REVIEW: The Britannica Guide to Climate Change

Finally, the facts about climate change and global warming.

Climate change and its cause,REVIEW: The Britannica Guide to Climate Change Articles global warming, are concepts that are far less controversial today than they were a mere five years ago. Yet, both still generate heated debates online and off the Net and not only among ignorant laymen: scientists and politicians butt heads and shower insults on their opponents when it come to this most contentious of latter day apocalypses. I have written extensively and have read widely on these topics, but have yet to find a more balanced and roundedly-informed tome than The Britannica Guide to Climate Change. In 440 friendly pages, densely packed with state-of-the-art data and research, the Britannica team have covered every conceivable aspect of this all-pervasive phenomenon, bringing to the fore the most current knowledge; the most recent studies; the most erudite interlocutors; and the hardest of facts. The Guide starts with an edifying vade mecum: an introduction by the eminent scientist, Robert M. May. While clearly on the side of environmentalists, he is no starry-eyed tree hugger but a hard-nosed scientist, worried sick about our abuse of our only planet, Earth. This is followed by concise but comprehensive chapters dedicated to climate, climate change, and weather forecasting; the changing planet (land, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the decline in biodiversity); and an overview of ideas and arguments about the environment, replete with a synoptic sweep of history and prominent thinkers. Finally, the book charts our (relative) progress and what more needs to be done, including an overview of all available alternative energy technologies. The book is refreshing in its objectivity and candor. It refrains from taking sides or from preaching. This does not mean that it is a soulless inventory of data: on the contrary, it is yet another passionate plea to save our planet and our future. But it addresses our brains rather than our hearts and this makes for a welcome departure from contemporary practices. I found myself compelled to lavish praise on this great book despite the fact that I wholly disagree with its spirit and thrust. CLIMATE CHANGE AND GLOBAL WARMING
“It wasn’t just predictable curmudgeons like Dr. Johnson who thought the Scottish hills ugly; if anybody had something to say about mountains at all, it was sure to be an insult. (The Alps: “monstrous excrescences of nature,” in the words of one wholly typical 18th-century observer.)”

Stephen Budiansky, “Nature? A bit overdone”, U.S. News & World Report, December 2, 1996

The concept of “nature” is a romantic invention. It was spun by the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century as a confabulated utopian contrast to the dystopia of urbanization and Darwinian, ruthless materialism. The traces of this dewy-eyed conception of the “savage”, his alleged harmony and resonance with nature, and his unmolested, unadulterated surroundings can be found in the more malignant forms of fundamentalist environmentalism and in pop-culture (the most recent example of which is the propaganda-laden cinematic extravaganza, “Avatar”).

At the other extreme are religious literalists who regard Man as the crown of creation with complete dominion over nature and the right to exploit its resources unreservedly. Similar, veiled, sentiments can be found among scientists. The Anthropic Principle, for instance, promoted by many outstanding physicists, claims that the nature of the Universe is preordained to accommodate sentient beings – namely, us humans.

Industrialists, politicians and economists have only recently begun paying lip service to sustainable development and to the environmental costs of their policies. Thus, in a way, they bridge the abyss – at least verbally – between these two diametrically opposed forms of fundamentalism. Similarly, the denizens of the West continue to indulge in rampant consumption, but now it is suffused with environmental guilt rather than driven by unadulterated hedonism.

Still, essential dissimilarities between the schools notwithstanding, the dualism of Man vs. Nature is universally acknowledged.

Modern physics – notably the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics – has abandoned the classic split between (typically human) observer and (usually inanimate) observed. Environmentalists, in contrast, have embraced this discarded worldview wholeheartedly. To them, Man is the active agent operating upon a distinct reactive or passive substrate – i.e., Nature. But, though intuitively compelling, it is a false dichotomy.

Man is, by definition, a part of Nature. His tools are natural. He interacts with the other elements of Nature and modifies it – but so do all other species. Arguably, bacteria and insects exert on Nature far more influence with farther reaching consequences than Man has ever done.

