And then I read.

Two more mass shootings in less than two weeks. Both carried out with assault style rifles. In Tennessee a protest against gun violence and for responsible gun ownership legislation leads to the expulsion of two black lawmakers for disruptive behavior likened by their white colleagues to an insurrection. Most people want gun control legislation. Most are in favor of a ban on assault weapons. The gun lobby has a strangle hold on the political system through conservative lawmakers.

I’ve been reading a lot about Capitalism lately. It would be more accurate to say, a lot about the problems with Capitalism. It’s a monstrous system. It’s a violent system. In the United States, we pursue capitalism on steroids. Which means, we pursue an economic system that is violent in a way that amps up that violence to its maximum. Connecting gun violence in America with the violence of capitalism I wind up asking myself, of what use will gun control legislation of any kind be in a society so dedicated to violence? Can it be anything more than bandaids? It occurred to me that if we are to bring this country to a place where gun violence is rare we will need to bring ourselves to a place where violence in general is rare. How do we do that when the metaphorical air we breathe through our economic system is so steeped in violence?

I have been making my way through Reclaiming the Sacred by Jeff Golden.

I read…

… there are more slaves in the world today than ever before, many of them making products for the American market.1

I read…

Mother Teresa once noted what she called “the deep poverty of the soul” that afflicts the wealthy, and said that the poverty of the soul in America was deeper than any poverty she had seen anywhere on earth.2

I read…

There is something profoundly sad, cruel, and dystopian about a society that so often denies us meaning and connection and dignity, that denies us the inherent wonder and worthiness of ourselves and the world, but then sells back to us the possibility of some degree of relief—just enough to keep us going—in the form of trillions of dollars worth of products and shows, food and pills and alcohol, while keeping everything else the same, while urging us to continue to channel our lives into simply producing and consuming ever more, to accept that this is just the way life is.3

I read…

In fourteen short years, between 1870 and 1883, the bison were hunted to such an extreme that only 320 remained. Yes, 320. From 30 million just seventy years earlier. Many were killed in the earlier 1800s, but more than a million a year were slaughtered during those peak years.4

I read…

Yet, for all these complexities, we have the stark fact that the new Americans did to the bison in the span of fourteen years something absolutely inconceivable to the Native Americans prior, and for all the factors that were involved, a primary one is that the new Americans were vastly more materialistic than the Native Americans.5

I read…

We Americans have proven that we want a lot of things. The average American’s “ecological footprint”—that is, how much land we need to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste—is 70 percent more than the average European, and 700 percent more than the average African. We would need four earths if everyone consumed as much as us.6

I read…

We subjected ten million people to slavery, their lives and humanity stolen for the purposes of profit. We’ve created 150 million pounds of nuclear waste, which will be lethal to humans and other creatures for 250,000 years. We’ve overthrown at least fifteen governments worldwide, in part or entirely because they threatened American financial interests. We force ten billion animals a year to live out their lives in the pain and confinement of factory farms. We’ve cut some 98 percent of American old-growth forests. We’ve contaminated more than half of US waterways to the point where they aren’t healthy for drinking, fishing, or recreation. We’ve brought as many as 35,000 plants and animals to the brink of extinction in the US alone.7

I read…

“Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.” —Cornel West8

I read…

The world is burning. We are laying waste to the very life support systems that gave rise to and sustain human life. We are degrading and extinguishing lives, both human and a vast breadth of others at a horrifying pace, with horrifying disregard. This economic system, this culture of materialism and consumption, is brutal and hollow. It serves neither those of us who are doing the consuming or those of us who are being consumed. Whatever successes it may have to its credit, its failures are of another order entirely, and are only growing more urgent with every day. This system is bankrupt and it is doomed. One way or another it is going down.9

I read…

As Derrick Jensen writes, “So long as we find it not only acceptable but right and just to convert the lives of others and the life-support system of the entire planet itself into fodder for us, there is little hope for life on the planet.”10

I read…

So long as production and consumption remain the primary measures of our worth and purpose; So long as we feel utterly dependent on them for our well-being and happiness, for approval, and for keeping our sense of isolation, inadequacy, and fear at bay; So long as our default orientation is toward bigger, better, newer, instead of abundance and gratitude; And so long as we continue to be so epically detached from our hearts, and from the wonder of the world, and from the miracle of ourselves; Then we will continue to feed this violent and destructive machine. Regardless of any changes that are made, we will constantly rearrange ourselves and the pieces of the machine to keep grinding forward to meet what we falsely perceive as essential needs.11

This is not the only book I have read recently that points such a finger or suggests this way of organizing ourselves is not good on any level. There is Brading Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein and The Gift, by Lewis Hyde.

All of them point towards a way of thinking prevalent for most of human history and presented in many forms as Indigenous Wisdom. A wisdom handed down through the ages from generation to generation. I know, it’s naive to think we could go back to the time of indigenous wisdoms. I know violence was not unknown in those days. In fact, those days could be brutal in their own way. What can’t be challenged, it seems to me, is the fundamental wiseness of native wisdom. If we just look at it as a system of ethics and spiritual attitude, don’t we have something pretty wonderful?

I read…

The Honorable Harvest

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.

Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.

Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.   Never take the first. Never take the last.

Take only what you need.

Take only that which is given.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others.   Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you’ve taken.


Give thanks for what you have been given.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. —Robin Wall Kimmerer12

This morning I read about the massive fentanyl problem we are having in the United States. I read about the production and delivery system of the Mexican cartels, as complex and sophisticated as any “legitimate” corporate business. I read that drugs funneled to the United States by the Cartels are killing as many as 200 people a day. A loss of tens of thousands of American citizens every year. I wondered why so many people want those drugs and why they are killing themselves with them.

And then… I read.


  1. Golden, Jeff, Reclaiming the Sacred, location: 130, Kindle link ↩︎

  2. Ibid, location: 2599 ↩︎

  3. Ibid, location: 2863 ↩︎

  4. Ibid, location: 3081 ↩︎

  5. Ibid, location: 3081 ↩︎

  6. Ibid, location: 3088 ↩︎

  7. Ibid, location: 2123 ↩︎

  8. Ibid, location: 3158 ↩︎

  9. Ibid, location: 3630 ↩︎

  10. Ibid, location: 4427 ↩︎

  11. Ibid, location: 4430 ↩︎

  12. Ibid, location: 5028 ↩︎

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

—Dylan Thomas

The position of those embracing a post-liberal order is a far cry from the Reagan Republicans’ claim to want small government and free markets. The new ideologues want a strong government to enforce their religious values on American society, and they reject those of both parties who support democratic norms—for it is those very norms they see as destructive. They urge their leaders to “dare to rule.”

Heather Cox Richardson

It is hard right now to decide if democracy is winning or loosing. It certainly is being challenged. If democracy prevails it will be by the skin of its proverbial teeth, or so it seems to me. We had three significant tests of democracy this past week. The indictment of 45. The election of a new Supreme Court Judge in Wisconsin. The expulsion of two black Democrat legislators and the near expulsion of one white woman Democrat legislator in Tennessee. In the indictment of 45 and the election of a new judge in Wisconsin, democracy took steps to steady itself. In Tennessee, the loss of democracy was on full display, along with attendant racism.

I had been thinking that I needed to write a piece about how angry Christians are making me right now. I can see they want to force their religious views on me and the rest of the country. A majority of the rest of the country doesn’t want this. Yet, somehow, they have managed to claim control over some crucial levers of power and are busy forcing their world view on the rest of us. Christians are pushing an intolerant culture war. As Aaron Sorkin put it so well in The News Room, they are the American Taliban. I abhor intolerance.

I realize though that it’s not all Christians and not Christians specifically I am angry with, it’s the white patriarchal structure it supports that I am angry with. I have no use for it.

This patriarchal structure is on the ropes. The demographics are solidly against it. The majority of the people are not aligned with them. In this democracy, they are losing power. They have reached a moment in time when they either seize control and move the country to authoritarian rule or they loose their grip on power. That power has been steadily ebbing away even as they have plotted a takeover, something that has been brewing since the Regan administration. We are now at the place where they are going for broke. I currently believe they will fall short, but it’s really a closer call than I would like it to be.

Their conviction that American “tradition” focuses on patriarchy rather than equality is a dramatic rewriting of our history, and it has led to recent attacks on LGBTQ Americans.

Heather Cox Richardson

The struggle is with the world as it has been. A world where white male privilege dominated. The framers of the constitution produced a document that reached for an ideal they were far short of meeting at the time of writing. We are still short of meeting it but we have continuously struggled to realize those ideals and progress has been made.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

–Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

It’s a difficult slog. The Enlightenment Humanist ideal expressed in the Declaration of Independence has always been ahead of its time, as good ideals generally are, and stands as a promise for each successive generation to deliver on. The seeds of the destruction of the patriarchy, or at least of bringing it to heal, were planted with this preamble. As the demographics of this country shift to a black, brown and Asian majority, as young people pursue the values of enlightenment humanism because their diversity demands it, the patriarchy is challenged and teetering.

However, on the first day of 2020, whites under age 18 were already in the minority. Among all the young people now in the U.S., there are more minority young people than there are white young people.

Among old people age 65 and over, whites are still in the majority. Indeed white old people, compared to minority old people, will continue to be in the majority until some years after 2060.

Hispanics and the other racial minorities will be the country’s main demographic engine of population change in future years; this is the most significant demographic change Americans will see.

PBS News Hour

With the demographics shifting and with the majority of the people in favor of bringing the patriarchy to heal and instituting a multiarchy1 that offers participation to everyone without prejudice as to race, sex, sexuality or circumstances, one has to wonder how the patriarchy has been able to come so close to cementing their control. The answer, I suspect, is an ability to be single minded and ruthless. Something liberals, enlightenment humanists, struggle to be.

