Archive for the ‘Our World’ Category

There’s an odd trend going around that, thinking about it now, may just be “the way it’s always been.” Nevertheless, I recently noticed something about all the articles I gulp down on my smartphone every morning. Basically everything I see written along the lines of, “how to deal with/live with/love someone who is X or has Y,” can apply to anyone relating to anybody if you zoom out just a little. And it’s sad, in my opinion, because of how much more naturally we open ourselves to new perspectives and knowledge when we can not only empathize, but sympathize, when we can identify personally with the subjects of our meditations.

There are so many diagnoses and analyses written to help people understand particular types of people, like girlfriends, boyfriends, or those with mood or behavioral disorders, yet few turn the microscope back on themselves and incorporate any useful reflection into their theories. Few acknowledge those same behaviors in themselves and unpack the layered complexity of how different people express lifetimes of knowledge and emotion everyday.

The most common of all these I’ve seen are the articles about learning to understand men or women. Apart from points related to learning real physical anatomy, like what a menstrual cycle entails or how to understand the black hole that opens up in your chest when you get kicked in the nuts, everything I’ve seen about men or women’s behavioral “issues” can apply to people of all types, in general. The difference comes with how we’ve been conditioned based on what basket we’ve been placed in our whole lives.

“Women are emotional.” People are emotional. Any advertiser will tell you we rarely act on logic and couldn’t tell you what our subconscious mind wants even if we really wanted to know ourselves. Men just hide it better because masculinity teaches us to. Better, that is, until it boils up as aggression and violence. We’ve separated ourselves so far from the role of nurturers that we’ve forgotten how to nurture ourselves.

“Men are pigs.” People are pigs. We’ve all hurt and been hurt. Now, that’s not to say most people have it out for you, but most are definitely out for themselves first. It’s only natural. In case of emergency: fasten your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. We’re all one chromosome away from shit-throwing monkeys and two away from the mushrooms in your salad anyway. When asked his thoughts on Western Civilization, Gandhi once said, “sounds like a good idea.” Funny. He also beat his wife at least once according to his autobiography. But there are plenty of dastardly dames out there as well. And whether their barbarism is physical or otherwise, it exists and they exist. So that’s where we’ve got to start.

We definitely need to understand the needs of groups of people unlike ourselves better in order to progress as a species. But even more so, in my opinion, we need to try and better understand our own needs better, and where they inevitably align with the rest of the world’s. After all, as far as the aliens flying over our beautiful planet see it, we’re all part of the same pile of mold.

It’s an old cliché that what you hate in the world is what you hate in yourself, but I see a lot of truth in that. What you focus on and see in the world out there is always tinted by your inner thoughts, so naturally, the irritations that stick out are the ones you were already thinking in terms of, and locked in on.

So understanding how to open your eyes to yourself in the world you see around you is key to learning how to deal, live with, or love anyone at all. Call it selfish to call for sympathy over empathy, but as an old favorite theater ad of mine once said, “even community service is the most selfish thing you can do. Who wouldn’t want to live in a better world?”

So that’s it, really. Next time you read an article on dealing with someone with this brain or that lifestyle, find yourself in each of those points. Look for yourself and have a little dance together. Then go find yourself somewhere out there in the world today. Where was it? Who was it? What did they do? Do that and you’re already making ripples of connection in the pool. You can’t stop from splashing, but you can choose how you hit the water.

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Isn’t it weird to agree with something somebody you disagree with said?

I used to work with someone who basically sprinted to my shit list. That’s a story for another day, but in the mix of all the absolute magic that spewed from their face, they spit out one piece of wisdom I can’t actually help but agree with.

Get in where you fit in.

puzzleGet in where you fit in. This, in the context of training me to work with a new team. Yes, unfortunately this person was my superior for a while in a certain light, so I basically had to deal with them effectively and diplomatically a fair amount. I kept asking questions when the rush hit and that answer basically silenced them all. They say even the best map can’t take you over even an inch of land. At some point you’ve just got to take a step where you see one needs taken.

But thankfully, that’s just it. That’s all it takes: one step.

Yes, a broken watch is right twice a day, but a working watch does wonders.

I got another piece of advice I will always carry with me from my Uncle Eddy. He was actually my grandmother’s brother (I think) but really he was just a real cool dude. And a beast. Living in the Adirondack adirondacksmountains of upstate New York, he was a hunter by profession. Though he did keep a woodshed out in front of his tiny house on Big Tupper Lake that he also sold for that extra little trickle of cash we all need.

So one time I was actually graced with the chance to really hang with Uncle Eddy. My cousin and I got the opportunity to go fishing with him and one of his buddies one evening during a family reunion up there. So after the sun went down the four of us took his little fishing boat out on the lake. From there we puttered down this winding river that conveniently met the lake at the creepiest point on the far end of the tall grasses and mossy shorelines… on the other side of the bridge…

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Anyway, my cousin and I kept asking when we would get to drop our lines but he kept catfishrefusing our impatience. We were looking for catfish and he said he knew the perfect spot. It’s got to be a nice, deep, muddy mess underwater, but what does that look like above it? Apparently also the creepiest place ever. After forever he finally let us drop our lines and when he did, it didn’t take 30 seconds for all four of us to catch a catfish as big as my forearm. We filled up our bucket in no time and went back to cook the family dinner.

See, Eddy spent his whole life in those mountains. He built a beautiful hunting cabin on the far side of tsnowy wood.jpghe lake with his own hands. No driveway, just a dock. He once tracked a deer eight miles in heavy snow off of two drops of blood.

If you asked him how he knew where those catfish would be, or how he found that deer, he would say he could see it. To him, it was all about knowing where you were and what you were looking at. Only once you know what you’re actually looking at could you see what was out of place.

