Archive for November, 2007

Ideas as Lightning Rods

On my drive into work these days I’m listening to one of the Modern Scholars courses by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto called Ideas That Shaped Mankind, based on his book Ideas That Changed the World.  As I listen to the opening lectures on the rise of early civilizations and the emergence of sages, I am reminded again about my idea of how ideas are like lightning rods for energy:  humans get behind ideas and are willing to fight and die for them.  Fernandez-Armesto speaks of the origin of ideas like utopia that hearken back to the Akkadian era and that plague us still (with our expectation that the state will provide us with happiness).  I am anticipating the talk on sages and thought about how the ideas of Jesus have been a lightning rod.  Now when I say “lightning rod” I am speaking literally:  these ideas are “energy attractors” insofar as they organize human energies and channel them toward certain kinds of activities (evangelization, warfare, education).  I think there is much to the idea of “meme wars,” wars over these major ideas (whether these wars are argumentative or military).

I think that we are undergoing a major moment in the history of humankind:  the channeling of energy away from certain parts of the brain (the fear-center: the amygdala) and toward the cognitive centers of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex).  We see in some of the fundamentalist versions of religion (both Christian and Muslim) a reversion to the fear-channels and in the progressive versions of religion attempts to steer energy away from that which invokes violence.  This is the radical idea of Jesus (the “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy”Jesus) that is so hard for humans to implement because it requires overcoming instinctual fear-based responses that are genetically programmed and go way way back in the history of our species.

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28 November 2007 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

The Poet as Energonomist

I just read Gary Snyder’s essay in the November 2007 issue of Shambhala Sun, titled “Writers and the War Against Nature.”  At one point he writes about reading science books on ecology and biology:

All those essays analyzing food chains and food webs–this was a science, I realized, dealing with energy exchange and the natural hierarchies of various living systems.  ‘When energy passes through a system, it tends to organize that system,’ someone wrote.  It finally came to me that this was about ‘eating each other,’ almost as a sacrament.  I wrote my first truly ecological poem, which explores the essential qualities of human foods:

THE SONG OF THE TASTE

Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds
the fleshy sweetness packed around
the sperm of swaying trees

The muscles of the flanks and thighs of soft-voiced cows
the bounce in the lamb’s leap
the swish in the ox’s tail

Eating roots grown swoll
inside the soil.

Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun out of space
hidden in the grape.

Eating each other’s seed
eating
ah, each other.

Kissing the lover in the mouth of bread:
lip to lip.

I need to read more of this man’s work…

24 November 2007 at 1:27 am 1 comment

Tiny Energies

I recently checked out a book of Gary Snyder’s poetry titled Left Out in the Rain:  New Poems 1947-1985.  Part VII of this book takes its title, “Tiny Energies,” from a Howard T. Odum quote:

For such situations of a few combinations found in messages, the energy content as a fuel is far too negligible to measure or consider compared to the great flows of energy in the food chain.  Yet the quality of this energy (tiny energies in the right form) is so high that in the right control circuit it may obtain huge amplications and control vast flows of power. (Environment, Power, and Society)

I invoked Odum by naming my sculpture after one of his key concepts–eMergy.  It doesn’t surprise me that Snyder was reading Odum back in the 1970s and incorporated his notion of “embodied energy” in this sequence of poems.  As a Zen monk and nature poet, these poems capture natural manifestations of small energies:  a dead dragonfly, bees, the crickets and meadowlarks who sung at Custer’s last battlefield.  In the following poem, Snyder invokes the religious form of the “gatha,” sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith:

 Gatha for All Threatened Beings

Ah Power that swirls us together
Grant us bliss
Grant us the great release
And to all beings
Vanishing, wounded,
In trouble on earth,
We pass on this love
May their numbers increase

What if all of our prayers recognized the effects of how we harness energy?  What if all of our prayers acknowledged a genuine love of non-human life?

21 November 2007 at 11:08 pm Leave a comment


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