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Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #50
From self-realization and deep ecology to busy being busy and sanity in an insane society
It’s been 50, yep that’s right, 50 (!!!) Rabbit Holes 🕳️ issues already. 🥳
If you enjoy these issues, please share this newsletter with someone who might enjoy it too. Let’s grow this community!
Also, I am starting to see some very interesting throughlines emerge from all the stuff I’ve curated in these 50 issues. I am currently in the process of organizing these threads into what I can only describe as a digital version of a highly curated vinyl collection that, instead of music, features theme-based collections of thought-provoking ideas to build a better world. So stay tuned! 😉
THIS WEEK → 🧘♂️ Deep Ecology & Deep Self ⏰ Busy Being Busy 🤪 An Insane Society ➕ The World is Going Blind 🚿 Less Work, More Life
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas to create a better world, plus some fun extras. Enjoy!
#1 🧘♂️ Deep Ecology & Deep Self
If we truly acknowledge the fact that we are part of nature and that the degradation of nature is at the same time the degradation of ourselves, then the project of building a more sustainable world isn’t only about regenerating the soil, water, or air, but also regenerating the self. Only once we truly find and “realize” ourselves again, will we also heal our environment.
“Our current political and economic circumstances lead us to think of ourselves as useful cogs in a machine, and of our identity in terms of certain hoops we need to jump through: go to college to get well-paying jobs, climb the property ladder, and make sure we have adequate savings for retirement. However, the climate crisis can prompt us to rethink these suppositions. What good are retirement savings if the world is burning? We need a much richer concept of self – a fully realised self that is worth preserving. […]
This self-concept is much richer and more expansive than is commonly recognised. It’s not enough to preserve your narrow, personal self. You are part of a vast, interconnected Universe, where your wellbeing crucially depends on maintaining relationships and connections with others, including nonhuman others. […]
To actualise ourselves, we need to understand what our ‘self’ is. [Philosopher] Næss thinks that we underestimate ourselves, writing in 1987: ‘We tend to confuse it [the self] with the narrow ego.’ Self-knowledge is partial and incomplete, this lack of knowledge prevents us from acting well. […] We can realise this expansive conception of self by considering our relation to place, an idea that Næss draws from Indigenous thought. We often feel attached to places of natural bounty and beauty, to the point that we might feel that, as Næss said: ‘If this place is destroyed something in me is killed.’ Loss of place has by now well-documented effects on mental health, including eco-anxiety, which arises from a sense of loss of places to which people feel a strong emotional connection. When our surroundings are hurt, we feel hurt too. […]
Increasingly, we are pushed to settle for safety from immediate threats posed by the degradation of the environment. We cannot even begin to think about how to preserve ourselves in all the diverse aspects of our existence, and therefore cannot really survive. This is in part why the climate crisis is so corrosive to our sense of self: it impedes our ability to know ourselves.
Self-realisation implies a unity of acting and knowing: you need to know yourself accurately as part of a vast, interconnected nature, and as more than a narrow ego. Once you know this, you can begin to act. By contrast, lack of knowledge (of ourselves, as conceived of a larger whole) immobilises and disempowers. […]
The way out of the climate crisis comes from a reconceptualization of ourselves:
We feel like addressing the climate crisis would demand substantial sacrifices on our part, which seem like a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem. As Næss writes: ‘when people feel they unselfishly give up, even sacrifice, their interest in order to show love for Nature, this is probably in the long run a treacherous basis for conservation.’ […] But once we understand ourselves as ecological selves, and understand how we are part of fragile, large ecosystems and the planet, this will feel like preserving our expanded self, rather than cutting ourselves short. […]
Paradoxically, we underestimate how rich our ecological selves really are. We don’t give ourselves enough credit, on how we are able to derive genuine contentment and wellbeing from simple pleasures that do not involve destroying the planet. Rather, we think that we need infrastructure-heavy, expensive things to make us happy, where happiness always lies just around the corner.
Self-realisation increases our power. As we saw, we chase things we imagine will bring us joy, such as wealth and prestige, but which decrease our power, because they have us in their thrall. Active joy in a Spinozist sense is an intellectual understanding of yourself and your relationship to the world. […]
There is a beauty about self-realisation. Through wise and rational conduct, we would be able to find new citizenship, a way of being in nature, a polis that also includes nonhuman animals and plants. This way of being would increase our power of acting, and respond to our drive for self-realisation. […]
Our way out of the climate crisis must therefore begin by a reconceptualisation of ourselves as ecological and interconnected selves. […] We need to achieve that perspective change and realise we are interconnected selves that can flourish only with the rest of nature.”
#2 ⏰ Busy Being Busy
This article eloquently points out some of the unintended but quite severe consequences of being busy: it diminishes one’s sense of self, reduces one’s perspective, and makes one feel less empowered to follow one’s true desires. Also, the truth is that there are two types of being busy: being busy for others and being busy for yourself. Or as puts it: “My goal is to be busy living life, not busy being busy.”
“Back when I worked for corporates, I used to be the person who opened every conversation with how busy I was, how difficult it was to take annual leave, and my social calendar used to be something that made me want to throw up. […]
I remember the dark days of asking friends when they were free to meet up and the response was ‘Um, I think I have a weekend free in three months’. That would get booked in, and soon enough my own calendar was booked up, and I’d pass that on to other friends, until I came to the realisation that this was not normal. If I had relatives visiting from other countries and I said, ‘sorry pal, I can’t meet with you for three months’, they would either laugh or look at me with concern and ask me to get seen by a doctor.