Still, the “Law of the Minimum” – that there is a limit to human population growth and that this barrier is related to the biotic and abiotic variables of the environment – is undisputed. Whatever debate there is veers between two strands of this Malthusian Weltanschauung: the utilitarian (a.k.a. anthropocentric, shallow, or technocentric) and the ethical (alternatively termed biocentric, deep, or ecocentric).

First, the Utilitarians.

Economists, for instance, tend to discuss the costs and benefits of environmental policies. Activists, on the other hand, demand that Mankind consider the “rights” of other beings and of nature as a whole in determining a least harmful course of action.

Utilitarians regard nature as a set of exhaustible and scarce resources and deal with their optimal allocation from a human point of view. Yet, they usually fail to incorporate intangibles such as the beauty of a sunset or the liberating sensation of open spaces.

“Green” accounting – adjusting the national accounts to reflect environmental data – is still in its unpromising infancy. It is complicated by the fact that ecosystems do not respect man-made borders and by the stubborn refusal of many ecological variables to succumb to numbers. To complicate things further, different nations weigh environmental problems disparately.

Despite recent attempts, such as the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), no one knows how to define and quantify elusive concepts such as “sustainable development”. Even the costs of replacing or repairing depleted resources and natural assets are difficult to determine.

Efforts to capture “quality of life” considerations in the straitjacket of the formalism of distributive justice – known as human-welfare ecology or emancipatory environmentalism – backfired. These led to derisory attempts to reverse the inexorable processes of urbanization and industrialization by introducing localized, small-scale production.

Social ecologists proffer the same prescriptions but with an anarchistic twist. The hierarchical view of nature – with Man at the pinnacle – is a reflection of social relations, they suggest. Dismantle the latter – and you get rid of the former.

The Ethicists appear to be as confounded and ludicrous as their “feet on the ground” opponents.

Biocentrists view nature as possessed of an intrinsic value, regardless of its actual or potential utility. They fail to specify, however, how this, even if true, gives rise to rights and commensurate obligations. Nor was their case aided by their association with the apocalyptic or survivalist school of environmentalism which has developed proto-fascist tendencies and is gradually being scientifically debunked.

The proponents of deep ecology radicalize the ideas of social ecology ad absurdum and postulate a transcendentalist spiritual connection with the inanimate (whatever that may be). In consequence, they refuse to intervene to counter or contain natural processes, including diseases and famine.

The politicization of environmental concerns runs the gamut from political activism to eco-terrorism. The environmental movement – whether in academe, in the media, in non-governmental organizations, or in legislature – is now comprised of a web of bureaucratic interest groups.

Like all bureaucracies, environmental organizations are out to perpetuate themselves, fight heresy and accumulate political clout and the money and perks that come with it. They are no longer a disinterested and objective party. They have a stake in apocalypse. That makes them automatically suspect.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, was at the receiving end of such self-serving sanctimony. A statistician, he demonstrated that the doom and gloom tendered by environmental campaigners, scholars and militants are, at best, dubious and, at worst, the outcomes of deliberate manipulation.

The situation is actually improving on many fronts, showed Lomborg: known reserves of fossil fuels and most metals are rising, agricultural production per head is surging, the number of the famished is declining, biodiversity loss is slowing as do pollution and tropical deforestation. In the long run, even in pockets of environmental degradation, in the poor and developing countries, rising incomes and the attendant drop in birth rates will likely ameliorate the situation in the long run.

Yet, both camps, the optimists and the pessimists, rely on partial, irrelevant, or, worse, manipulated data. The multiple authors of “People and Ecosystems”, published by the World Resources Institute, the World Bank and the United Nations conclude: “Our knowledge of ecosystems has increased dramatically, but it simply has not kept pace with our ability to alter them.”

Quoted by The Economist, Daniel Esty of Yale, the leader of an environmental project sponsored by World Economic Forum, exclaimed:

“Why hasn’t anyone done careful environmental measurement before? Businessmen always say, ‘what matters gets measured’. Social scientists started quantitative measurement 30 years ago, and even political science turned to hard numbers 15 years ago. Yet look at environmental policy, and the data are lousy.”

