‘Blowing away the smoke, but never putting out the fire’-an interview of One Tiny Drop with David Baum


Barny: Got it.

David: Hello everyone and welcome to collapse club, how are we to live in the time of collapse with me. Today is Barny Wong, my colleague from the Deep Adaptation forum in the old days. Hello, Barny.

Barny: Hi. How you doing, David?

David: Good, thank you. How are you?

Barny: Good

David: Where are you in the world?

Barny: I’m in Portland, Oregon, not Portland, Maine.

David: Just down the coast from me in Seattle.

Barny: Yeah yeah yeah that’s right

David: Well we’re here to talk we are here to talk philosophy and I think you have a very deep philosophy. Before we get into the depths of it though, let me ask you this simpler question: Why is it important to examine the human psyche in the context of collapse?

Barny: That’s an interesting question, David, why should we look at the human psyche and how is it connected to planetary collapse or the climate collapse. So much of my work looks at cause and effect. It looks at what is the most elegant place that contains both the original problem and also the most elegant solution. And if we did not have consciousness-if we were not aware of our surroundings, our behavior and of our interactions with our surroundings will be greatly… uh will be radically different. So that itself you know it’s an indication is that our ability to perceive, or inability to perceive reality, determined so much of uh what’s our inspiration and motivation in having this relationship with our reality.

David: Do you think there’s a problem with how we perceive reality? Is that right?

Barny: Yeah yeah. It’s a problem you know. You know in a nutshell…I just finished writing a trilogy on my working theory and the…what I’m proposing is that the coordinates for climate collapse have been…have already been written in stone by our inability to read reality.

David: So you….I’m sorry…so you think our…our destiny is fixed?

Barny: I’ll say our dest…the gun was loaded.

David: Okay?

Barny: I would say the gun was loaded. And we’re simply pulling the trigger…capitalism has abetted a lot of our pulling the trigger. Our response, or inability to respond to threats, also is allowing us to double down on pulling the trigger as a way of grounding ourselves in in midst of threats.

David: Do you think there’s a way that we could prevent ourselves from pulling the trigger, assuming that’s even a desirable outcome?

Barny: You know that is really both a conundrum and a gold mine at the same time, that question you know. How do we get ourselves out of this? It’s almost like you’re in a ditch. And to get out of a ditch you have to climb let’s say 20 feet. And it’s… and it’s raining. So can you imagine you have the desperation to… to want to get out before you drown? But at the same time you have to overcome a very high height, 20 feet. Capitalism is basically pointing out it’s… it’s giving us the mistaken belief that there is no rain, there is no harm that’s coming in from our actions. And at 20 feet, you’re basically… you’re not in a ditch. You’re actually on a mound and everything is always downhill. And the structures of capitalism organizes the collection of, um you know, energy, calories, and self-esteem enhancements such as watches, nice clothes, etc., in a way that all you have to do is just, you know, pull out your credit card. But you know it kind of disassociates you from the complexity of extractive production. So you don’t see not only the harm but also the involved process of extracting these um resources from the planet in a one-way..in a one-way fashion where you don’t get any recovery behind it, you don’t get any sustainability behind it.

David: So it sounds like you’re saying that we live in a regime that makes it seem like everything is easy but really we have a difficult task analogous to climbing the 20-foot ditch just to get out of the danger that we’re in?

Barny: Yeah. And that 20-foot ditch is not really a 20-foot ditch per se in going against the structures of capitalism. Because the structures of capitalism is going to be there as long as you participate and you wanting to see it as the uh monopoly as to how to show up in this world.

David: So it’s not just…I’m sorry…it’s not just capitalism as a form of economic arrangement. It’s an entire world view.

Barny: Yeah, it’s world view. It’s also looking at our cultural and social systems and how they um uh act as veils so that we do not see harm. So for instance, you know Thanksgiving (and) you know there’s always the turkey. You know we don’t question this monolithic association between Thanksgiving and eating meat. And um since everybody, or a large number of people, are doing it, you know, it invisibilizes um the harm behind it. And this is one of the things that, you know, we read off social cues (as to determine) uh what is morally fit and morally unfit. So again, it always goes back into consciousness, whether it’s the collective consciousness or the individual consciousness. And what I…um, my approach to consciousness is not necessarily (to) get into the origins of consciousness because there’s a infinite variety of consciousness combinations out there. It’s understanding under what conditions certain behaviors show up that’s life-negating, harmful to ourselves; and what certain conditions show up where it’s life-affirming, where it takes us back into, you know, what I call the wheel of vitality that the world is always striving um in terms of making itself sustainable.

