Issue #12, February 1996

Part 1 (of 3);

Have a heart . . . Mine!

You may not actually get this by Valentines Day, but it is February 10th as I begin it, at 7:45 in the morning . . . and I have just seen the rising sun's first appearance for the year in my window! I'd have caught it yesterday, but there were clouds on the horizon, and the angle of rising takes it out of my view within five minutes, at this early stage. But it was right on schedule, even to the minute, for I noted it last year. My personal solstice...almost seven weeks after the real one.

For many of you, this issue follows right on the heels of an earlier one. For others, it will be the first you've seen in many months. This is the third issue that goes out to everyone on my mailing list, and it's so close to the one before because I had to try and catch the Valentines date: the first anniversary of this noble taskmaster. How I managed twelve issues in a year's time &emdash; in such a packed year &emdash; is much beyond me. Not quite a monthly, but I never intended that in the first place. I thought I'd do well to get half that number up and out.

But it was some year! As I'm sure all of you will agree. When Ripening Seasons began, I had absolutely no notion that my world would go international (intercyber!) within weeks, and swamp me with more resources and instant connections than I could possibly keep up with. Getting a new computer was one of those "I should live so long" possibilities &emdash; though I did anticipate the modest acquisition of a modem. But the old sweetheart Mac I was using never have given me Netscape, which brings the Web fully to life. And needless to say, the concept of a Home page, a Web site, was like something from Jupiter.

It only goes to show you how much mystery resides in just the span of a year. The future, at any time of your life, can be a magical place! If you are open...which is to say, not entirely committed to being who you are today. Being "who you are today," in some steadfast fashion, might seem to hold a security advantage, but the pure fact is that it slowly becomes rancid. Bet you never thought of it that way, did you? But we are, after all, organic creatures.

Anyway, it is the anniversary point of a startling year, for me, and a two-fold occasion of glory &emdash; for I have, now, the pleasure of inviting one and all to my Web site! It is UP and OPEN. All you need is the address, which is in the box on the back yellow page of this and every future issue of Ripening Seasons. Well, excuse also need a computer and modem. This is the place, I think &emdash; the very moment, in a broad sense &emdash; when David Spangler's prophetic words of two decades ago become reality.

In his book, Revelation: the Birth of a New Age, published in 1976, he wrote: "New energies, new life, new civilization, two worlds, old and new, separating until they 'perceive each other no more'..." (italics are his). I never envisioned it in this particular way, but there is an obvious level of separation going on in our world now: the modem-haves and the modem-havenots. The visionaries who can see what is taking place in this millennial blossoming, and the conservative multitude (like me of a year ago?) whose vision remains trapped in what they know how to cope with.

I don't mean to sound judgemental, here, for we are each entitled to our own reality &emdash; but it is hard to escape the fact that my world of richest involvement is shifting, at this point, and is never likely to be the same as it was. I'll continue to put out Ripening Seasons in its present format &emdash; which I happen to be quite fond of &emdash; but it's also going out there in cyberspace, together with its older siblings... and such a vast array of 'cousins,' so to speak, that anyone who touches base with me at my Web site will shortly have 25 years of my developmental writing at their personal disposal. That is no poor resource, for anyone intrigued by my path! And no shallow method of connecting with such an audience.

So for me, the millennium is here and now: the corner has been turned. I no longer live in a contained apartment among a host of 'old folks' to whom I can't relate, but out there in a virtual world called cyberspace, where the flow has become &emdash; this very month &emdash; a two-way interchange. The door is now open for free passage in both directions.

Shifting, now, to a slightly different but somewhat related subject, it is time to sum the year's passage in more down-to-earth terms: the cost-benefit report of a year's worth of Ripening Seasons.

Up to this issue, there have been eleven of them, totaling 54 pages of text, and put out at a cost precisely assessed at $6.72 for the full year's worth. Or it averages 61 cents per issue. I provide this calculation &emdash; based entirely on out-of-pocket costs, with no other 'overhead' or any profit figured in &emdash; strictly for your information, for there is no price put on Ripening Seasons. Well, none of a monetary and chargeable nature, but there are certain ramifications that I want you to be aware of.

