|The Prosperos’ Summer Class Series|
For the first time in many years The Prosperos will present a complete series of our core curriculum this summer, beginning with Cosmic Intention Therapy in mid-May. The series provides a thorough exposition of every aspect of The Prosperos instruction.The complete schedule is :
May 15-16, Cosmic Intention Therapy
by Thane, monitored with live instruction by William Fennie, H.W., M.
Big picture context that brings clarity to evolutionary changes convulsing our planetary societies
June 12-13, Advance Seminar
by Thane, monitored with live instruction by Heather Williams, H.W., M.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. We take a close look at the onslaught of technological change and the requirements for a new identity to navigate a new world
June 26-27, Translation
by Thane, monitored with live instruction by Prosperos Dean Al Haferkamp
The Prosperos’ fundamental tool for unlearning false concepts / constructs that prevent us from experiencing the freedom of our innate, cosmic Self
July 17-19, Releasing the Hidden Splendour
by Thane, monitored with live instruction by Anne Bollman, H.W., M.
Similar to Translation, a tool focused on reviewing undigested emotional data and freeing ourselves and those around us to their unique, unpredictable good
July 31, Self Encounter
taught live by Rick Thomas, H.W., M.
Further training for uncovering hidden emotions
August 21-22, Supracargo, the Paranormal Requisites of the Super Pro
by Thane, monitored by Heather Williams, H.W., M.
It’s been many years since this class was presented, and Heather’s presentation is sure to be engaging.
Stay tuned for detailed information about each of the classes.
|Copyright © 2021 The Prosperos, All rights reserved.|
John William Godward, Mischief and Repose (1895)
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(Contributed by Guillaume Gris)
Plato and Aristotle can help you resist conventional worldly success, direct your energy and find your own highest calling
by Benjamin Studebaker Illustration by Martin O’Neill (psyche.co)
Benjamin Studebakeris a graduate teaching assistant in politics and international studies at the University of Cambridge and a teaching associate at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
Edited by Sam Dresser
Need to know
So you want to be excellent at something? You don’t just want to be OK at it, to be able to get by or make a living. It’s not even enough to be rich and famous. Nickelback is a big Canadian band and they’ve made a ton of money, but most people don’t think their music is excellent. They are undeniably successful – but excellent? Excellence is a whole different thing.
Most of the advice out there is either about how to survive, or how to be successful. It’s also pretty two-dimensional. On one side, there are the people who tell you to work hard and be productive. Then there’s the other side, the people who tell you to ‘practise self-care’ to avoid burnout. Many self-help writers have made a lot of money from taking one of these sides and trashing the other.
Those writers are successful, but the advice they’re giving people isn’t excellent. It’s obvious that if we spend all our time just trying to get through the day, we won’t grow. But it’s also obvious that if we become obsessed with perfect ideals, we’ll burn out. You need a sustainable balance, a workable distribution of your time and energy. But distributing your time effectively is just the first step. The second step is to use your time in a way that leads to excellence rather than mere success.
Plato and Aristotle can help you with this. The Greek philosophers were wealthy aristocrats who didn’t have regular jobs. Because they had plenty of time and plenty of money, they could spend their whole lives thinking about what excellence really means. They didn’t have to worry about survival, because they were born with an income. They weren’t interested in success because, when you’re born rich, it’s not hard to be successful. They wanted to pursue the highest good, and they wanted that pursuit to be the object of everything they did. Even though you’re likely not a wealthy Greek aristocrat, you still have much to learn from them about excellence.
The first thing they noticed about being human is that even rich people are not gods. Everyone has a body, and our bodies have needs. Plato tells a story about this in one of his dialogues called the Phaedrus. He imagines the human being as a flying chariot, pulled by winged horses. The chariot has three parts. There is the rider, interested in truth, goodness and beauty. He wants to fly the chariot high into the sky, above the clouds, where these ideals can be discovered. But the rider has no wings. To get to the heavens, he relies on two horses – one light, and one dark. The light horse wants to be well regarded, prizing honour and status above all things. It responds to blame and praise. The dark horse wants to enjoy the pleasures of the world. It wants food, sex, sleep and every kind of luxury. The dark horse has no shame, but it fears the rider’s whip. For just as the dark horse values pleasure, it fears pain.
The rider can come to know excellence only if he can get these horses to fly the chariot up above the clouds, but the horses have no deep interest in what’s up there. The rider must motivate them by giving the horses enough of what they want to get them to cooperate, but not so much as to allow them to become too strong and drag the chariot wherever they wish. Ignore the horses outright, and they grow weak and disobedient. Cater to the horses too much, and they run the show. To achieve a type of excellence that gets at genuine value, we have to go beyond pleasure and status, but we can’t leave pleasure and status behind entirely. This type of excellence incorporates our physical and social needs, but goes beyond them, approaching value itself as an abstract ideal. To get there, a balance is needed, but what does that balance look like?NEED TO KNOWTHINK IT THROUGHKEY POINTSWHY IT MATTERSLINKS & BOOKS
Think it through
Find a good social environment
Bringing balance to the chariot is a big challenge for a person. But it’s not a challenge we face alone. For Plato, the community we live in helps us take care of our horses. We don’t all grow our own food, make our own shelter, and provide our own entertainment. Other people help us meet the needs of the dark horse. And how can the light horse be satisfied without other people to make us feel valued and worthy? Plato argues that some social roles help us fly the chariot better than others. He even tries to make a list and put them all in order. Some roles barely give us enough to survive, much less thrive. Others give us comfort but aren’t respected. Some are respected but give us little comfort. A few yield comforts and respect but leave us without enough time to properly strive for excellence. When you’re choosing your work, your friends and your relationships, you have to keep all three things in mind. Miss comfort, and you’ll find yourself controlled by the need to be comfortable. Miss respect, and you’ll be controlled by the need to be respected. If you don’t leave time to strive, all you’ll do is survive.
Distribute your time well
How do we manage to obtain all three things in just one life? In the Politics, Aristotle distinguishes between ‘leisure’ and ‘play’. For him, leisure is time we spend learning and contemplating, trying to achieve excellence. Play is about rest and recovery. It might help you to think of Aristotle’s leisure as ‘growth’ and Aristotle’s play as ‘recovery’. So, for Aristotle, we spend our days doing three things – work, growth and recovery. The difficult thing is that both work and growth cost time and energy. Growing is at least as energy-intensive as working. We need time to recover from both activities.
When the eight-hour workday was first achieved, there was a slogan that went along with it:
It sounds like we’re getting all three things. The trouble is that the time we spend sleeping isn’t enough time to recover. When we get home from work, we’re usually too tired for growth, but not tired enough to go to bed. Instead, we try to have a little bit of fun. We try to recover. We feel bad about this. Those last eight hours are for what we will! Why can’t we will ourselves to grow? But more often than not, this leads to burnout. And that’s for those of us who are working only eight hours a day and getting eight hours of sleep a night. For many of us, even that is too much to hope for. (Aristotle’s own very bad answer to the question of how to acquire more time – slavery – need not detain us here.)
These days, most people have to wait for retirement, hoping to save up enough money to spend some time on growth in later life. But by then many of us are in poor health and don’t have the energy to grow. What we have the energy to learn we often lack the energy to put to good use.
Alternatively, we can try to grow while we’re young. Some of us are lucky enough to find an area in which we’d like to pursue excellence from a very early age. With the support of a strong family and a strong public school system, we can get the time and resources we need to develop. But good families and good schools aren’t available to everyone. Plato thought that nepotism was a big problem. He didn’t believe that excellence was straightforwardly heritable. Sometimes, children with great potential would be born to parents without the ability to help them realise that potential. Sometimes, parents with a lot of ability would have children without the talent necessary to take on their parents’ roles. In the Republic, he proposed eliminating the family and raising children collectively. Aristotle thought that Plato’s approach was unnatural, that families were an inevitable part of social life. But Aristotle believed in natural hierarchies. He didn’t worry about talented people being left behind.
