Friday, September 28, 2012

Adversaria 5: Voltaire's Bastards and Earth Abides.

This week I finally finished reading
Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart.

Reading this novel was a journey, to say the least. I see why it continues to rank amongst the greatest science fiction novels of all time. Published in 1949, this dystopian American tale is a must-read for everyone! Sean and I have a few "loaner" copies, but recommend that you find your own copy and hang on tight.

"The irony of all things impressed him more and more. What you were preparing against - that never happened! All the best-laid plans could not prevent the disaster against which no plans had been laid." (Earth Abides, 280)

"If the Tribe needed a symbol of strength and unity, if they were happier with the hammer as a rallying point - who was he to enforce rationalism? Perhaps rationalism - like so much else - had only been one of the luxuries which men could afford under civilization." (Earth Abides, 284)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

For months, I've been plucking my way through John Ralston Saul's Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.

Published in 1992, this academic approach to the history of reason is a fascinating piece of cultural criticism. I'm taking my time with this enlightening (haha!) book. If I sped through it, my brain would melt into mush and drip out through my ears.

     "The invention of the secret is perhaps the most damaging outgrowth of the power produced when control over knowledge was combined with the protective armour of specialization. Until recently very little was considered improper to know. Today the restricted lists are endless. And yet there can't be more than two or three real secrets in the entire world. Even the construction of an atomic bomb is now part of available knowledge. Nevertheless the imprisoning of information continues, undeterred by endless access-to-information legislation.

     These restrictions have been counterbalanced over the last thirty years by an apparent explosion in individual freedoms. This breakdown of social order - rules of dress, sexual controls, speech patterns, family structures - has been seen as a great victory for the individual. On the other hand, it may simply be a reflection of the individual's frustration at being locked up inside a specialization. These acts of personal freedom are irrelevant to the exercise of power. So in lieu of taking a real party in the evolution of society, the individual struggles to appear as if no one has power over his personal evolution. Thus victories won for these individual liberties may actually be an acceptance of defeat by the individual."
(Voltaire's Bastards, John Ralston Saul, 29)

     "We are constantly declaring new ages. The conversion of the original Age of Reason into the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century was only a first step. Had humanity turned a great corner in the process? Not according to most definitions of the Enlightenment; for example, as a 'conviction that reason could achieve all knowledge, supplant organized religion and ensure progress towards happiness and perfection.'

     The rational machine continued from there, being redefined ad infinitum, notably by Kant, until at last Nietzsche theoretically rejected the concept itself. But Nietzsche's discovery that reason was subject to passion and to supermen came a full half century after the real superman had actually galloped onto the public stage and given a demonstration. Napoleon had ridden in on the back of reason, reorganized Europe in the name of reason and governed beneath the same principle. The subsequent effect was to bolster the rational approach, not to discourage it.

     This tells us a great deal about our other obscuring obsession. We have great difficulty dealing with philosophy in the context of real events. These two categories seem to live on separate planets. For example, we are still convinced that violence is the product of fear and fear is the product of ignorance. And yet, since the beginning of the Age of Reason, there has been a parallel growth in both knowledge and violence, culminating in the slaughters of the twentieth century.

     Does this mean that knowledge creates greater fear than does ignorance? Or that the rational system has distorted the value of knowledge? Or something else? One thing it does demonstrate is that the separation of philosophy from real events has encouraged the invention of mythological obscurantism. The constant launching of new philosophical ages is part of that invention."
(Voltaire's Bastards, John Ralston Saul, 40-1)

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Coming Collapse: Book Review of FOUNDERS by James Wesley, Rawles

Post-apocalyptic, dystopian books are commonplace in my household. It comes with the territory, when you marry a zombie enthusiast, epidemiologist prepper. So, when I cracked open Founders: A Novel of the Coming Collapse I was already feeling a bit jaded.

After all, there are only so many ways that society can fall to pieces, right?

This action-packed, terrifying fictional account of life after the collapse of present-day American is full of good examples of what to do - and what NOT to do - in the event of an economic and societal melt-down.

When Founders arrived in the mail, I was half-way through reading the classic dystopian America novel by George Stewart, Earth Abides. This classic apocalypse novel is GOOD, and extraordinarily relevant for a book published in 1949. Billed as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, Earth Abides chronicled the life of one man in California, following the implosion of American civilization and its socioeconomic crash.

