Book Club Post

August 2017 Book Club

This week’s post is part of a monthly series of open-discussion posts focusing on books I’ve written. Our theme for the present is Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, and this week we’re discussing “The First Law: The Law of Wholeness” (pp. 18-26). I’d like to ask readers to keep their questions and comments focused on that chapter and the ideas it contains; we’ll have another Ask Me Anything post later this month, and of course a substantive monthly post and another Stormwatch links-and-discussion post in due time.

Here’s the First Law, as it appears in the book:

Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of the whole system for its own existence.  It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself.

For the sake of clarity, here’s an outline of the discussion:

1 – Like all living creatures, we habitually think of our environments solely as a background for our own actions and reactions. That’s useful but incomplete. There’s another way to see any environment — as a whole system in which every living and nonliving thing is a part, dependent on the whole for its survival.

2 – This is as true for human beings as it is for all other things. If we pretend that the environment only exists for our benefit, as a grab bag of resources and a dumping ground for wastes, we earn ourselves a bumper crop of nasty consequences. Thus we don’t have the exclusive power to create our own reality — rather, we co-create it with all other beings, and our intentions are less important in this process than our actual behavior.

3 – What benefits the whole system ultimately benefits everything that is part of the system. What harms the whole system ultimately harms everything that is part of the system. The delusion that we can pursue our own benefit at the expense of the whole systems of which we are part is the source of most human suffering. Assessing our choices to take the needs of whole systems into account, and balancing those against our personal needs, is much wiser.

Questions? Comments? Discussions? Have at it—subject, of course, to the usual rules.


In other news, I’m delighted to report that the first volume of the collected Archdruid Report essays, covering the years 2006 and 2007, is available for preorder and will be published next month. Details? You’ll find them here.


  1. Here is one of my favorite John Muir quotes:

    “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

    This is from Muir’s book, _My First Summer in the Sierra_ (1911). The whole book, like much of Muir’s other writing, is a study in ecosophia.

  2. More a think-out-loud comment than a question, but one of the issues that comes to mind as I look at the whole-systems perspective (undoubtedly more accurate than our segregated model) is how to understand the interrelationships (the “workings” of the system) so as to best act within it. A highly complex system cannot be approached mechanically, as modeling the functions gets swamped by the multiplication of interacting effects, but if we cannot understand how it works, then we cannot choose our action appropriately. Is a heuristic model our best option? Or settling for some limited order of interactions? (E.g., modeling first- and second-order effects, ignoring third-order and beyond.) Or am I falling into a trap here of limiting the solutions to a rationalist approach? What would a transrational model look like?

  3. Part of this idea always bothers me. There are people who harm the whole system they form part of, like their family, say, but they don’t seem to be harmed by that themselves. Or if they are, the harm they suffer doesn’t seem to have any proportionate relationship to the harm they caused. I guess that’s why people are attracted to the idea that those who cause harm will feel the consequences in some purgatory/hell afterlife. Is it just that you’ve harmed your own character by what you’ve done? But if the person themselves never even feels that, then how is it real?

  4. Robert, thank you for this! Muir is well worth reading for this sort of thing — well, and also because he was a first-rate nature writer.

    David, an excellent question! It’s rarely possible to understand why a system behaves the way it does — the level of complexity in even a very simple system is beyond the capacity of the human mind. (The three-body problem in physics — how do three bodies of roughly equal mass orbit one another in space? — remains unsolved centuries after Newton.) What works, rather, is history. If you know that action X reliably produces reaction Y, and you don’t want reaction Y, don’t do X. Ecology is founded in what an older generation of scientists called natural history, and spiritual ecology gains a great deal of its potential from insight from a study of history in general.

    Of course that doesn’t mean you’ll always be right, but it beats most of the other options hands down.

    Dot, the Law of Wholeness doesn’t say that somebody who harms the whole systems in which they participate will be punished according to human notions of moral justice and fairness. it simply means that overall, they’ll be harmed. It also works the other way: there are people who harm the whole system in which they participate in a fairly minor way, and are destroyed by the backlash. Anthropocentric ideas of morality are important, when dealing with human beings — that’s what they’re there for, after all! — but expecting nature to conform to them basically doesn’t work…and spiritual ecology is about nature, not about our human moral customs.

  5. When I engaged in the meditation on the Law of Wholeness suggested in the book, I was struck by how little I really know about where certain material objects in my life come from or what exactly will become of them once they are no longer part of my life. For example, I know in a general way that a plastic object requires a complicated manufacturing process and will take a very long time to biodegrade, but I didn’t know exactly how it was manufactured or how long it would take to biodegrade until I looked up the answers after the meditation. As I researched the answers to the questions that had come up in the meditation, I quickly became awed with the complexity of all of the systems about which I had meditated, which I suppose is part of the purpose for the meditation.

    I also have a question about point #3 in the post. Are there times when an individual’s personal needs will truly conflict with the needs of a whole system in which they are a part, or is a perceived conflict between the individual’s personal needs and the needs of a whole system caused by not understanding the needs of the whole system and the needs of the individual in all their complexity?

  6. JMG, this one is always easy for me because, my first awareness of anything other than me was as a result of sitting zazen and following the Heart Sutra and Dependent Origination. I no longer participate in a Zen Buddhist Sangha, but Dependent Origination stuck with me.



  7. here’s a paradox: every living thing relentlessly pursues its own interests to the exclusion of everything else. the bacteria do not ruminate on the fact that they are killing their host. the lions do not assess the impact of their hunting on the eland population. the depredations of other organisms are self correcting in the relatively short run. if the fox population grows too high and they eat too many rabbits, the fox population contracts until a balance is reestablished. environmental issues ask people to do something no other organism can do: to think about our actions and how they will impact an indefinite and, largely unknowable, future.

    humans have a vastly more powerful tool kit than any other organism and, consequently, are capable of doing far greater damage and putting off the day of reckoning much longer. the issue for humans it seems to me is are we able to voluntarily pull back from the precipice or are we evolved to behave as every other organism does and relentlessly exploit the environment to the point of self destruction? the arguments posed by environmentalists may be expressed badly or brilliantly. does it even matter or are environmentalists doing the functional equivalent of advising the foxes to eat fewer rabbits?

  8. @Jay Moses

    The environmentalists are working from a framework that says that if we quit meddling, everything will somehow self-correct. At least, that’s the way most of it looks to me.

    Another thread I follow elsewhere suggests that we’ve arrived at a point where the devas who manage the ecosphere are beginning to pack their metaphysical bags and turn the job over to us. I’m not sure I want to touch that one with the metaphorical barge-pole.

  9. Jay Moses brings up a good point; looking to the behavior of other organisms within the whole at first seems to show a pattern of exploitation and population increase up to the point where they are limited by the consequences (foxes eat all the rabbits). Lately, humans seem to have been able to put off natural consequences via various technologies, especially extra somatic energy. Or at least to shift the consequences around so the decision makers are not feeling them personally! Many people, myself included, conclude that this will eventually lead to a much harder correction than would have been necessary if we had self limited.

    The pertinent part of that for me is, in the quest for a meaningful life, how do I best direct my energy and attention to help build and support alternative ways of living in a world with all of the easy choices no longer an option?

    Is it even worth discussing the possibility that a large enough change of consciousness could make all the difference? There are historical accounts of large social/philosophical shifts happening in a population over a period of hundreds of years, I’m thinking of the rise of Christianity during the latter years of the Roman Empire and of the revivalism of the 1800’s in the US. I wonder though, did those shifts in consciousness actually ‘stick’? Or were they merely a new veneer over old behavior? Maybe the real question is, “What causes people, in sufficiently large enough numbers to matter, to change their minds and more importantly, their behavior?”

    One relatively minor, or maybe not so minor, behavior that has changed in my lifetime is littering and recycling. When I was a boy in the ’60’s EVERYONE threw trash out the window of the car and that has changed. So what caused that change? 1) Public education, esp. TV pieces aimed at children. 2) Fines. 3) But what else?

    If we want to guide the behavior of large groups of people towards a reverence for the Whole and perhaps save some of the better ideas that have come out of this 10,000 year experiment in social organization, perhaps what we really need is a spiritual awakening? Am I right in thinking that Ecosophia is your proposal for just such an awakening?

  10. @JMG, @Dot

    Re human morality

    Rather makes me think of what always saw as the core lesson of the book of Job, which I always found to be the most intriguing text in the collection. Accepting a personification of Nature in the figure Eloah/Elohim (“God”): “I don’t play by your rules.”

  11. @ Jay Moses
    DOES “every living thing relentlessly pursues its own interests to the exclusion of everything else”?

    I wonder…

  12. @JMG “Assessing our choices to take the needs of whole systems into account, and balancing those against our personal needs, is much wiser.” It strikes me that for an individual to make such an assessment is quite impossible IF we were to set out to do it alone & in a purely intellectual way. We would have to adopt a “God’s Eye” viewpoint, one that can see all things and know all things, and yet we are not gods.

    But you hint at another way when you say “we don’t have the exclusive power to create our own reality — rather, we co-create it with all other beings”… As co-creators, it is open to us to communicate, to collaborate, to commune with other co-creators… We don’t have to stay unconnected, untouched, unmoved, untaught – it is open to us to ask, to consider, to participate WITH other living beings in our vicinity while “assessing our choices”.

  13. “There’s another way to see any environment — as a whole system in which every living and nonliving thing is a part, dependent on the whole for its survival.”

    I agree with the sentiment here, but wonder whether it is slightly over-expressed. Do non-living things ‘survive’? Maybe ‘health’ would be better.

  14. A tangential restatement of this Law from the Great Aldo Leopold,

    “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

  15. Lauren, exactly — most of us stumble along with no clue about how the way we satisfy our needs and wants affects the rest of the cosmos. Learning a little more about that is generally a good thing. With regard to your question, remember that no law of nature guarantees that just because you have a need, you can meet it. We all need life, right? And yet sooner or later we all die. So sometimes your needs and those of the whole system do in fact come into conflict.

    Mac, well, there you are. Any road that gets you to the mountain, still gets you to the mountain…

    Jay, there you’re quite mistaken, because it simply isn’t true that every living thing relentlessly pursues its own interests to the exclusion of everything else. You’ve mentioned foxes, so let’s take them as an example. Adult foxes spend much of their time playing and socializing with other foxes. They could put all that energy into killing rabbits instead, sure, but they don’t. Why? Patterns of behavior don’t come with labels on them, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis that this is because there’s an optimum level of predation, which is considerably lower than the maximum, and those fox families that stay closer to the optimum by redirecting some of their abundant energy toward playfulness are more likely to survive than those who eat every rabbit in sight, and then starve.

    Human beings are the same way. Most human societies attain, after a few centuries, a relatively stable relationship with their environment, and use taboos, customs, and other cultural means to keep the burdens they place on their environment low enough that they don’t wreck it. Our society hasn’t done that simply because its technologies are so new, and so constantly changing, that we haven’t had time or the necessary incentives to settle into the kind of stable relationship that most human societies have. So what you’re doing — and it’s a very common mistake — is to take a pattern of behavior that we happen to be stuck in, because we haven’t yet learned better, and apply it to all living things everywhere in the teeth of the evidence.

    Poet, people have been predicting some kind of massive change of consciousness for the last two thousand years or so. It hasn’t happened. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to keep waiting for that particular Great Pumpkin. My plan instead is to help people, one at a time, notice that nature has been telling us how to live all along…

    David, exactly. Human morality is for humans. It’s a very good thing to have, if you happen to be a human being, but it doesn’t apply to any of the other beings and powers in the cosmos.

    Scotlyn, excellent! Yes, exactly. We quite frankly aren’t smart enough to predict the behavior of whole systems of any noticeable degree of complexity — as I noted earlier, the three-body problem is still unsolved — and so we don’t have the option of analyzing whole systems and knowing in advance how they’ll behave. We have other resources, though: communication with other parts of the system is one of them, knowing the history of the system is another. Those aren’t perfect, but then perfection isn’t something we can achieve in this world…

    Dave, fair enough, but is a nonliving thing “healthy”?

  16. Hi JMG, long-time reader but first comment in a long while. Just a few thoughts. ..

    The law of wholeness seems to imply that actions which benefit a single spirit would be, on net, beneficial to the entire community of spirits. Yet that doesn’t, I don’t think, mean that it will be beneficial to all members of that community. I’m trying to think of examples of this, but nothing is coming to mind immediately.

    A material example might be that planting a tree at the edge of a meadow results in an increase in the biomass of that community, or an increase in the number of species it contains. But can that be considered beneficial, and from whose perspective?

    Maybe a better example would be an aggressive weed taking over a meadow, using up the available nutrients, and sowing the seeds of its own demise. That’s more on the negative side though, and ultimately change is the negative (at least from the perspective of that species). Does that imply that for a whole system, beneficial = stable?

    Would love to hear your thoughts on how these can be related to the spiritual/religious.

  17. Looking around my farm, there are quite a few non-native species. Some seem to adapt well, while other only exist due to constant “weeding” of species we deem less desirable. Bermuda grass comes to mind, and depending on what type of pasture you prefer, it is either a wonderful grass or else an awful weed.

    The hole left by the decline of wolves is felt all across north America, but particularly with the ascent of feral hogs to the top of the food chain, and coyote range expansion. Hunting laws and suburban areas where firearms discharge are illegal provide voracious hogs a very nice ‘holiday zone’, where they have nothing to fear and much to eat. Coyotes vacation concurrently.

    Man is by far the biggest pest, as we are almost universally responsible for every issue regarding plant and animal invasions of ecosystems.

    So my question is – what is actually “wholeness” when looking about today?

    We started with the soil 3 years ago – and are far from amending it back to something resembling what exists in areas free of lumber clearcuts (which ours was, albeit 10 years overgrown).

    How does one begin to picture wholeness when there has been so very much flux entering the system for the last century or two? We must start with the baseline we have been dealt, but then what do we accept as part of ecological wholeness? The system as it exists today in imbalance? Or do we look backwards? Or is lack of severe imbalance good enough for now? Vision is required – without it we have no goal to seek towards.

    Attaining just a vision of the ‘now’ is more like an n-body problem, yet I also feel that this complexity is built on the back of cheap petro-energy, and thus variables reduce significantly in the next century.

    I very much like this tangent here, as I constantly see how things I consider small changes, in turn, can change the entire world of other things at the farm. Yet my sense of it is that if it benefits myself and the other immediate things and enriches all around, it is likely a right thing. Not having the God Eye, I must stick with being the mote in it…

  18. Not only do we have levels of technology that we have not learned to control and adequately plan around, but we also have an ideology that tells us that there will always be a replacement for whatever we run out of or damage–economists who assume that rising prices force innovation and a switch to new materials and methods. Cut down the trees, switch to coal; run short of copper and tin, oh look, iron is better than bronze anyhow, etc. This gives us the religion of material progress.

    I must confess briefly buying into Julian Simon’s contention that overpopulation is not a problem because the more people we have the more human genius will be available to solve problems. It seems so plausible at first thought.

    On the other hand we have the religions of apocalypse who tell us that earth doesn’t matter anyhow because this earth will be destroyed in the final conflict between good and evil and the chosen ones will be given a new earth on which to spend eternity.

    And, the worse we make the earth, the less it seems worth saving. Look at the different views on reincarnation in societies with great social inequity and poverty (let me outta here); and Western middle class New Agers (I want another turn).

  19. Does anyone honestly think there would be anything like rabbits without foxes to hunt them? Or anything like deer without wolves to shape them? And totally vice-versa?

    There are no deer and wolves – there are deer/wolves/forest. And these composite (in our clumsy language) entities overlap in myriad ways with myriad other goings-on of which we have not one clue. Not a clue.

    And a tiger in the zoo is not a tiger, because it is not out there ‘tigering’, DNA be damned.

  20. I think the core problem is the myth of “infinite growth” that arose during and after The Enlightenment. Before that myth took hold of Western consciousness, people in the West were relatively more aware that it was necessary to try and live in harmony with the environment (though not necessarily worship it).

  21. Hi JMG,

    Just for your interest, in order for me to understand a lot of the flows that go on here, I have had to deliberately make my world around me quite small on this farm. This involves accepting limits with all that that brings. The interesting thing about all of that is that issues in the larger world then become much clearer to my eyes and also that there is very little waste here. I can’t seem to get it through to people that waste is actually wasted income.

    Interestingly too, the accumulated waste of our society is becoming – like corruption – more than a minor side matter. A factory was discovered the other week in Melbourne that was apparently jammed full of x-ray machines (low level radioactive waste anyone?) and all sorts of other heavy metals including apparently mercury. My personal favourite this week was the: Stawell tyre dump sold to Panama internet marketing company. What could possibly go wrong? My favourite quote in the article was: “controversial recycling process known as pyrolysis, which involves breaking down the tyres at high temperatures.” Ouch.

    Sorry to bring the topic back around to the toilet, but far out, people don’t want to even consider recycling their own poop back into the soil – and that lack of concern is a civilisation killer.

    To everyone here: The disappearing button problem on Firefox seems to be an auto sizing issue with the “Leave a Reply” WordPress widget. All you have to do to get around it is to be in the text box and then use the “Tab” key which will take you from this text box to the ID fields which will suddenly then appear. Come on folks – it is not that hard! :-)!

    I look forward to reading the comments!



  22. In my meditations this past week on whole systems, I found that if I thought of my environment as a kind of liquid field that I and everything else moved in as eddies and currents then the notion of a whole system seemed more visceral and I was more sensitized to it rather then thinking of myself as an actor with a backdrop of an environment. I felt very detached. I also found that my particular eddy was rather thick and dense with all the stuff I have collected and all the connections that the stuff has to other parts of the whole.

    One recent thought I had about this was that maybe I should think of my self as a navigator in a multi-planed ocean of creation. Something like the great Polynesian ocean navigators who could read the smallest signs and ripples on the ocean as well as the sky to help them complete their journey. I get the feeling that paying attention to as much of what goes on around me should be come a constant practice until it is second nature. What are all those ripples and signs of that nearby eddy, is it something that would enhance mine or benefit the whole? Is it something that would harm? By what signs would I know? I am not sure this metaphor is a useful one, but at the time I thought of it it seemed to make sense. Very interesting meditations this week. Still need to think about this in a social context.


  23. For me one of the prime benefits of meditating upon wholeness, upon relationship to all, is the ongoing attitude it inspires of awe, appreciation, and wonder at what otherwise might seem ordinary or insignificant. Emily Dickinson comes to mind as one who had this attitude of reverence and expressed it in much of her work, as did (in a very different way) her contemporary Walt Whitman.

  24. Regarding the changing of mass behaviour, some good news from China:

    Of course, shark fin soup is basically tasteless – the fin is basically just made into gelatin in the cooking process. Of course, that’s just what people with bad taste think, the *real* connoisseurs know better.

    I’m not a fan of celebrity culture in general, but I like Gordon Ramsay:

    What we’re doing to the oceans is horrifying. I don’t eat much meat (inc. fish) in general these days, but for the most part I stick to farmed shellfish, pork and beef. I think the planet will recover much faster from the factory farming industry than the industrial fishery. Although I do buy from small farmers. Not such a big cost when you don’t eat much of it.

    It does seem like there’s a generalized force towards equilibrium in the world, just as too many of one species lives to a reaction against the species, too much of anything leads to a harmful blowback in the opposite direction. Alcoholism and prohibition. The War on Drugs and Fentanyl. Bolshevism and Nazism. Drug abuse and Duterte. 1950’s social conservatism and Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. Double Quarter Pounders with Cheese and veganism. And of course, center stage now, the neo-Marxist left and the neo-Nazi right. Hopefulyl the second time will be more farce than tragedy.

  25. Most organisms will relentlessly pursue whatever path leads to their perpetuation. However, there are limits to every ecosystem that imposes some kind of control. Change something in the ecosystem that controls the number of deer that survive on the Kaibab Plateau in the first half of the 20th century and you see overshoot of the deer population and an eventual collapse of the numbers of deer in that ecosystem. There may have been other factors involved other than the widespread killing of predators in the Kaibab region of the Colorado Plateau that contributed to the great increase in deer numbers and the resulting die-off, but I think iwe can be reasonably certain that if the predators had not been killed the correction would not have been as extreme.

    One way to take this is that humans can modify behavior in ways that will lessen the severity of any correction that takes place and you certainly don’t have to model it. To use a non-ecological example, due to all of the factors that contribute to automobile fatalities. assessing just exactly what will happen to a person in a certain kind of crash nearly intractable. You can do everything “right” (wear a seat belt, refrain from texting or driving drunk, slow down, etc.) and still end up dead after a collision with another motor vehicle. However, I think most folks would agree that if one follows these safety procedures, a person’s chances of surviving any kind of crash will be markedly better. There is no guarantee that I will survive my next drive to work, but I will always wear my seat belt and keep the phone in my pocket as I drive. You don’t need to model those things; we understand that just a few simple precautions improve chances of preventing injury or death, or perhaps not being hurt as badly, because it has become apparent over many years and seeing many crashes that the numbers are with you if you stay in the car as opposed to being thrown out during a crash or if you are not distracted while driving.

    I find it curious that people talk about modeling human impact on the world ecosystem as though being able to do that with any degree of certainty would result in a change in human behavior. To me it already makes sense that any activity that increases my input of any kind of waste into the environment is going to stress the system. I believe that as long as we use energy in the form of fossil fuels, or other extractable resources that took the earth a long time to store up, we are adding insult to injury with respect to the environment. Humans, at least in large part, did not have access to these extractable resources for most of human history, and as a result the human population did not have enough of an adverse effect to threaten widespread extinction of a large percentage of the earth’s species. Will I be able to unplug from the current system? Not entirely, but I know that the correction will be severe as a result of so many of us continuing on the current path.

