Why Start the New Year on January 1?

It’s the night before the New Year and all through the town, all the people are stirring, getting ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve. It’s an old custom, ingrained in our culture, seemingly as natural as night and day.

But why January 1st? What’s so special about this day that we celebrate it as a new beginning?

The easy answer is that the first month of the year is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman God who looks both forward into the future and backward to the past, just as all the pundits have been doing for the past week. Julius Caesar created a calendar with Janus’s month at the beginning, named after himself as the Julian Calendar, which was used from 45 BC until the 11th Century.

We don’t use the Julian calendar anymore, because it didn’t agree with the exact time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun, thus getting further and further out of date with the seasons as time wore on, as it often does. This was inconvenient and verily it troubled many of the new Enlightenment thinkers of the time.

So Pope Gregory started a new calendar in 1585, that inserted a leap year to keep the seasons and the calendar in sync. We use the Gregorian Calendar today, with January 1st as the first day.

But wait, why did my ancestors in the Olde Country start their year on March 25th, thus messing with the heads of future genealogists trying to pin down vital records of their distant 11th Great-Grandfather?

Well… as you might already know, pagans and other non-Christian folks counted their days, nights and years by the seasons and by celestial phenomena, which we retain in our culture as the Winter and Summer Solstice and the Spring and Fall Equinox. There were lots of other nature based holidays to celebrate as well, which helped a lot of medieval folks get through some pretty tough times.

Originally, the new year was celebrated either on the Winter Solstice, when daylight hours once again began to lengthen and the ascent from a long dark winter was begun. Others chose the Spring equinox as the time of renewal, and growth of things green and warm, a suitable occasion to start the new year.

When the Christian religion spread from Rome to the hinterlands, wily Christian theologians discovered it was more effective to co-opt the old pagan holidays and rename them to match the new belief than to try to do away with them altogether. Thus, the Winter Solstice became Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, and the New Year was set to begin on March 25, marking the Annunciation, the announcement that Jesus Christ was born, starting the whole Christian year.

This went on for some 600 years, until, in 1752, ecclesiastical squabbles over the true date of Easter resulted in resetting the date of the Gregorian New Year back to the old Julian January 1st.

So here we are, poised on the cusp of a new, Gregorian, January 1st New Year!

Have a Happy New Year whenever you start it!

Happy Solstice

The Winter Solstice has long been my favorite seasonal celebration. It’s that ancestrally magical moment when the Earth pauses in its seasonal round, contemplates its equator for a moment, and moves in a new direction.

After months of steadily decreasing sunshine, even here at 37 degrees North latitude, the prospect of the return of the sun, increased warmth and budding Spring helps to wipe away the winter doldrums.

It’s a very real event, grounded in the Earth, the solar system and the Universe, a time of renewal and dedication to a new annual round.

Happy Solstice, one and all!

Putting it all together or taking it all apart?

jigsaw-puzzle

On one of my other websites, The Way of Nature, I’ve described many of the elements of an ecosophy that seeks to balance human activity with the natural world. These are philosophies and practices that I find attractive when thinking about the horrible mess this human world has created at the expense of the broader biosphere.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t see any way for the current dominant human way of life to continue much longer. There just aren’t enough resources on this the only planet we can inhabit to support 7+ billion human beings without destroying the habitats of the eleventy bazillion other inhabitants, including our own. The human world is caught up in social systems and philosophies antithetical to living in harmony with all other life. There is no sign at present of any serious movement to change to alternative lifestyles that offer any prospect for continuing into the foreseeable future.

Visualize Civilizational Collapse

A combination of environmental, social and economic collapse seems inevitable, most likely within the lifetime of those living today. A civilization (sic) based on unlimited growth coupled with exponentially increasing consumption of finite resources will inevitably expire in a much deserved collapse, just as previous civilizations and empires suffered the same ignominious end.

If there is such a thing as natural laws, this must be one of them. Any species that eats itself out of house and home will drag itself down the evolutionary porcelain parkway with alacrity. Rabbits do it. Caribou do it. Even plants do it.

