Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: Limited Wants, Unlimited Means

Modern civilization has a tendency to congratulate itself as it exhales a heavy and self-aggrandizing sigh of relief that we are so blessed to live in this wonderful day in age, rejoicing, "No more are the brutish days of 'survival of the fittest' and the never-ending toils of struggling to find food, battling disease, and fending off invaders and predators!" But as John Gowdy clearly demonstrates in Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment, the pre-agricultural lives of our ancestors were comprised mostly of leisure time, because food was generally plentiful, requiring only a few hours of "work" per day. People were generally healthy and happy, largely in part because their only "work" was enjoyable communal activities that strengthened social bonds and strengthened one's connection to nature. And while there certainly were occasional famines and other hardships, this book paints a pretty clear picture that, for all our "progress" over the last few millennia, in many (or most?) regards we are worse off now than when we started.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Living and Dying

Almost three years ago I made a major life decision which, to an outside observer, might appear quite foolish. I was on an extremely promising career path, quickly moving up in a multinational and highly reputable company that had not only relocated me to Japan per my request, but also graciously provided a real sweetheart deal to boot. My minimalist lifestyle allowed me to save more money than I knew what to do with, and staying on that career path essentially meant being set for life. I wasn't even working much overtime, which is nigh unfathomable in Japan's workaholic society, and which garnered extreme envy from many a flabbergasted Japanese cohort.

My position came with a lot of responsibility, and an equal amount of stress, which eventually manifested in a multitude of minor maladies such as mild vertigo, a semi-regular twitching beneath my right eye, chronic fatigue, disturbed sleep including nightmares about work, and what felt like early onset carpal tunnel syndrome. But a bigger problem soon eclipsed all of those maladies combined, and it terrified me: the cancerous emptiness inside of me, slowly hollowed out over the years by the corrosive and insidious monotony of work that I wasn't passionate about.

The Fabled Difficulty of the Japanese Language

Somewhere along the line in Japan's thousands of years of history, a curious fable emerged: the Japanese language is exceedingly difficult.

If I had to guess at the origins of this fable, perhaps it is simply mirroring the fact that up until very recently, foreigners fluent in Japanese were exceedingly rare. After all, in addition to its natural geographic isolation, for some two hundred years Japan instituted a sakoku (鎖国, "locked country") policy whereby no foreigners could enter and no Japanese could leave, under penalty of death. Even to this day, Japan's homogeneous population holds steady at 98.5% Japanese, and so it's not surprising that such a fable would thrive in modern day Japan, where citizens are sometimes shocked to the point of irrepressible bewilderment upon encountering a foreigner fluent in Japanese.

Certainly the written language is difficult, but in my early years of studying the spoken language, time and time again I thought to myself, "Wow, this is so much simpler than English." And to this day, the Japanese language as a whole strikes me as exceptionally logical and consistent, as if a group of no-nonsense linguists had sat down together and planned out the entire language in advance.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Original Version of Seven Nights with Ayahuasca

At the time of this blog post, only a small handful of people had read the original version of Seven Nights with Ayahuasca, which contained a much longer first chapter with several pages that didn't make it into the final version. Among the folks who read these pages, there was a general consensus that they liked the writing, but they didn't find it especially relevant to the rest of the book. So those pages got the axe.

Here is the uncut version of the first chapter, in its entirety: