Of World’s Ending and Things

Glaciers_and_Icebergs_at_Cape_York

One of my good friends has been on a strong campaign recently to raise awareness of the apparent ecological disaster looming ahead in our near future. I had some thoughts about this, and they ended up going on for a bit, so I’ve decided to make a post about it.

The basic thrust is that we humans have, through runaway use of fossil fuels (and other abuses of the environment) touched off a number of “positive feedback” loops that will inevitably lead to the extinction of the human race. (Note, the use of the term “positive” here is in the cold scientific way, meaning that these processes are additive and self-perpetuating, and not positive as in good for us… ) One such loop has to do directly with the rising of the ocean’s temperatures. As the temperatures have risen, especially in the northern hemisphere, we have been loosing the ice in the Arctic circle. This loss of ice means that the natural reflection of some of the sun’s rays back into space off the white surface of the snow and ice has been decreasing as the amount of snow and ice decreases. The darker color of the exposed sea then pulls in more heat from the sunlight and the cycle builds on itself.

Another such positive feedback loop has to do with the release of sequestered methane into the atmosphere as the permafrost of the Arctic circle thaws. This is releasing millions of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, which traps more heat from the sun, which in turn thaws more permafrost.

Those are just two examples of the growing number of such self-feeding cycles that scientists are tracking and trying to warn people about.

Firstly, let me say that I think that anyone who does not see global warming and climate change as a real threat, and cause for concern, is being exceptionally foolish.

Secondly, in my opinion, anyone who doesn’t see humanity, and it’s actions, as the primary contributors to this situation is being even more exceptionally foolish.

However, I do take exception to a certain trait that the dire warnings about the coming extinction event seem to share. They all say that it looks like it’s too late, and that it seems like a near mathematical certainty that within a few decades the Earth will not be suitable for human life, and very likely any life at all. What they seem to miss though is a phrase I mentally attach to any such statement. That phrase is, “… at current technological development.”

The pace of technological development, which also means scientific development, on this planet is ever accelerating. The difference between how life is now, and how it was three decades ago is staggering. Further, the way these technologies are relating to each other is ever more deeply and completely. The number of people using internet as I write this is approximately 1.5 billion. Within three years it is estimated to hit 5 billion. I would guess that a few years after that it will be the case that everyone on the planet who wants access to the information on internet will have it.

Increased information means increased innovation. One only needs to peruse the various crowdfunding sites to see what happens when inventive people with good ideas are able to get the word out. Inventions get realized. Change happens. And, it’s going faster and faster every day.

Personally I don’t see this as an excuse to continue the way we have been going. I think the threat to our environment is very real indeed. However, I simply can’t conceive of what life will be like in twenty years, when I think of what it was like twenty years ago. Based on the acceleration factor, I imagine that the world twenty years from now will look as different to us, as our current life would look to someone from a hundred years ago.

One way or the other, I see us coming to a singularity of existence, of some sort. I have no idea which way it will go. I do know that I can have no idea. The definition of “singularity” is a horizon past which you cannot see. The concrescence of technologies, ever accelerating, leads to a place coming very soon that none of us can see past. We have no way of knowing what is on the other side of such a demarcation.

Personally I am grateful for the people who are steadfastly raising the red flag of doom, and raising consciousness about the perils we are facing. What I can’t do though is go along with any declaration of how things will be. Our world is just changing too fast, and I for one will not be surprised if the human will to survive wins out, even if we face the tragedy of a dead planet.

One of my personal favorite thinkers is Terence McKenna. One of the things he said in his talks was something that the beings he contacts through psilocybin once said to him. They said, “this is what it looks like when a species gets ready to leave for the stars.” In his talks he uses the example of child birth. When you are aware of what childbirth is, you can view it from a bit of a detached view and find it something beautiful, a miracle of life unfolding just as it rightly should. However, if you had no idea what birth looked like you might have a very different reaction. If you rounded a corner into an alley and came upon the scene of a woman giving birth you would be justifiably horrified. There are screams (often), blood, tears, heaving, sweat, and a woman being squeezed open from the inside by something trying to force it’s way out. If you didn’t know any better you would be perfectly justified in freaking the fuck out.

It might very well be that the situation on our planet is something like that. With all the terror, and environmental breakage looming, and all the violence, and religious strife. Perhaps we are at a breaking point something like birth.

Of course, not all births are successful. Not all new born children make it. That’s simply a sad fact of the process of life. Still, a lot do make it. Especially as technology advances. That gives me hope.

Eight Year Old Donald Trump

notepad

A decade ago I was in India. I was there with a group of my fellow Aikido students, and our Sensei. We had been bamboozled into going to India for a big Aikido seminar that our Sensei would teach. It was very exciting. Unfortunately we had all bought tickets and made plans with our various employers by the time we realized it was a scam. We decided to go anyways.

As it happens we did end up holding an Aikido seminar, at the US embassy in Dehli. But, that is another story.

This story is about a chance encounter with the single purest example of entrepreneurial spirit I have ever had.

