Bad science, Part III: implications

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Roman_ruins_(State_1)In this final Bad Science post I want to talk about the implications of all this and what it means for those of us interested in herbalism. I have wrestled with this post for weeks now, but it was always either too long and rambling, or too lacking in context to be worth writing at all. So let this be the tl;dr version:

  • “Bad science” is a combination of (1) scientistic materialism that has gone from the normative worldview of industrial civilization to a more-or-less religious orthodoxy (atheism notwithstanding); (2) scientific method that has been subverted by corruption and ego; and (3) the abuse of science’s intellectual authority (in the service of Numbers 1 and 2), leading to the demise of that authority as discussed in Part I and Part II of this series.
  • These changes arise in the philosophical domain, but have material effects.
  • This is all part of the larger process of the decline of industrial civilization. I picked this particular facet because our medical and food-production systems are strongly effected by changes in the arena of science. Presumably, this matters to those of us interested in herbalism.
  • One of the symptoms of this is a lot of nasty infighting among different social interest groups, each trying to defend its turf against all the others.

And now my reasoning.

I was originally thinking of having a post about the various rhetorical dirty tricks employed by the materialist true-believers against their many perceived foes (including us). But it was depressing me, and it was also boring. And you are probably familiar with all of them anyway. I decided to move straight to the wider implications of that behavior, which was the ultimate point anyway.

I have become quite a fan of John Michael Greer’s Archdruid Report blog. In spite of the title, it’s not about archdruiding so much as it’s about the process of decline and fall of our civilization. This is not a bunch of doomsday prophesying. Greer knows his history, and recognizes the repeating patterns. Not that Greer is the only one talking about this, but his writing is possibly the most prolific. I won’t delve into this; if it’s of interest to you, check out his blog. The central point is that we have a civilization that was built on non-renewable resources which are now running out.

Roman Ruins null Jacob More circa 1740-1793 Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T08193One of the first things to be abandoned as the resource-base of a civilization begins to contract are what Greer terms its intellectual and cultural projects:

“Every human society likes to think that its core cultural and intellectual projects, whatever those happen to be, are the be-all and end-all of human existence….It’s important not to underestimate the shattering force of this experience. The plays of Euripides offer cogent testimony of the despair felt by ancient Greek thinkers as their grand project of reducing the world to rational order dissolved in a chaos of competing ideologies and brutal warfare. Fast forward most of a millennium, and Augustine’s The City of God anatomized the comparable despair of Roman intellectuals at the failure of their dream of a civilized world at peace under the rule of law.”

Science has been the big intellectual project of modernity. Intellectual projects need a lot of resources, and when those are in short supply, and society is losing its organizational ability to distribute those resources, priorities shift away from “progress” and toward survival. Therefore, we can’t expect to see science replaced by a similar project or coherent worldview–“when the barbarians are at the gates, one might say, funds that might otherwise be used to pay for schools of philosophy tend to get spent hiring soldiers instead.”

offensive potatoIt’s not just a matter of resources and where they are directed. It’s also that as science’s authority has started to crack, the discontented turn literally almost anywhere else for an alternative. There are a lot of alternatives out there, and there’s also a lot of fear. And so people invest a huge amount of their personal energy in drawing lines in the sand, finding their co-believers, and attacking the “enemy.” It’s about ideology, and it’s about identity. People latch onto any ideology that promises salvation–or in modern terminology, “progress”–like the drowning latch onto a life preserver. A huge amount of personal energy is poured into being offended by anything and everything. Professors are even starting to notice this combination of ideological fragmentation and belligerence among students. Under the current corporate model of university management, instructors are discouraged from presenting any material that makes the customers students uncomfortable, and students are quick to complain, loudly, when that happens. The problem is that there are so many identities and interest groups represented among the student body that it’s impossible not to offend somebody, especially when everybody’s looking for a reason to get offended. Every perceived offense is an opportunity to bang the drum for whatever identity/ideology the offended party belongs to.

Yet we still carry on under the pretense that everything’s ok, and will be even better soon. So actually doing something to remedy whatever offends us is both difficult to imagine and unnecessary. So much of what started out as well-intentioned reform and sensitivity devolved into politically correct thought- and speech-policing, whereby all that’s needed to prove one’s goodness and righteousness is to swiftly dogpile anyone who uses the wrong terminology or asks uncomfortable questions.

