Something Personal

December 5, 2011

There are people who easily connect with their fellow human beings and I admire them and to some degree envy them because I’m not a communicative person, I lack the talent as well as the urge to communicate. My wife diagnoses me frequently with Asperger syndrome or mild, high-functioning autism, but such a diagnosis would also imply a lack of empathy, which is for sure not a part of my character. The famous Woody Allen quote “I’m not anti-social. I’m just not social,” nevertheless fits quite well into my profile.

I don’t have many friends, not on social media sites like Facebook and not in the real world. I need friends like anybody else but I prefer the ones with whom I can discuss thoughts beyond the usual assortment of gossips and rants. In fact I’m looking for friends who spare me gossip and rants and who come straight to the point.

Coming straight to the point, that is what I consequently want to do now. The essence of my blog posts is:

1. Our Western lifestyle is wasteful, unhealthy, unsustainable.

2. We need a paradigm shift and a new value system based on empathy towards all life and the willingness to harmonically integrate into nature. We need to perceive ourselves as a part of nature.

3. We need to simplify our lives and shed unnecessary material and mental ballast.

4. Life is short, we shouldn’t waste even one single second.

Thats basically it, though one could surely add quite a few details, for instance by pointing out the things, that cause suffering and carnage around us. A few suggestions:

Weapons and other machines of destruction (airplanes, cars, trucks, bulldozers, heavy industrial equipment for farming, logging, mining, manufacturing)
Male dominance (testosterone as the driving force of human history)
Hubris and greed of (mainly male) sociopaths
Systematic brainwashing (mind control)
Religions, superstitions, ideologies
Stupidity and lack of education

One point, that to some extent is implied by the list items but nevertheless has to be addressed separately is the deliberate deprivation of basic needs (unpolluted air/water/food, sexual fulfillment, a quiet place to rest and sleep, income security and health care, social acceptance/dignity/respect) in order to exploit this unfulfilled urges for commerce (consumerism), political aims (nationalism, exceptionalism, racism, xenophobia), and war.

Problem awareness by itself is of course not the solution, it’s only the first step toward a solution. The four points that I mentioned before are abstract and vague, they have to be clarified by listing practical steps and remedies.

A. What can we do on a personal level, in what way do we have to change our lives in order to improve the situation? From my blog post “Essential questions”:

Be an example, be a teacher, be a prophet, be a saint. Love, care, be happy, lead a modest life with the least possible use of energy and materials. Don’t reproduce. Be careful and clever, outwit the powers of evil.

B. What has to be done on a community level?

1. Building research groups or using existing institutions for education, training, research, which is focused on:

2. Developing ways to disable and dismantle weapons and other machines of destruction.

3. Developing smart tools, optimized methods/techniques/practices, and efficient organizational structures of a new economy.

4. Building local networks (neighborhood committees), new distribution models (replacing supermarkets by online ordering), subsistence farming and gardening. Creating a new economy (counter currencies, time banks, co-ops).

5. Supporting and promoting women in every possible way to establish gender equality.

6. Boycotting, disturbing, obstructing, sabotaging the present system.

7. Taking over and reprogramming existing computer networks.

Needless to say, that this text, like anything else what I write, is nothing more than a snapshot of my continuously evolving mind, my opinions, beliefs, convictions — which I’m ready to update and change at any time. This world is a nonlinear dynamic system with infinite interdependencies and I’m only an average human, trying to make sense of it with pattern recognition and memory, using words, which are just markers for bundles of associations, and logic, derived from grammar, which in turn is just a structure in our working memory meant to organize the words. There is no need for an epistemological discussion here, but an assertion or notion on my part to be absolutely right would be presumptuous, preposterous, silly!

Losing a friend

As I wrote at the start of this mail, I don’t have many friends, and because of this circumstance the few that I have are precious. The initial intent of this text was to commemorate some friends that I recently lost. Losing them was an experience that substantially clouded my mood, and the emanating emotions and sentiments were of a kind, that I normally keep private.