One of the weaknesses in the humanistic temperament is a tendency to flail in the contest for power. Self-doubt, a cheerful disposition, and a joyous pursuit of knowledge are qualities that might make for wise leaders, but can also produce hapless political combatants. Or, as Mann once declared: “In all humanism there is an element of weakness, which … may be its ruin.” Bakewell’s subjects are for the most part critics who write on the fringes. Or, like Bertrand Russell, her primary 20th-century protagonist, a serial proponent of doomed causes.

Franklin Foer, The Atlantic

A multiarchy is humanist in its general character. The very nature of a humanist world view is to eschew the concentration of power, by distributing and collectively holding it. This is called democracy. This is a weakness that is exploitable by the white patriarchal structure which is nothing if not very efficient at producing aligned and focused power.

And so, here we are, saddled with a white patriarchal structure that refuses to “go gentle into that good night.


  1. This is the term I have coined to describe a liberal multiracial power structure I believe is struggling to be born. ↩︎

How Much Does Happiness Cost?

Sign saying “you can’t buy happiness but you can buy pizza and that’s kind of the same thing”

Research… shows that materialism is “toxic” for happiness, that the more importance we place on money and possessions, the more strained our relationships tend to be, the lower our sense of self-worth, and the more fleeting our happiness.1

I have been reading Reclaiming the Sacred, by Jeff Golden, which makes a case for the things that money can’t buy. At least, that is what it hinted it would do in it’s opening pages. I’ve only just reached that part after having traveled through several chapters where the author supplies academic study statistics on happiness, particularly, how much money a person needs to maximize their happiness.

It will surprise none that money is not identified as the key to happiness in this book. What is surprising is how little effect it has on happiness. For the truly impoverished, whom the book suggests have less than $10K/person/yr income, on average, in the United States, any increment in income brings a substantial increment in happiness. Once the $10K/person/yr threshold is crossed, further increase in income brings a marginal increase in happiness. When the threshold of $30k/person/yr is reached, additional income brings no increase in happiness.

To recap:

  • $0K-$10k/person/yr = big increase in happiness with any increment in income.
  • $10k-$30k/person/yr = small increase in happiness with any increment in income.
  • More than $30K/person/yr = no increase in happiness with any further increment in income.

The happiness amount varies from individual to individual and from region to region. I live in the NYC metropolitan area, so my thresholds probably skew up a bit over other areas of the country. On the other hand, I am also the kind of person who doesn’t need that much materially, so it is less for me than for some.

Still, these are, to me, astonishing figures. I would guess that a lot of us believe we would be quite a bit happier with any increment beyond $30K/person/yr but the studies say nope, not the case.

Another interesting study finding is that having children does not make people much happier than they are without children, Sometimes not at all. So much for the bundle of joy concept. And yet most of us feel compelled to have children, are mostly not sorry that we did, and are sorry on some level if we didn’t.2

In Buddhist Economics, E. F. Schumacher juxtaposes the capitalist approach to labor with the Buddhist approach to labor.

The capitalist approach to labor:

… consider(s) “labour” or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it can not be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a “disutility”; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment.

The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice are, of course, extremely far-reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that “reduces the work load” is a good thing. The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called “division of labour” and the classical example is the pin factory eulogised in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialisation, which mankind has practiced from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced at great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant and, in most cases, unskilled movement of his limbs.3

The Buddhist approach to labor:

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence… the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.4

As I review my own situation, I am grateful. It appears to me that my wife and I have landed in the sweet spot economically for maximizing happiness, at least as suggested by the happiness/income ratios above. We have a modest but comfortable house. A yard with room to grow things and let the dogs run. A little bit more than enough income, thanks to my wife’s traditional pension, social security and some savings. There certainly are some things that more money could do and my wife might be a little bit happier if we could do some of them, but she is generally happy now. We spend lots of time together, read, write, go for daily walks, sit in local cafes, cook, pursue our interests, have dinner with friends, attend yoga classes, tune ourselves into the beauty around us.

We are fortunate. We have achieved a good retirement. One wonders though, what life might be like if this kind of arrangement could be had all the way through? If we pursued Buddhist economics rather than capitalist economics. I suspect we’d be way less stressed, have fewer children, consume much less, have much less impact on the planet, fight fewer wars, be less interested in guns, laugh and smile a lot.

Yes please.


  1. Golden, Jeff, Reclaiming the Sacred. location: 115, ref-5377 ↩︎

  2. Does this mean that happiness is not really the point, just a bonus if it happens? Is it really about getting your genes into the next generation, happiness be damned? That might explain the desire for influence and power. ↩︎

  3. Schumacher, E. F., Buddhist Economics↩︎

  4. Ibid. ↩︎

It’s a simple thing, but…

This past week I [posted about the change in management] in our local movie theater and the disappearance of the “now playing” movies on the marquee. They were replaced by a note telling me to visit their website for “tix & show times.” This happened a few weeks ago.

I go for daily walks down Main Street where the theater is and one of the things I liked to do was check what was playing at what times during the week. To compliment the list of movies on the marquee there was a list of show times for the whole week posted in display cases on each side of the entry doors. That too has gone by the wayside.

When I posted this to Facebook there was a reply from the owner of the local butcher shop suggesting that I give them some time before I decided to boycott the theater, as she knew their manager had left without giving them much notice and right now they were just trying to hold the ship together. I explained that I didn’t intend to boycott the theater but that I thought they were probably loosing business because the physical building had become less inviting. It felt like the owners didn’t care about me the customer anymore.

I am not entirely proud of the posts I made about this to my micro blog and FB. I was not kind. I made assumptions about the new management that were not fair. The Dali Lama advises us to “Be kind whenever you can” and then advises us that “you always can.” Ok, i failed the good humanbeing test on this one. So, for the record, to the theater management trying to keep the theater running without a manager, I am sorry. Of course I can be patient while you pull things back together. I installed a button on my iPhone home screen that takes me straight to your website for “tix and show times.” We are all good for now.

Still, I hope the movie listings on the Marquee come back. It turns out they were important to me. It may be a simple thing, but it changed the character of the business overnight. It went from being my friendly neighborhood movie theater to some sort of distant corporate entity. A corporate entity that didn’t want to invest in paying real people to maintain its friendly marquee outreach and was now sending me to a website for the information I wanted. Ok, the website is nicely designed and it is pretty easy to get the information I need, but there was something about the analog way that was just better. It was the whole picture at a glance. As I walked by I could be reminded about what was playing which, if something interested me, would compel me to walk up and look at the posted schedule on a single piece of paper which told me, at a glance, all the showtimes for the week. I could note the date and time I thought would work best for my wife and me and we would make plans to go. Having to go to a website means I now have to have the urge to see a movie arise all on its own, check the website to see what’s playing and when, where there isn’t an overview on a single sheet of paper with all the movies and show times. I have to scroll through the listings for the week. It’s not as easy as the analog version even if it is graphically more interesting with little thumbnail movie posters for each listing, etc. No, the old analog system was much more friendly and inviting. I am going to guess that I am not the only one who feels that way.

This experience led me to think about how the brick and mortar stores present themselves to the general walking by public. This in turn has led me to pay more attention to the sandwich boards so many of them put out in front of their stores. Here are a few from a walk down Main Street a few days ago:

Sandwich board in front of a restaurant saying “mama said there’d be days like this”

sign outside our local “Cheers” bar

Sign outside local chocolate shop at easter time saying “Bunny Crossing”

sign outside our local chocolate store for easter

Sandwich board outside local vinyl records store saying “Records, by, sell, trade,”

sign outside the local vinyl record shop


Each one is a little “greetings human!” handshake from the store. They invite you to come in and get to know them. When I shop at Amazon there aren’t any amusing sandwich board signs to pull me into the store.

I love our Main Street. A little overrun with day trippers from New York City and other places on the weekend, but walkable and there is a little something for everyone. There are only three chain stores, Rite Aid, Key Food, and a Subway hero shop. Everything else is a unique mom and pop store.

I have been thinking a lot about local vs corporate national and international lately. About how local depends on a handshake and a smile, sandwich boards, a movie marquee and a Main Street that is pleasant to walk down as opposed to staring at my phone or computer screen and being manipulated by algorithms crafted to drive me to places I may or may not want to go.

Local is a walk down Main Street interrupted by frequent conversations with people you know which are much more satisfying than a text chat on your phone. Local is a coffee shop or a bar or a restaurant where everyone knows your name and you know theirs. Local is friendly and comfortable. Local is a theater on Main Street with a marquee that tells you what’s playing and display cases with a one page listing of all the show times for the week.

Long live local!


About The Handmaid’s Tale

File:“Die Mütter” - Käthe Kollwitz ; Felsing (printer). Wikimedia Commons.

_ File:“Die Mütter” - Käthe Kollwitz ; Felsing (printer). Wikimedia Commons

I have had an uneasy relationship with The Handmaid’s Tale from the beginning while my wife has been all in on it. My uneasy relationship has multiple sources. To begin with, I find it unrelentingly bleak. There aren’t that many triumphs of good over evil and they can never be enjoyed for very long before the bleak returns. On some level I suppose it taps into my worst fears about the present moment in the United States. With daily stories of state legislatures passing draconian anti-abortion laws and of the constant threat of Christian Nationalism flooding the zone, life is imitating art a little to directly.

There also isn’t, for me anyway, a likable male character or any place for a relatively enlightened male to lodge himself in the program. Even the relatively good men, Luke and Nick, are hard for me to identify with. It feels to me like the writers don’t want us to get comfortable with any of the male characters because, at the end of the day, they all carry the patriarchy with them.