Nor is this dearth of reliable and unequivocal information likely to end soon. Even the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, supported by numerous development agencies and environmental groups, is seriously under-financed. The conspiracy-minded attribute this curious void to the self-serving designs of the apocalyptic school of environmentalism. Ignorance and fear, they point out, are among the fanatic’s most useful allies. They also make for good copy.

A Comment on Energy Security

The pursuit of “energy security” has brought us to the brink. It is directly responsible for numerous wars, big and small; for unprecedented environmental degradation; for global financial imbalances and meltdowns; for growing income disparities; and for ubiquitous unsustainable development.

It is energy insecurity that we should seek.

The uncertainty incumbent in phenomena such “peak oil”, or in the preponderance of hydrocarbon fuels in failed states fosters innovation. The more insecure we get, the more we invest in the recycling of energy-rich products; the more substitutes we find for energy-intensive foods; the more we conserve energy; the more we switch to alternatives energy; the more we encourage international collaboration; and the more we optimize energy outputs per unit of fuel input.

A world in which energy (of whatever source) will be abundant and predictably available would suffer from entropy, both physical and mental. The vast majority of human efforts revolve around the need to deploy our meager resources wisely. Energy also serves as a geopolitical “organizing principle” and disciplinary rod. Countries which waste energy (and the money it takes to buy it), pollute, and conflict with energy suppliers end up facing diverse crises, both domestic and foreign. Profligacy is punished precisely because energy in insecure. Energy scarcity and precariousness thus serves a global regulatory mechanism.

But the obsession with “energy security” is only one example of the almost religious belief in “scarcity”.

A Comment on Alternative Energies

The quest for alternative, non-fossil fuel, energy sources is driven by two misconceptions: (1) The mistaken belief in “peak oil” (that we are nearing the complete depletion and exhaustion of economically extractable oil reserves) and (2) That market mechanisms cannot be trusted to provide adequate and timely responses to energy needs (in other words that markets are prone to failure).

At the end of the 19th century, books and pamphlets were written about “peak coal”. People and governments panicked: what would satisfy the swelling demand for energy? Apocalyptic thinking was rampant. Then, of course, came oil. At first, no one knew what to do with the sticky, noxious, and occasionally flammable substance. Gradually, petroleum became our energetic mainstay and gave rise to entire industries (petrochemicals and automotive, to mention but two).

History will repeat itself: the next major source of energy is very unlikely to be hatched up in a laboratory. It will be found fortuitously and serendipitously. It will shock and surprise pundits and laymen alike. And it will amply cater to all our foreseeable needs. It is also likely to be greener than carbon-based fuels.

More generally, the market can take care of itself: energy does not have the characteristics of a public good and therefore is rarely subject to market breakdowns and unalleviated scarcity. Energy prices have proven themselves to be a sagacious regulator and a perspicacious invisible hand.

Until this holy grail (“the next major source of energy”) reveals itself, we are likely to increase the shares of nuclear and wind sources in our energy consumption pie. Our industries and cars will grow even more energy-efficient. But there is no escaping the fact that the main drivers of global warming and climate change are population growth and the emergence of an energy-guzzling middle class in developing and formerly poor countries. These are irreversible economic processes and only at their inception.

Global warming will, therefore, continue apace no matter which sources of energy we deploy. It is inevitable. Rather than trying to limit it in vain, we would do better to adapt ourselves: avoid the risks and cope with them while also reaping the rewards (and, yes, climate change has many positive and beneficial aspects to it).

Climate change is not about the demise of the human species as numerous self-interested (and well-paid) alarmists would have it. Climate change is about the global redistribution and reallocation of economic resources. No wonder the losers are sore and hysterical. It is time to consider the winners, too and hear their hitherto muted voices. Alternative energy is nice and all but it is rather besides the point and it misses both the big picture and the trends that will make a difference in this century and the next.