The difference is that, unlike humans, non-human animals and plants have natural predators that keep their numbers in check, and that, providentially, strengthen the prey species by eliminating the halt and the weak and the diseased. But hubristic humans insist that “every sperm is sacred” and no individual shall be allowed to die without massive medical intervention to keep them alive and breeding… for a price.

So it seems truly well and good that human civilization should take its place in the good old dustbin of history and make way for what is to come afterwards.

What comes after Civilization?

It’s seems most likely that once human civilization has had its way with this planet, and descended into the abyss of evolutionary despair, there will be insufficient resources remaining for humans to claw their way back out of the hole they have dug for themselves and build a new shining city on the hill to hold dominion over all once again.

This is where the Way of Nature comes into the story.

Any future human world will, of necessity, be organized in harmony with natural cycles of resource availability, just as are all other extant species on the planet. It will be characterized by the same features as other species: diversity, adaptability, humility, cooperation and unswerving patience.

In other words, any post-collapse civilization will live by the Way of Nature.

Take some time to review the elements of the Way of Nature, and we’ll start going through them in the next post on Searching for Balance.

More reading on collapse:

  • Collapse, Jered Diamond
  • The Party’s Over, Richard Heinberg
  • The Enemy of Nature, Joel Kovel
  • Good News, Edward Abbey
  • Toward an Ecological Society, Murray Bookchin
  • Human Scale Revisited, Kirkpatrick Sale
  • The Twilight of American Culture, Morris Berman

Nature’s Way

e5dc0-horses
I’ve not been writing much of late, at least not in this forum. Tickling these plastic keys is less esthetically pleasing than scribbling in a notebook with a proper pen and ink. What to do with it then after it is written? It rarely survives the transition twixt page and screen.

But things must be said, after all. The state of the world hovers between chaos and collapse. It’s hard to tell which way we’re headed.

“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Woody Allen

If we’re lucky, we’ll have another recession soon, a good one, a thorough one, an economic collapse “with four part harmony and feeling.” Clear out the dross, bring down the high mucky-muck, unto the seventh generation. Everything is stretched thin and another economic blow might just break it permanently, with little resources left for recovery.

Yes, all will suffer, especially the high and mighty who have depended on this insane system of economic and environmental oppression at the the expense of trillions of living beings with no say in the outcome. Its about time. A season for everything. The pendulum swings.

We who still defend the wild and the wildlings stand on the shoulders of those who have lead the way before us. Those shoulders are dwindling, their voices stilled. And there are fewer shoulders growing up to take their places. Our voices are drowned out by the bombastic shouting of the growth maniacs and global economists, their political and military minions, and the general populace enthralled with consumerism.

Still, this too shall pass. That which cannot go on forever, doesn’t. A thousand years from now those still alive will be those who have accommodated to reality, learned to live in harmony with natural cycles, those who have settled back into living as one species among many, with no pretense of dominion over all.

It’s Nature’s Way, the only way there is.

The Wu Way

In my search for a sane and rational way of living that does not destroy biodiversity and natural habitats for all other species, I’ve looked to other worldviews and philosophies for examples of how other cultures and societies have thought and taught about the world we all live in.

The unfortunate thing about individually focusing on Taoism, quantum mechanics, consciousness, neuroanatomy or any other named discipline is that we can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s all of a piece; the names separate out the various parts. We get so mired down in the minutia, we don’t see the whole.

As it is in the Multiverse, so it is unto the quark.

Let me take this Way in striving for a model of the totality of reality, consciousness, the Multiverse/universes/Universe and everything.

In quantum physics we identify the Multiverse as the infinite set of infinite universes, which includes our own infinite Universe. Our Universe consists of eleven dimensions, time and three physical dimensions, plus seven other tightly wrapped dimensions of which we are not consciously aware. We use mathematics to describe our Universe, the Multiverse and their eleven dimensions, because mathematics is not burdened with symbolic meaning. The “words” of mathematics are clear, unambiguous and universally understood.

The universes of the Multiverse can and do interact in startling ways, as is demonstrated in the easily reproduced double slit experiment, which also shows us that human consciousness is an intimate part of the working of the Multiverse. The double slit experiment shows us the Multiverse/Consciousness in action. When we look for light as particles, we find particles. When we look for light as waves, we find waves.

