Heroines

Here are just a few of the many humans I admire (who happen to have ovaries) and who have shaped the way I see and act in this world. 

Malala Yousafzai (1997 - ) She's a schoolgirl from Pakistan who survived being shot by the Taliban for going to school. Now she's a global advocate for women's rights and especially the right for girls to get an education. 

Malala Yousafzai (1997 - ) She's a schoolgirl from Pakistan who survived being shot by the Taliban for going to school. Now she's a global advocate for women's rights and especially the right for girls to get an education. 

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) She was the first female prime minister of a Muslim country. She helped move Pakistan from a dictatorship to a democracy when she was elected. She was assassinated in 2007.

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007) She was the first female prime minister of a Muslim country. She helped move Pakistan from a dictatorship to a democracy when she was elected. She was assassinated in 2007.

Jane Goodall (1934 - She is considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She has studied chimpanzee behaviour for 45 years in Tanzania. Not only is she a strong advocate for nonhuman rights, she is also still working extensively on animal welfare issues. 

Jane Goodall (1934 - She is considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. She has studied chimpanzee behaviour for 45 years in Tanzania. Not only is she a strong advocate for nonhuman rights, she is also still working extensively on animal welfare issues. 

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) Considered one of the female founders of feminism, Baauvoir's book The Second Sex depicts the traditions of sexism that dominate society and history. Particularly groundbreaking was her notion of gender being learned rather than biologically attributed. 

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) Considered one of the female founders of feminism, Baauvoir's book The Second Sex depicts the traditions of sexism that dominate society and history. Particularly groundbreaking was her notion of gender being learned rather than biologically attributed. 

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969 - ) Ali is a Somali-born (formely Dutch) American women's rights activist. She ran away from her family when she was arranged by her family  to marry a distant cousin in Canada. She was granted asylum in the Netherlands. Possibly one of the most inspiring women still alive today, she is a strong opponent of female genital mutilation and the deep underlying mysoginy. of Islam. I recommend reading her book The Caged Virgin. Absolutely awe-inspiring.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969 - ) Ali is a Somali-born (formely Dutch) American women's rights activist. She ran away from her family when she was arranged by her family  to marry a distant cousin in Canada. She was granted asylum in the Netherlands. Possibly one of the most inspiring women still alive today, she is a strong opponent of female genital mutilation and the deep underlying mysoginy. of Islam. I recommend reading her book The Caged Virgin. Absolutely awe-inspiring.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) Having recently read her first autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, I have just begun to understand the immensity that is Maya Angelou. Not only is she a fantastic story-teller and poet, her books have inspired many disadvantaged females to find strength in the struggle. 

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) Having recently read her first autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, I have just begun to understand the immensity that is Maya Angelou. Not only is she a fantastic story-teller and poet, her books have inspired many disadvantaged females to find strength in the struggle. 

Pema Chödrön (1936 - ) Pema is an ordained Buddhist nun who runs a monastery in Nova Scotia Canada, although originally she is American. Her book The Places That Scare You has gotten me through really tough times, and her strength and wisdom is not limited to those in close proximity to her. She has the great talent of waking us up to happiness and truth.

Pema Chödrön (1936 - ) Pema is an ordained Buddhist nun who runs a monastery in Nova Scotia Canada, although originally she is American. Her book The Places That Scare You has gotten me through really tough times, and her strength and wisdom is not limited to those in close proximity to her. She has the great talent of waking us up to happiness and truth.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) My Waldorf Kindergarten teacher would constantly tell my parents that I would grow up to be a modern version of her. She was a mystic, author and a composer during a time when women had next to no social standing. She was consulted by Popes, Kings and many influential people of the time. She was able to flourish in a setting when it was almost impossible for women to lead full lives. 

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) My Waldorf Kindergarten teacher would constantly tell my parents that I would grow up to be a modern version of her. She was a mystic, author and a composer during a time when women had next to no social standing. She was consulted by Popes, Kings and many influential people of the time. She was able to flourish in a setting when it was almost impossible for women to lead full lives. 

bell hooks (1952 -) hooks is one of today's most prominent feminist authors. Her writings continue to inspire me and wake me up. She advocates for an inclusive feminist theory and recognizes that certain voices within feminism have been marginalized. 

bell hooks (1952 -) hooks is one of today's most prominent feminist authors. Her writings continue to inspire me and wake me up. She advocates for an inclusive feminist theory and recognizes that certain voices within feminism have been marginalized. 

And here's another photo of Ayaan Hirsi Ali just because she's so awesome.

And here's another photo of Ayaan Hirsi Ali just because she's so awesome.

Fractured

There it was, the image hit me and knocked me out clean. For one moment my mind went blank and not one single thought was able to tunnel through for me to recognize. My eyes were the gateway but my heart was the harbour. The intensity of the image struck me, not because of the attributes of the form, but because of the immediate realization I had of myself existing within space and time. That millisecond of being sucked out of my own mind and into the punch bowl of the universe felt endless - but it functioned much like the illusion of our dear highways; which, despite appearing perpetual, ultimately do come to an end.

Victoria - Vancouver, BC Ferries. 

Victoria - Vancouver, BC Ferries. 

Seeing immense natural beauty, like the beauty of an unexpected sunset or the cloudless night sky swimming with bright stars, makes me feel an immediate adoration towards the subject I’m looking at - but it is quickly followed by a fear of what I’m supposed to feel, and how I’m supposed to communicate it to others. Is it good enough to just take it in as is? Surely I’m missing something. Does the perception of beauty include the delivery of it?