But then, talking helps, writing helps, sharing the experience with other people helps. Normally I wouldn’t dare to bother anyone with my grievances, people have enough to do with getting over their own misfortunes and setbacks. For many life is a continuous chain of failures, mishaps, disappointments, defeats, life is a disaster, a catastrophe, a tragedy.

It is astonishing and impressive, how many words the English language provides for describing negative events that could happen in someones life: Adversity, bad luck, blow, calamity, cataclysm, catastrophe, debacle, defeat, disappointment, disaster, downfall, failure, fiasco, misadventure, mischance, misfortune, mishap, setback, tragedy, trial, trouble — just to list a few examples. There are even the two derivational morphemes “dis” and “mis” which can be used to turn nearly every word into its antonym or its negative equivalent.

There must be a need for so many negative words!

Back to my lost friends. A report of my personal misfortunes is for sure not called for here, but camouflaged as a plain, unobtrusive, detached study in melancholy, negativity, sentimentality, whining, the text could maybe entertain or even amuse. Enough said, just lets do it:

Though I normally try to go straight in medias res please allow me to deviate from the usual procedure here by turning back the clock and recalling the start of one particular friendship (and a special, enchanting friendship it was) before arriving at the chosen theme.

Three years and three month ago my wife and I made a bicycle ride and when we passed a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, a tiny little kitten was sitting on the way and looked at us. I stopped and talked a few southing words and touched it and when I wanted to continue my ride, the kitten ran after me, desperately meowing. I stopped again and carried the kitten back to the farmhouse to set it down beside a grown-up cat who was laying there in the sun and who could possibly have been the mother, but when I turned, the kitten followed me again, woefully meowing. I couldn’t help myself, I simple put it into my bike basket to carry it home and the little cat baby laid quietly there with closed eyes and didn’t move for the whole duration of this first and also only bike ride of its life.

The kitten was Cindy, maybe you are already familiar with her story because I wrote in several blog posts about her. When Cindy ran after me on this day three years and three month ago, she just wanted to survive, she just wanted to be rescued from the abandoned farmhouse. She realized somehow that this was her only chance.

On the next day my wife and I visited the farmhouse again because we wanted to fetch another kitten so that Cindy would grow up with a companion. We walked around the farmhouse and to our astonishment we saw, that in the stables were cows and in an enclosure behind the house were goats greasing. All the animals stopped with whatever they were doing when they saw us and looked at us interested and appreciative. I knocked on the door of the house just to make sure that no rightful owner of the property was living there and the door opened slowly.

It was pushed open by a big black dog, who calmly walked towards us and sniffed at us. Normally (and mainly out of loyalty with our cats) I don’t care much for dogs but this one was beautiful. It had long hair and it was probably in its golden years. The dog looked at us with such a melancholic expression in its face that I had to touch it and talk with it. I softly stroke it and the dog stood still but after a minute or so it turned and slowly walked back into the house.

I will never forget the sad eyes of this dog. We were welcome, but we were not his/her master for whom he/she passionately had waited so many days now. As a neighbor of the farm told me a few month later, the owner was in a psychiatric hospital and the cows and goats were cared for by a relative who visited the farm every second day. Nobody though cared for the dog who soon afterwards disappeared, probably shot by a hunter as he/she was looking for food and started poaching in the adjacent forests.

After the encounter with the dog we looked into the yard of the farm and found some 40 cats of all ages there. My wife wanted to fetch one of the kittens but they all run away, only one tiny little bundle of fur was not fast enough. This kitten would later become Wendy, a beautiful long hair cat (I assume the product of a visit by a Persian tomcat). Wendy has not the flat face of Persian cats (I’m glad about that), but she has very long hair. As far as I’m concerned, I would categorize her as an “extra longhair cat”. And if that classification doesn’t exist yet, I’m ready to set it up and even initiate an “extra longhair cat breeder association”. No, I can’t do that, all of our cats are spayed.

At this day, Wendy was just a little filthy bundle of fur and she was not much bigger than one of the mice who would later become her favorite diet. She obviously had fallen into a milk container and her fur was covered with clotted milk. We brought her instantly to the vet who gave her some injections and pills and washed her fur with a special lotion and we got a lot of additional medicine for her because she had just about any possible parasitic infection.