It was no different at work. Dashing between meetings, eating lunch furtively at my desk hoping no one would come over while I was mid chomp. Wondering if I would have to do 12-hour days in order to take a week off.
[There is this] ideology that you earn your value by being busy all the time, and anything you do for yourself is self-indulgence or laziness. What I learned, the hard way, is that it just isn’t true. […]
It [being busy] diminishes your sense of self until one day you may wake up and wonder who you are. […] It also, in my experience, reduces our perspective. Some things may be out of our control, but a lot of our life is comprised of the choices we make. For many of us, that includes where we work, where we live, who we socialise with, and what we choose to spend our time doing. But being in a prolonged state of stress, or being locked into a death spiral of being busy, means we feel less empowered to extricate ourselves and say no. […]
My goal is to be busy living life, not busy being busy. The difference is that one is living for yourself, the other is living for the validation of people who won’t even remember what it is you did with your time in the years to come.”
» | The illusion of being busy by
#3 🤪 An Insane Society
This piece links back to the article and book I shared last week here and this question of whether certain mental health illnesses are sane responses in an insane world. In this interview, Dr. James Davis explains what he calls ‘depoliticization’, meaning the process by which suffering is conceptualized in ways that protect the economic system by rooting it in individual rather than social causes. Which consequently prioritizes self over social or systemic reform.
“Since the 1980s, it’s been increasingly popular to see mental illness as a “chemical imbalance” of the brain, one that should be treated with medication or psychotherapy. But what if our distress is a perfectly normal response to a society that’s lost its way? What if unfettered capitalism is making us sick? […]
In the 1980s under Ronald Reagan in the U.S., and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, a new species of capitalism emerged which radically changed the nature of political economy. This style has been dubbed "late capitalism," "deregulated capitalism," or, more recognizably, "neoliberalism"; it's a style that significantly departed from the more socially democratic forms of capitalism dominating post-war society. […]
Behind these economic reforms sat a new idea of what constitutes a good and free society—a concept about what direction we should all be striving in to become the best versions of ourselves. In the new neoliberal era, then, success would be reframed as a product of having exceptional individual qualities (rather than exceptional social privileges and advantages), while failure would be rooted in some kind of personal deficit (rather than in lack of opportunity, equality, or social support). […]
I define "depoliticization" as the process by which suffering is conceptualized in ways that protect the current economy from criticism—namely, as rooted in individual rather than social causes, which means we must favor self over social reform.
One example of depoliticization […] concerns the terrible epidemic of farmer suicides that blighted Central India between 2000-2010 […]. At this time, multinational agricultural companies were trying to create new markets in India for their products, and they were doing so by replacing the traditional crops that the farmers had always used with genetically modified plants that didn’t produce any seeds. This meant that local farmers could no longer save their seeds for next year’s crop (as they’d always done) but now had to buy expensive new plants each year from the multinationals, which put many into crushing debt and poverty. As a result, thousands of farmers were killing themselves under the resulting stress, mostly by drinking toxic pesticide.
But in the face of these terrible suicides, rather than challenge the multinationals, the Indian state sent in teams of psychiatrists and psychologists to tackle what was now being framed as a "mental illness epidemic." It also launched a campaign, with the World Health Organization, to make antidepressants more freely available to the farmers; a campaign that was also partly funded, it turns out, by these very agricultural companies. […]
This misuse of the mental illness narrative I think illustrates the essence of how depoliticization works: It effectively turns socially caused problems into internal dysfunctions, making the "self" the site of reform and thereby exonerating harmful social, corporate, or political arrangements and so by implication, helping nullify in people the forces that push for social change. […]
If you suffer, the fault resides within you, and so too does the solution: You need to learn how to think, feel, and act differently.”
» Psychology Today | Is Capitalism Making Us Sick? by Justin Garson (interview with Dr. James Davis, author of Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created our Mental Health Crisis)
📕 Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech by Brian Merchant
”Today, technology imperils millions of jobs, robots are crowding factory floors, and artificial intelligence will soon pervade every aspect of our economy. How will this change the way we live? And what can we do about it?”
📕 Saying NO to a Farm-Free Future: The Case For an Ecological Food System and Against Manufactured Foods by Chris Smaje
“[The book] passionately argues for scaling up the pro-nature principles of low-energy, biodiverse and agroecological farming, and for putting the power back into the hands of small-scale farmers and producers, and the local communities that support them.”
📕 Inclusive Transportation: A Manifesto for Repairing Divided Communities by Veronica O. Davis
”Davis explains why centering people in transportation decisions requires a great shift in how transportation planners and engineers are trained, how they communicate, the kind of data they collect, and how they work as professional teams.”
🔨 Assembling an Assembly Guide by Democracy Next
“The Assembling an Assembly Guide is a resource for any institution, organisation, city administration, or policy maker interested in running a Citizens’ Assembly.”
💡 The World Is Going Blind. Taiwan Offers a Warning, and a Cure by Wired
”It’s estimated that by 2050, half the world’s population will need glasses, contacts, or surgery to see across a room. […] If those trends continue, it’s likely that millions more people around the world will go blind much earlier in life than they—or the societies they live in—are prepared for.”
🚿 Shower Thoughts
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