So, when Founders arrived it was a struggle to set aside Earth Abides. I found motivation to do so when Sean swiped Founders when I wasn't looking, and started reading.

James Wesley, Rawles is a name that demands respect in the prepper community. Rawles is the founder of He's an avid survivalist prepper with a strong military background, a Christian, a rancher and (apparently) a Ron Paul supporter. He's also the author of two other novels about the economic and societal collapse of America: Patriots and Survivors.

Suffice it to say that Rawles knows his stuff.

Set in the very near future, Founders tells the story of what happens to America after "The Crunch". Debt is the culprit of our country's swift decline, and when the economy collapses it triggers myriad of catastrophies. The aftermath of the Crunch is where the real problems arise. A shortage of medical personnel and supplies, and information, is the perfect storm on the East Coast. A vicious flu wipes out most of the population along the Atlantic coast, and quickly travels across the country. The American government all but disappears, along with all of their safety nets. Millions of Americans die from illness, lack of food and medicine, and at the hands of their neighbors.

It's chaos, and it ain't pretty.

Those who do survive the initial Crunch are left to deal with the looter gangs and vigilantes who thrive in this vacuum, as well as the countless unprepared Americans who are left to fend for themselves in an new and dangerous world.

Rawles takes the reader across the new Midwest, offering a view of what it means to be an American in the years directly following the collapse. Founders has a distinctly military perspective. My eyes glazed over as I read paragraph after paragraph about various guns and other weapons, and how to best protect family and property in an unsafe world.

At first, I was turned off by all of the gun talk. The more I read, though, the more I began to understand the importance of having the right tools for the task at hand. I began this book as a novice, with little knowledge of or interest in firearms. Now, I'm eager to learn more about the differences between a rifle and an AR, and how to actually hit a target.

More importantly, Rawles repeatedly stresses the importance of community in times of great struggle. You have a much better chance of surviving "The Crunch" if you surround yourself with trustworthy people with useful skills and ideas. THIS IS SO TRUE. It's not enough to have good friends, though. You must also better yourself by learning skills that make you more valuable and adept in a crisis situation. We live in an increasingly "soft" society focused on money and the media. If this 21st century lifestyle disappears, will your "modern" skill set help you survive?

Spirituality is also key to survival in this new and unpredictable America. Rawles is a devout Christian, and he finds creative ways to express his beliefs in this novel. However, he gives ample attention to other religions as well. Rawles knows that the ability to believe in a greater power is more important than belonging to a specific religious sect. Belief helps buoy hope, and the characters in Founders need all of the hope and help they can get.

Sean and I raced through Founders in a matter of days, and discussed it at great length. I thought that there was too much gun talk. Sean did not appreciate the continued religious references. We both understood the significance of these facets, and how they helped the various characters survive (or not). The repeated references and quotes from George Stewart's Earth Abides were sprinkles on this horrifying cupcake of doom.

The necessity of community, the importance of working together, was what I most appreciated while reading Founders. I'm a strong believer in the value of a good group of friends. A pack fares better than the lone wolf in this dystopian world. People with strong morals and the motivation to help themselves and their loved ones fared far better than the lost masses, who searched for someone to solve their problems.

Plenty of bad guys thrived as well, in Founders. They were quick to take advantage of the lack of government leadership and law enforcement. As supplies became scarce, gangs grew in strength and numbers. Ranches and towns were besieged by raiding looters. A replacement government also rose during the chaos, but they were not of the people, by the people or for the people.Violence begets violence in Founders, and everyone is fighting for their own cause. This could only lead to a brutal second American Revolution.

So, how did I like the book? Well, I'm headed to the local library in a few minutes, the other two books by Rawles are waiting for me. I've come away from Founders with a greater awareness of what is and isn't important in the grand scheme of things. I'm also a new fan of James Wesley, Rawles - and this book is sure to win him many more admirers. I'm nearly finished with Earth Abides, and these other two books will be my reward.

Reading this book made me more paranoid, but also more hopeful.
I feel like Sean and I are on the right track. Are you?

