The Honesty Of Land

Yeah, I earned any calories I could possibly eat today.Working on the land daily, there’s a brutal honesty to it. It doesn’t lie; it doesn’t need to. It speaks openly of what it does, there is no subterfuge. In the tropics, the wet season is about to shift into dry – the last of the rains come with vigor and the grass grows where I had cut.

So I cut it again.

The small crops I had been able to sew at the beginning of wet season are cleared of bush, have been cleared of bush for some time – with the exception of the period where we got the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Brett, when it would have been irksome and perhaps even dangerous to work with a spinning blade between them, and when I tried to keep spraying chemicals to a minimum.

My crops thrive when a cousin’s are buried in bush; an Uncle who helped and advised him wanders by the day before Christmas and tells me their cassava is no good. He sounds surprised and frustrated when they let the bush master their land, overgrowing their cassava. In fact, the man who plowed the land for them still hadn’t been fully paid by them – the follies of their world made photosynthetic, just as the crops would have. I cannot speak to such things, I have my own things to worry about.

The land is honest and unforgiving. It has no give unless you work it so. It has no mercy, it has no guile. It compounds the forces of nature to be something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

I have sweat, blood and yes, tears, in the land. It inflicts cuts, bites, punctures and bruises to defend itself and, pushing through that, I have fleeting conquests doomed to failures without due care and attention. Piece by piece, it becomes more manageable – but manage it I must, or it will manage me. This is the honesty of the land, a stark contrast to humans and society where the social construct of promises were once made by those who worked with the unforgiving land, where it meant something, where now promises are something to be broken.

Then the human side – where people not getting paid to pick up rubbish cause people to dump rubbish on land they think isn’t managed – and so you manage that land, cleaning areas and keeping them clean. They no longer dump their rubbish there but somewhere else: People wring their hands in talking to me about it. I look at them now and say, “That is not my problem”, which is not true, but is a necessary answer for those who don’t maintain their lands – a truth that they need to wrestle with if they pay attention and act.

Opportunity: Missed by people because it comes disguised as hard work.

It’s like software engineering, except much more real.

The Human Contrast

The cousins who own nearby lands fumble through their own relationships with their siblings and try to cash in on the land; I make efforts to see some of them when they come to Trinidad to visit them – we grew up with each other – but they had no time for me, leaving me to sit alone outside. One even blocked me from going inside. I arched an eyebrow, having made the effort to go visit, and realizing that they did not want to see me. This was compounded by the one time during that period where I reached out, at a nearby restaurant with someone giving me advice on the land – out of all of them, one showed up, and he simply spoke with the one advising me.

Meanwhile, people come to me complaining of them, and I shrug. It is not for me to deal with, I am not one to do what they are doing and I am not one to do for them what they do not do for themselves.

Another is going abroad, asks me if I want anything – I did not ask – so I do mention a few things. He calls me from the airport to tell me where he’s going, where the gift he left for me is, and I ask him to let me know if he orders a particular item for me so I don’t try to source it locally. Meanwhile, the people who he promised to do something for see me on a daily basis and ask me for updates that I cannot give. I hear nothing from him other than part of a deluge of WhatsApp messages wishing me ‘Happy New Year’. He returns nearby, I still hear nothing from him. Well, ok then.

I am becoming more like the land every day, and since the land is alien to them, I grow alien to them.

One aunt spreads lies about everyone in the family, calling everyone greedy when she made sure her brother was isolated and left everything to her in the Will before he died. If you want to find the greed, find the one who has what they think everyone wants. She’ll choke on it eventually. I let her know that on my birthday after she asked to see me, after she spread lies about me, just as she asked me to help her manage her gains – ill-gotten in my opinion. A skeleton choking on a crust of bread.

Last year, another aunt went away and I checked in on her human project, an adolescent who came from a shattered home and less than pristine circumstance that she had taken in. He made promises, he broke promises, he is young – but he did not meet the social contracts that brought him there. In the end, he had to return to where he had come from but, for the duration and after I regularly checked in – not because it was important to me, but because it was important to her. She returns, it’s not spoken of. I make arrangements with her to visit her not once but twice; both times she goes out on recreational sojourns while her husband and I stare at each other. I had tried. Messages to her were rarely answered, if at all.

My time spent on all of this robs me of time to do what needs to be done. No more.

And I’m safe, because the odds of any of them reading this is pretty low.

Meanwhile, others see what I’m doing and help in their own ways – some plants here, some compost there, some business advice, planning advice and planting advice. I do the same. We build relationships like that of the land, not of society. A throwback, I think, to times when people worked the land.