David: So what is the route toward that sustainable positive… uh life-affirming uh life..what should we…what should we be looking for to get there?

Barny: Yeah, this is interesting. Um, I think with climate change…um, it’s a hard sell. And it’s a hard sell because um we are trapped in a system where um the alternatives will require… it’s more expensive neurologically, uh cognitively. We’ll have to show up against the grain. That’s what it comes down to. And unless there’s enough people that are turning against the grain, uh we would stand out and we’ll be singled out. And um it will be problematic in terms of, uh as a…in terms of social needs. We would, you know, we’ll be the Uncle Joe in the family that’s the odd duck. That’s what it comes down to. Yeah um so

David: I’m sorry…

Barny: Go ahead, go ahead, David.

David: We can do that though. It’s, it’s okay to be the Uncle Joe in the family, sort of the weird uncle. I’m the weird uncle in my family. Yeah yeah, isn’t it required, isn’t it required at this point in time at this point in history to to step out like that absolutely?

Barny: Absolutely. Um, you know all the signs-you know you being in Seattle-you know we had the two more than 110 degree heat domes, you know, which never happened in the history..that recorded history I think for the last 150 years in the Pacific Northwest. So–um, so, one of the things I try to approach climate change is with a sense of compassion. And this is not the compassion where you know we put balm on our wounds and then we give each other a hug. It’s really understanding how we have needs and we have prescriptions in satisfying the needs. But too often we feel that we only got one (edit:card in the deck) to get that needs met. And capitalism basically has given us that one card to play and limited us to think that we only got one card. But then, you know going back to your question how do we get out of this., Um, just looking at what does it take, what does this card need to…um as a supporting act, to make it work. And that one card needs for us to manipulate our salience, which is demoting prominence in harm, demoting prominence in seeing our acts are going nowhere but dead ends, and faking ourselves to believe that card has more mileage behind it. It’s tremendous amount of energy to go against yourself to continue playing that one card.

David: What is that one card…I’m sorry

Barny: Yeah that one card is just continuing with status quo. Yeah. So, as the disturbances to our climate, the disturbances to our global food security, disturbances to um what’s left in terms of arability of land that’s causing ecological migration of people: those disturbances are starting to pierce through the buffers and the filters that have been set up so that we can live in this belief that one card is going to work.

David: So we’re forced to look for alternatives then?

Barny: Well, we either look at the early signs and while there’s a chance to make/ take meaningful action. Or we let it play out. And if we let it play out it’s disastrous. So, you know, um I think in the introduction you brought up work from my website, One Tiny Drop, that we are embodied wisdom waiting to express itself. So we actually have the ability to reckon with negative information that we are trying to push out, and we are trying to maintain a curated space to continue playing that card, that one card. Well, nothing can be great if you have to rely on pushing out information to continue with that agenda. It’s like having a relationship with a pathological liar: it cannot be real, it cannot be authentic. Yeah, in some ways it’s about going back to becoming authentic. Because when we are authentic in that authentic space we are that embodied wisdom where we can take in and we can reckon with the information of there’s usually of harm that we’re causing from playing that one card.

David: So the society that we…sorry um…the society that we live in uh perpetuates an illusion…I’m gonna turn on do not disturb which I should have done before…the society we live in perpetuates the illusion that business as usual is sustainable and it’s the only thing we can do. And that the results really won’t be that bad, that the harm is not that severe. So we are adrift in this illusory milieu that tries to convince us that we should do nothing different. But what you’re saying is that we need to exert ourselves to recover our authentic wisdom and you you have done some work about ways to do that, I think. Can you talk about the methods you use to recover authentic wisdom>

