28 December 2012

Contents list

Below is the www.waysofloving.com contents list.  Some of the many weird and wonderful things I didn't use are on the scratchings page.  You can also view all the wonders on the Ways Of Loving map.

Week 1: Cosmic Zoom
Week 2: Danny MacAskill
Week 5: Running
Week 6: Slug sex
Week 7: Baaba Maal
Week 9: Hospitality
Week 11: Ant-counting
Week 12: Krump
Week 13: Žižek
Week 14: Murmuration
Week 15: Northern lights
Week 18: Virtuosity
Week 19: Protest
Week 20: Trains
Week 22: Igloo
Week 23: Ice dance
Week 24: Love in old age
Week 25: Spirals
Week 26: Black holes
Week 27: Moonwalk
Week 28: Bees
Week 29: Swimming
Week 30: Opposable thumbs
Week 31: Symphony
Week 32: Samuel Plimsoll
Week 33: Metaphor
Week 35: Lindy hop
Week 37: The bicycle
Week 38: James Holman
Week 42: Soil
Week 43: Smiles
Week 45: Being in love
Week 46: Maps
Week 48: Bird migrations
Week 49: Hunting
Week 50: Love and wonder
Week 51: Growing food


23 December 2012

Week 52: 'I think of love as something strong that organises itself in politics'

Wonder spawned in: 1968
Wondered into being by: Martin Luther King Jr.
Wonderspan: 5 minutes
To experience this wonder at its best: Make sure you can hear the sound and click 'full screen' icon.

So your brother is a garbage collector in Memphis, Tennessee, on 99 cents an hour.  He says it’s not right that when it rains, he’s sent home with no work, while his white workmates who drive the trucks are paid for doing nothing.  So today he’s on the picket line.

This is just the latest.  Your people have endured every privation you can think of.  You’ve been kept out of shops by signs on the door comparing you with apes, refused work because of the colour of your skin, told you haven’t the right to vote or go to university, and kept from eating at the same café counter as the white folks.  And when your people resisted, you were beaten by mobs, people disappeared, the law stood idly by or worse – they turned water hoses against you and your children, or set the dogs on you.

Your brother was on strike yesterday, too, and in the afternoon the police taunted him and hit him in the head.  He didn’t retaliate, though, and he’s gone back to the picket line today.

You and your brother heard Dr. King talk about his dream: ‘with this faith… we will be free one day’.  You have read Dr. King’s open letter, written on scraps of newspaper from a cell in Birmingham jail: ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, … I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.’  You have seen your people rise up in Atlanta, Georgia, to put this into practice, claiming back their dignity and not letting the brutality of the state bow their heads.

Times sure are changing.  It’s 1968.  The segregated schools are gone or going.  Those ‘No Negroes’ signs are now illegal.  More black people are voting now, some are going to university.  Black and white can all eat at the lunch counters.  You can now wait with the white folks in the station waiting room and when the bus comes, take whichever seat you like, although you still get the abuse whatever you do.  Times are changing, not because your people waited for those in power to hand you freedom, but because your movement arranged boycotts, sit-ins, public education campaigns, rallies, radio and TV interviews and legal action.  You made it happen.

Dr. King has a dream, you do and your brother does too.  He’s proud to be a part of it by being on strike today and you are proud of your brother, especially today, for Martin Luther King himself is coming to town to speak.

The Mason Temple is packed, you've never seen it so full.  Your whole family is here and you have to stand at the back.  You can’t see from where you are that Dr. King is physically and mentally exhausted.  You don’t know that he’s supposed to be in Washington but insisted on supporting the Memphis garbage collectors, though his aides told him it wasn’t important enough.  You don’t realise, either, that yesterday there was a credible threat against Dr. King’s life – a bomb scare.  And no-one knows yet that tomorrow they will finally get to him, though Dr. King knows the time is coming.  You know he knows.  ‘We got to see it through,’ he says, 'I may not get there with you':

The next day Martin Luther King was assassinated by gunshot while he stood on the balcony of his motel, the Lorraine.  The killer was apparently James Earl Ray, a life-long petty criminal and escaped convict.  The FBI was accused of a conspiracy.  The evidence for this is patchy but they had a motive; when King won the Nobel Prize for Peace (at the age of just 35), the FBI called him a ‘vicious’ fraud and ‘an evil, abnormal beast’.

(There was a slightly longer clip on YouTube but the multinational corporation EMI had it taken down saying it was their own intellectual property: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL4FOvIf7G8
But a grainy version of the whole speech with a brief introduction is here: http://vimeo.com/3816635 )

Letter from Birmingham Jail
Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail was an open reply to a criticism from six white clergy denouncing the movement’s acts of civil disobedience in the city.  It was written on scraps of newspaper and smuggled out because he was denied anything to write with.  He was but one of 3,000 or so protesters jailed for nonviolence resistance in Birmingham.  ‘We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people,’ he wrote, and:
‘Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.’

‘Nonviolence’ – what is it?

I don’t know anyone who actually thinks ‘nonviolence’ is a suitable word for what it is supposed to mean.  It looks like it means ‘not violent’ but that is only part of it and not the main part at that.  'Nonviolence' is an attempt to translate a Hindu word coined by Gandhi, satyagraha, meaning something like the power (agraha) of truthfulness (satya).  One way of interpreting satyagraha is as the power of holding faith with the dignity of life – your own and others’ – when it is threatened.  For the truthfulness which makes a claim on the nonviolence activist is not just any old truth, but to the dignity of being.  Satyagrahis are people who try to do this.  While satyagraha implies a commitment not to be violent, in the first place it suggests a certain kind of commitment to social change and, most importantly, to the means of change through a kind of faithfulness to one’s self and to others.  Gandhi turned this insight into a movement based on nonviolent civil disobedience to British rule and oppression of India.

So nonviolence doesn’t mean just ‘not violent’, which lets your oppressor walk all over you.  Rather, it’s a form of active resistance.  It’s neither politics without love, which is violence, nor love without politics, which is sentimentality – it is a loving kind of politics, a political kind of loving.  In the terms of the Civil Rights movement, nonviolence meant being willing to ‘put your body on the line’.  Martin Luther King expressed it like this: ‘I think of love as something strong that organises itself in politics and direct action.’  It put him and thousands of others in jail and it got him and Gandhi assassinated – it’s hardly a soft option.

As a method of social change, nonviolence lays bare a conflict that is already present and then, often, escalates it to create  a crisis point at which change becomes possible.  The authorities of Birmingham, Alabama, unjustly banned the Civil Rights marchers, who decided to march anyway.  This raised the temperature of the conflict because it put the ball back in the authorities’ court.  They reacted with attack dogs, water cannon, and by putting over 3,000 people in jail.  Still the marchers kept marching and did not retaliate with violence.  The result was TV coverage showing state power used in violence against innocent people.  This shocked the nation and the world.  The outrage put pressure on the intransigence of reactionary politicians and gave progressive ones the support they needed to introduce Civil Rights legislation in the next two years.  So, in that case, the determined, concerted, and well-planned nonviolent action of ordinary people brought lasting political change.