Note on Adapting to Climate Change

How must society adapt to rapid climate change to minimize severe upheaval?

The question makes two explicit assumptions, both of which are controversial and disputed: that climate change is rapid and that it will result in severe upheaval. Similarly, it is not clear whether the best reaction to global warming should be societal, or individual (or, perhaps, global).

That global warming is happening has now been established. Yet, such a forcing is likely to take centuries to induce any discernible climate change on the planetary level. Moreover: self-interested and well-paying hype aside, we know close to nothing about the hypercomplex set of interactions between various greenhouse gases, the atmosphere, the oceans, the Earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions, human activities, the unforeseen outcomes and by-products of well-meaning regulation and technologies (such as biofuels), solar dynamics, plate tectonics, and thousands of other factors, the vast majority of which are yet to be discovered.

Environmentalism is, therefore, poor science or pseudo-science: it is a pernicious and venal form of faddish hubris. In our current state of ignorance, the more ambitious variants of “solutions” such as geoengineering are far more dangerous than the threats of global warming.

Two things are clear, though: (a) Climate change had happened frequently and repeatedly, long before and ever since humans strode the scene; and (b) Some regions of Earth will greatly benefit economically from global warming. Others, inevitably, will suffer and will have to adapt. None of this sounds like a “severe upheaval”, let alone life-threatening as the more rabid and sensationalist environmentalists will have us believe.

We should take an inventory of what we know and act upon it resolutely (mitigation): emissions from fossil fuel combustion should be tamed, captured, stored, sunk, and sequestered (aerosols to be further studied in conjunction with global dimming and ozone depletion); measures for population control and family planning enhanced; alternative and renewable fuels should be studied and incentives provided to energy-efficient, clean and green technologies; cement manufacture should be tweaked; cap and trade (or tax) schemes implemented on the national, corporate, and individual levels; weather-resistant, energy-conserving, and green construction technologies pioneered; the diets of livestock should be adapted to restrict biological emissions; deforestation and reforestation should be rationalized as should be land use; drought-related indigenous agricultural and water management knowledge and crop varieties should be preserved; flood defenses erected or strengthened; and weather-monitoring capacity should be extended and modernized. These measures make good sense, whatever the urgency of the problem facing us.

But, we should invest the bulk of our scarce resources in research and innovation. We should accept that climate change is inevitable and work out ways of harnessing it to our benefit. We should come up with new agricultural methods and strains; new types of tourism; new irrigation techniques; water desalination, diversion, transport, and allocation schemes; ways of sustaining biological diversity and of helping the human body adapt and cope; and global plans to cope with energy production problems, poverty, and disease triggered by global warming.

For the next few centuries, global warming is inexorable and largely irreversible (as the IPCC essentially admits). To think otherwise is completely delusional. Better to re-imagine our existence on this planet (adaptation). As temperatures rise in certain locales (and drop in others!), new economic activities and routes of commerce would be made possible or rendered feasible; new types of produce and forests will flourish; new technologies will be developed to cater to a novel and growing set of needs.

We would do well to not consider global warming as a crisis, but as a massive change. And even if we insist on regarding it as a cataclysm, as the Chinese saying goes, there are opportunities in every predicament. The initial costs of every transformation and transition in human history have been steep (recall the Industrial Revolution and, more recently, the transition from Communism to Capitalism). Climate change is not likely to be the only exception. Such a massive realignment implies severe disruption and great distress. But, invariably, tectonic shifts are followed by an extended period of creativity and growth. This time will be no different.