Victoria - Vancouver, BC Ferries. 

Victoria - Vancouver, BC Ferries. 

Victoria Marina, Oak Bay.

Victoria Marina, Oak Bay.

When in-synch with animals, I feel completely in tune with the world, if only for a moment. 

When in-synch with animals, I feel completely in tune with the world, if only for a moment. 

The Choice of not Choosing

The illusion of choice goes somewhat like this: we have the choice between hundreds of different phones, but we don't have the choice not to chose.

You may think "that's silly, of course I can chose not to have a phone, nobody will throw me in jail for that!" But think of it this way: Say you chose not to be a consumer, in this case a consumer of phones. This would have radical implications on the way you lead your life. How would you continue to fill out legal documents? How would you call your landlord to sign a lease? If we decide not to be part of the consumer society, we become alienated and cannot function. 

Herbert Marcuse in his study, ca 1960.

Herbert Marcuse in his study, ca 1960.

Herbert Marcuse, a 20th Century German philosopher who wrote primarily in the Sixties, claims that there is a kind of totalitarian logic behind our contemporary consumer society. Why? Because we cannot critically evaluate our interests without becoming outcasts of societyIn other words, Marcuse doesn’t limit the term totalitarian to societies consumed by terror and violence, but also applies it to contemporary advanced industrial societies in which the totalitarian logic is much more subtle but just as controlling.

Marcuse argues that the underlying totalitarian state of society dampens individuality and undermines our ability to distinguish between true and false needs. Just as in previous totalitarian regimes, our private sphere is invaded, not by terror, but by media and advertising in the way it functions as ideologically loaded propaganda. In this manner our identities are taken over by the consumer choices we make and we are divorced from society if we decide not to engage in consumer culture. Even in accepting that we have an infinite array of consumer choices, it does not necessarily follow that we live in a free state, because we do not have the choice not to chose. Marcuse explains that “free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear - that is, if they sustain alienation.”

Even if we have the freedom of choice to purchase certain products, we never have the freedom from them. 

Even if we have the freedom of choice to purchase certain products, we never have the freedom from them. 

We may think we have freedom of choice and can reason what our basic needs and interests are, but in actuality the consumer choices we make only show how efficient the totalitarian control is. We think that we “let” these particular goods (and the messages they carry) into our private sphere by having had the choice to purchase them, but in reality there is an inescapability of purchasing products. So whichever message infiltrates your home is irrelevant; the point is that there will inevitably be a message directing and influencing your interests.

I would not want to be in the difficult position of having to argue that Canada (for example) is not free or democratic. Our desires and interests can be expressed in a society, but only in repressive means that systemically eliminate the need for liberation (because we think we already have it). 

Be Part of The Solution

It is no secret that whales, dolphins and porpoises posses complex brains and are extraordinarily intelligent. The bottle nose dolphin for example, among elephants and the great apes, even has shown signs of self-awareness when presented with the Gallup mirror test. 

Myself on the left with happy-go-lucky, passionate people. 

Myself on the left with happy-go-lucky, passionate people. 

This post is not meant to teach you about their biological makeup, rather it is meant to examine the ways in which we treat it. A total of 39 cetaceans have died in the care of the Vancouver Aquarium, a majority of them prematurely. If you are interested in the specific facts about cetacean care at the VanAqua, take a look at this website

What is it that's being taught? Great sign. Photo by James Loewen. 

What is it that's being taught? Great sign. Photo by James Loewen. 

Isn't it amazing that as human beings we are so concerned with security and ownership? Instead of putting the animal's well-being first, as an intrinsic good in itself, we protect the animal because it is in our interest to do so. Notice the difference: Were we to conserve our oceans for the sake of the environment itself, we would certainly not make hyper-intelligent mammals perform tricks for our entertainment. As human beings we have certain (possibly unjustified) powers to determine the well-being of other species. Logically it does not follow that this gives us the immediate right to exercise this power. We like to think of ourselves as on top of the species hierarchy, perhaps because we are one of the most successful species in accelerating our population. But to put our interests before those of other species, this is speciesism, this is denying animals moral standing and moral consideration. And this is very likely one of the reasons that many of the VanAqua staff think they are doing the animals a favour, because we see the benefits of cetacean captivity largely through our eyes instead of the mammal's. 

We all have a right to be free! Photo by James Loewen. 

We all have a right to be free! Photo by James Loewen. 

Does scientific research justify the exploitation of cetaceans? Possibly, but this question is often asked in order to justify captivity in the first place. One of the arguments used by the Vancouver Aquarium (advocating for the captivity of cetaceans) is that it will spark interest in the visitor and possibly lead to more support of rehabilitation or the purchase of sustainable seafood. The absurdity and circularity of this claim doesn't need to be further examined to become obvious. I believe that the staff at VanAqua are not intentionally malicious towards their whales and dolphins, probably one of the reasons they work at the aquarium is their love for marine life. However, the captivity beyond their rehabilitation is justified with logically unsound arguments that do not follow through and that are largely reliant on the importance of human enjoyment. It also somehow seems obvious to me that the observation of animals in the wild, although more costly and time-sensitive, leads to much more accurate and fascinating results. Convenience is not a convincing argument for captivity.

I tried to avoid looking like an angry activist, but in this case our anger is justified. Photo by James Loewen. 

I tried to avoid looking like an angry activist, but in this case our anger is justified. Photo by James Loewen. 

