Saturday, May 28, 2016

Toolbox

This is, by design, not a very personal blog. I made the decision early on to keep most of my real life away from CircleThrice. There are several reasons for this. First, most of my life appears pretty boring. I have a family and a good career and a house. I'm interested in food (cooking, baking, preserving) and crafty hobbies like knitting -- probably a reaction against my tech-focused day job. I generally appear like a mundane, middle-class person. Or at least that's my goal. See, years ago I figured it was better to look ordinary and actually be interesting than the reverse. I enjoy passing as normal. Of course, there are still people who react to me with discomfort, suspicion, and sometimes fear -- kind of modern witchfinders, I suppose -- but I can't help that so I don't worry about it. Second, the most interesting non-magical part of my life is my work, which I also can't talk much about. Much of it is protected by NDA. I like my job very much, but that doesn't mean you're going to enjoy hearing about it.

Gordon recently wrote about filling pails and lighting fires (go read that... oh, right of course you already did). His position is that the goal of his blog is to light fires within his readers, not to fill up their pails. I have a kid who's been in and out of the education system to various degrees over the years (homeschool, online school, charter school, private school -- we've basically been conducting a hands-on survey review of education in America). So, I completely agree that much of what passes for government conditioning, er, I mean public education is simply about packing predigested facts into flaccid, malleable brains. And that this is a terrible way to learn things.

CircleThrice however, isn't about filling pails or lighting fires... it's about providing tools. it's not the classroom, it's the SHOP. This blog is a toolbox. You can use the tools to build a better birdhouse or invent a new machine. Craft your best life, tune your brain, fuck with reality, adjust the odds. When things are going badly or you need a change, you pop open the toolbox and see what you've got to work with.



So, back to me. The last month or so, things have been... challenging. Not necessarily outright bad, but with difficulties and difficult situations in all areas of my life. Part of this was just nasty space weather, part was a couple of situations coming to a head, and a third part was a convergence of deadlines and milestones. So, as I usually do in these circumstances, I inventoried my own toolbox. There were several tools I needed to apply in order to sort things out. They included:

  • Prioritization. When in doubt, prioritize. Everything was crazy, and I needed to identify the most important things to deal with. This is a powerful tool and one that I use often.
  • Self-care. Better food, more sleep, being kind to yourself. We should do this all the time of course, but sometimes we forget. And we're most likely to forget when we need to care for ourselves the most -- when things are difficult.
  • Perspective. Always a good tool for when things seem bad. And I don't mean the kind of "first world problems," you have nothing to bitch about, perspective. I mean the kind where you put yourself in others' shoes, look at the larger picture, and even remind yourself that we're just specks of soul floating in the vastness of space.
  • Clearing. This is one I use less often, but it works great when it's the right time. Similar to cleansing, clearing is the act of unraveling active enchantments that aren't effective or that have outlived their usefulness. This includes physical dispersal, but also mental and emotional clearing.
  • Focus. The act of putting your attention on one thing exclusively is a very powerful form of magic. You can do it with people (try with your family and see how they respond), projects, situations.
This blog doesn't tell you how to do things (spell recipes, ritual outlines). It doesn't tell you specifically what to do. No, what I have here is a toolbox of skills and techniques you can apply to whatever your goals and challenges are. It's how I approach my own life, so it's natural that my blog would reflect the same approach. Guess things here are a little more personal than I thought.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mind War: Part Five -- Jailbreaking your Mind

In case you're not familiar with jailbreak in the tech sense, it's "to enable use of a consumer electronics product not intended by the manufacturer through the exploitation of software hacks."  Kate MacDonald cracked open the idea in a new way when she asked (on a private discussion forum) for techniques for "Jailbreaking your mind."

Note: I fully expect this to immediately go viral, as it seemed to spark something that spoke directly to people's experiences and a bunch of us were all over it. So full credit to Kate.

The suggestions in the discussion that followed were good and interesting and you can probably guess a lot of them (meditation made an appearance, as did plant substances). But technique aside, it got me to thinking: what is jailbreaking your mind FOR? What's the purpose?

That night, as I was drifting off to sleep, it came to me. What's important is not jailbreaking your mind, but what you do with it afterward. Let's take an example from the world of mobile communication.