For some people, families work, and for other people, they don’t. To make families work, we need to ensure that they have the ability to support children as they pursue excellence, and that means we need to ensure families have enough economic stability to give their children room to grow. For those who don’t have adequate families or find the family structure alienating, we need alternative support systems. Too often, children in dysfunctional family structures are left in poor conditions because of a lack of alternatives. For those children, excellence is often out of reach before they even get to learn what the word ‘excellence’ means.
Get an education that suits your talents
The kind of schools we need depend in large part on the kind of excellence we’re pursuing. The Greek philosophers call these different areas of specialisation technê, or ‘crafts’. If we aren’t given the kind of education that’s appropriate to our craft, we won’t be able to become excellent. Many countries have public schools that favour a uniform education focused on reading, writing and arithmetic. But these schools don’t always do a good job of allowing students to find an area in which to excel. Plato points out that the kind of education we receive sets us on our path. If that education fixates too rigidly on a narrow set of crafts, we risk thinking ourselves useless merely because our talents don’t fit into what we’re being taught. We might end up with gaps in our society where very few people are able to develop excellence.
So while youth is an excellent time to grow, in youth we’re also especially vulnerable to fortune. It matters greatly whether we end up in the right kind of family and in the right kind of school for our talents and inclinations. The same family or school might suit one person well and another not at all. This means that excellence requires a society that supplies young people not just with strong families and schools, but with families and schools capable of accommodating diverse talents. For some people, suitable families and schools might look like what we generally think of as ‘good’ families or ‘good’ schools but, for others, unconventional social structures will be needed. This means it’s necessary not just to support families and schools, but to support a plurality of viable paths.
For those who miss out on the right kind of education in youth, the situation isn’t hopeless. The internet has widened the set of nonconventional options for mature students. Depending on your craft, online subscription programmes such as MasterClass and the Great Courses might be useful, and cost much less than a return to university. If you face very serious financial barriers, YouTube is full to the brim with free advice, and public libraries remain an essential and indispensable aid. The trick is to find enough time: while it’s harder to do during your prime working years, it’s by no means impossible.
Develop your creativity
Let’s say you’ve managed to find the right resources for you. What next? For Aristotle, our education begins in the forming of good habits, habits that help us grow. These habits of behaviour are initially imposed upon us by teachers and mentors. Eventually, we reach a point where we begin to question these habits. What’s the point of them? Why do we bother? This is the critical moment. The student must now discover the reason behind the habits. If the student fails to see their purpose, the habits are jettisoned, and the student potentially falls into corruption and vice. If the student sees the purpose and sticks to the habits rigidly, a level of stability is maintained. But the truly excellent student will neither abandon the habits outright nor stick to them dogmatically. This student sees the purpose behind the habits, but also sees how the habits can be improved.
Imagine you’re trying to become an excellent musician. Early in your childhood, you develop an interest in music, and you’re fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and capable of supporting your interest. They start by sending you to music lessons, where you learn the habit of practice. You begin to develop the relevant virtues necessary to become truly excellent, and become diligent and conscientious. But, at some point, you start to wonder why you bother practising all the time. You wonder whether the music teachers your parents have assigned are really the best ones for you. Now you have a choice. You might decide that music doesn’t matter, that you’ve been wasting your time. So you stop going to music lessons, you stop practising, and you begin going to parties and indulging yourself. Perhaps you’ll find satisfaction in that, but you certainly won’t become an excellent musician.
Alternatively, you might continue to practise and continue to follow the lead of your parents and instructors to the letter. You become a very good musician, but your performances are somewhat mechanical and your compositions unoriginal. Eventually, you might end up employed as a music teacher, and you might go on to have a very satisfying life. But you won’t become a truly excellent musician. Excellent musicians reach a point where they question whether their parents and their teachers really know what excellent music is. They choose new teachers for themselves, and they spend time thinking about what makes music ‘good’, debating it with anyone who’ll listen. Eventually, excellent musicians begin to develop their own notion of what it means for music to be good, to apply the concept of ‘good’ to music in new and original ways. Now they begin to play in a distinctive way, to develop their own kind of sound.NEED TO KNOWTHINK IT THROUGHKEY POINTSWHY IT MATTERSLINKS & BOOKS
- Excellence requires a social environment that provides us with enough comfort, respect and time to develop our talents. Wherever possible, pick jobs, friends and partners who fit what you’re trying to do.
- Keep an eye on how you distribute your time. Make a distinction between growth and recovery, and make sure you use your free time in a balanced way.
- The right kind of education is essential. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve had trouble in educational environments that weren’t oriented around your craft.
- Have the creativity – and the courage – to challenge teachers and authority figures without abandoning your craft. Develop your own sense of what it means to do your craft well.
NEED TO KNOWTHINK IT THROUGHKEY POINTSWHY IT MATTERSLINKS & BOOKS
Why it matters
Achieving excellence for the first time is only the beginning. Once a distinctive sound is found, the excellent musician is driven to share it with others. Aristotle draws a distinction between ‘contemplation’ and ‘action’. When we contemplate, we think about what’s good, and what it means to apply the good to a craft. When we act, we apply these ideas of the good to our craft. In this way, we share the good with others through our craft. Our craft becomes our medium for expressing excellence, our way of bringing our understanding of the good to life in the world around us. Of course, when we act, we act in front of an audience. When we perform a craft, we make something for others to experience. This means that, once we begin acting, other people get a chance to decide for themselves whether they think we’ve really found a new and better way of reaching for the good, of expressing excellence.
Sometimes, other people will like what we’re doing, and sometimes they won’t. Plato thought that most people wouldn’t know what was excellent if it came right up and bopped them on the nose. For him, if everyone likes what you’re doing, that’s a good reason to think you might be doing the wrong thing. We all know people who feel this way about pop music. For these listeners, the fact that pop music is popular is itself an argument against its excellence. Plato understood the good to be very remote from ordinary human experience. For him, the good is the one, the unity of all things.
But we live in bodies, and we tend to spend too much of our time focused on what our bodies need instead of on what’s good for our families, our communities, and the Universe as a whole. The body invites us to separate the world into ‘me’ and ‘not-me’. We constantly categorise reality, always emphasising differentness and separateness. This prevents us from seeing how everything is connected, how everything is just another aspect of the one. Grasping this oneness requires us to get beyond the perspective that grows out of our bodies, and for Plato that can be achieved only through a lot of philosophical effort. Since most of us don’t spend our time on philosophy, most of us don’t discover this oneness, and that means our human concept of the good is just a pale imitation of true goodness. The music most people believe to be good is just the music they find pleasurable, not the music that helps people discover the reality of oneness. If Plato were around today, he might say that too many pop stars sing about antagonistic relationships with former lovers, a relatable experience but one that reinforces self-other distinctions.
Aristotle thought about it differently. For him, if most people like your music, you’re probably on the right track. Many of us might not have taken the time to discover how to play great music, but we can recognise it when we hear it. Aristotle’s understanding of the good was earthier than Plato’s. For Aristotle, if something is good, it’s just the end at which other things aim. We can therefore discover what’s good by observing nature, by observing what natural processes aim at. For Plato, excellence requires us to get beyond ordinary experience. But for Aristotle, excellence is readily discoverable in the world around us, if we’re willing to slow down and look at it. This is not to say that excellence is whatever the majority of people understand it to be, but if large numbers of people think that something is excellent, then that’s a piece of information about what the Universe is driving at that we must at least take into account.