Founders: A Novel of the Coming Collapse by New York Times bestselling author James Wesley, Rawles will be released on September 25, 2012. (Emily Bestler Books / Atria; $25.99)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bus Stop Reactions and a Book Review of "The End of Men" by Hanna Rosin

At first glance, The End of Men sort of seemed like a woman who is trying too hard to sell herself. The book's cover is yellow and black (much like a caution sign) with bright pink lettering. It demands your attention, insistent that this book has something to say, and WANTS YOU TO LISTEN, RIGHT NOW.

When I received this book in the mail, I was concerned.  It seemed... garish.

Reading it in public was awkward, but enjoyable.

It's normal for me to be pulled into a conversation with a stranger about the book I'm reading. It happens often, and I suspect I give off some kind of "Talk to me - I like books!" vibe.

In general I read pretty "radical" books, but this was a new experience.
People felt compelled to comment on this book, and every opinion was different.

That, or they would just stare at me.

Imagine seeing someone reading this on the bus or subway. 
Wouldn't you take a second glance?

It's not the content of this book that I appreciated so much as the conversations it inspired.

First, I showed it to a few of my male friends in their mid-twenties. "Take a look at this book," I said with a smile. "You should know what you're up against."  They were not amused, mostly disinterested and shrugged it off immediately.

I was disapointed, so I decided to conduct an experiment.
I made a point of reading this book out in public.

Two older men, probably in their 60s, were the first to comment on the book's cover. One merely shrugged and shook his head. The other jumped about, too aggravated to stand still. I tried to explain the basic premise of the book, but he wasn't interested. Instead, he began quoting the Bible, insisting that because Adam came before Eve, we would never live in a world without men.

I shrugged him off as a lost cause, but his outburst caught the attention of a few younger guys. One, a grad student, shared a knowing smile with me. He asked about the author, and I mentioned Rosin's 2010 article with the same title.

A second guy, wearing huge black framed glasses and an immaculate, "cool" outfit, asked if the book talked about women and increasing aggression towards men and other women. Short answer: Yes.

After explaining how I came by the book, and that I was an independent reviewer, they were more enthusiastic about talking with me. I held the book out to them, but neither wanted to take a closer look.

The third guy was a young father, employee of the State of Michigan and an immigrant from India who shared stories about his aggressive two-year-old daughter. He seemed quite interested in the book, and flipped through it before handing it back.

We four  talked about the book a bit more, then the young father asked me point blank : "Who do you think is smartest, Women or Men? I think Women are smarter..."

I said what I believe, which is that some people are smarter than others, no matter their sex.
I've met plenty of dumb men and women, and stupidity is not reserved for one sex or another.

The service sector is one of the largest areas of the American economy, in which women are exceedingly successful. The ability to communicate and evaluate a person's mood, for example, are traditionally thought of as womanly skills.  Two of these guys held jobs where their main task was dealing with other people.We talked a bit more about the changing expectations in our respective workplaces, and the importance of useful skills in the service sector.

So, what did I think of the book?

Eh, it was okay.

I was, admittedly, on edge when I cracked this book open for the first time. I had a preexisting aversion to the topic and the book's cover. Rosin's frank writing style makes for a comfortable read, but her simple style left no room for footnotes. The introduction did a good job of "priming the pump." I went from feeling empowered to imprisoned, horrified to hopeful, in 16 pages.

This book contains many alarming messages about the direction in which the world is headed. Women have indeed conquered realms once thought of as strictly masculine. Again and again, the book suggests that women are more adept and attuned to the requirements of succeeding in a 21st century world. Men are falling further and further behind, largely because they're not trying as hard (though Rosin didn't put it quite so bluntly). She argues that we have not merely reached equality, but have passed the "tipping point" and have entered a new phase in the Rise of Women.

 Relationships add important perspective to life. A woman's relationship with her workplace, politics, men, children and herself are all key factors in determining her success in life.  To illustrate her points, Rosin provides examples of actual women and offers up their perspectives. There are men, too, and these "real," embarrassingly inept men exemplify the all sorts of ineffective, undesirable twits. I have no doubt that these guys are real (though she gave them fake names). There were a few examples of intelligent, amiable men who had found niches in the woman-domanted world Rosin describes. The majority of them, however, were louses. Some were married, some were not. Some had children, some did not. The most celebrated women in this book lived relatively independent lives.

