Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tracking, The Controversies. Or so I've been told

I am hopelessly naive it seems and man, am I happy about that! In many things I have done in my life I never first consulted others, I never first researched what was contemporary, accepted or even expected. Mostly I figured it out for myself and only when I was confident I got stuff down or got stuck I would start to look around. If somebody else did it better I simply took it over. If somebody did certain aspects better I simply merged the best of both. There is never a "not invented here" issue and also prestige never played a dominant role. I simply like to come up with my own solutions before "adjusting" them to what is out there. This has been true in my computer science work and also in my studies and teachings of aboriginal living skills.

I may be naive but I am not stupid and over the years I have noticed that this method of mine almost never earned me any points in the social and work related arenas. It is baffling to me that science, for instance, is so incredibly stifled by it own dos, don'ts, tabus and dogma. This mechanism can be identified in everything. It is an important component in our societal glue it seems. It did, however, never occur to me that this would even be true for originally aboriginal skills such as tracking.

My interest in (and consequent obsession with) tracking started with it being one of the aboriginal living skills. As described above I found out how to do stuff on my own and later fine tuned it with the knowledge and experience of others. The funny thing was that mostly my own solutions were more like how aboriginal people would do as opposed to how survival experts would do. Later, this became a very important element of my courses.  I realized that aboriginal living skills were not simply text book skills but a very natural function of our connection with Nature. More importantly, our natural awareness and ability to track seems to be the common denominator of the human capacity to survive anywhere on Earth.

So, my own study of tracking was never inspired by an application in contemporary society such as tactical or SAR tracking but rather by it being a natural part of my interest in the living skills of the human animal. Later of course I became very much involved in the application of these skills in modern society and the goal of promoting and teaching the use of tracking in SAR and law enforcement was the main reason why I started The VaraVild Scout Project and later joined Professional Tracking Services Europe. Initially however tracking and awareness were to me the foundations of understanding the natural world. Nothing controversial about that one would think. Or?

When I seriously started to study tracking I had basically one and only one goal: Being able to know what happened. For me tracking was never just identifying a track to an individual animal and following those tracks until I found it. No, I wanted to know what happened on the way, what the animal was doing, what it encountered, what it was thinking and most importantly, if it was aware of me tracking it. Without this skill the aboriginal hunting methods made no sense to me. So I entered the world of tracking completely naively assuming that such information naturally is laid down in the animal's tracks. It didn't take me very long to discover a glimpse of this wonderful language. While lying on my belly in the sand studying my own tracks I soon saw that increasing speed, changing direction and all kinds of other things like looking in different directions etc. left recognizable sign in the tracks. As I am rather science oriented I soon started to see systematic change in these sign depending on changing energy and dynamics in the movements. For me this was all natural and part of my journey to understand and learn tracking.

I never had the need to communicate these things with others. They were a completely internal language and I never named these specific signs. I simply recognized and used them. It wasn't until I decided to start teaching these things that I needed to create a language. In the event I didn't need to create anything. I found a book that described all these things I discovered and much, much more.

The book was The Science and Art of Tracking by Tom Brown Jr. In this book the system of track dynamics was described in a level of detail I did not think was possible. My own internal system was very course and inaccurate in comparison but in essence it was the same system. I did not find this at all weird. I mean I was a very inexperienced amateur tracker and the fact that the book described a far more abundant model than I had formed was only natural. I simply thought: "Got a lot to learn". This was one of these cases where I took the better model.

The key insight for me in tracking is that a track is not just a print. A track is not simply the result of a deformation caused by a claw, paw, hoof or foot. The final shape of the tracks is also caused by the reverberation, the springing back of the soil when the pressure is released. That is why from the beginning I have always seen tracks as the Earth's reaction to the intention of the quarry. After reading the book they suddenly got a name: Pressure Releases. I liked the name and it described very well the physics at play. What I did not know at the time was that with starting to use that word and the names of the various pressure releases I did not only enable communication with students and other trackers but even opened a can of worms I never imagined existed.