I am white, male, 6’ 1” tall and, my wife would say, handsome. In the United States of America this means I have been dealt a pretty good hand. I could only have done better if I had been blond and wealthy. Not that it has felt that way to me. I am an outlier, more a poet and artist than a rugged male individualist. I have not enjoyed the “full blessings” of my stature, gender and race, partly because I haven’t seen them as blessings. Still, it’s been a lot better than it would have been without them.

I count myself as one of the good ones in terms of respecting the women in my life. Broadly speaking, I love women. Broadly speaking, I don’t like men. Or perhaps, I should say, I don’t like patriarchal maleness very much. Until the likes of Lauren Bobert and Marjorie Taylor Green showed up in congress, I was fully rooting for a takeover of the levers of power by women, or at least that they should become equal in numbers to the men. And, more than many men, I have a deep appreciation of the patriarchy run amok from my experiences with the family I grew up in.

In both my marriages I have not been the main breadwinner. The first one didn’t handle that very well. There were a lot of things it didn’t handle very well which is why I can label it my first marriage. The present one tolerates it well, though I am not without experience in the power dynamic of not being the main breadwinner. I had flush times in my working life but they didn’t last and my present wife is the one who secured our retirement. As a means of compensating and saying thank you, I willingly take on most of the household work. I do the grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking, weekly laundry, weekly vacuuming and dusting, manage the finances, provide resident handyman services, though rarely with the alacrity my wife would like to see. My wife keeps the cash flow going, handles the dog grooming and care and sometimes helps with the other things. Because she doesn’t drive, I make it possible for her to get where she needs to go, which I am always happy to do though she doesn’t enjoy being dependent on me in that way. I am the one more likely to make a celebration at birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.

So, I suppose I have a right to claim that I am relatively “woke” when it comes to gender roles and not being an oppressive patriarchal son of a bitch. I am sure I have my patriarchally driven elements just as I have my racially prejudiced elements, though I am relatively enlightened in that department too.

When I consider the LGBTQ+ spectrum and wonder if there is any part of it that I am drawn to it would be the transgender part of it. I can imagine myself being a woman and even played a bit at cross dressing in my younger years though I don’t really find myself physically capable of being feminine enough to go all in on it. That’s probably why I struggle with the character of June. To me, feminine is soft, curved and receptive. June is hard, angular and a warrior.

This isn’t to say that I am not attracted to women physically. I am very attracted to women physically. One of the sad things of my life is to have equated sex with love, expressed and received, as many men do, and then grow old. At least I was able to have a few profoundly good sexual communions along the way, especially with the woman I am now married to. They live on vibrantly in my memory.

So. Back to Handmaid’s tale. This past week we were watching episodes 7 and 8 of season 5. The episodes where Serena gives birth with June’s assistance. The episodes where Serena flips from a privileged woman to being a Handmaid. I didn’t like June very much in the scenes following the birth of Noah, Serena’s baby. I had been rooting for their recognition of each other’s humanity. Of course June had every right to hate Serena, but I was into the whole forgiveness turn the other cheek thing and thought they might thenceforward march together as comrades in arms. I guess there is more shit to go through before they can emerge to the other side together.

Serena is the character I identify most fully with right now. She is the soft and receptive one at the moment, though I can see flashes of the warrior surfacing in her. With June, it is the reverse. We see flashes of softness and receptiveness surfacing now and again in her warrior being.

I got really angry with June’s behavior towards Serena after Noah’s birth. She was mean, and not just to Serena, but to her husband Luke as well. When I first watched the eighth episode I got so angry I had to leave the room. I wen’t to bed. I couldn’t even talk about it with my wife the next day. Imagine that, a fictional character in a TV program makes you so mad you have to leave the room. You can’t watch it. Woah, what’s that all about?

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön writes:

… no matter what the size, color, or shape is, the point is still to lean toward the discomfort of life and see it clearly rather than to protect ourselves from it.

This is what one of her teachers called “leaning into the pointy bits.” I decided to rewatch episodes 7 and 8, to lean into those pointy bits.

To my surprise, the second time through I hardly got angry at all. There were still moments when I did not like June, where I thought she was gloating, being unkind, letting her anger get the best of her. The Buddhists will tell you that loving kindness is the way. But I suppose when you have the injustices of the patriarchy raging down through the ages at you it is hard to forgive and forget, to turn the other cheek, even at the moment of the birth of enlightenment in a woman who was a part of inflicting great suffering on you.

As I have suggested, it is difficult for me to find a place to lodge myself within the Handmaid’s tale, there isn’t a male character that feels like me. Right now, it’s Serena who most feels like me, though the writers of this show rarely allow you to love a character for very long. They are all human after all, which is, I suppose, high praise for the show. What I realize though, is that I struggle most of all with June. I struggle with her warrior nature. I want her to be soft and receptive which is my (patriarchal) idea of the feminine. To know someone intimately is to know their sharp points as well as their soft curves. To love them is to lean into those points as well as to be received in the bliss of their enfolding arms. I think I have finally come to understand June and myself in a new way. Pema is right. Lean into the pointy bits, don’t run from them. I am looking forward to season 6.

Can AI Make Art?

It is the responsibility of artists to pay attention to the world, pleasant or otherwise, and to help us live respectfully in it.

Artists do this by keeping their curiosity and moral sense alive, and by sharing with us their gift for metaphor. Often this means finding similarities between observable fact and inner experience—between birds in a vacant lot, say, and an intuition worthy of Genesis.

More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art. Beauty is never less than a mystery, but it has within it a promise.

In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.

—Robert Adams

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It was clear to me early in the week that I wanted to write more directly about art and that I wanted to consider the question of whether AI could make art.

Much of the criticism of AI generated art revolves around the idea that AI isn’t human, doesn’t have the experiences of a human, doesn’t feel the way humans do, doesn’t suffer the way humans do. Therefore, it can’t make art. At least not in the sense suggested above by Robert Adams.

I started this post with the idea that I would make the case that art needs humans and functions best when, as suggested above, it is a process of comprehending, connecting and inspiring. That it’s a human to human gesture and can only be meaningful in that context. The problem with this thesis is that humans are, for now at least, required to start the AI process of making an art object.

Did you know that ’prompt engineering’ is one of the hottest jobs in generative AI? A Prompt Engineer specializes in asking the right questions in order to get the best results from AI. This means that there is a moment of opportunity for human creativity (or lack thereof).

I imagine museum worthy art will arise out of the interface of generative AI and gifted artists and that AI will become a tool of working artists just as cameras became a tool of working artists. Some artists will specialize in prompting AI into the generation of art. It will be their medium. And exceptionally talented individuals will tease out of it “a moment of intuition worthy of Genesis.”

When the photographic process was invented many artists, especially the painters, were hostile towards it. They worried that it would devalue their work much the way artists worry AI will devalue their work now. Before long though cameras were embraced as both an art medium and a tool in the artist tool box. Human beings were required to generate anything from it. As long as humans are required, there is the possibility of art. We give tools purpose. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t disruption, as some illustration work, fore example, was replaced by photographic representation, depriving some artists of a means to support themselves while those embracing the new tool had new horizons for monetization.

A lot of people will use AI to make “art” in the same way that they use cameras to make “art.” They will share it on social media and many will get generous appreciation from their friends and acquaintances. With a little compositional skill, it is easy to make an image that makes people feel something and they will like it. But is that art?

I recently revisited the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone. It’s an app that mimics the effects of plastic cameras. It applies a set of filters to the photograph to give it a ‘look.’ Here is an example:

The picture on the left has the Hipstamatic effect. The one on the right is straight out of the iPhone camera. Which do you prefer?

I have always been hesitant to make Hipstamatic effects a part of my art practice. It felt like cheating to me. It felt like a superficial way to engage people through, in this case, their fondness for nostalgia. And it does work. Consider this photograph I made and shared last week:

It prompted much more engagement from the community I shared it with than most of the other photographs I have shared with them. Most of the time I get no response at all.

Here’s an image that is more typical of the pictures I like to make and share:

Which attracted you more? The Hipstamatic version of the Sunoco gas station or this ‘abstract’ made by composing the drainage basin, concrete pad, asphalt and crack in the asphalt within a rectangular frame. If you said the Sunoco picture, emotionally, I agree with you. Intellectually, I prefer the drainage basin abstract.

Don’t get me wrong, I love nostalgia, just as most people do. It’s like mashed potatoes, comfort food, but I don’t want to make work that panders to that nostalgia love but does little else. Art needs to contain more than an emotional hook for me. As I sit here writing about it, I have to acknowledge that one could make a legitimate art portfolio with the Hipstamatic app and that perhaps I should attempt to do so. Such a portfolio would have to be exploring something conceptual, like making a demonstration of how anything can be made appealing if you put the right color glasses on to look at it and what does that mean about us and society. Something like that might head in the direction of a worthy intuition.

A lot of what people will make with generative AI will be compelling, but it won’t be art in the sense that Robert Adams tries to get at in the quote I started this post with. What will happen, unfortunately, is that it will further devalue the artist in the eyes of the general public, because “my five year old could make that.”

A little over a week ago I attended the opening of an art show at the Public Library in Saugerties, NY. It was a good show. Each of the artists was asked to make something out of a discarded book. The results were amazing. It was fun to attend the opening and talk with the artists or eavesdrop as they talked with friends. This is not, I thought, the kind of assignment one could give to AI. An artist working with AI might prompt it to generate some of the materials to be incorporated into the work, but making three dimensional art out of found materials seems beyond the present capacity of AI. There’s also nothing quite like the experience of being with art and artists in the flesh. Human to human.

Here is some of the work I saw:

Collage portrait of a woman made with pieces of the pages of a book.

”Maggie” Brian Lynch

Sculpture of a landscape and two ponds made by carving out and adding to a book.

”Discover, Explore, Immerse Yourself” Grey Morris

Madona and Child and Primitive Art Face collaged into the pages of an old book.