There were twelve of us who made the trip together. We started in Dehli, and visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, and then spent a week in Veranasi. It was in Veranasi that I had this encounter.

I was alone, standing on the shore of the Gangi. This river occupies a place of deep spiritual significance in the Indian mind. It is seen as a manifestation of the mother deity at the heart of the Hindu faith. I was standing on the muddy shore of this manifestation of the divine when I heard a voice.

“Excuse me, sir.”

I’ve trained in the martial arts for over half of my life. When I hear things I don’t just hear the content. I listen for position and intensity. So, I turned and looked down at the speaker. I was face to face with an immaculately dressed seven year old boy. His hair was perfectly arranged. He wore a button down shirt, with a tie, pressed slacks, and loafers. He stood beside me on the muddy shore of the Gangi.

“Yes?”

The boy clasped his hands behind his back. “Pardon my question sir, but are you a tourist?”

I looked down, smiling through my scruff, wearing my Hawaiian shirt and said, “How could you tell?”

The boy nodded. “I didn’t want to presume, sir, but you do have the look of a visitor.”

“Well, yes, I am. I’m from California. What can I do for you?”

The boy squared his shoulders, and faced me directly. “If I may ask, Sir, do you like to keep notes of your travels?”

I smiled and nodded. “Yes, I do. Very much.”

“Very good. Then, I may have something that would interest you.” He turned slightly and waved someone over. It was another boy. Younger. Well dressed, but not in a suit. He pushed over a small wheel barrow. He came up along side the first young man and set the wheel barrow down, then he stepped back and clasped his arms behind his back in imitation of the older boy.

In the old wheel barrow were neat stacks of hand stitched note books. I asked if I could see one. The young entrepreneur nodded. They had painstakingly found sections of discarded newspapers that had enough blank room to serve as a note pad. Each pad was about 3 inches square, cut perfectly on the edges. Along one side, they had been stitch bound with packing twine. The craftsmanship was amazing, and consistent.

“You made these?”

The young man nodded. “Yes. We find usable paper, press it, stack it, cut it, and then bind it.”

I flipped through the pages, admiring the work. “You said we. How many of you work on this?”

The young man squared his shoulders. “I have six employees. My sister, three cousins, and two friends. My sister is in charge of manufacture. One of my cousins is coming along nicely. He’s five now, but I think when he turns six he’ll be ready to handle his own production group. Then we will expand to another neighborhood.”

“And, how old are you?”

“I am eight, sir. I turn nine in three months.”

I smiled. “How much?” I reached into my pocket.

It was his turn to smile. “Ten rupees, sir.” At the time this was about seventeen cents.

As I was fishing through my pocket for the coins, the boy said, “Pardon me again, sir, but do you travel with friends?”

My smirk was wide. “Why yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

The young entrepreneur nodded. “Perhaps they would get some use from our note pads as well?”

The kid was good. Very good. I contemplated all this young man represented as I made my way back to the hotel, ten note pads riding in my shoulder bag.

The drive to produce results, and build a legacy are natural to being human. Anyone can catch the entrepreneurial bug, no matter how young you may be.

Why Every Blogging Course Ever Is Not Worth It

ToBlog

I like being a blogger. It affords me several opportunities without many of the conditions that used to be tied up with them. Being a blogger, you get to exercise your creativity as a writer. You get to choose any subject matter you’d like. You get to play the roles of critic if you’d like. You can cast yourself in the position of restaurant reviewer. You can tackle any editorial opinion piece you would care too. You can write fiction if you’d like. Or surrealist commentary. Or high literature.

All of this without the constraints of a boss telling you what to write, or an editor to get your pieces past. You don’t have to risk losing your job to say what’s on your mind.

This freedom and flexibility are a double edged sword. You also have no one to focus your attention, and no one to help craft your pieces into a more refined form.

However, since you don’t have a schedule to adhere too, you can write as much as you’d like to get the experience needed for producing well crafted pieces. Plus, you can find your own voice more easily since no one else has a say about how you say things.

Not every blogger makes money, nor do they all get a big audience. That’s okay though, because the real reasons that will drive anyone to be insistent enough to gather income, and an audience, will be passion about the subjects they take on. If your not passionate about writing, and some subjects you can drill into, then you can still blog to get all the creative benefits. However achieving fame and fortune (or a side income and some frequent followers) is probably not in the cards for you.

In my time as a blogger I have invested in a couple of courses from some highly successful bloggers. Training materials on how to blog, and how to be successful at it.

Let me tell you; I don’t think their worth it.

Don’t get me wrong. They offer some good advice. My problem with them is two fold.

One, the advice they offer is mostly the same and pretty basic. I’ll post those as bullet points at the end of this piece.

First though, let’s deal with my second issue. Namely they fit you into a course of doing what the course provider does. Not exactly the name, and it’s not like going through a cookie cutter process, but in the end what they have to teach is what they do. That, my friends, is the evil opposite of what those self same successful bloggers have done. Namely, be unique.

