Category: History

CosmologyEcological ethicsEsotericismHistoryPhilosophy

Podcast 6. Dr Sean Kelly – Coming Home: The Birth & Transformation of The Planetary Era.

Sean KellyEpisode 6 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is an interview conducted with the Canadian philosopher and author Dr Sean Kelly. Sean Kelly is a Professor in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in the USA. Along with his abiding interest in the work of Jung, Hegel, and Morin, his current research areas include the evolution of consciousness, integral ecologies, and transpersonal and integral theory.

I was turned onto his 2010 book ‘Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era’ via the Carolyn Baker Lifeboat Hour in recent time. [her podcast page can be found here… https://carolynbaker.net/podcasts/]

‘Coming Home’ is an elegantly written big picture study of the evolution of consciousness and cosmology, and the fractal patterns that Dr Kelly has found in terms of cluster periods of transformation over recorded history – beginning with the axial period (as per Jaspers of 800 BCE – 200 BCE). After reading it I just had to go sit on a beach in Wales for a spell and just think about it and absorb the ideas. Needless to say I loved it. It is a wonderful book and one of the best things I’ve read in years. It is a cosmology, consciousness, and historical epistemological masterclass series in a 200 page book.

The following comes from the book sleeve: “With the threat of global climate change, a looming mass extinction of species, and increasingly complex and volatile geopolitical relations, the entire Earth community has entered a most critical phase of what the author describes as the ‘Planetary Era’. This era began some five hundred years ago with the conquest of the Americas and the Copernican revolution in cosmology, but it is only now becoming a defining feature of human consciousness on a global scale.”

I approached Sean to do an interview about ‘Coming Home’ and the issues it touches on, and he graciously accepted and this podcast is the result of our discussion. Our conversation includes discussion on: his original ideas for his book which originally had the title ‘The Prodigal Soul’; fractal patterns in the arc of history; Hegel and wholeness; the triphasic structure; clusters of transformation i.e. the new enlightenment of 1880 – 1900; complexio oppositorum – the mystery of the absolute; dealing with the shadow – and conceiving of it as a practical and ethical responsibility; self remembrance and its benefits; a new narrative from a growing global network of critical consciousness; current power structures, momentum, and resource sequestering; the innate and largely unexamined problem of instrumentalism; the challenging of the private ownership of the commons; miracles – big and small; the organic expansion of the great turning versus the great unravelling; possible visions of 2100 AD; transition and big ecological issues to sort out to avoid massive overshoot; facing the deepening shadow as a priority; the immaturity of contemporary western culture; transcendence through reaching to historical roots, a revival of western rites of initiation; and David Bohm and the notion of the implicate order.

For further information on Sean Kelly’s work go to http://ciis.academia.edu/SeanKelly

The music on the podcast is a tune called ‘Avignon’ by Mass Spectrometer and can be found here, https://massspectrometer.bandcamp.com/track/avignon. If you dig it please buy it and help support the artists who made it.

 

 

 

EnergyHistoryScience

Alice Friedemann – When Trucks Stop Running

Editor: Charles A.S. Hall; Springer Briefs in Energy, Springer 2016

21st June 2016  

A book review by Michael Canning

Friedemann AJ - When trucks stop running

In chapter 20 Friedemann quotes the late Randy Udall, a co-founder of ASPO-USA: “We have been living like gods. Our task now is to learn how to live like humans. Our descent
will not be easy”. A key component to that descent will be a renewed understanding of transport, which underpins industrialised existence. America’s economy runs on the grace of some 10 million trucks that run on fossil fuel to keep the every-day movement of fossil fuel engrained goods and food happening. Oil to industrialized countries is like water to fish; we’re so embedded within it, and its touch in everything we do and depend on, its invisible – until the supply stutters. We have become acculturated to enormous and continual energy use, quite unlike any culture before us.

Sadly though, and perhaps because of its existential nature, which prompts deeper questioning of the socioeconomic structures and policies that reign at present, the notion of the finitude of fossil fuel depletion is a troublesome political hot potato; just like population growth, climate change, and biodiversity loss. To enable further denial of the depth of these interlinked problems and biophysical realities would be an appalling cultural immaturity, and we would be effectively shortchanging and disrespecting our descendants. As Friedemann notes, “few people appreciate how limited the options will be once our premium abundant fossil fuels are gone – just when we need them to build very energy-intensive replacements”.