Some have claimed that this is because feelings now trump objectivity. I think that’s a very superficial reading of the situation. If that were all that’s happening, I am not sure I would have a problem with prioritizing people’s feelings and subjective experiences. But if people’s feelings and social justice really mattered as much as well-meaning young liberals like to claim, then our first order of business would be to change the social conditions that create suffering and injustice. But that would require admitting that the faith in progress, scientific materialism, technoutopianism, and neoliberal economic models which we trusted would save us was just smoke and mirrors. It’s so much easier just to shout about it.

19th century pencil drawing of Roman temple/ruinsI have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, as science loses the right to be the sole arbiter of truth and reality, the things that have been consigned to the “fake” category–like herbalism–have a chance to regain the legitimacy and authority they once had. On the other hand, there are some major drawbacks. First among them is that as a system burns itself out, those invested in it double down. The reaction can get nasty, and you never know which end of the pitchfork you’ll be on. It’s very likely that I will not live to see a day (if family history is any indicator, I can expect to live as much as 60 more years) when we are fully free to do our thing as makers and users of herbal medicine, but that we will be increasingly constrained by bureaucratic red tape put in place to protect corporate and oligarchic interests. Still, I will keep on growing my own food and making my own medicine and sharing them with my community. We dandelions somehow manage to thrive.

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In praise of weeds

When I look at current events I want to curl up into a fetal position and cry myself to sleep. It’s not that I don’t see stories of beautiful and uplifting things–“Earth’s crammed with Heaven”–but the good and the beautiful all seems to be fighting a losing battle against vanity and greed. The forces of what I deem to be Evil–those who would exploit anything and everything and would sell tomorrow for a few more pennies today–are huge and powerful. And even though it feels like bad news gets worse by the minute, people have been lamenting this for millennia. People of conscience are left wondering, “What can I do? What should I do?”

And those of us asking this are really on our own. Who do you talk to? Is this a safe topic of conversation over the holiday dinner table? Or maybe you look to the internet? It connects us to billions of people around the world, and yet inevitably we tend to gravitate to those who agree with what we already believe. If you do try to expose yourself to some alternative values and views, there’s a good chance you’ll be verbally attacked for sharing yours. The level of vitriol, superficiality, and paranoia is depressing. The internet is a veritable paradise if you’re looking for the cast of some obscure ’80s film or another YouTube makeup tutorial (seriously, how hard is it to put on makeup?), but it’s a blasted hellscape if you want a civilized philosophical conversation.

There are no easy answers for thinking people (and indeed, one could argue that would defeat the whole purpose of this incarnation) and perhaps no two people find the same ones. But here are some of the messages that have made their way to me, which seem especially relevant. First this from Runesoup:

“This is going to sound like cold comfort until you experience it. It is going to sound like running away from your problems until you try it. But there is a part of you -your innermost part- that cannot be hurt, damaged or stopped by the unrelenting horrors of the world. It is a diamond; bright and impervious. Just a few minutes in meditation and you begin to discern its presence, its location. Once found it can be grown, it can be lit up like a thousand christmases: so bright you cannot look upon it.

“This core sits at the centre of a universe that -if it isn’t actually a dream- behaves according to the same rules. …there is no getting around the realisation that the world seems particularly flimsy when compared to that experience of your inner core. … This whole thing is a construct. Do not give in to fear, do not give in to disgust.”

This is not mere New Age “only the light exists, think positive and nothing bad will ever happen and you’ll be thin and rich” pablum. That is an attempt to commodify and dumb down the ineffability of your personal relationship to the cosmos. Dear readers, I really urge you to think beyond the straitjacket of reductionist materialism. This isn’t about being religious (unless it is for you), it’s certainly not about being “anti-science,” it’s about prioritizing your lived experience over received wisdom. Yes, even–no, especially–subjective experience. Objectivity is a good goal if you are measuring something, but nothing in human experience is really objective. More importantly, nothing meaningful is ever objective.

Rather than asking, “Is _______ real?” I urge you to think in terms of “What does ________ mean?” Partly that’s because when we’re lying on our deathbeds, I’m willing to bet that the things we think about won’t be objective data measurements. And data certainly won’t give you a sense of purpose. I’m also concerned–given pretty much everything that has happened in history–that focusing on the terms that allow something to be granted the status of “reality” or “truth” too often puts us at the mercy of authority (be that political, academic, scientific, medical, or whatever) and its preferred ideology du jour. You don’t need to imagine vast conspiracies to observe that the people in a position to write metanarratives are never writing them for our benefit. Don’t give up without at least trying to write your own. Always seek the weird and the challenging.