It was not easy to get her healthy again and for weeks to come the first thing when I woke up in the morning was to instantly look for her if she was still alive. But now, after three years and tree month Wendy is a lovely and lively cat, laying behind me right now as I write this words on the computer and looking at me.

There are various computers in this house, two in the music studio, one in the office, one in the living room. My wife has one in her private room, there is even a computer in the cellar, because the cellar is a cool place even on the hottest days and during a heatwave I retreat there. We have no air condition, air conditions are not popular here because of their high energy consumption and not much people in my country would ever consider installing an air condition.

I am by the way not at all proud to possess so many computers, they are a legacy of my former existence as a computer freak/geek. The computers are all Mac Mini’s from late 2009 and 2008. I was (and still am) enthusiastic about these particular models because they are the most environmental friendly computers that were ever built. They need very little power and are basically laptops without keyboard and display.

I have replaced the original hard disks by solid-state drives, which significantly increases the performance and further reduces the power consumption (12 – 16 watt depending on CPU load). CPU temperature is low (32 – 38 degree Celsius), which increases durability. I also removed the Airport and Bluetooth antennas.

Unfortunately the latest Mac Mini models are a step back from an ecological point of view, but I will use the computers that I have as long as possible, and that could be a decade or more. If I can use the machines that long I will be able to forgive myself that I bought gadgets that were made in a Foxconn sweatshop in China and benefitted mainly US (Apple) and Taiwanese (Foxconn) shareholders.

Back to my original theme: There are quite a few computers here but I write most texts on a machine in my bedroom, which is also my study. The cats like to gather around me or alternatively lay side by side on the bed behind me, sometimes it becomes very crowded.

Cindy, the cat which I mentioned first, also liked to rest on the bed, but she is not here now. She is not here and she will never be here again and never again lay behind me and purr softly. Cindy disappeared two weeks ago and the circumstances suggest that she met the same fate as the dog that I mentioned before. The circumstances suggest that she was killed by a hunter.

The house is on the edge of a forest and Cindy spent most of her time in the forest, which was her territory, her refuge, her kingdom. The area where we live is not frequented by hunters, but Cindy had a wide range, she explored also the adjacent areas many kilometers away from here.

The very last time that I saw my friend Cindy was when I made my obligatory daily walk with the cats. It was one of the final warm and sunny days of this autumn and I had a pocket camera with me, to make pictures of my little friends. Cindy’s last walk with me is well documented.

Cindy usually went with us till a place near her favorite hunting grounds and then left the group to stay in the forest.

I can remember that she often sat on a tree trunk and looked after me and the other cats as we were continuing with our journey, following the route which finally would lead us back home. I often turned back to her and waved to her and I called: “Cindy, be careful, don’t go too far away!” And she would sit there motionless and look after us till we disappeared as the path took a turn.

On this very day though Cindy departed unceremonious by simply jumping into the underbrush after she had demonstrated to her fellow cats that she still was the best tree climber, unchallenged by any other cat. If I would only have known! I would have run after her, I would have taken her in my arms and carried her home, petting her constantly and telling her sweet little compliments. But I didn’t know and my head was full of other things.

My cousin, one of my few relatives, had died a few days ago unexpectedly from a sudden heart attack. He was exactly one week younger than me. The funeral was the next day and I had to drive 150 kilometers to the town where he lived. It was a sad event. His wife and their three daughters were devastated and everybody — me included — cried.

He was a family man and a loving and caring father. They had a happy though not always uncomplicated marriage and would have reached their golden anniversary if he would have lived long enough. He was a nice and social and not aggressive man and I was glad to have such a relative and friend. Unfortunately he had smoked for much of his life. He stopped smoking when he had coronary artery bypass surgery ten years ago, but the damage was already done then.

The church service was not as nonsensical as I had feared. The Catholic priest spoke measured words of comfort, he played his part very well. He was a handsome man in his forties with an intelligent face and a pleasant voice. I was surprised — how can such a person become a Catholic priest?

I’m full of prejudices! And I have to remind myself of two remarkable persons whom I had the fortune to meet and who had a significant positive impact on my life.