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He told me, “Go into the woods. Surround yourself by trees. Stand still and look around. Notice all the trees and the bushes and leaves on the ground and all their tiny differences. Some trees are skinny, some are fat, some have lots of knots, some have lots of branches. Notice all the grooves in the bark, and how the dead leaves on the ground lean against each other. Once you know what’s around you well enough to paint it, take one step. Just one single step. Everything changes. The trees, the leaves, the world is totally different. Once you move at all, you need to paint a completely new picture before you’re aware again of what you’re actually seeing.”

One step at a time.angela_esnouf-one_step_towards_peace

Whether your guy won or didn’t, everyone sees what’s happening in the US. There is some serious … dissatisfaction … being expressed right now, from trolls and unfriending to mass demonstrations and arrests.

So a lot of people out there are asking themselves what to do now. Meetings and town halls are being held and filled up by people seriously afraid and with questions for days. But like I said, the best map can’t take you over an inch of land.

Only you know what to do and where to go from where you stand. But first you need to know where you stand.

Make yourself aware of your own situation, what you’re looking at right now, and study it. Look closely at all the leaves at your own feet. Dive into your own history and the history of the people and the land around you. Where you know the most, you can consistently and effectively do the most. Only once you know what you’re actually seeing can you see where to step, and all that changes when you do. You see an inconsistency in an argument? Pick up that book. You see one way to be more self-sufficient? Watch that YouTube video. Look around and find the need in your own life and grill it. Whatever you uncover will make you more and give you the strength to take your first step.

Then notice how everything changes. You feel something. You meet people. Those you already knew start looking at you funny. You go home and start looking at that funny. So look at it funny. Explore how much has changed with just a single step. There is where youSWNS_ROBIN_HAIR_02 study next, where you watch your next Youtube video or Netflix documentary, where you listen to your next underground musician, where you read your next article or book. This is change, this is growth, and this is scary. But it’s okay. Little by little, step by step, the bird builds its nest.

We can’t do everything at once but that’s no reason not to do anything at all. Empower yourself. Become aware and get in where you fit in. Take a step where you see a step needs taken, no matter what anyone else sees. After all, they may be tracking a different deer.

That’s basically all I’ve got for now.

Onward and upward.

Z

 

P.s. So this guy was silent and didn’t use motorized vehicles for 17 years. And doing that taught him the environment starts with the people around you. His story is an amazing one.

So it’s a few days into the new regime and the weather has only gotten worse. Well, this morning the sun may have come out again, but why dwell on facts? Am I doing this right?

This was inauguration weekend, which is always loud but this year came with all the fervor of a good football game. Things almost got as bad as when college kids celebrate championships! Go Sports!

No but seriously. There was a lot of action this weekend. Upwards of 4 or 5 million people total on EVERY continent (including Antarctica!) marched and demonstrated for various reasons related to Trump’s campaign promises, cabinet picks, sexual preferences… the list really goes on and on here. Or as Aziz Ansari said, it’s only day 1 and Trump’s already got an entire gender demonstrating globally just how unsatisfied he’s left them. Ouchhh #sickburn. The Women’s march on Saturday was the single largest march EVER in American history. Wow. What’s the word I’m looking for? … Tremendous!

I live just outside DC so I went into the city when I could, but sadly I couldn’t spend much time down in the real thick of things. I only ended up downtown for a little over an hour Friday evening, but even that happened to put me at the exact moment and place where “the limo” was set on fire.

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Yup, that one.

Just a single block away was McPherson Square, where a huge family-friendly, non-violent, peaceful protest was taking place. Several groups like Black Lives Matter, anti-war groups, anti-Dakota Access Pipeline land and water protectors from Standing Rock, pro-choice/pro-ACA demonstrators, LGBTQ activists and others all had converged on McPherson Square for a beautiful moment of art, music, and dialogue spanning all their missions and where they all intersected.

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The “Deport Trump” community art wall set up by @dc2standingrock (instagram)

Literally one block down, however, was quite a different story. There, a ring of smoldering trash cans made for an art installation straight out of Silent Hill, while another flaming can lay few meters away going solo. All around it, people took selfies and artistic photos of the street art. Then somebody set a limo on fire. Apparently people were surprised by how easy it was by just mashing a window and throwing a flare in the cabin. At that point the white smoke from the dying trash can fires was devoured by the thick black smoke of the limo… art.

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Once the limo was… dare I say… lit, those selfie sticks went away and people started backing off the street and onto Franklin Square (one block down from McPherson). Well, a lot of people did. A lot got real close to the street again soon after. Trying to figure out how far back was far enough in case that limo exploded, I wondered then, why a crowd started to form again along the street. I could see a few professional-looking cameras scurrying along behind reporters with awkwardly large microphones, along with all the usual cell phones in the sky for a better angle all rushing the street again. I was confused until I heard the concussion grenades felt a bit of that pepper spray sting on my eyes.

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Ah, like Johnny Cash said, that old, familiar sting…

Turns out the “front line” of riot cops had pushed protesters back down the street, from further down the road toward McPherson and the peaceful demonstrations happening on the next block back. Out of nowhere it seemed that block had become the center of the ongoing clash between the riot police line and those refusing to leave the street. From a few yards off the street all you could see was a crowd of people backing up and moving in closer, like the tides, while above the crowd things were being thrown back and forth: concussion grenades, blocks of rock and concrete, sticks, the orange arch of pepper spray, echoing the new president’s majestically wispy hairline…

 

Now, I’m not one to take credit where it isn’t deserved, so at that point I decided to head out. ;D Heh. As I turned away and faced the rest of the crowd, not only did I see reporters (like even that one guy from France24!) but all types of onlookers, from scary-looking guys in black bandanas, to scared-looking families wearing matching red “Make America Great Again” hats, to native elders in full regalia. I even saw that guy with the boot on his head! Vermin Supreme, who has run for president every election for a while, had his boot on his head and a megaphone in his hand and he was repeating health advice, like how you might want to take out your contacts before getting pepper sprayed because that’s never any fun.

