepare us for what to do next in our current situation.

The IPCC report on climate disruption is just the most recent; similar ones show up every few months only to be subsumed into the larger news flow of political scandals, natural disasters, celebrity shenanigans, etc. For their part, IPCC and other scientists suggest technical solutions, but the mindset needed to move us toward a net-zero ideology won’t come from them either.

We are awaiting neither left-wing nor right-wing leaders, not technical or social engineers, but instead, the rise of consciousness-raising moralists. Maybe a Gandhi or King or Mandela for Nature will show up. We need them soon.

This is non-gradual diminishment.

Gradual Diminishment

Devisadero stone chairs

Devisadero stone chairs


Around a half-century ago, unknown persons built two stone chairs at the summit of Devisadero Peak. The chairs on this 2500-meter foothill east of Taos, New Mexico were a favored destination for resident hikers and visitors. They became part of the natural and historic landscape. Huddled together, on each, seat height above the ground was not far. Single rock slabs formed high backs, tipped at a slight angle from vertical. (More recently a few more rocks were piled up beside the chairs.)

The homemade land art were old friends providing a degree of comfort and sense of reward for those having achieved the summit. In their destruction this past spring, they became martyrs of conscious loss: the policy to diminish, extirpate, or eliminate something.

When this policy is implemented by the destruction of just one thing at a time, this form of loss becomes an example of gradual diminishment. Pointless dismantling of larger scale things—species, ecosystems, democracies—operates on the same principle at the small scale of rustic furniture. At any scale, gradual diminishment results in a loss of meaning.

For unknown reasons, this past spring, the management of Carson National Forest felt that dismantling the chairs was an important use of scarce taxpayer money. The rocky remains of the corpse chairs were scattered across what little un-trampled native vegetation remained at the summit. A Carson Forest official assured me that the chairs were not “significant.”

Not significant to whom?

Increasingly, our natural and historical heritage is seen as not significant. An endangered species here, a riparian area there, a modest structure on a minor mountain, all can disappear and what does it matter? As things (and creatures) of beauty disappear no more than one at a time we hardly notice. As one lovely thing or place is removed from our national lands, we can make the case that the loss of that particular one thing is not important.

The insidiousness of gradual diminishment arises from its pace (slow, local) and its placement (separated localities). It becomes conscious loss when it is the result of intended policies. It is a loss of meaning, in this case, the loss of a relationship of a particular structure to the land, and of the structure in the perception of its visitors as a naturalized monument that for many defined a particular place.

Gradual diminishment demonstrates a tangled and awful mindset that allows, one by one, much that is valuable to be officially vandalized, or neglected, or to disappear altogether. Added up, the loss of one thing at a time eventually becomes tragic. What happened? Where did it all go? Why didn’t we say something when each of us noticed that one thing that was important, even if, as in the case of the stone chairs, it was a small thing?

Generally True Pattern: We and everything are connected.

Ernest Thompson Seton Web Site

Ernest Thompson Seton

Ernest Thompson Seton

My exploration of generally true patterns was inspired by a number of sources. Among the most important was Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946). A self-described “artist-naturalist,” Seton was a master wilderness explorer, educator and and social innovator.

His interests included an impressive array of subjects from history to art, from nature to childhood development, from sign language to world peace.

In my 2010 book about him, I wrote about his importance to the 20th century. He co-founded the wildlife conservation and worldwide Scouting movements. He helped lay the groundwork for radical environmentalism.

As a scientist, he published important works on birds and mammals, and established important concepts in ecology and ethology (animal behavior). He emerged by the early 1890s as the most important wildlife artist of his time. By the end of the decade he established himself as one of the best-selling authors of his generation.

Change Agent

Perhaps most significantly, he changed the consciousness of Western Civilization about the nature of animals. He rejected the Cartesian model of animals as mechanical things. Like Darwin (whose books he read) and Native Americans (with whom he lived and studied) he saw animals as our relations. Logically following from that premise was our moral responsibility to look after these relatives through the conservation movement. And to teach youth about all this through Scouting and his own Woodcraft League.

Seton is a good fit for this radical natural history blog, but a large enough historical subject for me to require a separate blog on the history, art and writings of Ernest Thompson Seton.

This new blog is part of the Seton Legacy Project, a program of the Academy for the Love of  Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We will open a new exhibition on August 12 this year, Lobo, King of Currumpaw. Accompanied by a graphic novel of the same name, it is the story of a historical wolf who lived in New Mexico in 1894. Pursued by Seton, Lobo represents a larger narrative about our relationship to nature. Get a free e-book with this story from Project Gutenberg.

The essays on my Seton blog will cover his life, his beliefs, and his influence. Please visit and   share the word.