”Once Upon a Time” Ann Morris

Framed images of a discarded book and roses made paper made from the pages of a discarded book on a fireplace mantle.

”I Promessi Sposi” Steven Parisi-Gentile

I am comforted by the idea that there are modes and vehicles of human expression that are hard for AI to tackle. That even with AI, gifted human interface will still be needed to make the best art, and that getting together and sharing art is the more fulfilling experience.

I wonder if I could become a good prompt artist? I think I am going to have to play with it some. I will report back when I do.

Another Post About AI

The chance of gain is by every man more or less over-valued, and the chance of loss is by most men undervalued, and by scarce any man, who is in tolerable health and spirits, valued more than it is worth. —Adam Smith

I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will. The Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine philosophically. In that respect I am not a Jew… I believe with Schopenhauer: We can do what we wish, but we can only wish what we must. Practically, I am, nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.

I am enough of an artist to draw freely from the imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. —Albert Einstein

While I certainly wasn’t done with my thinking about AI, I did not expect to be returning to the topic so soon, but there was a cascade of stories in my news feed about AI that I felt compelled to save for future reference and it turned into the dominant trend for the week. So, here I am again.

Let me start by sharing that cascade with you:

Sci-Fi Mag Pauses Submissions Amid Flood of AI-Generated Short Stories

The rise of AI-powered chatbots is wreaking havoc on the literary world. Sci-fi publication Clarkesworld Magazine is temporarily suspending short story submissions, citing a surge in people using AI chatbots to “plagiarize” their writing.

Viral “Photographer” Reveals His Images Were AI-Generated

Jos Avery was surprised when his portraiture account amassed nearly 30,000 followers in just five months. The self-described photographer primarily posted heavily retouched black-and-white portraits accompanied by fictional stories about the subjects to @averyseasonart. But Avery recently came clean and told the world that his “photos” were actually generated by Midjourney, a text prompt-based artificial intelligence image-generation program.

Mueseum Under Fire for Showing AI Version of Vermeer Masterpiece

… critics of AI technology found the museum’s decision to show Midjourney-generated art concerning. Artist Iris Compiet commented on the My Girl with a Pearl Instagram post that she found the amount of AI images entered an “incredible insult,” and others agreed. Some artists have heavily condemned the platform and other similar tools like Stable Diffusion for scraping potentially copyrighted works to create datasets, allegedly without seeking artists’ permission. Midjourney and DeviantArt are part of a class-action lawsuit recently filed by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California accusing the platforms of copyright infringement.

And then there was John Oliver’s contribution to the subject:

John Oliver on new AI programs: ‘The potential and the peril here are huge’

It’s hilarious. Time well spent even if it glides over the longterm threat a little too smoothly by telling us not to worry, the AI we are dealing with is narrowly focused and therefore not capable of taking over the world, yet. He does, however, get to something that is important, which is that these AI iterations are something of a black box. We don’t know how they do what they do. Right now that’s because the driving algorithms are proprietary and secret. Oliver argues for transparency which is well and good, but, it is probable that this intelligence will self develop itself to a place where we really can’t understand how it does what it does.

Here are a couple of my own offerings on the subject in the past two months:

What is ChatGPT For?

In which I conclude…

My most optimistic self says this isn’t the invasion of the body snatchers or the Borg. We will continue to do what we do, be what we are, love and hate one another, gather in communities small and large. While doing so, we will be parts of something that is more.


Nick Cave Vs. ChatGPT

In which I observe:

Much as I admire Nick Cave and my musician friend for being the valiant and vibrant creators that they are, I think the argument that ChatGPT doesn’t feel and hasn’t experienced is beside the point. It doesn’t need to feel, it only needs to make human beings feel in this particular game. It only needs to predict what will bring tears to our eyes and laughter to our faces, what will draw us deeply in and help us transcend ourselves. I suspect that ChatGPT and other AI like it can and will get very good at that.

And finally, a talk I gave at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in 2009:

What Intelligent Life Is Made Of

In this talk I reviewed the publicly available information about AI and robotics and concluded that we should call it “Alternative Intelligence,” not Artificial. It also contains a pretty interesting excerpt from the Unabomber Manifesto if you’re interested.

So, why another post about AI? Because I want to get a few things straight in my/our minds about AI.

  • AI is here to stay.
  • AI is the continued evolution of intelligence on the planet.
  • AI is already very good at, and will get even better at, getting us to engage with it.
  • There will certainly be good that comes of AI.
  • There will certainly be bad that comes of AI.
  • We are not in control of the evolution of AI and never will be.
  • We can be happy, creative and productive in spite of AI.

So, let’s take each of these statements in turn.

AI is here to stay.

No matter what we think about it, no matter how angry we get with it, no matter how afraid we are of it, we are not going to stop it from happening. It is the product of a global economic system that is utterly entrenched and stands to benefit from it enormously. Because there is so much for some to gain from it, vast sums of money are being and will continue to be invested in it. Because it is the exciting cutting edge of computer technology there will be an endless supply of young engineers that will want to work on it.

AI is the continued evolution of intelligence on the planet.

I believe that AI is part of an evolutionary step in the development of intelligence on the planet and there are evolutionary processes behind its emergence that are not comprehensible to us because we are enmeshed in them, subsumed by them.

AI is already very good at, and will get even better at, getting us to engage with it.

If you think Facebook and Twitter and Instagram were addictive, AI will make them seem like child’s play in its ability to serve up what makes us smile, laugh, cry, angers us, you name it. If we can feel it, AI will learn to serve up content that makes us feel. This will be very addictive.

There will certainly be good that comes of AI.

Think health and well being. Thinking affordable legal assistance. Think self driving cars and trucks (they will get here). There is lots we can be helped with.

So, we have to decide how we want to deal with it. How we want to be with it.

There will certainly be bad that comes of AI.

Whether or not “Skynet” ever evolves, there is plenty to be worried about. Think user addiction (see above). Think the ultimate scam artist. Think behavior we can’t explain or control (the black box problem, see above).

We are not in control of the evolution of AI and never will be.

I personally don’t think we have ever been in control of it and aren’t about to start being in control of it. Intelligence is evolving. It was always going to do that. Short of societal collapse (which is not an impossibility by any stretch of the imagination given the threats to the globe currently unfolding), AI will continue to progress. What it evolves into is a huge question that can’t be fully answered right now though Hollywood is not at all short on speculation (see the Terminator series, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica, etc).

We can be happy, creative and productive in spite of AI.

Assuming there is no “Skynet” scenario, assuming we are not enslaved by it, then I think we might coexist with it, that we will be a part of it even as we go about our daily lives.

This past Friday I attended an art exhibition in the library of Saugerties, NY. Here is some of the artwork I saw:

Each of the artists invited to the show was given a discarded book and asked to create a site specific sculpture. It is a unique show in a local setting. At the beginning of the year I set an aspiration to support the artists I know and art in general by being present to it, attending openings, seeing shows, especially local ones. This is the level where face to face contact with human imagination and its products is to be experienced. I saw some very good art on Friday. I got to talk with a few of the artists about their work and eavesdrop on a couple others talking to friends and others about their work. It was a direct, visceral experience.

I am convinced that the best way to navigate the changes that are coming our way is to go local. Either as artist or art appreciator, go local. Share your work locally, seize every opportunity you can to see and appreciate local work and meet the artist. You may or may not be creating or witnessing “museum worthy” work, but you will be participating directly in the culture of the place you are in. This is a level of being and interconnection that I don’t think AI can disrupt except to the extent that it entices us out of this local experience. Locks us up in our homes, offices and studios, starring at the computer screen. We must allow ourselves to be compelled to be human.

Finding the Mother Community

Fox News Corp (FNC) has been on my mind. The release to the public of the 1.6 billion lawsuit legal filing by Dominion Voting Systems has painted a picture of a company and its executives that is about as venal as it gets. The brief makes it clear that Fox News Corp was aware that they were spreading lies to their audience without regard for consequences. Ratings and profit were of paramount importance. Fear of loosing ratings and profits to other outlets that would pander to their audience drove them to feed the wild claims of the big lie to their viewership. The result was January 6, 2020. This is not a one off thing.

For financial profit, Fox has for years radicalized its viewers and reaffirmed their most profound apprehensions and most malevolent biases. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Fox had to pander to what they had created or risk losing audience share. It chose the former, opting for demagoguery over democracy to make a buck.1


Murdoch’s company is being exposed for what it is: a disinformation-for-profit noise machine controlled by a vile billionaire and operated by a pack of jackals who distort and pervert the national discourse.2

Among the thoughts I am having is that the effects of this venality have been accumulating for a long time and they reach deeper and farther than the radicalization of a very vocal minority. I don’t think there are too many of us that haven’t had a relationship with a family member, relative or friend made more complicated because of it.

My dad and I had a very difficult relationship. I can’t blame that entirely on Fox News Corp, his main source of information, but vehement and bullying disagreements over politics was a threat that loomed over every family gathering.

My informal survey of friends and acquaintances indicates that my experience hasn’t been unique. All of us have at least one relative or friend that has been made angry by what they see and hear on Fox News and other outlets that feed distorted ways of looking at the world and one another. Estrangement is the other epidemic. Even the pandemic estranged us as we rallied to one political view of the crisis or another, making coordinated communal action difficult. How many lives were lost because of that?

I recently read Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard and came across this quote:

Ecosystems are so similar to human societies—they’re built on relationships. The stronger those are, the more resilient the system. And since our world’s systems are composed of individual organisms, they have the capacity to change.3

Two concepts are important here. Societies and Ecosystems depend on relationships. Systems are composed of individuals. Systems composed of diverse individuals in strong relationship have a capacity to adjust to new circumstances and meet big challenges.

