Friday, December 12, 2008

Needs, wants, culture

After a talk w/ some guys from work this evening, I've kind of puked up my short term memory along w/ the response of my frontal cortex to the interference between the short term memory w/ my subconscious and long term memory. Eh, something like that. Here it is, unedited and unabridged:

I talked for a while tonight w/ two of my counterparts at work from the Russian campus. We are all in Santa Clara for training. We contrasted cultural norms and understandings, as much as we could in the short time. Much of it, I captured in abstraction, but I think I can generalize a bit to describe a bit about all of us, independent of our cultures or locale.

We accept what we have as the norm. If we have less, we are content with it because it is the best we can have. If we have more, we become complacent and will come to have less. One of my coworkers talked about a story his grandfather told him:

A man came from Russia to the united states. He was so unsettled by the condition of things that he, to summarize, moved to a yellow house and hid away. In Russia, for years, generations, they had little. There were two types of bread, one type of cheese, every couple months, if they were lucky, they could buy sausage. At the new year, they could buy bananas and oranges. When the man came to the US, he saw the supermarkets where all kinds of things were available. This man had grown up in a world where they believed that what they had was the best. That they were in the best place in the world. Then to come here was dumbfounding.

Here, I have grown up in a world where we live in excess. We are only satisfied by fulfilling our wants. We accumulate things, only to create new wants. We are without need. If we need, we often only have to to stop buying fast food, DVD movies, alcohol, and cable tv, and we no longer need. It is true that there are people trying to survive in our country, but so many of my class are indebted and struggling, only because we serve our wants.

Perhaps I'm ranting a bit. I really believe that we need to loose some of what we have to truly appreciate our position. We could have more, but we need not what we have, and most of us really do not know what we have or how easy we have it. To have less, to learn to live with less, would be a blessing. At the same time, there are things of real value which we must preserve. There are things which are of true value to us, power, which we must maintain. Freedom of information. Our real power, to understand ourselves, our world, our relationship with the world.

I feel as though I am on a gentle downhill slope. It would be so easy to burn my extra momentum because I can regain it so quickly right now, but I need to store it. There will be uphill ahead of me. I need to turn uphill, another direction, and store my energy.

What I said above, about having less, there are two ways to understand, at least that I can see. To have less is not necessarily to throw what we have away and just live with less. It can also be to turn and face the uphill once again and begin marching up it. Right now, we are freewheeling, riding on the momentum of our fathers journeys in life. If we try to pedal the bicycle of life we ride now, our feet can not turn the pedals fast enough to speed us up, because we are rolling steeply downhill. We must either turn back uphill so that our energy is not wasted, or we must build a bigger cog for our bicycles so that our turning feet propel us faster, across the bottom of the hill, and up the far side, giving us momentum to drive our next ascent.

To propel ourselves past the bottom feels reckless to me. The faster a bicycle goes, the more unstable it becomes, like going very slowly, too easy it becomes to fall. If we choose momentum in our current direction, alternatively to turning back up hill and progressing up slowly, we will only find ourselves so-high on the other side of the valley. There is only so fast we can go and maintain stability, so we can only reach so far up the other side with the energy we have now. How far we make it up the other side depends on how far we are from the bottom of the valley. If we turn up hill now, never reaching the bottom of the valley, we are likely to maintain a much higher position on the hill. This would only be inverse if we were already right at the bottom of the valley, where the amount of momentum we would loose turning back now would put us at a lower spot on the hill than if we charged through the bottom. I don't think this is the case.

To turn back up the hill is akin to a paradigm shift. It is is a change in the way we live, but it is change under our control, by our initiative. To charge across the bottom of the valley is to give control over to the world around us. It is to hold steadfast to our ways and only change only as we are forced to by the up heaving slope ahead of us. At the point of turning up hill, changing direction by our own initiative, we loose most of our momentum; our energy has gone into changing our direction; and we must decide to ourselves how we will climb back up.