Unfortunately the word ‘nonviolence’ still looks like it just means ‘not violent’, when it means so much more than that but until we think of a better word we’ll keep calling these mass expressions of faithfulness ‘nonviolence movements’.  These are at work all over the world – at the gates of British nuclear weapons bases, at tar sands extraction sites in Canada, in the fields of India to resist corporate take-over of the land, and in most other corners of the world.  Every nonviolence movement inspires every other and teaches something new about this very practical, political way of loving.

(By the way, the boat I live on is named ‘Promise’ after the bit in Martin Luther King’s Mountaintop Speech where he says ‘I’ve seen the Promised Land.’)


Here is some footage from Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930.  The Salt March or Salt Satyagraha was an act of nonviolent resistance against an oppressive salt tax levied against the Indian poor by the British Raj.  The marchers walked 241 miles through Gujarat to the sea and began to harvest their own, tax-free salt.  This gave hope to millions of Indians who began resisting their British rulers in other nonviolent ways.  It’s a bit too simple just to say that the British panicked, used violence, then gave up, but that pretty much was the outcome.  Eventually they gave up India entirely.  That didn’t happen just because of the Salt March or other nonviolence movements, but these were instrumental to say the least in achieving independence.  In turn, Gandhi’s methods inspired activists in other countries, not least Martin Luther King.  Here is some original footage from the Salt March – the parts don’t quite mesh together but they’re well worth a watch.

The most significant thing about the Civil Rights movement and the struggle for Indian independence was not their (largely) nonviolent character, important thought that was.  What mattered more was that these were a social movements of ordinary people with no unusual power, role or position, who effectively challenged the edifice of state-sanctioned injustice and helped to build a more life-affirming society.  In the following short film the Dongria Kondh people are resisting the multinational mining company Vedanta Resources, which plans to open a huge open-cast mine on the community’s sacred mountain: http://www.survivalinternational.org/films/mine  (Thanks to Sunniva T for suggesting this one.)

P V Rajagopal talks about his work applying Gandhian insights to grassroots social change movements in India to support rural poor people and their right to work the land and resist its takeover by multinational corporations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHHwNCW5XOU

And what about you and me?  What movement are we part of?

We’ve reached the end of our year of wonders for Monday morning!  We’ve had 52 ways of loving, from Eva Szasz’s Cosmic Zoom to Martin Luther King’s mountaintop speech.  Thank you for following the blog all this way.  Thanks especially if you suggested your own Monday wonders.  I did get stuck a few times and one or two of your suggestions saved me from despair late on Sunday night.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t include all your suggestions but in a few days I’ll include an entry listing all the bits that didn’t make it.

All the entries are still available at www.waysofloving.com and on the wonder map so you can always go round again if you like.

It’s not a bad thing that it’s coming to an end, though.  YouTube seems plastered with ads now anyway.  The real wonders are out there and not on our screens… but you know that.


16 December 2012

Week 51: 'An understanding ... of the human place in the order of creation.'

Wonder spawned in: Throughout history
Wondered into being by: Ordinary folks as usual
Wonderspan: 10 minutes
To experience this wonder at its best: Make sure you can hear the sound and click 'full screen' icon.

Food.  In every bite is the sun’s light, Earth’s evolution, the labour of other people, and particles your body will soon make its own.  In food culminate all the things that make life and communion possible – cosmos, Earth, people – it really is something to say Grace for.  If we want to evaluate how well we love ourselves, others and the Earth, there is no better barometer than how we grow and eat food.  With food, fundamental questions about how we live our lives and organise our societies are literally in your face.

British households throw away more than seven million tons of food and drink each year, worth £12 billion.  Why does it matter?  Here are a few more facts, starting with one I’ve mentioned before; the industrial food system:
  • Has destroyed a third of the Earth’s topsoil in less than half a century;
  • Consumes more than 2,000 litres of water to produce a piece of steak and more than 1,200 litres to produce a loaf of bread;
  • Consumes 10 calories of energy for every 1 calorie of food it produces;
  • Generates yields that are no higher than smaller-scale biodiverse alternatives and creates fewer jobs;
  • Will collapse worldwide within a few decades due to its heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
That has barely begun to explain why change is necessary, but it's enough to be getting on with.  Some people are grappling with the problem in creative, practical way and what they are doing is amazing and exciting.  We'll be looking at one or two of these ways of loving today.

I've gathered four short film clips; please pick one for your Monday morning wonder.  Each film shows how changing the way we grow and eat food is not only socially and ecologically urgent, but involves us in questions of passion -- that is, of what we think life and society are all about.  All the films show that the Earth can produce such benign abundance when we work with and not against it.  This is a wonder, yet so is how these individuals and groups talk about what their commitment means to them; it’s about the whole of life, they say.  Be inspired!

1. Vandana Shiva

Here, physicist-turned-farmer Vandana Shiva talks about the work of Navdanya farm – a place ‘hospitable to every species and every culture’.  She has found that biodiverse systems are twice to five times as productive as industrialised monocrop systems (including those depending on genetically modified organisms – ‘mutilated seeds’).

2. Wendell Berry

Poet and farmer Wendell Berry talks about how working with the land teaches certain attitudes to work and food.  We need ‘a proper humility’, he says, in order to understand the kind of relationship to the Earth that will support human life in the long term: one that allows nature rather than fights it.  His uncommon eloquence and depth of spirit make him (for me) a modern-day prophet.  Every line is like a planted seed, the listener’s mind and heart like a waiting hillside for this ‘good farmer’.

3. Rebecca Hosking

Here is Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green’s film showing her quest to change her own farm.  It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen: beautifully made, straightforward, grounded, sad, moving, still hopeful.  Here are the first ten minutes:
Or if you prefer to skip straight to the bit that talks about how a farm, configured differently, might feed 10 people per acre – twice as many people as conventional methods in Britain - then this link takes you to a point later in the programme:

4. Overtown

Overtown in Miami is one of the oldest and poorest communities in the United States.  The community has planted a permaculture garden on old waste land beneath the freeway.  These guys are from the school of ‘Just Do It’.  ‘We had to bring the dirt,’ they say, without asking for permission because the authorities would have said no.  This film by Kevin Brown, Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood is a bit grainy but I find it really inspiring:
There’s a bit more about Overtown here: http://overtowner.com/

A few easy ways to join in:

Here are a few things I've been trying to do - all fairly simple, none particularly radical:

Cut down waste: http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com  For most items apart from fish and some meat, ‘best before’ dates can be roundly ignored.