In order to stand out, you have to stand out. It’s no good wrapping every piece you do in as much advertising as possible. Someone already does that. It’s no use being sardonic about everything. Someone already does that. It’s no use including a numbered list in every post. Someone already does that.

If you do the same as what someone else does, then what you will inevitably face is comparisons. People will see your blog and immediately think of the one you are emulating. Mostly what you end up doing is providing that other person with free advertising. You bring their site to mind and suddenly attention is drifting away from yours.

That’s not really what you want.

What you want is people coming to your space and immediately knowing where they are. You want to stand out., and be recognizable.

Blogging, in and of itself, is a place where people want to see the real and different you. If you get followers, it will be because they like you and what you do. Not because they like how you copy what someone else does. Followers want to get to know you. It’s followers that you want. Not only readers. The difference is followers are fans. The will be consistent and they will rave about your blog.

So, treat theses people like the gold they are. Any truly successful blog is built, not on the strength of the writing, but rather on the strength of its followers and fans. Respect these people, engage with them, and you will reap success.

This is probably a good point to list the things you’ll learn from every blogging course out there.

  • Get some ideas. I mean a big list of blog post ideas. Here’s my favorite way to do this: Get a pad and pen. Do a brainstorming session. Come up with seeds for 50 posts. If you can’t come up with 50 interesting post ideas, you may not be as passionate about your chosen subjects as you thought. Or, you may have some kind of hidden block to your creativity on this subject. Either way, once you have this list of 50 you’ll be set for the life of your blog. Inevitably you will come up with more ideas as you go on about your blogging. This list will become a fall back resource for those days when you are not sure what to write about. It will also become the place you dump cool post seeds as they occur to you.
  • Don’t expect anyone to find your blog just because it’s there. One of the things about being a solo writer/journalist/food critic/whatever is that you have no publicity machine behind you. You must hustle and get the word out there on your own. Family members, email contacts, Twitter buddies, Facebook friends. Leverage every connection you have. Let then now what your are blogging about. Ask them to check out your site, but don’t push it. You are not trying to convert all these folks. Their initial reading and support will get the ball rolling. Some may even become actual fans.
  • In the name of the Buddha, get an email list going!! People who want to hear from you want to hear from you! Make it easy for them. In the age of great list managing services like MailChimp, or Aweber, or TinyLetter there is no excuse not to do this. You can start for free with MailChimp. Don’t over think this. You don’t have to start a newsletter. A simple email letting people know you’ve posted is more than enough. Get a subscribe form up on your site, and ping your list whenever you put up something new.
  • Don’t think about advertising until you have a solid following, a good rate of comments, and a few thousand hits per month. I am talking about you advertising things on your site to make money. You won’t be able to pull this off until you have a consistent stream of people who want to visit. There are some exceptions here. If you are doing book reviews on your blog, then it’s okay to pop in an affiliate link to amazon.com, or wherever. Just lay off the Google adwords, and the banners, and widgets until you’ve got decent traffic and interaction.
  • Interaction trumps traffic. Hands down. Having a successful blog comes from getting interested and engaged readers, not from nameless eyes that glance at your site for a moment and move on. Interaction allows you to know what people are thinking, and can provide excellent feedback for improving your craft.
  • Be the most frequent commenter on your blog. What I mean by this is that (especially in the early stages) you should reply to each and every single comment you get. Sometimes this will be a simple thanks. Sometimes this will be a more involved answer to a question, or clarification of a point. The point here is to let people who bother commenting on your site know that you are bothering to read their comments. This kind of mutual acknowledgment goes a long way. A person who comments is much more likely to do so again if they have gotten a response. Everyone enjoys knowing they are being listened too, not just us bloggers. ;)
  • Make your site nice looking! Not too busy. And don’t keep any default layout for the platform you choose to blog on! Stand out, but don’t be loud. This is blogging, not MySpace. It’s not a bad idea to spend a little money here and buy a designed blog theme, but there are plenty of great options for all of the platforms out there.
  • Put yourself on a schedule! Consistency is a great thing for blogging and building an audience. Make a decision about how frequently you want to blog, and try to stick to it. This can (and should) change over time, so don’t feel like you are stuck with a post frequency, but try to develop some schedule you can stick to.

These are the bulk of what you will get in most courses. The golden rule, which I don’t see mentioned much, is to simply do it. Blog. Put some stuff out there, and see where it goes.

All of that being said, I reiterate my earlier point. None of the above are hard and fast rules. They are all suggestions. None of the very successful bloggers follow what other people do. The big girls and boys blogging out there have put in enough time to stand on their own feet and shine.

Some turn off comments. Some don’t do email lists. Some don’t use any blogging platform and simply code their posts in html/css as they put them up. There is no one right way to do this, other than the way that’s right for you!

So, go out there. Wander around the blogosphere and check out what’s out there. Try a couple of platforms. See what clicks for you, and go for it! You just might be the next Maddox!

Got questions? Thoughts? Rebuttals? Things I missed? Let me hear them in the comments below, and thanks for reading!