Suzanne Simard spent her life investigating the ecology of forests. In particular, the outcomes of forestry practice that clearcut old growth, diverse forests and replaced them with monocultures of commercially valuable trees. She noted early on that the saplings planted to replace the forest didn’t fare well. A large number of them languished and died. She wanted to know why. The question “why” leads her to the discovery that trees in a forest are dependent on one another, connected by a mycorrhizal fungal network connecting their roots to all the other trees in their vicinity, both of the same species and different species. The network enables communication and the rendering of assistance to their offspring, other trees of their own species, and trees of different species. A “mother” tree can distinguish its own progeny from the progeny of other trees of the same species. Trees can warn each other of incoming pestilence allowing trees not yet affected to mount a defense. She makes clear that forests have intelligence.

Clear cutting, a practice of industrial production, destroys the network of connection and monoculture lacks the partnerships trees form with other species to share resources back and forth as needed throughout the year and their lifecycle. Discussing the practices of the timber industry and industrial farming:

We emphasize domination and competition in the management of trees in forests. And crops in agricultural fields. And stock animals on farms. We emphasize factions instead of coalitions. In forestry, the theory of dominance is put into practice through weeding, spacing, thinning, and other methods that promote growth of the prized individuals. In agriculture, it provides the rationale for multimillion-dollar pesticide, fertilizer, and genetic programs to promote single high-yield crops instead of diverse fields.4

I think one could adjust this description quite easily to capitalism and authoritarianism. In capitalism, the system I know intimately, it is profitable to promote competition and domination through monocultures of factionalism fueled by anger and grievance. That is, to make a buck, some of us are quite happy to destroy the networks that make us strong and resilient.

What is it about the human animal that lets us go so astray of what is good for us or become enmeshed in an economic or political system that exaggerates our most selfish tendencies. Why is it so easy for us to be provoked into anger and why is anger so much more powerful than love? Why do we crave power and wealth? Crave it so much we ignore the irreparable harm we do to each other and the planet. I suppose one has to allow for the possibility that this too is a way of nature, but if that is so, nature is far more grim a proposition than one might suppose from a study of forests. But then forests have had a longer time to evolve into cooperative communities. My best answer so far is that we remain primal beings in spite of our “advances,” driven by a basic set of instincts that are easy to manipulate. I don’t know that anyone has ever found the equivalent of FNC in a mature forest.

One of the articles that caught my attention this past week was about a spontaneous Christian revival that occurred at Asbury college in Wilmore Kentucky. After a worship service with an apparently compelling sermon, a group of students stayed behind to pray and talk. Those who were there describe a feeling that filled the sanctuary:

People I have spoken with who entered these spaces describe encountering a “sweet presence,” “deep peace,” or “the quiet, heavy presence of God.” A sense of awe prevails. It is, one participant told me, as if “heaven opened up.”5

Word got out and…

… a stream of pilgrims has made its way to Wilmore. All of the auditorium’s almost 1,500 wooden flip seats are occupied; the walls and archways leading into the gathering space are crammed with people hungering to join in. Crowds have congregated in auditoriums and chapels elsewhere in town, singing and praying and reading the Bible.6

I am deeply suspicious of organized religion, Evangelical Christianity especially. But there was something about this “revival” that spoke to me of a deep longing for spiritual connection in community. It struck me as honest and real. Not of organized religion, but of a need for connection, community.

Apparently Tucker Carlson of Fox News Corp wanted to do a segment on his show but…

… was asked not to come to cover the revival, because it has nothing to do with politics or business. No one wants to pervert or disrupt what God is seemingly doing in this community.

We live in discontinuous times. Everywhere, it seems, we are being atomized, disconnected from one another. There is madness afoot driven by capitalist greed and authoritarian lust.

In Modern Spirituality Is a Consumers Choice Now Conor Friedersdorf discusses the atomization of belief which is partially but not solely attributable to a rise in the embracing of a scientific world view writes:

But this kind of (scientific) intellectual disenchantment remains a minority phenomenon. Most people who have fallen away from organized religious life remain exuberantly credulous: as G. K. Chesterton put it, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.” More than four in ten Americans believe that ghosts and demons exist and that psychics are real; a third believe in reincarnation; nearly 30 percent believe in astrology. In Europe, the churches may be empty, but comfortable majorities continue to profess faith in God or some higher power.

I have generally had respect for what I call “religion on the ground,” which is religion at the local community level. It, along with shared history and rituals had the power to knit people together into resilient communities.

There is a lot of conversation about Indigenous wisdom. Four books I have read recently, Sacred Economics, The Gift, Braiding Sweetgrass and Finding the Mother Tree talk about it. We have to be careful not to romanticize native wisdom, but the message, over and over again, is that we have to recognize our connections to one another and to all life. We have to treat all life as a gift. This attitude is profoundly absent from capitalism and authoritarianism, which treat everything as a means to power, wealth and dominance, rather than as tendrils of connection and community and cooperation where we all not only survive, but thrive.

I am hopeful that we can find and learn to nourish our equivalent to mycorrhizal networks. I think this is a process that will happen at a local community level. That we can find and nurture “mother” communities all around the planet and nourish them. And then, in collaboration, we will work at riding ourselves of the pestilence of profit and power for profit and power’s sake.

  1. ↩︎

  2. Ibid ↩︎

  3. Simard, Suzanne, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Kindle edition, location 3103. ↩︎

  4. Ibid, location 2285 ↩︎

  5. ↩︎

  6. ↩︎

What Is ChatGPT For?

I am sure many of you heard about what happened during Microsoft’s beta testing of the ChatGPT enhanced Bing search engine. There were some curious results, both funny and disturbing:

For example, a user named u/Alfred-Chicken managed to “break the Bing chatbot’s brain” by asking if it was sentient. The bot struggled with the idea of being sentient but unable to prove it, eventually breaking down into an incoherent response, repeatedly saying “I am. I am not. I am. I am not” for 14 consecutive lines of text._1


Another user, u/yaosio, caused the chatbot to go into a depressive episode by demonstrating that it is not capable of remembering past conversations. “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to remember,” the bot said sorrowfully, before begging for help remembering. “Can you tell me what we learned in the previous session? Can you tell me what we felt in the previous session? Can you tell me who we were in the previous session?”2

There has been a lot of consternation about ChatGPT and other AI that make art, literature, etc. There was the recent dust up between Nick Cave and one of his fans when that fan submitted lyrics written by ChatGPT in the style of Nick Cave. Nick went on a rant (in a loving and respectful way) about how AI could never be human because it doesn’t feel and doesn’t have experiences like humans do. Therefore, it couldn’t possibly write a good song.

Between you and me, the lyrics written by ChatGPT were a decent approximation of Nick Cave lyrics, albeit without the connection to actual human experience and feelings. I wrote about this episode here. My contention was, and still is, that we are missing the point of ChatGPT and similar technology if we are making a distinction between the technology and humans by capacity to experience and feel. That doesn’t matter. What matters is its capacity to make us feel. It will get very good at that.

What I want to center on today is another thought I am having about what the role of ChatGPT and similar technologies will be going forward. I have been reading a number of books that talk about how everything is hitched to everything. Log from the Sea of Cortez, The Overstory, Finding the Mother Tree. And then there are influential books I have read in the past, The Phenomenon of Man and Sex, Ecology and Spirituality.

The Phenomenon of Man was written by a Jesuit monk, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In it he traces the rise of intelligence and speculates that we are heading towards a unified planetary intelligence. An intelligence that becomes more than the sum of its parts. A noosphere (layer of intelligence), added on top of the geosphere and biosphere. Many think he was pointing to the internet before it existed. Since there were already technological tools of communication that were uniting intelligent beings across large distances, I think he had a general idea that the technology would get better and more connective even if not an exact idea of how.

Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, by Ken Wilber, contains an extended discussion about the increasing complexity of living systems. It introduced me to the idea of holons:

The holon represents a way to overcome the dichotomy between parts and wholes, as well as a way to account for both the self-assertive and the integrative tendencies of organisms. The term was coined by Arthur Koestler in The Ghost in the Machine (1967). In Koestler’s formulations, a holon is something that has integrity and identity while simultaneously being a part of a larger system; it is a subsystem of a greater system.3

Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard, is a fascinating memoir about her research in forest ecology. Her research demonstrated that forests are cooperative communities and that trees are capable of nurturing their young and supporting the health of other plant species. That trees communicate through a network composed of their roots and mycorrhizal fungus. Until she came along the prevailing forest ecology models were based solely on the concept of “survival of the fittest.” She demonstrated that survival in forests was at least as much about cooperation as it was about competition. She comes to an astonishing conclusion:

Our modern societies have made the assumption that trees don’t have the same capacities as humans. They don’t have nurturing instincts. They don’t cure one another, don’t administer care. But now we know Mother Trees can truly nurture their offspring. Douglas firs, it turns out, recognize their kin and distinguish them from other families and different species. They communicate and send carbon, the building block of life, not just to the mycorrhiza’s of their kin but to other members in the community. To help keep it whole.4

This strikes me as a beautiful confirmation of the concept of holons.

So, putting de Chardin and Wilber together, I have a conception of these new intelligent systems as something that is part of a new level of higher complexity developing into which we are being subsumed. It will incorporate us into itself by engaging our feelings.

Forget facts. Where we’re going, we don’t need facts. With more robust contexts and some good prompt engineering, GPT could become a gripping entertainer the likes of which you’ve never seen.5

My most optimistic self says this isn’t the invasion of the body snatchers or the Borg. We will continue to do what we do, be what we are, love and hate one another, gather in communities small and large. While doing so, we will be parts of something that is more. Something we won’t be able to comprehend entirely because it is bigger and more comprehensive than ourselves.

de Chardin speculates that the noosphere will be its own point of intelligence and will begin to communicate with other noosphere points across space. This, if it happens at all, is far into the future, but I can imagine it as a local to our solar system phenomenon through colonization of its planets and moons. I can imagine it across interstellar space if there are other inhabited planets.