Science is a wonderful way of investigating the universe, but it was never meant to be the only one. Before you ask, “Is ________ real?”, you need to ask what real even means. If you think you know the answer without a doubt, you’ve been drinking somebody’s Kool-Aid. The next question should be whether that Kool-Aid is doing you any good. In my opinion, if you’re not asking this most fundamental question you are wasting the opportunity (and shirking the responsibility) that comes with having a human brain, and if that’s not a sin I really don’t know what is.

weed mural by Mona Caron

weed mural by Mona Caron

Then I stumbled across these murals of weeds by artist Mona Caron. Why weeds? She writes:

“They may be tiny but they break through concrete. They are everywhere and yet unseen. And the more they get stepped on, the stronger they grow back. …
“I look for weeds in the city streets near a wall I’m about to paint. When I find a particularly heroic one growing through the pavement, I paint it big, at a scale inversely proportional to the attention and regard it gets. …
“Breaking through seemingly invincible layers, they reconnect earth to sky, like life to its dreams. It’s happening everywhere at the margins of things, we’re just not paying attention. …
“…in the context of suffocated environments, these undesirables are the first to carve a path for the rest of nature to follow, in due time.”

Be a weed. You can accomplish so much more as a weed than as a garden ornamental. It’s a principle of both permaculture and magic that creation happens in the in-between places. Perhaps it’s the compensation for not being a meta-author of the exploitative sham that passes for “reality” nowadays–that by virtue of our very smallness we continually slip through the holes in their bullshit tapestry. Zhuangzi understood this. So did Tolkien.

If you’re useful, you get used up. Your littleness, your weirdness, your imperfections, your invisibility can be your strength–but only if you can embrace being a weed. There’s no guarantee that you will make it to Mount Doom with the Ring, but the alternative–to sit home and let history write you–is unthinkable.

Feed your family. Feed it!

DandelionMasjid DarussalamSanFrancisco1_MonaCaron_0

Dandelion mural by Mona Caron.

I have been getting an ironic laugh out of the latest Scott’s Turf Builder with Plus 2 Weed Control (TM) (EDIT: the product is called Weed and Feed) commercials. The eponymous Scott tells the homeowner how “dandelions are stealing precious nutrients” from his lawn.

This is a perfect expression of how messed up our culture is. We would rather use our paltry bit of land for almost entirely useless* “grass” while dismissing amazingly nutritious, health-enhancing, tasty, medicinal plants as “weeds.” (God forbid we use that space to grow food for our families.) It’s just so…stupid. It makes me laugh and rage at the same time.

It exactly parallels what is happening to humans here in California. We are in the midst of this major drought, and far from all of us pulling together, we “little people” are expected to shoulder the burden by cutting our water use by 25% while petroleum companies, Big Ag, and Nestle can have all the water they want so they can either pollute it utterly, or sell it back to us at obscenely inflated prices under various brand names. And as for the wealthy of Southern California, well, they just use as much water as they damn well please because (1) they are evidently *completely* out of touch about how to actually conserve it and (b) they feel entitled to everything else, why not water too? But hey, they’re willing to cut back “if the state’s water situation doesn’t improve.”

Well, guess what? It’s not going to improve in our lifetimes and probably not in our grandchildren’s lifetimes.

We know grocery store vegetables and fruit taste like cardboard. We can reasonably surmise that they’re not as nutritious as they once were due to the depletion of nutrients in soils.** They’re covered in pesticides (even some of the organic ones) that we’re told are safe, but then they told us DDT was safe too. Few people are affluent enough to buy all organic, and for all the reasons listed above, even organics aren’t that great (certainly not commensurate with their price).

Not everybody, not even everybody in suburban America, has access to a garden. Some people are lucky to have a little balcony or even a windowsill. So it is, in my opinion, frankly nuts not to use your land to grow food and/or medicine, if you are lucky enough to have access to some. It is bonkers to spend your time and money seeding, feeding, mowing, and watering a lawn (which you know you don’t even like doing anyway, to the point that you’ll hire others to do it for you) when you could probably put less time over the long term into making delicious food. Lawn has never been anything other than a status symbol. “Look at all this land and water I can afford to waste! Look at how I’ve tamed nature! Look how I employ the less-wealthy to maintain it for me!”