Energy education on a societal basis needs a major kick up the backside and so it is with pleasure that I commend Springer and editor Charles Hall for bringing about their Briefs in Energy series and specifically this publication. This concise 132-page book is a highly welcome addition to the critical thinking on the enormous issues and choices involved in transportation and its relationship to fossil fuels and climatic disruption. While its focus is mostly on the choices facing the different modes of transportation in the USA its intent and scenario exploration is just as relevant to non-American audiences and it includes various fascinating facts on European infrastructure i.e. the failed Spanish state investment model for photo-voltaic energy generation.

The chapters feature snappy titles like ‘Why you should Love Trains’, ‘Hydrogen, the Homeopathic Energy Crisis Remedy’, and ‘The Electric Blues: Energy Storage for Calm and Cloudy Days’ and presents lucid explanations of the key issues and difficulties facing the USA. Important subjects covered include: energy return over energy invested (EROI) models and their applications; the socio-ecological linkages of food and populations; peak oil and peak coal; the enormous cost of new forms of new energy infrastructure installation; the oil wars of the last 25 years; the lack of investment into rail systems; the problem of the storage of energy from alternative sources i.e. intermittency of wind; the problems of batteries and in improving them; the aged electrical and engineered infrastructure; the current and future bogey of nuclear power; and the issues within trying to accommodate alternative energy sources into the grid and for vehicles ; the need to ditch air freight; and the urgent need to reassess quickly port infrastructure and the role of ships.

The book is well researched and the incorporation of numerous snippets of fascinating historical information about the growth and changes of transportation modes since the 19th century were one of the highlights of the book for me. Friedemann used to be a systems analyst in the shipping sector, so her time into the world of commercial transport has enabled strong and thoughtful insights. She has a lively and concise writing style in a topic area that can be somewhat dry, and another reason I like this book is its gentle sense of humour, which is often absent in technical books. And given the scale of the existential problems that the book outlines – this is a welcome additive.

There were only a few minor things that detracted from making this an excellent text. Firstly while it has a good contents section it doesn’t have an index, which makes returning to certain pertinent points a somewhat lengthy searching process. In addition there has been a slight lack of attention given to some of the coloured diagrams, which in some instances have not reproduced well from their original sources and could have done with being tidied up a bit more.

I believe this book should be required reading for all relevant national and local government employees i.e. those involved in planning, transport, and economic policy, as well as transport consultants. In my experience the latter worlds do not exhibit anywhere near the critical knowledge that is required around energy per se, let alone fossil fuel depletion, and the amount of energy illiteracy in society is something that cannot continue. Friedemann makes the important point in her conclusions that, notwithstanding the issues on boundaries, that utilizing EROI analysis “makes it possible for society and policy makers to investigate our options and make the best energy choices”.

To pretend that the fossil fueled economy and infinite economic growth will continue ad infinitum into the 21st Century and to continue with national and local planning frameworks that have the latter as their pretext is delusional, and intellectually dishonest. The innate linkages between our energy use and its wider impact on societal and hydro-ecological stability cannot be fudged anymore either. Its high time we as a species stop pretending we’re the masters of the universe, and further evolve our thinking about everything, especially energy as the fundament to existence, its use and its effects. Indeed, as Friedemann writes, “we should go into the future with our eyes wide open. We have no choices but to assess how much energy goes into all of the things we take for granted. That includes our food, our vehicles, and how we go about moving goods around the planet like gods”.

 

HistoryMusic

Podcast 4. David Wolfenden. From the Pistols to beyond the Iron Curtain (part 2)

by Michael Canning

RLYL - DSC_0567 8.15

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 29.8.15. Wolfie on the left, Chris Reed in the centre and Ding on the right. (Pic. MC)

Episode 4 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is part 2 of an interview conducted with the Leeds based musician David Wolfenden aka ‘Wolfie’. Our conversation in this episode covers writing in the Lorries, the difference between playing in England and elsewhere, getting to New Zealand with the Mission, bumping into Alan Vega at the Danceteria in NYC 1985, Yugoslavia pre the collapse of the Iron Curtain, life in the cold war, the English press, favourite Lorries tune, the reality of life and artistic themes, psych-rock delights, the craft of the song and the economics of the playing within Tamla Motown.