As this book was so important for me by giving words to my experiences I was keen to find more books on tracking. To my big surprise I never found any other book that described the same system. In a few there is some talk about action indicators, twists and toe dig but on the whole pressure releases are not written about in the literature on tracking I could find at the time. I would have thought that at least something would be said about it in the SAS Guide to Tracking by Bob Carrs but no. It puzzled me. More disconcerting was that a friend warned me that this was a subject of considerable controversy in the world of tracking. I have by now heard many people state that they do not believe in pressure releases. What is there to be believed? Look down and see them happen. How can you not believe in them? So, here I found myself knowing a system that is of unbelievable significance in tracking, one I am totally convinced aboriginal peoples all over the world used in all of history in order to be able to hunt the way they did and for some reason this is something of a tabu?

Well, maybe I need to talk about the little catch in the pressure release system. The problem that in my opinion is the cause of this controversy. I do not mean the opinions people have about Tom Brown Jr, the person most associated with the system. I never cared about the private details of the author or the format of his books and other claims he made. As I have explained, I only take the good bits and merge them with my own stuff. No, the real problem is the system itself. The system builds on the fact that the signs in and around tracks systematically take various forms depending on movement of the whole paw, claw, foot etc. and also its constituent parts. The system is measured relative to the depth, length or width of the track. This makes the system scalable. The forms of the sign are not depending on the size of the animal or human who made them. They are consistent from elephant to ant. The system is defined in perfect soil (also called zero soil). This is a lightly moist extremely fine sand with defined buffering. It is the zero soil that kind of is the catch because there are almost no places on Earth where you can find zero soil. "How is that useful than?", you may ask. Well if you take another type of soil and humidity all the pressure releases will occur but they get translated up or down and adapt to the soil. Maybe there is no soil but leaves or moss or a paved road. It does not matter. The system is still there it can be observed and it retains its scalability but you need to know exactly how the zero soil system translates to the current soil type to interpret them correctly. So now we have a system that is dependent on almost an infinite number of variables. This is what causes the controversy. It is seen as impossible to apply in real life.

Isn't it then? No! In explaining why it is not impossible to use I will touch upon yet another aspect of tracking that creates a lot of controversy. The problem of translating the system is one I have to admit I missed completely in my own studies. That didn't mean I was unaware of it. It was simply so obvious to me that the PRs (pressure releases) would have to be transformed to any type of soil and weather that I did never consciously pondered over them. This may sound strange but for me tracking and most other aboriginal skills are done from the heart and by training and not so much the logical mind. I simply missed recognizing the enormous complexity of it because I was just doing it without thought. Much in the same way you would catch a ball if I would suddenly throw one to you. You can not fathom the complexity involved in estimating the ball's weight, velocity, air resistance etc. etc. and calculating its trajectory from a fraction of a second you see the ball move before you. The mind boggles. Some training is involved but you catch that ball largely by instinct, intuition and awareness. It is in our nature as predators, as the human animal. So is tracking. Now this is the other controversy: It seems things are only allowed to be text book skills. Anything to do with instinct or intuition is tabu.

Another reason for the controversy is comparable to the catching-a-ball-example. You never went to a week course on catching a ball. You learned it by necessity but over a very long period of time. Every day in your life until you die you will learn more and get better in catching the ball (disregarding the effects of old age for the sake of this argument). And so it is with tracking. Learning to read the PRs will take you a life time. You can only become good at it if you get obsessed. You need to unconsciously navigate the enormous complexity of all the parameters of soil and all that impacts it and getting good at it takes an enormous effort: years and years of training. This does not really fit with our modern society. We want to take a course and be experts when we are done. Well, that is not how it works. You will only get the theoretical knowledge on tracking that way. Could you catch the ball after you read a book on how to do it?

There is a strange anomaly though in the literature of tracking. They all do write about aging tracks. I am not going into aging but think about aging for a while. It requires you to read the effects of time, weather and wind, an infinitely complex set of variables on just as many soil types as there are soil types to read PRs in.  Logically if you do not believe in PRs you can absolutely not believe in aging tracks.

Just as an interesting note: certain PRs can take the form of other ones due to the effects of aging! Yeah, that is how totally awesome the human capability is because we can see it and use it as long as we stop thinking about it!

For me there exist no controversies in tracking. I do what I do because I love it and it works for me. I teach it to anybody who want to learn it cause I know it to be part of my type of tracking. Believe it or not, in the end its about succeeding in tracking. And if you have a cool method count on me learning it from you and making it my own. I do not really see why one would spend valuable time arguing about controversies in tracking? That time is much better spent in the dirt, learning and training tracking in your unique but inevitably purely human way.