Most of us aren’t precisely sure which of these accounts is right. Even Plato and Aristotle think that we must always return to contemplation to continue to refine our understanding of excellence, of the good and how it ought to be applied to our crafts. This means that our education cannot end. We can’t simply come to a point when we’re ready to act, to practise our craft, and go on doing it for the rest of our days. Instead, we need to oscillate between periods of acting and contemplating.
If you’re an excellent musician who has made a great album – whether it’s critically acclaimed or merely very popular – you’re then in a tough situation. There’s pressure on you to tour the world, playing concerts. And there’s pressure on you to make albums that are just as good, if not better. If you go along with this and spend all your time performing and composing, eventually you’ll run out of new things to do. Your music will start to sound stale and repetitive.
To avoid being labelled yesterday’s news, you might try to experiment with new kinds of music. But because you’re spending all your time running around performing, you won’t be able to come up with new music that’s truly excellent. The first or second time you make an album that’s too derivative or disastrously experimental, your fans and critics might give you a pass. Maybe you’ll find a niche audience who will follow you no matter what you make, on the strength of your old hits. But if you want to stay excellent, you must sooner or later take a break from performing and return to the contemplative activity that made you so great in the first place. This is why the really excellent musicians have to run away to isolated places where they can get back in touch with ‘the music’. In finding the music, they find the good – they rediscover what excellence means, and fall back in love with their craft.
This, then, is the final hurdle. We need to be able to take breaks from action and return to contemplation. This means that, at the height of our fame and success, we have to remember that the goal is excellence. Of course, it also means that we have to be successful enough to be in a position where we have the resources we need to enable us to take that break.NEED TO KNOWTHINK IT THROUGHKEY POINTSWHY IT MATTERSLINKS & BOOKS
Links & books
The podcast series ‘The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps’ (2010-), hosted by the philosopher Peter Adamson, is also free to download, and does exactly what its title says.
Among the paid-for offerings online is MasterClass, which has video tutorials from the likes of Annie Leibovitz on photography and Alicia Keys on songwriting to Frank Gehry on architecture and Jeff Koons on art and creativity. Another paid-for option is the Great Courses, which offers subscribers lectures from university professors on all the scholarly subjects as well as less academic options such as cartooning and wine appreciation.
For a good discussion of how the education system perpetuates injustice, read the book The Cult of Smart (2020) by the US essayist Fredrik deBoer.
For more on the original thinkers behind pedagogy, there’s the book Ideas of Education: Philosophy and Politics from Plato to Dewey (2013), edited by Christopher Brooke and Elizabeth Frazer.
Finally, the political theorist Tim Fowler’s book Liberalism, Childhood and Justice (2020) discusses the ethical issues involved in children’s upbringing.
An approach to healing.
Posted May 20, 2018 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina (psychologytoday.com)
Mike believed he had a good life and felt lucky for all the things he had. He was married to a loving wife, had a good job, owned a nice house, and had three healthy kids.
Despite all his good fortune, Mike could not shake the nagging feeling that he wasn’t enough. “I should be more successful. I should make more money. I should be where my boss is. I should have a graduate degree. I should have a bigger house. I should have more friends.” These were some of the “shoulds” that plagued him on a daily basis.
“Could I get you curious about this part of you that feels inadequate?” I asked Mike at our initial meeting. After he consented, I suggested, “Let yourself travel back in time…back…and back…and back. How old were you when you first felt not enough?” I asked him.
He paused to reflect, “It’s definitely been with me a long time,” He said. “Maybe 6 or 8 years old? Around there.”
Mike’s father became extremely successful when Mike was 6 years old. Because of his father’s new job, his family moved to a country where most people didn’t speak English. Mike was scared and felt like a stranger. Even though he attended an international school, he had no friends for a long time. His parents pushed him hard. They meant well and were trying to encourage him. But feeling scared and overwhelmed by the many changes in his life, he misinterpreted their words as disappointment that he wasn’t enough–it was the familiar feeling he still had today.
We are not born feeling inadequate. Life experiences and emotions create that sense within us in a variety of creative ways. For example, when we were little and we felt afraid or anxious, our mind told us something was wrong with us, not with our environment. That’s why children who were abused or neglected grow up to be adults who carry so much shame. A child’s mind, not yet rational, concludes, “There must be something wrong with me if I feel so bad” or “I must be bad if I’m being treated badly.”
As adults, armed with education on emotions and how childhood adversity affects the brain, we can understand that feeling “not enough” is a byproduct of an environment that was insufficient. We are in fact enough! Yet to feel more solid in our Self, we must work to transform the not enough feeling.
One way to transform old beliefs is to work with them as separate child parts. With some mental energy, we can externalize ailing parts of us and then relate to them in healing ways.
For example, I asked Mike, “Can you imagine that your 6-year old self, who feels not enough, is sitting on my sofa over there so we can be with him and try to help?
I paused while Mike exerted the mental energy it took to visualize his child part with some distance, “What does that 6-year-old part of you look like? What do you see him wearing? Where do you see him? Is he in a specific memory?” I asked.
With practice, Mike learned to connect and communicate to that part of himself. Mike learned to listen to that little boy inside. Offering it compassion helped him feel much better, even though he had struggled with the concept initially.
I also suggested to Mike that feeling not enough might be a defense against his deeper emotions towards others who had hurt him or not been there for him when he needed support. Thinking about The Change Triangle, we slowed down to notice his feelings towards himself and his parents. Without judging his core emotions as right or wrong, he accepted that he was angry at his father for uprooting him, a move that had cost him his confidence. article continues after advertisement
Since emotions are physical sensations, another way to work with wounded parts is through the body. Mike learned to recognize how not enough felt physically. “It is like an emptiness—like a hole inside. I know I have been successful at times and I believe my family loves me. Emotionally, it doesn’t feel that way at all. Good stuff comes in but it goes right through me like a bucket with a hole. I’m never filled.”
To help patch the hole in his bucket, I also helped Mike develop his capacity to hold onto good feelings by noticing them. “If you validate your accomplishments what does that feel like inside?”
“I feel taller,” said Mike.
“Can you stay with the feeling of being taller for just 10 seconds?” I asked.
Like a form of training, he built his capacity to experience positive feelings. Going slowly, we practiced noticing sensations associated with pride, love, gratitude, and joy, getting used to them a little at a time.
What else can Mike and all of us do in the short run to help the parts of us that feel not enough?
- We can remind our self again and again that the feeling of not enough was learned. It’s not an objective fact, even when it feels so viscerally true.
- We can connect to that part of us that feels bad and offer it compassion like we would do for our child, partner, colleague, friend, or pet.
- We can stand in a power pose 2-3 times daily to feel stronger and more confident. (See Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on power poses.)
- We can practice deep belly breathing, 5 or 6 times in a row, to calm our nervous system.
- We can exercise to get adrenaline flowing and create a sense of empowerment.
- We can remember this very helpful phrase: Compare and Despair! When you catch yourself making comparisons to others, STOP! It doesn’t help and only hurts by fueling feelings and thoughts of not enough.