Cut down on meat and dairy products - if not veggie, then treat meat as a treat, not every night of the week.
Cut down on heavily processed food (it typically tastes awful anyway).
When buying:
  • avoid supermarkets if possible (they're not on our side, nor on the Earth's); small shops are not always  much better but they are better
  • choose locally grown food if possible (and never anything air-freighted)
  • buy only seasonal produce as far as possible (try a veg box scheme, put a seasonal produce calendar on your kitchen wall)
  • avoid heavily packaged goods
  • prefer organic and fairtrade goods (yep, they’re more expensive, but usually only by a few pence - some people can't afford them, many can)
  • notice when you’re thinking of buying New Zealand butter / South African wine / Moon cheese etc. and refrain!
Try growing your own organic food – you don’t need much space.

Enjoy cooking!  Try never again going to McDonalds/Subway/Pret a Manger etc.

Thanks to Fritha L for suggesting growing food in unusual spaces for a Monday wonder.


10 December 2012

Week 50: 'Love is concrete.'

Whether you’ve followed this blog through 2012 or just dipped in from time to time, thank you.  Are you wondering, as I have been, about whether there’s any more to it than a way of colouring in Monday morning?  There doesn’t have to be, but I did start it for a reason: to ask whether the experience of wonder matters.  Are wonders and wonderings ways of taking care of one another and the world – ways, in another word, of loving?

‘Loving’?  A friend once told me that of the people who are working for some kind of positive change in the world, some tend to talk about love as a motive; others, truth.  ‘I’m for truth,’ she said.  I decided then that I’d better be for truth, too.  Love seemed an airy-fairy word, which works ok on a warm day when everyone’s being ‘nice’ but blows over with the first cold front.  Truthfulness sounded edgier, forceful, authentic in all conditions.  After all, injustice is not born of a lack of love, but of a lie: Palestinians are not calling for our loving good wishes but for what rightfully belongs to them.

Earnestly 'being for truth' worked well for a while but it’s a little chilly.  It's hard to kick back and relax when everything has to be 'authentically' this or 'genuinely' that.  ‘I love you’ doesn’t quite translate as ‘My feelings for you are authentic’.  So I was having a rethink when I was introduced to the work of Isabel Carter Heyward, who talks about love in a way no-one could call namby-pambical:
‘Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete.  Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward”.  Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one's friends and enemies.’
Elsewhere, Carter Heyward talks of love as practical commitment to a ‘right relationship’.  Whether with a lover, a friend, a stranger, an oppressed group, society, or our ecology, love is committed to the integrity and flourishing of the relationship.  It is loving, in this sense, to make rhythms from packets of pasta at Tesco’s, ride a bike rather than drive a car, to marvel at how bodies move, give yourself to the freedom of a dance.  In their right relationship, a sperm and an egg love their way to becoming a baby.  And the man who stood in front of a tank in Beijing gave himself in that moment to a way of loving, which the Chinese government so couldn’t bear that they took him away forever.  So this kind of love is also a form of truthfulness or faithfulness.

If these are all expressions of ‘loving’, what is ‘a wonder’ and how do we know one?  The word’s ancient linguistic origins are completely unknown but we get a clue from the evolution of another word: ‘miracle’.  This comes from Latin mirari, ‘to wonder at, marvel, be astonished’ which, in turn, was born from the Proto-Indo-European root smei, ‘smile’.  This bit of linguistic jiggery-pokery suggests that a wonder is something miraculous, which we recognise not thanks to a GSCE in miracology, but in simply finding that we are smiling in astonishment.  Just as it is only our own laughing that can tell us when a joke is funny, so when we feel astonished – and smile – we know we are in the presence of a ‘wonder’.

So does experiencing ‘a wonder’ inspire ‘loving’?  That would be marvellous.  It would make a smashing final scene in an old black and white film, in soft focus with some rousing music, maybe Rachmaninov:  ‘Darling, do you think wonder inspires love?’ ‘Oh yes, I… I think I do, darling.’ ‘Oh… darling.’ Aaaaand CUT!

Let’s pare this down a bit.  All sorts of evil deeds have been committed because someone believed they had encountered ‘a wonder’; Hitler admired the Aryan race (or the idea of one) as a beautiful and pristine expression of humanity’s greatness.  Nor do acts of love depend on a sense of wonder; we don’t need a feeling for wonder to recognise that war is horrific rather than heroic and to resist militarism.

Hm, so if a feeling for wonder is neither sufficient nor necessary for ‘loving’, can we get by pretty well without it?  Sure we can.  We can get by with never seeing a mountain, too, or never tasting a tomato grown in real soil, or never wondering what life in Japan is like.  There’s no reason to do any of these things, except that by things like these, life expands.  A life that doesn’t expand (one way or another) but rather atrophies and shrivels, tends to be poor in love, including for itself.

Wonder, as an attitude, is hospitality for the universe; it lets the cosmos in like a blind drawn up in the morning and smiles at what crosses its threshold, finding it astonishing and giving thanks for it.  Or perhaps wonder is not a host but a wanderer, who sets out into the day like Walt Whitman to meet the world and ask what the grass really is.  I don’t know; I am never sure whether wonder is something I’m doing or something happening to me.

Right now the leaves are falling in the winter breeze and I notice them shiver on their twigs; the water wrinkles in gusts.  Watching this, the first feeling I fill with is not love, but belonging; I can feel my own self ripple in the gusts and shiver on my branch; I am folded into the universe and participate in it.  But then, to belong is to love.  If love is the rightness of a relationship, then watching these last of autumn's acts, I am stirred by wonder into a kind of loving.  Sometimes, just to notice is a way of loving.

I feel stirred in the same way watching Eva Szasz's film Cosmic Zoom, listening to Ricardo Gallen play Bach, or hearing Hannah Hauxwell say that when she eventually leaves her home in the hills for a house in town, most of all she’ll miss the moonlight on the water.  I even feel moved in the same way when Peter Mugridge talks about his love of trains: ‘Some people like fast cars; I like trains.’

In each of these the presence of life can be felt, for all these are ways of loving.  These are human stories where life is allowed to be itself.  A friend once said that life is like mushrooms; it doesn’t need our help, it just needs us not to get in its way so it can do its thing and grow and grow.  I suppose we could say life just needs us not to build Oxford Street on top of it.

By ‘life’ I mean a kind of aliveness to the world; holding an attitude of curiosity; wondering.  In this body-and-soul aliveness is an openness to humanity, a feeling for being related to others, even to all things.  We admire someone whose smile exudes warmth, or who faces down adversity with resourcefulness, or who can strive hard and still consider the people around them, or who applies their intelligence to a passion for justice.  Perhaps this is because we can sense the life in them, which reminds us in turn that we are alive, too.  In other words, it’s possible to be more or less alive and the more alive we are, the more humane we become.  I don’t know whether this is always true, but that it may be true even sometimes is a wonder.