Now, Vancouver Aquarium is a self-proclaimed advocate for the protection of wildlife and has an extensive rehabilitation program. Only, many or most of the rehabilitated animals are not released into the wild once they are well. Instead, they are used for entertainment and to attract visitors. They are no longer used for research. This may be one of the reasons why, for being a non-profit organization, they certainly make a lot of it. 

The horses joined us in our protest. Photo by James Loewen. 

The horses joined us in our protest. Photo by James Loewen. 

The issue, as most animal rights dilemmas, is not black and white. Most people come into this debate with a strong opinion, without having reasoned it through a critical lens, which is why the danger is that the discussion becomes polarized and unproductive. It is crucial to remember that the animal's welfare must proceed the interests of humans. It is not clear that the Vancouver Aquarium is prioritizing animal welfare when they mask the cetaceans' discomfort as entertainment and spectacle. 

CTV

CTV

Great sign, great photo by Daylon Payne. 

Great sign, great photo by Daylon Payne. 

A passion for life. Photo by James Loewen. 

A passion for life. Photo by James Loewen. 

Myself and other compassionate animals. Photo by James Loewen. 

Myself and other compassionate animals. Photo by James Loewen. 

The which than which there is no whicher

From the moment we are born, we are given a name and defined as a separate entity. We are told who we are. We are expected, if not commanded, to behave in a way that is accepted only if we do it voluntarily. From the moment we become conscious of the world, we are already mixed up. We are stamped and sealed and led to the belief that individuality and selfishness is the only means of acquiring pleasure and satisfaction. We are taught that externalities happen to us, that in some sense the outside is different from the inside. We cling to a fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us. We don't realize that, in fact, we are it, we are the which than which there is no whicher.

My always faithful coffee shop Prado delivers. 

My always faithful coffee shop Prado delivers. 

What we do is what the universe does, and what the universe does is what we do. This is not the "I" nor the "you" of the superficial ego - a tiny fracture of the act we play - but the "I" that constitutes reflective consciousness. It is so tempting to believe that we are all separate entities and we all had the unfortunate fate of being born. Rather, we are an extension of something that has always existed and will always exist for ever and ever and ever. As Alan Watts puts it, we are the Universe observing itself. Does this sound abstract and wishy-washy? Good. Continue!

What is our real identity? Strangely we like to take on the role of "poor little me" - as if we somehow exist outside of ourselves. This is an illusion, we are inadvertently playing the part of a "person". In fact the word person has its origins in the word Persephone, meaning mask or false face. We are like fish in water - they don't know they are swimming in water. The workings of the ego make us unable to cope with an unpredictable world. 

Notes

Notes

This is not enough for us. We go further and like to put ourselves into the "good person" category. We talk amongst our friends and define ourselves in terms of what other people are doing. Little do we know is that these other people are simultaneously doing the exact same thing. We need the other just as much as the flower needs a bee and vice versa. The enlightened Buddha looks at an ignorant person and says "my respect to you". For you see, they are walking on a tight rope very far up, they are committed to the act of life. If you shout at them or startle them, they will fall. The more they search for certainty and predictability, the more likely it becomes that they will trip. But it is an act we must respect. This is the point at which we do not depend on the other anymore, just as the master does not depend on his slave as soon as he ceases to exist within the framework of a master

More notes!

More notes!

Pema Chödrön puts it so perfectly in saying that "We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips we lay on ourselves - the heavy-duty fearing that we're bad and hoping that we're good, the identities that we cling to - never touch our basic wealth."

My pup who has definitely discovered the way of Zen!

My pup who has definitely discovered the way of Zen!

Times Colonist Book Sale: The gems I found

Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of books. Any genre you could possibly imagine. An unimaginably huge inventory. The most expensive book costing $3. No, it's not a fantasy! For Victoria residents this is a reality that happens annually: The Times Colonist booksale. With hour-long lineups going around the block twice at 9am on a Saturday you can just imagine how popular this event is. All of the books are acquired by donation, and all of the proceeds go to benefit libraries and education on Vancouver Island. While I was there they hit the $2 million mark! Amazing! This is an event that is too good to put into words. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time! Here are some of my finds:

Philosophic Classics Bacon to Kant - Walter Kaufmann: This is a first edition of a collection of philosophical texts edited by Walter Kaufmann. Usually these books can cost around $50, but guess what? I only paid $3! Being from 1961 it leaves out a lot of late 21st Century and contemporary thinkers, but Kant and Bacon are a plate-full themselves so I think I can make due...

Philosophic Classics Bacon to Kant - Walter Kaufmann: This is a first edition of a collection of philosophical texts edited by Walter Kaufmann. Usually these books can cost around $50, but guess what? I only paid $3! Being from 1961 it leaves out a lot of late 21st Century and contemporary thinkers, but Kant and Bacon are a plate-full themselves so I think I can make due...

The Way of Zen - Alan Watts: This is one of my most exciting finds! Being the Alan Watts admirer that I am, I automatically grabbed all the Watts books I could get my hands on without really looking at the titles. This one happened to be one that I have been meaning to read for quite some time! It's another first edition that only cost me $3. This one used to be in the Vancouver Island Regional Library and has a stamp-card inside with all the dates it has been borrowed. I love this book's personality already! 

The Way of Zen - Alan Watts: This is one of my most exciting finds! Being the Alan Watts admirer that I am, I automatically grabbed all the Watts books I could get my hands on without really looking at the titles. This one happened to be one that I have been meaning to read for quite some time! It's another first edition that only cost me $3. This one used to be in the Vancouver Island Regional Library and has a stamp-card inside with all the dates it has been borrowed. I love this book's personality already! 