The 185 member states of the United Nations Climate Change Convention will meet shortly to contemplate what steps may be needed to implement the Kyoto protocol, now ratified by more than 130 countries, including Russia and the European Union. Signatories have ten years – starting in 2003 – to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.In the decade or so of transition, the countries of central and eastern Europe have suffered droughts and floods in equal measure. They attribute this shift in climate patterns to global warming. Ironically, the crumbling of their smokestack industrial infrastructure reduced their emissions by 38 percent between 1990-2000, according to a report presented at the conference. In Estonia, transition’s poster kid, emissions declined by 56 percent, according to ETA, the news agency.The OECD countries increased theirs by 8.4 percent over the same period. This disparity between rich and poor nations in Europe casts a cynical light over the European Union’s constant environmental castigation of east Europeans. The EU adopted the Kyoto protocol in May 2002 and committed itself to a total reduction of 8 percent of emissions by 2012.Even if wildly optimistic forecasts regarding car usage and the restoration of central and east Europe’s manufacturing base are met – emissions would still be well in compliance with annex I of the Kyoto protocol, which lists the reductions required of the candidate countries.This cannot be said about the current members of the European Union and other rich, industrialized polities. Lawmakers in the former communist bloc are aware of it. Quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Russian Federation Council Science, Culture, Education, Health, and Ecology Committee Chairman Viktor Shudergov told the news agency Rosbalt in October 2002:”We must calculate and anticipate the maximum possible improvement for our own industry so that in a few years we don’t find ourselves purchasing (pollution) quotas. Russia is currently the world’s major supplier of oxygen in the atmosphere. Other countries are using Russia’s biological resources to develop their industries. The USA has every possibility to reduce its own emissions but refuses to do so. It would have been more useful if the main source of ecological pollution, the United States, had participated.”Central and east Europeans have a few things going for them as far as the environment goes. Public transport is more developed in the countries in transition than in the rest of the continent. Industry – rebuilt from scratch – invariably comes equipped to minimize pollution. Private cars are less ubiquitous than in Western Europe. Vast swathes of countryside remain virtually untouched, serving as “green lungs” and carbon sinks.If, as the European Commission envisions, a community-wide regime of emissions-trading is established, the countries east of the Oder-Neisse line could well benefit as net sellers of unused quotas. According to Ziarul Financiar, a Romanian financial newspaper, in 2001, the government of Romania negotiated the sale of some $20 million in carbon dioxide emission rights to Japan.A similar deal – this time for c. $4 million – was struck with the Swiss. The money was used to refurbish the decrepit central heating systems in a few townships. The interesting twist is that the very enhancement of the energy efficiency of the antiquated pipelines freed for sale portions of the emissions quota.It is telling that Romania was unable or unwilling to sell its emissions to the United Kingdom, Denmark, or the Netherlands, all three of which host functional emissions-tr

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The Black Pope – Part One

1. A few weeks after the opening of the Holy Door, I would like to recall that the Great Jubilee of 2000, like every jubilee, is a summons on the part of our Creator and Saviour to re-establish lost harmony and to advance in social justice. The loud trumpet – the yôbel – which sounded to open the holy year, called every injustice into question and gave hope to the poor! When Jesus begins to preach the good news, his anointing and mission are ‘to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Now Pope John Paul II has reactivated the age-old purpose of the jubilee to restore this social justice. ‘The social doctrine of the Church, which has always been a part of Church teaching and which has developed greatly in the last century, particularly after the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, is rooted in the tradition of the jubilee year.’

2. To be converted to this social dimension of faith, which pervades the biblical tradition and the Gospels, the Father also calls the Society of Jesus anew. From its very earliest origins, the preferential option for the poor, assuming various forms according to times and places, has marked the whole history of the Society. With his powerful Instruction of fifty years ago, Father Jean-Baptiste Janssens oriented the Jesuit social apostolate ‘to procure for as many men as possible, or rather, in so far as conditions permit for all men, an abundance of both temporal and spiritual goods even in the natural order, or at least that sufficiency which man of his very nature needs that he may not feel depressed or looked down upon.’

Father Pedro Arrupe took up this apostolic orientation passionately and based it solidly upon the thoroughly evangelical relationship between social justice, as well defined by his predecessor, and the new commandment of love – so new as to need a new word, namely, agape. A social justice integrated with the great commandment of love is always intended by the General Congregations. ‘The social justice we are called to is part of that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy.’