If status and conformity are more important to you than (1) eating delicious things, (2) saving money, (3) taking charge of your health and nutrition, (4) potentially even making money (market gardening or mini-farming), (5) conserving water, (6) living more independently and self-sufficiently, and (7) sticking it to The Man (in the form of mega-corporations and consumerist, materialist ideology), if you’re into that sort of thing–then you’re probably not reading this blog anyway. Look, I am not saying that growing your own food is a stress-free, idyllic lifestyle. Anthropologists have long noted the relatively high levels of stress and worry in farmers relative to hunter-gatherers. There is a learning curve and some trial and error involved. And some initial capital is required, although probably not as much as you’d think.

What I’m really saying here is, would you rather be a dandelion–wild, un-dollarable, full of juicy vitality, tough and tenacious, thriving in any conditions?–or would you rather be a lawn?

*I will grant, it feels nice under bare feet.

**For a plan to re-nutrify your soil, I recommend The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food by Steve Solomon.

You’re on your own

When I started this blog, I figured it would be limited to more specifically herbal topics. But the more I think and write about working with plants, the more I find it impossible to draw a clear line between that and other aspects of life. It’s all interconnected. And I think that a big part of what has drawn me to learn about herbal medicine is that it has implications for my whole life.

I think it’s important to explore these implications.

I don’t know how broadly applicable the implications I see will be for other people’s lives. But I know I’m not alone in thinking about these things because I read blogs. Besides, I swear at least 60% of what I write here is to help me get it straight in my own head! I am humbled that other people have seen value in some of it. But if you don’t, you can always just chalk me up as a little “woo,” as many of my work colleagues have done, and no hard feelings. So without futher ado…

Here be monsters.

Here be monsters.

I wrote before about the new normal. I feel that if the world today had a slogan, it would be “you’re on your own.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, but it is scary. We are off the map, people. Uncharted waters. Here there be monsters.

Now, this is just my interpretation but to me the world looks…how shall I say? Totally batshit crazy. Deranged. Diseased. I won’t belabor this point because I’m sure you can supply your own examples, but everything seems to be the opposite of what it should be. The levels of hate and rage and fearfulness are extreme. We have political parties that are literally based on nothing but mutual hatred, where belonging to the right hate-club is more important than any policies that club may endorse or enact. Slavery is flourishing at unpredented levels. Little kids get raped every day. There is a seeming absence of reason everywhere I look. Everyone is at least a little sick–and many of us very sick–because we have poisoned our food and water sources and our air.  Quoth Dr. Venkman, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!”

I think of myself as a cynical optimist, because no matter how crappy things get for me I always somehow expect them to get better. But it’s true I don’t have much faith in people (for reasons listed above) and I don’t trust in luck or “The Secret” or positive thinking to save my bacon. I have received help from benevolence much, much more powerful than I (which granted isn’t saying much), and I am grateful and adoring for that and hopeful that more help will be forthcoming, but I try hard to earn it rather than taking it for granted.

I’m not a disaster prepper because something in my gut tells me that none of that will actually do us any good. (I mean I can’t say why. On paper, it seems like not a bad idea, but I just can’t quite buy into it. I do think everyone should have an emergency preparedness kit for their family but I admit I don’t have one because I have no place to store it.)

I’m not an atheist nor a materialist (ha! as if) but I also don’t believe in a Christian-style apocalypse. I think we might already be living the apocalypse, and to me it looks more like the Kali Yuga than Armageddon. But people have thought the world was ending before, and it didn’t, so I agree with Gordon when he says:

“With a long enough timeframe, your ideas about how god and the universe works are shown to be ridiculously small and tribal. There is something almost infantile in the hubristic notion of holding opinions about How Things Work.”

But even if the world isn’t ending, it’s always possible that one of them is. I just don’t have a better explanation for the madness.

I know people who think the opposite. They believe we are at the vanguard of a new awakening. They see evidence all around that people are becoming more spiritually aware, treating each other with greater kindness and love. Some believe angels will literally intervene to save us, even to the point of disabling nuclear bombs if anyone should launch one. (I don’t understand why the angels wouldn’t have done this for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or why they aren’t intervening to protect the millions of people currently being subjected to slavery, genocide, and any of a hundred dirty little wars that never make it onto CNN.) But I get that it’s possible for two people to look at the same evidence and interpret it differently. That’s the nature of phenomena. I’d be happy to find out I’m wrong. But in that case someone’s gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do.

So what now?