The first one is that I hope to have the entire cost of it covered by donation. Now, let me emphasize, here, that even the donation basis is not a requirement for receiving Ripening Seasons, but merely the means by which costs are met. As it happens, I've received $426.36 in donations, up to now, which averages to $38.76 per issue, which is enough to cover the cost of 63 copies of each issue. That's including postage, so it applies only to those that go out in the mail, which presently runs at some average close to 65 or 70 copies. So you can see that I'm not quite 'making it' &emdash; even without taking into account the 10 to 20 copies outside of those mailed. But it is, after all, my own correspondence, so it doesn't particularly bother me, as long as I stay within sighting distance of the beginning of black ink.

The only potential problem is that the donations that assure the continuance of this effort have been provided by only thirty, or no more than half of those who receive any given issue, and barely the ratio that I think can support the present level. Not a plea, but it could affect the number of freebies I'm able to send out on a regular basis. That, of course, is my problem (freebies), not yours...but just so you know.

The second ramification is that something in the way of an expressed desire to receive Ripening Seasons is necessary for being a regular recipient. That would seem obvious and reasonable, but it has to be stated to avoid the embarrassment between friends when I suddenly stop sending someone's Ripening Seasons, seemingly without reason, after having once initiated their delivery on some spur of the moment impulse to share. I can just as easily have a spur of the moment impulse to desist! (with no ill feelings implied). I do not, after all, want to find myself in the strange situation of sending an appeal for anyone's continued expression of interest, when they never sent it in the first place.

The third ramification is somewhat similar: I need to have feedback or response. It doesn't have to be frequent &emdash; once or twice a year is good enough. But I need to know that Ripening Seasons, when sent gratis, is part of a dialogue, and not just me laying out my headtrips. It was started as a medium for responding to correspondence, and it remains essentially that. If co-responding occasionally just isn't your thing, you can always (now) get online and read Ripening Seasons without it, to your heart's content.

This issue #12 is going out to everyone I know, both as an announcement of my new Web site, and as a reconnecting reminder that Ripening Seasons IS, that it's thriving (in a sense), and that it's available. You can know your status on my mailing list by looking at the address label. If there is no capital letter (or no coding at all) in the lower right corner, it means this is a one-time copy, and if you want to keep receiving it I need to hear it from you. If there is a capital letter, here's what it stands for:

D means you've donated sometime within the past year. Most donations were made before midyear, and I ask now that you consider donating again &emdash; with the proviso that it is entirely optional (but much appreciated).

E represents an existing publication exchange between us. There aren't very many of these, and they require a true exchange to remain in effect &emdash; which I mention because a couple of them are on rather tenuous ground right now, if they are to be sustained on this basis.

F stands for freebies &emdash; these are the 'spur of the moment' recipients who need to pay particular attention to my second and third ramifications, above.

H is the special category of host &emdash; during my recent travels through Oregon and California. With this issue, please note that I am retiring the host category. Those of you on it must become either D's or F's if you wish to continue receiving Ripening Seasons on a regular basis.

I need to stress the fact that these letter-keys are for receipt on a regular basis. For I still follow the original correspondence premise that I began with: but for occasional exception, I respond to all personal letters with a current or past issue of Ripening Seasons.

If all of this seems a strange way to run a business, just remember that it's not a business. You think I want to get entangled in tax forms and license rigmarole?

Part 2 (of 3):

Deconstructing Morality

One of the more marvelous things that can be said for aging is that it's a wonderfully liberating experience. My most usual awareness of it is a kind of grand and glorious sensation that arrives with almost every morning, when energy is fresh and the mind is open. Double that: OPEN: Not constrained by fences or obligation or some damning commitment to "who I am supposed to be," made years ago to spouse, society, or even to myself! I'm not talking, here, of relationship vows, you understand, but to the subtext that often grows from them, and from whatever engagement we have with life. A subtext ribbed and cross-ribbed with beliefs, values and convictions that solidify over the years into a virtual prison.