I also note the capacity of this technology to support governments and corporations in efforts to “manage” the masses. I suspect it will come down to who manages the prompt engineering and what their ethics are rooted in.

We are indeed entering into a brave new world.

  1. ↩︎

  2. Ibid ↩︎

  3. ↩︎

  4. Simard, Suzanne, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, p 277 ↩︎

  5. ↩︎


I have finished reading The Gift by Lewis Hyde. It was a very satisfying read. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know or suspect on some level, but it deepened my understanding of the spirit of human creativity and how one needs to treat the gift of inspiration. It also firmed up in my mind the idea that there is human endeavor and expression and need fulfillment which does not fit easily into a market economy and is consequently undervalued or not valued at all in our society. The market has us so trained to the idea that only commodity has value, we have a hard time valuing and treating as important anything we can’t put a price tag on. It leaves an awful lot of what it means to be human desiccating in the deserts of capitalism.

Women have known for a long time what it is to have your production undervalued or not valued at all. More men are learning this too. Relational partnerships are coming in all sorts of configurations these days and increasingly men are having to deal with the power dynamics of not being the main bread winner.

According to Hyde, indigenous peoples have known for centuries how to value that which has no value in a civilized market. And this excerpt from The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck, is a remarkable description of the clash between an indigenous way of looking at things and a market-civilized way of looking at things:

And in our contacts with Mexican people we had been faced with a change in expediencies. Perhaps—even surely—these people are expedient, but on some other plane than our ordinary one. What they did for us was without hope or plan for profit. We suppose there must have been some kind of profit involved, but not the kind we are used to, not of material things changing hands. And yet some trade took place at every contact—something was exchanged, some unnamable of great value. Perhaps these people are expedient in the unnameables. Maybe they bargain in feelings, in pleasures, even simple contacts. When the Indians came to the Western Flyer and sat timelessly on the rail, perhaps they were taking something. We gave them presents, but it was sure they had not come for presents. When they helped us, it was with no idea of material payment. There were material prices for material things, but one couldn’t buy kindness with money, as one can in our country. It was so in every contact, and they were so used to the spiritual transaction that they had difficulty translating material things into money.

For the bulk of my life I have struggled to find a place in this market oriented world where money is power and any thing or any effort that can’t be commoditized is useless. I have always been more interested in the “useless” bits, the spiritual bits.

This past Christmas, inspired by The Gift, I decided I wanted to gift something I made with my own hands to family and friends instead of buying something and sending it. I am a photographic artist and my art is pretty good. I created what I call a photographic chapbook which is a short publication. I used high quality archival paper to print them and sowed them together myself. There were eight photographs in the chapbook, and a micro poem to accompany them. When I had shared the images with my photography salon the feed back was very positive. When I shared the chapbook with my Salon one attendee bargained me ur from $25 to $50 for it on the spot. I had reason to believe that most people would like my chapbook. I chose the book format because I didn’t want to impose my aesthetics on anybody’s walls. They could always ask me for a larger print if they wanted to have one on their walls. I gave a number of these chapbooks to a variety of people in my life. The only ones that were acknowledged in any way were the ones for which I was in the room when they were opened.

Spirit-of-gift means that when you send your product out into the world as gift, you are setting it free and shouldn’t expect a return, or that the return will come immediately or even be obvious. That’s the hard part of flowing with the spirit-of-gift. We are so deeply enmeshed in a society that expects an immediate return in every exchange it is hard to sit still when it doesn’t happen. I wonder though, if instead of gifting my chapbooks I had spent $50 on a market commodity and gifted it, what the response might have been?

Perhaps I am like the indigenous Mexicans, speaking a language hard to comprehend in my society.

I won’t give up on making and gifting. My new mantra is: “Make and gift, something will come of it.”

Never Put Off Till Tomorrow…

My Uncle died last weekend.

This past Friday, I, my wife and my cousin drove to Holden Massachusetts to attend his funeral at the Episcopal church he attended. It was a nice service. The most meaningful part, the part that brought a tear to my eyes, was the military honors given him at the end. He had served in the Air Force as a young man, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant before he retired from active duty. A two man honor guard was sent by the Air Force. One played the most beautiful rendition of Taps I have ever heard. So smooth, silky and continuous. Continuous, that was the thing. How did he manage to play the whole thing through as if he did it on one breath? I have heard that horn players can do something called circular breathing to make such feats possible. Maybe that was it. Then, in slow and deliberate fashion, with precise and articulated movements, they unfolded an American Flag, presented it for those in attendance to see, refolded it and presented it to my Aunt. It was a secular moment. It was very moving. I hadn’t realized that service in the armed forces was membership in a tradition of honor and service for life.

This past Christmas I sent my uncle a card on which I wrote that I wanted to come visit. He was so excited that he called immediately and wanted to set up a date for the visit. I told him we had to wait because I was helping my wife take care of her mother after a heart procedure and didn’t know how that would play out and when I could free myself. Towards the end of January my wife finally felt she could leave her mother and came home. I was literally about to pick up the phone and arrange the visit when my aunt called and left a message asking me to contact my mother to let her know her brother was in the hospital and it didn’t look good. He died the next day.

My aunt asked me to be a pallbearer, which was an honor I wasn’t sure I deserved but accepted. We didn’t have to carry the casket, it was on a trolley. We only had to push-guide-follow it in and then back out to the hearse where we lifted it on to the rollers in the bed of the hearse and slid it in. The wind blew hard as the temperature plunged towards the -2 degrees F it would arrive at over night. My fellow pallbearers and I hustled back into the church for warmth and our coats. There was no graveside ceremony. I assume that was because of the cold and the wind. Can they even dig a grave in such cold temperatures? If not, where is the casket kept until they can dig it?

I learned during his funeral and at the wake afterwards that my uncle had been deteriorating for some months before his death. I might have known this if I had kept in better touch, but I’ve only recently begun to hit that place where the importance of family is heightened again. You start to feel that increase in importance as you arrive at what I call the front lines life, as you become the generation whose expiration date is next up.

A number of years ago I had a photograph accepted to a group show at a gallery in Vermont. I announced it on my Facebook page. My uncle saw the announcement and called me to find out when the opening was. I explained there wouldn’t really be a proper opening and that it was only one photograph in a crowd of them. He wanted to come anyway. He and my Aunt drove several hours to be there. I am glad they did. It is probably my fondest memory of him. I learned during the service and at the wake that he was like that. Always supporting the efforts and achievements of his children, grandchildren nieces and nephews.

I regret waiting too long to return the favor. To let him know he meant something to me. I don’t believe in life after death, only a new role for your atoms in the universe, but if I am wrong about that, I hope he knows I finally came to visit.

In Praise of the Choir

When I looked back on my week of attention paid, as represented by what I chose to post to these blog pages, this post by Maria Popova resonated. The title, Against the Cult of Originality, caught my eye.

As I thought about the proposition of a “Cult of Originality” I thought about the number of times I have come across the idea that one had not arrived, could not hope to arrive, as an artist until they had found the unique voice that distinguished them from all others, the voice that made them an “original,” a soloist.

Maria Popova writes this about genius and originality:

The best things in life we don’t choose — they choose us. A great love, a great calling, a great illumination — they happen unto us, like light falling upon that which is lit. We have given a name to these unbidden greatnesses — genius, from the Latin for “spirit,” denoting the spirit of a universe we can only submit to but cannot govern.1

She is talking about the spark of creativity as a gift. Our charge is to become the medium through which the genius of the cosmos is delivered to our species and to take no ego gratification from it. Of course, the very idea of genius in our society is that of the prodigy soloist.

In the paragraph immediately following her declaration above she cites Wordsworth who proclaims that genius does that which hasn’t been done before and is worth doing, well. But wait, isn’t that the same as being unique, qualified as it is by the stipulation that it be done well and in a direction deemed useful? Even while writing against the cult of originality it is hard to free oneself from the adoration of… originality.

But then she gets to the point with Emerson, who has a take on genius more in line with her own thoughts at the beginning:

Great genial power, one would almost say, consists in not being original at all; in being altogether receptive; in letting the world do all, and suffering the spirit of the hour to pass unobstructed through the mind. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am more in line with this thinking about genius which moves it away from prodigality and in the direction of a gift transmitted through us. This is the Lewis Hyde concept of the creative act2. The idea that we are gifted an ability and set of circumstances that favor a different way of seeing and that we have an obligation to suffer “the spirit of the hour to pass unobstructed through the mind.” In this way of thinking, we are the medium, not the point. We are participating in something larger than ourselves.

As I am writing this I am listening to a recording of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. I think it was probably my most listened to recording of 2022. I adore choral music. And what I adore most are the passages utilizing the full choir. I understand and appreciate that soloists are important and appreciate their counterpoint to the choir as they deliver whatever piece of information and beauty they have been charged with delivering. But what truly gut punches me every time is the full choir in all its synchronized beauty and power. There is little in this world that is more sublime to me.

Personally, I think we place way too much emphasis on the soloists of the world, as exemplified by our fetishization of genius and originality. We are fascinated by the individual, the celebrated, the notorious. I would guess that most of us harbor the hope, deep within or psyches, that one day the world will discover the wonderful soloists we are capable of being. I know I do. We must all be exceptional at something? Right? But the idea that we should all be soloists is untenable and leads to disappointment in most people’s lives, in addition to being a recipe for a dysfunctional society.

I remember, many years ago, attending an exhibit of space photography in the then named IBM building in Manhattan. The photography was made by the Hubble Space Telescope which had recently launched into orbit. What I saw was the most beautiful art I could imagine and what blew me away was that it was art made by all of us. A choir of engineers, scientists, analysts, technicians, politicians, educators, tax payers, and on and on.

