Guideposts for Navigating a Post-Truth World

Something I found remarkable–one of the many things I found remarkable–about last week’s riot/insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was the insistence of the rioters/insurrectionists that Trump had not, in fact, lost the election. These people actually believe that the more than 7 million votes separating Biden and Trump were the result of a vast conspiracy and cover-up perpetrated at the highest levels of government and media.

From where I sit, this looks like sheer denial of reality. And I find myself wondering where these people are getting their information from, since it’s clearly not mainstream sources. Whatever those sources are, I wonder why these people trust them.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about these epistemological questions since last summer, when an acquaintance of mine wrote to a group of us warning us about the dangers of vaccines. This person believes in a whole bunch of things that I find, frankly, ludicrous–things that make their anti-vaxxer beliefs seem mainstream. In spite of this, they are a very nice person, and it’s very easy to talk to them without getting any sense that their beliefs are so strange.

So that got me thinking, how is it that I believe what I believe? Why do I think my beliefs make any more sense than theirs?

We are living in a time of when it is possible to find sources and purported experts to support just about any opinion. And separating the legitimate sources from the illegitimate ones is not easy, even for very intelligent people.

I think we make these decisions about which sources to trust largely based on pre-existing, and often unexamined, ideological commitments and psychological idiosyncrasies. For example, on the issue of vaccines, I choose to trust mainstream sources like the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization. Whereas on other issues, like home birth and pharmacological treatment of mood disorders, I am highly suspicious of the medical establishment.

Of course, I want to believe that my choice of whom to believe is purely rational, but it’s not. I probably choose to trust that (most) vaccines are safe because doing so makes me feel safer, and I choose to distrust the medical establishment in other cases because of my pre-existing distrust of the mainstream medical model (which focuses on treating symptoms and not systems). I recognize that this is not an entirely consistent position, as some of the reasons for the anti-vaxxer suspicion of vaccines overlap with my suspicion of the medical establishment.

I also think tribalism is an important factor. The feminist critique of the medical model of birth and the anti-capitalist critique of Big Pharma are part of the social discourse of the political and religious communities with which I identify, whereas those communities tend to identify themselves in opposition to anti-vaxxers.

I’m not a physician or an epidemiologist. So the science of vaccines is far beyond me. And I don’t have inclination to invest the time to educate myself on this topic to the necessary degree (by examining reports of clinical trials, for example). Instead, I take the shortcut of trusting the communities to which I belong and the discourses with which I am familiar.

I am well aware, though, that these commitments can change over time. At one time, I was a conservative, Republican, theistic Mormon. Now, I am a left-of-progressive, anarchist, atheistic pagan.

In the case of the election, I choose to trust mainstream media, the courts, and bureaucracy about the vote counting. On the other hand, I’m critical of the neoliberal ideology which underlies all of those institutions.

I think the most we can do is to try to be aware of these personal biases and ideological commitments and open to questioning them from time to time.

As I thought about this, I came up with the following list of touchstones that I try to use when really critiquing my own beliefs, instead of just seeking reinforcement for them (which admittedly is what I do most of the time). Here’s my list. I’d be interested to know what is on your list.

  1. Hold your ideas lightly. Be humble. Be curious.
  2. Hold tightly to compassion for the suffering of others, especially others who look, talk, or act different from you. I think every philosophy or ideology that went wrong lost this sense of compassion for others.
  3. Keep coming back to your everyday experience.
  4. But don’t universalize your experience.
  5. Avoid the comfort/satisfaction of dualistic, manichaean, either-or, or all-or-nothing thinking. Truth isn’t black & white–it’s the full spectrum of the rainbow. Strive to see the complexity.
  6. Try to think systemically, rather than individualistically.
  7. Don’t confuse correlation with causation. But let yourself find meaning and beauty in correlation.
  8. Recognize the limitations of the scientific method and the objectivist point of view, but don’t take that as an excuse to ignore science and believe whatever you want.
  9. Be critical of authorities and structures of power, but avoid conspiracy thinking (which assumes an impractical level of intentional coordination).

In my opinion, the logic of the rioters/insurrectionists at the Capitol last week fails a lot of these tests. (If I’m being honest, I don’t always pass these tests either.)

What’s on your list? What touchstones do you use to determine what’s real/true/good?

The Gospel of Compost

This talk was given on October 4, 2020 at the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Park Forest, IL. It combines two essays I had previously written, “The Gospel of Compost” and the “Yoga of Despair”. In it, I talk about the lessons I have learned from composting, about the messiness of life and the sacredness of endings. And I discuss how the “gospel of compost” has helped me to face the inevitability of environmental and social collapse and even possible human extinction.

Continue reading “The Gospel of Compost”

Pre-order “Wyrd Against the Modern World”

This is from my fellow Gods&Radicals contributor and a writer who I really enjoy. Reserve your copy now!

Dear Friends,

My first book “Wyrd Against the Modern World” will be available for purchase this winter. As this first run will be quite limited, please pre-order to ensure that you are able to receive a copy.

The culmination of many years of thinking and writing, “Wyrd Against the Modern World” reflects upon our present moment of unraveling as a time of hierophany, an irruption of the sacred into the world. Through readings of Carl Jung, D.H. Lawrence, Robinson Jeffers, and other critics of modernity, the book argues that the crisis of the modern world is fundamentally a spiritual one.