It is interesting to wonder whether aliveness, when allowed to express itself, leads to ways of loving.  Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan wanted their science education work to inspire in the public a passionate curiosity in the cosmos.  Humbled as we would be, they hoped, by the ‘great story of the universe’, we would then see the grandstanding of the Cold War for the anthropocentric presumption it was.  More than this, we would feel spurred on to express ourselves politically.  If that had been true, all scientists would also be activists, so we can't draw a straight line between someone's passionate spirit of enquiry and an active interest in political affairs, or indeed any other kind of loving.

All the same, I think Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan were onto something.  Although Carl Sagan (not sure about Ann Druyan) was quite sceptical of religion, his hope would make sense to many religious people.  For people of faith, choices are guided, and more than merely an expression of their personal appetite for this or that.  One way of understanding a faith commitment is in being guided by experience of a truth deeper and wider than one's own life as an individual.  The question of what leads our choices and how well they are guided really matters, especially given the problems we are now inflicting on each other and the Earth.

Our society’s ideology is mistrustful of anything that might impinge on individual choices.  Among the extolled virtues of both capitalism and democracy is the freedom to choose, upon which stands their most powerful critique of communist dictatorships.  In the ideology of the Eastern Bloc, individual freedoms were always trumped by the prescribed needs of the collective (unless you numbered among the elite and could exempt yourself from your own ideological rhetoric).  The results were often profoundly oppressive (although not always so).

But our version of capitalism skews the freedom to choose, assimilating it as far as it can into an economic system built on consumer choices.  You can have this car or that one, this career or that one, this wife or that one, and so on.  It’s as if we’re in a vast sweet shop and we can choose anything as long as it’s fancily packaged sugary fat of one kind or another.  Even charity gets packaged up as a consumer choice.  What’s more, you can have your metaphorical Mars Bar immediately, there is no cost apart from to your own pocket, and there’s no theoretical limit to the amount you can amass.  Apart from the light brake of taxation and the framework of a liberal law, our version of capitalism has no rules.  Its principal axiom is: if you are able to, then you are entitled to.  After 9/11, when George W Bush told everyone to keep shopping in order to preserve the US economy, the mantra became: if you are able to, then you should.

As has been said many times in many ways, problems crop up when we expect to obtain something without having to wait and work; when we assume the only cost of a thing is financial and not social, ecological or cultural; and when nothing is around to remind us that it is possible to have too much, just as it is possible to have too little.  So the choices the great sweet shop offers are an illusion; for all its tinsel and bling, it’s also quite boring.  It is also an illusion of democracy when we imagine that we the people get to decide how we are governed; the system serves up a few narrow options every five years, that’s all, and mainstream politics stays pretty much the same.

I want to suggest that this is why a feeling for wonder is important; it can help enrich our choices, forging them into ways of loving, and it can do this whether our worldview is mainly scientific, religious, both or neither.  I'll try to illustrate this...

I met someone at a wedding who likes to go shooting.  I wondered what that’s like.  It’s out of this world to feel the power of the gun, she said, and much more exciting it is to hit a real bird than clay.  I can believe that, but this was the week I had been researching the Monday wonder on bird migration and flight.  As my conversation partner spoke I fell into a reverie of a bird in flight, each of its feathers rippling as it felt out the air beneath it.  I could almost feel the swept line of the feather’s leading edge, the flexing lightness of its hollow stem, and wondered that this structure embodies more knowledge of air’s movement than does the scientific research of two centuries.  I imagined the feather ever closer up: the vein and the rachis, the barbules and millions of hooklets.  And then I watched the shot rip through the lot, and the still-flapping bird fall to earth.

My thought was not one of sentimental pity for a bird, nor a moral question of right and wrong – I would probably kill a bird, too, if it were my only meal.  My distracting and rather inconvenient reverie led to something else: a feeling for the dignity of the bird’s being, of which killing it for fun seemed a particularly wanton violation.  (Rural economies now rely more heavily on this kind of thing, but we have to ask about the justice of poorer people in the countryside depending upon the sporting habits of wealthy, mostly urban people).

A few weeks ago this blog was marvelling at soil.  There are all manner of ecological, economic and social reasons to conclude that topsoil loss has been the most ignored form of serious human damage to the Earth.  These are cause enough to preserve the soil we have remaining, but a sense of soil as wonder could  deepen and enrich that commitment.  That is, when we know soil as a complex living community which takes millennia to form and embodies in its unity a reflexive natural intelligence, it’s difficult to go back to thinking of it just as raw material for plants.

This feeling for the dignity of being – the peculiarly human ability to witness the universal in the particular, find integrity there and cherish it – can inspire choices which we could describe as ‘good’.  The attitude, perhaps, is one of honouring something as an end in itself, not just as a means to one.  Soil again provides an example.  It is our parent in Nature, to which we owe our being.  If we truly honour our mother and father, it is not for economic or practical reasons, nor is it due to the insistence of some moral calculus or social norm, nor is it just because they may be good people.  The special kind of honour due to loving parents is that through them we have come to belong to the world.  The same goes for soil.

The Kalahari bushman honours the kudu he has killed by wiping its saliva on his face and offering a prayer.  Anthony Pisano honours the stranger by welcoming him or her into his New York home.  P V Rajagopal, whom I hope we might meet on this blog before it finishes, offers a prayer to the land, the forest and the water before each meeting of nonviolence activists in India; this honours the things on which their lives and wellbeing depend.  Baaba Maal honours the elders of Kirina for welcoming him under the mango tree and carrying the wisdom of their community's history: ‘Everything did start from here.’

These are all ways of loving.  They are ways of seeking out or making a flourishing relationship: humane, life-affirming, life-giving, and which recognises our common relatedness and belonging.  Wonder can inspire such a commitment as this.  Rather, it can disturb us into one – that is, stir up our assumptions of order, rearrange our lives, awaken and refresh our aliveness.

What about the sweet shop?  Wonder, a feeling for the dignity of being, honouring our relatedness and committing to ways of loving together creates a palpable tension with the great sweet shop of capitalism and its tag-along illusion of democracy.  So wonder can culminate in politics; in joy, too, for it's an exciting way to live.  Just look at the RBS activists protesting against tar sands extraction – they’re having a ball.

We are under serious threat of ecological collapse, economic collapse, and the social collapse that is war.  We are violating the Earth, creating behemoth corporations, making billionaires and leaving paupers on the streets and substituting politics for economics.  I think it's fair to say in general that we have little sense of our own history, little feeling for the ecology to which we belong, little sense of common belonging in general.  Most of us don’t really know what we’re eating or how it got there, some young people in cities have never seen the countryside, we watch an average of 3.9 hours of TV per day, few people have much autonomy in their work.

All the same, there are exciting things happening.  Groups, usually small, are trying to live in more creative ways, building communities of place and interest, and giving their time and energy to movements of social change (about which, more in the next two weeks).  I don’t know how significant these movements will become, but I want to belong to them anyway; I’d rather do that than get stuck in the sweet shop!