In the long run, we heal the parts of us that feel inadequate by first becoming aware of them. Once aware, we listen to them and try to fully understand the story of how they came to believe they were not enough. Over time, by naming, validating and processing the associated emotions both from the past and present, the frequency and intensity of our not enough parts diminish. article continues after advertisement
Mike learned to feel and move through the buried anger he had towards his parents both for moving and for not noticing how much he struggled. He validated the pain and sadness for what he went through without judging whether he was entitled to his feelings. When his wife hugged him and praised him for being such a great dad, he took in her love and praise as deeply as possible. He accepted himself during the times when he was too tired to fight against the feelings of not enough. By educating himself on emotions and how the brain is affected by childhood adversity, Mike learned that everyone struggled. No one is perfect, not even his father. When all else failed, just this thought brought him peace and reminded him that he was enough.
Patient details are always changed to protect privacy.
About the Author
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, is author of the book It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self (Random House, Feb. 2018). Online: hilaryjacobshendel.com/, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
(Contributed by Steve Hines)
May 4, 2021 Updated: May 5, 2021 7:32 p.m. Comments 4 (SFChronicle.com)
“Ready for that Giants series? I hate those guys,” my friends clamored in ancient times as we discussed our beloved Dodgers. “You, too, right?”
Yep, sure do, I’d nod. Gotta hate those Giants. Except I really didn’t. “Hate” is a terrible word in general, and Willie Mays got me over it for good.
The marvelous thing about Mays, as we celebrate his 90th birthday, is that he stands for something deeply relevant — almost as if he’s still playing. It’s a brand of appeal that touches not just us codgers who witnessed Willie in his prime, but anyone who loves the game and cherishes those precious gems of validation.
For decades on end, Babe Ruth’s name was a staple of America’s sports conversation, even among sandlot kids who knew little more than the sound of it. I’d like to think Mays ascended to that lofty standing, as in, “Nice catch — but he’s no Willie Mays.” As much as I feared him during those games at the L.A. Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, I was quite content setting aside hatred for reverence, feeling only slightly less awed by Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson, among others.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mays helped prepare me for a life in sportswriting. It’s great to be a passionate fan when you’re a kid, but journalistic adulthood demands perspective, the broader stroke, an appreciation not of teams, but of stories, settings, individuals. As lucky as I was to be a Dodgers fan growing up, attending the triumphant World Series of 1959, ’63 and ’65, something came over me when I moved north to attend Cal.More for you
Now I was watching Mays in his home ballpark, along with Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and the rest. It wasn’t long before the Dodgers struck me as a bunch of guys named Grabarkewitz. Whatever story loomed largest, across the entirety of the major leagues, that’s the one that mattered.
Opposing players were in awe of what Mays accomplished at Candlestick Park, for the whole of it seemed damned near impossible. The great Roberto Clemente once mused about feigning illness when his Pirates got to San Francisco, just to avoid the humbling experiences looming in the wind and chill. And Mays arrived in San Francisco during an especially rich period of the game’s history, especially in the National League, where players of color flourished and elevated the game’s appeal beyond measure.
When Maury Wills stole bases — a record 104 in 1962 — you got the feeling he could do so at will. Clemente had an arm that appeared blessed by a higher power. Willie Davis ran from first to third like a cheetah, all grace and blinding speed. Curt Flood roamed center field in a manner suggesting anything, any catch was possible. Orlando Cepeda crafted an off-field stroke to such perfection, it became his signature as a power hitter. Dick Allen, known as Richie back then, belted home runs destined for someone’s front yard.
I mention these things individually because they were all part of Mays’ theatrical showcase. They say Joe DiMaggio was this type of player, and I’d never demean the great Joltin’ Joe, especially around North Beach. But I have to think Mays was superior with his speed and arm — DiMaggio called it “the greatest I’ve ever seen” — and although DiMaggio was the unquestioned master of the strike zone, fanning about as often as a lunar eclipse, Mays really set himself apart as he set to win over highly judgmental fans in both New York and the Bay Area.
Remember that Mays was a pure showman, wanting to “give the fans a little extra,” as he once said, and thus susceptible to Ruthian moments of failure. And yet, over the stretch of six seasons crucial to his reputation — 1954 (returning from military service) through 1959 — he did not strike out more than 65 times while averaging 661 plate appearances per year. So here we find a showstopping entertainer and a fine-tuned technician. (Comparisons among players valued for their all-around skills: Mike Trout’s 184 strikeouts in 2014 and Ronald Acuña’s 188 in 2019.) For all of that priceless flair, Mays was deeply committed to staying on top of the opposition, revealing few traces of vulnerability.
I would advise every fan, even those familiar with Mays’ ascent through the Negro Leagues and minors, to entertain a thirst for more. Watch and read everything made available, and by all means devour John Shea’s biography “24,” the definitive work from Mays’ perspective. You’ll gain even more insight into what everyone knows to be true.
He was the perfect ballplayer. Hate Willie Mays? Craziest thing I ever heard.
Written By Bruce Jenkins
Bruce Jenkins has written for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1973 and has been a sports columnist since 1989. He has covered 27 World Series, 19 Wimbledons and many other major events, including the Super Bowl, World Cup soccer, NBA Finals, four major golf tournaments and U.S. Open tennis championships.
He graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1966 and UC Berkeley with a B.A. in journalistic studies in 1971.
“We may need to be cured by flowers” is sound advice from science writer Sharman Apt Russell. (Shutterstock)
Libra, for psychospiritual healing, try communing with wildflowers
ARIES (March 21-April 19): Created by Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century, the “Mona Lisa” is one of the world’s most famous paintings. It’s hanging in the Louvre museum in Paris. In that same museum is a less renowned version of the “Mona Lisa.” It depicts the same woman, but she’s unclothed. Made by da Vinci’s student, it was probably inspired by a now-lost nude Mona Lisa” painted by the master himself. Renaissance artists commonly created “heavenly” and “vulgar” versions of the same subject. I suggest that in the coming weeks you opt for the “vulgar” “Mona Lisa,” not the “heavenly” one, as your metaphor of power. Favor what’s earthy, raw and unadorned over what’s spectacular, idealized and polished.
TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Taurus poet Vera Pavlova writes, “Why is the word yes so brief? It should be the longest, the hardest, so that you could not decide in an instant to say it, so that upon reflection you could stop in the middle of saying it.” I suppose it makes sense for her to express such an attitude, given the fact that she never had a happy experience until she was 20 years old, and that furthermore, this happiness was “unbearable.” (She confessed these sad truths in an interview.) But I hope you won’t adopt her hard-edged skepticism toward YES anytime soon, Taurus. In my view, it’s time for you to become a connoisseur of YES, a brave explorer of the bright mysteries of YES, an exuberant perpetrator of YES.
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): In indigenous cultures from West Africa to Finland to China, folklore describes foxes as crafty tricksters with magical powers. Sometimes they’re thought of as perpetrators of pranks, but more often they are considered helpful messengers or intelligent allies. I propose that you regard the fox as your spirit creature for the foreseeable future. I think you will benefit from the influence of your inner fox — the wild part of you that is ingenious, cunning, and resourceful.
CANCER (June 21-July 22): “The universe conspires in your favor,” writes author Neale Donald Walsch. “It consistently places before you the right and perfect people, circumstances, and situations with which to answer life’s only question: ‘Who are you?’” In my book “Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.” I say much the same thing, although I mention two further questions that life regularly asks, which are: 1. What can you do next to liberate yourself from some of your suffering? 2. What can you do next to reduce the suffering of others, even by a little? As you enter a phase when you’ll get ample cosmic help in diminishing suffering and defining who you are, I hope you meditate on these questions every day.
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): The poet Anne Sexton wrote a letter to a Benedictine monk whose real identity she kept secret from the rest of us. She told him, “There are a few great souls in my life. They are not many. They are few. You are one.” In this spirit, Leo, and in accordance with astrological omens, I invite you to take an inventory of the great souls in your life: the people you admire and respect and learn from and feel grateful for; people with high integrity and noble intentions; people who are generous with their precious gifts. When you’ve compiled your list, I encourage you to do as Sexton did: Express your appreciation; perhaps even send no-strings-attached gifts. Doing these things will have a profoundly healing effect on you.