  26. “The delusion that we can pursue our own benefit at the expense of the whole systems of which we are part is the source of most human suffering.”

    I’ve found that this delusion is stronger in some societies than others. I lived in Japan for 7 years during my twenties and it impressed me how much less they suffered from this delusion than America, although I do not want to give the impression that they are anywhere near ideal. It’s just that the Japanese emphasize that having too much is just as bad as having too little, and that moderation in habit and speech is key to living a harmonious life with others.

    This belief manifests in negative ways too, especially in that exceptionally talented people and are apt to hide their ability and defer to group judgment to fit in, but, the society as a whole focuses more on moderating behavior to be less of a burden on others. They also stress the importance of protecting the environment and most people in the countryside have their own shopping bags, eschew luxuries like dryers and spend a lot of time separating garbage to properly recycle.

    Of course, I never could convince anyone to give up disposable chopsticks.

  27. Jeremy, excellent. You’re starting to move beyond the surface level of this discourse and into the deeper levels. “Beneficial to whom?” is of course a crucial question. The whole system has its own values, things which it fosters, things which it avoids; each individual within that system has the like; your body likely contains cancer cells right now — most human beings have them; our immune systems keep them in check — which have a notion of their own benefit which, taken to its extreme, would kill you, and your death would then result in their death too. Which is to say that the questions we’re dealing with are not simple…

    Oilman, wholeness is what is, right where you are now. Feral pigs are part of the ecosystem, so is Bermuda grass, and so is the empty place where wolves used to be. Wholeness is not timeless; it’s always in flux and it always has a history — which means also that your actions, like those of the pigs and the Bermuda grass, co-create what it will be in the near and middle future.

    Rita, yep.

    Sgage, the tiger in the zoo is a zoo/human/tiger, which is not the same as a jungle/assorted prey animals/tiger. Our creations are also systems…

    TheK, that’s certainly one of the core problems. To my mind, the other — which is much older — is the notion that we’re not from here: that human beings are not part of nature, not part of the world, and being stuck in nature is a temporary burden from which the deity of your choice will shortly free us all.

    Chris, very good indeed. It’s often the case that paying attention to things on a small scale brings insight into larger scales; that’s why scientists run experiments in test tubes and people who do discursive meditation will slowly and carefully unpack all the implications of a single concept.

    Kay, that strikes me as a very useful metaphor!

    Zenzaaz, that’s certainly one of the benefits, I personally like the ability not to be quite so self-defeatingly stupid a bit more, but everyone has their own preferences!

    Justin, whether there’s a force or not depends, I suppose, on your definition of “force.” Certainly equilibrium is among the basic principles of existence; you can count on it, especially when you’re dealing with people who ignore it…

  28. Pentrus, here again, you need to do some further reading in biology. Organisms do not necessarily pursue their own replication at all costs; some do, while others have reproductive strategies that focus on the species rather than the individual — I’m thinking here again of foxes, who routinely establish groups of adults in which only the dominant pair ever breeds at all. The others support the reproduction of the dominant pair, and that leads to more successful foxes overall. That said, your broader point is quite correct, and human beings can certainly learn a lesson or two from foxes et al….

    Amber, oh, granted; Japan has the advantage of a long historical memory, and periods of savage poverty and deprivation within its recent history. I suspect Americans will get good at the same things once we go through similar historical traumas.

  29. Kay, you know, I think that the decision to pay attention to something is one of the parts of the human experience that the conscious, rational mind has the most control over. For instance an effective way to save money or to lose weight is to put a calendar on your wall and every day you write down your bank balance or your weight.

  30. David, my reaction would be that reductionism is getting in the way.

    Our brains make sense of a complex world by chunking sets of experiences together into a higher level model, rather than trying to keep track of all the details. A coffee cup and its properties are nothing but a high level model that describes the ways that the component parts behave together, rather than trying to keep track of all the component parts and their relationships. A heuristic model, if you will, because we are not capable of understanding all the interacting effects.

    So we construct higher level models for things as necessary to allow us to think about them and sure, sometimes that doesn’t work well. We all use transrational models in our conceptions of other people and how they might behave in different situations.

    A lower level model will tell us in what way we can drop the coffee cup for it to break in a particular way, or not break. The higher level emprical model just tells us that if we drop the cup it may or may not break and we can’t be sure ahead of time.


  31. Regarding Oilman’s post about achieving balance, things are always balanced. If it weren’t, there would be instant combustion. That said, if we look at the idea of ecological succession, things are always changing making pathways for the things which will come afterward. It is a balance which is constantly changing and evolving.

  32. Pentrus, re: modelling human impact on the world ecosystem, the Limits to Growth work in 1972 was good enough to tell us what we needed to know. What human behavioural change did we get as a result? Not a blessed thing.

    As JMG has discussed before – knowledge isn’t the limiting factor in changing behaviour.


  33. This whole systems approach could work on different layers as well. One such layer is politics and it is no wonder using this tool to see why there is such a mess and why things are likely to be up-ended in the near future.

  34. I’ve read people quoting John Muir and Aldo Leopold in response to the first law, so I’ll follow suit by quoting Barry Commoner, whose first law states “Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.” That looks a lot like your first law. I don’t know if the rest of Commoner’s laws — “Everything must go somewhere,” “Nature knows best,” and “there is no free lunch” — match up to the other six laws in your book or if they are simply elaborations on your first law. In any event, I teach my students all of Commoner’s laws and ask them for which ones apply when they analyze any situation or example. Now I’m thinking of teaching your first law as a restatement of Commoner’s. That’s one case where science and magic seem to agree, which ties into your comment last week that “magic follows the laws of nature; it is not supernatural.”

  35. Since we are sharing favorite wholeness quotes, here’s mine, from Leonardo da Vinci: “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially, learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” This seems to get at how very important our representations of reality are- we can’t begin to approach completeness until we see what we are intertwined with.

    Since I’ve done the exercises in this chapter thinking of material objects fairly extensively in the past, I focused this week on thinking about various beliefs I hold and relationships I am part of, including digging further into last week’s theme of my hatreds. Where do they come from? What frames them inside me? Where do they “go”? What are their downstream effects? What other currents do they connect to? I experienced some insights which were very uncomfortable indeed. Thank you, JMG, for afflicting the comfortable. I keep coming back here, because I know you will push my thinking in productive ways.

  36. I was struck by Jeremy’s point that wholeness might equal stability. For me it more about equilibrium than stability but is the key one relating to the totality of the energy in a system and that it may move around the system, the positive and negatives will impact in different ways over different times but the totality of the energy (and impacts) remains the same. I assume that is the three planet metaphor?

    Also, the impact of humans on the world around us and other humans may change things, moving impacts and energy around for our own benefit but what we take for our our own use may well cause a problem elsewhere but the net position is stable. I assume this applies equally to the wealth pump in economics as it does to poor farming practice or the rise of MRSA?

    Finally, you commented: “sooner or later we all die. So sometimes your needs and those of the whole system do in fact come into conflict.”. I remember Stuart Wilde once saying that all our needs are always met throughout our lives until we die – the inference being that we wouldn’t be alive if our needs weren’t being met which struck me as a lovely alternative way of view what our needs are.

  37. Hi everyone, I’m enjoying the discussion!

    I want to address the issue raised by Jay Moses, that “every individual acts in their own interests to the exclusion of all others” (sorry I’m paraphrasing, I am not attempting to change your point or wording). That’s the interpretation of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” that’s currently fashionable, but it’s an oversimplification. There are many examples of social animals benefitting from cooperation rather than competition (termites, bees, zebras, etc.) which is only possible when you put the needs of the group ahead of the individual. There are also examples of symbiosis (did you know your own nuclear DNA originated in one species, while your mitochondrial DNA originated in a different species? Your own DNA is made of 2 entirely different organisms. Also all stemmed plant life evolved from a form of moss or lichen that fused with a fungus to create the vascular system that makes 99% of all modern plant life possible. That means their DNA formed from 4 different organisms, different species at the time.)

    More importantly, can humans resist their biological urges and change their behavior based on information? Well, I know it looks unlikely under the present circumstances, but we can. I’ve personally never seen two humans fornicating in the streets, even though I know the urge must have been present at some point. I’ve never seen a human kill another human (and I have personally wanted to, but I did restrain myself). What ability do we have as a species, if we cannot exercise judgement and change our behavior? I’ve seen dogs change their behavior when presented with new information. It’s called learning, and it’s widespread among the animal kindom. The easiest way to learn something is to watch someone else do it.

    Regarding the state of our current ecosystem, yes I agree that nearly every ecosystem on the planet is ailing. How do you measure the health of an ecosystem? Yes, sheer biomass is a helpful indicator. Biodiversity is even more helpful. How do you know when to “improve” something and when to leave it alone? I think that only comes with wisdom and a willingness to make mistakes. I do think, though, as long as we are relying on fossil fuel energy and mined resources, and as long as we are creating more wastes than our environment can absorb, there is still room for improvement. We have a very long way to go, but every step in the right direction has affects that reverberate outward beyond the initial act. Everyone who sees you has the opportunity to learn from you.

    Just my two cents 🙂
    Jessi Thompson

  38. JMG,

    I think when I first read this chapter I thought, “Hey, this makes a lot of sense!” But as I pondered it more, I became a little more unsettled.

    In your book you write, “what benefits the whole system ultimately benefits the individual and what harms the whole system ultimately harms the individual.” Benefit and harm can be interpreted in a lot of different ways! I think this is where people can get tripped up on the Law of Wholeness because in reality, different systems come into conflict with each other and it is common for actions taken in service of the whole to harm individuals and vice versa. Obvious examples include war casualties, blacklisted whistleblowers and assassinated activists, and infanticide in cultures that need a way of maintaining their population levels. On the other hand, I also think about the pharmaceuticals produced to keep people alive even though they are polluting the environment.

    By the way, you mention that the relationships between the benefits you provide and get from whole systems are complex and “form the basis for many of the secrets of magic.” Can you say more about that?

    I’m also wondering, considering the work ahead of us, if there’s a better word than individual happiness for what we are cultivating. Maybe it’s justice, or healing or belonging? It just seems that it takes more than a desire for happiness to make the kinds of changes our society needs to make in order to serve the whole.

  39. Hi JMG,

    Oh my! Wow! I’d never quite considered the matter from that perspective before.

    It is more or less what I do to understand the systems here. You know I have absolutely no idea where any of these ideas actually come from and I only get to see the farm unfolding as it unfolds a bit at a time. I don’t necessarily believe that it would be a good idea for my brain to see further ahead than that small amount. Anyway, the tools I use are only those that I can bring to bear on the problems here simply in order to survive in an environment that can turf me on the street at a moments notice. Taking on the challenge of facing such risks sharpens the mind a bit, I reckon? Thanks for the information about the foxes too and I have observed them spending a lot of time playing around here, particularly the cubs – but you know the birds and most of the other critters that live here also spend a lot of time mucking around and that aspect of their lives is not lost on me.

    Hi Oilman2,

    Ensuring that your top soil is deeper every year is a job that is never finished. My gut feeling is that like most of the systems here that draw outputs from the surrounding environment, you have to ensure that you can produce an adequate surplus in the worst years rather than counting on the output of the best years as the norm.



  40. @Amber and JMG: I’ve seen some of that with my grandfather, who grew up extremely poor (his father, a steelworker in Western PA, died when he was 12 or so) during the Depression. For all my life, he’s been very anti-waste, anti-unnecessary-consumption in general (to the point where he now objects strenuously to any of us giving him presents for holidays, which may also have to do with being 94), and extremely concerned with the environment and the local land.

    i’m sort of surprised that hasn’t taken general hold more after the 1930s, but we do, as a country, seem to have less regard for both history and the experience of previous generations than does Japan, as far as I can tell. Still, watching documentaries about the Dust Bowl, I’m always surprised at people who now think we can do whatever we want to the land without it coming back to bite us hard–there are people still alive who remember having dramatic proof otherwise.

  41. The concept of “wholeness” implies, at least to me, a human element – that is, a subjective assessment of whether or not a system is in a relatively good or bad “wholesome” state. Prior to man’s arrival on the planet, the description of systems would be more accurately described as “in balance” or “in flux”, with “wholeness” being absolutely relative.

    So now, since mankind’s actions have upset the balance of many systems (usually for the worse), there’s a definite need to consider systems as a whole, with “natural balance” as the obvious end goal.

    As a side note, that’s an interesting factoid about foxes and only the dominant pair reproducing. I can easily see the human elites wanting to adopt that habit.

  42. “Most human societies attain, after a few centuries, a relatively stable relationship with their environment, and use taboos, customs, and other cultural means to keep the burdens they place on their environment low enough that they don’t wreck it.” Hmmm…I’d argue that those societies that achieve a “relatively stable relationship” are in the minority and that, further, their usual fate is to be conquered by societies that do not achieve that relationship. History seems to teach that societies tend to grow until they can no longer sustain themselves, then collapse.

  43. Also! @JMG: ” I’m thinking here again of foxes, who routinely establish groups of adults in which only the dominant pair ever breeds at all. The others support the reproduction of the dominant pair, and that leads to more successful foxes overall.”

    Forgot to strenuously agree with this before, but thank you for mentioning it. One of the more irksome misunderstandings of nature I’ve encountered (especially as a woman who’s permanently opted out of having children) is that every organism is geared toward direct physical reproduction and is otherwise pointless. “Aunting” or “uncling” shows up in plenty of species and is a very viable strategy as well.

  44. I look forward to the Book Club posts because they refocus discussion on the express purpose of Ecosophia: to “take a closer look at the way that humanity got assigned the dubious status of an ersatz god, explore the ongoing unraveling of that improbable ideology, and consider some of the possibilities for a new paradigm that fits our species with a less embarrassingly oversized role in the scheme of things.” If we are to find such a new paradigm, I believe it must be both universal and elemental, a story or myth which can be embraced by nearly everyone, or at least a large majority, despite differences in history, culture, tradition, etc. In the Law of Wholeness chapter currently under discussion, I was struck by JMG’s observations about “living our lives in ways that benefit whole systems, rather than simply trying to benefit ourselves alone,” and was especially interested in this distillation: “All ethical teachings come down to this one point.” The formidable task would seem to be to flesh out that fundamental point so that it can be grasped on a deeper level than logic or philosophy, so that it takes on the meaning and significance of a religion with the awesome power to radically change lives. Difficult and worthy work here, that JMG is inviting us to engage in, and, as they used to say in the Civil Rights Movement, may we keep our eyes on the prize.

  45. Hi JMG

    Very very interesting proposal to discuss. I want to share with you some “sign” that should allow us to enter in the paradigm of “wholeness”

    From the begining of XX century, the Laplacian deterministic dream of “knowing the destiny of all universe” was broken, after they find, for example:

    a) Deterministic Caos (as you mention the 3 body problem is a “Billiard de Hadamard” problem, related to unknowability of the state of a system after enough time even knowing exactly the initial state and the equation that governs the system). Mostly related to non-linear equations (for example Navier Stokes in Fluid Mechanics)

    b) A-causality embedded in the Quantum realm and the discovery of the undissolved link between the observer and the observed (experiment) which give us a taste of some strange “wholeness” in physics, and also with the fundamental “destruction” of the universal principles of Realism, Causation, Determinism and Locality that disgust so much Einstein

    c) The mathematical Incompleteness serial of theorems made by Gödel, Church, Türing and Chaitin. Each step in this field give more pragmatic tools (specially for algorithmic programming) but at the same time destroying the dream of auto-foundation of the mathematics and logic.

    d) The Genome Project was the end of the idea of a linear correspondence of one gene- one protein paradigm; in fact what we have is a system extremelly complex that nobody suspect how it really works. For example, the genes that differenciate humans from chimpanzees are non-coding sequences of the type retro-transposons, and some biologist suspect this change in the genome of our ancestors was due to some kind of virus infection (retro-viruses inserted in our DNA). Because, what is exactly a virus?, is a “egoist gene” or may be a “vector of biological change”? (enriching Gaia), because for example the way the mother’s body accept the fetus in the mammals is through releasing retro-viruses (complete with capsids), that inhibit the inmune response and allow another “alien” body to grow inside her mother
    On the other hand our inmune cells change, by themselves, their DNA in order to produce a huge amount of different anti-bodies to protect us from millions of foreign agents (proteins) that go into our bodies; if this change in the DNA were “by chance” as propose by the darwinian paradigm, we will be dead inmediatelly. There is a purpose-oriented change in all these process

    e) We are in the “Dark Age” of Physics, because all these “scholastics” or “angelicals” entities created recently by the cosmo-physicist to explain all the observations that do not fit their theories = dark matter, dark energy, black holes, and the best of all : the Multiverses, which is a complete Meta-Physics hypothesis because even cannot be tested (a single multiverse need to be casually separated of another multiverse, if not, it will be another part of the same universe not another different universe). Instead of negating that may be the galilean “Law of Inertia” is not so “universal”, we “invent” the dark energy (we could call it “angels pushing the galaxies far away”), or also to explain this beatuiful and fine-tuned structure of the stars in the galaxies, the physicists invent the dark matter that nobody know what it is
    Why not stop to see the Cosmos as a “thing” subject to “Eternal Laws” and start to see it as an “organism”, changing with its own purposes (Will), as the hunter-gatherers really “know” it is

    I think there is enough “signs”, even in Science, to adhere to the paradigm of “wholeness”, and start to see the world with other eyes (as the Humanity saw it for millenia), but as you know, this change is not a problem of “knowledge” or scientific “tools” but related to the “Stories of the Tribe” (society) and the way the society operates
    As Nietzsche said: “there are no facts, only interpretations”

  46. The law of wholeness has a requirement that is difficult for most people in western civilization to accept. It is true that to disregard the law of wholeness and break the strands which knit together an ecosystem is guaranteed to have nasty consequences for humans some time in the near or distant future the reverse is not necessarily true. Doing what is required to maintain the ecological whole and perpetual sustainability of a landbase does not always come up skittles and unicorns for the human inhabitants involved. Practices ,that we think of as barbaric, such as infanticide, fox style procreation limits, and ,perhaps in the future ,elimination of medically needed but ecologically damaging pharmaceuticals come to mind. This is not an argument that finding out way back to respecting and living the law of wholeness is not absolutely necessary, but that much change in expectations, and our civilized view of morality must occur before we can be successfull with this.

  47. @sgage @JMG The zoo/human/tiger construct is a very interesting lens. As our cultural system becomes more out of alignment with the greater systems it works within, our structures start to resemble those of the zoo more and more. This point of view may be the result of 20 years living in New York City. I don’t know if I want to be a megacity/human/human, though it has certainly has sharpened my senses.

  48. Meditation on such a concept seems worthy although I never meditate. I vacationed two weeks on an island and of course the ecosystem on the island and in the nature reservation surrounding with various types of seal types is depend on scientific management, controlled fishing. Taking long walks and being in nature reveals things to a city person who is otherwise sensitive. I got to where I could sort of feel the island by glancing at the bush vegetation along the ridges and then holding myhands forward turned a bit as I walked I thought I was sensing the magnetic field of the earth as a whole as it comes over the horizon. With this I thought I grokked who God was, as people originally meant, the holistic environment, gaia. This was a breakthrough to me as I like concrete results, am always skeptical. In other words I have gradually built up from pure skepticism to belief in individual souls also for animals and plants and to ecological areas, island or the planet. Shamanism was likely like that, feeling the energy balance of the whole. When we do this the plants and animals will react positively to us.Generally humans block energy as they are intellectually biased so they don’t get what nature is saying. Maybe living as hunter gatherers we were relatively inbalance or perhaps never after fire and tools but living in nature in small groups must make us aware, in our dreams for example of what the forest or gaia needs from us.

    If you think of earth like a person, having a personality, soul, magnetic field(being sort of our soul as measured from heart) then it must have needs, karma, life cycle. Perhaps like with dinosaurs humans are a dead end experiment since they cannot cooperate emotionally with, enslave rest of ecosystem, being cut off by frontal cortex from own senses of deeper self. Mystical religious teachings is about getting back into contact with that. Analysis into parts being the human solution to survival which in the end is a dead end for cooperation, holistic grokking. We have become the sociopathic predator species par excellence.

  49. Since human beings’ main feature is a huge developed anti-wholeness organ – the brain – that pushed humanity into the current state of affairs, I wonder if the deeply ingrained (programmed?) behaviour patterns will be of any use to achieve/retrieve some sort of balance.
    Why is the brain anti-wholeness? Because in my (unsophisticated and uneducated, but much reflected upon) view of it, human brain has specialised in establishing “pairs of three” structures: two seemingly oposite elements plus an arbitrary, abstract and “reasonable” connection between them (pleasure-pain-desire; good-bad-righteousness; salvation-damnation-religion; spirit-body-soul; beauty-ugliness-plastic surgery; Father-Son-Holy Ghost; etc). So, at some point in the presence of human beings on this planet, the brain was geared into discretionary reasoning. At this point I can only declare that I feel quite happy in sharing scientists’ ignorance: no-one really knows why that happened. The fact that there are still some really advanced human beings around – the ones that have learned to live with Earth, opposite to the way we live, against Earth, and that are commonly know as “savages” or “primitives” – offers little comfort, because it’s not clear to me if, in order to learn how to respect the whole of living and nonliving, we have to forcibly endure the rise-and-fall sequence (in the same manner as young people learn by doing what they were told not to). Thank you for reading.