In a like manner then, consciousness consists of the Universal Consciousness as the infinite set of consciousnesses, which includes our own personal Consciousness. What we identify in psychology as the subconscious is the connection between our personal Consciousness and the Universal Consciousness through the eleven dimensional computation matrix built into the structure of our brains, as a result of human evolution within the eleven dimensional Universe. Meditation, sleep dreaming, day dreaming, imagination, intuition, deja vu and altered states are descriptions of mental states that quiet the busyness of the brain’s internal dialog so that we can experience the connection to the Universal Consciousness. This experience is difficult if not impossible to relate in words because it transcends verbal expression, cannot be objectively verified and is meaningful only to the percipient. Yet the experience is universal.

This consciousness has been known for thousands of years, by people who have tried to express the experience in many ways, many of which have become distorted, manipulated and controlled as organized religions. Others maintain oral traditions, which we call myths, that are nonetheless grounded in experience with the ineffable, and combine them with practical experiences of being a human being in the natural region they inhabit. Raven stories, coyote stories, origin stories, all carry the seed of the contact with universal consciousness.

There are some who hold that this level of human consciousness is a fairly recent development in human evolution, which would fit in with the evolution of the human brain’s eleven dimensional computation matrix. One might speculate that this development may have been responsible for the success of Homo sapiens sapiens and the demise of Home sapiens neanderthalensis.

“Where are you going with this?” says the wag in the back.

Good question!

The point of Taoism is “The Way.” This is not a judgement call; there is no “Right Way” and there is no “Wrong Way.” There is only “The Way.”

The Way is the Multiverse. The Way is Consciousness. The Way is the eleven dimensional computation matrix we carry around in this head thing of ours.

When we go against The Way, when we force things, control things, lord it over others, when we push the rope, make it happen, press on regardless, we fight against the flow of the Multiverse.

When we go with The Way, when we allow things to rise of themselves, when we wait for the cusp, pause until grokking is, go with the flow, swim with the stream, we cooperate with the flow of the Multiverse.

Our Modern Western Civilization, if that’s what it is, goes against the Way in every respect. It is the antithesis of the flow of the Multiverse. It is the cause of immense suffering in humans and untold destruction of the non-human world.

An alternative approach is wu wei, not doing, arising of itself, doing what’s natural, going with the flow. If it doesn’t arise of itself, if it feels like pushing the rope, if it resists at every turn, don’t do that!

This is a simple approach, probably too simple to have any effect. We have to start somewhere.

NOTE: I’ve referenced a lot of esoteric stuff herein without citations. If something above piques your interest, or if you respond with “Huh?” let me know and I’ll supply a bibliography. It’s about time I worked one up anyway, so I can remember where I’ve read things.

The -ism That Isn’t

It’s increasingly clear that human societies of every stripe are engaged in a program of natural habitat and environmental destruction as a direct result of their focus on population and economic growth with accompanying increases in material consumption. Mainstream politics and economics stride on in lock step toward the yawning abyss clearly visible on the near horizon.

Global warming, aka climate change, captures the minuscule imaginations of politicians and their journalistic lapdogs, while their corporate puppet masters take full advantage of the resulting fear mongering to line their own pockets. Amid this frenzy of faux activity, natural habitats continue to decline, species continue to go extinct, water supplies diminish, topsoil continues to wash away downstream and real human pollutants continue to pile up in the corners of all ecosystems around the globe.

Some social and political activists offer alternatives to the status quo, none of which, to any great extent, offer a meaningful alternative to the dominant social systems. Among these, so-called “ecosocialism” is presented as a solution to growth dependent industrial socialism and capitalism.

 

Hans Baer: “Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-oriented, productivist ethic and recognizes that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations.”

Source: A vision of democratic ecosocialism

The above Hans Baer quote from Climate and Capitalism expresses the response of a minority of socialists to environmental degradation at the hands of a growing human population and its expansionist political and economic systems.

Ecosocialism is, of course, an anthropocentric political and economic philosophy, attempting to project environmental concern in an otherwise human centered endeavor. It fails in this attempt because it is, first and foremost, conceived by socialists who are not ecologists, environmentalists or even scientists. It merely tacks on the label “Eco-” onto “Socialist,” without challenging prevailing economic, political and social relationships among humans and the non-human world.