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): “It’s a temptation for any intelligent person to try to murder the primitive, emotive, appetitive self,” writes author Donna Tartt. “But that is a mistake. Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational.” I’m sending this message out to you, Virgo, because in the coming weeks it will be crucial for you to honor the parts of your life that can’t be managed through rational thought alone. I suggest you have sacred fun as you exult in the mysterious, welcome the numinous, explore the wildness within you, un-repress big feelings you’ve buried, and marvel adoringly about your deepest yearnings.
LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Science writer Sharman Apt Russell provides counsel that I think you should consider adopting in the coming days. The psychospiritual healing you require probably won’t be available through the normal means, so some version of her proposal may be useful: “We may need to be cured by flowers. We may need to strip naked and let the petals fall on our shoulders, down our bellies, against our thighs. We may need to lie naked in fields of wildflowers. We may need to walk naked through beauty. We may need to walk naked through color. We may need to walk naked through scent.”
SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): As Scorpio author Margaret Atwood reminds us, “Water is not a solid wall; it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.” According to my reading of the astrological omens, being like water will be an excellent strategy for you to embrace during the coming weeks. “Water is patient,” Atwood continues. “Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): In a letter to a friend in 1856, Sagittarian poet Emily Dickinson confessed she was feeling discombobulated because of a recent move to a new home. She hoped she would soon regain her bearings. “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself,” she quipped, adding that she couldn’t help laughing at her disorientation. She signed the letter “From your mad Emilie,” intentionally misspelling her own name. I’d love it if you approached your current doubt and uncertainty with a similar light-heartedness and poise. (P.S.: Soon after writing this letter, Dickinson began her career as a poet in earnest, reading extensively and finishing an average of one poem every day for many years.)
CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Now is a favorable time to celebrate both life’s changeableness and your own. The way we are all constantly called on to adjust to unceasing transformations can sometimes be a wearying chore, but I suspect it could be at least interesting and possibly even exhilarating for you in the coming weeks. For inspiration, study this message from the “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast: “You are never the same twice, and much of your unhappiness comes from trying to pretend that you are. Accept that you are different each day, and do so joyfully, recognizing it for the gift it is. Work within the desires and goals of the person you are currently, until you aren’t that person anymore.”
AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Aquarian author Toni Morrison described two varieties of loneliness. The first “is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion smooths and contains the rocker.” The second “is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own.” Neither kind is better or worse, of course, and both are sometimes necessary as a strategy for self-renewal — as a means for deepening and fine-tuning one’s relationship with oneself. I recommend either or both for you in the coming weeks.
PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): England’s Prince Charles requires his valet to iron his shoelaces and put toothpaste on his toothbrush and wash all of his clothes by hand. I could conceivably interpret the current astrological omens to mean that you should pursue similar behavior in the coming weeks. I could, but I won’t. Instead, I will suggest that you solicit help about truly important matters, not meaningless trivia like shoelace ironing. For example, I urge you to ask for the support you need as you build bridges, seek harmony and make interesting connections.
Homework: The Dream of the Month Club wants to hear about your best nightly dreams. Truthrooster@gmail.com.
May 03, 2021 (monroeinstitute.org)
Traveling out of body is what many people hope to experience when they attend the Monroe Institute. The out-of-body experience (or OBE) is a concept that’s been around for centuries, though the term, “out of body,” was coined in the book “Apparitions,” by G.N.M. Tyrrell, published in 1953. Luckily for us, Robert A. Monroe had one in 1958. He learned to use his OBEs to discover, explore and map deep levels of awareness. Thanks to his efforts, the Monroe Institute was born.
OBEs have been thought to be induced by traumatic brain injuries, near-death experiences, sleep disorders, and/or electrical stimulation to the brain. My own personal journey with OBEs began when I was a teenager. I experienced sleep paralysis literally every single morning, and it was a real struggle that I had to work through. I first found myself fighting to move and filled with terror. As time went by, I began learning to calm down and project myself out of my body. I’ll admit that I never mastered this process, but it was something that shaped me and pushed my interests in the direction of the metaphysical world very quickly.
As I grew into adulthood, my adventures in sleep paralysis became less frequent, and when I did have them, I taught my husband to wake me up. I found I could make a very specific sound that he could recognize so he was able to wake me quickly. My OBEs became less and less common. Throughout my experiences in different Monroe Institute programs, I’m not sure I’ve ever really had an experience that could compare to the ones from my teenage years, though I’ve definitely had some incredibly life-changing moments.
To get yourself on track to having an OBE for yourself, here are a few things I’ve found that have helped me that could potentially help you.
As you allow your body to drift to sleep while keeping your mind awake and alert, you can experience a whole new world of Focus levels to explore, and can potentially experience an OBE.
Stay calm and go with the flow.
There can be a small amount of fear associated with letting go and going within yourself before expanding your state of awareness. While this is normal, it’s important to learn to relax each part of yourself and truly stay calm to experience an OBE. “Mind Awake, Body Asleep” is a state heavily associated with OBEs, and it’s for a good reason. As you allow your body to drift to sleep while keeping your mind awake and alert, you can experience a whole new world of Focus levels to explore, and can potentially experience an OBE. If you get nervous or fight yourself as your body goes to sleep, it’s incredibly counterproductive and may inhibit your ability to have an OBE. So, going with the flow and being willing to commit to any experience that comes your way are especially important.
Be open to using your imagination.
When you’re over-analytical like I am, it’s possible you’ll decide one of your experiences “doesn’t count,” or you’ll quickly invalidate something you’ve gone through. This is immensely counterproductive. You have to be willing and open to work with your intuition, and through it, your imagination. You have to believe that your mind could be taking you on a journey through your imagination to lead you to something important, and that this is the way your intuition can show it to you. Just as our subconscious can show us our inner thoughts and turmoil while we sleep, our imagination can open up insights into our inner thoughts, desires and worries while we are awake. So, if your meditative experience has you on a journey within your imagination, go with the flow and see where it takes you. It might just surprise you, and it could easily lead you to an OBE.
Don’t compare yourself to others, and definitely don’t try too hard. Part of the meditative experience is truly just letting go and experiencing it, as I said.
Trust that you will have the experience you want when you are ready for it.
Trying too hard or pushing yourself will most likely not end the way you want it to. Everyone’s journey is unique and will, therefore, take different amounts of time to accomplish. Don’t compare yourself to others, and definitely don’t try too hard. Part of the meditative experience is truly just letting go and experiencing it, as I said. If you spend your meditation asking yourself, “Why can’t I see anything?” or “Why isn’t this happening for me?,” then you’re living in your head and are too focused on that to experience anything deeper. You have to trust that you are on the right path for yourself and that everything will reveal itself to you in time. Being impatient isn’t going to help.
All in all, our journeys are different. However, if you are open to staying calm, going with the flow, listening to your intuition and trusting yourself, you can be assured that you will go down the right meditative path for you. Hopefully, with time and practice, this can result in an OBE.
Learn core techniques to induce an Out-of-Body Experience in OBE Spectrum and let the adventure begin!
Actress, author and adventurer Malorie Mackey is an actress, host, and writer living in Los Angeles, CA. Malorie’s first book was published in 2017 and her short story “What Love Has Taught Me” has been published in the anthology “Choices.” You can find Malorie’s travel content on dozens of digital media platforms. Check out www.maloriesadventures.com for more. Malorie’s adventures don’t just encompass physical adventures. She has been a student of intuition since she was a teenager, studying at Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E. In 2019, Malorie discovered the Monroe Institute while filming her travel show. Since then, she has been studying the art and science of consciousness through many different programs and life experiences.