On Becoming Fearless - Arianna Huffington: Here is a more recent publication from 2006. Fearlessness is something I have been exploring in the context of Zen philosophy, so I am excited to read about it written from a contemporary female author. Here are some of the chapters I most anticipate: Fearless about the body, fearless about money, fearless about aging and illness, fearless about leadership and speaking out, fearless about changing the world and living the fearless life. 

On Becoming Fearless - Arianna Huffington: Here is a more recent publication from 2006. Fearlessness is something I have been exploring in the context of Zen philosophy, so I am excited to read about it written from a contemporary female author. Here are some of the chapters I most anticipate: Fearless about the body, fearless about money, fearless about aging and illness, fearless about leadership and speaking out, fearless about changing the world and living the fearless life. 

Does It Matter? - Alan Watts: Of course another Alan Watts book. The first title is called "Wealth versus Money". Enough said. Actually maybe one more thing; here a quick excerpt of the summary: "This is a series of essays representing philosopher Alan Watt's most recent thinking on the astonishing problems of (wo)man's relations to her/his material environment."

Does It Matter? - Alan Watts: Of course another Alan Watts book. The first title is called "Wealth versus Money". Enough said. Actually maybe one more thing; here a quick excerpt of the summary: "This is a series of essays representing philosopher Alan Watt's most recent thinking on the astonishing problems of (wo)man's relations to her/his material environment."

Women and the Politics of Class - Johanna Brenner: This was an obvious pick for me. The question this book addressed is "Is there a future for feminism?" The author Johanna Brenner argues for a strategic turn in feminist politics toward coalitions centred on the interests of working-class women. Can't wait. 

Women and the Politics of Class - Johanna Brenner: This was an obvious pick for me. The question this book addressed is "Is there a future for feminism?" The author Johanna Brenner argues for a strategic turn in feminist politics toward coalitions centred on the interests of working-class women. Can't wait. 

Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka ("Four Prophets of Our Destiny") - William Hubben: "The four writers, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kafka, occupy, each in his own peculiar way the positions of outsiders in the society that had produced them." With an opening quote like that, how can you not want to read this book? Besides the very titillating cover-illustration, the idea of existentialism and the comparison between these four canons of philosophy and literature has got me firing on all cylinders! 

Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka ("Four Prophets of Our Destiny") - William Hubben: "The four writers, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kafka, occupy, each in his own peculiar way the positions of outsiders in the society that had produced them." With an opening quote like that, how can you not want to read this book? Besides the very titillating cover-illustration, the idea of existentialism and the comparison between these four canons of philosophy and literature has got me firing on all cylinders! 

The Wisdom of Confucius - Lin Yutang: A beautifully illustrated book of the stories of Confusions. This is another first edition, published in 1938 by publishing giant Random House. Random House was founded in 1927, so this is a publication just out of their first decade. This book could potentially be really valuable would I look into it more. But I prefer flipping through the pages for now!

The Wisdom of Confucius - Lin Yutang: A beautifully illustrated book of the stories of Confusions. This is another first edition, published in 1938 by publishing giant Random House. Random House was founded in 1927, so this is a publication just out of their first decade. This book could potentially be really valuable would I look into it more. But I prefer flipping through the pages for now!

The Caged Virgin - Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born American (formally Dutch, yay!). She is an amazing women's rights and atheist activist. She received political asylum in 1992 in the Netherlands. I could go on and on about how amazing she is, but really you should take the time to go through her biography yourself. I will likely soon dedicate a post just to her. I am just itching to start this book. Ali calls for the emancipation of women from an outdated cult of virginity. 

The Caged Virgin - Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born American (formally Dutch, yay!). She is an amazing women's rights and atheist activist. She received political asylum in 1992 in the Netherlands. I could go on and on about how amazing she is, but really you should take the time to go through her biography yourself. I will likely soon dedicate a post just to her. I am just itching to start this book. Ali calls for the emancipation of women from an outdated cult of virginity. 

Some more finds, most of them $1 each!

Some more finds, most of them $1 each!

Do let me know if you have read any of the books I found and what you thought of them!

Do let me know if you have read any of the books I found and what you thought of them!

It was madness!  Location: Victoria Curling Club. 

It was madness!  Location: Victoria Curling Club. 

Our Coast Our Decision

Today I attend a Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities rally. For those who do not know, Canada is under the conservative government of Stephen Harper. This government is investing billions of dollars into fracking and oil pipelines across the country, looking to make a hand-full of shareholders very..... very wealthy. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

These oil giants are trespassing indigenous land and making the environment unsafe. They are going in the opposite direction of a sustainable future powered by renewable energy. Last year alone 70% of Portugal's total use of energy was renewable, recycled energy! That's amazing! It is disappointing that Canada is headed in the opposite direction that will cause catastrophic climate change if pursued. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

Victoria: Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities. 

Many of these tanker companies have the audacity to claim that a tanker spill would benefit Canadian economy because of the jobs it would create to clean it up. Can you believe it? Me neither. There is no abundance of natural resources anymore and it's due to the big guys on top trying to make a quick buck. Let your voice be heard!

9 billion mouths to feed

One of the biggest questions we have to ask ourselves today is: How are we going to feed a world population of 9 billion by 2050? As it is now, those who have access to food have too much and those who do not are starving. One of the reasons why YOU, the individual, should care and reason your diet appropriately is because the distribution and production of food cannot continue on the way that it is. If things do not change now then we will feel the immediate consequences in our lifetimes. 

Food production is not only a health concern but an environmental one: Farming has an impact on our water supply, it affects climate (releasing more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks and planes in the world) and landscapes are stripped bare in order to create cultivatable land. 