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The red hats are coming, the red hats are coming!

Still, the image that sticks with me the clearest is one of a big white man in a nice suit and long blue coat, pulling his small daughter by the hand. Both wearing matching red MAGA hats, they were both on the far end of McPherson, a good distance from the non-family-friendly action happening over by Franklin Square. They were moving with another crowd, the pro-Trump visitors and inauguration attendees who I assume wanted a glimpse of the peaceful community protest space on their way to the metro.

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But just looking at this crowd of singers and artists and demonstrators, this father had this look of such terror on his face, while his daughter was so intrigued by it all. Both red hats sat above jaws that had fallen to the floor. The terror in one’s eyes bouncing of the amazement in the other’s, this one father-daughter duo remains such a clear image in my head. I don’t think they even saw the riot police or the limo on fire. That was, after all, a couple blocks down.

No, I think they came for a day of family fun and got slapped with just a little bit of struggle and reality, terrifying the father and mesmerizing the daughter. Why do I get a feeling this is happening all over?

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The next night I helped support some of the people caught up in the pool of 200 the police arrested on Friday. People were corralled for being near the action, but of course those who actually did anything ghosted way before the cops actually got their shit together enough to respond. So unable to charge anyone with specific offenses, everyone was held overnight and released with some b.s. “disturbing the peace” charges and things like that. Quite a few were from out of town and didn’t really have any support networks out here so others helped give them food once they were released, rides from the station, and places to stay for the night. This was all especially helpful since some weren’t released until midnight Saturday. Though everyone’s phones were confiscated “as evidence” leading some people to get arrested by association just for going to pick others up from the police station. And clothes with large amounts of pepper spray on them weren’t given back either.

I dunno. Smelling kinda fishy these days… I sure do hope this weather clears up soon.

Onward and upward.

Z

P.s. The Trump portrait and the first limo pic are not mine. The rest are. Except the words, every one of which I learned from someone else.

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Electronic pioneers of the information age, congratulations! If you’re reading this you’ve made it to 2015!!! Well, almost. Don’t go doing anything stupid between now and then. That would throw off my whole mojo.

It’s been two years since we thought the world was going to end/the day Gengham Style reached 1 BILLION hits on youtube (fulfilling Nostradamus’ prediction that Dec. 21st 2012 would be marked by the “dancing horse followed by nine zeros” (nine 0’s in a billion – wuuuttt)) So in the words of the great Stephen Colbert, whose own era has now passed, “Suck it, Mayans!”

Of course we know that the “end of the world” in Mayan terms in this case didn’t mean the destruction of the world per se, but the end of an age. This end of an age does happen to correspond with the Zodiac calendar’s end of the age of Pisces which most know as the age of Jesus (two fish and all), and the start of the age of Aquarius, the water-bearer. So in some more immortal words, this time of Nietzsche, “God is dead.” So let’s party!

2014 will go down as one of the most memorable years of my life by far at this point. Not only was it slam packed full of good times I’ll never remember with great people I’ll never forget, I made the biggest move of my life this year: to fucking AFRICA!!! One of my wildest dreams has come true! I left West Africa when I was two years old and now I’m back at 24. I’m writing this from my house in Bamako, Mali, right next door to Burkina Faso, where my parents were married. This move has been and will continue to be the most surreal experience. I made it back to the true Motherland this year, and they’ve got internet!! Who can imagine what 2015 will bring?!

This year I finally got a big jump start on working in directions I actually believe in, and on projects I chose for myself. I started learning a new language! I’m still just beginning but this time next year I’ll be speaking French like a true William Wallace. Look out ladies. 😉 I got myself certifed to teach English as a second language and now for the first time I wholeheartedly agree with where my own income is, well… coming in… from. I loved bartending for the occasional times I really got to help those who sat down at my bar at 9 o’clock on a Saturday, but selling wings by the ton for a corporate giant wasn’t exactly the best way to help people with their problems. Now I help people advance their communication skills in the international realm by teaching them one of the most valuable language systems on the planet, and have already seen great results. It turns out to actually help that I hated school when I was younger, because I am pretty sure my tolerance for classroom boredom might even be lower than that of my students (this of course means songs, poetry, and games often come up in my lessons). Plus, I have begun nerding out so hard on English quirks it’s ridiculous. It’s bad.

Like I said I’ve also put some miles in on my own personal projects, which I always recommend to everyone of course. I have finally begun deciding and organizing which of my pieces will go in a book of poetry I’ve been thinking about for the past five years or so. I’ve also begun putting some real hours in toward a novel I’ve had a vision of for a few years. I’ve finished a few books I began reading years ago and this year I will continue finishing more, since not finishing books is one of my worst habits. My music production skills have been a focus of improvement this year as well, though electronic music production still makes me feel like I’m staring at an ocean looking for an island past the horizon. But 2015 will definitely be more about developing that skill (it will help once my hardware finally arrives from the States). Even simply starting these adventures of self – and – worldly discovery has already opened my eyes and imagination to the limitless possibilities around us. We are all bubbling with ideas and passions that often get swept under the rug by the trials and tribulations of everyday life. But with those passions I say ‘Carpe Diem,’ but in the original sense, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed so put your time in now to get one step ahead, not just to do whatever you want. You can’t kill time without injuring eternity. So get started and get moving.

But this is what’s great about the new year! Whatever happened this year, good or bad, it’s over! It’s done, it’s gone, and its never coming back. Time to wind everything back up again and keep on swimming. Where will you go?