By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard memorably wrote in reflecting on why presence matters more than productivity. “On how one orients himself to the moment depends the failure or fruitfulness of it,” Henry Miller asserted in his beautiful meditation on the art of living. And yet we spend our lives fleeing from the present moment, constantly occupying ourselves with overplanning the future or recoiling with anxiety over its impermanence, thus invariably robbing ourselves of the vibrancy of aliveness.
In a chapter of the altogether indispensable 1843 treatise Either/Or: A Fragment of Life (public library), Søren Kierkegaard (May 5, 1813–November 11, 1855), considered the first true existentialist philosopher, explores precisely that — how our constant escapism from our own lives is our greatest source of unhappiness.
Kierkegaard, who was only thirty at the time, begins with an observation all the timelier today, amidst our culture of busy-as-a-badge-of-honor:
Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.
(It’s worth remembering, here, that “busy is a decision” — one we constantly make, and often to our own detriment.)
In a latter chapter, titled “The Unhappiest Man,” he returns to the subject and its deeper dimension:
The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. The unhappy man is always absent from himself, never present to himself. But one can be absent, obviously, either in the past or in the future. This adequately circumscribes the entire territory of the unhappy consciousness.
He considers how the very architecture of our language perpetuates our proclivity for absence:
The unhappy one is absent. But one is absent when living in the past or living in the future. The form of expression is important, for it is evident, as philology also teaches us, that there is a tense that expresses present in the past, and a tense that expresses presence in the future; but the same science also teaches us that there is a pluperfect tense in which there is no present, as well as a future perfect tense with the same characteristics. These are the hoping and remembering individuals. Inasmuch as they are only hoping or only remembering, these are indeed in a sense unhappy individuals, if otherwise it is only the person who is present to himself that is happy. However, one cannot strictly call an individual unhappy who is present in hope or in memory. For what one must note here is that he is still present to himself in one of these. From which we also see that a single blow, be it ever so heavy, cannot make a person the unhappiest. For one blow can either deprive him of hope, still leaving him present in memory, or of memory, leaving him present in hope.
Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss
Kierkegaard goes on to explore these two key forms of escapism from presence, via hope and via memory:
Consider first the hoping individual. When, as a hoping individual (and of course to that extent unhappy), he is not present to himself, he becomes unhappy in a stricter sense. An individual who hopes for an eternal life is, indeed, in a certain sense an unhappy individual to the extent that he renounces the present, but nevertheless is strictly not unhappy, because he is present to himself in the hope and does not come in conflict with the particular moments of finitude. But if he cannot become present to himself in hope, but loses his hope, hopes again, and so on, then he is absent from himself not just in the present but also in the future, and we have a type of the unhappy. Though the hoping individual does not hope for something that has no reality for him, he hopes for something he himself knows cannot be realized. For when an individual loses hope, and instead of becoming a remembering individual, wants to remain a hoping one, then we get this form.
Similarly if we consider the remembering individual. If he finds himself present in the past, strictly he is not unhappy; but if he cannot do that but remains constantly absent from himself in a past, then we have a form of the unhappy.
Memory is pre-eminently the real element of the unhappy, as is natural seeing the past has the remarkable characteristic that it is gone, the future that it is yet to come; and one can therefore say in a sense that the future is nearer the present than is the past. That future, for the hoping individual to be present in it must be real, or rather must acquire reality for him. The past, for the remembering individual to be present in it, must have had reality for him. But when the hoping individual would have a future which can have no reality for him, or the remembering individual remember a past which had had no reality for him, then we have the genuinely unhappy individuals. Unhappy individuals who hope never have the same pain as those who remember. Hoping individuals always have a more gratifying disappointment. The unhappiest one will always, therefore, be found among the unhappy rememberers.
For a potent antidote, pair this with Alan Watts on how to live with presence and Anna Quindlen on how to live rather than exist, then see Albert Camus on happiness, unhappiness, and our self-imposed prisons.
Tessa McLean, SFGATE
Oct. 27, 2020 Updated: May 5, 2021 10:01 a.m. (SFGate.com)
The former San Francisco home of two lesbian pioneers has been officially granted landmark status, approved unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin [both long-time members of The Prosperos] were the first couple to be married by San Francisco officials in defiance of California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The duo were also co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first political and social organization for lesbians in the United States.
Lyon and Martin lived in the small Noe Valley house at 651 Duncan during most of their 54 years together and oversaw the garden spanning one side of the double lot. The city’s lesbian community often used the space for meetings and events.Read More
Martin died in 2008 and Lyon died at the age of 95 in April 2019.
District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who is gay, submitted the resolution to begin the Historic Preservation Commission’s approval process in October 2020.
“This particular home was a place where a lot of history got made over many decades by two extraordinary women,” Mandelman said. “Del and Phyllis envisioned queer rights before anyone could have imagined that would be a thing. … They changed the course of history for millions of queer people and did it all from this little cottage in Noe Valley.”
While landmarking will not require any public recognition on the property, it would limit the development of the land should the new owners of the home want to demolish the 756-square-foot property in favor of a larger structure.
The property was listed for $3 million in August 2020 and sold for $2.25 million in September.
This is the first LGBTQ historic site in a solely residential neighborhood. Four other LGBTQ locations currently hold landmark status, but they all are in commercial corridors.
Editor’s note: This story was updated May 5, 2021, when the home’s landmark status was approved.
Written ByTessa McLeanReach Tessa on
Tessa is a Local Editor for SFGATE. Before joining the team in 2019, she specialized in food, drink and lifestyle content for numerous publications including Liquor.com, The Bold Italic, 7×7 and more. Contact her at email@example.com.
Far from being profoundly destructive, we humans have deep capacities for sharing resources with generosity and foresight
Locals at the Marienfluss Conservancy in Namibia meet to discuss conservation. Photo courtesy of NACSO/WWF Namibia
Michelle Nijhuis is a project editor at The Atlantic and the author of Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction (2021).
Edited by Pam Weintraub
Aeon for Friends
4 May 2021 (aeon.co)
In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.
Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.
The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.
When it came to humans and their appetites, Hardin assumed that all was predestined. Ostrom showed that all was possible, but nothing was guaranteed. ‘We are neither trapped in inexorable tragedies nor free of moral responsibility,’ she told an audience of fellow political scientists in 1997.
What Hardin had portrayed as a tragedy was, in fact, more like a comedy. While its human participants might be foolish or mistaken, they are rarely evil, and while some choices lead to disaster, others lead to happier outcomes. The story is far less predictable than Hardin thought, and its twists and turns can lead to uncomfortable places. But in those surprises lie the possibilities that Hardin never saw.
You might think that scientists, and the public, would eagerly trade Hardin’s dark speculations about human nature for Ostrom’s sunnier findings about our capabilities. But as I learned while researching and writing my book Beloved Beasts (2021), a history of the modern conservation movement, Ostrom’s conclusions have faced stubborn resistance. During the early years of her career, colleagues criticised her for spending too much time studying the differences among systems and too little time looking for a unifying theory. ‘When someone told you that your work was “too complex”, that was meant as an insult,’ she recalled.
Ostrom insisted that complexity was as important to social science as it was to ecology, and that institutional diversity needed to be protected along with biological diversity. ‘I still get asked, “What is the way of doing something?” There are many, many ways of doing things that work in different environments,’ she told an audience in Nepal in 2010. ‘We have got to get to the point that we can understand complexity, and harness it, and not reject it.’