  50. Chris @ Fernglade said:

    “All you have to do to get around it is to be in the text box and then use the “Tab” key which will take you from this text box to the ID fields which will suddenly then appear. Come on folks – it is not that hard! :-)!”

    Au contraire, mon frère. At least on some smart phones there is no ‘Tab’ key…with my Android I have to set up the laptop and turn on the phone’s hotspot to comment (after locating a strong enough signal), which, needless to say, is a royal pain in the backside (and tends to provide a negative feedback mechanism on the flow of my comments;).

    Doesn’t seem all that smart to me, now that I think about it. Sort of like, hey, we have an elevator now, surely it won’t be a problem to get rid of these old stairs…

  51. Greetings All!

    I have long considered these words from Marcus Aurelius to be among the most perfect expressions of the Law of Wholeness in its ultimate form:

    “Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.”

    Thanks to everyone for the lively, thought-provoking discussion.


  52. Sgage–you might enjoy James Dickey’s poem “The Heaven of Animals.”

    One theme I see repeated in some comments is life=good, death=bad. No sense of life and death being parts of a cycle and death being a necessary part of that cycle. I don’t think this is unique to Western culture, but it does seem terribly strong here. This is one problem I have with Diane Duane’s otherwise wonderful Young Wizard’s series. The Wizards serve Life, and Death is portrayed as something alien to the universe, an invention of The Lone Power (thinly disguised Satan).

    It seems to me that this attitude makes it very difficult to accept whole systems–appreciate them abstractly, yes–but accept each part, including death and other forms of destruction as necessary–not so easy. We see this not only in the fear of death for ourselves or fellow humans but also in the type of animal lover who wants to “save” every dog, cat, turtle, deer, or other favored species without regard for overpopulation or other factors. For example the “wild horse” lovers who just won’t recognize that feral horses eat grass and drink water that might be needed by native species or cat lovers who don’t want feral cats removed from areas where they threaten native birds.

  53. (If this went through multiple times, I apologize. Technical difficulties.)

    One of the things I like about the Law of Wholeness is how it encompasses the older wisdom of “All is One” (The First Command-Rant) without denigrating the significance of the parts or, alternatively, identifying each of the parts with the All somehow.

    (I actually think the latter idea comes close to being correct. For those familiar with object-oriented programming languages, my idea is basically that the All is the real-world equivalent of the Object class. I haven’t yet figured out a good way of explaining my idea to non-programmers, sadly.)

    Which leads me to my question: is there an ecosophical equivalent of the Second Command-Rant, “All is Nothing”? I admit I have a hard time with that one even in the traditional systems, and the best I’ve come up with is, “The All is nothing we could imagine.”

  54. Hi JMG,
    I have no problem envisioning the truth of the First Law in regards to all living things, but it seems to me that the rocks, water, and atmosphere wouldn’t care (wouldn’t be harmed) if there were any living things in the system or not. Certainly changes caused by living things to water, air, and even rocks can harm whole systems of living things, as could changes to those systems that had non-biotic causes.
    To me, the First Law would make total sense if it read: “All living things that exist are part of a whole system and depend on the health of the whole system for their own existence. They thrive only if the whole system thrives, and they cannot harm the whole system without harming themselves”.
    Confession: I was trained as a geologist and paleontologist and later studied the hydrosphere and, to a lesser extent, the atmosphere. Modifying those experiences were the two decades I spent practicing organic gardening and farming and the love and awe I feel for living things and the systems that support them.

  55. I’m having a bit of difficulty squaring what appears to be two contradictory points in this discussion, so any clarity or additional view points would be appreciated.
    From JGM:
    “Anthropocentric ideas of morality are important, when dealing with human beings — that’s what they’re there for, after all! — but expecting nature to conform to them basically doesn’t work…and spiritual ecology is about nature, not about our human moral customs.”
    From newtonfinn:
    “I was struck by JMG’s observations about “living our lives in ways that benefit whole systems, rather than simply trying to benefit ourselves alone,” and was especially interested in this distillation: “All ethical teachings come down to this one point.””

    If spiritual ecology is not about human moral customs, how do we use it to provide ethical/moral guidance? Or, to riff off the last ADR post, why should we choose spiritual ecology as the basis for deciding how then do we live our lives? Please don’t take this as meaning that we shouldn’t, but rather how can we make these choices in an integrated and internally consistent way?

  56. Prizm, good. Things are usually in balance — sometimes they aren’t, and you get instant combustion or some other kind of drastic change, and then the system returns to balance over time — but the balance is always a moving, shifting, living balance, not a dead, mechanical balance. As for politics, current politics, especially but not only in the US, could very nearly be defined as the acme of systems stupidity; I’ll be addressing that at some length as we proceed.

    Vince, Commoner’s laws are a very solid statement of ecological reality. I don’t use them in the book because I’m trying to point in a slightly different direction than he was, but they’re wholly valid, and I’m delighted to hear that you’re still teaching them.

    Heather, fascinating. Where’s the Leonardo quote from? I may want to mine that source for other tidbits.

    Stuartjeffrey, very good indeed. Way past the very basic level of ecological/magical theory we’re discussing here is the principle that certain mystery schools back in the day called the Royal Secret, which is the practical understanding of equilibrium: the knowledge that the universe is always in equilibrium, so that any action in one place will generate an opposite reaction somewhere else. Know how to use that and you can shape the universe of your experience in some remarkable ways. Also, thanks for the Stuart Wilde reference — that can be a useful way of thinking!

    Jessi, exactly. The notion that every living thing is in constant competition with every other living thing is ideology, not science — an attempt to project certain popular economic notions onto the living world. Competition is one strategy, cooperation is another, and there are plenty of others as well.

    As for humans changing their behavior in the teeth of biological instincts, we do it all the time. The reasons we’re not doing it this time, to my mind, have a lot to do with the fact that so many people have become painfully aware that the people who are saying “We’ve got to change our behavior!” aren’t changing their own behavior; they’re expecting other people to do so, while clinging to the perks and privileges of their own comfortable lifestyles. The gap between words and actions is also information, and it’s a kind of information that people have become extremely good at noticing of late!

    MJ, excellent. You’re getting past the surface level of the text, and starting to ask some of the questions it leaves unanswered. What if I were to tell you that spending time with those questions, in or out of meditation, is one of the things this book was meant to encourage? 😉

    Chris, the human brain is maybe eight inches long; the universe is countless quadrillions of light years across. There’s no way the first of these can actually comprehend the second; the best we can do is take small samples of the universe, watch how they behave, and draw whatever conclusions from that our brains are capable of processing.

    Isabel, the problem was that the harsh experiences of the 1930s and the war years were followed immediately by the imperial zenith of the 1950s and 1960s, so the lessons learned by your grandfather — and my paternal grandparents too, btw — were dropped like a hot rock by the generations immediately following, and didn’t really have time to sink in.

    Drhooves, no, that’s very nearly the opposite of what I’m saying. Wholeness is what is. A whole system is equally a whole system, whether we’re talking about a pristine natural environment or an abandoned vacant lot next to a toxic waste dump in New Jersey. The same laws govern both, and the common human habit of labeling one system as “bad” and another as “good” gets in the way of that recognition.

    RPC, you’re confusing human societies as a whole with that minority of them that get into the behaviors we lump together as “civilization.” Just at the moment, the energy surplus we’ve gotten from raiding the planet’s stash of fossil carbon has allowed civilization to spread over most of the planet, but that’s a temporary state of affairs; give it a few hundred years, and we’ll be back to the more normal condition, where civilizations rise and fall in the modest fraction of the planet’s surface capable of supporting them, while more durable modes of human society thrive to one degree or another elsewhere.

  57. “If there were ecosophical saints, Leopold would be one of them”

    Is it too late to add the following proposal into the virtual hopper? That the “5th weeks” (which may not arise every month) might become occasions for ecosophical hagiographs? That is to say, short biographies of individuals whose lives and works might provide encouragement by example to those of us engaging with the project of ecosophia?

  58. Isabel, exactly. The habit of trying to force nature to follow human political ideologies is very common in modern American popular culture, and it takes a willingness to learn something about actual species and ecosystems to get past that, and realize that nature has its own rules. Reproduction is a great example; there are many different ways that species arrange their reproductive lives, and attending to those is a useful treatment for the tunnel vision that insists that human beings must follow one rigidly defined set of rules.

    Newtonfinn, I disagree that any such way of looking at the world ought to be “a story or myth which can be embraced by nearly everyone, or at least a large majority, despite differences in history, culture, tradition, etc.” Au contraire, a monoculture of the intellect is just as damaging as any other kind of monoculture. What we need instead are many stories, each of which — as the Quakers say — speaks to the condition of different people with their own histories, cultures, traditions, etc. As a white middle class American descended from upwardly mobile working class ancestors, I’m trying to tell the story that makes sense to me, in the hope that it will make sense to at least some others; meanwhile, other people from other backgrounds are using their own storytelling powers to weave other ways of seeing the world. That also is part of wholeness…

    DFC, an excellent list! I would add to it the philosophical writings of Michael Polanyi, who showed (in Personal Knowledge and The Tacit Dimension in particular) that every explicit statement depends for its meaning on tacit understandings, and that these latter cannot be made explicit without requiring another set of tacit understandings to support them — and thus no attempt to produce an entirely explicit account of the world is possible.

    Clay, good. Practices that maintain the integrity and functioning of the whole system have definite benefits for individuals, but the practices themselves can — and often do — incur costs. I don’t choose to own or drive a car, for example; that means that the air I breathe is just a bit cleaner, and it spares me a galaxy of more direct costs — but it also means that I put a lot of wear on my shoe leather, and have to allot much more time to get from point A to point B! That’s one of the things that’s meant to come up in meditations on this law.

    Aron, if you don’t want to be a megacity/human/human, well, you know what to do…

    Gandalfwhite, I was with you right up to that last sentence. Who is this “we” you’re talking about, and why do you choose to define it in those terms, when there are so many other human capacities you might choose to emphasize instead?

    Armenio, I take a certain wry amusement in watching people insist that human beings are somehow doomed to make the specific mistakes we happen to be making right now. The brain is as much of a wholeness organ as it is an anti-wholeness organ; the particular habit of thought you’ve pointed out is only one, rather idiosyncratic feature of the brain; you use your brain just as thoroughly by stepping outside at sunrise and experiencing the entire universe as a single act. Instead of trying to insist that humans in the industrial world have no choice about doing the dumb things that they happen to be doing at this moment in history, why not consider doing something else, and showing others that it can be done?

  59. @ Prizm , Chris, JMG…

    Thus whatever I do is just what I do, correct? If I go too far in a certain way, say taking out all these damnable 300 lb sows, things will balance themselves? I get that there is a certain wholeness and the entire balance thing. From my human perspective, the hogs decimate a lot of things – open glades, creek banks, fruit trees, and even beehives. Each of these things were doing fine pre-invasion.

    Post invasion, the creek banks are eroding precipitously, leading to trees falling into the creek. My pasture is broken into glades – which are now nearly impassable on foot. Fruit trees and even the natives are stripped bare and broken in two. Two beehives were completely wrecked, and pollination is already an issue for most people trying to grow something edible. In short, these greedy guys have wrecked the balance of many aspects of my little area and those around it.

    I reckon I am going combustible on the hogs. It’s what a top predator should do when the prey is just coursing everywhere, right? My gut says these critters need a wolf in mans clothing to balance their reproduction cycle into something less destructive to everything else around them. I need to be their ‘balancing force’, because they have lost their old one.

  60. Hadashi, I suppose it’s a step in the right direction, but why not just experience the real world that way? 😉

    Jim, Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics generally are very good at this sort of thing. I see them as important ancestors of ecosophy.

    Rita, excellent! Yes, and we’ll be getting to that discussion in due time. More generally, when we get to the Fourth Law, I expect to see a lot of desperate attempts to wriggle out from the necessity, importance, and goodness of limits — most of all, the limit we call death.

    James, I’m not at all sure what you mean by “All is Nothing” in this context. Perhaps you can explain…

    Judy, yes, I know that it’s traditional in our culture to draw a hard line between those entities we consider biologically alive and those we don’t. That distinction isn’t recognized by a great many other human societies, as you may be aware, and it’s not recognized by the mystery teachings, which see life and consciousness as present in all things. (By that way of looking at things, what we call “living things” are just those physical presences in which life and consciousness appears in forms we’re able to recognize.)

    In his useful work Introduction to Systems Philosophy, Ervin Laszlo argues that consciousness is a feature of any sufficiently complex system. The atmosphere is certainly a complex system; take a moment to think through the implications of the atmosphere being alive and conscious…

    AMark, one of the points I’d make more forcefully if I was rewriting the book is that we’re not really talking about morals here; the passing reference to ethics was, in retrospect, a bad idea. The entire discourse of morality in modern times has become a complete mess, riddled with passive-aggressive power tripping and question-begging exercises, and until that gets straightened out — and it’s going to take a lot of straightening! — it’s probably best to avoid it, and simply talk about how the universe works. The law of wholeness is a way of understanding the universe; if you learn it and put it to work, your chances of getting the results you want is considerably higher than if you think that you can simply do things to the universe without any consequences.

    Scotlyn, so noted! Reincarnation is currently way out in front of the other proposed themes, but I’m considering writing out all the others and leaving it on my desk as a prompt for those weeks when nothing comes to mind…

  61. Oilman, it seems to me that you’re trying to confuse wholeness with moral goodness. A whole system with hogs is also a whole system, which will find its own balance — and so is a whole system in which those hogs get turned en masse into bacon and pork chops, courtesy of a certain oilman with a rifle. Understanding wholeness doesn’t mean embracing passivity. It means recognizing that every action has consequences, trying to get a sense of the consequences before you decide on an action, and learning to work with the consequences as they unfold from your actions. Really tasty lean bacon is a consequence I could live with… 😉

  62. The disconnect between making things, doing and creating things, compared to what most people do now? Cogs in a wheel, grinding up your soul.

  63. @ Graeme

    Quite so. One of my more difficult hurdles to overcome is that analytical drive to classify, label, categorize, and “know”. The map is not the territory.

  64. John, et alia

    One of the things I have to keep reminding myself, though I’ve gotten better at remembering over the years, is that when we are talking about equilibrium within the context of these systems, it is a dynamic equilibrium and not a static one. There is no “once and for all” solution, but only the present solution for the present set of conditions, all of which are in flux.

  65. @JMG: Indeed–if I haven’t ranted around you about the whole “alpha male” misconception as used by werewolf romance novels, be warned that I can do so for several paragraphs, and a lot of gesturing with whatever I happen to be drinking.

    @Rita: I’ve found that the later YW books–High Wizardry and up–get better about that, moving the Lone Power’s deal from “death/entropy” to “the fear of death and/or a particular twisted manifestation of death and/or thwarted potential and unbalance as a whole,” which is a neat transition; Book 5 in particular makes me cry in a manner ill-befitting my dignity and general heartlessness every time.

  66. JMG. I had to laugh at your exposition of the Royal Secret, because I first encountered it many years ago in a story that I’m sure my mother wouldn’t have approved of – including that you need to manage where the reaction comes out very, very carefully.

  67. @JMG

    Dear Sir,

    There’s no doubt in my mind that I was unable to express myself in a clear way – people being somehow doomed or having no choice in their ways was not what I was trying to express. I will unashamedely stand on the shoulders of a giant and summon Plato’s Cave to my rescue. In a hopefully not-too-far-fetched update of the myth, I often come across in my regular list of blog readings with the authors’ opinion that their conversations (regarding some of the matters discussed here) with educated and sometimes even influential people only comes to show how unaware, uninterested or simply not getting the point those people are (let alone the common folk). Simply put, staving off hunger, to acquire shine toys and trying to mate are at the core of most of human actions; or more succintly: chasing pleasure and fleeing pain. Am I wrong in supposing that wholeness does not exclude neither pleasure nor pain, and trying to obssessivily cater to the former while completely ruling out the later renders people unable to perceive wholeness? And if so, can one really escape the cave or are we just doomed to the regular fancy wordplay while the net is still on?
    Kind regards.

  68. JMG,

    James, I’m not at all sure what you mean by “All is Nothing” in this context. Perhaps you can explain…

    Ah, my apologies, I assumed you would get the reference. I’m referring to the Second Command-Rant from Lon Milo DuQuette’s The Chicken Qabalah. From the comment on it:

    Qabalistic tradition informs us that everything proceeded from the Great One, and the Great One proceeded from a very special kind of Nothing–actually three very special kinds of Nothing.

    He goes on to outline the concepts of Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur.

    I was wondering if these ideas had any equivalents in ecosophy?

  69. Dennis, all the more reason to walk away — accepting the costs of doing that — and get back to making things, doing things, and creating things.

    David, bingo. Equilibrium is always in motion, always adjusting to new inputs. Dead static balance exists only in machines.

    Isabel, I may take you up on that one of these days. I admit I wasn’t previously aware that werewolf romance was a thing…

    John, hmm! I first encountered it in a dusty lodge hall in Seattle, in the elaborate process of getting handed the initiatory title of Prince of the Royal Secret, and whether or not my mother would have approved of it was the last thing on my mind!

    Armenio, you must run with some very simple people. Very few of the people I know spend all their time staving off hunger, collecting toys, or trying to mate; human behavior is much, much more complex than that, and trying to flatten it out so that it can be explained in the terms you’ve used confuses much more than it explains. Look at the concerns being discussed in these comments — everything from quantum physics to werewolf erotica! Human behavior includes all of those, and our species includes plenty of people who enthusiastically avoid pleasure and embrace pain — think of masochists on the one hand, and ascetic religious practitioners on the other! A theory of human motivation that doesn’t include the raw diversity of human choices falls flat, at least to me.

  70. @JMG

    Dear Sir,

    Please let me know if you think I am being too insistent and/or impolite.
    Let me point out that quantum physics=shiny toys (sorry for the mistake on the previous comment); werewolf erotica=mating, sex. Also masochists and ascetic religious folks both seek pleasure through pain. But even if it wasn’t like that, my point still stands, because both cases simply exchange pleasure for pain, thus ignoring wholeness.
    Nevertheless, maybe you’re right, maybe I’m just being too narrow-minded – funny you mentionned it, because even if I don’t get along with any people at all (living kind of secluded for some years now), I do consider my countrymen as “simple people”. But I’m being stupid in passing judgement, because being a misanthrope just skews one’s point of view over time.
    Thank you.

  71. JMG
    I like the comments about what applies mostly or only to humans (for example our morality) cannot be usefully applied in the same way to others, yet fun and socialising, for example, can apply to both humans and foxes.

    A discussion can be found in comments on Ugo Bardi’s recent blog where Bill Everett provides an excellent example of wholeness where Pacific salmon follow their nature uphill against gravity and a whole ecosystem thrives on the return of nutrients from the ocean.
    Phil H

  72. I guess my reply would start with the question, over what timescale and to who’s benefit/detriment? The system is in a constant state of change. All creatures within the system are constantly adapting to this change. As they adapt, they are also the sources of changes. Species evolve, compete, succeed and change, or fail to change appropriately in time and die. To state that any species that harms the system, harms the whole of the system is spread a little too wide. Rats and cockroaches are doing marvellously out of human change. In the short term, we are agents of massive change, but the system will adapt even if we do not and die as a result of our changes. There were once forests in Antartica, at some point there will be forests again and species will adapt to those changes too.

    Domesticated animals make up something like 90% of all mammals in the world. As species go, they’ve also become incredibly successful, even if the individual members of those species live terrible lives. Any number of bacteria and viruses are having a stellar time at the moment. If we change our activities to more environmentally sustainable ones, then those species that have adapted to our unsustainable ones will suffer and be forced to adapt. If we don’t change, then other species will be force to adapt until such a point as our systems collapse. At which we will see more adaption.

    Can we hurt such an abstract thing as “the system”? The system survived an asteroid impact even if 90% of the species present at the time did not. Mammals as a class were able to adapt faster and better to fill the gaps that reptiles were knocked out of. If we define “the system” as the current order of the natural world, then that was always doomed to change at some time.

    I fully agree with your argument that we are fully within the system and that the changes that we wreak within that system affect us as much as they do anything else. As thinking beings, able to observe the consequences of our actions, it behoves us to act in a way that minimises the risk to our species for as long as possible. But any action that we take is going to harm some species and benefit others depending on their ability to adapt.

    To quote Chuck Palahniuk – Over a long enough timescale, everyone’s survival rate drops to zero. That applies to species as much as individuals

  73. I would like to tell a small story about an incident that happened last night at the library where I work. It made me think of the human world of ideas down through time as a whole system, how ideas spread through that system, and how both speech and writing are a means of connecting together all human minds that have ever existed into a whole, even when language forces only small points of contact to occur between smaller systems.

    I was serving at the checkout counter when a woman, who had clearly walked the length and breadth of hell many times over, came and dropped a cardboard box full of books in front of me, saying
    “I’ve had enough!! I am going to find some happiness!”

    She proceeded to take out of the box the books she had pulled from our shelves, saying,
    “You don’t have a very good section of books about…(she struggled to find the right word and settled on)…spirituality.”

    I eyed her pile of New Age Books. I said to her,
    “I know a book that might interest you. It’s a slim book, it’s quick to read, but it’s profound and it explains a lot of things.”