Dr Seuss

Who knows? This is the scary part. Nothing in history gives us an analogue for how to deal with the new normal. In the past, there would be a community that would prescribe the right actions to take, and give meaning to what was happening. Now there is nobody who can make this make sense. Your priest doesn’t know, your pastor doesn’t know, your doctor doesn’t know, your government doesn’t know, your guru doesn’t know (probably), your mom sure doesn’t know. Our elders might be the best ones to ask, but Western society has decided they are valueless trash to be hidden away since we can’t legally turn them into Soylent Green.

This is what I mean when I say you’re on your own. In the US we enjoyed a brief golden age of the government actually caring about its citizens’ well-being more than it did about corporate dollars, but now if you’ve got a health problem or you’re poor (say it with me) you’re on your own. (If that’s not 100% true yet, we are headed there fast.)

Meanwhile it has been commented that because job loyalty just makes you that much more likely to be downsized, if you want to make much money, or even if you just want to have enough to pay off your crushing student loan debt, you’re on your own there too. Everybody should have one or more side jobs just as a buffer and apparently, the necessary ingredient for success is “hustle.” I find it a propos that “hustle” has connotations of confidence scams, cheating, prostitution, and (the worst of the lot) hurry. These are all Things That I Am Really Bad At. Ok, some I haven’t tried. But I know I’d be bad at them. You’ll notice that integrity, ethics, and compassion don’t figure on the list of things you need for business success.

Take another look at that Dr. Seuss quote. He says, “you know what you know.” It’s also going to be essential to know what you don’t know. Academia and higher education is in a state of meltdown right now. You might not see it from outside the environs of a university, I don’t know, but it’s happening (that’s another rant for another time). Science is in a weird place right now because on the one hand, it’s held up as the new religion, but on the other hand there is a small but vocal minority that dismisses everything that comes from “mainstream science.” (These people don’t all share the same agenda; some of them are just ignorant bumpkins who think that Obama and “science” are somehow in league to deprive them of their God-given right to pollute, others are worried that scientists are fools who can’t see that they are all just pawns of our extraterrestrial lizard overlords.)

Meanwhile, there is a knowledge-filtering effect that seems to get exponentially stronger every year, enabled by the internet and social media. If you have ever used Facebook, you are probably aware that it uses algorithms to determine what shows up in your news feed. It depends in part upon which friends you’ve interacted with, but also who has paid for your attention, and there are probably many other factors such as research on how to make you feel sad. After a while, you can end up seeing infinite baby pictures from the same three people while your other hundred friends seem mysteriously inactive. The same thing happens with iTunes. The more you have listened to a song, the more it will come up when you set random playback. There is nothing random about it! And the more a song comes up on shuffle, the more it comes up on shuffle. So in the end, once you’ve gotten to where you’re just hearing the same 20 songs over and over again, you have to select songs manually which defeats the entire purpose of having a random setting. My point is, everyone is striving to show you more of what they think you want to see, based on what you wanted to see before. Now if you are also doing your own filtering by choosing to only associate with people who agree with what you already think, then the Kali Yuga is gonna hit you like a ton of bricks. Again I’m going to quote Gordon here because I just couldn’t say it better and also I don’t want to pretend I’m the first person to have thought about this stuff:

“If you have enough time to only consume stuff you agree with and then even more time to overreact to anything that slightly deviates from it then, humbly, you need to look at how you are spending your incarnation.”

On the other hand, I think that subjective personal experience, which has been eclipsed as a valid epistemological relationship to the world by objectivist materialism, is going to have a resurgence. I’ve often remarked that nobody believes in ghosts until they see one. I’ve been seeing, hearing, and interacting with them since I was three. Sometimes people smirk at me and tell me “Ghosts don’t exist,” and I just have to laugh at them because what the hell would they know about it? To me that’s like saying I don’t believe in bacteria because I’ve never seen one.

I am not saying that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. Only informed opinions are valid, and even then they’re just opinions. That unfortunate outgrowth of postmodernism trivializes the essential truth of subjective experience. Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t question the voices in your head, whether it be your id or an angel. Unverified Personal Gnosis is, after all, unverified. You absolutely should and must investigate and reason and critique. My favorite thing about Buddhism is that the Buddha said (I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t take my word for any of this–try it and see for yourself.” Once you’ve investigated, tried, reasoned–then, and only then, you know what you know, and it will stand you in good stead.