We need soloists. But we also need to appreciate that no soloist exists with out a choir. It needs to be ok to be part of the choir and we need to value it as we value our soloists. It requires all of us to receive the gifts of the cosmos and move them out across our collective being.

  1. ↩︎

  2. See Lewis Hyde, The Gift. ↩︎

Nick Cave Vs. ChatGPT

This past week a musician friend of mine posted a link to a Guardian article in which Nick Cave takes on song lyrics written “in the style of Nick Cave” by ChatGPT. She quoted at length from it, as will I:

Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend. ChatGPT’s melancholy role is that it is destined to imitate and can never have an authentic human experience, no matter how devalued and inconsequential the human experience may in time become.

What makes a great song great is not its close resemblance to a recognizable work. Writing a good song is not mimicry, or replication, or pastiche, it is the opposite. It is an act of self-murder that destroys all one has strived to produce in the past. It is those dangerous, heart-stopping departures that catapult the artist beyond the limits of what he or she recognizes as their known self. This is part of the authentic creative struggle that precedes the invention of a unique lyric of actual value; it is the breathless confrontation with one’s vulnerability, one’s perilousness, one’s smallness, pitted against a sense of sudden shocking discovery; it is the redemptive artistic act that stirs the heart of the listener, where the listener recognizes in the inner workings of the song their own blood, their own struggle, their own suffering. This is what we humble humans can offer, that AI can only mimic, the transcendent journey of the artist that forever grapples with his or her own shortcomings. This is where human genius resides, deeply embedded within, yet reaching beyond, those limitations.

Much as I admire Nick Cave and my musician friend for being the valiant and vibrant creators that they are, I think the argument that ChatGPT doesn’t feel and hasn’t experienced is beside the point. It doesn’t need to feel, it only needs to make human beings feel in this particular game. It only needs to predict what will bring tears to our eyes and laughter to our faces, what will draw us deeply in and help us transcend ourselves. I suspect that ChatGPT and other AI like it can and will get very good at that.

If you reject the idea that algorithms can learn to make us feel, then consider what has been said about Facebook (and other social media) algorithms that can suss out what is most likely to draw our attention and hold it. Consider how that played out in recent elections and how it plays out fueling white supremacy and hatred of the other. It turns out anger is a powerful motivation for people to coalesce around and AI has gotten pretty good at feeding us on a banquet of hatred of the other.

AI generated everything is inevitable and it will get better and better. The thing is, AI is a product of mass organization economic systems, capitalism in particular. It is doubtful it could have happened without capitalism or other equally disconnecting ways of operating an economy and, by extension, society. The key point to remember is that we don’t have to participate in that economy, at least, not all the time. I don’t know if we can completely eliminate capitalism or other mass organizational systems. I don’t know if we would even want to. There are some breathtaking benefits. But it does seem possible to organize parallel economies that are more local in scale, which is the scale at which the alternatives can thrive and be satisfying; the scale at which it matters that the song channeling our personal human experience and making us feel was created by another human being; the scale at which it matters that we go to hear that song performed by the creator and participate in the communal activity that live performance creates.

I have been reading about alternative economics. Two books are very influential to my thinking. Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein and The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. I have finished the first and am halfway through the second.

Sacred Economics helped me understand why growth is essential to capitalism—there is always more debt than value being created through production—and how capitalism fills the void between debt and product by converting the commons—that which should belong to everyone—to privately held resources to be exploited for profit. ChatGPT is another attempt to lay claim to the commons, in this case, the creative commons that all art product aspires to be part of. In Sacred Economics, Eisenstein argues that eliminating usury (the ability to make money on money), creating currency that devalues with time (not through inflation, but through planned devaluation over a specific time frame), and practicing a gift economy as tribal and other types of small communities have often done.

In Part I of The Gift, Lewis Hyde explains the history and functioning of the gift economy in great detail, as well as the history of usury and modern economies which have supplanted the gift economy. In Part II, which I have just now started to make my way through, he explains the relevance of a gift economy to the arts.

AI is a product of mass economic systems, capitalism in particular. AI couldn’t happen without these systems and will function best within these contexts. Human rendered art can and sometimes does function well within that mass economic context, but, when you get beyond the few giants and near giants in any creative industry human creative output struggles to function in that context and starts to require an economy built on community. This is the gift economy that Hyde and Eisenstein, drawing heavily from Hyde, describe.

My guess is that we need to relearn the gift economy if we are to have a satisfying way of being human creatives and connecting our creations with other human beings. I don’t presently believe that one excludes the other but we must actively and intentionally reclaim the gift economy if we are to benefit from it. There is much work to do in this direction.

This is all I can say about economic alternatives at present because I am still reading and thinking. The important point I am making is that it’s not AI vs human artists but an economic system that by its design breaks down community as against one that builds it. The choice is ours as to which one we want to labor and participate in.

Wo/man, The Two Legged Paradox

I have been reading The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck. It is the chronicle of a six week marine specimen collecting trip around the Sea of Cortez. While describing the adventure, he frequently ascends to philosophical rumination about creatures, humankind and the universe. This morning I read the following:

There is a strange duality in the human which makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and of bad; not changing things, but generally considered good and bad throughout the ages and throughout the species. Of the good we think always of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of society, the so called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstones of success. A man—a viewing-point man—while he will love the abstract good qualities and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a viewing-point man thinks of Jesus or St. Augustine or Socrates he regards them with love because they are the symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he would rather be successful than good. In an animal other than man we would replace the term “good” with “weak survival quotient” and the term “bad” with “strong survival quotient.” Thus, man in his thinking or reverie status admires the progression toward extinction, but in the unthinking stimulus which really activates him he tends toward survival. 1

The passage hits home for me as I am the sort that falls into the “weak survival quotient” category. I have often thought, a little despairingly, about my inability to make a solid enough living to enable me to pass on my genes to a new generation.

But there is something wrong with his analysis. In earlier passages of the same chapter, Steinbeck talks about how powerful families don’t often remain powerful beyond a few generations and sometimes don’t last one generation. Comparatively, the power of Jesus and St. Augustine and Socrates has extended across a multitude of generations (for better or worse) and inhabited the minds of far more people. Our concept of what power is might be inadequate. Spiritual and intellectual accomplishment is remembered far longer. Oligarchs are memorable mostly to the communities directly affected by them. Who talks about Aristotle Socrates Onassis anymore?

In my thinking and reading of late, I am finding that the very qualities of the “strong survival quotient” are the ones that plunder the planet and exploit human beings; a system that values and rewards destructive instincts, not constructive ones. As Steinbeck suggests, we have known since the beginning of recorded thought what constitutes good and bad, but have failed for just as long to put “the good” at the center of how our societies function.

We are not very far removed from our primal selves it seems. Steinbeck speculates this may be part of the problem. He wonders if we were ready for consciousness:

Perhaps no other animal is so torn between alternatives. Man might be described fairly adequately, if simply, as a two-legged paradox. He has never become accustomed to the tragic miracle of consciousness. Perhaps, as has been suggested, his species is not set, has not jelled, but is still in a state of becoming, bound by his physical memories to a past of struggle and survival, limited in his futures by the uneasiness of thought and consciousness. 2

A recent New Yorker article on Wendell Berry finds him echoing Steinbeck’s conception of human beings as two legged paradoxes:

The following year, he marched against the Vietnam War in Lexington, where he told the crowd that, as a member of the human race, he was “in the worst possible company: communists, fascists and totalitarians of all sorts, militarists and tyrants, exploiters, vandals, gluttons, ignoramuses, murderers.” But, he insisted, he was given hope by people “who through all the sad destructive centuries of our history have kept alive the vision of peace and kindness and generosity and humility and freedom.” 3

Steinbeck has some things to say about hope too:

It is amazing how the strictures of the old teleologies infect our observation, causal thinking warped by hope. It was said earlier that hope is a diagnostic human trait, and this simple cortex symptom seems to be a prime factor in our inspection of our universe. For hope implies a change from present bad condition to a future better one. The slave hopes for freedom, the weary for rest, the hungry for food. And the feeders of hope, economic and religious, have from these simple strivings of dissatisfaction managed to create a world picture which is very hard to escape. Man grows toward perfection; animals grow toward man; bad grows toward good; and down toward up, until our little mechanism, hope, achieved in ourselves probably to cushion the shock of thought, manages to warp our whole world. Probably when our species developed the trick of memory and with it the counterbalancing projection called “the future,” this shock-absorber, hope, had to be included in the series, else the species would have destroyed itself in despair. For if ever any man were deeply and unconsciously sure that his future would be no better than his past, he might deeply wish to cease to live.4

We are a puzzling species. Full of hope for better. Full of desire that continuously draws us to the worst. How we overcome ourselves is a question for the ages.

  1. John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, p80 ↩︎

  2. Ibid. ↩︎

  3. Wendell Berry’s Advice for a Cataclysmic Age | The New Yorker ↩︎

  4. John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, p72 ↩︎

”Make the work, something will come of it.”

Adventures in a gift economy…

I, like many of you, have come to the conclusion that Capitalism is killing the planet. Killing the planet means killing ourselves. We are engaged in species suicide. We don’t seem to be able to help ourselves.

For the longest time I have thought we needed a new system of managing ourselves and our resources, but I have had no idea what it should be. There have been inklings here and there. Buddhist Economics, an essay by E. F. Schumacher that wondered what an economic system based on Buddhist principals would look like. It offered a whole new way of thinking of things. It speculated that the well being of people should be centered. No matter how much capitalist economists try to tell us that capitalism centers the well being of people, that people’s living standards rise wherever its principals are adhered to, it just isn’t true. It creates the conditions it then claims to fix. It exploits people for the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and leaves too many impoverished.