    I gave her a brief overview and explained that the first law was Wholeness, and that everything was connected to everything else. Her face lit up. She said,
    “Yes! I’ve always known we were part of something much bigger!”

    She placed an order for the book from Interlibrary Loan (our library regrettably does not have a copy, and discourages donations because it costs more to catalogue a donated book than it does to order a new one themselves, as I’ve been told.)

    I hope it comes in soon enough to undo the damage the New Age books will have done in the meantime.

    Anyway, I was struck by the thought that thousands of years ago and down through the ages, books were written in a variety of languages, translated, preserved through time, and eventually read by a certain JMG, where the ideas were distilled, digested, and sent on through a book that years later came to me here in a small city in Ontario, Canada, where one night, out of the eight possible clerks at that counter, that woman came to me, and I passed it on.

  74. Hi!

    Thinking about the first law where everything is dependent upon everyting else to function, it is as if we were dealing with holographic images in laser optics, where each bit of the image contains the whole image.

    No wonder then if some physicists are saying that we inhabit a holographic universe.

    A point of convergence between physices and the mystery schools I presume.

  75. @JMG: A surprisingly big subgenre–that and the Amish, which could relate to this post a little, by pointing to a subconscious desire in many people to get back to a simpler, more connected life. (Meanwhile, when I’m feeling low on cash, I threaten to write Amish Werewolves in Love, which, if demographics are a prediction, should let *me* retire to the country.)

    My side-job–and my early years in the shadier parts of the Internet–make me well-informed on completely weird topics. Like the Gandalf of bodice-rippers, or something.

    Also, on humans not being as special as a lot of society thinks, I just saw this article:, which says that octopuses likely have human-level consciousness, and that ” consciousness is not particularly unusual at all, but a fairly routine development in nature.” (And that it’s octopuses reminds me a little of the Weird of Hali novels.)

  76. Well, my second meditation brought up a predicament: I need something in order to function. I know that its production contributes to the poisoning of the environment and the oppression of miners and workers. Feeling guilty butters nobody’s bread, but I find the device to be a necessity. In this case it’s a simple flip-top cell phone, which is a safety device when out and around or in case of emergency, a provider of visual messages for the hearing-impaired (text function) and very rarely, a camera.

    This also applies to the hearing aids, the hip replacement, and the cataract surgeries, without which I’d be isolated, crippled, and dependent, probably warehoused somewhere and forgotten like Ray Bradbury’s Electric Grandmothers. And, in a sprawling Southwestern city – where my entire support system is – with a rotten transportation system, a car.

    It would be SO much easier to be frankly selfish and think it a moral virtue in such cases. Wrong, but easier.

  77. Hi JMG,

    I did the first part of the meditation exercise to (hopefully) help scratch the surface of this law. For the first material object I picked a pair of cheap underwear that I used to buy at the local grocery store, something from their store brand discount line. (I had been buying this kind of underwear for a while and it always bugged me. I get 98% of my clothes from thrift stores, but I tend to draw the line at underwear.)

    At first glance, maybe not thinking in terms of whole systems, buying this kind of clothing is a harmless prospect. It’s cheap, on-trend, and pretty effortless, as you can outfit yourself while picking up your groceries. But the perceived short-term personal gain is largely an illusion, as a look below the surface reveals. Although this is a pretty simple example, and probably not news to most of the readers of this blog, it is still a revealing exercise into the nature of the Law of Wholeness (at least for me).

    Producing the cotton used to manufacture the underwear is painstaking work that causes a great deal of stress on the farmers that grow it, in terms of the long hours of work required, high use of dangerous poisonous pesticides, and economic risk that is affected by things largely beyond their control like weather and world market prices. Growing monocultures of cotton exposes them to further vulnerabilities, as the perfect storm of wrong conditions can mean the loss of their entire crop and thus livelihood. Dubious, high-interest financing, and high cost of inputs like GM seeds and pesticides makes for a complex, fragile situation for the third-world cotton farmer, most of whom earn barely enough to stay out of poverty.

    Turning that cotton into fabric can often mean the raw material is shipped to a far-off location for processing, with the huge associated transportation and energy costs that translate into more pollution for the planet. And then it may be shipped somewhere else again, generally speaking to third-world countries where cheap labour, dangerous working conditions, poverty and oppression of workers are the norms. The sweatshops that sprung up with the imposition of so-called ‘free trade’ not only served to exploit an already marginalized sector of the population in countries like China and Bangladesh, but gutted a productive garment manufacturing sector here in North America, with the associated loss of jobs.

    Once you actually put the clothing on, you are exposing yourself to a range of harmful chemicals, from pesticides to dyes to anti-wrinkle agents, fungicides and who knows what else. Not only are they poisoning you, as the skin can absorb much of what it comes into contact with, but the environment as well during the various stages of manufacture and eventual disposal.

    But even if we all started wearing organic fair trade hemp fiber clothing grown and made in North America, which might sound like an ideal prospect, those cotton farmers and sweatshop workers would suffer in the short term, as they have come to rely on this dysfunctional global system for their livelihoods. I guess this system will continue to adapt and change as economic, and hopefully social factors change. Many farmers are switching over to growing organic cotton, at least. And the picture will surely change once transport fuel becomes more scarce and expensive.

    And compare this picture to one from say, 150 years ago on a small family farm here in North America, where if you wanted a new outfit, it meant starting with raising sheep, shearing and carding the wool, spinning and weaving it into cloth, and finally sewing it into the finished garment. How many people have the skills, equipment and patience to do all those steps today? I know how to sew and have a fine sewing machine from the 1970’s that belonged to my mother, but the comparatively high cost of fabric and time required makes it an economically nonviable prospect largely reserved for crafts and special occasions.

    So that underwear which seemed so cheap at the store carries with it a huge associated cost which is not accounted for but dumped on the shoulders of the producers and the planet. As I tried to achieve a short-term benefit, namely saving money, without being aware of the whole system, I was actually causing a great deal of harm.

    I rely on the salvage economy (thrift shops) to get most of my clothes, as I mentioned above, and have recently started buying ‘expensive’ fair trade organic cotton underwear from a local outdoor equipment co-operative. I don’t think we can expect to shop our way out of this predicament, although thinking in terms of whole systems leads to realizing the implications of this kind of choice, which might seem harmless on the surface.

  78. JMG, I’m not advocating for a monoculture of the intellect (great phrase) and have healthy respect for humanity’s rich and varied cultural and religions traditions. But several readings of your “After Progress” led me to believe that you believed that (1) as the brittle civil religion of progress breaks apart, new religious sensibilities are stirring that do not seek salvation from the earth but rather fullness of life in it; and (2) when social and cultural breakdown occurs, religion often becomes the glue that holds together what is worth preserving, while pointing toward new paradigms that seek to avoid the errors that brought about the breakdown. Because of its beauty and wisdom, I will include one quote from “After Progress” (which I again respectfully urge your readers to engage with). “One way or another, we are in the interval between a death and a difficult birth. …As the dream of a Utopian future somewhere out there among the stars joins the imaginary paradises of other civil religions on the compost heap of history, older sources of value, meaning, and purpose will have to be updated, or new ones invented, to respond to the immense transformations that will accompany the end of the Industrial Age. …A different quest calls us now, murmuring through the emerging religious sensibility of our age, rising stark before us in the cold gray dawn of a world after progress; to return to the living Earth and come to know it again as the whole of which each of us is a part. After all our wanderings, it is time to come home.” If words used in my prior comment deflected from that clear depiction of our current plight and call for renewal of the human imagination (which, to me, is most effectively embodied in story and myth), then that’s on me.

  79. @ Shane W

    Nope – your sugar cured ham isn’t my thing. I can’t do sugary meats – just makes my taste buds blecchh. But ham isn’t a bad idea if I smoke it long and deep.

    @ JMG –

    I was thinking that, but wanted confirmation. I have no moral compunctions about death and killing – when there is a legitimate reason. Eating is one, eliminating destructive pests another – and the baken-maken is a handy meld of the two. Likewise, I have no compunctions about killing people threatening me. Those who haven’t killed another human should know that it is far easier to do so when they are strangers – thus the demonizing of enemies by governments and religious leaders. Either way, it isn’t the same as killing a deer. My oncoming demise I met head-on long ago, and thus have tried to get to this point with a blank bucket list. My hands are bloody, but that is normal – civil society simply masks much of it.

    I want and prefer to steward land, wildlife and most things that are wondrous. But even the wondrous, in excess, can become very nightmarish. Thus as part of the “wholeness” I am going to exert my influence towards reducing profligate hog reproductive acts. And we will continue to amend our soils and over-plant native fruits and edibles. I am not out to refashion nature, just amend it a little to support some agriculture.

  80. JMG: “Royal Secret, which is the practical understanding of equilibrium: the knowledge that the universe is always in equilibrium, so that any action in one place will generate an opposite reaction somewhere else.”

    Yikes. If this were true, I can’t see why it would induce me to do anything but sit in the corner and suck my thumb. If I improve my own well-being, say, someone or something else would have to get sick to balance it? If I clean up a vacant lot, someone will throw extra litter in another place? Or if through better wisdom we were able to improve the situation of life on Earth globally, would some other planet simultaneously start going downhill? And how does this principle jibe with your previously articulated raspberry jam principle, that if you direct negativity towards others you will cause additional negativity to appear for yourself? The latter seems to me far more plausible. But if it is true, then where does the double dose of opposite goodness appear, and if it is to some uninvolved party, why is its creation so necessary?

  81. Wonderful discussion!

    The common idea that humans are uniquely equipped to massively disturb the wholeness is narcissistic fiddle faddle. Microbes and giant meteorite strikes have turned our global ecosystem inside out many times. I doubt we will ever total up to their equal.

    I’d also caution against embracing any of the many theories and metaphors physicists are spewing lately. They are trying to ignore that they have found they actually understand very little and are spawning weird ad hoc theories left and right

  82. @ Patricia Matthews

    I recall a phrase much used among authors and narrators; “…in the fullness of time…”

    From where I sit, this entire civilization we have today, every smidgeon of it built on oil, is an aberration. It is a 200 year blip in a 15,000+/- interglacial period.

    The quicker it is used up and collapses, the quicker we can return to historical normal. However, if we hang on to some things we have learned (prosthetic joints, antibiotics, water purification, etc.) then life may be better in the future.

    Cell stuff and usage of the internet as it is deployed today will not go very much farther along – the power required is immense for equipment production and the infrastructure. When the next big oil price spike hits, things will change again. But low level use isn’t much different from telegraph/telephone – and likely to hang on.

    I was born in this oil bubble, and I will die in it. My grandparents saw it arise from the steam era. My kids may get a lot of crap as it deflates, and my grandkids will live in another era altogether. All I am trying to do is set things up so that the transition is a bit easier. And to do that, I fully intend to utilize oil as long as I can.

    If that sounds unprincipled, consider that I view it as embracing ‘wholeness’ in a fashion that may help push my genes forward, using what is at hand. There will be no uniting to reduce oil consumption – even in 1974 the government exempted itself. There will be no change until it is forced on civilization through crisis after crisis – as it always has been.

    Use that cell phone, because it costs you less than a landline at this point. Drive, because flying is worse and walking is riskier every day with people texting and driving and just traffic in general. In most places, you can’t even ride a horse without hitching them up to a poop chute and it is risky to ride due to idiot drivers unless you are in a small town. If I had the money, I would buy land with railroad frontage in a small to medium size town – for my grandkids. Because that is where we will have to go – back to the future. Irony is so tart…

  83. So, Oilman, are you going “whole hog” on the hogs? Sorry, couldn’t help myself. BTW, Bill & others from the upper South will tell you, sugar cured Country Ham is not at all like Honeybaked Ham. It’s a cured meat that’s best left to age 6 mos-1 year, and, if anything, it is very salty!

  84. Regarding hogs and other invasives, I have a question: Under current green thinking, invasives are bad, bad, bad, and should not be introduced, and once introduced, must be fought tooth and nail, even once they’re well established and unable to be eradicated (honeysuckle, among others) However, with global warming accelerating, doesn’t this draw a fuzzy line around our idea of invasives? Basically, most, if not all, of the native plants of any given ecosystem will, over however many hundreds (thousands) of years, not be adapted to the area that they’re currently native to, given climate change. Places like Greenland and Antarctica will have to be repopulated from scratch. So, why should we wait for whatever happens to blow in to blow in? If there’s no such thing as a native plant in ecosystems in flux due to climate changes, shouldn’t we be trying to introduce and reintroduce new plants and animals better adapted to the changing climate? It just seems to me that climate change blows wide open our whole idea of invasives and what belongs where, since there are no stable ecosystems anymore.

  85. Dewey,

    If I improve my own well-being, say, someone or something else would have to get sick to balance it? If I clean up a vacant lot, someone will throw extra litter in another place? Or if through better wisdom we were able to improve the situation of life on Earth globally, would some other planet simultaneously start going downhill?

    I think the idea is more along the lines of, “Anything good for one thing is bad for something else that’s competing for the same resources.” If you improve your well-being, among other things you’ll be less susceptible to bacterial infections. That’s bad for the bacteria. Living more wisely is bad not for other worlds, but for anything on this world that would profit from us living foolishly. By cleaning it up, you’re making the lot less habitable for various organisms that would thrive if it became a dumpster.

    The vacant lot also presents another aspect: in order to decrease the disorder in the lot, you have to increase the total amount of entropy in the universe. Since that’s true of anything you do, just by living you’re shortening the lifespan of the universe, in however tiny a way. (But also remember: maximum chaos and maximum order are the same thing. The end result of the process entropy is the transformation of the universe into a gigantic crystal with uniform temperature.)

  86. This is intended as a response to Dot way up near the top of the comments as well as more generally. I’d like to point you toward a classic thought experiment: “The Tragedy of the Commons” by Garret Hardin. It’s often used( or misused) to justify privatization (with which I seldom agree) but I think that’s a misreading of the profound point that Hardin was making about “externalities.” That is that when an individual can increase his own prosperity at the expense of the whole, he will always tend to do so. At least I think it’s profoundly true in our culture, though not necessarily in every culture. I like to believe in the law of karma, that things always even out in the long run. It’s comforting, and possibly even true.

  87. James, gotcha. I’ve read Lon’s book, but it was a long time ago. No, I don’t get into the fine details of the creation of something out of nothing in ecosophic thinking — I’m not sure I believe in the existence of nothing, to begin with…

    Armenio, not at all — you’re engaging in intelligent disagreement, which is the bread and butter of this blog’s comments page. I’d point out, with regard to your substantive points, that quantum physics isn’t a shiny toy — try getting your cat to chase a volume of Heisenberg around the living room — and people who read werewolf erotica aren’t mating with werewolves, you know. That’s the difficulty with reductionism — it sheds meaning as it sheds complexity, until it stops meaning much of anything at all.

    Phil, it may be indicative that I’ve never encountered a system of morality that focuses on fun and sociability. Maybe we should go to the foxes and learn a lesson or two!

    Gavin, good, but you’re overthinking it. The concerns you’re raising would be relevant to that mythical being, Man the Conqueror of Nature, but to you or I? Not so much. As you encounter whole systems, you can choose to adjust your behavior to take the needs of the whole system into account, or you can choose otherwise; the former reliably has better long term results for you than the latter. That’s all the First Law is saying, when you boil it down to practicalities.

    Myriam, thank you. I hope the lessons in the book give the woman you talked to some ideas that will help her!

    Karim, yep. That metaphor has seen a lot of use — I was first introduced to it in the late 1970s — so you’re definitely getting the point.

    Isabel, ahem. Write it. The world is not complete without a copy of Amish Werewolves in Love sitting on the shelf in every well-stocked supermarket. What’s more, once it’s in print, Chuck Tingle might get in on the act, and publish Pounded in the Butt by the Gay Amish Werewolf in Love. Immortality and a comfortable retirement are calling you… 😉

    Patricia, good — and you’re right that it’s a predicament, in your case, rather than a problem; the difference, of course, being that a problem can be solved, while a predicament can only be faced. None of us, in this age of the world, can live without harming the biosphere. None of us can be pure. The question then becomes what, given that, you can do to minimize or mitigate the harm…

    Stefania, excellent. Yes, and that’s exactly the kind of reflection this meditation is meant to foster.

  88. Shane about invasives and climate change– the problem with us trying to deliberately assist with migrating species into new areas is we really don’t know in any sort of detail what the new climate might be like in a given place. Sure, warmer, except in weird microclimates were things like increased cloud cover and changes in orographic wind patterns might actually make it cooler. Wetter, yeah except where it isn’t and it gets drier instead, or wetter but at completely different times of year. Then we throw in direct effects of CO2 on plant physiology… we just ain’t that wise.

    Of course wholeness includes extinctions, even mass extinctions. I think many of us as humans just get intolerably sad though when an entire life form is lost, and profoundly shamed that it was our fault. In the long run everyone dies, but do you want to be the one that killed them?

  89. Newtonfinn, that’s why I didn’t object to your suggestion that it’s time for new myths and stories to emerge. I objected to your suggestion that there had to be just one of them, which is supposed to appeal to everyone regardless of nation, culture, or background. We need more stories, not fewer, and more flexibility in fitting stories to our condition, not more rigidity in requiring a single story.

    Oilman, exactly — and amending nature a little bit in a small area becomes a lot less problematic if you realize, as in fact you do, that you and nature are in this together. It’s not you acting on passive nature, or for that matter nature acting on passive you; it’s a dance, with the two of you acting and reacting, and if you do it right, nature gets more topsoil and you get more bacon, so both sides are happy. 😉

    Dewey, this is why I keep on trying to point out that we’re not talking about morality here. “Good” and “evil” are abstract moral labels that boil down, in practice, to “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Think of it this way: if you add a little more x here, you’re going to have a little less x there; it’s entirely possible to choose how you do that so more x here will be a welcome thing, and less x there will also be a welcome thing. More organic matter in your compost pile means less organic matter in your waste stream. That’s the Royal Secret: everything balances out, so you can learn to use the balancing processes to your advantage and the advantage of others. Does that make more sense?

    Gkb, hah! “The Tacit Turtles” would have been a great Sixties acid rock band…

    Bill, true enough, and we’ll be challenging the fantasy of human exceptionalism in various ways as we proceed. To my mind, it’s all self-glorifying cant — “Look at how big we are!’ No, we’re not. As for physics, I think holography is well enough established to make a workable metaphor, and quantum mechanics — though using it as a metaphor for spirituality was done to death by Fritjof Capra back in the day — is at least fun. The more recent stuff? It makes Ptolemaic epicycles look evidence-based.

    Shane, good, but we can go deeper than that. There is no such thing as a stable ecosystem, period. Every ecosystem is in flux over time. The war against change — the notion, hardwired into our culture, that goodness consists of stasis, that in a perfect state of affairs “time will be no more” — is something we’re going to be tackling head on in future posts.

    Phutatorius, but that wasn’t Hardin’s argument at all. His argument was that when individuals are allowed to privatize benefits from a shared system while pushing the costs off on others, the system will collapse. That doesn’t mean that people will always do so — a claim Hardin never made. It means that protections need to be in place in case people try to do so, to keep the system running. A massive difference!

  90. A comment on meditations on connectedness and wholeness — I find that these can be fantastic tools. And not just a time or two. If you build this into your background awareness everyday then you really begin to understand it intuitively and instinctively

  91. JMG — you might not be aware of the current “holographic universe” fad. Theoreticians, especially string theorists, have noted that the 3D universe “could be represented as” a holographic projection encoded in some 2D boundary surface. In pop science “could be represented as” gets translated into “is.” In fact though no one has ever actually represented it as such because there are fundamental theoretical and mathematical issues that get in the way. And of course string theory has still yet to produce any testable predictions.

    I should note that this same replacement of “can be represented as” with “is” was done to Einstein’s 4D space time continuum. It is elegant math that makes successful
    predictions. It was not intended as literal description of what “is.”

  92. Shane — Diners around here sometimes offer a choice between “country ham” and “city ham.” When visitors ask me what the difference is, I say “about a factor of 10 in the salt content”

  93. Bill, no, you’re quite right — I managed to miss that. Your point’s quite valid; while it’s possible to represent the universe that way, it’s also possible to represent the universe as the dream of Mana-Yood-Sushai, and this latter point doesn’t quite justify treating Lord Dunsany’s stories as scientific theories… 😉

  94. It seems to me that the Law of Wholeness would apply not just to ecosystems, but also to individual human beings.

    I’ll use environmentalists as an example. They think and talk an awful lot about climate change and what other people ought to do about it, but most of them never actually do anything about it in their own lives. There’s a huge disconnect between what they say and what they do. Al Gore is a prime example. The left excuses him by saying that he buys climate indulgences so it’s okay.

    That would be like a Christian saying that adultery is a sin, you’ll go to hell and burn forever if you do it, and ALL YOU SEXUALLY IMMORAL SINNERS HAD BETTER STOP!!!!!! NOW, BEFORE YOU BURN FOR ALL ETERNITY!!!! But then, that same Christian has an affair with his neighbor’s wife, another one with his sister-in-law, yet another one with a coworker, plus numerous one night stands, but it’s okay for him to do that because he puts money in the offering plate every Sunday.

    Personal wholeness would probably involve trying to match your actions to what you say you believe. Among other things, of course.