Whatever we identify as – educators, activists, lovers, learners, friends, parents, artists – cultivating a sense of wonder meets life with life and honours it.  A child will look at the moon and wonder at it, but that child needs adults around who wonder along with them.  A school student needs to know how to analyse and conceptualise Shakespearean plays and crystal formations, but not as much as how to wonder at them.  A young adult choosing how to live, what work to do, what they have to offer to their community, will be helped by a feeling of wonder which grounds them in a sense of what life can be about.  Wonder is a way of loving.


2 December 2012

Week 49: 'My land is my dignity.'

Wonder spawned in: Two million years ago
Wondered into being by: Early hominids and, today, the San bushmen of the Kalahari
Wonderspan: 7 minutes
To experience this wonder at its best: Make sure you can hear the sound and click 'full screen'

Two million years ago we evolved the ability to run and this became our earliest form of hunting large animals.  Before we invented spears, slings, arrows, we simply ran after our quarry them until we caught them.  This is still done today by the San bushmen of the Kalahari in Botswana and in this BBC film, which explores the human being as a hunting mammal, we follow the hunt from start to finish:

But did you notice that the BBC categorised the film on Youtube under 'Pets & animals'?  Hang on, these are people.

And would you guess from the BBC film that the same people were violently evicted from their land by the Botswana government to make way for diamond mines?  Or that bushmen who tried to return say they were 'beaten, tortured and taken court for hunting'.  It would have been good to know that from the narration, don't you think?

After their eviction, the bushmen struggled in the courts for their legal right of return and after many years' work, eventually won it.  Since then they have been fighting the Botswanan government to allow them to return in practice.  Here's a very good film about their story (apart from the early 'noble savage' reference): www.survivalinternational.org/films/reportersbushmen

So it seems a whole people were evicted from their land - when they were there long before anyone else - so that posh City chaps in London and New York could buy their ladies a fancy type of stone.  Diamonds... It might be better not to bother with them at all and instead give the money to the Kalahari Bushmen's campaign.  You can find out more about that here: www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/bushmen

But isn't this cultural violence a specifically African kind, symptomatic of corrupt governance?  After all, the British government would never do such a thing, right?  Wrong.  Britain did just the same to to the Chagos Islanders in the 1960s so that the US could use the tiny British Indian Ocean Territory atoll of Diego Garcia as a base for its nuclear bombers.  When the islanders won the right to return in the High Court, the government used the Royal Prerogative to get the Queen to overrule the judgement.  The Chagossians are still fighting for their right to return - from Crawley in Sussex.  There's more about that in John Pilger's film here: http://archive.org/details/John_Pilger 

25 November 2012

Week 48: 'But perfect.'

Wonder spawned in: When the dinosaurs were about
Wondered into being by: No-one really knows
Wonderspan: About 10 minutes

Have you ever found a bird skull on a beach?  Hugh MacDiarmid did and it led him into a short, wondering sort of poem, called Perfect:
‘That fixed the tilt of the wings’.  Each ‘th’ in that line reminds me of beating wings, perhaps the long thuh-thuh-thuh of a pink-footed goose coming in to land in Essex at the end of its winter migration from Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.  Or it might be the near-invisible thththth fanning of a ruby-throated hummingbird – barely as long as a thumb and weighing less than a walnut – flying 1,500 feet above the Gulf of Mexico on its solitary autumn journey from the Canadian prairies right to the edge of the Andes.

It’s Monday morning, wonder time, and this week we’re in love with the migrations of birds, ringing the Earth as they do in their millions every spring and autumn.  Apart from the whales and maybe humans, there is probably no animal other than a migratory bird which inhabits so much of the Earth and is so freely able to live beyond its immediate habitat.

Meet the migrants

Some migrations are stunning achievements.  Bar-headed geese will fly non-stop from India to Tibet.  That’s remarkable in its own right, but all the more so when between the two lie the Himalayas!  Not only do the birds need to climb higher in a few hours than any other animal has ever been – up to 29,000 feet – but they must also survive the extreme cold (-50C) and thin air.  The birds have to generate sufficient lift and absorb enough oxygen in air less than half as dense as it is at sea level; in doing so they suffer hypoxia and just seem to fly right through the pain.
There are two birds with more or less the longest annual migrations.  Many sooty shearwaters migrate from the Falkland Islands, where they don’t care whether they are Argentinian or British, to Norway.  Their migration allows them to experience summer all year round (such as it is in Norway and the Falklands); the long days and short or non-existent nights give them plenty of time to breed.  As the crow flies, the journey is 8,700 miles, but the shearwater isn't a crow; it's more of a global tourist with a round-the-world ticket.  Many shearwaters leave New Zealand for Alaska or Eastern Russia but prefer to cross the Pacific to Chile first, before heading north up the Americas' Western seaboard – this way round, the return trip is some 40,000 miles.
The Arctic tern flies even further – over 42,000 miles per year, or nearly twice around the Earth.  It lives almost entirely on the wing, hardly ever landing at all.  They’re just up there, floating on the air, or on the sea, feeding.  Only when they breed – and that's not every year – do they need to make use of the land.
  • In this short film, Greenlander Carsten Egevang takes us through the lonely, uncertain, mildly dangerous and rather thankless task of tracking the terns’ migrations. Again, Arctic terns like their migration to take in quite a bit of the globe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bte7MCSBZvo
Bar-tailed godwits have a record of their own, too, in being capable of the longest non-stop migratory flight: the 8,000 miles between Alaska and New Zealand.  Stopping is out of the question, for they have only the Pacific beneath them and they can’t swim, so they double their weight in readiness for the trip so as to store enough fat.

So what does 'fix the tilt of the wings'?

How do these long-range migrants find their way around the world?  Birds need somehow to ‘know’ to migrate and when, to know in which direction to fly in, to know how long to fly for, and to know when to alter their migration pattern when needed.  And they have to do all this with a brain the size of a pea.

Surely, it’s genetic.  We know it is because migratory birds become restless when the time comes to take flight.  Even fledglings which have never migrated before and in experiments are shielded from other influences begin to get agitated as migration time approaches.  This agitation is indeed a genetic trait, but there is nothing genetic that tells a fledgling bird where to fly to, or even in which direction.  For this, in many species a bird’s first migration takes place alongside its parents or flock.  On the way, the new migrant will remember visible landmarks – mountain ranges and coastlines, for example – and even smells, and so learn the way.  The bird is likely to form an attachment to the route and its precise destination for the rest of its life.

So migration is also a learnt behaviour, but this still doesn’t explain how birds find their way when there are no obvious landmarks or when it's cloudy or dark.  What if most of the migration is by night over the sea?  Neither a genetic trigger nor a learnt pattern of behaviour can help with that.  How do they manage?  After all, no airline pilot would set off from New York to London on a cloudy night with only their own eyes to work out where they were.