When you hear people talk about jailbreaking, they are usually talking about their iPhones. The term among Android users is 'rooting' based on the early computer concept of having root access, though it means the same thing. So why do people jailbreak phones?
  • So they can remove 'bloatware' installed by the manufacturer or, more commonly, the carrier (like AT&T or Verizon). They deliver phones with their customized operating systems and applications that often serve no use other than boating the phone, slowing it down and taking up precious space.
  • So they can install 3rd party apps and software (like launchers or device trackers) that aren't sanctioned by the manufacturer. This is particularly relevant to the iPhone because Apple keeps tight control over what you can install on their products. You can install whole new operating systems on a rooted phone.
  • So they can jump carriers or travel more easily. A jailbroken phone can take a SIM card from any carrier or country. This means no roaming charges... ever, and the ability to follow the best deals.
The parallels here to the idea of jailbreaking your mind are striking. First of all, there's the idea that your mind is a consumer device. This sounds quite dystopian, but it's not inaccurate. With the amount of advertising, cultural conditioning, and propaganda we're subjected to, you have to ask how much of your mind is really your own? How much bloatware has been installed and what limitations do these ideas and memes place on your ability to do what you want? Jailbreaking your mind will allow you to fix those problems.
  • You can remove the bloatware that has already been installed by your environment. Harmful memes and falsehoods and limited ideas. They take up space and slow you down. You may not even realize it, as many of those items were installed from the time you were very young. And you don't know how much better your mind will run without them. 
  • You can "install" things that aren't sanctioned by your environment. Thought patterns, habits, perspectives, mental routines -- ones that you choose and that aren't blessed by society or your family or your culture. And you have the freedom to install and uninstall at will. This is still harder with your mind than with a phone, but it's not possible at all with a locked mind.
  • You can jump carriers or travel more easily. You can adopt alternate viewpoints, have a more multicultural perspective, and change your environment (through magic, yes, but in all sort of other ways as well) to better match your new mindset. You can travel more easily, more freely, and with fewer penalties -- and this goes far beyond literal physical travel.
So why don't more people jailbreak? Well, because there are risks. 

Jailbreaking can void your warranty. For your phone, that means that if something goes wrong, the manufacturer will not repair or replace it and your trade-in value with your carrier is null. And if you void the warranty on your mind, certain treatments (like varieties of talk therapy or medications) can stop working. And you will always be different from others, which means that your trade-on value goes down (your ability to trade on common experiences and ground in social situations). 

Jailbreaking can cause damage. Problems for your phone can include loss of battery efficiency, performance problems, viruses, and occasionally even bricking your phone (turning it into an expensive brick). It's also possible to damage your mind. No one likes to talk about this, but that doesn't mean it's not true. There's a reason that the more blunt tools for jailbreaking are usually administered and overseen by experts (like a Shaman). And even more gentle tools like meditation can be misused. Your energy levels and productivity can be impacted. And occasionally someone will brick their mind (though minds are way more resilient than phones).


Jailbreaking requires some knowledge and effort. It's not hard to jailbreak a phone. We've rooted several of our older Android phones. But you have to do the research, so you can make sure the instructions you find online are legit and won't cause you trouble. It's the same with your mind. It's not hard, but you have to figure out how you want to do it, sift through the masses of advice to find something that will work for your particular kind of mind, and then apply it.

Note, I should point out that some people have their minds jailbroken for them though external experience, which doesn't happen with your phone (at least I hope not). My personal mental jailbreaking happened when I was 18 and was done to and for me and not with my consent. It was about as pleasant as you'd expect from that description, which is to say not. But it was still up to me to pick up the pieces (yes, of my mind) and start figuring out what was different and what I could do with my newly rooted device. And my mind did feel more "rooted" than "broken." 

But despite any risk, my advice is almost always going to be: go for it! Because the benefits are well worth any risk and the risks can be easily controlled through a certain amount of patience and planning. But here's the rub. Jailbreaking doesn't make sense if you aren't going to take advantage of the benefits -- if you're going to run the same apps and bloatware and never change how you use your mind.


    Labels:

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    Sustain-ability: The Economy Sucks, Suck Harder

    Back in 2010, I picked up a book from the library called: Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. The title has been changed (to be more buzz-word worthy I suppose) but I prefer the original. This is a book that would naturally appeal to me but that was ultimately disappointing.

    See, 9/10 of the book was about how the world became a corporation... and only about 1/10 at the end contained a few lukewarm suggestions as to how to take it back. It's like that essay you write in college where you conceive of a great two part hypothesis... but can only find textual or research evidence for the first part. So you tack a few flaccid ideas and unconvincing quotes at the end and your teacher marks it as 'weak' and suggests cutting it out.

    Bonus tip: don't let your publisher convince
    you to add material because
    "otherwise it's too depressing"

    Weak was the last chapter of this book. Clearly, Rushkin had problems finding good examples of 'taking it back'. Barter networks were suggested. A focus on local purchasing was a reasonable suggestion. I think he mentioned community resources like tool libraries as well. Most interesting were the ideas of using local currencies like Berkshares and banking locally. So his solutions were based around the idea of keeping things local. In fact the newest (and renamed version) supposedly has an additional section with more ideas and interviews for 'taking it back'. I'm tempted to get a copy of the book to check out this new information.