  95. Hi JMG,

    One of the reasons I enjoy your writing is that it is always thought provoking. Your explanation is obvious from hindsight. I’ve never actively sought to understand such great entities and I just do my best to co-exist inside them. To my mind it looks like the problem of understanding the soil life in that the reality is so hideously complex that we humans can only work with soil from rules of thumb based on observations and then just hope for the best.

    I pondered your insight and my brain recoiled at extending your thought a little bit further as I sort of wondered if whether the Universe can even understand itself – or why it would possibly want to do so in the first place? No doubts bigger mysteries would lie behind that entity! Such thoughts are way beyond my limited brain cells that my brain starts spinning and spinning. Not good.

    Hi Oilman,

    Your sows for good or bad are part of the environment in your locale. I have feral deer plus all of the other marsupials here which I use the dogs to regulate. Everyone seems to be co-existing at a stalemate. I’m personally curious as to why you believe the creeks and rivers should flow without restriction? To my mind such beliefs are a cultural construct because we dislike flooding. The trees falling into those waterways will eventually cause floods, and way back in the day before we meddled so thoughtlessly with the ecosystem, the floods were a way of depositing organic matter and minerals onto your land. Every action as a steward of the land has a consequence.

    Hi Tripp,

    Far out mate, I don’t have a smart phone. Maybe you need to get a bluetooth keyboard?

    Hi Geoff,

    Clearing the cache causes other trouble for me. Thanks!


  96. JMG — just a digression about Ptolemy… His model was in fact highly evidence based in that it did a pretty good job of predicting planetary motions. Indeed Copernicus, retaining his circular orbits and fixed orbital speeds, needed even more epicycles than Ptolemy to achieve equal accuracy. It was not until Kepler and his elliptical orbits with variable orbital speed did the need for epicycles vanish

  97. @Bill,
    JMG seems to think the Younger Dryas is a good example of our future in North America, so would those climates be a reasonable idea of what the future will be like? Could we plant for that?

  98. You can’t make this stuff up! From Jean Lamb, who also reads (and writes a few) romances, re werewolf erotica: “Oh, hell, yes! Or two gay young werewolves in Lurve! People are selling dinosaur porn. ”

    Dinosaur porn. The mind boggles. Tentacle porn has been around for ages, of course.

  99. I think that maybe what should be discussed is a more rigorous definition of “whole systems”.

    While I appreciate and empathize with the concept of Gaia and the earth as a single living entity, I am not certain that a workable plan for recovering and then maintaining a viable and healthy ecosystem can be used with this as the goal. I think that the “whole system” will need to be define further down, perhaps much further down the size chart.

    I have been re-reading Sensei Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution”. Might be a good idea to start there.

    “I believe that if one fathoms deeply one’s own neighborhood and the everyday world in which he lives, the greatest of worlds will be revealed.”

    “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

    Masanobu Fukuoka

  100. Meditations and material objects – this morning I found myself unable to pick one, but rather realized that what goes for the cell phone goes for every other gadget found (by someone other than salescritters and consumers) to be necessary. Smoke, CO, and burglar alarms. The Sonicare toothbrush the dentist insisted on. The toaster oven and microwave (will NOT oven-bake in 100 degree weather!) And do the LED lightbulbs count here? Likewise, what goes for the cotton underwear goes for the sheets and pillowcases, towels, washcloths, and dish cloths, and everything else along those lines.
    I found myself finding huge chunks with such labels as “From the UNM Crafts Fair & other such fairs.” “Given to me by friends.” “Made for me by friends.” “Made and sold by Otter Zell in California” And in 2 cases, “Made in India, possibly by artisans, nobody else sells/makes (desert-weight bedspreads/goddess statues.)” Interesting discovery!

  101. Shane that’s just a hypothesis about general patterns and we live in a very specific world. Plus the drivers are not the same. Educated guesses are all we have.

  102. @Patricia: Hee! Exactly.

    @JMG: Excellent! On the docket after The Eighties But Weird and Labyrinth Plus “The Stolen Child”. I seem to write much the way I make cocktails: by pouring anything brightly-colored into a glass and seeing how it goes down. (If I’m ever famous enough for future biographers to speculate about my inspirations: mostly drunken bets, really.)

    More seriously, one of the impressions I’m getting here is that it’s not that a balance between suffering and pleasure, or (as in fantasy fiction of my youth with Godawful metaphysics) “the balance between good and evil”, but rather that things *will* tend to balance themselves toward functionality, and actions attempting to keep too much weight on one side of the balance, or to preserve a particular arrangement, will mess them up, which results in “evil” or at least general SNAFU. (For the same reason the Qlippoth are “Unbalanced”?)

    Also, as I’m on the late end of a vacation with my aging (though still healthy, thankfully) parents in my childhood home, and have been having too many of what the kids call The Feels about that, I would also welcome a post on the value of change, and how we can best embrace it.

    @Garden Housewife: If I recall my research correctly, that was more or less how medieval Catholicism worked, in practice, a lot of the time–either you outright bought indulgences, or, if you had the resources, your penance for whatever you did with your neighbors wife might involve a fair amount of gold to your local abbey.

    It’s not without merit in its way: if I consider that I am not really capable of perfection, and try to offset the personal deeds I really don’t want to live without (eating meat on occasion, the odd bits of gossip, whatever *I* do with my neighbor’s wife…) with picking up litter, donating blood, harvesting crops for food banks, and so on, *and* I’m generally trying to sin as responsibly as I can, I like to think I have some kind of net-positive effect on the world.

  103. Housewife, bingo. When human beings demonstrate wholeness, we call it integrity. A lack of that quality in American public life goes a long way to explain why so many people assume, with good reason, that the Al Gores of the world don’t actually believe what they’re preaching.

    Chris, ’tis an ill wind that blows no minds! I suspect the universe doesn’t worry about understanding itself; it just is. We’re small, simple, and dependent enough that we don’t have that kind of luck.

    Bill, oh, granted. I’m thinking of the later Ptolemaic systems, in which epicycles were overlaid on epicycles, along with assorted equants and eccentrics, to try to make the model fit the data somehow. Copernicus was no improvement, as you’ve pointed out, which is why so few people paid any attention to his theory until Kepler ditched the whole clanking machinery with his laws of planetary motion. Modern physics has an equivalent body of clanking machinery, but it’s still waiting for its Kepler.

    Patricia, yeah, I’ve seen dinosaur porn. And tentacle porn. One of the reasons my series of novels The Weird of Hali centers in part around a guy who falls in love with a woman with tentacles is precisely that I wanted to mess with the standard tentacle-porn gimmick of human woman meets tentacle monster. (Freud would have had a field day with that latter gimmick — the sense of phallic inadequacy is pretty hard to miss…)

    Degringolade, the words “whole system” are deliberately vague, in order to encourage people to notice that they don’t just apply to the biosphere. In the book, I use a meadow as an example of a whole system. Fukuoka was talking about whole systems. Your body is a whole system, and so is each cell in your body. Apply the same rules to every point along the size chart from the atom to the galaxy, and see what happens…

    Patricia, good. Now you can focus on the differences of scale, kind, and degree involved in making different changes in your life, and decide what if anything you’re going to do about that. As for Blankenhorn, no comment necessary…

    Isabel, I’ll look forward to it! My earlier fiction tended to be straight up or on the rocks, but The Weird of Hali has me paying more attention to the possibilities of the literary cocktail. With regard to balance, exactly, and one of the things that makes so much modern fantasy fiction suck is precisely that so much of it has this bizarre reactionary Gnostic cosmology in which evil is always from outside and always brings change, goodness is perfect stasis, and the great quest to do whatever it is with the Magic McGuffin has as its sole purpose the task of preventing change from happening and shoving evil back out into the outer darkness so that the good can stagnate forever. And most of the people who read this stuff claim to be on the left…

  104. Waiting for Kepler! I love it! And mustn’t forget Newton who derived Kepler laws from his simple model of gravity and a little thing called calculus he came up with. Bumper sticker: “Kepler and Newton where are you??”

  105. @JMG: I guess either what we suppress comes out in fiction, or it’s a lot easier to write reactions to a proactive threat than the actual struggle to build/change/incorporate. As an occasional GM, I sympathize with that–let the players decide how to change the world and it’s a whole challenge and improv thing, whereas throwing a bunch of mind flayers at them simplifies the options a lot–and I can quite *enjoy* a story about Cuttlefish Horrors from Beyond or the Zombie Uprising or whatnot, but a) that situation, in isolate, lacks a lot of the resonance more complicated stuff can have, and b) even fighting an implacable outside force is going to leave a society changed. One of the great things about LotR is that Tolkien knew that, and showed it.

    One of the posts I wrote for a blog tour once was that horror and romance are two sides of the same coin: the first part of the plot can be summed up as “you thought you knew how your world worked, and now here’s a thing (tentacled horror, snotty-yet-attractive Englishman, or both) that doesn’t operate by any of the rules you know.” In romance, you integrate that thing into your life for the benefit of both, though at some sacrifice; in horror, you banish it, though not without some scarring (or you die horribly); much of epic-quest-against-the-dark-whatever fantasy seems to be much like horror in the approach, though sometimes with a side of romance-style integration in the parts where the elves and the dwarves have to become friends again, or whatever. (There are some exceptions–Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, for instance, or some of Robin McKinley’s novels, occupy an interesting middle ground in many ways.)

  106. @Shane W:

    You might be interested in this website,

    It deals with species movements and climate change, in particular with one species, the Florida Torreya, that was left behind at the end of the last ice age and actually does best well north of its “native” range, even before the anthropogenic climate change era began. There’s also other info about other species and assisted migration in general.

  107. Just a few comments from down under on what to avoid in system thinking.
    Here in Australia is a strange consensus on how to split up “nature”. Animals and plants come in two flavours. Native (good) and non-native (bad).
    This is a strangely unanimous view in a nation that can not agree on anything.
    It is shared by the beer bellied redneck in his elephant sized SUV to the card carrying greenie in her SUV the size of a slightly smaller elephant to the dreadlocked hippie who has nothing but his bare feet to get around.
    Where exactly the line is drawn is hard to say, but to be non-native the species must have been introduced by white people. So dingoes are OK. However ideological purity has to make a bit of room for economic pragmatism, so anything that might serve as livestock is maybe not really good but not really bad either.
    Cats and dogs are either good or bad, depending on if you are a cat or a dog person.
    Bananas, mangoes, suger cane, cotton and in the colder areas grapes and wheat are OK too. Although cotton is getting a bit of bad press occasionally.
    Some of my friends go out shooting feral pigs and cats on weekends. The carcasses are left to rot.
    For the less adventurous there used to be a cane toad whacking day (i kid you not). You can think of this like the whacking day on one of the simpsons episodes.
    Mind you, I do live in banjo country, so if you are from sydney or melbourne things might be different. Here we have to get our entertainment where we can find it.

    The point is that this shows us some fallacies we are prone to when thinking in system terms:

    1) a system has a natural point of stability. Any change that moves it away from this point is evil.
    this is incorrect. A system is in homeostasis until something changes, then it finds a new level of homestasis.
    One point in the systems phase space is as good as any other.
    One could call this error the “nostalgia fallacy”. We want things to be the way we imagined them to be when we were kids. Maggie thatcher got a lot of mileage out of this one.

    2) we can control complex systems.
    we are confused about complex and complicated.
    While we are quite good at making complicated things or even making things complicated, a complex system is a different thing.
    obviously this is the complicated fallacy

    3) humans (at least white western humans) are somehow outside the system and are at worst an intrusion but must still do their best to govern the system.
    I’d like to call this one the “you really don’t have a clue, do you” fallacy..

    4) bad things in ecology are always the result of white westerners.
    Actually some of my redneck mates here would claim the opposite: good things are always the result of white westerners.
    so maybe let’s generalise this: changes to the system are always the result of white westerners
    this might be called the “racist power trip fallacy”

    5) what we desire actually matters to the system we are part of.

    I probably missed a few, so feel free to extend this list.

    Our arrival in Australia has changed the ecosystem dramatically. Not always in nice ways. Nobody likes a cane toad i guess, but our history holds some invaluable lessons in system thinking and how not to do it


  108. JMG and all-
    What a great discussion! Thank you for the book, and for making a place to discuss it! I will try to restrain my impulse to put a whole lot of exclamation points in while sharing my thoughts and experiences 🙂

    Contemplation of this chapter has given me some insight into the “all and one” nature of unity/unities in a way that I’ve never perceived it before. Perceiving a multiplicity of unities while unity is still absolutely unity has always been one of those slippery visions that I could never really quite understand, beyond a very shallow “just everything lumped together, whether I can perceive it or not” kind of way. Seeing the distinction between this and the idea of wholeness-of-system which includes the perceiver, and which takes into account systems within and embracing/surrounding/interpenetrating systems was a real mind opener. Suddeny a whole lot of those Names of God make sense in a way they never did before.

    No matter how far one steps back or dives in, a wholeness is present in every scale. But so is the multiplicity with its each and every radiant part. The multiple, fertile, and mortal takes Her throne beside the One, indivisible, and eternal. And somehow it’s one throne, One Thing. Mind blown.

    As I read I couldn’t help but think that in material terms at least, the ouroboros snake might be a fitting emblem for wholeness. Matter doesn’t “go away”, it cycles and transforms and comes back around. It’s whole but not closed off- the center makes a big O-door. Step through it and you step out of the system at hand, and into a change in magnitude/POV/scale (new whole system). It depicts one big “feast without fail”, one we’re all guests at and courses in. Does that make sense?

    I also have noticed in daily life that contemplating wholenesses has made me less insecure and territorial in regards to interpersonal relationships, particularly at work. Suddenly when I encounter others that have always irritated or evoked overly-critical and judgemental feelings in me, I see them as another being inhabiting one of the same systems as I do, and who is doing what it is that they do based on their own motivations. The motivations of their behaviors have very little to do with me, and what does have to do with me is somehow less inflammatory. Compassion is easier to extend while at the same time personal boundaries are clarified and easier to maintain. Mostly 🙂 What a lovely side-effect.

    The object-focused meditation exercise has been difficult. I am a metalsmith and carver, and chose a variety of tools and materials (mainly related to silversithing) to use as the focus. So much of what is used comes from sources and processed that do so much harm to the earth and its inhabitants. It’s a truth I dodged when I began to learn this medium (I half-jokingly referred to it as “the poison path” the first year I was learning). The question of how to modify my own behavior to mitigate at least some of this seemed too big to tackle for a long time. And the rationalization are so numerous and so tempting to make. I’ve had a forced break from it for the last 2 years due to health and career reasons, but as I come back to making art again, I find I must face it or I can’t continue. I am carving wood, bone, and horn again, and am involving metals minimally until I figure it out.

    Many thanks!

  109. Bill, my immediate thought was an existentialist play called “Waiting for Kepler” in which Neal DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking are sitting around…

    What do we do now?
    I don’t know.
    Let’s solve the problems of physics.
    We can’t.
    Why not?
    We’re waiting for Kepler.

    Isabel, exactly. One of the things that sets Tolkien forever apart from the crass derivative industry that’s been built atop the corpse of his life’s work is that he was a thoughtful conservative who understood that it’s a conservative’s job to lose. His characters fight to save the legacies of a glorious and somber past, knowing that the most they can do is to hold onto a little of it for a little longer, and he saw himself, not unfairly, in the same role: an academic in a field that was going permanently out of fashion in his own lifetime, crazy in love with Old Norse literature in a world that treated it as an embarrassing anachronism, and an old-fashioned Catholic and a royalist in an age that had no time for any of that. That’s what gives his fiction such power: it was rooted in his own experience, where so much fantasy these days seems to be rooted in an attempt to evade experience.

    As for romance and horror, fascinating. I’m not a reader of either genre — as I mentioned back in one of the old blogs, I don’t find Lovecraft’s monsters scary at all, so he doesn’t count as horror to me — so wasn’t aware of the parallel.

    DropBear, the one I’d add is “the changes we make to natural systems can’t actually affect us in any way that matters…”

    Bonnie, delighted to hear it! Yes, the ouroboros would make a good emblem for this — I’d rather see that as a recycling logo than the standard three bent arrows one, for example. And it’s crucial to remember that we are all on the menu from which we’re ordering. 😉

  110. Bonnie, agreed!

    Isabel, since Amish Werewolves in Love is clearly a hit here on Ecosophia, you have my permission to announce on the comments page here when it’s available for sale. 😉

  111. @JMG and Bonnie: Aw, thanks!

    And yeah: as the least romantic romance novelist working, I occasionally go all English Major when I have to come up with a blog post, so I may be the only one to have done that particular parallel.

    Agreed re: Tolkien. I think it also helps that he’d seen two world wars, and how fundamentally they changed even the winning side. I myself am not averse to a fun crush-your-enemies-and-their-giant-snakes*-make-out-with-pretty-people-go-home-for-tea-and-medals escapism sort of book (I mean, I very much enjoy Conan, for example), in the same way that I’ve never been averse to a donut with sprinkles or a bag of circus peanuts, but it’s important to know what you’re reading, or eating, and have a balanced “diet” as it were.

    (And I speak as someone whose own writing is quite likely in the donut-and-sprinkles category, for the most part.)

    *Albeit I feel bad for the snakes, because I like snakes. I always considered the one in Anton LaVey’s photos to look terribly embarrassed about the whole affair, and I hope it had a long and happy life despite likely being named “Wormwood” or something similarly ridiculous.

  112. Re: Oilman, Chris, and all

    I grew up in Texas in the 80s and 90s, outside of Houston near Montgomery. My grandpa had 27 acres of land which included an amazing creek which was host to many great adventures! Having spent so much of my childhood exploring that creek, I can with certainty say that it rarely flowed on a regular basis. It more often was a little wet, contained some deep pools, and whenever there were huge downpours then we had a few days of whitewater followed by a trickle which would then come to a stop. So, Chris is spot on in saying that we can’t expect creeks to have a constant flow of water. That’s actually why the Spanish who settled so much of the Southwest used the term “arroyo” to describe empty creek and riverbeds.

    Regardless, the feral pigs are a problem. I’ve got an uncle who lives in the area now and I’ve seen some pictures of the destruction they cause. Has anyone looked into how feral pigs were dealt with in the past? Perhaps some grand, glorious competitions can be developed around the hunting of such pigs, and such events and the stories which result can develop the local folklore.

  113. JMG,

    About wholeness and magic: is there a relation to how Fortune describes the seven planes? For example, In order to have an intention on the emotional plane manifest itself in the material plane, it must descend from the divine source down the seven planes to the material and there must also be an ascending aspect from the material back to the divine source thus completing the proverbial circuit and making it whole. Or is the idea more of the what comes around goes around variety/raspberry jam effect? Both? Just curious about your thoughts on the law of wholeness as the basis of magic. Thank you for hosting this discussion!

  114. This classic (and short) 1958 essay by economist Leonard Read is a description of the systems that make up the whole necessary to manufacture a pencil:,_Pencil

    It was written to promote market economies over planned economies (a topic not firmly settled at the time), so it’s fairly mechanistic and single-directional stuff. I’ve found it helpful as an introduction to the topic of dependent systems, and it seems like it could be used as a starting point for the initial meditation from this chapter of the book.

    A meadow is far more complex in many ways. I’d love to read the book-length exploration of such a system!

  115. Chris, aka Dr. Fernglade…

    The banks of my creek and dry ravine are both at 70-90 degree inclination, and both are cut 4-5 meters deep. When a tree alongside the creek falls, the rootball and surrounding soil are lost if it happens to rain just then. This normally leads to back-cutting erosion, and another gully feeding the creek sediment. Even at full flood, the creek remains in these high banks.

    Yes – it’s a natural process. No, I cannot stop it – I can only hold it in abeyance until I die. Eventually, the creek will collapse the entire hillside and after that the hill will be sediment too. My property has 4 elevation changes cutting across it of 5-10 meters, caused by the dry ravine and the creek. Erosion is something we fight on a yearly basis, lest out topsoil disappear altogether.

    As for “flowing free”, we are building stepped dams across the creek to retain more water and serve as a sand supply to make concrete for building greenhouse footings, etc. We do this by stacking sacks of concrete ready-mix across the creek bed – rising water does the rest, and the paper sack degrades away. We are about to measure the drop of the creek to see if we can make a ram pump work effectively, with some stream modifications of course…

    The dry ravine will be dammed next year when we get a dozer and clay out there. So no, I am not a “free flowing water” guy – I want to harness it as much as possible, yet maintain it flowing.

    At this juncture, the sows are bad. Give me a few months. Before we embark on this, we have to fix the truck for inspection, then go pick up some deep freezers so we can get with the baken-maken program.

    @ Shane W…

    I hear you – but these wild hogs taste very muddy, and I mean a seriously dirt-like back flavor from eating roots and grubs. The only way to get that out of them is to feed them corn and food scrap for a few months – which I am not willing to do with feral hogs, as it is just too much work and extreme fencing to contain them. The piglets and yearlings are edible, but one needs to spice the yearling meat heavily to offset their dietary flavoring. Smoking, particular long, cold smoking, does that very effectively. The piglets we just gut, skin out and roast whole, as they are on the teat or just off of it. As we have both hickory and pecan logs around, this is the route we are likely to go. but your recommendation is appreciated for the future!

    @ JMG – thanks for clarifying. And we dance many jigs with nature – the hog-step, the erosive-slide, assorted rain dances and even a fertility dance or two when we do beer and wine in the fall…LOL

    @ DropBear…

    I went a-whacking in Darwin several times. It’s interesting to watch the dust devils lift and whirl desiccated toad carcasses when driving there too. My first go, I thought it was litter – until I drove through a dust devil. It’s a shame you can’t eat the toads the way you can the rabbits. The Oil Age has caused a lot of species to migrate across the planet – likely to take a few generations to sort them out.