On the face of it, we might imagine that a bird can just fly in the same direction as it did last year and hope for the best, but if the wind is even slightly different – and it will be – then it will certainly be blown off course and never reach its destination.  To make up for this, birds are able to use the sun and stars as a combination clock and compass.  With the sense of time and direction that this clock-compass gives them, they can tell when to turn, gain height, or look for land. The most remarkable thing of all is that many species of bird can detect the Earth’s magnetic field.  With this information, the bird’s tiny brain can tell, in effect, north from north-east even on a cloudy night over the sea.

The secret appears to lie inside the bird’s skull, right where Hugh MacDiarmid was looking when he wrote his poem.  Here, small amounts of magnetised iron, called magnetite, are concentrated.  Magnetite reacts under the influence of a magnetic field and in birds it is connected to the nervous system.  It’s possible that some birds might even be able to see the Earth’s magnetic field, for it appears to affect the behaviour of certain photoreceptor cells in the eye.  (I imagine sheaves of colour on the sea’s horizon like a permanent, shifting aurora.)  Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s the science: http://www.gps.caltech.edu/~jkirschvink/pdfs/WiltschkoPigeonPulse.pdf  (see pp. 3031-2)

What happens when the magnetic field is disrupted, as it is when there are high solar winds?  Do birds get lost?  Scientists have found that homing pigeons do indeed lose their way during solar storms.  So if one of these whips up a solar storm, we'll not only see the northern lights as far south as Scotland but we'll also know that there are pigeons somewhere having to stop and ask for directions.  If you don’t believe me, ask a Belgian; there are more racing pigeons in Belgium than anywhere else, and that's a fact.  And if you missed it earlier in the year, there is more on the northern lights here: http://www.waysofloving.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/week-15-i-would-like-to-apologise-to.html

Magnetite is found in many other animals, too: bees, many bacteria, termites, fish, whales, sharks and, wait for it… wait for it… … people!  Unless you’re anaemic, there is magnetite inside the bones of your sinuses.  No-one knows why.  In one experiment, bar magnets were placed on the heads of blindfolded people, which affected their ability to get home.  For anyone with a surfeit of common sense who rightly refuses to take my word for this, here’s the article in the journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/210/4469/555.full.pdf?sid=471a7280-e207-4bf3-a412-9f7d093d97c5

The wonder behind the wonder…

…is perhaps the feather, which gives the bird its flight, warmth, protective coat and colours.  Feathers evolved through the same process as hair did.  Some dinosaurs were heavily feathered to help them keep warm.  Although many feathered dinosaurs couldn't fly, some could, like Archaeopteryx, whose feathers look as sophisticated as a modern bird’s.  Despite these discoveries, perhaps because of them, the development of feathers and then wings for avian flight still puzzles evolutionary biologists (and it's a favourite topic on creationist websites).

It really does seem puzzling.  Even rudimentary flight would require a highly complex anatomical development.  To achieve this, wouldn’t a long succession of genetic mutations be necessary before the change gave the new animal species an advantage in the processes of natural selection?  If so, how could each individual mutation have been selected for?  And how could such an intermediate species survive without usable forelimbs, when presumably it would have been making good use of these before they started to change into something wing-like?  Even if a 'flying' animal were only gliding between trees, it's a big jump (literally) from that to being able to sustain flight - and it's not something that an animal could get away with only half-doing.  So how did evolution pull it off?  Well, I don't know much about evolution, but it is a wonder to realise that the five fused bones in a bird's wing evolved from the same ancestral digits as did a dolphin's flipper, or the digits you're now using to scroll down the screen.

To finish, here is a succession of images that take use ever closer into the feather's structure, right down to the barbules and hooklets which part and remarry themselves again and again through preening (you can zoom into some of these for a closer look).  In the lightness and curve of a feather is the magic of flight.
  1. Wings: http://th01.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2012/156/5/5/bird_wing_by_littlebluestocking-d52d3rf.jpg  Credit: LittleBlueStocking
  2. Primary (i.e. flight) feather: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/Eagle_Owl,_Bubo_bubo,_primary_feather.jpg  Credit: Wikipedia (you can zoom in to see the detail better)
  3. Rachis and vane: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Turkey_feather_close_sdetwiler.JPG  Credit: Wikipedia 
  4. Barbs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23663218@N06/3353973920/lightbox  Flickr: j_brittin
  5. Barbs closer up: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23663218@N06/2403323613/lightbox Flickr: j_brittin
  6. Barbules and hooklets: http://iooe.org/articles/dinosaurs-evolved-to-birds/Scales%20to%20Feathers4.jpg
Have you seen your first migrant bird yet this autumn?  It’s probably not too late – you might still get to watch a winter thrush, fieldfare or redwing arrive from Siberia or Spitsbergen if you’re lucky.


Here's a clip from the French film Winged Migration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q40h8dPmgwQ


18 November 2012

Week 47: 'If I haven’t money in my pocket it’s one thing nobody can rob me of… it’s mine…’

Wonder spawned in: 1973
Wondered into being by: Hannah Hauxwell
Wonderspan: 12 min
To experience this winter at its best: Click on the full screen icon

I'm 40 today and I've been wondering on the marvel of ageing.  It is associated with decline but the word 'ageing' contains no such suggestion - it just means passing through life, starting from when we're born and ending when we die.  When not marred by undue suffering, ageing is the most beautiful process in the world.  It is how we belong with the seasons.  Between young and old is a whole landscape.

This Monday we hear from one older person in particular who is anything but 'old' in the misguided sense of 'spent'.  In 1972, the year I was born, Hannah Hauxwell lived on her own in a farmhouse high in the hills of County Durham, miles from the nearest road.  She farmed her 80 acres alone, selling one bullock annually and living mainly from that income for the rest of the year.

The filmmaker Barry Cockcroft included Hannah in his documentary about people living through hard winters in the hills.  His project was one of several pioneering films appearing in the early 1970s (the extraordinary World At War documentary series was being made at the same time).  I find the film full of humanity; like the best documentaries it allows people to be themselves as far as possible.  Hannah Hauxwell is tough and gently spoken, highly articulate and wholly down-to-earth.

I recommend the whole film - it's very beautiful indeed.  But if you only have a few minutes then go straight to 18:30 and watch through to 30:30.
For Hannah Hauxwell her daily life is a way of loving; later in the film she quotes an unnamed William Longstaff poem she likes very much:
Lone silent hills
Clear singing streams
Mind them
Be near to God.
Thanks to Sunniva T for suggesting this film.


Teresa Hsu is 113.  A century ago her family were extremely poor in China.  The experience led her to dedicate her life to supporting the poorest of all people.  Here she is being young:
Here's a more lighthearted take on ageing while in love... these are excerpts from When Harry Met Sally.
And here's how to grow old in Dutch:
And what happens when we die?  We enrich the soil.


