Image for post
Image for post
An Asylum City

New Storyboards for Refugees

I’m reading Thomas Kelly this morning, a favorite teacher among Friends, by which I mean the Religious Society of Friends, or “Quakers” for short. I’m seeking solace in devotional literature, by a fellow philosopher.

In A Testament of Devotion, Kelly ties together an experience of eternity that successfully bears up under the anguish of time’s travails. The secret, he reveals, involves the Higher Power we so often hear about, and maybe cannot bring ourselves to believe in.

However, in Kelly’s writing, this Power is not a matter of belief, but of lived experience. Subjugation to human beings is tyranny, whereas willing obedience to a deepest Self is an expression of conscience and freedom.

“The anguish of time’s travails” (my wording, not his) is what I’m relating to at the moment. I’ve felt deeply affected by seeming “electrical” currents (yes, I’m speaking metaphorically) that squeeze my psyche. I seek solace in the divine not knowing where else to turn. You may know the feeling.

I relate these sensations to the Zeitgeist, which others call the Holy Ghost. I believe in a “noosphere” as did some of my philosophy teachers at Princeton.

My community wages a daily battle, not with outward weapons, not with violence, to pull humanity back from the brink. We work in many regions of the world and report to no central command. We do not even know of one another, in many cases.

This community is formed by the Zeitgeist itself. We share this sense of psychic currents. We’re galvanized to do our work. What choice have we?

My privilege growing up was to enjoy a window of relative utopia, I now see, in the rear view mirror. The American War in Indochina had ended before I faced the prospect of being drafted. Unlike my father, who was prepared to conscientiously object, having resisted compulsory ROTC training, and become a Friend, my generation was not even compelled to register.

Dad’s number was never called. He voluntarily served on a troop ship to Japan, as a civilian clerk. He lived bravely, taking his family from country to country as a regional planner. Yet he had lived with the prospect of facing a draft board, whereas I never did.

My sense of urgency came to the foreground sometimes after my university studies, when I was living in Jersey City, just a short train ride from New York. I went from Walter Kaufmann’s challenging classes (among others), into est (which he spoke of positively, as a hardball philosophy lecture), to working in a Dominican school for young women.

somewhere in New Jersey

I learned about Father Divine (by then deceased), a not well-known chapter in recent history, from my breakfasts at one of his lingering hotels, across from my school. My horizons continued expanding. Through volunteering around the est Seminars, I absorbed a broad cross-section of adult experiences, shared openly and honestly in hotel ballrooms, through the microphones. Learning is life long in the “Global U” (defined below).

Through my attention to these philosophical and religious trajectories (lineages, careers…), I became aware of a leading light we hadn’t studied much at Princeton, the one named R. Buckminster Fuller (RBF for short).

I’d seen his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth included an optional reading section on a Woodrow Wilson School syllabus, but recall no classroom discussions of this philosophy. Like most well-read students, I was vaguely aware of the geodesic dome.

Ray and Bonnie Simon became my friends at this point. Both had jobs in Manhattan and I become the babysitter for their infant child. This was after I had voluntarily quit my job teaching high school mathematics, through calculus. I was thinking I had a plan (a printed some business cards), but I had more or less stepped off a cliff.

My anguish became acute at this point and led me then, as now, to seek relief in teachings, or dharmas, in the depths of psychology and religion.

I started reading Tantric works, and more Jung. The sense of being psychically slaughtered somehow, or sliced apart, was echoed in various passages I found. Was this the path of a shaman? Or was I simply falling apart?

Ray was deeply into synchronicity, or serendipity, including as a discipline one could cultivate (he claimed to have teachable techniques for heightening the “synchronicity field”). I was off the deep end for sure, both in my personal situation and in my feeling tortured about the state of the world.

That was me in my twenties. Here I am in my sixties, and somewhat back in the same space. Thanks the the internet and social media, I don’t feel quite so alone this time around. I sense my community.

My second summer in Cairo is when I first started communicating with Fuller, as I recall. I sent a paper on General Systems Theory, as I called it. I’ve been yakking about GST ever since (as you’ll find if you check my record here on Medium).

Fuller wrote back to say my paper was excellent. Bonnie (a different Bonnie), the archivist at the Buckminster Fuller Institute, later confirmed she’d seen my paper in the files.

That summer in Egypt was special in that I hung out with an expansive Jewish guy who spoke fluent Arabic and was immediately loved like a brother by everyone he met. I remember getting as far as Luxor, and riding a horse (very ineptly) across the desert.

My parents moved from Egypt to Bangladesh, then later to Bhutan.

I had not pursued any higher degrees. Philosophy as an academic discipline seemed too out of touch with the human condition. Kaufmann had warned us that this was so, and was somewhat anomalous in the department for having such views.

The late Ludwig Wittgenstein was likewise know for discouraging his students from pursing careers in academic philosophy. I’d taken his philosophy to heart as an undergrad at Princeton (Dr. Rorty was a thesis adviser).