We need to be beyond flexible. We need to be antifragile. In situations like this there will be opportunities, and some will make friends with the monsters and flourish. We need to invest in relationships because we will depend on those of like mind. I am reminded of an article by Lindstrøm and Kristoffersen, about early medieval (“dark ages”) Germanic and Scandinavian “animal style” art. I’m going to quote from the abstract and then break it down. (Bear with me, I’ll try to keep it short.)

“The ambiguous quality of the art is suggested to be present on a perceptual level, but also on a compositional (structural) and iconographic level.  Psychological (and neurological) processes involved in the perception of ambiguous figures and their effects are presented:  Gestalt formation, unconscious processing, subliminal perception, motivated perception, and changed states of consciousness.  It is suggested that this art instigated, or at least referred to such processes.  In addition, on a semiotic level, the art is suggested to contain information-condensation (“hyper-texts”), cryptic information, and to have had other semiotic functions.”

This art style is most frequently seen on elaborate brooches that are only found in wealthy adult women’s burials (AD 5th-8th centuries). The brooches involve twisty knotwork and hidden animals and faces, and based on psychological studies of how people make sense of ambiguous imagery (Rorschach blots, for example) the authors argue that the hidden pictures are best perceived when one is in a light hypnotic state. But also that looking at the images can be used to instigate such a mental state. Certain people find it easier to slip into such light trances, and therefore any information which might have been encoded on the brooches–for example, traditional stories or images of gods–what they call “hyper-texts”–would be easier for these trance-able people to “read.” Since the brooches belonged to women, most likely women were the ones interpreting their imagery. Now although we often think that people who are easily hypnotized are weak and/or gullible, Lindstrøm and Kristoffersen cite psychological research that shows that the “hypnotically talented” (that’s the actual term by the way) in fact usually have a stronger sense of self and are less likely to be duped than others. Specifically they are people good at understanding things in their entirety and in context, intuition, subliminal perception, ability to recognize patterns one has been trained or preconditioned to spot, and using altered states of consciousness such as trance. These are mental/personality characteristics that help to make one a savvy character, and savvy was essential for survival, let alone success, in the chaotic shifting societies of the early middle ages. So to sum up, the most intuitive women who were best at perceiving and correctly interpreting subtle and ambiguous information were the ones who were most likely to to become wealthy and powerful and have lots of bling.

A Scandinavian animal-style brooch.

A Scandinavian animal-style brooch. There are faces and critters all over this thing. Can you see them?

This analysis keeps coming to mind because I think we are in another period when these same personality characteristics are going to come in really handy. A strong sense of self, an ability to cope with ambiguity and to see the unseen, then to put it all in context and know how to apply it on the fly? Yeah, I’d say that’s going to be crucial. You better start believing in ghosts, because you’re going to need to see them.

So the fact that our community myths and rules are crumbling will be liberating for some. Remember that, because that’s the up side to being on your own. As the good Dr. Seuss notes, “YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”

Back to the implications of herbal medicine, one is that for me, it’s a way to break free from knowledge filtering. It shows me alternative views on healing and illness (here one has to be careful not to just soak up what’s on the internet because those cutesy little infographics on Pinterest are mostly BS or at best, hideously oversimplified–knowledge filtering at its finest).

The way I practice herbal medicine is resistance to a reductionist-materialist metaphysical paradigm and to those who want me to drink the Kool-Aid and believe there’s nothing I can do to heal myself. (Ghandi, and following himMartin Luther King, Jr., were at pains to point out to us that believing the lies of an immoral system is tantamount to complicity.)

Getting to know the shapes and colors of the herbs, to distinguish them from surrounding plants or deceptively similar ones, to read their signatures, helps me practice my intuition and pattern recognition. Their diversity helps keep me on my toes, and at the same time, simply trying to keep this knowledge alive and understand where and how to apply it also keeps me on my toes in a different way.

Working with plants keeps me surrounded by beauty, which I think is very important when everything seems to be going pear-shaped. Of course I don’t mean just superficial beauty, but the kind that you feel nourishes your soul and makes you feel connected to the divine.

One can even use the plants to induce altered states of consciousness, though altered states can be achieved in other ways too. I get information about herbs to use in my dreams. I don’t know how it works, I just know I will sometimes be strongly urged to seek one out. Second sight runs in my family, but let me tell you–practice beats natural talent any day. The plants help me practice.

This is why herbalism matters so much to me. Because I’ll never be good at hustle, but the plants are helping me to be better at insight–and that, I dare say, is indispensable when you’re on your own.