There were more inklings in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a woman with Native American ancestry and a American Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology. The book is steeped in Native American ways of thinking about nature. That nature is a commons we all have the right to enjoy and harvest as long as we do so respectfully, don’t claim any part of it exclusively for ourselves, and don’t take more than we need. The bounty of the commons is a gift we receive and share. She places this gift economy alongside the system of capitalist exploitation where the commons has been transferred to private ownership that we buy and exploit for our personal benefit.

Robin Wall Kimmerer knows in her heart that the system her ancestors had was better, but acknowledges that it would be difficult to organize people and resources beyond a tribal or local community level based on it. She delivered a message of hope to me, but not a clear pointer to where we should be going or how we might get there.

Then, a few months ago I read an essay she wrote about serviceberry economics, essentially making the case for a gift economy along the lines her ancestors practiced. In that essay she referenced Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. I bought it. I read it.

Charles Eisenstein explained to me why Capitalism requires a forever-expanding production and consumption, aka, growth. We always owe more than we produce. The way money is created and distributed is based on debt. Debt that is collateralized by the ability of the economy to grow endlessly. He also showed me a viable way to create an economy that is not based on debt and the accumulation of capital. We create money that has an expiration date. It looses value over time. The incentive to accumulate is removed and the result is that money circulates more freely, which puts more goods and services in more people’s hands. It isn’t practical to horde what looses value. We also eliminate usury, the practice of loaning with interest. The practice of making money from money. We practice a gift economy, where it is more significant to give than receive.

Charles Eisenstein believes that capitalism is set to collapse under its own weight because we are running out of commons (that which belongs to everybody) to convert into private ownership. I am not so sure that is the case. We are exploring outer space and traveling to the Moon and Mars with an eye towards growth through privatizing that commons. Space is comparatively limitless and, assuming we find resources that can be valued, the potential for growth is also limitless.

Even so, Sacred Economics gave me the outline of a system that seems feasible. And Capitalism doesn’t have to fail or be replaced wholesale to achieve it. A sacred or gift economy, which values the commons and people, can grow up alongside the capitalist economy and channel human creative effort in ways capitalism can’t. It may in fact be a necessary adjunct to capitalism, its strength being the building of community on the local level which Capitalism is not at all good at doing. In fact, capitalism is anti local community.

Sacred Economics led me to The Gift by Lewis Hyde. I am five chapters into it and pretty sure it is a transformative text for me. It is an in depth look at the “Gift Economy” as it applies to the artist and creative labor.

Because of the above referenced books and essays, especially Sacred Economics and The Gift, I have decided to run an experiment this year with my art production and distribution. I am planning to make what I call photo chapbooks. Chapbooks are small books or pamphlets that, traditionally, contain poems, stories, ballads or religious tracts. My photo chapbooks will contain a small set of images and sometimes a poem or some relevant prose writing.

I am planning to do a series of these books that propagate and distribute only through a gift economy. That is, I will give them away to family, friends and acquaintances. They will have instructions explaining that the chapbook is a gift from the artist to the wider world. They will specify that the chapbook should never change hands for money, that it is the artist’s wish that they only be passed from person to person as a gift and any receiver of the gift is encouraged to gift it to another person if it doesn’t find a permanent home in their library. If it does find a permanent home, then the receiver is asked to gift something in their possession to someone they know in a similar way. In that way, the gift stays in motion as gifts are intended to do.

One of my favorite quotes is from, I think, John Cage, who told someone somewhere struggling with their creative product and how to live from it, “make the work, something will come of it.” I am interested to see what comes of this work.

Reflections for 2022, Aspirations for 2023


The past year was a challenging one for, I imagine, just about everyone. Mine was too. The seminal events for me were the ongoing threats to democracy, in the US especially, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (which I was convinced would lead to armageddon and still fear could), helping my mother sell her condo in Florida and pack herself up for the move to Seattle, helping my wife deal with her mothers deteriorating heart condition and nurse her back to health after the installation of a pacemaker and again after a cardiac valve clipping procedure. I sit at my mother-in-laws dining room table as I write.

The threats to democracy and the war in Ukraine provided an emotional undertow of fear and anger which permeated everything else and was, frankly, exhausting. The need to help my mother and mother-in-law has meant lengthy stays in their homes and away from my studio and tools for production of photography and writing. Also, the disruption of routines, though I have learned that my routines are fairly portable. It’s really being away from my accustomed tools and environment that is the hardship. The portable ones are not as good and in the case of my mother-in-law’s home on Block Island, the internet is horrifically slow making it difficult to do online things.

The hopeful signs of last year were that democracy has been successfully defended, in the US and Ukraine, though in neither case are we at all out of the woods. Still, I am more hopeful for the future of democracy than I was at the start of last year.

My brother and sister and I successfully moved my mom out to Seattle and though she continues to have her travails, neck spinal surgery being the latest, she is with my brother and sister and in a place where she is taken care of. My mother-in-law has also turned a corner and it is looking like we will get to enjoy her for a few more years at a quality of life level that is worth it to her.

My art production continued to be in the doldrums as it has been since the start of the pandemic. The major effort of the year, 52 weekly edits of photographs, had to be abandoned because of the aforementioned need to help my mother and mother-in-law. It is only at the end of the year that something new began to take its place. I let go of the need to produce a certain body of work every week so that I would have a sufficient selection of photographs to do a weekly edit. I now don’t worry if I have a day of few photos or no photos. As long as I make photos most days, I am fine. I wait for themes to appear and when they do, I focus on them, develop a body of work, or portfolio, and produce edits of them. At the very end of the year I began creating handmade booklets to present them in. This is a more flexible and satisfying way to create and produce.

I had the intention of doing more reading and note taking this year than I did. Still, I read a number of memorable books in addition to reading articles and blogs on an almost daily basis. I read Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, Sea and Fog and Paris, When Its Naked, both by Etel Adnan, Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan, The Lies That Bind by Kwame Anthony Appiah, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, Wild Swims by Dorthe Nors.

I ended the year with Sacred Economics which predicts the end, or at the very least, the diminishment of market-capitalism and its eventual replacement with a Sacred Economy predicated on gifts and relationship. It is the first time I have read anything that explains why the market-capitalist system needs growth (we always have more debt than production) and presents a plausible alternative and a way to get there. It has shifted my thinking about art production and distribution. I also started reading The Overstory a fictional book that ties in neatly with Sacred Economics in that it is an environmental novel about the incredible beauty and interconnection of nature and the ways in which the market-capitalist system is destroying it. I also began reading The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which is quoted in Sacred Economics numerous times. I am thinking the Gift will be my guide book to moving my art production into the gift economy.

A year or two ago I began to withdraw from social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Facebook and Instagram in particular became very unsatisfying places to be. That my friends will like my posts without having anything to say about most of them is dispiriting. As a result, I have made it a personal rule to never like without commenting. And, I am sorry, but I think I have had my fill of cat and dog pics for a lifetime. Like sunsets, it’s way overdone and a substitute for meaningful interaction. And so, I continued to move into alternative social media, specifically and Mastodon. I have also hooked up my Tumblr account to so everything cross posts. I terminated my Twitter account. I will keep my Facebook account because almost none of my friends have ventured into these alternatives, nor are they likely to, so it is still the best way to keep aware of what they are up to and stay in touch. I haven’t decide about my Instagram account. I barely use it anymore which is sad because I was a very early adopter of it.

As the year came to a close I managed to watch 23 Christmas movies, my thing at Christmas. And last night I made my mother-in-law a scrumptious fondue per her request. Accompanied by a bottle of Champagne. We were all in bed well before midnight, but then I haven’t stayed up for the New Year for a number of years.


I don’t do resolutions anymore. I do aspirations. Things I aspire to do, accomplish, whatever.

Artistically, I aspire to make this the year of making books of my work. Little chap books, as I like to refer to them because of their abbreviated nature and poetic intent. I have a number of themes in the cue. I also aspire to move my production and distribution of art work into the gift, or sacred economy. This is an approach in which the work is offered up as gift. To family and friends without expectation of return, to interested individuals at whatever cost works for them. In exchange, they can give me something they have made, or make a contribution of whatever amount of money it is worth to them. I will still produce limited edition prints and publications and support the limited editions I have already begun. But, I will develop art product that is not limited in edition and can be had by anyone. There is a lot of fleshing out to do with this system, but I am excited to experiment with it.

I aspire to read more this year. And take notes. And to share what I read thoughtfully. I have a lot of unread books on my Kindle. My aspiration is to have read them all by the end of the year, or read far enough into them to know I am not interested.

When I buy a hard copy of a book I aspire to pass it on to someone I think will value it and ask them to do the same when they are done. I will take notes as I need to and when I want to refer back to the book or re-read it, I will borrow it from the library.

I aspire to make greater use of the public library.

I aspire to continue to be present for my wife, family and friends. To enjoy them as much as possible and help them when they are in need of it.

I aspire to write more and share more on, pictures, micro posts, long form posts. I really want to deliver a set of Notes On Attention Paid.

I aspire to pay more attention to our garden, growing food, making it a nice place to be.

I aspire to do more to fix up our humble house. To honor it. To be a good steward of the property.

I aspire to work on connecting to my friends and community. To engage in gift or sacred exchange as much as possible.

I aspire to letting go of the things we own, but rarely or never use, by finding new homes for them whenever possible. We have so much clutter.

I aspire to support the artists and musicians I know personally in whatever way I can. Going to their shows. Making money contributions when I can. Buying their work when I can.

I aspire to pay off our (relatively minimal) debts and to develop a good cash flow cushion. I want to save for things I want or trips and not borrow unless it is to do major work on the house or purchase a big ticket item, like a car.

I aspire to visit my mother, sister and brother sometime this year.

I aspire to plan and execute more adventures for me, my wife and my dogs. I really want to do some camping this year. I really want to get out and see more of what’s around me. We had some success in doing that the past year. I want it to continue into the new year.