Pope John Paul II, also asking if justice sufficed by itself, gave this response: ‘The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions.’ Father Arrupe and the recent General Congregations, echoing the Holy Father’s concern, acknowledge, on the one hand, how charity can be abused when it is a mere cloak or subterfuge for injustice but that, on the other hand, ‘one cannot act justly without love. Even when we resist injustice we cannot prescind from love, since the universality of love is, by the express desire of Christ, a commandment that admits of no exceptions.’

3. Authoritatively synthesising the progress of the four General Congregations after Vatican II, the Complementary Norms affirm: ‘the contemporary Jesuit mission is the service of faith and the promotion in society of that justice of the Gospel which is the embodiment of God’s love and saving mercy … This mission is ‘a single but complex reality, which develops in a variety of ways’’ in the very varied fields and works and activities in which Jesuits are engaged throughout the world. Despite the considerable difficulties and our many failures, we look back with gratitude to the Lord for the gifts received on this ‘journey of faith as we committed ourselves to the promotion of justice as an integral part of our mission.’ The Society has evolved to the point where GC34 voted unanimously in favour of the decree Our Mission and Justice, and the vast majority of Jesuits have integrated the social dimension into our Jesuit identity and into the awareness of our mission in education, formation and social communications, in pastoral and retreat work. In many places the concern for justice is an essential part of our public image in both Church and society, thanks to those ministries of ours which are characterised by love for the poor and the marginalised, defending human rights and ecology, and promoting non-violence and reconciliation.

4. Directly out of this contemporary mission with its integrating principle of faith and justice comes the social apostolate and its specific focus, as the Complementary Norms explain. ‘The social apostolate, like every form of our apostolate, flows from the mission; in the planning of our apostolic activities, in fulfilling today’s mission of the Society in the service of faith, it should take its place among those having priority. Its goal is to build a fuller expression of justice and charity into the structures of human life in common.’ In each Province and Assistancy, this social apostolate incarnates the social dimension of our mission, concretely embodies it in real commitments and renders it visible. In different places and in varying circumstances, the social apostolate takes multiple forms: social research and publications, advocacy and human development, and direct social action with and for the poor.

The Jesuit social apostolate today exhibits some noteworthy positive elements. Above all, it faces very different challenges in all corners of the world with dedication, energy and creativity. There are countless examples of Jesuits involved, collaborating with others, in projects and movements to bring greater justice and charity to society. Moreover, the social apostolate keeps showing the capacity to attract gifted and generous co-workers, as well as candidates to the Society. As if to confirm the mission of faith and justice, God has providentially granted the Society the mysterious gift of martyrdom in recent years.

4. At the same time and paradoxically, this awareness of the social dimension of our mission does not always find concrete expression in a vital social apostolate. On the contrary, the latter manifests some troubling weaknesses: There seem to be ever fewer Jesuits available and less prepared for the social apostolate, while those already in the field are sometimes discouraged and scattered, somehow lacking in collaboration and organisation. Factors external to the Society are also weakening the social apostolate: The times are marked by unforeseeable and very rapid socio-cultural changes, not easy to read and even harder to respond to effectively (e.g., globalisation, the excesses of the market economy, drug traffic and corruption, mass migration, ecological degradation, outbreaks of brutal violence). Formerly-inspiring visions of society and broad strategies for structural change have ceded to scepticism or a preference, at best, for more modest projects and restricted approaches.

5. Thus the social apostolate risks losing its vigour and momentum, its orientation and impact. Were this to happen in a given Province or Assistancy, then for lack of a vital and well-organised social apostolate, the essential social dimension would also probably fade away bit by bit. Such a process of erosion would inevitably reduce Our mission today (GC32) and Our mission and justice (GC34) to a few obligatory but rhetorical phrases in the discourse of the Society, leaving our option for the poor and our promotion of justice hollowed out.

