Surprising inspirational aspect of the Chernobyl “Zone Of Alienation”

There has been an ongoing scientific debate about the extent that flora and fauna of the zone were affected by the radioactive contamination that followed the accident. No scientifically documented cases of mutant deformity in animals of the zone were reported other than partial albinism in swallows and insect mutations. There have been individual eyewitness reports of other animal mutations but no comprehensive statistical analysis has been completed to date. The cloud of heavily polluted dust left the Red Forest (Rudyi Lis)—a strand of highly-irradiated pine wood near the plant which was subsequently bulldozed.

There have been reports that wildlife has flourished due to significant reduction of human impact. For this reason, the zone is considered by some as a classic example of an involuntary park. Populations of traditional Polesian animals (like wolves, wild boar and Roe Deer), red deer, moose, and beaver have multiplied enormously and begun expanding outside the zone. The area also houses herds of European wisent and Przewalski’s Horses released there after the accident. Even extremely rare lynx have appeared, and there are reports of tracks from brown bears, an animal not seen in the area for several centuries. Special game warden units are organized to protect and control them.

JZ and DJ interview

This ten year old interview of John Zerzan by Derrick Jensen is helping me think about technology.

DJ: Let’s talk more about technology. Isn’t technology just driven by curiosity?

JZ: You hear people say this all the time: “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle”; “You’re asking people to forget.” Stuff like that. But that’s just another attempt to naturalize the craziness. And it’s a variant of that same old racist intelligence argument. Because the Hopi didn’t invent backhoes, they must not be curious. Sure, people are naturally curious. But about what? Did you or I aspire to create the neutron bomb? Of course not. That’s crazy. Why would people want to do that in the first place? They don’t. But the fact that I don’t want to create a neutron bomb doesn’t mean I’m not curious. Curiosity is not value free. Certain types of curiosity arise from certain types of mindsets, and our own “curiosity” follows the logic of alienation, not simple wonder, not learning something to become a better person. Our “curiosity,” taken as a whole, leads us in the direction of further domination. How could it do any other?

Plant dyes, having a smell, odourlessness in general.

Lump indigo (blue)
Old recipe from Outer Hebrides

Boil wool with onion skins till clear yellow, then let wool dry. Have an old pail filled with urine at least two weeks old, or until skin forms on top… Put lump indigo in a muslin bag, heat the “bree” by placing a hot stone in it. Squeeze in the blue bag. Wet the wool and place in the liquid. Cover the vessel and place where it will keep warm… For navy blue, 11 to 21 days are required. Fix with boiled sorrel roots as rinsing water.

Dye Plants and Dyeing, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, 1964.

Books about natural dyeing have a lot of lore I hadn’t foreseen. So many smells! Boiling weird fungi, soaking fiber with onions (“It will take at least four washings to eliminate the odour”), fermenting urine. One book detailed an argument between the author and her editor about whether traditional Harris tweed, dyed with lichens, smelled “musty” or, less judgmentally, “earthy.” I had no idea that tweed used to have a smell. I am fascinated by this, and want to dye all my clothes with different plants to get to know the smells.

Why don’t I expect my clean clothes to have a smell? Not a laundry scent, but a part of their nature. I can remember talking about the smell of my clothes like a normal thing, all the time. Wool sweaters smell sheepy if I get wet in the rain. A couple of weeks ago I told someone (who?) that I liked the smell of raw silk, because I was knitting with a silk blend yarn. I can recall the scent of cotton in my mind’s nose: wet, dry, or hot. Why did I still think of clothes as odourless?

Heather wrote once (or maybe we spoke) about why people are so obsessed with genital odours. Do they smell right? Do they smell too strong? How to keep the smells in control? She suggested that this was partly because we have come to expect the entire rest of our bodies to have no odours at all. Healthy hair, feet, armpits, mouths, and skin in general all have smells, too, but between washing and deodorizing they’ve been redefined as ideally odourless. It’s total fantasy, bodies still smell, but we expect odourlessness. (Like my clothes!) Compared to that, genitals are almost getting smellier by contrast.

Thinking about the more familiar politics of body odours makes me even more interested in knowing what smells are required to make the colours in my clothes. These plant dyes seem like an opportunity to make experiential connections, to know things by observation. To have know what clothes smell like and why, instead of not knowing what shocking petrochemical smells are happening at distant textile factories. It feels grounding. Educating my mind’s nose. I have some pondering to do, regarding wood smoke and other smells that have been banished from modern, civilized, classy life.

I think I will start slow, though, with tea and lavender dyes. Fermenting a bucket of my own urine is going on the “someday I will peek behind this curtain” list along with attending a pig or goat slaughter. Someday.

I’m noticing how gardening books can be colonial.

Edible gardens have been part of human culture for thousands of years. Along with harnessing fire, developing the wheel and domesticating animals, cultivating food is one of the benchmarks of human advancement. Growing plants that provide food and learning to store it for times of scarcity were advancements that allowed humans to develop civilizations.

— First paragraph of the introduction to The Canadian Edible Garden: Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits & Seeds by Alison Beck.

It’s been awhile since something like “the benchmarks of human advancement” would have slipped by me as a neutral measurement (when you define everyone’s progress by how similar they are to you, you can assume have problems with privilege), but I think I am noticing more assumptions now about the value of civilization and technology. I’m also noticing that the author’s list of “advancements” that allow humans to create civilizations skipped over colonization, slavery, militarism, genocide and all that.

I recently read Endgame: The Problem of Civilization & Resistance (thanks for the tip, Sarah), which is a thorough take-down of the assumption that civilization is an advanced way of living (vs. unsustainable and terrorist), that the point of technology is to become advanced (vs. to maintain a relationship with your landbase), that agriculture is an efficient way to gather food (vs. temporary and destructive). I think that was the book that got me reading about destroying agriculture. I’ve been reading a lot of books at once; it’s hard to keep track.