Normally I rather seek contact with and help from women and I avoid men (typical tomcat behavior), but beside the many wonderful women in my life who helped me to find my way there were also three men who influenced me and benefitted me immensely. One taught breathing techniques and Biogymnastics on the Viennese Music University and after some lessons turned out to be a Yogi.

The second was a Catholic Zen priest who was invited for weekend courses in my then home town by a friend of mine. The priest knew that I was a nonbeliever but he respected my position. At the end of the courses he conducted a catholic mass for the participants and he served a communion wafer to everybody of us. It was the only communion waver I ever did eat. I asked him after the service if that in my case would not constitute a deadly sin but he just smiled.

The third man was Lee Ki, an evangelic pastor of the Korean church in Salzburg. Twelve years ago, exactly at the turn of the millennium, he visited me several times in the hospital when I was just starting my chemo therapy. He sat down with me and we talked about many things and he also prayed for me.

Back to the story of my lost friends:

After the burial of my cousin the relatives sat together in a pub and we talked about his life and about our lives and about whatever came to our mind. We talked for many hours till late in the evening. Talking helps a lot. When we came back home our cats greeted us joyful and relieved. They ran to their usual place in the kitchen, looking appreciative and a bit reproachful at me and waiting for food. Cindy was not there.

Cindy was often away for a couple of days and so I was not worried too much when she didn’t appear the two days following the funeral. But I heard the guns of the hunters from far away and every time a shot rang, my heart sank and I had an unusual feeling of weakness in my stomach.

After three days I started looking for her. I walked first the routes that we normally take and after that nearly every other path in the wood. I walked ways and came to places that I never had seen before. Princess Min Ki and Rosy accompanied me on the first searches, but they got tired after a few rounds and then I went alone. I went for many hours, calling “Cindy, Cindy,” then stopping and standing quietly hoping to hear a faint meow as she would be working her way through the dense underbrush towards my position.

I did that before, I wrote about it in my blog post “Cindy come home”. As I described there, I walked and called for her and while I was walking I imagined the joy I would feel when she finally reappeared and I imagined that I would kneel down beside her and I would take her in my arms and listen to her purring and life would be wonderful again.

This time Cindy didn’t reappear — I called in vain. I searched for five hours this day and another four hours the next day, in the end I came home without her, sad, tired, and with a sour throat.

There are not many people who appreciate the beauty of this place and who make walks in the forest. The owner of the forest (a nice 76 year old man), his son, and I myself are about the only persons who can be seen there. Fortunately there are also no hunters frequenting the area. Cindy was not shot here and I will never know what happened to her. I hope that she died instantly and was not wounded, that she was not crawling into the underwood and slowly and painfully bleeding to death.

Cindy would never have left to look for another home. Occasionally I see the notes attached to a post or a tree about lost cats and I have to smile. In many cases the cats are not lost, they just moved on to a better place. But Cindy loved our home, she was my dear and committed friend, she never ever went anywhere else and never courted anybody else.

Cindy was also not likely to get disoriented and she would in any circumstances have been able to find back home, she was an intelligent cat. It could have been that she did eat poisoned bait but that is normally not used here. She could also have been killed by a car but there is not much traffic here and she was very careful and only crossed the road when absolutely nothing was in sight.

I will never know, what really happened to her.

The funeral of my cousin was already the second in a month. Before that I attended the funeral of a colleague with whom I worked together for 30 years. He was the principal of the music school where I teach and I was for some years until my part time retirement his deputy — we were quite close. Two years ago he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was then exactly as old as I was when I had my cancer diagnosis. I underwent chemo therapy (4 cycles CHOP) and am now in remission for twelve years. I had hoped that he would follow my example but his cancer was more severe and turned out to be incurable. He fought for two years but the constant chemo therapy made his life more and more difficult. He suffered from constant nausea and got thinner and thinner.

I would have liked to say goodbye to him and visit him to talk about the old times and all the things that we went through together, but in the last month he didn’t take any calls and secluded himself completely. Only his wife and daughter were around him.