May we not find ourselves ever less capable of being present – or even of hearing the call to go – ‘wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between the deepest desires of man and the perennial message of the Gospel,’ in the ringing words of Pope Paul VI addressing the delegates of GC32 and of Pope John Paul II addressing those of GC34.

6. So it seems of vital importance to keep striving to translate our social awareness, identity and image into effective, evangelically meaningful service to the poorest and most suffering of God’s people. It is a matter of continually re-discovering and re-discerning – in situ – the demands and challenges which the recent General Congregations pose to our social action in today’s societies, cultures and religions. In “the dialogue of action,” for example, we are to collaborate with others, rooted in their own religious traditions, for the integral development and liberation of peopl

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Just Think Happy Thoughts!

Debunks simplistic Positive Thinking and the New Age cant about “Abundance” and “Just thinking happy thoughts!” Explains what the true spiritual path is really all about.

Whenever I hear some spiritual guru proclaim that all you gotta do is “just think happy thoughts!”,Just Think Happy Thoughts! Articles it makes me want to pop him one upside the head and see how long he can keep on thinking his “happy thoughts.”

Take as an example Miguel Ruiz’s bestselling Four Agreements, which exhorts readers to “Be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; don’t make assumptions; always do your best.” The degree of profundity or usefulness of this advice is beside the point; it does a disservice to the reader. No effort was made to explain why it’s impossible to be impeccable with your word (in a society based upon lying to other people and yourself); not to take things personally (when all your social training is pointed at inflating your self-importance); not to make assumptions (in a society which discourages thinking for yourself, or thinking at all); or why it’s impossible to do your best (in a society which teaches you to cringe helplessly and wallow in self-pity). In other words, fluffy writing just adds more guilt to the burden of self-hatred which people are already carrying by making people blame themselves, rather than their hypocritical society, for their unhappiness. Fluffy writing may sound soothing because it’s simplistic; but it’s of no real help to anyone.

Who is thinking happy thoughts? The evangelizing proselytizers with their toothpaste-advertisement grins and their used-car-salesman spiels? If those people were truly happy in their hearts, would they be running around trying to make other people like them (in all senses of that word)? Being in denial is not the same thing as being happy. NOBODY (except maybe a few lamas meditating in caves in the Himalayas maybe) can control their thoughts. People can most certainly run away from their issues by distracting themselves, but that is not the same thing as controlling thoughts. It’s like masturbation was in the Victorian age – everybody was doing it while paying lip service to denial; and then feeling ashamed of themselves for being so “perverted”. Similarly, people are being lied to about “just thinking happy thoughts” – and then are made to feel worse about themselves because they are incapable of accomplishing this unattainable feat.

It’s all a lie – this “Positive Thinking” baloney, like so much New Age cant (oh yeah, that’s another one: “never say can’t!”). If you are not happy inside, then 1) it’s impossible to think happy thoughts (unless you’re in denial); and 2) thinking happy thoughts isn’t the way to change your mood in any case (it works the other way around: when you are able to control your moment-to-moment mood – or better said, relax into indifference – THEN your thoughts naturally tend to be happy). What creates your reality is your underlying mood, not what you tell yourself (not your thoughts).

The pundits of Positive Thinking have their cause-and-effect backwards. And they exacerbate people’s problems by blaming them for being unable to control their thoughts – as if society doesn’t heap enough blame and shame on people as it is … now in the New Age people have to blame themselves for being unable to accomplish the impossible. To expect that YOU – l’il ol’ nose pickin’ and pastin’ it under the furniture YOU – should be able to control your thoughts (and then chide yourself when you fail to live up to this ridiculous expectation) is completely absurd. Positive thinking is just another of society’s lies designed to make you feel crummy about yourself.

People need to be told that it’s okayif they are unhappy; that everybody in our society is unhappy, and any appearance to the contrary is just that – an appearance. This is another of our materialistic society’s dirty tricks: constantly telling people “See – those guys over there who bought our useless products are happier than you are! Go for it!” Having us compare ourselves to other people is stupid, since everyone’s karma is so different. And since our superficial society forbids us to talk openly about anything that really matters, we rarely know what anyone else is truly feeling inside in any case.