Peter Friebel

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Everything Forever (A Tracker's Song)

Out there
Beyond my flesh
Out there
Beyond my cage
My rings expand
Out there
I interfere
Out there
I collapse
Out there
Becomes in here

In here
Is inside out
In here
I sense
In here
I merge with there
And become
The One that is all things
In The One
I am The Now

In The Now
I find the tracks
In The Now
I see all rings
In The Now
I do not reason
In The Now
I only sense
The One to be
All there was
All there will be
All in One
All that is


Peter Friebel

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Gray Goo Catastrophe Already Happened

The Gray Goo Catastrophe is a futuristic runaway scenario where, either by intention or by accident, molecular nanotechnology machines consume all the matter in the world turning it into a gray goo. This is not an article about molecular nanotechnology. I simply pose that, symbolically, we seem to be already there. This idea entered my mind when I was discussing the popularity of mindfulness last week. In fact that discussion was about how such a generic word and obscure eastern practice became commonly known and hyped. One thing in particular got me thinking. It was one single sentence:

"I have tired of mindfulness because I don't feel like carefully smelling a box of fish sticks in the super market before I buy them. It's silly!"

Apart from the literal meaning of this sentence there is a lot of other information here. Lets investigate that a bit. "I have tired of mindfulness" is a weird thing too say if you consider that it basically means "I rather want to go through life with numbed sensory perception and being oblivious of my presence in the now". I do understand why somebody says something like that because what is tiresome is having to actively do it. Mindfulness is an action. Apparently the person who said this has not understood that mindfulness is a training for becoming more aware. The person has not taken in that the aim is to change towards living more deliberately and keeps seeing it as a tiresome action that stands in the way of the normal behavior. "... because I don't feel like carefully smelling a box of fish sticks in the super market before I buy them." OK, it is just an example but it does contain a judgement of the value and quality of the food and the circumstances under which it is bought. It can be interpreted as: "I'm buying some processed food and I can't be bothered to think about it and I certainly don't want to be mindful about it". What it really meant is that, to the person, it seemed over the top to spend so much time on such a mundane activity and fish sticks. It conveys the feeling that it would be more fitting for buying lobsters at a local fish market. I have to say I agree! If the person was living more deliberately chances are that fish sticks were not on the menu. Finally: "It's silly!". This addition tells us that not only is mindfulness a time wasting and cumbersome intrusion in everyday humdrum life, it is also embarrassing. The only perception of the now this person accentuates is the self consciousness of being judged by others!

My first reaction to this was: "Wow, the teacher or mentor of this person has completely failed." But I had to check myself there as I have no experience at all of mindfulness teaching in this modern and hyped context. I simply do not know what, if anything, is taught.

We talked on a bit. We observed that contrary to Awareness, mindfulness is 'simple' in that it is an action instead of a state of being. So,  just as with going to the gym to become healthy, practicing mindfulness gives you the promise of life changing transformation without a clear idea of the effort, sacrifice and actual change required to reach that promise (which is in fact Awareness). It basically is seen as a stress reliever, a trendy after work activity and not so much as a tool on the path to become more deliberately alive. I am sure that is why it has become quite popular. If it was more truthfully marketed it would have probably been rejected by the masses.

This brings us to my opening statement. We are somewhat conscious of the fact that we have turned into compulsively consuming wage slaves. We all feel that life should have more to offer and we want to expand our horizons and discover our inner and spiritual selves. But only, it seems, if it does not take too much time and effort and does not in any way means having to change anything that deviates from the contemporary norm.

In the end we seem to prefer taking a few training sessions at the gym and a few yoga and mindfulness classes we can talk about at work instead of truly becoming aware. For crying out loud, you would stick out like a sore thumb if you did!

To me, not desiring to live deliberately, not wanting to feel the connection with The Earth, not wanting to be mindful of even the smallest miracles and not wanting to experience through constant questioning and awareness is being nothing more than gray goo!

Peter Friebel

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Dream Of Tomorrow

This is a picture of me demonstrating the use of a tracking stick. The tracking stick is a simple tool that helps the tracker to stay on the trail of a certain individual. I show you this picture as I woke up this morning with this image in my mind. The phrase that was connected with it was “Thought Tracking”. So I did. I found that there was no significant sign that could trace back to the origin or reason for that thought or image to be on my mind. I concluded it came from my subconscious. I probably dreamt about it last night.