    Here in the US, we are starting to have ‘anaconda rodeos’ in southern states, trying to get rid of the big ones. A guy recently caught a 2 meter arawana in a Louisiana swamp, quite a ways from the Amazon – more fun for the grandkids I guess…

    The real culprit for a lot of this is the Oil Age – rapid intercontinental transport made everything cheaper and available, including life forms. should have learned after rabbits, but I reckon we all have our not-so-bright moments. Kudzu comes to my mind…LOL

  116. @ Prizm…

    Our creek is spring fed, and flowed even in the bad drought of 2015. When we looked at the property, the realtor declined to walk it with us (she had on heels and a dress and was not the type to stray from aircon). I never said a word about the creek – because it was dry August and still flowing. The landowner bought it for timber, and never even visited the place. Land with a spring fed creek in Texas is rare and not cheap, so we were blessed.

  117. Isabel, I enjoy Conan also, and one of the reasons I enjoy Howard’s stories is that he very often wove intriguing cultural critique into his stories — I managed to get three blog posts a while back out of the closing lines of “Beyond the Black River,” for Crom’s sake. (On the off chance you missed them, they’re online here, here, and here.) Conan crushed his share of giant snakes, to be sure, but there was a lot going on aside from that.

    That said, I also enjoy a bit of literary junk food from time to time, and some of the things I enjoy are somewhere well down below circus peanuts in their nutritional value. (Does the dread name of Peter Valentine Timlett ring any bells?) I’ve just never been able to work up the enthusiasm necessary to write any…

    Mike, that question’s enough fodder for an entire post! The very short form is that the relation of magic to the planes of being is a consequence of the sixth law, the Law of the Planes, rather than of the first law we’re studying just now. Of course the Law of Wholeness governs magic, as it does everything else, but the fine points of Dion Fortune’s theory of magic require all seven laws, and a great deal more. (Mind you, I’ve considered the possibility, once we’ve finished going through Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, of taking her The Cosmic Doctrine as the next subject for the book club — among other things, it does an astonishingly good job of explaining systems theory, which is all the more remarkable in that it was written before systems theory was developed. Still, we’ll discuss that in due time.)

    Olive, thanks for this. A book-length discussion of a meadow as an ecosystem — I’d like to read that too! It would be one heck of a lot of work to write, though.

  118. @ Garden Housewife…

    I am thinking that is more about personal integrity and honor. Hypocrisy is the order of the day now, and the internet seems to abet that quite a bit via anonymity. It is hard to be honest, hard to be honorable. It is far easier to pay your lip service, get your t-shirt for the cause du jour, accept the comfort of being in the group – and then change nothing in your life.

    Honor will come back into fashion soon, as the lies and hypocrisy of our age strike home. I have spent a lot of time explaining to my kids about honor and karma – 3 listened, one didn’t. All are proceeding apace with trying to honor their given word, which is likely to come into fashion as things get more local.

    Small towns already do this – larger cities and the internet allow anonymity, which negates the consequences of being dishonorable and lying. In a town of 5000 people, everybody knows your business – so honesty is good business and policy. The same cannot be said for larger venues, and hence the problem…

  119. Dear Mr. Greer and the Commentariat

    My meditations on wholeness have prompted a question. What is ‘not-wholeness’?Because when I do look around me with wholeness in mind, I see it everywhere. I fear just saying that All-That-Is is a Whole System may simply make it non-falsifiable or lend it to circular arguments. What is wholeness compared to not- wholeness? How does one distinguish one from the other?


  120. Oilman,

    I understand your concern. That is an amazing piece of property you’ve got there. It feels bad to see it change and not in a way that you want. Unfortunately, that story has too often plagued the hill country of Texas, which as you probably know, is a very porous region which has had many springs which fed the rivers with incredibly pure water. That has changed a lot due to the human development in the area. This is how whole systems work. Not always for the most efficient, best use of the land.

    There are also a lot of good examples from Texas of how people can make changes to their behavior to recreate conditions which were known to work well in that area. A video of an area called “Selah” comes to mind.

    There are nothing but opportunities to create systems within the systems so that the whole system works in different ways. Take your situation and analyze the opportunities which exist. There is some great potential to make some works which will create more harmony within the balance which exists. As I mentioned earlier, you could create an annual hunt competition. Legends can be born. You could do other things as well. A business harvesting and selling the meat of feral pigs.

  121. “the one I’d add is “the changes we make to natural systems can’t actually affect us in any way that matters…”
    thats a good one..
    dunno why i missed that one. Might have to do with the good old aussie gung ho approach to introducing new species in the past.

    Just thought of another one:

    You cannot do anything that will not affect the system. The effects are not analytically predictable.

    To a person with a somewhat conservative mindset such as myself, this is a strong argument in favour of traditions and the precautionary principle

  122. @oilman
    actually i am not sure if you cant eat the buggers.
    they have toxic glands on their back. Apparently toad licking is a cheap way of getting stoned, although i never tried it myself. Dont think i will. Not as long as there is still a brewery left in Australia.
    But the point is that i you eat the whole toad you will die. This kills a lot of native animals such as snakes.
    Other natives have worked out a way around it. Magpies flip the toads on their back and eat the tasty belly and dont touch the toxic bit.
    So maybe if they are prepared properly…. Might be the next food fad amongst the bored well off.
    If this takes off in the US, let me know. I got an unlimited supply.

    This demonstrates another interesting fact of systems: after a disturbance they reach a new point of homeostasis.
    I remember 15 years ago during wet weather there were so many cane toads that i could hardly walk outside my door without stepping into a few of them.
    Lately there are a lot less. they are still around, but not at pest level. Just an annoyance.
    the system is always chasing homeostasis

  123. JMG, I’ve been thinking about wholeness lately in regard to families, though I hadn’t attached the word wholeness to my thoughts. Considering the individual’s wants and needs in the context of the whole family instead of behaving as if they exist separately from the wants and needs of the rest of the family would probably prevent quite a few divorces.

    Not only is that typically better for the children, it’s better for the planet too. One household separating and becoming two households uses a lot more resources and produces a lot more waste. Of course, there are limits to what a person should put up with to keep the family together. If my husband was beating the crap out of me or the kids, I wouldn’t stay in the marriage just to fight climate change.

    Maybe if we could learn how to see and balance the needs and desires of our family members and ourselves, we could look a little further afield to the ecosystem directly surrounding our house – our yard. Then once we get comfortable working with that, instead of merely trying to subdue it, then we can look further still. We’d have better results with that instead of going with the environmentalist-approved method of screaming about everyone else and trying to get the government to force everyone else to change.

    Isabel, I didn’t mean to imply that you have to be perfect in order not to be a climate hypocrite. I see it more as being important which direction you’re headed. So you see the problem and start to make changes in your own life. You probably shouldn’t go whole hog though because you’ll burn out and not do anything. It’s better to make smaller, steady changes you can keep up long-term.

    A good example would be my small garden with six 4′ by 8′ beds. My family and I have gotten some food out of it, but not nearly enough to replace all the food we buy that’s shipped from across the country or across the globe. But it’s something, and even more, it’s helping us learn how to grow our own food. We just have to practice and build on this.

  124. My copy of Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, they say, will arrive some time next month. Until then, I won’t try to barge in, I say as I barge in.
    To Amber, the Japanese are using fewer disposable chopsticks. The chain restaurants are all putting out reusable ones now. The group dynamics make it hard for them to give it up, but they’ve made a dent in it. Probably simply more economical for restaurants to reuse chopsticks. That will spread as people consider which luxuries they would really rather keep. Currently, it seems pretty near the top for most Japanese when they are getting together. They think in terms of the impact on everyone within the group, but they make certain assumptions that are widely shared and they also lose sight of their impact outside of their group.
    To JMG, I am really glad for this incentive to periodically order up a book or two. I’d been putting it off. I order up about five at a time. I was surprised this time to see Amazon unable to ship two of my choices to Japan. One of them was Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Fortunately, the site you linked to would ship it, and I also hope they will give you a better deal than Amazon.

  125. JMG,

    Would it be useful to say that whole systems are composed of both creative and destructive systems which together form a constantly evolving equilibrium?

    And a bit of an aside, but ever since your moving to Ecosophia, I’ve had this weird connective feeling with Texas which often just resonates with me. Could it be that the website is hosted there and this is helping the feeling?

  126. Thanks JMG. I need to narrow down my questions. I’m still at the 30,000 foot view with magic so just trying to get my bearings. I’ve got a slough of occult books to read up…it takes a little getting used to, but it’s fascinating reading. I purchased your translation of Levi’s work…where should this book fit in to a curriculum of magical study?

  127. @Oilman 2

    Oddly enough, I had a brief conversation at another website (sic semper tyrannis) recently where my interlocutor complained about the muddy taste of the local hogs when he performed his herd-thinning activities. His AO was down in Texas too.

    I still am tempted to drive down and recover the proceeds from this activity. My Nona would explain that meat like this is the reason that garlic was made and sausage was invented.

  128. Maybe this is more for me than for you Oilman, but I just ran into an article about a better way to BBQ pork than the typical way it is done today, with sugar. The “acid” version.

    “Muddy” flavors may still yet be able to be comprimised.

  129. @ Isabel: Lois McMaster Bujold pointed out that the basic theme of romance novels (however false the plot-theme, e.g. Cinderella, may be) is as deeply important as that of the war novel or other masculine genders: it has to do with getting the next generation born by seeing couples mated. One of her characters at a party among the upper crust remarks that there are two agendas going on there: the political agenda of the men and the genetic agenda of the women.” It was an eye-opener.

    @Oilman re integrity: William Butler Yeats
    Now all the truth is out,
    Be secret and take defeat
    From any brazen throat,
    For how can you compete,
    Being honor bred, with one
    Who were it proved he lies
    Were neither shamed in his own
    Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;
    Bred to a harder thing
    Than Triumph, turn away
    And like a laughing string
    Whereon mad fingers play
    Amid a place of stone,
    Be secret and exult,
    Because of all things known
    That is most difficult.

  130. @ Degringolade…

    I post @ SST occasionally – could have been me. My issue is that it will take a lot of garlic, oregano, basil and many other pungent herbs to begin to offset the muddy flavor. Am I spoiled? Sure – I’m an Oil Age human, so that goes with the territory. We will get the freezer, lay the meat in and then start experimenting. I am not going to try and save every scrap of flesh – we aren’t there yet. And I don’t have a pot big enough to scald them off anyway.

    If the smoking works well enough, then smoke it and pack it in salt and it should be good for months without even cluttering the fridge. My guess is that smoking then making sausage would be a reasonable start…but always open to suggestions from anyone!

    @ Dropbear…

    My friends in Perth told me under no circumstances try to eat them, even just the legs. The same is true here for most toads, so it sounded like good advice. We don’t have cane toads here, not yet anyway. But we certainly have a lot of strange things growing here in the south we never had before. Based on this discussion, I would say the many places will be working on equilibrium overtime in the coming decades.

    So what species grabbed the cane toads and slowed them down?

    @ Prizm…

    That is pretty much what we are trying to do. Holding water on property can, by itself, alter the habitat very impressively. That’s the direction we are moving, by trying to retain more surface water yet not stop the flow. We enjoy the wildlife, sans hogs, that is.

    @ JMG…

    I know it’s Ecosophia, but that surely does encompass a lot of territory. Witness the paths trod in these comments!

  131. A comment on the flattening of “the universe can be represented as . . . ” to “the universe is . . . ” Not sure about other languages, but it seems to represent a natural tendency of English speakers. The late Robert Anton Wilson occasionally advocated for the elimination of the verb “to be.” I forget which linguist he cited, but the argument is that to make statements of identity is nearly always inaccurate in some way. “That wall is pink.” No, the wall is white and the light is pink, or the wall is white and you just looked at it after several minutes of staring at a green wall. So it is more accurate to say, “the wall appears pink to me at this time and under these conditions.” While this can be difficult in everyday speech or writing, it is a useful exercise to discern what point of view is being expressed and the greater context. For example, if a Mbuti pygmy tells me that his mother is a tall woman it would certainly have a different meaning than if a Watusi said the same thing.

    Re: dinosaur porn–not exactly porn, but the novel “Centennial” by James A Mitchener contains a rather lyric scene of dinosaurs mating and dying to become fossils dug up millions of years later. Mitchener was a very popular historical novelist, known for starting his novels in the distant, sometimes the prehuman past, which gives an interesting perspective.

    A friend of mine did her dissertation on horror fiction. Much analysis of genre fiction relies on the idea that readers enjoy the genre because at the end of the story everything is either better (romance) or back to normal (cozy mysteries and horror). Linda maintained that this is not true of horror. Even if the monster is completely defeated all the characters and the reader are left with the knowledge that the previously safe world contains monsters. And, in many of Stephen King’s tales, the members of the community are left with the unsettling knowledge of which of their family and community would have taken the attitude of “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.”

    On invasive species–I have said for years that bounties make sense. Get kids in the hood busy collecting money for rat tails and Floridians bringing in pythons and anacondas for the bounty. Have to bring them in alive to ensure that beneficial native snakes are not killed in error. Careful though, I read once that the Italian government had to discontinue a bounty for vipers when they learned that Italian farmers had turned to raising vipers for the government payments as being more profitable than whatever they were farming.

  132. Okay, how about GLENGARRY GLEN-KEPLER, Mamet-style ….

    TYSON: Do you hear what I am saying to you? DO you hear what I am saying to you? Do you??

    HAWKING: The boys downtown, I am thinking intervention …. they could, they could …. you know?

    TYSON: This is what I am saying. This is what. That.

    HAWKING: Kepler.

    TYSON: Kepler. On his white horse. He rides in with the leads. Or else we starve in the desert sands, amigo.

    HAWKING: Oh. Is there a time limit, yes, this waiting? Because –

    TYSON: We wait. Let’s wait at the Chink’s, smoke ourselves a cigarette. Egg roll, a likelihood.

    HAWKING: Kepler. He shows?

    TYSON: Or not.

    HAWKING: This is what I am thinking.

    TYSON: Egg roll. Coffee.

  133. Might mention that Tolkien was a sun-sign Capricorn – sense of time on a vast scale, rise and fall of empires, generations, also an earth-sign desire to reconnect with inner spiritual core through nature spirits, e.g., Pan, Dionysus. Kipling, Jack London, Castaneda, Henry Miller also Cap sun-signs.

  134. Feral pigs used to be dealt with by Florida panthers and may be again. I have heard that the range of the panther is extending west and north. Unfortunately, panthers also tend to eat small children. Systems will be systems.

  135. @Garden Housewife: Oh, totally–didn’t take it that way, and completely agreed. For me, as an apartment-dweller, it’s trying to get as much of my food as possible from the local farmers’ markets–though that doesn’t preclude the occasional journey into takeout or canned soup. 🙂 We pick our battles and do what we can.

    @JMG: Hee! Haven’t heard of that one, but am now intrigued–my trashy-lit indulgences involved a lot of the D&D tie-in novels of the eighties and nineties (and associated crush on good-aligned drow with purple eyes, because hey, thirteen) and the Shiny Bond Animals and Teenagers With Low Self-Esteem books of the same period. They’re still good for a hung-over afternoon or a winter evening with a box of cherry cordials, but I can see the flaws now much more than I did back in the day.

    @Degringolade: Also hot peppers, if you’re a spicy food person–I’m not, but I hear they cover a multitude of sins.

  136. @ Dewey-thumb sucking is tempting, but think about balance as pairs of actions. I teach, you learn. Yes, learning is the opposite of teaching, and it isn’t a bad thing.It balances when I learn something, and you teach something.Another pair: I buy, you sell- I have the choice of what to buy, and when, or if I want to buy at all. My son loves apples- if I buy them this time of year, they are being shipped from the other side of the world. So, I ask him to learn to love peaches, which come from the other side of the state. I can chose what actions I do, with wholeness in mind, so they can have positive effects for me (I think… it is complicated)
    @JMG- You’d think I would get used to having my mind blown, but no. “Take a moment to think through the implications of the atmosphere being alive and conscious.” Wow- it makes our monsoon afternoon thunderstorms more interesting.

  137. @Bill Pulliam re Einstein

    Some months ago somebody posted a link to the (German) popular version of relativity theory written by Einstein, and I read it to my great profit (I am a scientist, but not a physicist). What I took away from it is a bit different than you have expressed it. Einstein says the four dimensions explain the phenomena perfectly; if you really insist on dividing the four dimensions into three spatial and one temporal one, you can do so, but that is not necessary nor (implied by him) elegant. I interpret that in the line of Kant and Schopenhauer: we cannot even imagine how the universe is truly like, but are forced to experience it as time and space. The relativity theory is simply a small window on how this perception as time and space is arbitrary. Actually, I have meditated quite a bit since on what an action potential train would “really” be, if time and space are arbitrary. Probably no use at all trying to imagine such a thing 🙂

  138. Lordyburd, wholeness in a certain sense is a state of mind, a capacity to see whole systems. In that sense, not-wholeness is the state of mind that insists that something shouldn’t exist, that God or evolution or Man the Conqueror of Nature ought to get rid of it forever because (insert rationalization of “I hate it!” here). If the law of wholeness is true, everything is part of the wholeness, and not-wholeness is a bad habit of human thought — and that bad habit itself is also part of the wholeness…

    DropBear, that’s a good one, too — or, potentially, two good ones. Yeah, as a moderate Burkean conservative, I also tend to think of the unpredictability of whole systems as a good reason to make changes slowly, one at a time, with a fallback plan in place.

    Housewife, exactly — it’s a matter of balancing the needs of individuals against the needs of the system. I agree about divorce; I went through that at age ten — my mother dumped my father like a sack of old clothes just as soon as he’d finished paying for her college education — and it wasn’t something I’d wish on any child. There are times, as you point out, when it’s necessary, but there are way too many times when a little forbearance and a willingness to put the interest of the children first would spare them a lot of trauma and misery.

    Patricia, that’s one of the reasons I always link to the publisher if I can — they’ve got a vested interest in getting their books to readers, and are usually cool about shipping things to wherever.

    Prizm, every system is simultaneously creative, preservative, and destructive, and all these functions mesh together in unpredictable ways to create that constantly moving equilibrium. As for Texas, I’m sure I must have been told at some point where the server is, but I don’t happen to recall that bit of data.

    Mike, I’d put Levi a ways down the road. He liked to talk on multiple levels at the same time, and it takes some getting used to.

    Oilman, an ecosophical viewpoint ought to be able to embrace discussions of every topic without exception. A whole system includes all its subsystems!

    Rita, yep. Korzybski, the founder of general semantics, had a lot to say about the “is of identity” — the use of the word “is” as an equals sign, for example, “that wall is pink” (that wall = pink). He made the case that outside of a very small number of specific uses, when you see the “is of identity,” you can be pretty much certain that you’re encountering first-rate malarkey.

    Will, oh my. Very funny indeed. That makes me imagine a scene out of Pulp Kepler

    Gkb, any large source of high-quality protein will end up being eaten by something. That includes you and me, of course.

    Isabel, the D&D fiction and the telepathic horsies with big blue eyes were both after my time, when it comes to pulp. With me, it’s gaudy stuff like Eric Van Lustbader’s The Sunset Warrior trilogy, bargain-basement Michael Moorcock, and yes, Peter Valentine Timlett. He was the librarian of Dion Fortune’s magical order, and borrowed a lot of the order’s teachings as a setting for over-the-top thud and blunder fantasy — The Seedbearers, Power of the Serpent, and Twilight of the Serpent. (Or, as the intrepid Gordon Cooper and I renamed them, The Vast Throbbing Purple Phallic Seedbearers, Power of the Vast Throbbing Purple Phallic Serpent, and Twilight of the Vast Throbbing Purple Phallic Serpent.) Rivers of blood! Savage warriors! Clothing-optional priestesses! Orgiastic rituals! Ritualistic orgies! More rivers of blood! Atlantis! Stonehenge! Jesus of Nazareth! Still more rivers of blood! And did I mention rivers of blood? It’s really a treat on a gray rainy day when the world stops meaning much of anything…

    Katsmama, just one of the services I offer. 😉

  139. Thanks for helping me make a connection that was apparently hidden in plain sight, JMG and Garden Housewife.

    Like so many families, mine puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. Thing is, I failed to see my immediate family as a whole system. Starting tonight, I made it a point to send Reiki to my estranged (her choice) sister, as well as the usual recipients, my brother, other sister, and mother. Sister is now officially on my list. It totally does not matter if she ever knows.

    From a whole system standpoint, it just feels like the responsible thing to do. That’s enough for me.

  140. Unless I misunderstand the consequences of the Law of Wholeness, I deduce that everything gets eaten period, some sooner and more frequentl than others. Only the system survives, having been transformed by the activities of its parts. Two questions: 1) If the system is too complex to fully know, how then can we possibly know that the law as stated holds true for every part at every time in every locale? 2) If everything is connected to everything else, how? By what medium (ether?) or ‘connective tissue’ (using fascia and cartilage as a metaphor.) 2a) Is this related to the ‘spooky action at a distance’ of Bell’s theory? Okay, that counts as 2.5 questions. Might as well add the third. 3)Amongst living beings, great harm can be done to one resulting in piddling harm to the other. Does minor harm accumulate over time like mercury concentrating in the liver as it ascends the food chain?