National Geographic: The New Food Revolution!

National Geographic: The New Food Revolution!

The new issue of National Geographic claims that the local-food movement is growing, which I believe and endorse. But this is not one of the primary problems in food production, rather it is the way we consume and the power we often forget we have as a consumer. Most of the food Americans eat is produced on large-scale, mechanized farms that yield enormous amounts with less labour. "Demand for meat has tripled in the developing world in four decades, while egg consumption has increased sevenfold, driving a huge expansion of large-scale animal operations." The demand for meat and dairy is not about to decrease any time soon either, as developing countries are becoming more and more wealthy and are increasing livestock production.

Nutribas pig farm in Brazil. What a life. Photo by George Steinmetz.

Nutribas pig farm in Brazil. What a life. Photo by George Steinmetz.

As Jonathan Foley writes "it would be far easier to feed nine billion people by 2050 if more of the crops we grew ended up in human stomachs. Today only 55 percent of the world's crop calories feed people directly; the rest are feed to livestock." He offers a five-step strategy to aid the current environmental disaster that can be found on our plates: 1) Freeze agriculture's footprint instead of cutting down more forests or plowing more grasslands. 2) Grow more on farms we've got. 3) Use resources more efficiently (i.e. organic farming and becoming smarter about water). 4) Shift diets. Yes, you too. Do not walk into Safeway or Whole Foods or Walmart or Tesco or ICA or Lidl or Aldi to buy your meats! Go to your local butcher, even if it takes 10 minutes more, ask where and how the meat or dairy was produced and most importantly: Eat less! We absolutely must switch to a less meat-intensive diet in order to free up substantial amounts of food across the world. Which brings me to 5) Reduce waste. Obvious, right? Wrong. 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In rich countries most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants or supermarkets. 

This food giant Granja Mantiqueria in Brazil has 8 million hens lay 5.4 million eggs a day. Conveyor belts whisk the eggs to a packaging facility. Photo by George Steinmetz.

This food giant Granja Mantiqueria in Brazil has 8 million hens lay 5.4 million eggs a day. Conveyor belts whisk the eggs to a packaging facility. Photo by George Steinmetz.

Speak up, don't be afraid to be "that person", because in 40 years from now you will be celebrated for your ethical and sustainable decisions. I often wonder how future generations will look back onto this one. My prediction is that they will be shocked at our treatment of animals, the way we use them as possessions and as products to consume, and furthermore how we are sucking the environment clean of its resources. What are your thoughts? I'm sure you have many. 

My mother's garden in which she grows beautiful herbs, vegetables and fruits. 

My mother's garden in which she grows beautiful herbs, vegetables and fruits. 

Are we really living in the real world?

I will introduce a topic that has been on my mind for quite a while now. If you know me in person, there is a high likelihood if not certainty that I’ve brought up Alan Watts in our conversations. Although having died in 1973, his voice recently gained some publicity by appearing (or rather sounding in) the recent box-office hit Her. I thought the reference was unfortunate and misplaced, although I admit there is some bitterness attached to any Hollywood production on my behalf. Watts is known for popularizing Eastern Philosophy in the West in the mid 21st Century. He is one of my favourite philosophers as much of his writings are still alive and relevant today, particularly in connecting philosophy with technology. 

Alan Watts, Kafka and an almond-milk mocha at JJ Bean, Vancouver.

Alan Watts, Kafka and an almond-milk mocha at JJ Bean, Vancouver.

You may be familiar with the Louis C.K. skit Everything is amazing and yet we are unhappy. If you haven’t yet watched it, I urge you to. Comedians often have a very naive way of tackling the big problems in a soft and relatable manner. Nearly every conceivable thing is possible to pursue in our world: we can access a multitude of things at merely a push of a button, we can measure things millions of lightyears away, we have travelled space, we can digitally print human organs, we can virtually travel anywhere, we can create black holes in laboratories, the list goes on. However, our daily lives are full of burdens and anxieties. Frivolously labelled as “first world problems”, the problem goes deeper than just a playful hashtag on twitter. And that’s exactly part of the problem: our desire to live outside of ourselves. Platforms such as twitter (or more generally the technologies to access twitter) we use aren’t bad in and of themselves, however they make it incredibly easy for us to fill our void that is yearning for security, permanence and predictability. It is easy to blame technology as a whole for much of what is today deemed as unsocial behaviour, but the truth is that the need for categorization and solidity has existed since the beginning of Western civilization. Arguably this is why Christianity faired so well in this part of the world. It offers the individual a certain sense of meaning by making her part of a vast social effort, in which she loses something of her own emptiness and loneliness. Today many religious myths are replaced with economic and political ones - promising extravagant futures.

Alan Watts - The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety

Alan Watts - The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety

In this way we seem to search for happiness in the future as something to look forward to - whether it be a good time tomorrow night with friends or an everlasting existence in heaven beyond the grave. The former has the disadvantage that when this “good time” arrives, it is difficult to enjoy it to the full without some promise of more to come. Here we differ greatly with animals. Animals have the amazing ability to enjoy life in the immediate present. The animal does not search for happiness in the assurance that the joy will continue in the future. 

“If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.” Alan Watts

We should feel compelled to face reality with open minds, even if that means facing insecurity, sadness or pain. We can only see the blue sky through a clear window. We will not see the sky if we have covered the glass with blue paint. The disadvantage of looking through the clear glass is that the sky may not be blue every time we look outside. But in covering the window with blue paint, we will be searching for something indefinitely that can never be found. 