Her research gained global prominence in 2009, when, aged 76, Ostrom became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. But for a variety of reasons – perhaps because she was a woman in a male-dominated field, or perhaps because her sophisticated work didn’t lend itself to a catchy name – her carefully collected data hasn’t dislodged Hardin’s metaphor from the public imagination.
When Ostrom died in 2012, she was celebrated by her colleagues for her pioneering work, her plainspoken humility, and her steady resistance to what she called ‘panaceas’. She knew from experience how corrosive simple stories could be. Hardin, for his part, seemed bent on making his own ideas as repugnant as possible. Among his proposed solutions to the tragedy of the commons was coercive population control: ‘Freedom to breed is intolerable,’ he wrote in his 1968 essay, and should be countered with ‘mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon’. He feared not only runaway human population growth but the runaway growth of certain populations. What if, he asked in his essay, a religion, race or class ‘adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandisement’? Several years after the publication of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, he discouraged the provision of food aid to poorer countries: ‘The less provident and less able will multiply at the expense of the abler and more provident, bringing eventual ruin upon all who share in the commons,’ he predicted. He compared wealthy nations to lifeboats that couldn’t accept more passengers without sinking.
Hardin compared wealthy nations to lifeboats that couldn’t accept more passengers without sinking.
In his later years, Hardin’s racism became more explicit. ‘My position is that this idea of a multiethnic society is a disaster,’ he told an interviewer in 1997. ‘A multiethnic society is insanity. I think we should restrict immigration for that reason.’ Hardin died in 2003, but the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center, alert to the longevity of his ideas, maintains his profile in its ‘extremist files’ and classifies him as a white nationalist.
Still, many of those who abhor Hardin’s racist ideas – or would if they were aware of them – are seduced by the simplicity of his tragedy. If academic citation indexes are any guide, the tragedy of the commons remains far better known to scholars than any of Ostrom’s findings. It continues to be taught, uncritically, to high-school students in environmental science courses. It’s used as a justification by those who support severe restrictions on human immigration and reproduction. Even more frequently, it’s casually invoked as an explanation for human failures: even the eminent biologist E O Wilson, in his book Half-Earth (2016), describes the weakness of international climate-change agreements and the ongoing depletion of ocean resources as tragedies of the commons, without making clear that such tragedies can be averted.
Despite the evidence gathered by Ostrom and her colleagues, it seems, many are still all too willing to believe the worst of their fellow humans – to the detriment of conservation efforts worldwide. Like Hardin, many conservationists assume that humans can only be destructive, not constructive, and that meaningful conservation can be achieved only through total privatisation or total government control. Those assumptions, whether conscious or unconscious, close off an entire universe of alternatives.
While Ostrom’s ideas are not yet familiar maxims, they haven’t been ignored. In southern Africa in the 1980s, some conservationists recognised that parks and reserves, many created by colonial governments, had divided subsistence hunters and farmers from much of the wildlife that had long sustained them – and which, in some cases, they’d managed as a commons for generations. The resulting lack of local support meant that even the best-patrolled park boundaries were vulnerable to incursions by human neighbours, people unlikely to tolerate – much less protect – the large, sometimes troublesome species that ranged beyond even the largest reserves.
In response, new initiatives attempted to redistribute the burdens and benefits of conservation: the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) project in Zimbabwe directed revenue from hunting and tourism on communal lands to district councils, incentivising those councils and their communities to control illegal hunting. In neighbouring Zambia, the Administrative Management Design (ADMADE) programme trained local people as wildlife rangers, then transferred some wildlife management responsibilities, and benefits, from the national government to community boards. These and similar efforts became known as community-based conservation.
In 1987, when the South African conservationist Garth Owen-Smith attended a conference on community-based conservation in Zimbabwe, a comment by Harry Chabwela, the director of Zambia’s national parks, left a lasting impression. ‘At this conference we have talked a lot about giving local people this and giving them that, but what has been forgotten is that they also want power,’ Chabwela said. ‘They want a say over the resources that affect their lives. That is more important than money.’
Owen-Smith had already spent years living in Namibia, which was controlled by South Africa and known as South West Africa. When severe drought and an epidemic of illegal hunting threatened livelihoods and wildlife in the territory’s northwestern desert in the early 1980s, Owen-Smith had supported the creation of a system of community game guards. The unarmed guards – many of whom were hunters themselves – were so effective at tracking illegal hunters that, after a few years, the killing of elephants and rhinos in the region stopped completely. Antelope numbers improved so much that Owen-Smith was able to persuade the national conservation department to reopen limited game hunting in the area – a development much appreciated by locals.
Chabwela’s comment about power motivated Owen-Smith to think bigger. When he returned home, he and his partner Margaret Jacobsohn began to talk with community leaders and members about ways of restoring some local authority over wildlife. After Namibia won independence from South Africa in 1990, the new government recruited Jacobsohn and Owen-Smith to survey rural attitudes toward conservation, and the survey confirmed what the two had by then been hearing for years: most people didn’t want the occasionally dangerous species they lived with to be killed or removed – but they did, as Chabwela had suggested, want a say in their management. In 1996, the Namibian National Assembly passed a law that allowed groups of people living on communal land to establish institutions called conservancies. Conservancies would be governed by elected committees, and all members would share the benefits of any tourism or commercial hunting within conservancy boundaries.
Trophy hunters are sometimes directed toward lions and elephants who have become aggressive toward people.
The first conservancies on communal land were formalised in 1998, and there are now more than 80 of them in Namibia. They cover more than 40 million acres of land, and stretch from the northwestern desert to the humid, densely populated Zambezi Region in the northeast. They earn revenue from lodges, campgrounds and guide services, both as partners in joint ventures and as solo operators. They participate in annual surveys of game and wildlife populations and, in cooperation with the national conservation ministry, set quotas for both subsistence and commercial hunting within their boundaries. They employ their own game guards, who are currently fending off a continent-wide wave of rhino poaching driven by Asian demand for powdered rhino horn (a discredited traditional medicine). And, every year, the members of each conservancy assemble to call their governing committees to account.
In August 2019, I attended the general meeting of Orupembe Conservancy, held in an open-air pavilion on the outskirts of Onjuva, a tiny town hundreds of miles from the nearest gas station, and even further from a paved road. Most of the people at the meeting were semi-nomadic herders, many of whom had travelled long distances from even more isolated corners of the conservancy. (I was present thanks to the expert off-road driving skills of the guide Edison Kasupi, who grew up in nearby Purros Conservancy.) When the Onjuva committee called the meeting to order, there were 95 people seated inside the pavilion, about half of the conservancy members and just enough for a quorum. The chairman Henry Tjambiru commented that the current drought had forced many people to take their herds further afield, preventing them from attending.
Orupembe Conservancy has several sources of income, all relatively modest: a campsite, a small lodge that it co-owns with two other conservancies, and contracts with a handful of hunting guides. (Some conservancies have very little income, and fund their operations with donations from international conservation groups; others, such as the neighbouring Marienfluss Conservancy, have joint venture agreements with upscale lodges that can net more than $100,000 a year in salaries and fees.)
After a review of the year’s earnings, the committee distributed a list of local species and the current hunting quotas for each. Because the drought had worsened since the quotas were set, conservancy members had voluntarily left most of them unfilled. While wildlife surveys earlier in the year had suggested that 75 oryx could be killed without harming the population, for example, only three had been shot so far. The meat from two of those was currently boiling in a nearby row of pots, about to be served for lunch.