This year I’ve got a few “resolutions” circling in my head so I might as well put them down here. In 2015 I want to write something everyday. And read everyday too … So I suppose I’ll do that. Of course I want to exercise everyday (the usual) so daily push-ups and sit-ups are on the agenda. Baby steps. I also want to be more present (which doesn’t really go with reading… but whatever) so I am thinking of meditating weekly and staying further from the Internet as well. We’ll see how all this plays out, but whatever happens with my or your resolutions, remember it’s okay. New year’s resolutions are here to help us reflect on our lives, focus our minds, and motivate our actions, but that’s it. Treat them like sand, dont squeeze them too hard or more grains will fall out of your palm. Just be gentle with them. Some will still fall between your fingers but not everything. Forget all the people with their opinions about your goals. You’re not a bad person if you don’t fulfill your resolutions. To the contrary, you’re a great person for having any at all! Improvement and success aren’t about relating yourself to others, but relating yourself to yourself. Improving yourself to better help and work within the world is all anyone can ever really aspire to. The rest is circumstantial and irrelevant because however you compare yourself to others, you will only ever be comparing your behind – the – scenes to their highlight reel, and that doesn’t help anyone.

So here’s to you internet, the dreamers, the planners, the organizers, the workers – for yourselves, not for any others. 2014 was wild, but I bet 2015 will be insane. May your future plans put your wildest dreams to shame.

Onward and upward,
Z

Hello friends and family across the screens, I hope this post finds you well.

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as usual, the holidaze is in effect. This Thanksgiving, as with each, I am thankful for many things. This year I am in a new house, in a new country, speaking a new language, working in a new field I actually consider useful, and I can’t help but be thankful for it all. But on this, the American day of “thanks,” I think I might be most thankful to understand the true, actual history behind arguably the most quintessentially American celebration. After all, the history of Thanksgiving is quite literally the history of America’s beginnings, and thus America itself.

Thanks-giving feasts are and have been celebrated around the world throughout history. In the United States, the end-of-November “Thanksgiving Day” holiday was declared by President Abraham Lincoln to recognize and celebrate the founding colonists’ first year of survival in North America. Unfortunately however, this is not the whole story. Though taught as a wholesome celebration of the natural bounty that springs from the American way of life with the help of our friends, the generous Native people, the history of this day of thanks is actually a bit more complicated, and a bit more sinister.

There is some truth behind the Thanksgiving story we all know, going back to 1621, one year after midwinter of 1620 when the famous Mayflower first landed on the North American coast. The Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in reference to the three-day feast Governor William Bradford declared to thank God for their survival. But what get’s lost in the traditional teachings of the holiday’s history is exactly what that survival entailed.

In 1620 the ship known as the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock with 102 British exiles, ready to start fresh with their newly founded, Puritan way of life. However as we know they were not the first Europeans to set foot on North American shores. Six years earlier, in 1614, a small expedition of Brits had scoped out the East coast on behalf of the British crown. They only stayed on land for a short time but when they left they brought 24 Natives back to England with them as slaves, and left Smallpox in their wake. In just a few years the smallpox they first introduced to the Natives had spread and decimated 90% of the 500+ nations.

Fast forward to 1620 and our beloved Mayflower landed on what looked more like Plymouth Tombstone than Plymouth Rock. Plymouth itself was erected just beside the ruins of an abandoned Native village that had been devastated by Smallpox. Now, it’s true that the English immigrants of 1620 probably would have died without Native help and generosity. But that help was only possible due to – and in fact came primarily from – the sole survivor of that ghost village by Plymouth, Squanto.

Squanto was a former slave of the English and Spanish, and had thus learned the respective languages of his European masters. For asylum he offered himself to the settlers who used his insights to grow corn for their people, and his translation skills to negotiate peace treaties with the surrounding tribes. So in 1621 after a year of plentiful corn crops and relative peace, the first, three-day, thanks-giving feast and celebration was declared. This was not the official holiday we all know of course, but it served as the benchmark for colonists living on the former land of exterminated Natives to declare thanks to their Christian God for allowing such “blessings.” In reality much of their survival was actually dependant on the former enslavement and subsequent cooperation of Squanto, and the biological devastation of the Smallpox their predecessors had unleashed upon North America.

Fast forward another 15 years. A decade of prosperity had attracted greater numbers of Europeans to North American shores, and with them had come their Puritan methods of trade dependent on the individual ownership of property. This was far different from and highly contradictory to the Native ideals of communal land ownership. In fact this was far different from what much of the world had seen at the time, and proved to be the critical vehicle for the establishment and expansion of capitalist economics. So with an increased population of settlers interested in trading private property, the question arose: who did the land legally belong to?

To propagate their economic way of life, the settlers agreed that public land belonged to the King (by way of his divine right), represented in the Americas by the Governor. The Puritans believed themselves to be God’s chosen people, and that the rest of the world was damned. As a result, their invasion and the fight for their prosperity was justified by the support of God, and the lives of those not aligned with their ideals were expendable. The rest of the world was doomed to damnation either way. Any within the colonies who opposed this idea and claimed the Natives as the rightful land owners were quickly excommunicated and literally thrown out into the woods to starve. The Puritans needed only to look to Psalms, chapter 2, verse 8 for their justification, in which the Bible writes, “Ask of me and I shall give thee the brethren for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” The whole of the earth was theirs for the taking.

This justification worked perfectly for the paralleled ideals of expansion that form the basis of capitalist economics. So much so that stockholders in an English trading company – who had been awarded by the King the right to govern their company’s own internal affairs – voted in 1629 to move the company and themselves to North America. These stockholders landed north of Plymouth, establishing Massachusetts as a self-governing company of stockholders. Once on North American soil, it did not take long for these money-driven stockholders to realize that their most profitable commodity was the slave trade. Labor, after all, essentially pays for itself.