11 November 2012

Week 46: 'A public statement, a celebration of where we live.'

Wonder spawned in: various times
Wondered into being by: everyone who ever lived
Wonderspan: less than 10 min

So, wonder-lovers, the statistics tell me that you're mostly erotic, storgic and agapic, and I can only say that I'm not surprised.

I don't have much time today so I'll get straight to it.  It's maps.  Motley maps of space, time, life.  The categories are old maps, maps of outer space, maps of the Sun, maps of the Earth, maps of localities, maps of people.  Pick a category and go exploring...

Oldest maps in the world
For a while the oldest map was thought to be Babylonian, around 5th century BC, chiseled into stone.  It was intended to show the entire world, with Bablyon at its centre and three islands situated around this axis, known as island-"place of the rising sun", island-"the sun is hidden and nothing can be seen", and, most compelling of all, island-"beyond the flight of birds" (says Wikipedia).  There's a swamp and a canal and the whole thing is surrounded by a circle of sea, beyond which are objects from Babylonian mythology - always just there but beyond the reach of humankind
It turned out that wasn't the oldest map after all.  According to the admittedly not-the-most-authoritative Ancient Wisdom website, the oldest map was found inscribed on a mammoth tusk - yes, a mammoth tusk - in a tomb in Ukraine.  It dates to 11000 to 12000 BC.  It shows a river and some dwellings, think the experts, although they don't really know.
And here's a map on a wall from 6000 BC, which today resembles an unusually arresting work of modern art.  Have a look and guess what it is, then I'll tell you what the Ancient Wisdom website says it is: http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/Images/countries/Turkish%20pics/catalhuyukmap.jpg

So the answer is... 'the streets and houses in plan form, lying beneath the profile of the mountain of Hazan Dag with its volcano erupting', of course.  Well done if you got that right.  I think I'll print that one off an hang it up at home - it's beautiful.

The Ancient Wisdom website has these and other very old maps here: www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/cartography.htm
Outer space
When we found out the universe was bigger than you could map precisely on a stone, we kept mapping anyway.  Prepare to be stunned by this.  Nick Risinger travelled 60,000 miles in the space of a year to create the photographs that would become this Sky Survey.  When you click on the link you'll see our galaxy, The Milky Way, with every star visible from Earth photographed as if they lie on the ceiling of a 360-degree sphere.  That's pretty wild already, but you can also navigate the image.  Use the arrows at the bottom of the screen to move up, down, left and right, and to zoom in.  Click the icon on the left to show the constellations:
The sun
Here's a video of the sun undergoing a coronal mass ejection, which is when the star sheds some of its matter in a huge explosion.  This one is big enough for Jupiter to pass through the ring it creates.  One of the YouTube comments (mine, as it happens) is: ‘It must have eaten a huge vindaloo last night.’ www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmm3J0WAres&hd=1  Here's the same thing scaled against the size of the Earth: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/gallery/images/large/molten304_earth.jpg
Coronal mass ejections create solar storms, which interfere with our electronic equipment and allow us to watch the northern lights at lower latitudes, such as in Scotland.  We did just that earlier in the year, in Week 15.

This is a false-colour image of the sun taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory showing up various features on its surface and in the coronosphere: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/gallery/images/large/trico1.jpg

Here's an image closer in to the sun's surface, where magnetic tubes of plasma called spicules create a sort of chocolate-pudding-mix effect. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_g5h76UahDMo/S9H5BDoO62I/AAAAAAAAAkU/_ZqAmYyM7Ww/s1600/spicules_sst.jpg

This is a sunspot.  The sun has a seven-year sunspot cycle, which is said to interfere with our weather - some people say it even affects society's moods.  If you zoom in you can see huge waves of golden plasma on the sun's surface, like a sea, at about 6,000 degrees centigrade: http://photoshd.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/sun1.jpg

Watching these videos and images of the sun I feel like I'm looking at a god.

  • Here is the Earth right now, in real time, from the International Space Station: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/iss_ustream.html
  • Here are how our cities appear to astronauts, who set up their own DIY photographic system in the space station to picture them for us.  They remind me of the Monday wonder a couple of weeks ago when we looked at the thread-like mycelia of fungi, pushing out tiny filaments through the soil.  From space the cities look like single living organisms: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItX8M55-65g  
  • Here are our flights across the Earth in a 24-hour period, looking a little like a plague: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gkJTJIPWqo
  • Here is the patchwork of industrial agriculture in Kansas, introduced by the European Space Agency's Kelsea Brennan-Wessels (who seems to be waiting for her job in TV to come through) and backed with some pretty awful corporate synth-musak: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx6rwCkV0R4&hd=1  - argh!
  • And here is the loss of Arctic sea ice projected, due largely to air travel, industrial agriculture and other trappings of consumer-capitalist society - note how the image of the right gradually loses its covering... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z2RpwSrNAU  And if Greenland and Arctic ice melts completely, this is what happens to the UK!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skMO4GN1rns 
And finally, here are some non-topographical maps of the Earth from Worldmapper.org:


The campaigning organisation Common Ground has a wonderful project facilitating people to make maps of their locatities based on what they think is most important to them.  Many of these 'parish maps' have been published and I think they're still running the project.  Describing the beautiful parish map of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, its creators wrote:
'The idea started with Civic Society concern over the proposed development of a supermarket on the nearby nursery site.  
'Things can all too easily disappear before people realise what is happening and are able to do anything about it, so we decided to illustrate what people value most in the community, and the map will now be a permanent record.

'It will have a powerful influence on future development where people might be unaware of the importance of what the community did not want destroyed or damaged. People would be able to tell developers:'here it is on the map'. I am sure that if outside developers had some idea before they make plans for an area just how the community feels, they would think twice before investing their money in destroying things that other people value. The map is a public statement, a celebration of where we live.'
Also have a look at Christian Nold's emotion maps of localities, showing how our anxiety leaps at road crossings and diminishes in the park.


The coding of the DNA map of human beings has been printed out and fills a hefty stack of bookshelves.  The whole DNA double-helix is crammed in a tiny ball called a 'fractal globule', crammed in turn into the nucleus of each of our trillion cells.  Only 3% of it actually does anything. 
And here's a handy way to explore human anatomy in your spare time: http://health.yahoo.net/human-body-maps

*   *   *

I've barely scratched the surface - there are so many incredible maps out there.  What is a map, why do we map this and not that, what can be mapped and what can't, what is a map a metaphor of, is a map a mirror of reality or its dream, who are the map-makers...?  I wish I had more time today to wonder at these questions before clicking 'Publish'.   I wonder if map-makers wonder the same thing.


4 November 2012

Week 45: 'Because you cared.'