If one were truly committed to a life of the mind, one should leave the cloistered life of the Ivory Tower, or so I told myself, and had done.

I likely would not have become such an ardent student of “the Bucky stuff” (as I called it) had I pursued an academic degree. Like Kaufmann, like Wittgenstein, Bucky was critical of academia, for nurturing a damaging form of overspecialization. That’s what Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is largely about in fact. Hyper-specialization might lead us to species extinction.

Today I sit amidst a large collection of books on Wittgenstein, Bucky, Jung, Gnosticism, thanks largely to Alex Aris, who downsized and parked his books here.

Image for post
Image for post
Wittgenstein collection

I wish I could find more philosophers to share the house with. We could make this a cultural center or something. I’ve been pumping out Youtubes by the hundreds, talking up the Bucky stuff, tying it to Wittgenstein, and telling my story looking back. The world, in the meantime, still seems on the brink of collapse. My community feels it.

Against a backdrop of unrelentingly dystopian near future screenwriting, I’ve updated my Project Renaissance to focus more on the needs of refugees. Now I call it “Asylum City” and work on competing screenwriting (alternative science fiction).

Refugees come in many flavors of course.

I’m close to alone in seeing the vast armies and navies as refugees from a rat race the soldiers might not survive. The military is a jobs program, first and foremost, and offers some of the best toys, as well as benefits. Our family enjoyed some pleasant times on various military bases, as vacationing civilians.

Bucky Fuller’s transition from the navy, and its big picture worldview, to civilian life, resulted in personal shipwreck and near suicide. We find large numbers of homeless vets in the wake of every way.

A sudden demobilization of troops on all sides would likely prove disastrous to the global economy, whereas shifting the mission to a more humanitarian one might well save our planet.

What might it look like to evacuate Gaza?

I’ve been looking over the shoulder of Max Blumenthal, the Jewish journalist, as he points to large military bases on the one hand, and open air prisons on the other. I see refugees of different kinds in both places.

A faction within the oligarchy wants these refugees to fight each other and is planning accordingly. The struggling poor, with no place to go, desperate, often under bombardment, are supposed to be somehow the enemy of those protecting the human right to seek life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The cognitive dissonance accompanying this crazy plot line, is making the propaganda for it difficult to sustain. The attempt to incite people to hatred, has the potential to backfire. The warmongers play a grim game.

What seems logical to me is that the logistics-minded, with all the best transport equipment, and a chain of command, would be drawing up storyboards to rescue Americans fleeing violence in Central America, rather then planning to pen them in with their would be killers.

The same logic applies to Gaza. How are these people not deserving of rescue? Why aren’t we drawing up plans?

Of course such narratives run directly counter to what the great tragedy “movie directors” have in store for us. Their plan is to keep any such “good guy” possibilities out of bounds. They press the military to play a “bad guy” role and to cast any resistance as insubordination. They make examples of those who express defiance, seeking to break the will of any acting from conscience.

Their tyrannical abuse of our military gives us all the more reason to share our alternative brand of science fiction. We’re at least free to dream.

Remember the tsunami in Asia, the one before Fukushima?

Military logistics was put into rescue mode. Morale improved.

Suddenly it became obvious what the job was about: saving people, not murdering them. I remember a helicopter pilot saying he would gladly do this work day after day.

The network of Sanctuary Cities is already gigantic. Refugee camps the size of military bases dot the globe, comprising a network of many millions. Why aren’t our best R&D divisions focused on alleviating this problem, in cooperation with those best trained to implement large scale planning?

We could and should upgrade living conditions, starting with better shelter solutions, and telecommunications. We need more practice, experience, in caring for our own species. We’ve become expert at mass killing. “Taking care of” is something new, at least for the global military.

These are the Global University students and faculty, branching off from Spaceship Earth for our new heuristic. Planet Earth, our Promised Land, is a Global U, a spherical campus. Our sacred duty is to care for this place, not wreck it in some orgy of pathological panic.

Image for post
Image for post
me as an older Friend

Wouldn’t this be a teaching consistent with Judaism? With Christianity? With Buddhism? With Islam?

As a “diaspora nation” for so long (more like Tibetans today), the Jewish people know what it’s like to be homeless, to have no homeland. This is the plight of our refugees today.

Planet Earth is their home today. God chose us to be its people.

We have no realistic plans for leaving this campus, any time soon. Like the posters say at the climate change rallies “There is no Planet B”. Humans have always been on the move. Our destiny is to tour, less so to “take root”.

Bucky’s early plans for creating shelter at scale, often had a military focus. The modified grain bins, foreshadowing the geodesic domes, were cast in terms of military logistics. Some were deployed.

The momentum of history is with us, as we write this next chapter.

Please consider joining our community of philosophers and religious teachers, regardless of status or rank. Help us with our positive future storyboards. Give free reign to your imagination. You are not compelled to live out the fantasies of would-be warlords.

Image for post
Image for post
military logistics
Image for post
Image for post
refugee base housing

Written by

Lots online.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store