The conquest and enslavement of Natives became so profitable that for decades it was the centerpiece of their new trade markets. In 1641, the Dutch Governor of Connecticut offered the first scalp (or “redskin”) bounty, drastically increasing the number of massacres against Native communities once again. Of course, because the mere eradication of threats was not nearly as profitable as enslavement, Native men were slaughtered while women and children were sold off into slavery. Several years later, various Manhattan churches decided to celebrate the prosperity that had come from this State-sanctioned genocide and mass-enslavement, and the first official “Thanksgiving Day” was declared.

Well into the 1670’s, Natives tried fighting back against the colonists with little success. But just to insure the continued success of the slave economy, a final call for massacre and enslavement was made. At the rate of 20 shillings per scalp and 40 per slave, the rest of the Native resistance was silenced. In 1676, Massachusetts declared “Thanksgiving,” to engrain within the State a public day of thanks to God, for once again eliminating all obstacles in their way. After that, the rest is history.

President Washington was the first to call for a national day of Thanksgiving, though as we know, it wasn’t until Lincoln that the national holiday of Thanksgiving was made an official, annual event. For Lincoln, the day served as a most useful tool. It was the perfect myth to aid in his efforts at solidifying and unifying the nation. Thanksgiving celebrated the prosperity and the bounty of the American way of life while not only ignoring, but masking and silencing the brutal nature behind the red, white, and blue curtain.

So where does that leave us today? Americans everywhere have heard the stories of Native genocide perpetrated by the European settlers of the colonies’ early days, yet most still celebrate the wholesome-looking holiday nonetheless. Some may not believe the holiday is directly related. Some may try to rationalize that the murder and enslavement that got us here isn’t what they and their families celebrate around the Thanksgiving table. Some may even write it all off as an unfortunate hiccup, or ignore our bloody past all together. But we can’t go on ignoring our past. The rest of the world knows how the United States forged its beginnings and see the hypocrisy in holidays like Thanksgiving clear as day. The fact of the matter is that to not only accept, but celebrate these atrocities as they were designed to be celebrated while perpetuating worldwide “humanitarian” campaigns for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “justice” is hypocrisy at its worst.

There is hope though. There are ways we can call attention to this hypocrisy and begin to overturn the oppressive power structures that carry through to today and spill out onto the streets of places like Ferguson, Syria, and Palestine: our homes. We can start by stopping. Stop honoring this day of genocide. We can gather with our families and give thanks to our Gods for all that we have been blessed with, but we hold no obligation to the “Thanksgiving” title. Instead we could celebrate Harvest Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Universities like Brown U. and Hampshire College have already brought petitions to their administrations demanding they change the name of the holiday to reflect and honor the countless native lives and land stolen by the early European settlers. We could all follow in their footsteps and change the name of the holiday to honor those who died so we could be here. It is possible to change things. Just this year Seattle became the first city to abolish their celebration of Christopher Columbus, arguably the father of modern slavery and genocide. The rest of the United States could take these steps and start moving ourselves in the right direction.

When Ghandi was asked what he though of Western civilization, he said he thought it sounded like a good idea. Plato said that the origins of a just society must come from equal access to a good education. Well, learning the true history behind our world and honoring those who actually deserve it is a damn good first step. Holidays are a fantastic way to teach our children about our ever-increasingly complicated world one piece at a time, so why not teach them to honor the people whose lives were stolen from them to build the world we see today. Let’s stop retelling the fantasies we’ve been taught to cover the truth, and start teaching the truth. Let’s abandon our old, false stories and embrace the real ones. Only then can we hope to start writing new futures. Who knows, maybe if our children learn to value the lives that have been decimated by history they’ll start to value their brothers’ and sisters’ lives as well.

Onward and upward.

Z

If you would like to look deeper into what I’ve written about here, check out “Native Blood,” an essay found at Kasamaproject.org

Or watch my good friend and mentor Solomon Comissiong from the University of Maryland discuss the topic further here. (YouTube)

Well hello again people and literate non-humans everywhere!

I’ve killed about 40 mosquitos tonight so I’m feeling quite productive. I hope all of your Novembers are going well. I hear it’s starting to get pretty chilly up north. (Welcome to Buffalo. Come for the wings, stay because you can’t find your car.) I hope everyone is buckling down appropriately. It’s cooling down a bit here in Bamako as well, but all that really means is that my clothes are not quite as drenched in sweat.

This week I had a lot of fun working with my students of various levels. Games and music are invaluable teaching tools! Who knew Somewhere Over The Rainbow and What A Wonderful World could turn into an hour long lesson. Work is fun and actually feels productive on a real level. It feels good. I went to a party this weekend and had dinner next to a former Olympian from Togo! That was a surprise. She was really cool. That wasn’t a surprise.

This weekend, for Thanksgiving, I’ll have the house to myself. Dad’s packing his longsleeves and gloves for Paris, but I’m just hanging in Bamako. This marks my first Thanksgiving without any sort of celebration but no worries, I’m actually kind of excited. It’s not my favorite holiday anyway. Just as a heads up: next week’s post will be all about why. The Holidaze are indeed in effect. Tra La La La La.

So as I write this I am watching news coverage of multiple protests across the United States in response to the Wilson/Brown non-indictment. There are a plethora of issues surrounding how this situation has been handled, partially by violent protestors, but more so by the agents of the justice system in my opinion. Whatever the final verdict might be or have been, there was definitely enough evidence here to constitute probable cause for a trial. (Grand juries only need to find probable cause, not guilt beyond a reasonable doubt) This is disconcerting. Now the evidence and witnesses need not appear in public trials. Instead, the entire process concerning the state killing of an unarmed man has occurred in secret, behind closed doors. Most paying attention are unfortunately not very surprised by the non-indictment, but it still hurts nonetheless. Tear gas, tanks, and riot shields now fill the streets of Ferguson, like they did in some of the police-induced riots I’ve witnessed with my own eyes at the University of Maryland and in the District of Columbia. The police system was built on the system of overseers in the days of slavery to protect plantation owners’ property, i.e. their slaves. So it’s no surprise that recent pro-Wilson rallies have been supported and organized by the KKK.

