Saturday, October 17, 2009

Magic and science

I've begun watching videos of a UCLA undergraduate history class called Science, Religion and Magic. Its available for viewing on By a strange coincidence I began watching it in the morning today before I went to a co-worker orientation on biodynamic farming here at Camphill Triform. Strange that I went so quickly from studying the boundaries of science, magic and religion to actually doing magic in a scientific way.

In orientation we were stuffing cow's horns with manure. We then bury the manure for six months until it has undergone a transformation to become a type of compost that biodynamic farmers believe is imbued with a potent energy that will enliven your crops. After the six months the horns are dug up and the crops are then sprayed with a homeopathic quantity of the manure mixed with water. Less than an ounce of manure per acre. I already participated in the spraying which we did in September as a whole community.

So I finished the introductory class which was excellent. The professor discussed how the boundaries of religion, science, and magic are constructed, how they are in constant conflict, and are constantly renegotiated. What she focused on in this first lecture was how these ideas (magic, religion, science) comingled in pre-modern times. Its interesting to think about the implications of the fact that brilliant people were coming up with scientific discoveries while in the midst of what seems to be extremely unscientific pursuits. The obvious example of this is the huge breadth of astronomical knowledge developed by people doing astrology. This, in essence, is what we were doing this morning with our manure.

And who am I to say that their way is the wrong way. When I first started doing biodynamic farming it sounded so crack-pot to me (it still does, actually), but then I started thinking more about the implications of the farm and the community for doing this stuff (like spraying the fields). When everyone gets together to do something for the land, a gesture of thanks as a community, that is an excercisive of our communal power. It is the strength and values of our community made physical in this act. Metaphors have power. I am very aware of how real this is, probably from my study of Eastern religion/philosophy.

That kind of power is not scientific, but magical. In addition, these biodynamic farming practices are designed to cultivate mindfulness about the work being done by the farmer. They remind us that our land isn't just ours and that we have a responsibility to it and to the animals we raise. It seems that this does fit the definition of magic, but if the deed (like stuffing a horn with manure and burying it) could be interchanged with a placebo deed and still work, well, then it seems like science still has something to say.

Much more on this topic in the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

8 Years of Afghanistan

Well, I guess its looking more and more like President O is caving to political pressure on Afghanistan. This shift of focus on al-Qaeda while ignoring a proper plan for Afghanistan is frightening. It seems that Gen. McChrystal's request for additional troops is looking less and less likely to occur. Obama has two views that dominate his cabinet: Defense Secretary Gates and Sectary of State Clinton are advocating a long-term presence with a troop build-up, while Biden has his eyes narrowed to wiping out al-Qaeda in Pakistan (where they almost entirely are located). Meanwhile the public has little taste for war these days and the war (or whatever you want to call it) has now reached the 8 year mark.

Supposedly he has rejected the "Biden option" of using special forces to go into Pakistan and wipe out Taliban leaders, but I think the idea has seeped in nonetheless. That would be a shame because the last thing America should be doing is doubling-down. What Afghanistan needs is more nation-building and infrastructure projects. It needs a Marshall Plan.

The Taliban is indeed very powerful, but they are not particularly popular. Rule under the Taliban was brutal and most Afghans would benefit much more from a Moderate regime. Maybe that doesn't mean a full-functioning democracy. I don't think America's responsibilities go that far, but surely we owe it to that nation to pull out our presence only after it is stronger than before. There must be enough civilian institutions to defend the country politically and militarily from the influence of neighboring interestes (remember that al-Qaeda is made of CIA trained operatives and the Taliban is the product of an oil-hungry Pakistan intelligence service). So, I'm hoping that our President has the foresight to see that winning in Afghanistan is imperative and the conditions of any "victory" must include self-rule and a semblence of stability. If that means more troops and more money, then so be it.