 

HistoryMusic

Podcast 3. David Wolfenden – From the Pistols to beyond the Iron Curtain (part 1)

RLYL - DSC_0596 8.15

Wolfie performing with Red Lorry Yellow Lorry at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 29.8.15 (Pic: MC)

by Michael Canning

Episode 3 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is part 1 of an interview conducted with the Leeds based musician David Wolfenden aka ‘Wolfie’. Wolfie began playing publically in 1978 with the Expelaires, then joined Red Lorry Yellow Lorry in 1983, and later played guitar for the Mission. Our conversation covers his background and first encounters with music, seeing the Sex Pistols at Leeds Polytechnic in late 1976 on the Anarchy tour, the Leeds music scene of the late 70’s, the path of the Expelaires, music as a language, top 5 artists, the MC5, and joining Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Part 2 of this interview is in episode 4.

 

History

ANZAC Day, militarism, and the critical everyday

Australian gunners at Galipolli 1915 - Austr musuem

Australian artillery at Gallipoli, May 1915. Photograph: Australian Musuem Collection (used with a Creative Commons Licence) http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/3.0/

by Michael Canning

Today, April 25th, is ANZAC day. It is a sad day in New Zealand and Australian history and I have wanted to write about it for a long time. For any readers who are unfamiliar with this acronym it means Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which was a military grouping created during World War 1 in 1915 as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Anzac soldiers made up 12.5% of the Allied troops involved, with most soldiers coming from Great Britain, Ireland, France and India, with smaller numbers from Nepal and Canada.

Anzac Day was originally to commemorate the members of that force that fought at Gallipoli in Turkey. Since then it has been widened to include the sacrifices and contribution of all Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died in wars and conflicts since that time.

The date of the 25th of April comes from the day in 1915 when the disastrous battle of Gallipoli or battle of Çanakkale (Turkish: Çanakkale Savaşı) began. Last year I watched some of the televised BBC coverage of the centenary of Anzac Day held at Gallipoli. I was appalled to listen to the inane running commentary of the BBC reporters who were there and in the studio,  as well as the crocodile tears of state leaders i.e. Prince Charles and the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers. For these are the people – symbolic and/or decision makers or uncritical communicators who allow the monstrous war machine to continue.

One of my relatives was a soldier at Gallipoli in 1915 and I think he would be turning in his grave to see how this tragedy for all involved has become exploited and debased over the years. My great uncle was in the British Artillery and one of the fortunate ones that survived being there but like many veterans of war found the experience so disturbing I don’t think he ever spoke about it.

NZ troops, 1914

New Zealand troops circa 1915. Photographer unknown.

When I was a child my family once visited my great uncle where he lived in the Waikato sometime in September or October of 1979. My question cum statement to him went something like “wow great uncle – you were at Gallipoli?” A little taken aback by this he first looked at his wife, then both of my parents, and then looked straight at me and through me with very serious and sad eyes and didn’t say a thing. It took me time to work out what his response meant but the message was transmitted clearly. The memory of his response lingers with me 37 years later and I find it now to be a turning point in my life as a kid who was then in a culture of war commodification i.e. replica plastic guns as toys a la German Luger pistols, and English Lee Enfield 303 rifles, war films, military model kits, toy soldiers in 1/72 and 1/35 scale, and battlefield sticker books.

Many years later I had a job that took me into numerous neighbourhoods and communities across Northeast England. I met a number of ex-serviceman through it and I will never forget an encounter I had with an ex-RAF man after I knocked on his door. He would have been in his 70’s then and when he heard my New Zealand accent I think it immediately took him back to WW2 when he had worked with some kiwi pilots.

The flashback to those terrible times seemed to be instantaneous and tears welled up in his eyes as he told me about the losses of his comrades, and the carnage and suffering of the war. Despite obviously feeling bad he was very nice to me and we discussed what we needed to talk about but he clearly needed someone to talk to in depth about that period.

I was in my late 20’s at the time and it was an unexpected and intense experience. As a male brought up in the über-macho culture of New Zealand it was almost unthinkable to have a grown adult man, especially an elder, cry in front of you. After the initial jarring effect on me of this encounter and once I had thought more about it more I felt privileged.