Prejudice plus power equals racism. The system is racist. Now it just gets leftover military-grade weaponry from our campaigns in the Middle East, to make it militant as well. And people wonder why every 28 hours a black man is shot dead by police in the U.S. The police system in the U.S. is rotten to its core. So much so that even good police get neutralized. Hell, I wanted to be a cop myself when I was younger until I learned how different things were than the public-servant/protect-and-serve idea I was taught in public school (no surprise there).

I fear for my fellow Americans. I fear for us all. Robert Kennedy once said, “and let them say of us as they said of Rome; they made a desert and called it ‘peace.'” Unfortunately that’s the direction we are, have been, and continue to head in today. As someone on Twitter just said as well, the problem with a non-indictment here is not more riots, but more Darren Wilsons. I don’t believe in praying, but tonight I just might.

Stay safe out there tonight. Tear gas and gunfire is in the air. Stay on your toes.

Onward and upward.
Z

Can you imagine what the world would look like without war? We all say we want peace but none of us have ever really even experienced it; so how do we know what we’re talking about? There has never been a time in history of true peace, at least since humans showed up. In the animal kingdom there is death but only in circumstances where survival is at stake. It’s natural that at some point a “me or you” situation may arise, but only out of necessity like hunger or immediate bodily harm. The only instances even resembling temporary peace we people have ever experienced have been peace through superior firepower, which is no different than beating a child into submission and declaring them well-behaved. At some point it becomes necessary to take a leap of faith and just imagine it – or try at least.

John Lennon put his own version of peace into words and was killed for it, just like Martin Luther King Jr. Take a second and let that sink in. It’s common knowledge that advocators of real peace are often killed for doing so, but consider just how paradoxical that is, and just how powerful of an effect that knowledge has on our minds. Of course people think war is inevitable, we’ve been at war our whole lives. We don’t know anything else. But just because we’ve never seen another world, that doesn’t mean it can’t exist. And it’s important to understand that the first step toward addressing any issue is to become aware of the words that we use to do so. To say a world without war can’t exist admits defeat before the possibility of debate even starts. In sales school I became hyperaware of “self-talk.” “Self-talk” is what happens when you are alone with yourself. That voice in your head? It’s your mind expressing itself in symbols you can understand. But those symbols aren’t random, and nor are they originate externally. Except in cases of severe mental illness, you choose the words you speak to yourself. So in English, when it comes to speaking to yourself about ability, there are five levels: “I can’t,” “I can,” “I will,” “I am,” and “it is.” I can’t do it. I can do it. I will do it. I am doing it. It is happening. The same applies for every type of speech about any subject. Addressing issues is first and foremost dependent on the words we are using to do so. In the timeless words of Mark Twain, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

War is orchestrated and executed. Pun intended. George Carlin, the late great comedian known for his vulgarity and ruthlessness had a dream too. His was simple but profound and like much of his material, focused on the words we use; he wanted to switch the acceptability levels of the words “fuck” and “kill.” One represents the most intimate and natural of acts but is widely shunned, while the other represents the essence of destruction and is plastered all over the evening news. Coincidence? I think not. As John Lennon believed, to strip away our socially constructed barriers and “stop inviting walls into wide open spaces” would finally bring the world together as one, but as it stands far too many have far too much invested in the opposite. From defence contractors to privatized prisons to newspapers that pay more for photos of war than of love, our world is made up of people and institutions that profit from establishing enemies and maintaining boundaries, not cooperating and dissolving them. But who knows, maybe one day we’ll stop cutting off each others’ heads over invisible friends, or dumping our trash into the oceans, or using power to make ourselves wealthy, or blowing up mountains instead of investing in renewable resources, or stepping over homeless people while foreclosed homes sit empty, or locking drug addicts up in cages, or shooting people for talking about fucking love.

Maybe the aliens will have to land for us to see each other as comrades, but maybe we can reach this conclusion on our own. I like to think there are enough candle-carriers out there to light up the darkness. And you may say I’m a dreamer, but hey, I’m not the only one.

Onward and upward.

Z

I ni sògòma Internet, (that’s ‘Hello’ in Bambara)

Sadly, this week nine U.N. peacekeepers were killed in northeast Mali.  To date this is the largest attack on peacekeepers by extremists since the invasion in the north began in 2011.  For the sake of relevance, today’s post is a brief outline of the situation in Mali, one of Africa’s most vibrant nations.

It all started with Gaddafi.  Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011, when he was forcibly removed.  When his dynasty fell, Western powers were ecstatic.  A brutal, socialist dictator had fallen.  Not everyone was as relieved with his removal however.  In Mali, then-president Amadou Toumani Tourè was heavily invested in and closely tied to Gaddafi’s regime.  If you look around Bamako, Mali’s capital city, you can still see numerous grand hotels, offices, and ministerial buildings littering the landscape, all financed by Gaddafi’s bloody empire.  As a result, after Gaddafi’s fall in 2011 – while other countries scrambled to protect their borders from waves of armed Gaddafi supporters fleeing Libya – President Tourè effectively turned his back to the issue.  Unconcerned with the wandering rebels, Tourè left Mali’s vast northern border, which digs deep into the massive Sahara desert, totally unguarded.