The Human Contrast, Part II

I go to the towns now and then. I will sit and watch people drinking coffee and doing their best to impress each other at one local center, preening. I go get my haircut, I watch people in branded exercise outfits drive to the gym so they can be physically active – I’ve lost 3 inches off my waist in the last month alone (with more to go) over the last month. They pay to be members. What an odd way to live – and I used to live like that before I thought it through. A little before I ended up in the hospital. There’s a lesson there.

I watch the lowered cars pull in, screeching to a halt on the speed bumps or near potholes, impractical in a country that has a debilitating inability to build and maintain roads. Pickups with ‘4×4’ emblazoned on them sit on pretty wheels, nothing more than street cars that run on diesel. SUVs have been made too expensive for most by the government, and their last refuge are these pickups to give them a false sense of security when driving because they can look further ahead – but they can’t brake as well in a pickup. Taxis stop in the middle of the road to drop off their passengers rather than move to the side and allow traffic to pass.

On social media, I read someone’s whine about not being treated seriously in technology and it reminds me of how I had felt and what I had communicated over a decade ago – interesting since I’m not much older than the one complaining now. Without compunction, I wrote that we are not owed change, that whining doesn’t change anything, and that when he gets out of his selfish moat of self-pity he should get back to trying to change things – advice I had to give myself over a decade ago.

It’s a rat race, and the trouble with rat races is that they are full of rats.

I am becoming a misanthrope, some might think. Sometimes I think so. Yet when I reflect on it fully, I am simply becoming what I need to be in a world where people are busy trying to become what they are told they want to be.

And therein is the real contrast. Where someone’s word should be unbreakable, where relationships are valued and treated accordingly. I am becoming me, and this drives a wedge between myself and those who are busy trying to become what they are told they should want to be.

Be who you need to be. The trouble with the world is a lack of honesty to the self about the self which leaks into everything else.

Hedgehog 2.0.

927A9660.jpgSchopenhauer wrote about the Hedgehog’s Dilemma:

One cold winter’s day, a group of hedgehogs crowded together for warmth so as not to freeze to death. However, the pain from the mass of spines soon caused them to separate again, until the cold forced them back together, and thus they continued, moving from one source of discomfort to another, until they found a distance that allowed them to live but without the benefits of the full warmth of community.

To build on this, the longer a hedgehog stays out of the community, the longer the quills. It may not have started as a misanthrope but rather an explorer, maybe it was shunned because it was different, but over time without the issue of intimacy to contend with, it grows longer quills which makes it a misanthrope even when it tries not to be.

There are entire generations growing up more comfortable with a cold flat screen than other humans at this point.

Let that sink in.

No Matter Where You Go

CavemanIt didn’t start this way.

It used to be that when you didn’t agree with the group, you’d wander off somewhere else on the planet and do your own thing. It could be about anything – if you saw more good in the risk of leaving the group than the bad of staying, you could wander off. Do your own thing, whatever it was, wherever you went. It was all pretty straightforward. If you got a group together that agreed on this, you’d have your own little starter tribe moving off to another part of the world.

No matter where you go…

The beauty of the world was that we hadn’t quite figured out that it was round, much less finite. It was all pretty infinite since we were using our feet back then. Then more you disagreed, the further you and your group walked. Maybe you were very angry but you find somewhere relatively near that was hospitable, and because of that you ended up closer than you probably should have to your original tribe. So you came up with a tree branch that you could whack other people with, or you figured out how to sharpen it. If you encountered people that you didn’t like, it was a simple matter of whacking them over the head or introducing them to your sharp and pointy stick. Eventually they would do the same.

Maybe you reconciled. Maybe you didn’t. At some point, you either ran out of people or one group moved further away than another. Things moved on. Nobody remembers Ug’s last stand where he was surrounded by pointy sticks, all begun because he believed in picking the fruits a little earlier than they did. Ug felt strongly enough to die for it. He’s not in your history books. Ug also had strong feelings about quantum mechanics, but we’ll never know.

If only Ug had wandered away, we might know.

And so diversity in thought came to the world as people moved just far enough away from each other to not get on each other’s nerves. They created little genetic pockets that caused a change in appearance, however small, even as they figured out how to make metal to chop down forests so that they could use that new invention, fertilizer. Populations grew, and soon the distance that was far enough some time ago was no longer far enough away for some. Wars were waged, walls were built, and conquerors decided that their way of life was so good that people wouldn’t mind a little violence to have their way of life.