I felt privileged in that the elderly man had opened up like that to a young man, whom he had never met before, and had trusted part of his grieving process to him about his clearly terrible memories of WW2. The pain of them had obviously been bottled up in him for decades. It was another profound event in my life on different levels and another example of the misery and heartbreak that militarism had brought to people from elsewhere in the world.

Militarism is an abomination that has no place in human life and is something that simply needs to be ditched in the 21st Century. This is a critical time where human beings face the ecological consequences of many of our societies essentially treating the Earth like garbage for hundreds of years, often with an almost militaristic disdain for the blowback from massive alteration of ecosystems and pollution.

Indeed have a look at who some of the biggest polluters and users of fossil fuel are – the US military is one of them. If humans are to approach the urgent need to evolve to something far better whilst acknowledging this imperfect pluralistic existence then serious debates need to be held about the wisdom of allowing militarism to continue any further.

And I, for one, am sick to my guts of watching governments and their yapping media lapdogs hijack events like Anzac Day and the centenary of WW1 with their attendant spin, which is inevitably embued with the gross falsity and emptiness of nationalistic fervor. Nationalism and patriotism being particular scourges that in their modern form originated in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What we effectively witness is, as someone eruditely put it in 2015, the “funnelling of history through the prism/focus of the state or in simpler terms what the state wants the public to know (and not question).” Well, I reject this editing of history and the effective glorification of war without ever questioning the structural nature of the violence and expansionism that wars and other conflicts are about.

Wars, despite their sales pitches, are always about the ownership or control of resources and it is generally always those who have nothing to do with that ownership who suffer after being sold innumerable falsehoods and manipulation by soul-less creatures with vested interests. Needless to say I believe my late great-uncle would have detested and loathed to see the same kinds of institutions doing the same kinds of things now in 2016 that left he and his comrades in arms, and the society he came from so scarred and battered. How ironic is it that WW1, the so called ‘Great War’ that was the war to end all wars is now a footnote of almost 100 years of continual warfare somewhere on the planet.

I may turn on the tv or look up some other media at some point today to see what the 101st commemoration looks like but for the most part I am thinking it is perhaps better left alone. I would rather enjoy some silence than have to experience what idiocy and vacuous sentiments the mainstream media in the UK might provide. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised in the last few days in the build-up to Anzac Day to see some properly researched stories in the kiwi media that doesn’t pull its punches on the horrific nature of Gallopoli, the barbaric way some soldiers were treated by their own command structures, and the bigger picture around it where Anzac troops were basically pawns for continuing the imperial ambitions of Britain.

There has also been, for me, the discovery that some of the Anzac troops witnessed at first hand the horrific events of what became known as the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I first read about the latter more than 20 years ago after investigating the Armenian philosopher Gurdjieff’s book Meetings with Remarkable Men but it seems that only in the last decade or so has more become known about this hideous part of Turkey’s history.

So there we have the crux of the matter – imperialism, and all of its vile manifestations including its latent militarism, surely one of the most useless, wasteful, and destructive things ever to have developed since humans moved away from hunting and gathering after the retreat of the last ice age into settled ‘civilizations’. Imperialism is alive and well in the 21st Century make no mistake just look at what has been going on in the middle east since the beginning of the 20th century and even further back. The latest geo-politicking has long historical roots.

To conclude this essay I want to finish with this quote about war and militarism from the Dalai Lama, which brings other crucial things to the fore – in terms of conditioning, unexamined societal norms, what is legal, and why.

“Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”

http://www.dalailama.com/messages/world-peace/the-reality-of-war

HistoryMusic

The Stone Gibbet – Halifax, Joy Division & the Good Mood Club

by Michael Canning

Halifax_view_from_Beacon_Hill, Mr Barndoor

Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. Photograph: Mr Barndoor (used under a Creative Commons Licence)

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

In October 2013 I watched a fascinating documentary made in 2007 about the West Yorkshire town of Halifax. It was entitled ‘The Town From Hell: Halifax in the 16th and 17th Centuries’. For those of you who haven’t heard about this place – Halifax is a small town of about 80,000 people, about 13 miles west of Leeds, and is the main centre of the metropolitan borough of Calderdale, through which the upper part of the River Calder flows. It was for centuries known as a centre of wool processing and eventually became a Protestant and Puritan stronghold. The name is very old and the first written mention of the town notes it as ‘Halyfax’ in the late 11th Century.