  141. @JMG
    Re: server location

    Either the person who set it up left the clock set to GMT, or it’s in Europe.

  142. An interesting angle Mr. Greer. I guess I am wary of concepts that automatically negate any attempt at refutation, like ‘all is one, especially when you insist it isn’t’. I fell for that bit of pop spirituality a couple of years back. Looking back on it, it clearly seems like something akin to a double-bind.

    Wholeness as an attitude or a ‘representation’ certainly works and I have been using it for sometime now, making good prognostications and decisions, and watching other people ignore whole systems in many of their actions, and consequently watching them fall flat.

  143. JMG, my family is still intact, but my husband’s parents divorced. That’s just awful on kids. Children shouldn’t have to suffer like that just because one or both parents are selfish. My condolences to the little boy you were, if only I could send them back through time.

    Oilman2, I hope so! We’d all be better off if people in general were more honest, more honorable, and less selfish. I live in a town quite a bit smaller than 5,000 people, and we have our share of liars and cheats. Word does get around though, and you figure out who not to trust.

    Isabel, I read romance novels. If they’re taken as light entertainment, and not as a guide to real life, they can be very relaxing. As a kid, I really liked Robin McKinley and Madeleine L’Engle’s books. I read them again as an adult and found they’re still very enjoyable. L.M. Montgomery’s books are still good reading too, but Louisa May Alcott seems boring and preachy now.

    I’ve never liked horror, but my husband loves the classics from the genre. He doesn’t seem to find them scary though. Maybe he likes reading something that doesn’t fall in line with the cult of progress and the cult of positivity. I don’t know.

  144. Lordyburd, to put JMG’s reply another way, the distinction between wholeness and not-wholeness is not a distinction between states of affairs. It is a distinction between descriptions of states of affairs. As you say, reality consists of nothing but wholeness at a multiplicity of levels. So if your favoured description of reality is one of wholeness, you have a chance of favourable outcomes. If your favoured description is of not-wholeness, it will be at odds with reality, so your chance of a favourable outcome is dim in the long term.

  145. @ Rita Rippetoe…

    Bounty sounds like a good thing, until you realize that you pay your taxes to government, who establishes a fact-finding commission and then pays for administrating the program (offices, phones, internet webpage, health insurance, vehicles, fuel, etc.) and then pays your tax dollars back to people bringing in the critters. The loss of efficiency is staggering…LOL

    As you pointed out, there will always be those who game the system, not realizing they are gaming themselves when taxes are raised yet again. Why? Well, because the (insert vermin name here) Program is indispensable. By doing the bounty, the equilibrium was pushed another direction. Historically, the result is local or complete extinction of the vermin, or else a stalemate that must be maintained by a perpetual bounty.

    I’m a believer in minimal or “entertained” government. “Entertained government” is when they are left to their own devices elsewhere – we pay them to go stab each other in the back and pander to one another, but cannot pass any law without a 75% constituent vote to back it I think we only have to look around at the innumerable rules and regs that impede or tax everything in sight to realize that government has once again gotten too big for its’ britches.

    I am thinking the “Bounty Office” would metastasize similarly…

  146. @Oilman and JMG

    Oddly enough, I found that Oilman and my gastronomic interlude provided me more mental grist for thought that I expected.

    As I said earlier, I have recently been re-reading Fukuoka Sensei, and maybe having this as concurrent reading allows me to better focus on your “Law of the Whole”.

    It appears to me that Oilman is looking at his property as a whole. He is creating a system where he is increasing the health of the local system by thinning the pork-bearing critters (PBC) and sequestering water on the local “whole” for which he has taken responsibility.

    The sequestration of water will most likely increase the plant (food) activity which in turn will increase the PBC count. The sequestration of water will most likely diminish the water, plant, and PBC count downstream.

    None of these activities increase overall activity on the next level of the “whole” (Lets assume this to be the overall watershed of the crick). The activities merely localize and concentrate what is at the end of the day a localized distortion of entropy.

    Oilman seems to be doing this in a responsible and measured manner. Probably not significantly different than anything a beaver would attempt should one inadvertently stumble into Texas.

    The law of the whole is valuable at a human scale. Oilman appears to be doing the right thing and as the world changes, he will probably adapt to the changes just fine.

    I feel that his ability to adapt and survive the change will hinge on what scale he uses to view the “whole”. If he focuses on the land he husbands and the watershed, he will be OK. If he recognizes that the next levels scale are out there (county, state, national) and tries to keep tabs on what might be moving his way, it will allow him to better focus his efforts.

    Recognition of the interconnections on a global scale will provide a template for spirituality and a sense that he he is doing the right thing in the big picture, but it will not provide any practical guide for his day to day living.

    But in a sense, that is the point of the whole exercise here. A spirituality that focuses on the whole of the system is a good thing. But acting on a human scale requires that actions that allow survival and propagation will sometimes require a different lens and acceptance of the consequences that your actions will change the natural world.

  147. Dear JMG,

    Thank you for this great post and all the writing you do.

    My question concerns our thoughts. Back in my teenage years, I felt it was absurd to consider anything naughty I thought about as a sin, since it was lightyears from actual physical “reality”. As I grew up, the confortable certainty of youth has evaporated and when I read your explanation that magic can be carried out while being entirely still, quiet, and with your eyes closed, i.e. entirely in one’s mind, it is clear that one’s imagination is perhaps not as innocuous as one might have assumed.

    What guidance can you offer in this regard for those of us concerned with living a positive and ethical existance? Are any and all thoughts naughty if equivalent events taking place in the physical realm would be considered wrong, or can some of what happens in that realm be discounted for its entertainment value or our natural difficulty in controlling our thoughts at all times?

    If it is all “real”, then are we condemned to trying to think like a Saint at all times, or is it merely a matter of cognitive higene. In other words, one should do one’s best to think as one behaves in physical reality as much as possible, very much as we think about washing our hands. One does not get sick automatically if we forget to wash our hands once, but it is a bit of a game of probability and we try to always wash them when necessary to try to ensure healthy living.

    Best wishes,

    Annonymous Coward

  148. JMG: “it’s entirely possible to choose how you do that so more x here will be a welcome thing, and less x there will also be a welcome thing. More organic matter in your compost pile means less organic matter in your waste stream. That’s the Royal Secret: everything balances out…”

    That makes perfect sense and is a valuable principle. However, I wouldn’t have called it an “opposite reaction”; it’s certainly true that more here means less somewhere else, but I don’t understand that as a reaction. After all, there are an effectively infinite number of spots on the earth where this morning’s coffee grounds are not going to be dumped, and it would seem strange to say either that every one of them had experienced a loss of otherwise expectable organic matter when the grounds go in the compost, or that only the local landfill had done (what makes that spot more salient than all others that don’t receive grounds?).

    katsmama offers I buy-you sell and I learn-you teach as examples, and the first of these seems self-evidently true (I have less money, you have more) but the latter does not, mostly because I don’t view teaching as the opposite of learning. And if I learn something by myself from a book, what would be the opposite reaction that happens somewhere else? If we can say that the Royal Secret doesn’t really apply to EVERYTHING, it would be a lot easier to deal with.

  149. A couple of “meme-sized” (or bumper sticker sized for my generation) iterations of the Law of Wholeness started tumbling around in my head while I cycled to work today – a couple of examples:

    Everything that Changes, Changes Everything.

    Every Little Thing that Changes, Changes Every Little Thing.

    Everything You Change, Changes Everything, Including You.

    And, it seemed to me that this provides the key and the way out of the, “I can’t change anything in a big enough way to have an impact” dilemma we are often faced with when we contemplate how large and thorny our predicament is, compared to how small and puny our reach.

    Because every “little” change I make changes everything else, even if imperceptibly. That is to say, I cannot NOT make an impact with everything I do. So I may as well harmonise what I do with what I would like to see done.

  150. I would like to add the following story. An email conversation took place last week (with fearful synchronicity) at my “day job” (in which I dedicate my energies to box-ticking in the surreal and intensely bureaucratic world of food labelling), and I will paraphrase it thusly.

    Customer forwards an email that has been through many hands, asking if I can throw light on the originator’s question regarding procedures which might be implemented by us to reduce the mercury in tuna to levels consumers will consider “safe”.

    I could not stop myself commenting, in a suitably delicate way, that no, there are no known procedures within the control of either fishermen or of fish processors that can reduce the levels of mercury in tuna. And that any such procedures, to be truly effective, would certainly involve those self-same consumers taking account of the other products they use, and how they deal with their waste.

    My reply, was duly bounced back up the corporate, bureaucratic food supply chain, and who knows what anyone along the way will make of it.

  151. @Oilman2 I wonder if you have come across any mention of the work on the characteristics and qualities of flowing water by Viktor Schauberger…

    He says: “A water course should never be regulated from its banks, but instead from within, from the flowing content itself”.

    I gather that over many years of deep and practical observation and study of water flows, he came to think of rivers as being alive and hungry, and prone to “eating” their banks if not properly fed via their streambeds.

    Some more in this link – and it will lead you to many more interesting links, I’m sure…

  152. @Isabel Somewhat on the topic of werewolf erotica: a while back I learned about PUAs (pick-up artists) and their “theories” about Alpha and Beta males. I’m afraid I instantly thought of Omegaverse slash fanfiction, and promptly laughed myself sick. Definitely not the sort of thing they had in mind!

  153. Ottergirl, glad to be of help.

    Gkb, no, everything gets eaten exactly once! As for your other questions, those are the sorts of themes I encourage students of this work to meditate on…

    John, so noted!

    Lordyburd, exactly — wholeness is a way of looking at the world. As such, it’s not something you can prove or disprove; it’s something you can try out, and see what kind of results you get.

    Housewife, thank you. If Nietzsche was right, it made me stronger, but I’d still much rather have done without the experience and the various wretched events that followed.

    Degringolade, exactly. Systems nest; there are different systems at different scales, and you are yourself a system made of other nested systems, so it isn’t a straightforward, linear sort of thing; you’re always balancing the needs of different levels against one another.

    Coward, first of all, trying to live like a plaster saint all the time is extremely unbalanced, and if you try it, it will make you extremely unbalanced! That’s why so many people who are fixated on being morally pure end up committing nasty actions of one kind or another. See my earlier post here on the fallacy of trying to make yourself perfect by amputating the parts of yourself you don’t like — including thoughts, feelings, and desires.

    Second, thoughts are not material things. One of the basic principles of magic runs as follows: “The planes are discrete and not continuous” — in plainer English, the material plane is one thing, the mental plane is another, and though there are connections between them, you can’t think your way through a wall or back a truck over an idea!

    Third, keep in mind that equilibrium is the key to success in this work. If you find yourself wallowing in thoughts that you consider naughty for some reason, give yourself thirty minutes to do that, set the timer if you need to, do it with all your heart, and then devote thirty more minutes to thoughts that you consider the opposite of naughty — say, admiring the virtues of some person you look up to, or planning a charitable act of some complexity that you then carry out. That’ll do you much more good than giving yourself a neurosis by trying to force yourself not to have thoughts, feelings, and desires you do in fact have.

    Dewey, then try a different metaphor: if you move water from one place to another place, say, it leaves the first place dryer and the second moister. If there’s too much water in the first place and not enough in the second, that’s going to be equally welcome at both places — and similarly, if coffee grounds put in one place are just going to add to waste disposal problems, and coffee grounds put in another are going to nourish growing plants, then taking it from the one and putting it in the other is a useful application of equilibrium.

    Scotlyn, good! I’d suggest, for the sake of simplicity, “Everything You Change, Changes Everything.” (The “including you” is accurate, but doesn’t make for a good crisp meme.) You’re right, too, that reflecting on that theme is a good way to get out from under the notion that one person can’t do anything; I’d be interested, though, to see what kind of reaction it gets from those who use the “one person can’t do anything” as an excuse to enjoy lifestyles that contradict their supposed environmental ideals…

    Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see if anything comes of your reply!

  154. While out walking this morning around my community, I observed a boy riding some new fangled Segue device. I’ve seen this boy out on this device many, many times over the past few months. In fact, for many it seems to be the norm in getting around, instead of using their own two feet. As I was pondering these things I was also thinking about the Law of Wholeness and it clicked for me, that in order to be mindful of the Law of Wholeness, we must live a lifestyle which allows time to always consider. The new devices aren’t bad, but if one does use this as their mode of transport at all times, how many things are they missing out on? Especially observations of how everything is interconnected. This Cult of Progress has deeply instilled the idea of progress from one generation unto the next by allowing less opportunity for observing the connectedness of everything.

  155. @ Degringolade…

    Fukuoka had some valuable ideas, particularly about soil. We employ a mix of Fukuoka and GW Carver methods here.

    We are sequestering water, but not impeding the stream. Once it fills behind the weirs we build, it continues on. The idea here is that with the steep banks, water and weirs will reduce hog travel. Right now, they are free to run the stream bed, and with 4-6″ of water depth, wallows abound. The weirs will make 4 stairsteps of a meter or more deep along the stream bed – hopefully making the hogs less likely to roam it. In addition, we will be rocking much of the area – and hogs don’t like rocky areas.

    @ Scotlyn…

    Schauberger is right in many respects – I enjoy his writings, for the most part. Our creek most definitely has eaten into the Earth and created cliff-like banks. For us, we cannot change anything from banks meters high, and whatever we change is temporary. Even Hoover Dam is a temp, though people think otherwise due to short lifespans.

    @ JMG…

    My feeling about “wholeness” with respect to anything is that one must insert a time perspective into it for any vision to emerge. With time included, it is easy to see possible outcomes with changes I make. But one has to peer behind and ahead in the time stream to get a real handle on the whole. The farther one peers in future or past, the easier it is to wrap your brain around wholeness, and glean some useful visions to operate from.

    It also limits the field of problems and outcomes once you see that it will all go away, no matter what your activity is. You may flex boundaries, change mix of life forms, etc. But nature and human nature will eventually exert their influence, often “in the fullness of time”… Maybe that should be “the wholeness of time”?

  156. JMG–

    I lost my copy of Mystery Teachings and so haven’t jumped into the discussion this month. The Law of Wholeness is very much on my mind, though. In my personal life I’ve been doing some serious Shadow-work on some stuff from my past that I’ve never dealt with. And I’m also trying to take to heart the lessons of last week’s post. Over the last year especially, I feel like thoughts I don’t really want or approve of, related especially to politics, have been forcing themselves into my consciousness and capturing my attention for greater and greater lengths of time. I haven’t had the slightest clue what to do with this, until I read your response to “Anonymous Coward” here–

    “If you find yourself wallowing in thoughts that you consider naughty for some reason, give yourself thirty minutes to do that, set the timer if you need to, do it with all your heart, and then devote thirty more minutes to thoughts that you consider the opposite of naughty — say, admiring the virtues of some person you look up to, or planning a charitable act of some complexity that you then carry out.”

    I literally read this with my mouth hanging open, thinking, “My God, you can do that??” And resolving– Tomorrow, instead of reading political blogs for an hour while feeling guilty and condemning myself for it, I am going to read furiously for 30 minutes, mentally indulge in all that forbidden hatred we talked about last week, and then do something completely different and productive. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  157. Where are you located? here in Albuquerque, you don’t see the Segway (actual spelling) anywhere, though we do have bicycle cops in the University district, or did before the construction. My guess? People on the Segway may be too busty balancing the thing, or they may look around. No idea. It’s the skateboarders who don’t seem to look around much of the time.Anyway,better that, than being plugged into your phone an driving. Which of course isn’t saying much.

  158. Oilman2
    I’d be interested in how your topsoil formed in the first place. Is soil removal by flood a pre-farming characteristic in your region?
    Phil H

  159. JMG wrote:

    “Drhooves, no, that’s very nearly the opposite of what I’m saying. Wholeness is what is. A whole system is equally a whole system, whether we’re talking about a pristine natural environment or an abandoned vacant lot next to a toxic waste dump in New Jersey. The same laws govern both, and the common human habit of labeling one system as “bad” and another as “good” gets in the way of that recognition.”

    Bad choice of words on my part. I should have used the phrase “human interpretation” as being a challenge with interpreting systems, and what makes up the “whole”. I get the concept that humans can be part of systems. But when your definitions use the terms “benefit”, “thrive” and “harm”, it already brings subjective interpretation into it, in which “bad” and “good” follow. For example – climate. Some people look at it as a totally natural system, and change is bound to occur, while others look at it as “bad mankind” being part of the system, and changes being harmful. In short, the law of wholeness is a relatively simple concept that gets complicated very quickly.

    In the past I’ve had some luck swaying the opinions of the ecologically ignorant using the example of the “butterfly effect”, and the story “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury. I read that as a kid, and while the term “chaos theory” was way over my head, I got the part where squished bug means a different future. I sort of think of that as a corollary of the law of wholeness.

  160. Island Poet wrote:

    “One relatively minor, or maybe not so minor, behavior that has changed in my lifetime is littering and recycling. When I was a boy in the ’60’s EVERYONE threw trash out the window of the car and that has changed. So what caused that change? 1) Public education, esp. TV pieces aimed at children. 2) Fines. 3) But what else?”

    Yes, the Public Service Announcement by Iron Eyes Cody is something I’ll never forget – even if he was Italian instead of Native American.

    Littering is still a huge pet peeve of mine. I’m torn when I see the “Adopt A Highway” sign, which just enables the behavior. I’d be in favor of draconian, special gulags for litterbugs, with long, long sentences.


    Thanks for an excellent example of the impact of such a simple article of clothing, though now that tempts me to go commando – and at my age and physical condition, that’s not what anybody wants!

  161. @ Philsharris…

    My topsoil is originally forest detritus due to hillside terrain. In bottom areas, it accumulates into rich soil – hence “valuable bottomlands” worldwide. With the hillsides and the previous clearcut logging, erosion rapidly becomes a dominating concern. No grass in the shade beneath original timber, but it is covered with rich leaf litter and thus erodes slowly. Remove the trees, (the source of leaf detritus and thus the soil), remove the shade of the canopy, and the ground dries and erosion starts quickly. Grass will stop this, but it takes considerable time for it to establish itself in an island of clearing in the middle of a forest.

    Thus round one is about establishing grass to stop erosion of what we have. Then we bring in manure and wood chips, sawdust, etc. on hilltops – to feed the soil – because the nutrient source, the forest canopy, is gone. With erosion the constant, we have to both feed the high spots with soil material, and slow the runoff to establish a working equilibrium. Concurrently, we plant pine as the leaf litter is constant. However, we plant them with broader spacing to allow grass to get a foothold.

    This a very much a balancing act, and even within my 40-acre patch, variations are required due to changes in the micro-ecos. The invasive species thrive in clearcuts; as of now, we are digging up bamboo in one area. We have been 3 years ripping up rhizomes in a single half-acre bamboo zone. We will replant bamboo, but it will be a timber variety and clumping, not running. Clumping species allow low intensity management, and timber bamboo has uses. The little niche is obviously bamboo-friendly – we just want a friendlier bamboo species.

    I am changing the “wholeness” of the plant types (but not drastically) from what we found when we got the place. Spacing and select species changes, mostly. Hickory is good, sweet gums bad. Sycamores good, elms bad. Both are there already – we just want to re-balance the mix, and can do so by removal of more aggressive species, thus favoring the ones we prefer.

    Soil-wise, it is constantly adding feed materials due to loss of canopy as the source. Local chicken and cattle operations along with horse stables provide materials. Fossil fuel allows the transport, but horse transport would do as well, albeit more slowly. These operations are all within 50 miles – workable by truck.

  162. One last comment on the meditations. The material object I meditated on was the dry cereal in my pantry, and it came to me that unless you live in what country (or oats or corn) or perhaps even if you do, every grain product you eat* will have been produced industrially in some huge petroleum-guzzling monocrop plantation. Probably in the Midwest if you live in the States. But that hold for even the flour used to locally bake the simple-ingredients organic sourdough bread at the Co-op! *Exceptions for the odd but fashionable grains which may or may not be imported.

    Second, when JMG mentioned “Now, what changes in your life” will I make … by coincidence, the evening before, my doctor posted recommendations on my clinical record following a routine physical.Including exercise on a level I had felt to weak to do. Contemplating this, I wondered if dong the laundry – bending down, hauling clothes out back, hanging them up, etc – counted as “weight-bearing aerobic exercise.” I so counted it that day and have now worked back up to a full and much needed program of leg and arm pulls and feel invigorated, not exhausted.

    The walks were leaving me exhausted, except one in the evening – aha! I WILL walk down to the park this evening.

  163. On the subject of invasive plants and animals on whole systems, I wonder if we simply miss the bigger picture of what nature, admitting it’s fully conscious and aware of what it’s doing, might be trying to do.

    The example that comes to mind in my part of the world is the purple loosestrife. When it was first identified as a problem, scientists, government employees, and others went into panic mode, and spend countless dollars, time, and energy trying to eradicate it, fearful it would destroy our wetlands. It was introduced in the early 1800s but only recently has it become a problem here.

    You won’t find this bit of info anywhere on the internet, and not likely from an official, but my sister, who is a certified horticulturalist, was told by one of her teachers a few years ago, that purple loosestrife is actually a soil cleaner. It sucks up all the toxins that are found in soils and then dies back leaving a few plants here and there once the soils are clean. And the original native species can then move back in. If it’s proliferating like crazy, it might be because our soils are a toxic mess.

    I am in the process of bioremediating an area behind my house that is contaminated with arsenic from an old deck, and my sister recommended I plant purple loosestrife as one of the detoxifiers, along with basket willows for a useful crop, ferns, and sunflowers.

