“COVID Is Us,” A Guest Blog by Philip Shepherd; George Carlin Videos

Another post featuring the need to turn inward, not in thought, but in sensibility — a powerful piece from Philip Shepherd. And two George Carlin videos, one on “more stuff.”

Today’s guest blog from Philip Shepherd is a perfect introduction to Earth Day tomorrow, as he pinpoints the cultural and economic forces that impel us toward a climate catastrophe. Shepherd also describes the kind of cultural transformation that is required to escape the grips of capitalism and how Covid-19 is forcing us to confront the need for this transformation. Please share this post with others; Shepherd’s “Covid Is Us” needs to be read by many.

Tuesday, April 21, TODAY at 6:30 pm. Retake Our Democracy Zoominar with Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and Commission General Counsel Ari Biernoff. With the collapse of gas and oil prices and the shuttering of wells across the state, New Mexico is at a crucial crossroads. The transition we had hoped to plan for has forced our hand. We will discuss the current capacity of the Land Commission to regulate the gas and oil industry and how proposed emergency rule changes could vastly expand that capacity. Most importantly, these rule changes could enable the Commission to deny leases and impose higher bonding levels to protect NM from well operators who leave decommissioning costs to the state. We will also talk about how the legislature could further strengthen Commission authority. The Zoominar is almost full, so if you want to attend, please register now. Click here for more info and a link to register.

George Carlin: You’ve all seen his famous video about Americans having too much “stuff,” but you may not have seen the second video we are sharing today. I highly recommend it, as he describes how and why our political system has never served us, with insights that would be hilarious if they weren’t so true.

Inspiration & Insight from Philip Shepherd

Shepherd gets at what my son advised me a week ago: the need to shift our focus from what is to what could be. If you find this essay compelling, click here to find more from Philip Shepherd. You can also listen to Philip this Saturday morning, April 25, at 8:30, as I will be interviewing him for our radio show on KSFR, 101.1 FM.

COVID Is Us

Two deer standing on city street at night

As the economic engines that propel civilization have reluctantly, suddenly, astonishingly been brought almost to a standstill, we find ourselves at a strange crossroads. This will all end, but when it does how will we move forward? At this point no one knows – but there can be no question that we are in the midst of an unprecedented opportunity to reassess. And it’s not just an opportunity – it comes upon us as a responsibility. If we are to honor the suffering and death the novel coronavirus has brought in its wake, we need to learn from it. We need to take stock. We need to newly assess what really matters in the long run. We need to open our eyes to what we have been devoted to as a culture and as individuals, and in the space of this strange pause, we need to consider what we will devote our energies to when it ends.

As I settle into the enveloping peace of my neighbourhood – punctuated by birdsong and underpinned by the whispering of the breeze through the trees – it seems to me that collectively we’re emerging from a sort of fog. There’s a sense that for decades we’ve been caught up in a giant, self-glorifying house party that has been going non-stop. Celebrating our own bravura, we’ve been obsessed merely with satisfying our desire for more: more stuff, more distractions, more status, more busyness, more titillation, more whatever. And the party has been roaring on heedless of its effect on the neighbours – but they weren’t invited anyway, and who really cares how they’re affected by our self-serving frenzy? And even as we exhaust ourselves in the process, the main thing has been to keep the party going – because we no longer remember what ‘enough’ means, and we crave and demand and feel entitled to endless more.

But now the party has been brought to a grinding halt. And as its mad energy dissipates, we begin to notice the mess we’ve made. We take stock of how our ‘neighbours’ have been affected: the bees, the monarchs, the frogs and turtles, the elephants. The trees, lakes, grasses and oceans. They are all suffering. And it slowly dawns on us that somewhere along the line we committed to a system that mistakes damaging failures for stories of success. In our muddled frenzy we got it backwards. Insanely backwards. The overriding concern of politicians and economists and corporations has been to keep the party going and growing – bigger! more! better! But in our self-obsessed, drunken oblivion we didn’t really notice that when the party is rocking the most – when our economy is firing on all cylinders – our ‘neighbours’ most deeply suffer. Disguised as a triumph of our cleverness, the system is actually set up so there can only be losers: the better the economy does, the greater the suffering of nature. And ultimately nature is all we have.

We’ve noticed the suffering of nature before, but we’ve noticed it the way one might notice the scenery outside the window of a railway carriage. We ‘know’ about the insect holocaust, the death of coral reefs, the plastics in our water, the degradation of soil, the species extinction, the melting of the permafrost, and on and on. But today the view has changed. The locomotive has come to a halt, and as we step out of the carriage onto the earth, we notice how different the world feels now that the rushing has stopped. With the most toxic effects of human activity on pause, our global neighbourhood – like a recovering COVID patient – is breathing a little easier. The birds on my street can communicate without having to compete with the roar of jet engines overhead. The air is noticeably clearer. The residents of Jalandhar in Punjab can see the peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range for the first time in almost thirty years. Wild goats are roaming though Welsh villages. Herds of elk are strolling through downtown Banff.

As we witness these sporadic glimmerings of nature staging a tentative recovery, we are invited to see COVID-19 in a different light. When we look it in the eye, we find ourselves staring at our doppleganger. COVID is our looking glass. It is us. The chaotic disarray it is visiting upon human life precisely mirrors how we have been affecting the delicate harmonies of life on earth. It’s as though nature were asking us, “How does it feel?” Our way of being is nature’s coronavirus. How does that feel?