Barny: I, I, I just, i just want to touch back a little bit on your recapitulating what we have covered so far. The relationship between capitalism and our need to ground ourselves is very messy. In, in many ways um it’s almost a um a reluctant relationship. Yeah, so capitalism offers this very funnelized way of showing up in this world where, you know, um calories, energy,and self-esteem enhancements are made available to us. But rather than focusing on capitalism, you know, we’ve got to focus on our needs, our consciousness. And one of the meta needs, which is a need that is transcendent of prescriptions, is a sense of grounding. And that sense of grounding is to, you know,..it goes to an original working theory that I have. It has to do with existential panic, what happens when you become conscious of yourself for the first time. And that we discover that there is a experiencer there that’s different from the experience. But at that moment there is a sense of engulfment if you do not have…you do not uncover who is this experiencer that you have never known before. So, in…in that process we form a prism. And that prism is the mothership that creates other forms of prisms, other forms of interpreting the world through that mothership of prism. And that prism was based on… (it) never had a chance to evolve so as to reflect the true nature of reality. Rather, it was done in haste so that we can have a sense of orientation towards chaos. Yeah, so scarcity sets us up right there. So, I want to just go back that…um my focus is not so much to address capitalistic mechanisms and means. It’s just that how has capitalism…how has there been this marriage between capitalism and this consciousness that was set off by this original mothership. And it’s that first moment of consciousness. So, go ahead David.

David: It sounds it…it…it has resemblance to psychedelic experience. That’s… that’s where I come at it from the…the the moment of realization and the confrontation with the self, almost or the the consciousness of the self that is somehow in a new relationship to everything else beyond the self. Which which has those reverberations out into the uh the multiple dimensions of experience. I don’t…I don’t think that’s exactly what you’re talking about. But that’s what it sort of uh that’s the bell that it brings in me.

Barny: So, yeah. Going back to uh what are you talking about is in psychedelic(s), my understanding is that there’s a breaking of framing. We always come to this world with a sense of framing. And, again, it came from that mothership, you know, that mothership prism I was talking about. And that mothership, I call it this psychic scaffolding, and we’re literally holding on with our knuckles. But those pieces that we’re holding on they never get a chance to be released back into our consciousness so that it has the ability to match what is going on with reality. Its just frozen in time based on that first moment of consciousness. And that is my original working theory. So with psychedelics one of the things is that it breaks frame. It reframes um the…the status quo, reframes the sense of being, how we show up. And it kind of um loosens our grip a little bit. And hopefully it gives it some room, some oxygen, for it to transcend. You know, there’s a saying that I often use: Never confuse your pharmacist for your doctor. So, oftentimes, you know, we find that we hold on to prescriptions. And we use certain prescriptions to navigate the world. But there is no transcendent quality in that, in prescriptions. Rather we got to go back to the original diagnosis. And the diagnosis…there is a meta diagnosis that that we want to actualize more vitality in us, more vitality in the way that we’ve we’re experiencing a sense of transcendence beyond prescription.

David: Well I like the sound of that yeah transcendence beyond prescription.

Barny: Yeah because it is very confining to live in form. When you work…when you have this prescription every Friday (where) you go to Applebee’s and you order your steak and potatoes at seven o’clock. It’s very confining, you know. So, you know, there there is a meta need where we hitch on to this open source of vitality or we constrict ourselves into very narrow prescriptive but safe places. And what capitalism has allowed us to do is to play out the latter. But this is the problem. You know, another thing with consciousness is very interesting. When there’s more disturbances to our consciousness…you know I was mentioning, you know, with uh the politics…with the diabolical polarity in our conversation, people actually get driven down into the latter. Because when they’re faced with the unknown the first thing they reach is the known. So, the…the conundrum that going back to my original uh discussion was… the conundrum is this: the more disturbances we have to our conscious state, our stasis, our stable points, the more we are driven into unproductive places. We have become less creative with the way we approach climate change and climate collapse.

David: Are you talking about freedom? The the freedom to act from a place of authentic uh vitality? Is that part of it?

Barny: Uh, we experience scarcity. We experience scarcity. We experience…um um we… we feel the axis, the grounding, it’s unstable. And what that does is that we reach for known things that have given us more grounding. So, we will blindly chase that you know. So, we’ll might- instead of every Friday go to Applebee’s- we might go on Thursday and Saturday.