This is often the case with solutions to problems, creative ideas etc. and I rarely ignore those kind of thoughts and perceptions. In this case, the image helped me to realize that “thought tracking” has become very natural to me but that it might be interesting to write about it for others who may never have contemplated it as it can be very useful and even life changing.

Thought tracking leads to and feeds of Awareness. Ironically I wrote about it in my last post without really registering it as a tool: “Awareness comes with questioning your beliefs and finding (tracking!) the source of the thoughts that created them.”. I should also have mentioned that it is, in fact, a great tool for increasing/training your Awareness. I did not do that as I wrote about it more in the sense of a state of being. The thought I woke up with this morning is that you can actually become more aware by consciously tracking the source of thoughts. Over time and with increasing Awareness the process will become more and more natural, subconscious and automatic. My intention with this post is not so much to promote thought tracking as a tool for Awareness but as a verification tool before action. Admittedly these subjects are very much related.

We all know the concept of mind mapping. This technique is often used to drive a concept or idea forward. Mind maps are also very useful to back track the ideas and thoughts that gave rise to some final conclusion. Basically its a nice way to make notes. Typically a mind map will give you an insight in the logical and relational context and dependencies of an idea. The map will give you a verification of the soundness of an idea that supports your actions on it.

At first glance you may think that “thought tracking” and mind mapping are basically the same thing. For me they certainly are not. In mind mapping we record our thoughts in a forward direction. We map the thoughts, events and concepts and connect them certainly backward and forward but the whole idea of making the mind map is moving towards some realization, resolution and/or action. In thought tracking we work the other way around. We know the action we are about to take but now we are going to back track the thoughts leading up to that point. More importantly, we are going to track the sources of those thoughts. To demonstrate I will give a short example.

Say, you are working in a team to solve a problem for a customer. You come up with an idea that solves the problem for the customer and costs the company little money. The idea is carefully scrutinized and all agree. Even at a later date your mind map clearly supports the action. The mind map, however, will not tell you the whole story, not your personal story. Because when you track the sources of the thoughts you may find that initially your motivations for the idea you came up with are connected with irritation over a colleague who maybe caused the problem or usually comes up with the solutions to such problems. You may find that the source for you thoughts are connected with ego gratification. That does not mean the idea is invalid or bad but it may include some side effects that are negative for the colleague in question. Do you score points over him/her? Will it change the perception people have of you and your work at the colleague's expense? If so, can you still claim your actions are purely for the best of the customer and the company?

It is a fact of life that we all tend to do this and that we probably never can completely eradicate these things. Ego and pride are not bad things. They are part of our being (even survival) and are important motivators. We just need to make sure we do not mix positive ego with self serving, destructive and revengeful behavior. Don't help to get a pat on the back from others. Help to help. Feeling good about yourself afterwards because you helped is positive ego.

Going back to the example, thought tracking would most certainly alert you to these less positive sources of your idea. These things you will not find in your mind map! It would give you the opportunity to revise your idea in such a way that it eliminates the negative fall-out. The result would be an even better solution that would earn you genuine respect from your colleagues. Even the one you had a problem with. You would have opened up for positive changes in your relationship with him or her instead of creating even more resentment.

Thought tracking requires complete honesty with your self. The truth will not always be what you want to know but it gives you the opportunity to perceive without judging and use your heart to question your beliefs and create new ones. At first it will be a very conscious action that you may even find a bit annoying or intimidating (your ego will fight you all the way!) but eventually you will find a calm and harmony from which your true self emerges. You will have deepened your Awareness considerably. Your positive ego will thrive just because you feel good about yourself. You will not need it affirmed by others. But, more than ever, they will!

Certainly in the beginning when thought tracking is still a conscious action for you it can be hard to take the time to do that when you want to blurt out something impulsively. Typical examples of such situations are in meetings and on social media. It is in such situations your impulsiveness can have the most harmful effects. Here is a very well known mnemonic that can serve you well in such situations. It does not go as deep as thought tracking and it should not be used as a substitute. It should be used as a quick filter, a shortcut, that if it doesn't help at least it certainly doesn't harm.

Before you speak or act THINK!

T = is it True?
H = is it Helpful?
I = is it Inspiring?
N = is it Necessary?
K = is it Kind?