Advanced Praise:

“A powerful blaze of a book which cuts through predictable ‘environmental’ narratives and gets to the core of the matter – the catastrophic spiritual void at the heart of our world.” -Paul Kingsnorth, founder of the Dark Mountain Project, author of the Man Booker Prize nominated novel The Wake.

Please write me an email at aurelianoramon @ gmail . com if you would like pre-order a copy.

The price is 20.00 USD via paypal or cash/check by mail. I will cover shipping within the United States. International orders will cost 40.00 USD, shipping cost included.

I will respond to emails with more details, including paypal information.

Thank you for your support!

Voting Like It’s the End of the World: 5 Reasons I’m Not Voting for Biden (or Trump)

This is going to be an unpopular post.

A few weeks ago, I announced on social media that I would not be voting for Biden and would instead be voting for the Green Party candidates, Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. What followed was a firestorm of fury from my progressive friends and acquaintances. The responses ranged from patronizing attempts to educate me to accusations of racism, sexism, and LGBT-phobia.

Let me preface what follows by saying that I’m not trying to convince you or anyone else how to vote or, if you’ve already voted, that your vote was wrong. If you voted for Biden/Harris, good for you. Believe me, I get the “lesser argument”. It’s almost persuasive to me. Almost.

But here’s where I think I differ from a lot of the people who have decided to hold their noses and vote Democrat: I really believe that we are at the beginning of the end of the world. And by “the end of the world”, I mean the end of America, then end of industrial-capitalist civilization, the end of human “progress”, and possibly the end of the Earth’s capacity to support human life.

Continue reading “Voting Like It’s the End of the World: 5 Reasons I’m Not Voting for Biden (or Trump)”

How Everything Can Collapse Book Discussion Tomorrow @ 7:30pm(ET)/6:30pm(CT)

I hope you will join us (even if you haven’t read the books) tomorrow (Tues Oct. 6) at 7:30pm(ET)/6:30pm(CT) for an engaging conversation about collapse. Erik Assadourian’s Gaian book club will discuss two books that grapple with collapse, both the possibility of collapse and living through it as well as we can. One of the books is my own Another End of the World is Possible and the other is How Everything Can Collapse: A Manual for Our Times by Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens. Michael Dowd and I will be co-facilitating the discussion. We’ll meet on Zoom:

“Why activism isn’t really the cure for eco-anxiety” by Britt Wray

Note: This is an excerpt. To read the full article, click here.

As eco-anxiety and eco-grief have taken hold of society in new ways over the last few years, the tendency to prescribe action as a tool to beat the feelings back has grown. But climate-aware psychotherapist Caroline Hickman argues there’s a danger lurking in that sentiment. It’s a shortcut–a too-quick move from pain to action—and it threatens to leave people far less resilient and capable of facing the ecological crisis than they ought to be. …

Continue reading ““Why activism isn’t really the cure for eco-anxiety” by Britt Wray”

An Open Letter to My Activist Friends

Dear friends and fellow activists,

I am relatively new to activism, but over the last few years I have been pretty actively engaged in a variety of causes, from the environment to anti-racism to gun control.  In addition to writing, Most of my activism has consisted of planning and participating in protests and other forms of expressive activism.

When I first started participating in protests, it was exhilarating.  It felt empowering.  I experienced for the first time in my life the power of masses of people gathered for a cause.  It’s not an exaggeration to say it restored my faith in democracy.  It offered me an avenue for action outside of the more traditional modes of political participation (like voting), with which I had become disenchanted.

I never expected marching, by itself, to effect revolutionary change.  Rather, I saw mass events as opportunities to raise energy and build solidarity, especially among those who participate, but also among those who witness from afar.  When people would ask me if I thought events like the Women’s March and the People’s Climate March “accomplished anything”, I would respond that what those events do is to help people realize that they are not alone, that together they have power when they act collectively, and to motivate them to organize when they go back home.

I still believe all that.

However, over time, I have come to see another perspective as well.  There’s three problems that I now see with much of the protesting which we progressives do.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to My Activist Friends”

Animism for the Religious Naturalist

I am an atheist and a religious naturalist, which means that I don’t look for supernatural explanations of natural events. But I use other words to describe my spirituality: “pagan” or “animist.” While there are pagans who believe in the supernatural, there are others like me who try to bring together an atheist rationality with a pagan sensitivity.

Continue reading “Animism for the Religious Naturalist”

“Preparing for the end of the world as we know it” by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective

This is an excerpt. You can read the complete article here.

Maria Jara has taught us that, in the lived practice of sumac kawsay, “dying well” is just as important as “living well,” as they are in fact part of the same cycle. Yet, this is never translated into texts promoting “buen vivir” to Western audiences because in Western societies, death and dying are generally understood as events to be avoided and feared.

Continue reading ““Preparing for the end of the world as we know it” by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective”

A Truly Green New Deal by William Rees

This is an excerpt of an essay published at the Post-Carbon Institute last year, “Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist.” You can read the complete essay here.

A rational world with a good grasp of reality would have begun articulating a long-term wind-down strategy 20 or 30 years ago. The needed global emergency plan would certainly have included most of the 11 realistic responses to the climate crisis listed below — which, even if implemented today would at least slow the coming unravelling. And no, the currently proposed Green New Deal won’t do it.

Continue reading “A Truly Green New Deal by William Rees”