David: Okay. And that’s a change anyway, yeah?

Barny: Yeah. And we will insist on the same waiter or waitress, you know.

David: All right…

Barny: So…so that’s the funny thing about us is that um the window of opportunity for us to have an um open sense of how we can navigate the uh choppy waters: that constricts. And then we end up just trying to bully our way through reality as it constricts. So, we don’t have any creativity and understanding what is the problem. Usually, we don’t want to know the problem. We want to reach for slogans…oh um Biden is the problem: okay, I know enough, you know. Or Trump is the problem: Okay, I know enough, you know. So, we flatten complexity. But if you look at reality, it is complexity itself asking us to accept the emergence of complexity. And that we are part of that emerging quality. We are a nested system wanting to stabilize-or wanting to balance ourselves-within this larger system. Rather we were in that in an unconscious way, and at the first moment of consciousness we stepped out. And then we are now trying to peer into that system as if we are aliens to that system. And that’s why consciousness is very important because it is about this tremendous violence of having being stepped out from that conscious experience, this unity of oneness.

David: Sounds like it is a description of trauma.

Barny: Yeah, it’s… it is, uh in some sense, but it’s in a pre-concept, pre-language place. So, we can’t really pin it for ourselves. So, it’s operating in this ambient way, in this ambient…uh drip kind of way in our way of being. So that… or the original violence is being carried through in today’s… um the way we operate ourselves today through confusion. And this is borrowing from the Tibetan Buddhist psychology: we experience this separation, there’s tremendous violence, and we use confusion as a way to maintain that separation. And that confusion manifests in passion, in aggression, and in active ignorance which is not wanting to see. And if you look at all the politics of the last election…the politics of the previous election…they fall under those three categories. Passion, aggression-attacking the other, Passion- putting a stake in your ground, you know, as if it that is the place…this is how you grid yourself and ground yourself. And then active ignorance-not wanting to see…not wanting to see the weakness of your position.

David: Yeah, well, this obviously we’re just scratching the surface of some very uh interesting ideas. In the last few minutes that we have let me ask um a sort of more practical question. It sounds like we are enmeshed in a system that is alienating us from our authentic nature, our authentic consciousness, our vitality. There are numerous dynamics which you have started to outline here that keep us in that state of confusion and alienation. What should people do as a first step toward liberating themselves from that framework to reclaim their authentic consciousness, freedom, capacity to act? What should people do what? What invitation would you offer to people?

Barny: Um, I use the word vomit

And when I mean by vomit is um you gotta…that thing that is stuck in here. We all got feelings that we don’t want to talk about. The first thing you do is you vomit into your mouth to taste it. You want to feel it. It may be painful. It may be the very last thing you want to do. But the first thing is to connect with it. And then when you connect with it, um, don’t be afraid of sharing: ‘I feel these are the things that are keeping me up at night’, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen to my children’, ‘I don’t know whether I’m gonna be there’, ‘I’m afraid that I’m gonna feel this huge guilt that they’re inheriting a broken planet…a more broken planet than I did’. And it’s about connecting with those things. Because by connecting with those things we can eat away, or actually carve an opening, a hedge row opening, in this labyrinth that we put ourselves in. And all we’ve been doing is walking inside that labyrinth as a protective mechanism. Yeah, so it sounds painful but it is connecting to the life-confirming and life-affirming pathway. And nothing about life is meant to be all candy and uh silk and sugar and sweet things all the way. It’s about connecting with the complete flux that it’s taken us through and how we have removed ourselves from this fluxing as well.

David: Wow.

Barny: So connect connect connect. Enrichen yourself by understanding the vocabulary of your suffering.

David: Wow! Well, that is a very rich and powerful metaphor for the times that we’re in. Uh, I think your perception is deep and your elaboration of it is evocative. There’s…there…there are many important symbols in what you say and I look forward to discussing it more with you in the future.

Barny: Thank you, David. I appreciate you uh hosting this and keep up with your good work.

David: Well thank you. Barny Wong from Portland. Thank you everyone who joined us and uh this is collapse club until we meet again farewell

Barny: Bye everybody

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