In each chapter, Rosin attempts to concisely discuss one of the following topics:

 - The underbelly of college hook-up culture and single girls who "play the game" and enjoy the power they feel from a successfully impersonal sexual encounter, just like their male counterparts. 
 - Marriage, and how it is increasingly a class privilege in America. Rosin describes marriage as a "gated community of human relationships" that exist only as a financial safety net. This chapter said little about companionship or love. It was mostly about money earning, money spending, the ideal family and how you'll probably be happier without it, allowing you to focus more on yourself.
 - Instances of matriarchy in the American middle class, with examples of single working mothers who are happy with their sole control over themselves and their family, and see little value in acquiring a husband who does not contribute to the household. Rosin also highlights families in which the main breadwinner is the woman, and cites (slowly) growing (low) numbers of stay-at-home fathers
 - A chapter is dedicated to the women of pharmaceuticals, a field dominated by women. "Pharm Girls" are romanticized, like 21st century airline stewardesses. People skills, the ability to multitask and an attention to detail are a few of the skills Rosin supplies as areas where women excel.
 - Returning to marriage and relationships, Rosin discusses the growing education gap
 - Violent acts committed by women are on the rise. We should be equally suspicious of women and men, especially if they're jerks.
 - Women in the upper eschelons of the international business community were a continuous topic in "The End of Men," culminating in a chapter about American businesswomen and another titled "The Gold Misses: Asian Women Take Over the World".

What I expected to be an overarching look at the Woman of Today is actually fast-paced glimpse at a variety of feminine and masculine extremes. I was frustrated by the constant use of consumerism as a measurement and means for competition, and the lust for ultimate happiness through materialism and selfishness.

Rosin's credible sources and litany of statistics are coupled with countless pop culture references. Sitcoms old and new, fashion, movies, popular books and fads are interspersed and used as examples of past and future women. They also served as feel-good reminders of some of America's beloved feminine symbols. There were far fewer references to actual women of the 19th and 20th centuries. There was little said about the traditional roles of women from various classes and the traditional role of a non-working wife and mother in American society, pre-WWII. I consider myself lucky to have studied history and women's studies.

I acquired an advance proof of this book through's Early Reviewers program. Had I not received a review copy, I doubt that I would have read this book. On numerous occasions I found myself indignant and belittled because I have not chosen to climb the corporate ladder to seek my fortune.

The media will gleefully take advantage of this book's built-in shock value. It raises important questions about how boys and girls are raised, and the shifting gender roles in America and around the world. If it leads us to a more enlightened perspective, I'll be thrilled. If it makes the bestseller list for a month, allowing Rosin to make the network rounds before falling into obscurity, I will not be surprised. It is too selective, too extreme, to be the feminist movement's new show pony and does not have the staying-power to join the likes of A Vindication of the Rights of Women or The Feminine Mystique. 

But, hey, that's just, like, my opinion, man....

The End of Men  was released on September 11, 2012. The hardcover edition is now available at your local, independent book shop or libary. $27.95. Nonfiction. Published by Riverhead Books.

Related Books:
Bitch, Please! by Megan Munroe
True Believers by Kurt Andersen

Monday, September 10, 2012

Garden Update - With Photos!

September is quickly settling in at the garden, 
and with it comes lots of busy work and plenty of good food.

Sean and the guys finished fencing in our new lot,
and our water storage solutions are working well.

The parsnip seeds I "saved" have germinated,
I'm sore from crouching over the parsnip bed,
thinning out the many extra sprouts.

This summer, Poppin' Fresh has DOUBLED in size, 
after we acquired the lot to our north. 
We may soon make use of the lot to the south, too.

Word of the Learning Leaves gardens spreads slowly, 
and we've had some great new gardeners at the work parties!

A view from behind the hoop house.

Gorgeous onion blossoms!
Our repurposed baby crib, lending support to tasty green beans.
We have over a dozen varieties of tomatoes ripening!
Squash blossoms abound!
The squash are coming in fast and furiously.
Here's our stunted corn - mostly for decoration this year.
The rabbits love dandelions!

"Thing 1" can pack away a pile of dandelions in just a few minutes.

This spooky spider lives near the rabbit hutches.