This is our method of striving for pleasure and attempting to exclude pain. To do so is in effect to live our lives in vein, for the more we struggle to have as much pleasure as possible, the more we are actually killing what we love. In the assurance of enjoyable expectations, we can put up with an extremely miserable present. We allow ourselves to be extremely miserable in the midst of immediate physical pleasure. Our minds are constantly preoccupied with something that is not yet here. This is how our expectations of the future are not as real, but more real than the present. “What is the use of planning to be able to eat next week unless I can really enjoy the meals when they come now?” asks Alan Watts. This will be an endless struggle, for if I cannot fully enjoy what I am eating now, I will be in the same predicament when next week’s meals become “now”. As creatures of habit, our minds have cleverly adapted to looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for us to attend to the here and now. We must then ask ourselves: Are we really living in the real world?

Isn’t the future meaningless unless it in some way will become our present? To live for a future which will never morph into the present is looking fixedly over reality’s shoulder instead of into its face. Human consciousness seems to have evolved as nature’s ingenious way of self-torture. What are we not but the universe observing itself?

And now, off on an adventure. 

And now, off on an adventure. 


Revealing the Intimacy of the World

rev·er·ie a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream.

I recently came across 20th Century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. His main body of work focuses on epistemological studies in science. To briefly summarize, he was in support of constructivist epistemology: Meaning that he believed scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, attempting to measure and construct models of the natural world.

“It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.” Gaston Bachelard

Here I will focus more on his writings on reverie, or daydreaming. In The Poetics of Reverie he talks about the importance of childlike states of mind when experiencing reverie. Bachelard claims that adults can return to these deep childhood daydreams during which we are briefly free and fully receptive. He describes poetic images as "revealing the intimacy of the world" in an unbiased and unhinged way, just as a child is fully open to experiencing the world (you can tell I am going to make a connection between reveries and Zen!)

Bachelard in his study, ca. 1960.

Bachelard in his study, ca. 1960.

Bachelard seems to urge us towards regaining the mentality of the child experiencing the world for the first time, by reading poems. This is problematic when re-remembering traumas of childhood, however to go beyond this is to recall the amazement of having once been new to the world. Bachelard writes that "the image of childhood is not completely ours: It has deeper roots than our simple memories." He maintains that it is much better to think of our childhood through poems and reveries, rather than through memories or facts. 

"Boredom is the greatest provincial happiness. I mean that deep, irredeemable boredom which, by its violence, breaks reverie loose within us." Louis Ulbach

I imagine Bachelard would have approved. Prado Café on Commercial Drive, Vancouver.

I imagine Bachelard would have approved. Prado Café on Commercial Drive, Vancouver.

In this way poetry's images help us move toward seeing the human experience with fresh, unbiased and curious eyes. It is when we move towards childhood that we can become fully awake to the world. This is where I connect Bachelard's writings to the philosophy of Zen, which talks about a state of fearlessness towards the world. This is to shed all presumed learning from the past and look at everything fresh again. If you look at how a toddler looks at a flower, you can see the Zen mind in action. Or when you observe a young child looking at their hands in action, endlessly opening and closing them in bewilderment of how they move, finger by finger. It is when we become impatient and start pushing for results, that we lose this state of reverie and won't allow ourselves to fully experience the world. 

My Seven Favourites

300 new graduating Emily Carr artists have been added to the world! May our surroundings become more enlightened through them. Here is a collection of some of my favourites from the 2014 Show. Opening hours below! 

THE SHOW, Emily Carr entrance, North Building.

THE SHOW, Emily Carr entrance, North Building.

No, that's not a speck of dust on your screen. Look closer. Funny yet unassuming, Andrew McKeachie's work plays with the naivety of the viewer. Wanting to get closer to the work and decipher what's in the middle of the large piece of paper, every step I take reveals more and more information until I am shocked and amused at the tiny ironic portrait of the Führer. The tension between humour and severity, wonder and banality, simplicity and complexity, all come together in this work; situated in the main Concourse Gallery.

Andrew McKeachie, Walt Disney Study, 2014.

Andrew McKeachie, Walt Disney Study, 2014.

Andrew McKeachie, Walt Disney Study, 2014.

Andrew McKeachie, Walt Disney Study, 2014.

The heavy impact of Porowski S. Jarec's work is best experienced in person. This piece has a strong bodily relation to the viewer, immediately demanding attention. The juxtaposition between the natural and the artificial is compiled through the massive slab of concrete splitting the beautifully treated smooth wooden stump. Not only is this piece compositionally strong in colour and form, the fact that it is being shown in BC at this point in time evokes contemporary environmental controversies of new pipelines, fracking and clear-cutting of old-growth forests.

Porowski S. Jacek, untitled, 2014.

Porowski S. Jacek, untitled, 2014.

Playful and unhinged, Juli Majer's Soft Stay takes over in an unpretentious and childlike manner. This piece exists in a space between the unfamiliar and the nostalgic. The shapes she uses have certain bodily qualities such as hands, while at the same time functioning as strange abstractions evoking themes of childhood. The artist made use of the entire space, forcing the viewer to walk around the work and giving them the opportunity to see it from various angles. The piece changes depending on how close you examine it, which objects are in your peripheral and what where you are centring your gaze. 

Juli Majer, Soft Stay, 2014.

Juli Majer, Soft Stay, 2014.