    Who is to say that nature didn’t want humans to take this plant with them into the new world, along with all the pollution we were in the habit of spewing out already in the early 1800s?

    In addition, I found information on purple loosestrife as a cure for cholera:

    “it is in cholera infantum, cholera morbus, and malignant cholera that its greatest value as a remedial agent becomes manifest. When administered in small teacupful doses it exerts great influence upon all the mucous, secretory, vascular, and nervous systems, as well as on the liver, kidneys, bladder, and biliary ducts, and no matter whether a cholera patient be in the first, second, third, or fourth stage, Purple Loosestrife, or “Flowering Sally,” will be found of the greatest value, for when administered just warm in all such cases its action seems to be almost electrical. From the moment it enters the stomach the irritation seems to be allayed, hepatic and biliary derangements corrected, and the mucous secretions restored to their normal conditions; the kidneys and bladder are strengthened, nervous excitement is abated, diaphoresis is promoted, and the skin, instead of being dry and clammy, becomes soft and moist. It also allays the spasmodic cramps common in such cases, and the patient is eventually brought to rest and sleep which leads on to certain recovery.

    It was during the epidemic of 1848 that the sanative and healing influence of “Purple Loosestrife” was first made known by the inhabitants of North, North-East, and parts of West Lancashire, where it became the means of saving hundreds of people from death by cholera, and again in 1852-3 and 1864 and 1868 it was the means of preserving a good number from death through the same disease. “
    (Sorry for the long quote.)
    I like to think maybe nature knows something we don’t. Hah!

  164. Not the pig who saved the farmer’s family’s lives. You can’t eat a pig like that all at once. (:-D

  165. For bioremediation, also try mushrooms. For last week’s post, prescient considering Charlottesville. For meadows, field mice, and grasses, well done; I can only add that this week I’ve seen purple coneflowers with black seed pods and sunflowers with black faces; all from the intense July heat.

  166. Prizm, good. Very good. And it’s worth reflecting on just why so many of the technologies most frantically pushed at us by media and the corporate world serve as ways to deny us the time to think…

    Oilman, excellent! Which is why I so often try to direct attention here as elsewhere to history, and beyond that to the deep past and the deep future. We’ll be talking at some length in upcoming posts about the terror of time that besets so many people in our culture…

    Steve, oh, I get that. The thing is, if you’re going to do something, do it wholeheartedly and accept the consequences just as wholeheartedly. Feeling guilty about it earns you no points and spares you none of the blowback; it just helps reinforce the habit of a divided will, which helps nobody.

    Drhooves, nah, words like “benefit” and “harm” only imply “good” and “evil” if you strip them of their context If I put St. John’s wort oil on an infection, that benefits me by harming the microbes; is that “good” or is it “evil”? Depends on whose opinion you want to take into account, and the analysis is usually clearer and more meaningful without dragging in that kind of value judgment. The universe, of course, does not care whether we consider its habits good or evil; it doles out benefits and harm with a careless hand to humans and pathogenic bacteria alike, and recognizing that is a good first step to wisdom.

    Climate’s a good example. Think of it as a whole system and leave out the value judgments, and the current round of changes becomes just another of the many sudden shifts it’s passed through over the last billion years or so, as various sources of turbulence cause it to jolt suddenly from one balance point to another. That the shift we’re discussing will shatter industrial civilization like a boot descending on an eggshell is simply another detail of the behavior of the whole system; your value judgments about that detail come later, and are relevant solely to your decisions about what you want to do in response to the processes at issue. Does that make more sense?

    Patricia, and that’s exactly it. Once you sort out what you can change from what you can’t, you can direct your limited energy to places where it can do the most good — and yes, that applies to taking care of the whole system called “Pat Mathews” just as much as to taking care of the whole system called the biosphere.

    Myriam, fascinating. I didn’t know that about purple loosestrife. I do know that living things constantly push on the boundaries of their ecological niches, trying to expand into new territories and niches, and talk about “invasive species” usually starts from the delusion that nature is changeless and only human beings change things — a delusion I’ll be tackling in more detail as we proceed.

    Gkb, funny! Most of us, though, don’t measure up to that pig. 😉

  167. @Patricia: That’s one of the reasons I love Bujold. As someone who’s personally meh on kids unrelated to me or my friends (glad they’re around, glad to contribute to their general well-being, would prefer they remain Over There), I’d missed that interpretation, but it totally makes sense. Another, given the number of heroes (and now heroines) who come to romance after a life of soldiering or spying or whatnot, is that romance is about re-integration into society and non-violent life–the journey back up from the Underworld, in Campbellian terms.

    @Sister Crow: Ha! Love it–if I ever want to troll those forums, and it’s occasionally tempting, I may dip into the Omegaverse stuff for material. I also fondly remember one of (I think) John Scalzi’s columns, where people tried to come up with definitions for “gamma male” (large, green, strangely resilient pants), “pi male” (deeply irrational) and so on.

    @Housewife: Same on all counts. (The “Meg is horrible for wearing low-cut dresses and rouge” scenes and the “Jo is wisely guided away from writing trashy fiction which Corrupts the Morals of Youth because A Man Knows Better” ones always drive me up the wall.) I love Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, as well as the Anne series (and on later reading, the secondary heroine in House of Dreams has a backstory out of the Victorian-female version of Traveller character generation).

    @JMG: I absolutely need to find that guy now. (And hopefully the ritual orgies are better than the one in the Ahnold Conan movie, where the Settites seem to be basically lying around occasionally eating cannibal soup, and nobody looks like they’re having very much fun. Not that I’ve been to a lot of orgies, but I would demand a better quality, were I those cultists.)

  168. Although purple loosestrife is condemned as an invasive plant now, mainly because it crowds out native wetlands, back in the 70s and 80s beekeeper’s publications recommended it as a valuable nectar plant. Beekeepers were encouraged to carry a bag of seed in their vehicles and spread it in likely areas. Its current distribution probably does not accurately reflect the plant’s unaided ability to seed itself in new areas. So many of our current problems can be traced to similar cases of “it seemed like a good idea at the time. A good reminder not to be too sure that we have it right _this time_ when proposals are being evaluated.

  169. And on that note – taking care of whole systems – when I took elementary Sustainability Studies and picked “reducing my driving” as my project, I noted there was a minimum blow which I refused to go – because I am the driver for at least one friend who does not drive for medical reasons. It used to be two, until a third friend started driving the other one. That, I think, is called “taking care of each other.”

  170. I definitely need to hunt down copies of Peter Valentine Timlett’s Seedbearers trilogy. They sound like loads of fun. For what its worth, I read several of Mercedes Lackey’s My Little Pony novels back in the day and liked them, even if they were the literary equivalent of cotton candy or circus peanuts.

  171. Off topic, but I sure hope we’re coming upon a Stormwatch post. Things are spiraling out bad now, and things are rapidly spinning out of control after Charlottesville.

  172. BTW, JMG, I guess the silver lining of the divorce was your step-mother and her family, whom you would have never encountered had it not been for the divorce, though that certainly doesn’t negate the effects of the divorce…

  173. Hi Myriam,

    A couple of things came to mind when I read your post. First, if purple loosestrife accumulates soil toxins, when it dies those are going to be released back into the soil, unless they are chemically changed in the plant to become less toxic. This may or may not be the case, depending on the chemical nature of the contaminants and what loosestrife is capable of. Second, I’d be hesitant about using a plant known to accumulate toxins for human treatment, or at least I’d be careful about where plants used for treatment were grown. It might be that toxins are accumulated in one part of the plant, and another part is best for treating cholera, but I’d want to be sure.


  174. Jennifer, yes, I’ve read Paul Stamets’ writings on fungal bioremediation; down the road a few centuries, knowing how to do that is going to be a ticket either to a comfortable living or to canonization as a saint. As for Charlottesville, I’ve been saying for years now that the US is dangerously close to domestic insurgency or outright civil war, and a lot of people have dismissed that out of hand. I wonder how many dismiss it now.

    Isabel, it’s pretty clear that Timlett hadn’t been to a lot of orgies either, but his characters do seem to have a better time than Ahnold’s enemies. (Well, except for Helios the initiate, who is kind of a prig.) (Did I mention that the names are just as good as the plots? A high priestess named Zesta is among the highlights.)

    Patricia, you could also describe it as “balancing partially incompatible goals against one another,” which is something that’s tolerably often necessary in the real world. 😉

    Eric, by all means. I think I was too old when I tried Lackey’s ficiton — though it may just have been that I was annoyed at the way she made all her villains ceremonial magicians who were vanquished by the good Neopagans. (I was sufficiently annoyed that I outlined, and partly wrote, a parody entitled “Flaming Koolaid” under the pseudonym B.M.W. Flunky; it featured a Care Bear with a pentagram on its belly, who finished the story by turning into Aleister Crowley. The things one writes when irritated…)

  175. John Michael Greer wrote

    “The world is not complete without a copy of Amish Werewolves in Love sitting on the shelf in every well-stocked supermarket. What’s more, once it’s in print, Chuck Tingle might get in on the act, and publish Pounded in the Butt by the Gay Amish Werewolf in Love.”

    That was fracking awesome! I love it! I just about fell out of my chair laughing my a** off when I read that. I might even be tempted to buy both, hehehe…

    I love anything to do with wolves, tales about werewolves, vampires and pirates, Gothic imagery, Vikings, barbarians, tribal cultures (Native American and otherwise), classic horror, military history, arms & armour, the fiction of authors like Robert E Howard, HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Michael Moorcock, and anything else that reminds us of the savage, primal and untamed nature that underlies the thin veneer of what Hermann Melville once called “snivelization”.

    Since we are well into the Age of Decadence and headed for another Dark Age, one might as well ride the lightning…

  176. Patricia,

    I’m in China. The use of technology here has appeared in slightly different ways. Since I’ve been here for almost 7 years now, I’ve had the chance to see some things change. Most noticeable is the use of Smartphones for everything. They must assist people in walking because many have their noses glued there instead of where to step next. And that was kind of my point with the Segway (thanks for the spelling correction!). It’s not that they’re inherently bad, but when a person spends the majority of their time heavily invested in using one technology instead of another, they’re going to miss opportunities to see the world from other perspectives. Modern technology does everything fast and yet the world around us often does things slowly.

    Later that day I had a really interesting conversation with one of my teenage students that was along the lines of this topic and climate change. He quickly saw where I was going and stated that we humans could use our technological abilities to create shelters to protect us from the hazards outside and grow all our food in laboratories, so the world of animals and plants didn’t matter. When I asked if the plants were all destroyed, where would we get our oxygen from, he cooly responded that we would make a machine to do that. I wasn’t the least shocked by that answer, so I just laughed. This standard of life has fixed one idea within the consciousness of the great many. But the reality is I would have loved to just scream out that there is already a “machine” which produces oxygen for us really, really efficiently: they are called plants!

  177. JMG,

    The media and corporate interests have done an amazing job of programming us! I know there are several documentaries and books out there on how they’ve done it, especially using a lot of Freud’s ideas. I’m really more interested in ways to help raise more awareness and mindfulness of the world around us and how our interactions with it work. One of the tools for this is rituals, isn’t it? In helping to birth the new spirituality, what are some ways you’d like to see passed on to help people be more aware of the Law of Wholeness?

  178. @ JMG, Jennifer…

    Hooray! The fungus among us is the third leg of the soil stool, and is often very misunderstood. Here in Texas, we have a fungus species that feeds on damp wood, and removes nitrogen in the process. Wood chips left on top of the soil are fine, but if you turn them under, you are ruining your work. Most people simply do not know this, yet Fuluoka goes into it with his species doing similar things in Japan.

    This is an almost automatic tie-in to no-till gardening, which will make a big difference when oil goes away. It is easy to take your bicycle handled 4-tine hand till, loosen the soil, plant and then push the mulch back over the wound you just made. Today, with cheap oil, it is easier to fire up the tiller and just go for the typical row crops; for big farms, it’s disc plow or 6′ PTO tiller. Both of those invert the soil, removing the top shield layer, kill photo-toxic fungi, etc.

    We are about to dive into fungus next fall, after we build another shed to isolate the species for production. For now, we have been harvesting spores and putting them into holes in dead trees to speed up recycling – it works in a single season. A year after inoculation, most branches are off and the tractor can push the trunk over with ease. Beats chain saws, but you must have the patience for it and the time-sense that allows you to know that trunk is being eaten even if you can’t see it happening.

    Instant gratification is ungood in many ways…

    RE: Time Terror – until a person grasps their own mortality, accepts that their place in the universe is extremely temporary and acknowledges their own need to push their genes forward into time – they will be terrified. My grandson asked me why people have to die when we were at my Mom’s funeral last year. My daughter stared like a deer in headlights, and I just said, “If everybody lived forever, there would be no room or food for new people like you t be born. We leave so you can be born and have a fun life.”

    This year I heard him tell my granddaughter that, “Old people die so we can have our turn doing stuff.”

    Gobsmacked me…

  179. JMG,

    I was sufficiently annoyed that I outlined, and partly wrote, a parody entitled “Flaming Koolaid” under the pseudonym B.M.W. Flunky; it featured a Care Bear with a pentagram on its belly, who finished the story by turning into Aleister Crowley. The things one writes when irritated…

    I can’t be the only one who really wishes this had seen the light of day.

    How much to commission you to finish it? We can start a pool. (I’m only half joking.)

  180. @JMG: Well, with a name like Helios, I’d bet orgies wouldn’t be his thing! Also…Zesta! Hee!

    The nineties was full of that sort of rejection-of-pageantry on all forms, IIRC–I think I’ve mentioned my anti-grunge tendencies as a result of hitting adolescence there–and the emphasis on natural non-ornate robes/wands/etc for magic always disappointed me too. If you’re going to command the secret forces of the universe or whatever, you might as well have the fun of dressing up to do it, and I’ve never been keen on the natural look myself*. Give me velvet robes and lots of rings–or blue eyeshadow and rhinestone-studded leather miniskirts–any day. 😛

    Oddly enough, Lackey’s later novels, the Elemental Masters alt-history ones, have slightly more ceremonial magic on the part of the heroes, which I find a point in their favor. (That and they involve adults who have mostly worked out their psychological issues, whereas I haven’t cared much about teenagers with low self-esteem since I passed my own SATs.) She does buy waaay too much into the Crowley-as-unspeakable-fiend mythos for my tastes; the man seemed like a nasty piece of work from his writings, but there’s no evidence he got up to more than some rather lackadaisical orgies himself. (And bad poetry, which is worse.)

    *My parents are creatures of tasteful earth tones and minimalism; one always has to rebel in some way against the traditions one was raised in, and this seems to be mine.

  181. I’ve been thinking for a while that in a domestic insurgency/civil war scenario, Virginia may be one of the most violent places to be, based on my brief experiences there and talks with others who live there, It’s not from any one concrete thing, just a sense that the emotions on all sides seem to be that much more intense there. So, I’m not particualrly surprised about Charlottesville.

  182. Shane, so noted. I’m beginning to draft a political essay that will talk about Charlottesville et al. at some length; I’ll keep the list posted. As for my stepmother, I simply wish my dad had had the luck and common sense to marry the right woman first.

    Eric, have you considered writing a story about barbarian Amish werewolf pirates? These days you could probably get it into print… 😉

    Prizm, the single most useful thing I think I can pass on to anybody is a recommendation to dump their television into the nearest dumpster and spend several hours a day out of reach of the internet, social media, cell phones, etc. Once people begin to reclaim their capacities to pay attention and to think, the rest follows in short order!

    Oilman, I think fear of mortality is part of it, but I’m not at all sure that’s all of it. It’s still something I’m brooding over…

    James, hmm. I’ll consider it; I’d have to go back and reread a bunch of Lackey’s books, and that’s not exactly an appetizing prospect. But I’ll consider it.

    Isabel, Crowley would have been utterly overjoyed to find out that somebody out there thinks of him as an unspeakable fiend. My take is that he was a rather silly man who desperately wanted to become worth noticing, and failed. Nobody anywhere would remember him if Grady McMurtry, who was a genuine occultist and a very capable one at that, hadn’t used Crowley’s legacy as the launching pad for his own much more successful efforts.

    Kashtan, neither am I!

    Patricia, read it? Adored it, wallowed in it, could at one point quote it by the page, can still intone Tom Benzedrine’s magic incantation at the drop of a hat. My delight in it has mellowed over the years, but it can still make me grin. (I have the German version to savor once I get a good enough reading knowledge.) As for Valdemar, no, no, it’s the magic kingdom of Valu-Mart…

  183. @Patrick – Thank you for your concerns. You’re right about the toxins going back into the ground. The plan is to remove the plants as they die down every year and send them to a landfill where the arsenic will be somewhat better contained. The sunflower heads are removed before the birds get interested in them.

    The willows will be shaped into baskets, wicker furniture, etc, where they could potentially be a problem if anyone were to happen to eat a basket, not likely, and of course if they are composted after a long, useful life, the toxins would end up in the soils again, but the understanding is that the toxins contained in one decomposed basket would not be concentrated enough to harm anyone.

    As for medicine and bioremediation, these are to be kept far, far away from each other.

    @ Rita – Thanks, I didn’t know about the usefulness of the plant to bees. I have been cutting the flower heads off so that no one can complain about the plants. I wouldn’t want to pass the toxins on to the bees, but after the soils are clean (and tested again) I will leave the heads on.

    @ Jennnifer – I’m hoping woodchips count for the beneficial fungus you mentioned. I have covered the whole area with half-rotted woodchips. Thanks for the suggestion.

  184. @Oilman2
    Many thanks for comprehensive review of your soils and locale.
    Where I live in Britain, farming is on light post-glacial sub-soils adjacent to extensive uplands. The river is subject to flooding. Geologically it would cut ox-bows across the flattish plain and historically there were relatively large un-drained areas that silted up. In the last two centuries the arable land was drained and parts of the river channelled, but banks are still cut away every big flood and one year one farm lost 200 sheep when the levee broke. Bridges get broken as well. Over the much longer term this does not look sustainable, but the slopes out of reach of the river will still be available.
    As in your own example, the uplands here have little tree cover. Reforestation of the right kind presumably would make a big difference to run-off. At the moment the biggest threat to farming our sandy soil looks like loss of carbon. ‘Hydroponics’ does not look good in a very wet or dry season, and there were some years when ploughed fields dried out we saw top soil blown off. Farming has adjusted somewhat but cannot change the economics. I guess we see a declining legacy and the increasing size and speed of machinery is about at the limit. Traditionally, (from about 1750) Britain maintained soil fertility using clover/grass in rotation, and in living memory – just about – used horses and horse-driven machinery, but it is a long time ago the country fed itself.

    Phil H

  185. @isabelcooper: Some time ago I wrote a story called Gamma Male. It was published by The Blotter, here if you want to read it. Now the term seems to be all over the web under many different meanings. I hope pi males are irrationally fond of blueberries and phi males are gay physical therapists or cataphiles

  186. Amish Barbarian Pirate Werewolves …. oh, Eric, write it! Though Steve Stirling may well get there first, considering how his Emberverse series is going. And he writes a darned good ecotechnic/polytheist universe, despite his alien space bats/handwavium/divine intervention McGuffin at the beginning. Myself, I’d have kicked it off the way John Barnes did, with fossil fuels going away but keeping gunpowder. But Steve writes a good riproaring epic, if a little overpopulated with superheroes.

    And yes, boss, we do need a Stormwatch post at this point, the Urban Wars having reached the boiling point and starting to blow the lid off the pressure cooker.

  187. Agree with Kashtan, Patricia and Shane that another Stormwatch post is in order. We are rapidly careening towards some kind of violent domestic upheaval, which has arguably already started. I have read quite a bit about the first American Civil War and this sure feels a lot like the late 1850’s, right before things spiraled completely out of control. The far left just keeps pushing and pushing and the far right is pushing back hard.

    If the establishment tries to remove Trump from office, he won’t go quietly or peacefully. Several people, including a former Navy SEAL and a leading right-wing talk radio host, have warned that there will likely be an armed revolution if he is forced out. All Trump has to do is give the word and millions of heavily armed supporters will turn out in the streets, many of them military veterans who are better armed and equipped than most SWAT officers. It’s been pointed out that one of the reasons why the police in Charlottesville were so cautious and didn’t move in sooner when things started getting violent is because there were a lot of heavily armed extremists on both sides and they didn’t want to spark a full-blown firefight in the middle of town.

    Things could get really, really ugly in the near future. I just hope we can avoid a full-blown civil war this time around.

  188. “Is this order of nature, the order you find under stray seaweed or anywhere else where nature does what it wants, the kind of order that humans usually mean when they use that word? Is it neat, simple, clean, logical?”
    -John Michael Greer, “The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth.”

  189. John Michael,

    The reality is that what you wrote is obvious, clear and tautological.

    That does not mean it isn’t important.

    Just like water is obvious, clear and tautological to our existence does not make it less than absolutely essential.

    Therefore, it is what comes next that matters. And we fans of yours await that with great anticipation.

    Those of us serious about the Mystery Teachings of the Living Earth would like to hear what you would say to the teachings of Thomas Berry, Loyal Rue, and William Catton. They are assembled together for obvious reasons.

    Add Herman Daly, another mentor for many of us, particularly myself and you are getting informed by the living earth quite rightly, aren’t you???

    Common denominator Willian Rees transected these thinkers and still sends a missive our way de temps en temps.


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