I hope, tonight, I will dream of a world where we all track our thoughts and THINK before we speak and act.

Peter Friebel

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Answer That Can Only Be A Question

Q: “How do I become a tracker?”
A: “By deepening your Awareness”
Q: “How do I do that?”
A: “Tracking is a good way to do that”
Q: “Hmmm. What exactly is Awareness?”
A: “Yes”

Language is a beautiful thing. It enables us to communicate thoughts, emotions, facts etc. We can use language both ambiguously or not. Lyrical or factual. We can take words literally or read between the lines. But sometimes we falter. Sometimes we get questions we simply can not word the answers for and it sucks. Especially if the question is by a student for the teacher.

I get that a lot. The above Q&A is a common one for me as I teach tracking and Awareness. One could raise serious doubts about a teacher that claims to teach a subject he has a hard time defining. In general I think that holds true but in this particular case it is just the nature of what is asked. Every time I get this question I have to think (and laugh) about the 'The Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything' from The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The answer to that question, it turned out, was forty-two. The problem was that although the question had a simple no nonsense answer, it became obvious that we did not know what the answer meant because we do not know what the question means.

Taking away the context awareness simply means knowledge or perception of a situation or fact. That is why I always capitalize the word when I use it in the context of our natural Awareness. This natural Awareness is a vitally important concept in the philosophy of my classes but, as noted before, pretty hard to describe in words. So how can I teach something that is so hard to describe?

Those of you that have taken a class with me will know that I do not actually have to teach Awareness. We all have Natural Awareness but we do not all use it to the same extend. What I do teach are ways to have you experience Awareness. You will gradually understand what it is and be able to train it without ever needing to find words to describe it.

This would be quite an unsatisfactory article if I did not at least try to give an idea of what Awareness is. I know that I will fail at it in one way but also that, because you all have Natural Awareness, I may succeed in activating it just enough to get you to form your own idea about it.

Imagine a new born baby and how it perceives the world. Literally everything it perceives is new. The world to the baby is just a blur of colors, light, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile impressions. Over time we start to categorize all things we perceive. In particular we start to separate all other things from ourselves. The ego self is developing. We start to connect things we perceive with thoughts and those thoughts will eventually become beliefs. When we have enough beliefs we are no longer perceiving entities but judging ones.

Almost all of our beliefs are based in fear. The fear of death, the demise of the ego self, is the most powerful driving force in our lives. Yet, at the same time, we intuitively know that the self is not separate from all other things. That in fact we are all one and the same. We have the ability to feel what an other person feels and because of that we will even give up our own life to save a loved one. The ultimate sacrifice. So strong is our connection. We have empathy. We have love. We also have empathy for our pets but here we are beginning to falter. It is unusual for a person to have empathy for a tree or a rock. What is the difference? Where does the connection break up? In our beliefs!

In our lives we form beliefs that serve and further us. In our current culture, connectedness with trees, animals and rocks does not serve the ego self. These beliefs make us judgmental too. A “tree hugger” is not often a term of endearment. It has distinctly negative connotations. The term contains a judgment based in beliefs that are often forced upon a person by society and its norms. It does not serve the person at all to ignore them.

It seems we are torn between two forces. One is the need for the ego self to act and react in a way that serves it the most. The other is our deeply felt connection with everything around us and a universal love. The latter has resulted in spirituality and religion. Again the ego self managed to separate something!

With the above in mind I can try to give some idea of what Awareness is. Awareness comes with questioning your beliefs and finding (tracking!) the source of the thoughts that created them. Many of them are sourced from the sub conscious (intuition!). Awareness comes with changing back from judging to perceiving. Perceiving the whole of reality without separation or judgment. Awareness comes with embracing empathy, intuition, creativity and harmony. We can all do this! We needed to do it to survive in the wild. We still need to do this but we have forgotten how to and, instead, let our ego selves run the show. Because of that we are missing out on an awful lot of life.

Oh, so what is tracking then? Tracking is being mindful of relevant things in your Awareness!

If anything, it seems that the answers can be found only in eternal questioning. That is why I am a tracker!