As luck would have it, during that violence many people who disagreed with the invading way of life would be removed from the planet…. or the invading force who was convinced of how awesome their way of life was were removed. None of this was decided on merits. It was decided by technology, by aggression, and by strategy. There are some that say that this hasn’t changed very much since.

During all of this, one of the descendants of the folks that killed Ug – remember Ug? – figured out that things floated and, with a little work, they could make things that could take them over water. On a planet mainly covered in water, this was a pretty big deal though they didn’t know it at the time. Some guy would later be accused of proving the Earth was round the same year that the globe was invented, all because he was lost. He wasn’t the first, of course, but the people who wrote the history books wanted him to appear first – so he did. We know better now.

And so some people got to wander again, finding different lands where – surprise – they found different people who had been minding their own business and fighting with each other for as long as  they could remember. This was inconvenient, so after a while they conquered them if they didn’t slaughter them. Or, maybe it was time to have some slaves again – slave technology had been around for a long time and hadn’t changed much. For slave owners, who had the authority and power granted to them by themselves, sea faring meant being able to travel with the comforts of slavery to do things that they wanted to do without getting too dirty or sweaty. That these were other human beings didn’t mean too much to them. In fact, they denied it despite obvious indications that this was so.

Populations grew. There was no real place left to wander, and when you get enough people packed closely together for a long enough period of time, they find things to fight over. They did. World Wars came and went, bringing aircraft into the mix even as they started flying around. And so things went.

Meanwhile, with people all over occupying more and more land, there needed to be more effective ways to communicate. Before you know it, there were wires running and people tapping away in code to let other people know something that someone thought was important.

This evolved to the Internet, which you are likely using right now. Connecting the world that had been made of wanderers, it demonstrates how far apart people have grown more often than not.

…there you are.
– Confucius


Stay On the PathThe trouble with society and it’s war of narratives is that it’s all on a defined path. Some people are happy keeping their hands and feet inside their moving lives, content to watch as they meet waypoints on the path. They judge themselves and others by what society determines is a right path and a wrong path. What many fail to acknowledge is that these paths don’t work for everyone and that the paths were decided long ago and may not even be relevant anymore.

The human species is amazingly boring that way. It’s sort of like watching a colony of ants; everyone has their place and does what they need to do to sustain the colony. Where this falters in mankind is the concept of individuality. Where we tell children and later adults that they can do anything. That if they work really hard and follow the dictates of society, they will prosper. It’s plain to see that this is not working out very well for a majority of people around the world who, not unlike drones, go off searching for food for queens.

Are we no more than that?

It would seem so.

But then there are those who find other paths.

The Rains of Cultural Change

Rain of numbersThe rains have come.

In the tropical island calendar, the rains mark ‘Wet Season’ – a time of traffic, accidents and water-filled potholes ranging in size and depth up to Olympic size swimming pool. A time of umbrellas, of inconveniently wet feet, and of replacing windshield wipers.

It was not always so. In Trinidad and Tobago, corporate attire so many attempt to use to forget the agrarian roots is something I often view as a pretentious veil. I did not grow up in an agricultural environment, despite my roots, despite the roots of anyone of East Indian or African descent in this country. I grew up in the “fix things” sector where weather meant either you worked dry or wet – but you worked.

The planet is 71% water. If you’re afraid of getting wet, it’s safe to assume you’re on the wrong planet.

Now, though, the rains mark the end of one part of my agricultural project and the beginning of another. There’s little in project management literature that talks about, “when it begins to rain”, but there should be.

It has been a race. Clearing bush,  getting land brush-cut and plowed, clearing as much of the hill as I could and making my space on my land. Having the pond dug, then dealing with a suicidal hog plum tree. Getting the hill graded and moving stones. Finding things to plant from wherever I could find them and planting them.

The rain is soaking in. There will be some more things planted when the sun dries the top layers a bit. It makes no sense wandering through the field with five pounds of mud on each boot while sliding down the hill. I do not enjoy doing laundry that much.

Now comes the maintenance – keeping the crops in good health. Cutting grass. Spraying when absolutely necessary. The molding of trees, trees that I am happy to say I have planted more of than I have cut down. Before the land fasted, now the land is to be nourished so as to grow things.

Cassava. Eddoes. Corn. Peas. Sweet potato. And the longer term trees – where I plant at least one for each tree I have taken down, the stumps a memorial to that. Each tree I plant, I remove a stump, and so I keep track.

No one says I have to. I simply know I should.