When we think of prisons and prisoners, there is only the concept of physical incarceration, maybe sometimes extended to such as the imprisonment of poverty or physical handicap. But it would not be amiss to say that we spend most of our lives in the chains and toil of particular belief systems - anything from our religious foundations and national pride, down to the certitudes of what "really happened" in history. Growing old is - or it can be - the growing awareness of contradictions in every such structure, and the consequent release from their necessity.

I was really conscious of this, just the other day, in a class discussion at the U. It's not a philosophy class, although one might think so from the drift of this one. Starting from somewhere in the realm of personal identity and how it is expressed in the online encounter, we found ourselves drawn into tangents of post-modern deconstructionist theory - or in more down-to-earth terms, the recent taking-down of structural certitudes in virtually every field of inquiry. Not sufficiently down-to-earth for you? Okay, the shattering of everything we think we "know," or have always taken for granted.

I am comfortable with this, as should be gathered from my opening paragraphs. And I would expect to find it comfortable territory in an exploratory graduate seminar, whatever the subject. Maybe it should be sufficient that it was open for discussion - but I found myself the strongest protagonist for the concepts I've been expressing, facing not only fellow-student resistance, but that of the fairly young prof, himself.

The point he stood on - admittedly a difficult one to challenge - was that if you remove all the certitudes, you eventually come to a place of complete moral relativism, where there is no shared ground of ethical conviction. In other words, how could one ever argue the sanctity of the environment (or anything at all) after having disposed of all and any standards?

He would have been pleased to hear from me, I'm sure, that I arrived at such a precipice, and had to back off from it, in the course of my own soul search more than twenty years ago. It is not so simply told, though, for it wasn't the end of my realizations. But let me paint the landscape, so you'll understand how I arrived there, and where I went from there.

This was back in the early `70s, when I was fresh into exploring eastern ways of looking at life. I had only recently discovered the concept that our pain and struggle derives not from what we can't have, but from the very desire to have it. It made sense, but it challenged me to the very core, for my life had always revolved around goals and ambition - as did everyone else's. What's more, the very notion - coming from the east as it did - would seem to account for the placid, passive way of being that I had always associated with orientals: they have no ambition, and therefore lead drab and passionless lives. (A racist oversimplification, of course, but that was my take on the Asian personality, for many years.)

So I struggled with the whole idea - realizing its truth, but not wanting the consequent loss of purpose in my life that must `naturally' follow. Michael Phillips recently wrote to me about his discovery that people constitute a "replicable dichotomy" around the issue of having more vs. less. A replicable dichotomy is a division which is so absolute that one can make successful predictions around it: the same group of people will always want more (than they've got), and just the reverse for those who prefer to live on the sparse side. Well, I was caught up in the replicable dichotomy, registering in terms of ambition: I could not see that life was worth living, without it.

In trying to deal with this collision of belief systems, I had to examine my convictions about the value of ambition. In effect, by today's terminology, I had to deconstruct this value by exploring its roots and consequences - looking at it simply as a cultural artifact. I remember my shock, one day, when telling a close friend about my great exploits in the world of programming - a friend to whom the entire realm of computers seemed rather pointless - and then hearing her complete dismissal of the whole thing with a peremptory "So what?"

It hit me like a rogue ocean wave from the backside. "So what!" I had never quite thought of my accomplishments in those terms. But so what, indeed! What on earth difference did it make? And likewise, my ambitions - who was I trying to please by what I struggled for in my world? And if it be me, what part of me was it? What about the rest of me?

Bit by bit, I took this thing called ambition apart, and saw it as a cornerstone in the world I had structured. It would be rash to say that this was the first wedge into a frozen set of value assumptions that had become my way-of-life burden over the years, but it was a biggie and took me a long way down the trail. For I could hardly stop with that one realization. Ultimately, I was questioning everything I had ever believed.

And then, one day, I realized that this business could be carried too far...that I could dissolve whatever ground my life stood on. In fact, the very realization made the substance of my firmament woozily uncertain, and I had to `stand off,' as it were, and look very closely at this. Where was it going to end? This is what Mac, my professor at the U, was talking about.