Peter Friebel

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sparrowhawk Surprise

Trackers often talk about bird language. That is because birds are great indicators of what is happening in an area and they now their locality intimately. My own experience of bird language is largely intuitive. Before I ever heard the term 'bird language' I already used the calls and behaviors of animals to get information about events in my vicinity. I think bird language is in fact just another term for Awareness. Deepening Awareness and experience will slowly teach you bird language. It will also become obvious that it is not just about the birds but about all the animals you are aware of.

Sure, of all the animals about, the birds are the most vocal and often the most numerous so they dominate the propagation of an event with their calls and behavior. It is pretty interesting to see that the only species that does not generally take notice of and understands bird language are the humans. Well, we do but we have learned to ignore it to the point that we have almost forgotten how to revive it.

The fact that I am at the moment researching bird language specifically and more formally is caused by the fact that I am preparing advanced tracking and awareness courses. As is the case for many aspects of aboriginal tracking, things that I normally do intuitively and largely without too much conscious thought, are pretty difficult to recognize, formalize and teach. In the end it is all about Awareness and learning from experience.

To this end there were two books I looked forward to read. The first is "What The Robin Knows" by Jon Young and the second is the third book in the Discover Nature Awareness series of books, "Bird Language", written by my friend and colleague Geoffrey McMullan. The first book I am studying right now. The second, I hope will come out soon as I think that one will be closer to the bone for me. I do not personally know Jon Young but from his book I gather he is an avid birder and the same is true for Geoffrey. I, on the other hand, am not. I love birds and examine their behavior and individual traits every day but I could not name most of them to safe my life. It was funny that Jon Young in his book wrote that he had never met anybody who did not have the urge to immediately identify a new bird as soon it was observed. Well, I can't wait to meet him just to create precedence. My focus is more on the individual animal. I do of course recognize the species I meet but not by name. Starting in Young's book I was slightly overwhelmed by all the names of all the birds he talks about. In the end I simply told myself that this book could also be written without naming the birds as I intuitively know bird language is not about the specific calls each species makes.

What bird language is about is the intention of the calls: marking territory, calling a mate, aggression, begging for food and most interesting for the tracker, alarms. All animals, including us, will pick up on these intentions once we open up to them. We do not need to know the specifics. We simply get it as we are part of the mesh that is Nature.

So, This afternoon I was trying to identify these various intentions from the numerous birds around my house. I feed birds so there are plenty about, all trying to get sunflower seeds. Mostly small birds. There were birds singing but they were beyond my own plot in the forest. That makes sense as singing is territorial and my garden is clearly a no man's land where all birds need to accept each other somewhat if they want the seeds. That does not mean they are quiet. They make a lot of companion calls, constantly checking up on the others. What I was hoping for though is that a known cat would walk into the garden. I was sure that that would generate alarm calls. It did not happen. What did happen was far more intense.

All of a sudden a great tit made an alarm call. All the birds flew up and landed in the bushes around the place where the seeds were. The squirrel that was eating only one meter in front of me jolted but did not move. In fact he was the first to continue eating but he clearly understood the warning. Slowly the birds returned to the heap of seeds and started eating again. That one great tit was still edgy and constantly looking at a certain tree. I tried to find what he had seen but I could not. Ten minutes passed and all was forgotten. Until, suddenly, the squirrel looked up from his bowl and looked at me as if to ask: "did you notice that?". The birds reacted not. The squirrel wasted no time and ran away into the bushes. At that moment I felt, in a split second, an enormous tension building up. Just as when you get a surge of adrenaline. I was in peripheral vision so I had a wide angle view of the garden. In this view was now a very fast moving object. I noticed what it was first when it hit straight in he middle of the seeds. It was also first at that moment that the alarm calls screeched through the air. It was like an explosion of birds all flying away from the seeds. What was left was another bird, a sparrowhawk. Although I could not confirm it I think he got a small bird as he took of a few seconds after landing and perched in a nearby birch for a minute and then flew of. All song had stopped and his path could be followed by the alarms he caused on his way.

I wonder, did the great tit notice the sparrow hawk ten minutes earlier? How did the hawk manage to so surprise all the birds but not the squirrel? What was the squirrel's cue?

Interpreting intention and unraveling concentric rings. That is bird language, a tool for all trackers. It is the tongue of Nature and all living things know it by Heart.