It was undoubtedly an extreme painful experience for his wife, to see her husband consumed by the slow but unstoppable progression of a terminal illness and to watch the resulting deterioration of his personality and so I didn’t blame her for shunning the colleagues of the music school at the funeral and also afterwards.

Unfortunately it didn’t stop there. When the new head teacher asked the wife of our deceased colleague to return an archive of music books and other items from the music school that was at their home, she reacted angrily and just dumped all the material without comment into the hall of the school. I had to sift through the pieces and sort them and carry them into the office.

I don’t bear a grudge against her. I would not blame anybody who has gone through such an ordeal for subsequent inappropriate and unjustified actions. Love and understanding seems to be the most adequate response in such a case (as well as in most other cases).

The next funeral will be of the aunt of my stepson Martin. She has stomach cancer and was just transferred to a palliative care unit.

Sad, sad, sad.

Cindy was a completely unremarkable little gray cat, though she was intelligent, lightning fast and a terrific mouse hunter and tree climber. She was a little gray cat, and yet I’m not ashamed to put her into the same category as my human friends — even if that may seem inappropriate and moronic to some people.

I even have to confess that Cindy’s death still hurts most and the idea that I will never hear her meow again running after me and never again will hear her scratching on my bedroom door and never again will be able to strike her belly when she is turning on her back in front of me with all her four paws up in the air, the idea that I will never be able to do all that again is nearly unbearable.

Surprisingly I’m not depressed and I’m not damaged at all. I was saddened, moved, touched, hurt, but I am not damaged and feel quite well and settled right now. Could it be that my continuous meditation exercises, halfhearted and undisciplined as they may be, are helping?

I also don’t feel bitterness and rancor against the hunters who most likely have killed my friend Cindy.

I don’t dream of taking my AK-47 from the locker to seek them out in the forest and mow them down in a hail of bullets. It would be quite difficult in any case to transform this dream into reality, because I don’t have an AK-47, in fact I never possessed any firearms.

I also don’t dream of going to the pub where they have their monthly gathering, to trow a couple of hand grenades through the open windrow.

I don’t dream of studying the various easily available manuals on the internet about building and planting bomb’s and I don’t intend to attach my homemade bombs under their SUV’s to blow them up when they want to leave the scene after their bloody business is done.

I don’t intend to spend my severance money for paying a Bulgarian hitman 12.000 Euros per exterminated hunter. Even if I would get a discount to 9.000 or 8.000 Euros per extermination I wouldn’t do it.

I don’t feel hate against the hunters but I also have no sympathy for them. It happened already, that they accidentally shot and killed one of their own. I wouldn’t shed tears if such an incident should happen again. Yet I would also not be triumphant and joyous — death and suffering are never a cause for celebration.

I don’t feel sympathy for hunters and I also don’t intend to reach out and talk with them. They would not understand me in anyway, they are different, they think different, they speak a different language. I would need a translator, an intermediary to communicate with them — maybe one of the blog visitors can lend a helping hand.

I love animals, during my walks in the forest I often encounter deer and hares and I’m intrigued by their beauty and elegance. I would never be able to do any harm to them and it is very difficult for me to understand, comprehend, imagine how a feeling and caring person, a sentient human being can shoot and kill this wonderful creatures.

The hunters insist, that they follow a well established tradition, a tradition which is part of human culture since the first day of our existence. They are right. Torturers, rapists, and murderers all follow a well established tradition.

Everyone interested in history knows about the Roman Emperor Constantine who in 325AD convened the Nicene Council to establish the Roman Catholic Church. Constantines favorite method of killing his opponents was to hang them on their feet with the head down, cut their throat, and watch them slowly die. Dying would take a prolonged time as blood remained in the head. One year after the Nicene Council Constantine executed his son and boiled his wife Fausta alive.

The Borgia Popes (Callixtus III and Alexander VI) were another example of human conduct following well established traditions, the Borgias murdered their opponents preferably by arsenic poisoning.

Prophet Muhammad at the age of 57 took his 17 year old Jewish wife Safiyah after her father Huyeiy was beheaded along with 900 men of the Banu Nadir tribe and her husband Kinana was tortured to death when the town Khaibar was raided and all men there were killed. The younger and prettier widows of the killed jews were given to Muhammad’s followers.