Meanwhile, I visit places where people drive cars that they can barely afford, attempting to convince each other and themselves on how well they are doing, how successful they are. The latest fashions parade like price tags, the smiles gleam too white – unnaturally white – and all the while, they see the rain as a problem. An inconvenience.

Only a few have followed the business side far enough through to understand the importance of the rain – how it affects the crops, the food – how that in turn affects pricing, how that in turn affects the purchasing power of a currency, how that in turn allows for more disposable income to buy things.

It also means things that have not been maintained may flood. It means that the plastic bottles that Trinidad and Tobago so loves in drains present a problem, and while work has been done to clear them, it’s a matter of finding out the hard way. Unfortunately, flooded fields mean less to people than flooded parts of Port of Spain, where the imported goods sector will weep because of lack of foot traffic, etc. People forget where the food comes from.

The food comes partly from the rain – not the plastic bottles woven into the drains, discarded by humans who then complain about the effects of their presence. The food sustains the society.

Our agrarian ancestors understood those things. They kept drains clear. They did not throw things on the ground that would end up in drains. They had the cultural capital to understand poor habits in society can create great obstacles. They knew about these things.

Somewhere, that cultural capital seems to have divested itself. To progress? It would seem not.

That capital still exists, but it is being sold for a chance to act like an inconvenienced overseer on a plantation of plastics. Look at how many have jumped at this opportunity.

Perhaps they should be reaping what they sew; and yet, we all seem to have reaped what they sew.

Scorned Dreams

Commercial Seafront

“ I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. Goddamn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1999)

People are angry. At the turn of the millenium, though, just about every model showed that there would be more social unrest.

Every day, my generation and those after are inundated with marketing about how products and services are going to make their lives better – with the goalpost of better being set culturally by old ideas that bureaucracies were built to attain. They grew like trees, twisting and turning with the weather of domestic politics in every nation until the Internet, where global politics still sways them like a hurricane force wind.

These are largely all flawed systems that some have grown to depend on. The systems are sometimes failures, based on notions that no longer seem to apply in society, but citizens around the world were told that the benefits of the systems outweighed any negatives. There are generations now that beg to differ.

And they’re angry. Sad. Disillusioned. In the U.S., I’ve seen people my age working 2 and sometimes 3 fast food jobs at a time in a downturned economy where the banking systems quite literally strip-mined people of latent wealth through bad mortgages and loans. In the Caribbean and Latin America, I’ve seen the shifts of global politics make economies tumbleweeds. In Trinidad and Tobago, where the economy was never diversified as it should have, I contrast the people at Starbucks with the people that still use outdoor latrines almost daily.

And they are all told that the world is better than the lives that they have – and they are all lead to believe that things are better than their situation and that if they work just a little harder so that they can spend just a little more, they’ll rise to better lives.

Ahh, marketing. Immigration becomes an issue for the mass media producing countries- the world looks so much better on a flat screen, which used to be only a large white screen for a projector but now includes wall displays, computers and yes, even phones. “We’re wonderful. You’re not allowed here. Special terms and conditions apply.”

And if you do get there, a different reality sets in.

People all around are figuring this stuff out – that they can’t have what is being branded as developed nations. Terrorists, for all the wrong reasons and for imagined good ones, started attacking these ‘evils’ that they see just like a crab drags other crabs down in the barrel. “It is our reality, let us share it with you…” – horrible atrocities, branded under religious fervor but really just really, really bad marketing that directly kills people – a waste of life – too combat the overly good marketing that indirectly robs the majority of the human population with a sense of value.

Every bright eyed idealist and gilded futurist looks forward optimistically. I do so myself, though I’m careful with expressing my thoughts since all these flawed systems came from people not thinking things through beyond political terms, or because of emergencies.

We have been walking into thorny bushes. It might be time to reassess the systems we’re using that lead to all these injuries on our more sensitive parts of society.

The History Rhythm.

Dance!The cliché, “History repeats itself”, is a dull echo of a George Santayana quote and is in itself, timeless – but it has a rhythm of usage throughout history, I’m sure.

I’m sure of this because the study of history is simply the study of mankind dancing to it’s own rhythm.

It’s apparently a really great beat to dance to, so mankind dances.

A culture repeats things, and all around the world, cultures repeated things. As the world began to change, bureaucracies were formed – largely to govern – but bureaucracies were to keep things from changing quickly1. And so they did, and so they do, and so they will. They govern the rhythm of a society, the rhythm the society dances too.

Maybe if we got better DJs we’d have better choreography.

1 Gleick, James Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, Pantheon Books, 1999.