    Rushkin was well aware that the current US economy is entirely designed to suck up all available wealth to an increasingly smaller segment of the population where it stops providing value to the larger economy. See, currency only really has economic value when it changes hands. If you give me $20 for a pair of hand knit socks, I have $20 and you have socks. $20 in economic value has been created. But then I take the $20 to the farmers market and get some veggies. Now that same $20 bill has created $40 in economic value. And then the farmer takes the $20 and pays it to a local mechanic to fix the tractor ($60). And the mechanic pays the rent on their shop ($80). And the landlord pays property taxes ($100). And the government pays the local police ($120). He puts his money in the local credit union who gives me a loan to start Ivy's Sock Shop (sure they do)... and thus is economic value created and compounded. Yay!

    There are all kinds of side benefits to this as well. The farmer's local produce is healthy and nutritious. The mechanic's shop is available when my car breaks down. The cop keeps you from getting your socks stolen.

    But if you go to Walmart and buy socks, the money you spend there hardly impacts the place you live. A tiny bit of it goes to pay the miserable salaries of the people who work there and to pay local utilities and probably hugely discounted local taxes. But most gets hoovered directly into the Walton family's oversized pockets. And those dollars are in effect gone from the local economy. If you imagine that the workers at Walmart probably also purchase many things from Walmart (because that is what they can afford) you can see the issue. It doesn't help anyone else or create any additional value for the place where you live. Boo!

    Go visit the site I stole this from...

    So spending local is important, which is why I got my new smart phone at the Portland Phone Factory, which employees 3000 local workers, who all make a living wage... oh, wait.

    Now don't get me wrong. I am in favor of keeping things local as much as possible. We keep our money in a local credit union, we buy from farmers markets filled with local produce, we shop at a local (ok, regional) healthy grocery that stocks lots of local products, we eat at local restaurants. But the trouble is, of course, that if you don't manufacturer things locally, you have to buy from outside the local area. It's feasible for this kind of trade to work well, and trade is as old as human economy. But along with it come the traders, the merchants, the importers, and the tax men. All of them take their cut, which is why spices that were cheap and abundant in the Middle East were rare luxuries in Medieval Europe. But even with all of that, trade only works when you have something that you produce to trade against.

    The problem with local economies in the US is that there's always going to be more 'outgo' than 'income'. We can't all just trade what we need with one another in our town or city, because many of the things we need can't be made locally. And even if they could, they aren't. For example, if you had a local textile mill in your area, then you could buy local textiles. Of course it sounds unreasonable, but it could happen. And sure, those textiles may be more expensive, but that wouldn't matter because the people who had local jobs that paid well could afford those textiles. Instead though we're in a race to the bottom, where we outsource jobs to places where people can work for less, which means that things get cheaper, but there are fewer jobs left here for us, so no one can afford even the cheaper items.

    And yes, those people we outsource to have greater prosperity, but that comes with a whole other host of problem (like pollution, natural resource destruction, corruption, human rights violations, and overproduction that puts people out of work as surely as underproduction). But that's a post for another day.

    So our local economies get hollowed out -- and the communities along with them. Or a slightly less extreme outcome is that the middle of the economy gets hollowed out leaving knowledge workers and highly-paid professionals at the top (who can afford skyrocketing property costs and expensive local artisan products) and the poor at the bottom (who can't afford anything, not even places to live). Neither of these outcomes is stable or sustainable, but it's what we're doing -- over and over -- throughout the Western world.

    It's true that co-ops and barter networks and CSAs and local credit unions are good ideas. However these ideas are all about outgo -- keeping the your cash local. What about the income? This is where the book misses the mark. In fact, we do need lots of people who make their living within the local economy. But the economy still needs an inflow of capital from outside.

    So I make my living "working for the man." And over the years I occasionally get flack for it. However, I see it as a deeply subversive act. Because I'm sucking a little tiny bit back out of the vampire economy and transfusing it back into my local community -- every paycheck. Sure, I give them my time in exchange for that paycheck, but I also get to have a really cool and interesting job that I enjoy and doesn't compromise my ethics (I used to work for a company that made equipment for testing military jets, so I know from ethical compromise). And then I take that money, which came from around the globe, and make it work in my city. So there, big whatever! Take that!

    And if that helps another person get both their income and outgo local (like the checker at the local grocery where I shop, who gets a local income and buys their groceries at the same store -- they do, I ask) then that's a very good thing. It's still only a tiny drop in the ocean, but it's something. Because the larger system CAN NOT BE FIXED. Please re-read that. It just can't, and even if it could it wouldn't be by the likes of us. The system will either continue lumbering along -- shedding parts and sucking resources and polluting -- until it completely breaks down and is replaced by something else OR it will get torn down in fire and bloodshed by the poor, tired, huddles masses and teeming refuse.

    And then your local connections will be worth more than any linen rectangle with dead folks faces (it was going to say dead men's faces, but we've moved forward a tiny bit recently on this).

    Labels: , ,