Back to the tradition of hunting.

My little friend Cindy was also a passionate hunter. She killed mice, rats, voles, moles and occasionally squirrels and birds without hesitation. Occasionally she brought mice and birds into the house alive and set them free there but I don’t think that she spared the lives of these animals because she felt pity for them. Cindy was not able to feel compassion for her prey.

None of my cat friends is feeling sorry for the victims, even Wendy, the most social and most friendly cat that I ever met slaughters mice without compunction and scruple.

Considering this fact the question arises about the justification to despise and shame the hunters when my cats do exactly the same? Both the hunters and my cats kill not only for food but also for fun. This is a serious ethical dilemma and I have pondered about it for many years. In the end two main points emerged, one science based and one intuition and common sense based.

A. The scientific explanation: When cats are born, they are ready to run, they are well prepared to face the perils of life, most of their survival skill are preprogrammed. Cats have less than eight percent of the brain capacity of us humans, they have less spindle cells than we have and they cannot change and reprogram their instincts and reflexes easily. In other words: The ability of cats to reflect about and think over their actions is limited and their brain plasticity is limited.

It nevertheless happens that cats adjust to the most unusual situations (aren’t they astonishing resourceful after all?), and become friends with fellow animals that would be normally their food. On YouTube one can find quite a few examples for their flexibility. But this is not the norm.

When humans are born, they are completely helpless. A baby would starve to death or parish in some other way without help from adults. Much of the brain develops after birth and till the age of four most humans are not more intelligent than a cat. Life experience and education have consequently a much greater role in shaping the personality of a human individual than they have for cats (or any other species). For human applies: Nurture trumps nature.

The conclusion: Humans can overcome harmful and undesirable instincts to kill much easier than cats.

B. The common sense explanation: From a deterministic point of view the soldiers, militiamen, terrorists, hunters, butchers and other mass murderers are not personally to blame for their crimes, they are a product of their upbringing and of the social climate.

There are every now and then persons who grow up in appalling conditions (slums, broken families, drought areas, war zones) and nevertheless are able to overcome poverty and deprivation to become shining examples of the “human spirit”.
Some individuals make it against all odds, but they are exceptions.

Children who grow up in a climate of violence will usually become disturbed and traumatized and will become violent adolescents and criminal adults. Children who grow up in a society which condones killing will themselves kill with ease.

So what? What is wrong with killing? Many creatures kill, this is the way of life and it is a way of population control and a way of balancing the ecosystem. Cats kill mice, hunters kill cats and deer, humans kill humans. If the cats wouldn’t kill mice, the mice would ruin the crops. If the hunters wouldn’t kill deer, the deer would ruin seedlings and young trees. If humans wouldn’t kill humans, the exploding human population would ruin everything!

I’m convinced, that overpopulation will lead into an environmental catastrophe but I nevertheless don’t endorse population control by killing. What kind of life is that, if you have constantly to watch out, look for cover, be ready to run and hide. What kind of life is that, if you always have to be on guard, watching your back, be ready to fend off an assassin? Competing against each other, fighting against each other, killing each other is a very cumbersome and exhausting lifestyle. Theres not much joy in such a way of living though some people seem to like it. Genghis Khan liked it, Stalin liked it, Pol Pot liked it, the Mexican drug lords like it, the Afghan and Somali warlords like it, the mercenaries/military contractors like it, the CIA and Mossad assassins like it.

I don’t like it. I prefer to live in peace and quiet and I don’t want to waste my time with target practice and combat training to be prepared for an assault. Maybe I would be able to kill an enemy in self defense but I would be haunted by this experience till the end of my days.

Based on this consideration it is eminent that I have to continue (with the help of my feline friend, who are the most charming ambassadors of nature) to evoke, stimulate, rouse, teach understanding and compassion for our fellow creatures (humans and animals) and to explain the reasoning behind point two of my statement at the start of this text, which was:

2. We need a paradigm shift and a new value system based on empathy towards all life and the willingness to harmonically integrate into nature. We need to perceive ourselves as a part of nature.

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