Wonder spawned in: since forever
Wondered into being by: everyone who ever lived
Wonderspan: less than 10 min

Thanks to Sunniva S for sending in her smile quotient findings for the Victoria Line, which scored a creditable 25%.  It's difficult to create a smile count for the universe by averaging only two scores, but let's - the provisional World Smile Quotient is now ((9/36)+(56/500))/2, which is 18.1%.  There is still time for others to join in.  If anyone else has a go and lets me know how they get on (just leave a comment at the bottom of this post) then I'll report back here and add it to the global Smiles Map for Incidental Life Enhancement (S.M.I.L.E.).

So, we've looked at all manner of ways of loving since January - from a man who stood in front of a Chinese tank to a woman who has spent 20 years counting ants, to a man who opens his home to everyone, to women singing their protest song, to scientists marvelling at our precisely balanced and abundant universe, dancers dancing, musicians playing on the streets, people who make bicycles, watch the northern lights, murmurations of starlings or even just trains, rapt with love for the thing - all ways of loving, all wonder-full in their way, and there's more to come.  What we haven't done yet, at least not directly, is spend a little time wondering at people being in love with each other.

So let's go back to 1968, credited as it is with bringing in a new era of love and freedom.  The Vietnam War sinks to new depths and protests against it reach new heights; the civil rights movement reaches its acme - it's shaking up the old orthodoxies so much that Martin Luther King is assassinated, following Malcolm X's assassinatation five years earlier (whose  legacy lives on in 1968 with the  black power salute at the Mexico Olympics); Eastern Bloc people's resistance movements begin to stir as Czechoslovakia tries to act independently of the Soviet Union in the Prague Spring and Russian tanks roll in to stop it; cultural sanctions against apartheid South Africa begin this year; feminism gathers momentum as a social and political force, women strike for equal pay in Dagenham and win the political argument; Baader-Meinhof revolutionary activists wreak havoc in Germany; Poland erupts with student protests, mirroring the Prague Spring and triggering a national crisis; Paris explodes with student/worker revolutionary protests and new avant-garde arts and political movements, which nearly bring the government down; the first manned orbit of the moon is completed by the US ahead of Russia, just to remind us that the Cold War rumbles on and gets a little scarier each year; amid this tumult there's a shared sense (so we're told) that whatever mess we are making of the world, new ways of being and doing are becoming possible...and then there's a whole lot of loving in the wake of the Summer of Love the year before. Loving, loving and more loving - free love, Easy Rider love, polygamy and polyandry, experimental love, lots and lots of making love.

Or was there?  Some older have told me that there wasn't that much free loving going on.  On screen, you could see people starting to have covered-up sex, people talked about sex a bit more than before, men and women could study together in universities, but for most people life wasn't very different from how it had always been.  Love played second fiddle to marriage, which meant marrying the right person, and that didn't necessarily mean a good person.  For many, marriage for love was saved for fairy tales and sex kept in a cupboard with the best china for special occasions or dragged out like a half-empty bottle of whisky whenever they (or just he) felt like it.  But the hippy revolution was having some kind of effect - at least people were starting to try things differently - the idea that you could marry for love, maybe even ought to, was gaining ground.

It was around 1968 that a social scientist called John Lee started to wonder what people meant by love.  He noticed that when people talked about their partners, they used the word 'love' to mean some quite different, sometimes very different, things.   He decided to collect statements about love from books - fiction, non-fiction, the Bible and so on - and he gathered these until he had hundreds.  He set about wondering whether the statements could be clustered together and managed to order them into six broad groups, each corresponding, so he reckoned, to a different attitude of 'love' for a partner.  He called these six attitudes 'colours of love' and in 1973 published his theory in Colours of love: an exploration of the ways of loving.  Magazine editors were delighted - they had a new 'What kind of lover are you' quiz for their irrationally and insatiably quiz-ravenous readership.

For today's way of loving, you'll be finding out, without too much gravity, which love 'colour' is most you and you'll be directed accordingly to your very own Monday wonder, which will be waiting for you and it to ravish one another, hold hands, or at least say hello.  First, we need to find out which love colour is yours.  Please don't assume this is real science, but have a look at the six groups of questions below, which are based on an abbreviated, modified version of Hendrick and Hendrick’s (1990) love attitudes scale to fit John Lee's theory.  As you go through, think about which group of statements you most agree with, then follow the links below.  The questions ask you about your partner - if you ain't got one (and many of us ain't) then think of the last partner you had.  Off you go...

Group One
  • My partner and I were attracted to each other immediately when we first met.
  • My partner and I have the right physical chemistry.
  • The physical part of our relationship is intense and satisfying.
  • My partner and I were meant for each other.
  • My partner fits my ideal standards of physical attractiveness.
Group Two
  • I try to keep my partner a little uncertain about my commitment to her/him.
  • I believe that what my partner doesn’t know about me won’t hurt her/him.
  • I could get over my relationship with my partner pretty easily.
  • When my partner gets too dependent on me, I back off.
  • I enjoy playing the field.
Group Three
  • It is hard for me to say exactly when our friendship turned into love.
  • To be genuine, our love first required caring.
  • Our love is the best kind because it grew out of a close friendship.
  • Our love is really a deep friendship, not a mysterious or mystical emotion.
  • Our love relationship is satisfying because it developed from a good friendship.
Group Four
  • I considered what my partner was going to become in life before committing myself to her/him.
  • I tried to plan my life carefully before choosing a partner.
  • In choosing my partner, I believed it was best to find someone with a similar background.
  • An important factor in choosing my partner was whether she/he would be a good parent.
  • Before getting very involved with my partner, I tried to figure out how compatible our goals were.
Group Five
  • If my partner and I broke up, I don’t know how I would cope.
  • It drives me crazy when my partner doesn’t pay enough attention to me.
  • I’m so in love with my partner that I sometimes have trouble concentrating on anything else.
  • I cannot relax if I suspect that my partner is with someone else.
  • I wish I could spend every minute of every day with my partner.
Group Six
  • I would rather suffer myself than let my partner suffer.
  • I am usually willing to sacrifice my own wishes to let my partner achieve her/his goals.
  • Whatever I own is my partner’s to use as she/he pleases.
  • When my partner behaves badly, I still love her/him fully and unconditionally.
  • I would endure all things for the sake of my partner.
Alright! Click on the link for you below if you agreed mostly with the questions in:   
The science behind this looks a bit dodgy but there's probably something in it (and some social science research supports parts of the the theory).  Maybe we need more words for love: I'm ludicrously ludic about you; I'm feeling so pragmatic about you right now that I could kiss you; you bring out in me a great and enduring mania, darling, do I do the same for you? Say I do, say I do!...  This would all aid communication considerably.  Love should be to us as they say that snow is to the Inuit - we need more than one word for all its textures.

On 14 May 1904 Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a letter to a protégé poet:
To love is good, too: love being difficult.  For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.
(And when it comes to love, we're all young!)