Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin, a brilliant author of science fiction and what I might call exploratory, inspirationally prescriptive fantasy for every age died on January 22nd. As an author, she was committed to finding new ways in which we humans might make a better, healthier society. I know that I read some of her early books, borrowed from the library, aloud to my four children in the early eighties: probably some of the Catwings series, suitable for ages “4 to 8,” and this title, The Tombs of Atuan, from her Wizard of Earthsea  series chimes a distant bell in my vague memory of those times.

A couple of CBC podcasts paid tribute to her in January, and I was excited (in listening to an address she gave at the National Book Awards in 2014 featured on The Sunday Edition on January 28th) to learn Le Guin’s deep commitment to righting the wrongs of present day society.

Here are excerpts from her talk:

Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and who can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being…

Developing written material to suit (publishers’) sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profits and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing and authorship…

We live in capitalism; its power seems inescapable. So did the Divine Right of Kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings… and very often in our art: the art of words.

(At the end of my career) I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river.

… the name for our beautiful reward is not profit; its name is Freedom!

In 1993 Le Guin was interviewed by the superb Eleanor Wachtel  on the CBC program, Writers and Company. Wachtel is perhaps the best literary interviewer on the planet.

Buddhism and Political Action

 

Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

Henry Thoreau

Perhaps some Buddhists who read this can help me by critiquing my concern that I personally need to continue to act to improve the world, despite Daoism’s prescription that we should not, and cannot, act to change our world for the better. Comments are welcome.

Continue reading “Buddhism and Political Action”

Be

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In Hindi, the words Vasudhaiva Kutumbam mean “Earth Family,” the democracy of all life.

(Quoted from Vandana Shiva’s Restoring the Earth in David Suzuki’s 1997 book, The Sacred Balance.) I thought of using Earth Family as a title for the poem, but reduced it to “Be.” For more on Vandana Shiva see the end of this post.

How to live? How to be?

I wrote lines one and three of the above haiku on a plane, after making notes on Suzuki’s book. The sky just before sunset on October 18th was spectacular looking West in the late afternoon from the Caribbean Airlines plane bringing us back from a family funeral.

By flying return to Trinidad, about 4055 km (2535 miles) one way, the two of us together “caused” about  5 tonnes of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere. 2.5 tonnes each. That’s enough CO2 to grow about 23, 500 tonnes of potatoes – if that helps you understand the impact that modern travel has on global warming and highlight the difficult ethical choices which, if not faced right now, will produce  much global suffering in the not too distant future. It will take some fortunate gardener working for a long while to turn that amount of gas into potatoes. These CO2 numbers are based on information from www.deliveringdata.com.

Something about turning 70 today makes me reflect more intensely on big issues.Thinking about the world I’m leaving for my grandchildren – not that I’m planning to resign anytime soon…

As promised, I have done more thinking about Décroissance. It is definitely going to be a while as I grow in awareness and commitment. But here goes:

Continue reading “Be”

One Planet

Planet Earth Photo, courtesy of Wikipedia
Planet Earth Photo, courtesy of Wikipedia

In 1983 I wrote One Planet. It was during the height of the Cold War and addressed the immediate and long term risks that the extremely profitable arms race was creating for Planet Earth and, by extention, Homo sapiens.

Now the risks are multifaceted and include many other threats, such as for example, the chemical and mechanical ruination of our environment for extremely short-sighted corporate goals. The arms race continues apace and the wars of scarcity have begun. Agribusiness and the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals have caused pollution and population displacement to an unprecedented degree.

There are far fewer toe holds available for those of us who continue to grapple for hope, but there is no choice but to “keep the faith.”

One Planet will also be up on the My Songs page.

Pete Seeger, May We Be Worthy

Pete Seeger was a huge influence on the 20th century struggle for justice and peace. He epitomized the values of the left and fought for trade unions and against racism at a time when people got killed for taking a stand. He mobilized a successful movement to clean up his beloved Hudson River. Our middle class owes its present numbers to people like Pete who risked much to fight for a living wage for workers. He was a young man during the Great Depression and rode the rails with the hoboes. He sang with and shared the values of the iconic artists who opposed the excesses of “Daddy Warbucks” type capitalists, wars like the Vietnam War, and the racist Jim Crow laws.

He was a beacon of ongoing hope even while, in recent decades, he watched the middle class shrink and inequality grow as the corporations, given more and more power, have destroyed what he and his contemporaries had fought and even died to gain.

History, I fear, may have to record Pete Seeger’s time as the highest period in human evolution. The apex. It was a time of material and moral progress from the thirties to the seventies, as the period during which humanity, given the leisure to reflect and confronted by committed young people, began to become aware of, and to seek, a higher ethical way. We still hold some of these values, but our democracies have been reduced to shams by corporate interests running amok.

Our young people no longer even remember how their standard of living was earned with the blood and guts of those in Seeger’s tradition. Those who hold the last of the secure jobs are now isolated and portrayed as outliers, lazy and unjustly privileged. Good jobs stand out and those who hold them are objects of jealousy and ridicule.

Small wonder, when the media are overwhelmingly part of the established right and owned by the fewer and fewer, richer and richer, rich.

It saddens me to think that the world for which Pete Seeger lived and fought is now surrounded and besieged by interests whose sinister control is, all too quickly, becoming insurmountable. One of my favorite Seeger songs:

If I Had A Hammer

Pete Seeger, R.I.P. Here’s hoping you can find a hammer where you are now. Anyway, it’s now the fight of us who are left behind. May we find leaders like you to guide us through the 21st century. May we not break faith with you. May we be worthy.

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