The second piece of this puzzle dates back way before Gaddafi or any of his opposing Western nations.  I refer of course, to the Tuaregs.  The rebels may have slipped into Mali in 2011, but the Tuaregs have been here since, like… 1011.  The Tuareg people are the people of the Sahara.  They are a nomadic tribe of herders who have traversed the dunes of the Sahara for centuries, some dating them back as early as the 4th or 5th.  One of the main issues the Tuaregs have always faced is their lack of land.  They travel through the various countries that stretch into their ancient Saharan grazing lands, surviving but longing for more stability.  Fast forward to the past twenty years alone and their land has diminished tenfold.  Africa’s population as a whole has just about doubled in the last twenty years.  In the countries that border the Sahara, this means farmlands have expanded deeper into its dry landscape.  Bigger cities and wider reaching farmlands have drastically cut traditional Tuareg grazing lands, causing many Tuaregs to take up initiatives to fight for permanent grazing lands of their own.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), as they call themselves, have been part of a series of campaigns for land stretching back to the early 1900’s.  In 2011 the region’s armed Tuaregs teamed up with those insurgents fleeing the Libyan civil war, and under the banner of the MNLA, staged the first attack associated with this particular conflict on January 16th, 2012.  However there were other forces tied to these Libyan insurgents.  Little did the Tuaregs know, much of the MNLA was essentially financed by the Islamist group, Ansar Dine.  Unfortunately, this meant that once the MLNA had pushed the Malian military out of what they call Azawad, the northern half of Mali, the Islamists cemented their presence and declared radical Sharia, or doctrinal Islamic law.  Such law meant things like women’s rights vanished, non-religious texts and music were banned, and other non-Islamic institutions (like monuments, bars, and secular libraries) were destroyed.  The significance of this is tragic if we consider the extensive wealth of worldly knowledge housed at one of the world’s oldest centers of trade; Timbuktu.  Once the Tuareg fighters realized the Islamist agenda of their allies, they separated themselves from the extremists and even tried fighting them off themselves, but were no match.  The foothold had been established; by July 2012 Islamists ran the north.

Azawad in context

Well, needless to say, the Malian people were not too happy to find out that their president had essentially laid out a red carpet for these heavily armed extremists in the north, so on March 22nd, 2012, Captain Amadou Sanogo led a military coup d’etat and ousted President Tourè.  Fun fact: the coup was staged in the ministerial compound right down the street from my house!  It looks overgrown and planet-of-the-apes-esque now, but neighbors say just a couple years ago they remember hearing the sirens and gunshots clearly.

In January of 2013 the Malian military, who was running the country’s interim government, appealed to the international world for aid in defeating the northern extremists.  Strategically, Mali poses a great threat to French stability, as the northern region is one of the closest French territories to France itself, just across the Mediterranean Sea.  So the French military intervened and, with the help of the U.N., took back the northern territories and chased the guerrillas into the desert.  Though the military had taken back control over the northern cities however, the war was far from finished.

In July of 2013, with help from the West, elections were “successfully” held in Bamako, and Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became the President we have today.  Though President Keita is not affiliated with Gaddafi, he has not exactly been the country’s savior either.  So far he has pretty much just gotten a few friends some pretty nice jobs, and bought himself a fresh new plane to travel in to Washington.  Trash still overflows the gutters and streams, half-finished construction projects still litter the capital and its surrounding cities, and U.N., French, and Portuguese forces still provide the strongest barrier between the extremists and the country’s major population centers.

This brings us to today.  Earlier this week the largest single attack on U.N. peacekeepers was carried out in the northeastern Menaka-Asongo corridor.  Nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed when their convoy was attacked by assailants on motorbikes, raising the death-toll of UN peacekeepers alone to 26 since their intervention in Mali.  The U.N. currently has 9,000 soldiers stationed in Mali, in addition to French and Portuguese forces, and though elections have passed and the the northern territories have been officially reclaimed by the military, officials are adamant that they are here to stay until the situation is actually under control.

What does that mean?  How long will that take?  Well, now we touch on the issue of global extremism.  It seems the fight against the Islamist state in the Middle East is rearing its ugly head in more and more regions, and the war in Mali marks a major security risk to international stability.  Mali is a foothold for both sides of this fight, so neither plans to give up with ease.  Unfortunately the heavy-handed tactics of the West give birth to more and more anti-Western sentiment as attacks against yet another mobile enemy decimate cities throughout the Middle East, which means people around the world are adopting more and more reasons to hate.  We aren’t even fighting fire with fire, we’re fighting gunpowder with matches.

How do we stop all this, then?  It’s unfortunate, but it seems the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council doesn’t even really want to.  We know ISIS is funded primarily by Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi’s remain one of America’s strongest allies.  Why?  Well, as long as they promise to keep trading all that Saudi oil in dollars, they keep the dollar valuable, and the last thing the U.S. wants is to make room for a new Saudi regime that might decide to stray from that path, much like Saddam (and Gaddafi) planned to do.  So until we decide to hit ISIS and other extremist groups where it hurts most, in their pockets like everyone else, Western-led assaults will most likely only stir up more hatred in these regions, and doom the world to endless escalating conflict.

I am 24.  My country, the United States, has been at war since I was a child.  I have known a life of privilege, but no-one my age has ever known a life of peace.  I fear my children may share my fate.  I don’t know how to fix this muddy, bloody mess, but I know one thing for sure; there are people out there with violence and hatred in their hearts, but that hatred is useless without the resources necessary to act it out.  Can the whole world really be expected to work together to truly end all this unnecessary violence?  Will anything short of the impending alien invasion bring us together in peace?  I sure hope so.  I may be cynical about the present, but I am optimistic about the future.

That’s it for my own take on the situation at hand, friends.  Thanks for following along.  Following are some things others have produced that I cannot help but think of at this time.  I welcome your comments and concerns.  This is a delicate and volatile issue that must be addressed in its entirety if we ever expect to rid ourselves of this barbarism.