The crossroads at which we now sit has no sign pointing the way forward. This much is clear, though: the shutdown of the economy cannot go on indefinitely; but neither can ‘business as usual’. We harbour an instinctive desire to get over COVID and fire up the virus of consumer culture as quickly and robustly as possible. But in this unplanned cessation of what we call normality, we need to clearly understand that our economic system is set up, like COVID-19, so that it can only thrive by seeding death. We also need to understand that no ‘new idea’ can save us from its death spiral. The ideas of the head have been in charge for too long, and the body of the world is bleeding out as a result.

What is needed from us is a return to the body’s deepest understanding: that it indissolubly belongs to the world. Our newly awakened, heartfelt, embodied compassion for the most vulnerable among us has led us to sacrifice major conveniences and shut down the global economy. What is being asked of us now, in the midst of our hardship, is that we open our newly kindled compassion to all living beings, and feel with as much sober honesty as we can muster how they have all been ravaged by the virus of our fevered grasping. If we can extend our compassion to these ‘neighbours’ to whom we have brought so much suffering and death, we can come together in the same spirit of empowered, self-sacrificing unity with which nations around the world have faced COVID-19. The virus that is our consumer culture must be healed. And for that to happen, we need a new version of success – a version in which a healthy economy is one that promotes the health of life on earth.

I speak to the importance of the body’s knowing in The Embodiment Manifesto. I’d love you to have a look.

Philip Shepherd

For more from Philip Shepherd, click here. Also, be sure to tune in Saturday morning at 8:30 when Philip is a guest on Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne….enjoy George Carlin….if only we’d have listened to the man.

George Carlin Talks About “Stuff,” a totally apropos video to follow Philip’s piece.

George Carlin On Who Owns America



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4 replies

  1. Excellent post.

  2. Many of us have been saying this for decades, as far back as the first Earth Day and certainly by the time Limits to Growth was published.

    Why did John Muir become so prominent as the head of Sierra Club? Who was Rachael Carson? Who was Cousteau? What was MLK talking about? Sartre, Camus, Kafka? Why did Friends of the Earth evolve from Sierra Club? Greenpeace? In 1974 I was in the first 5000 in membership, among the first 1000 in FOE.

    The Three Rs showed up around 1970. “If You Are Not Part Of The Solution, You Are Part Of The Problem.”

    What was the magnificent paleontologist Loren Eisley describing in the 1950s and 60s and 70s?

    I refer to my dad. It all depends on whose ox is being gored.

    Damn. Thoreau wrote extensively about all these things prior to 1850. He died from consumption following a wet and cold winter’s march for abolishment of slavery. He opined at length on Shepherd’s topic in the essay Economy while writing On Walden Pond. He marveled, in his transcendental way, of the least of things in Nature.

    Following your son’s lead, Paul, here is what we can do that is upbeat and positive. This is a very short and incomplete list.

    PARTIAL LIST OF POSITIVE THINGS TO DO

    Stop eating all flesh, unless you kill the animal that bears it with your bare hands, after asking permission to do so and receiving an affirmative reply.

    Reduce all consumption by 1/2.

    Reduce all consumption of completely unnecessary stuff that is non-essential by 95%.

    Eliminate waste, and diligently pressure society toward a zero waste stream.

    Eliminate the concept of profit from your thinking. Start a community collective of surplus energies to be used in bad times by all in need.

    Protect and ruthlessly manage The Commons, while leaving at least 60% of land and sea in a wild state.

    Destroy the notion that real land is property and can be privatized.

    Destroy the notion that democratic community behavior can be carried out by ‘representatives.’

    Admit to yourself and your ilk that you and they are co-opted, coerced, lazy and self-absorbed.

    Forgive yourself and others for same.

    Love the world, the Earth as yourself.

    Fear nothing.

    Extend compassion to everything and everyone that needs it.

    Buy clean, organic and local.

    Support no corporate interest with investment or purchase that does not adhere to quality, safety, customer satisfaction, zero waste stream, self-contained sustainable, renewable power, non-polluting energy, environmental protection practices.

    Work to make all energy demands renewable.

    Support no business with a management/worker compensation ratio of more than 1.5 to 1, set up as non-profit and either employee-owned or getting there.

    Work tirelessly to avoid/destroy violence, pornography, addictions, assumptions.

    Get 75% more daily exercise than you now do, unless you already work physically hard every day.

    Plant a garden, even in pots.

    Spend at least 4 hours outdoors, every day, with at least 90 minutes in direct sunlight. Sun on the skin creates more anti-cancer agents than sunscreen provides.

    Play.

    Slow down. Allow Nature and the quantum field inside your psyche.

    Save one thing, no matter how small or insignificant, from damage or destruction, every day.

    Stand up to bullying and bullies. Find your courage and cultivate it.

    Try to extend love to some thing you have previously been indifferent toward.

    Extend kindness and warmth to strangers and those in need.

    Practice Commandments 5-10.

    Practice the Gospels.

    Practice the Eightfold Path.

    Practice daily maintenance of all built things, after you learn how to do that.

    That should get all of us started on a positive path forward, out of the land of the Pharaohs…

    Mick Nickel

  3. I forgot two extremely obvious and necessary items.

    Purge misogyny from your brain.

    Tomorrow is Earth Day. Plant a tree, or more than one.

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