This is not to say that people don’t have to take complete personal responsibility to get themselves out of the messes they find themselves in. Just that there’s no need to feel guilty for not fulfilling society’s expectations (including being able to “think happy thoughts”), since society’s expectations are impossible to fulfill; moreover, the rewards for fulfilling them aren’t even worth it. This realization is the first step on the spiritual path.

Clue Number 1: Your image of what the spiritual path is all about is wrong – absolutely wrong. Completely off the mark. Not even close. When you finally do get “there”, you’ll realize that the things which you thought were of the essence, aren’t; and the things which are, weren’t part of your thinking at all (they were too subtle, so you overlooked them at the time). What spirituality is all about has to be felt in your heart, not conceptualized. When don Juan finally explained his teachings to Carlos Castaneda (just prior to his leaving him forever, at the end of Tales of Power), he told Castaneda that he had been deliberately misleading and sidetracking him all along during the apprenticeship, keeping Castaneda’s thinking mind focused on irrelevancies, and making light of the issues which were indeed the crux. This is because the thinking mind only gets in the way on the spiritual path. The thinking mind is of utmost importance in getting along in society, but it is actually a hindrance in pursuit of the spiritual, which is why don Juan averred that the best sorcerers were either completely stupid or completely crazy. Isn’t it true that in our society the most spiritual people (most open-hearted) are usually either retarded or lunatics?

Clue 2: If you find the spiritual path enjoyable, you ain’t on it. The spiritual path sucks – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Do you suppose St. John of the Cross was just kidding around when he spoke of the Dark Night of the Soul? On the spiritual path, as in the gym, no pain means no gain. Why do you suppose that gurus such as Sri Yukteswar and Gurdjieff and don Juan (and don Juan’s teacher don Julian) were so abusive to their disciples (except for the disciples who were pretty selfless to begin with)? Why do you think don Juan recommended finding a petty tyrant – an oppressor who spits on you and stomps your self-esteem into the mud – as the most important element of spiritual training? Self-importance is not eliminated by having other people envy you or pat you on the back and tell you how great you are; or by having all your fantasies and daydreams come true. It’s eliminated by having your self-images – everything you crave and strive to uphold – trampled into the dirt.

The spiritual path lies in the diametrically opposite direction from the path society has conditioned you to travel. The spiritual path – the deconditioning process – involves prying your grasping fingers loose from everything society has conditioned you to cling to. This is not pleasant at all. Moreover, nobody is going to give you any reward or recognition for your spiritual accomplishments: depending on your karma (people who are pretty selfless to begin with have it easier than the rest of us), probably most people around you will do everything in their power to frustrate you, be jealous of you, or belittle your efforts. As don Juan told Castaneda, “A warrior has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country; he has only life to be lived, and under these circumstances, his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly.” Anybody who is really on the spiritual path (unlike the happy-thought thinkers) is usually crucified by society and the people around them.

The point is that the true spiritual path is entered by facing things squarely as they are (not by denying your reality by “thinking happy thoughts” or otherwise running away from yourself); and then by just accepting your situation – giving up the ghost, stopping all the struggling and fuming, getting off your own case and other people’s case and God’s case. There are no shortcuts on the spiritual path. There definitely are techniques; and it is necessary to find congenial techniques which you can practice daily, to focus your intent. But there is no way to change anything by snapping your fingers or taking a workshop or just thinking happy thoughts.

To tell someone who is in great pain to “just think happy thoughts” is like telling someone without legs to just get up and walk. Deconditioning and reconditioning your mindset requires a tremendous amount of time and endurance – it’s not something you can “just do”. It’s also why magicians aver that there is no point in even considering undertaking the task until you are completely desperate. True spiritual growth is basically just a matter of exhaustion, of complete wipe-out, of coming to realize the futility of it all. But there is no way to hurry anything up. No way. The sooner you give up trying, or lying to yourself by “thinkin

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