Peter Friebel          

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Widen Your Vision

Social media should be great. They enable us to connect with like minded people and to share our thoughts and opinions. But by ratings, followers and likes, automatic filtering of most popular posts etc, social media became an arena. They became the battle field of ego and the hunting fields of self gratification and self actualization. This has made almost all posts a "like" hunt and when the most horrific pictures and videos are misused to shock us into thinking about real issues a minute or two, just enough to inappropriately click 'like', something is really wrong!

I am not going to discuss the system itself. Although we have created the most effective automated mobbing tools with our social media, it is our own conduct on these platforms that creates the mobbing. It could just as well have turned out to become the most giving paradigm for human connection and communication. What I do want to discuss is some of our conduct.

I am just as touched by images of famine, animal abuse and war as the next person but I do not find it appropriate to use this misery to get likes. Sure, sometimes a shocking image can shake you out of a stupor but be honest, what do you actually do about it? Watch the video? Shed a tear? "Oh soooo true! I have to share it!" After that you probably go about your usual business. If you are really engaged by the issue you may actually donate some money to the cause. But you didn't really change anything for yourself did you? You hope that sharing it and donating money causes others to act for change. The only impact on your own life was a few minutes of shock or sadness.

Before, It was a joy to open my Facebook page and read all the funny and interesting things my friends had created and shared. Today it is with trepidation I open Facebook. Not only is 90% of all post something that people shared instead of created themselves, an alarming amount of the content either ruins my day or literally makes me hurl. But safe us all if somebody shows almost a nipple! It gets censored before you can say "George Orwell" as it may damage the frail minds of the kids that are not allowed to use the system anyway.

Now, again, I do not want to discuss the system and I do not even want to discuss the reasons behind our lust to share misery. It is enough to notice that many of us care about a lot of things and want to give vent to their outrage, sadness or indignation. I am not different myself but I have recognized it in myself and hated myself for doing it. Not because the issues do not deserve the attention but because the way we give attention punishes only ourselves and does nothing to actually change something!

What does it help to see a brutally mutilated elephant while in my own country local authorities, time after time, authorize the hunting down and killing of large predators to satisfy some trivial commercial interest while there are only very few predators left? Even if nothing locally can compare, what can I do about the elephant except cry for it? Well, one thing I suggest we can do is think about why all these things happen. Poachers in Africa are incredibly poor. Sure, many are very criminal too but often only out of desperation to provide for their families. How did that come about? If you start to analyze these things I think you will very soon unravel a pattern: Most of the problems are either directly or indirectly linked to our so called modern way of living and its enforcing culture. The total exploitation of the world's resources benefitting only a few, almost always has a significant part in the causes behind many atrocities in the world. On the plus side, this means that we can actually do something about it!

Instead of sharing the wretchedness we could share a positive attitude and energy to turn things around. Instead of sharing a picture of a dead wolf show a video of a good journalist grilling a responsible bureaucrat on how this can happen at the same time the scientists say exactly the same things about the tigers in India as the wolves in Sweden. Instead of showing a picture of a dog after being dragged behind a car, show a picture or video of the many organizations working with nature based therapy to fight Nature Deficit Syndrome in our kids so they actually value life instead of destroy it for fun.

There are almost no more horrific images put on TV and The Internet than those in the promotional spots of WSPA like organizations. Again they shock us but do they change things? They focus on the needs of the organization to do its work but not so much on the needs of animals and life in general. Instead why not show a trial on TV of the person who dragged the dog after his car skinning it alive. Show the judge giving him a 2 month sentence on probation and later show an interview where that same judge and some politicians are forced to justify that sentence against another one where a person gets 40 years for smoking a joint. Make people want to change things instead of contain things. Share the positive actions undermining the occurrences instead of shocking us into revulsion.

I realize that many of the solutions will seem almost unattainable. That is why we need to radiate positive energy and not negative energy because they are both equally contagious. Once you start changing something in your life that is positive and beyond the ego you will find others helping you and joining in.

I am lucky as my own work deals with changing the attitudes people have towards the living world. I am able to donate time and knowledge that can change things. Granted, in the end its just a drop in the ocean but think what can happen if we all provided a drop.

We should share evidence of the interconnection of all things, share images of the wealth and knowledge from diverse and alternative cultures all over the world, share stories about animals being animals in a world that just simply exists. Not for the benefit of the human animal alone but for life itself.

Lets start by sharing our efforts towards change instead of the gruesome evidence of our paralysis.