For example, the statement “humans live on an ecologically fragile planet” is inaccurate and self-serving. Ecologists know that natural ecological systems are robust, vibrant and adaptive. It is human destruction of natural habitat and exploitation of “natural resources” that depletes natural biodiversity and interferes with natural ecological interrelationships that leads to the erroneous conclusion  of “fragile” ecosystems. Labeling the planet as “fragile” takes the responsibility for its degradation away from human action and responsibility.

The phrase “with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed” assumes that “resources,” that is air, water, sunlight, soil, minerals, plants and animals, are solely for human use, and ignores the irreducible necessity of these resources to the non-human world. It also assumes that humans can “sustain and renew” these resources, rather than concluding that humans must instead reduce our consumption and exploitation of natural raw materials required by all living things.

Finally, the phrase “for future generations” appears frequently in ecosocialist discussion, underlining the basic assumption that preserving vibrant ecosystems is necessary for human betterment rather for the intrinsic necessity of all life.

Human impact on the natural world is the product of per capita economic throughput (consumption) multiplied by population. Ecosocialism attempts to address only the consumption part of this equation, assuming that socialist economic and social systems will result in overall population stabilization, ignoring the fact that human population has already overshot the carrying capacity of this planet, as is evidenced by increasing environmental degradation and ecosystems failure.

Humans are an animal species, subject to the same instinctive drivers of population growth as are all other animal species. The difference between humans and other animal species is that humans have largely eliminated predators that keep human population growth in check. While rapidly evolving bacteria and viruses may change that relationship at some future date, at present human population growth continues, even in countries with social conditions conducive to smaller families.

Depending on increased standard of living and improved social relationships as the sole regulators of human population growth is unrealistic and ultimately defeating. Raising the standard of living of the entire human population to a threshold level that might result in decreased population growth is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether caused by excessive consumption or excessive population growth, the ship is still going down.

What is required, if humans are to continue to live on this planet, is for human societies to function within natural ecological cycles and interrelationships, not above but side-by-side with all other species, as part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Rather than tacking “eco-” onto “socialism,” those concerned with human impacts on the world on which we live would do better to envision a human world that first and foremost exists as a contributing and cooperative part of the natural world.

The name is not important. Yet another -ism isn’t the answer.

Biodiversity is the preservation of wildness…

“In a square meter of soil one could find 1010 bacteria, 109 protozoa, 5 million nematodes, 100K mites, 50K springtails, 10K rotifiers and tardigrades, 5K insects, myriapods, spiders and diplurans, 100 slugs and snails and one, just one vertebrate—possibly the farmer or the dog.” – James B. Nardi, Life in the Soil

life
Photo by Michael A. Lewis

The incredible diversity of life that exists in even a small patch of living soil is the secret of evolutionary success of all species on Earth. No individual, nor any species lives in isolation. All are a part of the intricate web of life, the living network of biological, chemical and physical interactions.

 

Only one species deliberately ignores this simple fact, the inaccurately named Homo sapiens, supposedly the thinking ape.

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms-folded them into its genes-and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady.” ― Edward O. Wilson

As humans thoughtlessly consume the planet, we break the bonds of the web of life. We isolate habitats through clear-cutting, road building, surface mining, building construction, and agriculture. We destroy species through overhunting and overfishing, tearing great gaps in the web. We unquestioningly convert the Earth and its living skin into commodities for human consumption and profit.

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold

As if that were not enough, we humans attack and destroy each other, depleting the rich diversity of cultures that have developed ways of living in place, in cooperative, bioregional social organization, in subsistence patterns in tune with the diversity of life in which they live.

“Just as the natural environment depends on biodiversity, so the human environment depends on cultural diversity, because no one civilization encompasses all the spiritual, ethical and artistic expressions of mankind.” ― Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

If humans are to retain a place in the web of life, we will have to develop bioregional approaches to our relationships with ourselves and with all other species, in diverse, complex, and far more interesting societies than the one culture that dominates the world today.

“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walking