I just took a shower and am about ready for bed. I've been thinking a bit more about this. We spend a lot of energy in pursuit of leisure. One way we do this is with technological toys. We buy computers, video games, cell phones, etc that we we do not necessarily need. At the same time, our next generation, come time for them to be the ones designing the technology that will further our civilization, our tools for advancement and greater efficiency, will have an understanding of those tools and a direction in their designs because of their experience with them. The question may not be whether it is right for us to consume so much of these sorts of products, as we are creating the technological infrastructure of our future, but whether we ought to exercise more discretion in our use of these tools.

There is no clear black or white to any issue, the use of our technological toys or experiments included. Like most questions, we must depend on our sense of ethical discipline to judge what is right for us. It is good to use these tools as they are made available to use, but we must measure our need and not delve into excess. For all issues which concern us, we are most benefited by learning to exercise our sense of ethics, morality, whatever. We must recognize that each of us plays a part in the creation of our world and that we are responsible for it's upkeep. A sense of pride is important in making decisions about or needs and the way things ought to be. Our sense of pride can, and ought to, be a result of hard work in creating the world as we see it, and arising from hard work, that sense of pride is balanced by humility or humbleness because we know that where we are is a result of hard work and not a god-given right. To not take it for granted.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Samwel Cave

Last week, my dad reserved a day for us and some friends to climb around in Samwel Cave, out the McCloud arm of Lake Shasta. You have to pick up a key from the Forest Service Office just off the Wonderland Blvd. exit, north of Shasta Lake City, on I5. It's no hassle, just a $10 deposit.

The cave is about 60 minutes outside of Redding, and really cool to look around in. Check it out:

This is right by where we parked. The water in the lake's pretty low right now, but the view's good. From the road, you have to walk down a hill to get to the cave...

And then you enter the dark chasm in the hillside...

Where there's a hole you have to climb through... This is where it gets serious. Not like the subway caves where you walk down the stairs ;-)

Everyone snakes along a ledge at the top of the first room to get inside.

It's really a good idea to wear a hardhat in there. The ceiling is low. Next time I'll definitely wear some kneepads too. It's pretty warm inside though, so jeans and a long sleeve shirt are great.

I love these pictures. Being in a cave gives you fantastic red-eye.

There were, it felt like, five main rooms, pretty closely connected to each other. There two to the sides of the main room, by the entrance. Another is below, connected by a 15', narrow vertical tunnel, which was very pretty. The last is down an 80 or 100' pit in one of the side rooms. This one is probably the most pristine of them all, as I don't think it gets much traffic, but we'll have to make another trip to descend into it.

Some of the rock formations in there are huge.

The room w/ the pit in it is large. The pit is in the back corner. There are formations around some of the edges.

Those are several feet tall. Should have gotten a face in the photos for perspective.

That's Lara looking into the pit on the right. Maxx is holding on pretty solidly. You can't really see the bottom looking over the edge there. The hole's about 6 foot across, w/ a ledge around half of it. Most of the rock around it is slick. The graffiti's appropriate.

The pictures don't really show how dark it s in the cave. It's very dark with the lights off. After a wall, if you're wandering around with the lights off, you might start to think you can see a little bit, but it's just a hallucination.

Anywho, we decided to head out, so we pulled out the maps. It took us three days to make our way out of the cave. The batteries in all of our lights died and we spent some time wandering aimlessly. We were fortunate enough to come across a number of crystal pools in the dark. Had we not been able to replenish our thirst, our situation may have been dire. In the end, we discovered that our noses were our guides. They lead us by the dry, cool, scent of the outside air nearest the entrance to the cave.

The way out was actually in the corner of the room. We shimmied through the corner w/ a rope.

As we were making out way back to the entrance of the cave, Maxx and Lara found another room. I mentioned it above. You climb down a narrow tube and, sort of, end up in the basement. It was nice down there. The air wasn't as humid as above, probably because only a couple of us climbed down.

The photo on the left is looking up the tube you climb through to get to the basement.

The ceiling in the basement was way cool. Little crystals. All over.

It was relaxing just kicking back in the basement. Everyone else had already exited the cave. We turned off the flashlights for a couple minutes and listened to the silence. Then it was time to go.

Good times.