Peter Friebel


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Good Or Bad? (Or A Little Story About Environmental Ethics)

Lets start with some definitions:

  • Ethics is the philosophy of morality.
  • Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and languages.
  • Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong).

For me there are three fundamental problems with ethics:

  • In a non-scientific or casual context "philosophy" means "the most basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual or group" and not a rational study of problems. This means that in casual use ethics is no longer a study but the most basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual or group regarding good or bad.
  • "Good" (or right) and "bad" (or wrong) have no absolute definition but depend heavily on cultural norms.
  • The most basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual or small group are more generally referred to as principals. While ethics have a more general and altogether wider connotation. This means that ethics are commonly perceived to be the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes regarding good or bad within a society without, of course, taking into account the non-absoluteness of good and bad in a global or universal perspective.

I do not know about you but that kind of sounds to me like ethics are in fact commonly understood to be the contemporary code of conduct within a culture. This is of course no news. Ethics vary between cultures and in time and are often the reason for strife and even war between cultures.

What went wrong with the word "ethics"? It lost its scientific meaning. We now speak about "ethics and morality" while in actual fact ethics is the study of morality. Business hijacked the word to emphasize that against all odds their practices are now ethical. In politics the word is used in countless contexts and meanings.

There is one very interesting question in ethics (even scientifically) and that is: What is the domain for which morality is defined? What I mean is how come a concentration camp is obviously bad but an industrial chicken farm not? Clearly there seems to be a domain for application of morals that does not include chickens because if they were included, industrial chicken farms would be even more appalling than concentration camps. To confuse these matters even further we seem to have a double standard regarding animals. We do have some form of laws and sense of good and bad in food production but if a normal dog owner would apply those laws on his dogs he would be arrested for extreme mistreatment of animals.

The fact that our ethics falter when animals come into the picture is actually not that surprising because the domain I mentioned earlier is very exclusive indeed: In our culture it only contains human animals. We struggle to resolve all kinds of conflicts of interest when we need to apply morals on human and other animals at the same time. If we consider all non-human entities, including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects or phenomena we seem to just not care at all.

There is a field of philosophy called environmental philosophy that studies this problem. In this field there is a concept called environmental ethics which describes the relationship between human beings and the environment in which they live. Before even looking at some of these ethics approaches, I personally think the problem is already contained within the description of what environmental ethics is. There seems to be a persistent urge to separate humans and the environment. The reason for this is that it is a single culture that has written everything scientific and this globally dominating culture does not recognize humans to be an intrinsic part of the environment. Ironically that is exactly one of the things that distinguishes the various environmental ethics approaches: "The possibility that reality may not be human centered" (sarcasm intended but some scientists actually write crap like that)

I have throughout this article made clear that all of our "ethics" are cultural and also that in particular one single dominant culture seems to be based in the worldview that humans are the center of reality. There is of course another type of culture although now quite endangered. This is the culture of aboriginal peoples, the hunter-gatherers. They have never seen themselves as anything else than part of the Earth and recognized moral worth in all beings and all things.

A modern term for that in the context of environmental ethics is Deep Ecology or The Libertarian Extension: Human-rights are extended to non-human animals and possibly even the a-biotic and inanimate. Deep Ecology argues for the intrinsic value and inherent worth of the environment and that humanity has no right to compromise the environment except to "satisfy vital needs" (see my article called The Answer). Ecological Humanism (Eco-humanism) also falls under the Libertarian Extension. This is the argument that all ontological beings have ethical worth on the basis that they exist.

In contrast, another approach to environmental ethics is Shallow Ecology or Conservation Ethics: The only value that non-human animals and plants have is extrinsic, instrumental to the benefit of humankind. They are a means to an end – conservation is important for the welfare of current and future generations. Interesting to know is that Conservation Ethics formed the underlying arguments by Governments at Kyoto in 1997 and the agreements reached in Rio in 1992.

Obviously aboriginal cultures do not analyze these concepts. Mainly because to them the interdependence of mankind and the environment is blindingly obvious. To them humanity is an integral part of the environment. They embed their environmental ethics at the foundation of their culture and spirituality. Theirs is a spiritual version of Deep Ecology that we today call Animism. I call this philosophy Tracker Philosophy.

With all this in mind, are we good or bad? Is that what you reason or feel? Maybe we should change our culture to make it truly right ...

Peter Friebel