The meeting, which lasted several hours, was disrupted by procedural inefficiencies, lively sideline arguments and, at one point, an accusation of petty corruption. But as the sun sank and the meeting came to a ragged end, I realised with surprise that I was exhilarated. During an exceptionally difficult year, these conservancy members had taken the trouble to travel to the meeting, consider the long-term future of other species, and recommit themselves to ensuring it.
In reviving the commons, the Namibian conservancies have revived the relationships between people and wildlife – and the results, as Ostrom would be unsurprised to learn, are complex. Where parks and reserves separate land into clearly defined categories, community-based conservation proposes that land can be simultaneously protected and utilised – through the cooperative efforts of the people who live on it. It’s a profound challenge to Hardin’s assumptions, and while some of its outcomes are easy to applaud – the recovery of elephants and rhinos, the arrival of new jobs – others make outsiders squirm.
John Kasaona, who grew up in northwestern Namibia and, as a boy, watched Owen-Smith and his father set out on game-guard patrols, is now the executive director of Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation, a nonprofit organisation that provides technical support to the conservancies. When he travels overseas to talk about the accomplishments of the Namibian conservancy system, he mentions only briefly, if at all, that its success depends in part on income from trophy hunters – tourists who pay for the privilege of shooting an animal for sport, and who in some cases keep hides or horns for display. For many conservancies, trophy hunting is not only a source of income but a tool for preserving the peace between humans and other species, since trophy hunters are sometimes directed toward individual lions or elephants who have become aggressive toward people.
Kasaona is well aware of the images that trophy hunting conjures in his listeners’ minds: Theodore Roosevelt standing next to a fallen elephant, dwarfed by the carcass and its upturned tusks; Eric Trump grinning as he hefts the limp body of a leopard, his brother Don Jr beside him; the Zimbabwean lion named Cecil, whose illegal killing by a dentist from Minnesota during a guided hunt in 2015 caused a global outcry. For some in North America and Europe, trophy hunting in Africa has come to symbolise human sins against other species.
In 2017, after Kasaona spoke at a Smithsonian Institution conference in Washington, DC, a young woman stood to speak at the audience microphone. ‘I think that some pieces were missing from the presentation,’ she began. Kasaona had not shown images of the animals slain by trophy hunters, she said. He had neglected to mention that the lion or elephant spotted by a visiting family on safari might be killed the next day. Kasaona, at the podium, acknowledged the international controversy over trophy hunting, but said that regulated commercial hunts remained an important source of revenue for the Namibian conservancies. There was more to say, but the session was over, and any further discussion was washed away by chatter.
Even in the darkest times, Ostrom’s work reminds us that the future is unpredictable and full of opportunity.
More than two years later, I met up with Kasaona in the town of Swakopmund, about halfway down the Namibian coast. We talked over generous plates of springbok curry at the colonial-era Hansa Hotel, where German is spoken more frequently than English, and both are far more common than any of Namibia’s 20-plus Indigenous languages and dialects.
I asked Kasaona to finish answering his questioner at the Smithsonian conference. ‘People say: “I don’t like what they’re doing to animals,” but most of them wouldn’t want to live next to a lion that could harm their family,’ he said. The majority of tourists who hunt for sport in Namibia pursue more common species such as springbok, whose hunting is permitted through the conservancy quota system. In the case of globally threatened species, the number of animals (if any) that can be shot each year is set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In 2004, the parties to the convention approved applications by Namibia and South Africa to allow limited hunting of black rhinos, determining that the population had recovered to the point that five male rhinos could be shot in each country each year. In Namibia, the national conservation ministry chooses which rhinos will be hunted – usually older animals that have become aggressive or territorial – and issues permits for the hunts. The permit fee is deposited in a national conservation trust fund, and in one recent case a hunter paid $400,000 to shoot a single male rhino, far more than most conservancies earn in a year.
The trophy-hunting system in Namibia isn’t perfect, Kasaona acknowledges – there are cases where hunters have killed the wrong animal – but over the long term, he said, it benefits both the conservancies and the species in question by reducing conflicts between people and wildlife. When international conservation groups promise to regulate and censure trophy hunting out of existence, Kasaona hears what he calls ‘another kind of colonisation’ – a violation of the local authority that he and others have spent decades building up, and a threat to the revenue it depends on. ‘What do they say to the people whose livelihood depends on what they are trying to ban?’ he says.
Global restrictions on trophy hunting, Kasaona argues, are a simplistic response to a complex situation – what Ostrom might call a panacea. Not all countries are alike; not all conservancies are alike; not all conservancy members are alike; not even all trophy hunters are alike. And a few individual lions and elephants are far more dangerous than others, as those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods to rogue animals can attest.
While those viral images of trophy hunters with carcasses might all seem to say the same thing, they don’t. Some, surely, are symbols of corruption or needless violence. But, in the best cases, they’re examples of sustainable utilisation: colonial nostalgia, harnessed by the formerly colonised to further multispecies survival.
Ostrom’s principles of commons management now underlie not only the Namibian conservancy system but hundreds of similar efforts throughout the world. Many have revived and adapted conservation practices developed centuries ago, developing new rules suited to current circumstances. Their creators cooperate in the management of coral reefs in Fiji, highland forests in Cameroon, fisheries in Bangladesh, oyster farms in Brazil, community gardens in Germany, elephants in Cambodia, and wetlands in Madagascar. They operate in thinly populated deserts, crowded river valleys, and abandoned urban spaces.
While conservation almost always carries at least some short-term costs, researchers have found that many community-based conservation projects reduce those costs and, over time, deliver significant benefits to their human participants, tangible and intangible alike. And while community-based conservation began as a reaction to top-down conservation strategies, it can operate in parallel with large parks and reserves – and even foster their creation. In northwestern Namibia, two neighbouring conservancies have proposed to establish a ‘people’s park’ where livestock would be excluded and tourist numbers would be limited by a permit system, allowing lions and other large predators to more easily avoid conflicts with humans. Should the national legislature approve the conservancies’ proposal, the region could serve as a core habitat from which large carnivores can range in relative safety – since the region’s biological diversity is now protected not only by law, but by supportive human neighbours.
Community-based conservation can’t solve everything, and it doesn’t always succeed in protecting the commons. In many cases, national governments don’t recognise the longstanding land claims of Indigenous and other rural communities, creating uncertainty that interferes with community efforts to manage for the long term. Even well-established systems are vulnerable to internal conflict, and to external pressures ranging from drought to war to global market forces. As Ostrom often reminded her audiences, any strategy can succeed or fail. Community-based conservation is distinctive because many societies have only begun to understand – or remember – its potential. ‘What we have ignored is what citizens can do,’ she said.
At Indiana, Ostrom and her husband Vincent, also a political scientist, founded the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, affectionately known as ‘The Workshop’ to the researchers who continue to gather there. Current students of commons management struggle, as Ostrom did, with the difficulty of managing large-scale resource problems such as air pollution at the community level. They wrestle with the implications of her findings for the digital landscape, where the veneration of open access often collides with Ostrom’s definition of the commons as a boundaried, regulated space. And despite what one researcher in 2011 dubbed ‘Ostrom’s Law’ – that whatever works in practice can work in theory – even Ostrom’s admirers sometimes echo her earliest critics, lamenting that the field lacks an overarching theory.
The challenge of understanding the complexity of all species continues, as does the challenge of seeing possibility in what so often looks like a collective tragedy. But even in the darkest times, Ostrom’s work can remind us that the future is deliciously unpredictable, and full of opportunities for us to stumble away from the edge.
This original essay draws on the book ‘Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction’ (2021) by Michelle Nijhuis, published by W W Norton & Co.