The town sits on the edge of the Pennine ranges, which are a very old rock formation dating back to the Carboniferous period of 310 million years ago. I’ve only been there about 5 or 6 times in the last 20 years but I always felt Halifax had a bit of a curious vibe and atmosphere to it that is difficult to describe. Its a small isolated place surrounded by huge hills and steep slopes and has a slightly insular feel to it, similar to Greymouth in New Zealand. It still has many charming Victorian buildings, and older periods, but has something else to it. I distinctly remember walking down the road in 2010 after visiting a friend there and getting a feeling of a deja vu, in that it felt and looked like Sheffield did in 1993. Halifax felt like a place where things possibly move more slowly, and that is not in itself a bad thing.

To be fair the whole area of Calderdale is fascinating because of its dramatic landscape, which features a mixture of high windswept moors, ancient barns and walls, valleys, streams, rivers, steep crags and cliffs, and hidden slivers of ancient oak and beech forest. Halifax is the biggest urban area in Calderdale and has as neighbours the small magic places of Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, which both have much folklore associated with them, and the rough justice meted out to criminals pre 19th Century.

However Halifax had a reputation way outside of Yorkshire in centuries past as being a law unto itself, which probably stemmed from its general inaccessibility and seclusion in the Pennines. Before rail and proper roads were built by the 1870’s the only way into the town was by the ancient walkways used by travellers, and merchants and their packhorses. Because of the rocky and high slopes these would often become washed out after downpours and require considerable work to make them passable again with a bunch of set stones.

The_Halifax_Gibbet_-_geograph.org.uk_-_350422

A replica of the gibbet in Halifax at its original site (2008). Picture: Paul Glazzard, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12556074

In the 17th Century Halifax was still governed by what was called the ‘Gibbet Law’. A law which meted out very harsh punishments. It meant that if you stole anything up to the value of 13d (pence) and were found guilty you would be taken on market day to the gibbet and beheaded on it! A prayer by John Taylor (1580–1654) wrote the Beggar’s Litany, in which its text included “From Hull, from Halifax, from Hell, ‘tis thus, From all these three, Good Lord deliver us.”

The gibbet was nowhere as styley and clinical looking as the French guillotine from 1789 – it was a wooden frame with this huge wooden block above the gibbet blade, which was essentially a heavy iron axe. Its usage eventually stopped but there were apparently a few campaigners who wanted to bring it back into use at the end of the 18th Century!

Halifax is not generally known for its musical history aside from Astronomer William Herschel (who discovered Uranus) being a church organist there in the 18th Century, and Tom Bailey, the singer with the Thompson Twins. However there is a tenacious little nightclub called Clarences in the town centre, which sometime circa 1972/73 changed its name to the Roxy briefly. Upon this rebranding they invited none other than Roxy Music to come up from London and play, which they did.

In 1978 the same venue was known as the ‘Good Mood’. Sometime in May or June of that year a young up and coming band called Joy Division drove the 21 miles east from Manchester over the Pennines to play a show at the Good Mood. Joy Division drummer Steve Morris recalled the following: “there were probably around twenty or so in the ‘audience’, I think they were a bit hostile at first but came round in the end. They would pop in for a bit then go out again; one minute there’d be five or six then they’d nip off and another bunch would come and have a look.”

On June 22nd 1979 the band played the same venue again. There have been conflicting reports on this concert over the years with Joy Division bassist Peter Hook recalling in 2007 that they played to one person that night. Every band’s horror. However Steven Morris and a punter who was there that night dispute this with their 2014 accounts of the gig apparently being better attended than the first, albeit only attended by men! For the full story see this excellent article at http://www.joydiv.org/yorkshire.htm

JD - YMCA, London 1979

Joy Division playing in London a few months after the 1979 Halifax show. (Photographer unknown)

It is a curious if somewhat tenuous piece of irony with Joy Division playing their doomy atmospheric music at a club called the Good Mood so close to the very site where the town’s gruesome history of capital punishment actually happened.