I connect Wesley Horsfall's Love Seat with De Stijl and Bauhaus furniture movements. The way in which each piece of the couch has been boxed off, abstracted and given its own tactile qualities immediately directs the reading of this work towards a conversation about design. Furthermore, nothing is hidden. The wood is not treated and the fabric is sheer, making it possible to observe the techniques used in constructing it. However, this couch was constructed without utility in mind: In other words, it is useless as a couch. Were one to sit on it, it would presumably break. Is it useless as an art object though? Is this when an object enters the realm of fine art rather than design? Is design merely based on utility and art on uselessness? These are the types of question that have been explored by Donald Judd, Jorge Pardo and are now continuing to be asked.

   Wesley Horsfall, Love Seat, 2014.

   Wesley Horsfall, Love Seat, 2014.

One of my favourite paintings from the show is Brett Barmby's Buff Marks. The usage of pink and light blue are uncommon within painting and overall it felt refreshing. His usage of oil paints is really smooth in the particular work; occasional washes here and there which soften the composition. The sense of space and light is inviting. Although flat and vacant, the pink surfaces are far from subtle. Rather, they have a very dominant presence, created by the sharp edges and bold mark-making.

Brett Barmby, Buff Marks (11 Incidental Compositions), 2014.

Brett Barmby, Buff Marks (11 Incidental Compositions), 2014.

Brett Barmby, Buff Marks (11 Incidental Compositions), 2014.

Brett Barmby, Buff Marks (11 Incidental Compositions), 2014.

Where to begin. This piece left a strong impression, as I'm sure it did on many others. Titled "Blood Work: Mandela", the left Mandela is further titled Portrait of a 37 year old HIV positive First Nations gay male drag queen; the right Mandela is further titled Portrait of a 25 year old half-Chinese straight female herion addict with hepatitis C. Both Mandelas are presumably painted with the corresponding subject's blood. From afar they may seem like wood, or even just skin-colored paint. The seemingly simple design adds to the impact of the work, having painted something so geometric and pleasing out of something complicated and threatening. Up close the viewer is allowed to examine the blood, painted in thin layers onto a canvas surface. I was taken aback at how the viewer is directly looking at the disease affecting the subject's life. In a way, it was one of the most intimate portraits I have ever seen. The comparison between both subjects is also undeniably of importance: Showing the similarities and differences but in an abstract way, namely the patterning of their blood. 

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014.

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014.

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 25 year old half-Chinese straight female herion addict with hepatitis C).

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 25 year old half-Chinese straight female herion addict with hepatitis C).

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 25 year old half-Chinese straight female herion addict with hepatitis C).

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 25 year old half-Chinese straight female herion addict with hepatitis C).

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 37 year old HIV positive First Nations gay male drag queen).

Benjamin Garner, Blood Work: Mandela, 2014. (Portrait of a 37 year old HIV positive First Nations gay male drag queen).

Of course, me being frazzled as always, I forgot to jot down the title of this particular work by Mike Lachman. If you know it, feel free to inform me! Two TV monitors placed in proximity of one another showed him stroking an axe and lathering it with oil. He is wearing a plaid red/black shirt, presumably impersonating a lumberjack. Immediately themes of sexuality and gender are evoked. What does it mean to be a lumberjack? It is possibly one of the professions that still today is considered inherently masculine (uh-oh, two big problems right there!) In Mike Lachman's videos, the axe becomes an object of sexual adoration. He is confronting gender binaries (what if a woman were doing the same thing)? It reminded me of an article released by a Swedish blogger Emelie Eriksson which contrasts the way American Apparel advertises the same shirt to men vs women. 

Mike Lachman, 2014.

Mike Lachman, 2014.

Opening hours of the 2014 Emily Carr Degree Show.

Opening hours of the 2014 Emily Carr Degree Show.

201

Today is Kierkegaard's 201st birthday. He is one of Denmark's most well-known existentialist philosophers. One of the reasons I'm fascinated by Kierkegaard is his poetic and passionate turmoil with life in general. He had great trouble trying to figure out why God could let him suffer so much and he was notoriously difficult to comprehend in general due to his melancholic nature. Kierkegaard is primarily concerned with the individual's quest for truth and strongly opposed to objective facts about the world (he really disliked Hegelianism, popularized in Denmark at the time). 

"Kierkegaard wasn't really the greatest at small talk." by Existential Comics

"Kierkegaard wasn't really the greatest at small talk." by Existential Comics

“What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.... And people flock around the poet and say: 'Sing again soon' - that is, 'May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.” Kierkegaard, Either/Or.

He was raised devoutly religious and did not agree with the Church attempting to defend or prove their teachings. His emphasis was on the individual experiencing faith through complete and utter devotion towards Christ's suffering. This is not where my fascination with Kierkegaard lies, however. 

Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard

People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard.

He had a short life of only 42 years and achieved a great number of things by the time he reached 30. His first major book was published at 28 years old and from then on he continued publishing one after the other, most of them under pseudonyms. Kierkegaard was strongly influenced by his father, having inherited his melancholy and his sense of guilt and anxiety. He was infatuated with a woman named Regine Olsen, however he decided to break off their very short engagement in pursuit of a purely religious life. They both described spending their nights crying in bed without each other. This failed relationship influenced a majority of his writing on authenticity and faith. We can understand why Kierkegaard is considered the Godfather of Existentialism. Happy 201st, Søren!

The Presence of Absence

It wasn't until relatively recently that this question why does the world exist became philosophically interesting. For the majority of human history, this question has been answered through religion, i.e. the world exists because God willed it so. Already in the 11th Century a scholar named Anselm explored this dilemma. His argument went as follows: God, by definition, is the most perfect being that we can conceive of in our minds. Therefore, he must exist (definitely a he in this context), for non-existence would be a flaw. Flawless. This is called an Ontological argument (make sure to bring it up at parties and during small-talk; your social life will gradually decay and you will finally have time to read Descartes' Meditations). 

Now, during the 17th Century some started to ask the question: If the world exists because of God, then why does God exist? For a guy called Leibniz, this was an easy question to answer. He argues that unlike the universe, which exists contingently, God is a necessary being. Basically, his non-existence is logically impossible. Again, I am using the male pronoun throughout, because ... 17th Century. 

As you can imagine, the 18th Century philosopher Kant had something to say about this (if you're unfamiliar with the infamous large-foreheaded Köningsberg-native, he had something to say about literally everything). For Kant the idea of a "necessary being" is an ontological cheat. He argues that God's existence isn't guaranteed by pure logic, because if we can conceive of him as existing then we can equally imagine him as non-existing! Boom! Kant, of course, thinks the whole idea of asking the question why does the world exist is meaningless. Attempting to explain the whole of being would entail trespassing space and time and accessing the reality of "things in themselves" (Das Ding an Sich - another term to add to your ever-growing Metaphysical friend-repellant vocabulary). To do this would only result in error, so Kant just ignores the entire dilemma. 

A lovely iced almond milk latte, Jim Holt's 'Why Does the World Exist', and Nelson the Seagull. Parfait!

A lovely iced almond milk latte, Jim Holt's 'Why Does the World Exist', and Nelson the Seagull. Parfait!

The idea of nothingness continued in this killjoy direction. Early 20th Century French philosopher Bergson is of the opinion that the entire something-versus-nothing question has no substance, as nothingness is conceptually impossible. Wittgenstein also concludes that the riddle does not exist. There is a general consensus that the concept of nothingness is a pseudo-idea. 

However, this is the time during which the world is converting to an Einsteinian model of the universe. This, along with the discovery of the Big Bang, reawakened the question of nothingness. For if the universe hadn't always existed, and it came into being 13.8 billion years ago, how could something have arisen from nothing? The life of the universe, like each of our lives, may be a mere interlude between two nothings.

You can tell I like a book when it's full of scribbles and criticisms. 

You can tell I like a book when it's full of scribbles and criticisms. 

Now: How do we approach the mystery of existence? Do we approach it traditionally, looking to a God-like entity as the necessary cause and sustainer of all being? Do we approach it scientifically, in the line of contemporary thinkers such as Stephen Hawking, drawing on the idea of quantum cosmology? Or do we approach it purely philosophically, reasoning abstractly and logically? Can we bridge nothingness and being in the same way that non-life and life have been bridged (thanks to molecular biology) or finitude and infinity have been bridged (thanks to the mathematical theory of sets)?

Is nothingness possible? In order for nothingness to exist, there has no be nothing. But nothing is a thing in itself. The presence of absence. If there were nothing, then necessarily there would still be something. What is your take on the issue? Is it an issue at all? Are you a Kantian?

The Places That Scare You

Lately I've been developing an increased interest in Buddhist thought and meditation techniques. Not to proclaim that I am an expert in any sense of the matter, but Pema Chödrön's The Places That Scare You was an excellent introductory read because it doesn't beat around the bush and it is written for a largely Westernized audience (i.e., you and I). She speaks very frankly and honestly about how we inadvertently like to jeopardize and harm ourselves by perceiving ourselves as existing separately from others. 

A perfect almond milk latte at Prado Café on Commercial Drive, Vancouver.

A perfect almond milk latte at Prado Café on Commercial Drive, Vancouver.

We like to shield ourselves from the world because we are afraid of our ability to feel pain and share it with others. This is why we build protective walls around ourselves. These barriers are made up out of opinions, prejudices and strategies that are built from a deep fear of being hurt. Understandably. However, we all have a soft spot. It's like a crack in these walls that we create, a natural opening of the barriers. Pema likens this opening to when a plant can, almost miraculously, find a way to grow and bloom in between slabs of concrete. 

It is this soft spot, this vulnerable part of ourselves, that is our true nature and condition regardless of the clouds that temporarily cover it. The greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds. Our minds like to cover up our wisdom and tenderness in order to protect us from insecurity. This part of our mind, you guessed it, is our ego. It lets us become isolated, unable to cope with an unpredictable world. Pema writes that although we have the potential to experience the freedom of a butterfly, we mysteriously prefer the small and fearful cocoon of ego. 

Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh.

Every moment is unique, unknown, completely fresh.

"The tragedy of experiencing ourselves as apart from everyone else is that this delusion becomes a prison. Openness doesn't come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure.

Accepting impermanence and change means no longer believing that there are people who have managed to avoid uncertainty. We insist on being Someone, with a capital S. We cling to a fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us. We are certain about who we are and who others are and it blinds us. Moths are not the only ones who destroy themselves for temporary relief. This is our way of trying to make life predictable."

Partly why I am so interested in Pema's writings is because she describes the development of inner strength and security by seizing our vulnerable moments. We tend to think of happiness as something that comes from externalities. If I buy this watch, I will be happy. If I get a boyfriend/girlfriend, I will be happy. If I go to this party, I will be happy. If I get this job, I will be happy. These goals are not bad in and of themselves, however in attempting to find predictability in the external we begin a search that will last infinitely without ever finding what we are searching for. We limit our ability to become wells that refill themselves.

We are not trapped in the identity of success or failure, or in any identity at all; neither in terms of how others see us nor in how we see ourselves.