Around that same time, I was also engaged in useful philosophical dialogue with Chuck Garrigues, a wonderful soul who is no longer with us, and he told me about what he called one of the profound turning-points of his life - when his entire momentum had bogged down for a five-year wrestle with what might seem to most an almost trivial issue: whether a tree falling in a forest, with no one there to hear it, makes any sound at all. He said it had totally hung him up, for it raised questions that went to the very heart of reality itself. Finding no persuasive basis for one answer or the other, Chuck finally freed himself from the enigma by arbitrarily deciding that the falling tree did make a noise, whether anyone was there to hear it or not. And he got on with his life.

It seems something he might have done a lot sooner, but Big Life Issues do not that easily resolve. Despite their often superficial appearance, they represent large scale internal shake-ups underway, and require sometimes a re-examining of one's entire life.

I did a lot of reflection, myself, on Chuck's tale, for it had a bearing on my own inner search, and finally came to the conclusion that Chuck had made the wrong choice! He had opted for a conservative resolution, which perhaps stabilized his life but also drew a kind of 'line of farthest-out exploration.' He might have made an analysis that opened the gate he chose to leave shut:

  1. Sound is merely a wave-length function of energy, that the auditory mechanism translates for our perception.
  2. Similarly, our eyes translate other energy wave-lengths into a spectrum of color for our visual perception.
  3. Now imagine: what would ensue for someone in the forest if their eyes could handle the wavelengths that ordinarily get transposed into sound?

My guess is that it could be a rainbow display of brilliant color whenever a tree should fall. This radical tack, more than being just a clever argument, opens a whole new realm of the possible - for it grants the reality that energy is independent of the translating structure, which means its manifestational potential is not only unpredictable but unlimited!

This has taken us a bit afield from where our present discussion began, but I think I can frame its relevance. The interchange with Chuck demonstrated for me that what we now call deconstruction has two significant characteristics: 1) it opens gates for new (and virtually unlimited) possibilities by re-orienting our projective consciousness; and 2) it establishes the legitimacy of consciously re-directing our path, or reconstituting the ground from which we organize such re-direction.

Here's what happened with my east/west dilemma of twenty-odd years ago: By risking the dissolution of my reality groundwork, I discovered that it exists only in consonance with a belief system. There may be some "untouchable reality," but unless I choose to seriously test it I cannot be sure where its boundaries are. My only option is to approach every facet of it with doubt and skepticism, relying on my own experience to validate such borders as I bump up against; all else is justifiably suspect (as to its true level of reality).

What this has meant, in real-life terms, is a discovered ability to shift my 'operative reality' by pursuing a pattern of activity that ties into a slightly different range of beliefs or values. I can only be general about this, because any instance that challenged your own sense of reality would simply be dismissed out of hand; while if, on the other hand, you shared the perception, it would seem not strange at all. But I, myself, have observed my reality shift, and thus realize the potency of pure belief, and at least a hint of the extent to which it can be shaped to one's personal utility - the outer world's reality notwithstanding.

Similarly - and this is what I'd like to have said to my prof - it is quite possible to live in a strictly personal frame of moral certitude even after having reached the conclusion that it has no more substance than that which belief imparts - and it is also possible, in this context, to accept the legitimacy of a moral code that is antithetical to our own.

Thus, the possible dismissal of a uniform moral framework...the introduction of a `moral relativism' that could be liberating without threatening the community's residual shared values or its cohesion in the face of significant levels of moral difference. If this requires the supreme sacrifice of learning to live among certain attitudes alien to our own, it might yet be a more workable resolution than putting our energy into the endless agony of attempting to squelch them.

Strangely, it seems to be what this country was originally all about.

Part 3 of this issue was a paper put out by John Perry Barlow challenging the Telecom Reform Act of 1996. It seemed important at the time to pass this along to my readers. But for present purposes it does not sufficiently relate to matters on this site, and is, in any case, probably accessible elsewhere.

1. to the Ripening Seasons overview
2 to the
Main Staging area

3. Send response