 

Al Jazeera article on the latest Malian attack: http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201410425341768552

 

Argument on Bill Maher’s ‘Real Time’ over the inherent violence in Islamic doctrine.  Disclaimer (and believe me, I know this gets touchy): I agree with Bill Maher, but don’t think he goes far enough.  Religious followers are not necessarily bad people, nor are they necessarily good.  The fact of the matter is that every religious doctrine promotes violence in some way or another.  The only variation is how closely the violent words are followed within each faith.  And that may not even be much of a difference at all.  Nevertheless the issue is that these works promote violence in certain contexts and that simply ignoring the instances where this is true does nothing to prevent violent people from using “faith” and dedication to these doctrines to justify the violence in their own hearts.  This video marks a classic and beautiful failure in communication.  Entertaining at the very least.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IafWePD1DVw

 

And finally, I am reminded of Robert Kennedy, on the “mindless menace of violence” in the America he fought and died for.  Oddly enough, my favorite speech of his, given 22 years before I was born, to the day.  Heh.

Robert F. Kennedy
Cleveland City Club
April 5, 1968

“This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about this mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by his assassin’s bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.

Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some looks for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

 

I hope this all sparked something inside you.  Whether you agree or disagree with my own interpretations, I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Until next time Internet, kambufo! (Bye!)

Onward and upward,

– Z

Bonsoir Internet,

I’m sure many of you have also been asked this question; if you could live in any time, when would it be?  Well, before I give away my answer I must offer a disclaimer, that whenever this question is asked the person answering should first be considered.  As Louis C.K. points out with such radiating eloquence, a black guy in America doesn’t wanna go back past… 1980.  Whereas I, a white man, could trip into Ancient Rome and would already have a table reserved.  Who you’re asking is most important.

As for me, I have always been puzzled by this question.  I look around and I see suffering, I see pain, and I see death, but there is also magic in the air.  I see the stars, and satellites floating between them.  I see machines harvesting geothermal heat, sunlight, wind, and the tides.  The four elements, harnessed for energy!!!  I see people in Nebraska talking freely to friends from Norway to New Zealand to Namibia they met in online communities.  I am thankful to have grown up when (and where) I did, and at twenty-four to have already witnessed what I have.  I am one of what some now are referring to as the “Millennials.”  I am one of the first children of the internet.  The original patent for the World Wide Web was submitted in March of 1989.  I was born a year and a month later.  There are those who had mastered code and programming before I was born but my generation grew up alongside the internet, creating ourselves as it did the same, and each off of each other.  I was raised in Conakry, Guinea, without a TV, but also had a front row seat to the evolution of the internet.  When I was an adolescent in Maryland we had to drive all the way to the movie store if we wanted to watch a movie, and sometimes they didn’t even have it!  OH THE HORROR!!!  I remember the first, tan, Macintosh computer brought into my house.  The original, black and white, side-scrolling Prince of Persia game blew my mind to bits.  Everyone thought email was strange and complicated, and every phone had a wire.

Now I look around and revolutions in Egypt are publicized to the world instantaneously by Twitter and Youtube videos.  Speeches and statements are streamed and recorded in real-time to every continent on the planet.  New news pops up on my computer screen days before CNN (not to mention what doesn’t even make it).  Our parents ridiculed us for spending too much time on Myspace but now both of my parents have a Facebook and companies are hiring full-time “Social Media Navigators.”  When two people can have a conversation and any unknown word can be looked up in the palm of one’s hand, we have reached the Age of Information.  All the inventions and creations of History have brought us to this point of unimaginable possibility, so I hear this question and I truly have but one answer: NOW!!!  With all of its barbarism and entropy, I choose today!

Indeed, much of the world today calls for improvement, but what do you expect?  We as a species are on the cusp of a new era of worldwide communication and empathy, but every birth is preceded by pain.  We have known for a while that the fetus in the womb begins with a tail and webbed fingers, but we have recently discovered that the webbing does not retract back onto the hands when our human parts begin to form.  In actuality, the cells making up the webbing on our reptilian fingers die off and fall away, leaving our human hands behind.  As Terence Mckenna would say, even in the womb, life is literally sculpted by the hand of death.  You see, even with all the darkness we have shoved in front of our faces, it is that darkness that shows us just how far the candle’s light shines.  I can teach myself computer programming, music theory, and French online for free.  We have mapped the entire human genome and 3D-printed live human tissue.  When Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake it took the world three hours to come to its aid.  Twenty years ago that timeframe would have been impossible.  Now messages spread globally without even trying.

It defies rational thought to try and imagine what the next twenty years will look like.  Contrary to popular belief however, that future does depend on what we want to do with it.  Knowledge is power, so in the Age of Information, ignorance is a choice.  There may be power-hungry elites pushing their agendas, but those elites have existed as long as the rest of us and every time they push people down, the people push back.  Today excites me because unlike with the movements of the past, we now have the power to push back on a global scale.  With enough organization, cooperation, and perspiration it is not unreasonable to imagine simultaneous, worldwide protests in every major city.

This is not some hypothetical situation I’m talking about, either.  I am not writing about how I would have dealt with Hitler, or what I would have said to the cavemen.  I’m talking about this world – OUR world.  The fact of the matter is that the potential is finally here to shape the entire world into an actual civilization!  The responsibility lies on us and only us to shape it though.  And why shouldn’t it?  Look at how much knowledge our species has accumulated and consider that if you are reading this right now you have access to it all.  Powers previously reserved for God alone have been placed in our hands, and all we have to do is use them.  If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.

Here is a speech by the late, great Terence Mckenna about our world and our place in it.  If you liked what I had to say, you’re gonna love this.

This is a comic strip by Zen Pencils illustrating a point from Mckenna’s speech above.  Pictures always help, so Zenpencils.com creates comics to illustrate and clarify wise words from throughout history.  Check out this and others!

http://zenpencils.com/comic/120-terence-mckenna-nature-loves-courage/

Until next time, onward and upward.

– Z