I am seeing this garden book as much more oppressive than I would have before, with a Eurocentric, anti-indigenous, environmentally unconscious position.

This is good, it gets me thinking about my love of gardening. I’m realizing that what I care about is getting to know plants and soil and living systems, resisting consumerism and capitalism by gathering my own food, and taking time to physically experience and love a patch of the outdoors. None of that actually requires a garden. I could be wildcrafting, or working more with local plant permaculture and forest gardens. Those are difficult when land is privately owned and violently policed, and wilderness is mostly destroyed and constantly under threat. Wild forests don’t need me in there taking all my food right now. And it’s hard to conceive of perennial ecosystems on temporarily rented space.

So… how could I be talking with my neighbours about guerrilla permaculture and land reclamation?

Considering destroying agriculture: more soothing than I expected.

I am feeling excited to research radical ecology and anti-industrial ideas lately. This is one result of considering my Scottishness: I decided to read extra-radical critiques of Eurocentric civilizations as a respite from the horrifying, delusional narratives in books about Scottish settler history.

Somehow I didn’t realize there were folks in radical ecology movements looking at very intersectional politics of oppression and how they relate to fundamental systems like agriculture, cities, and industrial production. Sometimes I find an analysis that also overlaps with what I know of media theory about currencies, clocks and the alphabet. I’m still in a skeptical phase where I am cross-referencing everything and looking for criticisms, but it is very relaxing to feel like there might be a way to fit a lot of interests together. One huge, complex idea to apply instead of a whole bunch of big, complex ideas.

This morning I was listening to ideas about agriculture.

Lierre Keith: A Hard Look at Agriculture, and Strategies for Collapse, a podcast at Resistance is Fertile. Why even veganism and local organic farming is not sustainable.

You have to understand what agriculture is. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it— and I mean down to the bacteria— and then you plant it to human use. It’s biotic cleansing. This lets the human population grow to gigantic proportions, because instead of sharing that land with millions of other creatures we’re only growing humans on it….

Besides the fact that you’ve permanently displaced any number of species— and when i say that, we’re really talking about extinction— the real problem is that you’re destroying your topsoil and topsoil is the basis of life [on land]…. We have to talk about overshoot.

And pretty soon, she starts connecting this to systems of oppression.

So you’ve got these power centers that arise wherever agriculture is started and they need a constant influx of new resources because they’ve overshot their landbase. Because you have a surplus, that means somebody else can steal it, so the first thing that happens in agricultural societies is you have a class of people whose sole purpose is to be soldiers. You’ve got the beginnings of militarism. The surplus has to be protected. But the surplus is also what lets there be an entire class of people who don’t have to get food, all they have to do is fight. So now you’ve got a class of soldiers.

The other thing that the power base needs is more resources because they’re constantly using them up. So the other job of those soldiers is to go out and get more and bring it back.

And the third thing that agriculture needs is slaves, because it’s back-breaking labour. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, three quarters of the people on this planet were either living in conditions of slavery or indentured servitude. The only reason that we’ve forgotten this is because we’re using machines now to do that work, but believe me when the fossil fuel runs out, we are going to remember just how much work is involved in this.

It’s this feedback loop, where agriculture creates the need for a military and the military is made possible by the surplus of agriculture. And the entire system together needs to keep taking land because it’s forever using up its own soil.

They go on to make connections between agriculture and patriarchy, disability rights, classism, imperialism, and some more.

I have a million ideas about things to do, but I want to post some more inputs before I write about them. I was quiet for so long that I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do just to make my premises clear.

I hope this ends well.

I posted this on Craigslist today (personals > strictly platonic?).

Can I poop in your composting toilet?

Date: 2009-03-25, 12:34PM PDT

Or even just see it and ask you a couple of questions?

They seem so cool in theory, but I would like to try one out in person before I get too excited about the “convenience” and “lack of smell.”

Thanks in advance for sharing your humanure revolution.

  • Location: victoria
  • it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

I’m ready for my telepathic computer now please.

New device reads minds pretty well.

Whenever I read articles about advances in computer mind-reading technology, they focus on the benefits for paralysed or locked-in people. Fair enough, but I am also waiting for my generic mind-to-computer input device. Could you not then basically send telepathic messages to your friends? If a computer can read my mind, and computers can already talk to each other… that means I can send telepathic email at least. It makes me laugh. It’s such a clunky, budget vision of telepathy, but I think it’s good enough.

A few years ago, after seeing a documentary about a locked-in man’s telepathic computer, I had elaborate fantasies of starting a company to manufacture open source, recyclable, telepathic PDA things. It would be such an interesting device to design interfaces for. In my elaborate fantasy, there are mind-reading headphones that whisper interface feedback to you.

Being apparently more environmentalist than the average geek, I barely even buy any electronic gadgets, but I am so compelled by the prospect of adjusting my music volume up and down with my mind that I thought I might have to move somewhere cheap and kidnap an engineer to make it happen.

I have since chilled out, but I note with delight that these articles are showing up more often.

One down

Today I bought six low-energy lightbulbs and put them in the fixtures we use the most. Kitchen mostly.

I feel virtuous and green, and also homey. Our place is a real castle lately: tidy and well-stocked, with enough places to sit. Now with environmentally sound lighting.

Soon I’ll go to rock club and see if my secret pal likes what I picked for her. Rock club is making me like my friends more. It barely comes together most times, and runs like a case study of social groups, but I like that about it. It helps me accept my friends for being human, even when they flake out or pry for attention or forget to leave room for me. We seem to be gradually adjusting the rock club setup to get the best side of most of us.