Archive for February, 2011

The Power Of Conscious Vernacular & Deliberate Terminology

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

The Power Of Deliberate Vernacular & Terminology:
A Call For Maximally Conscious Communication

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

(The following short essay is excerpted from a much longer version that will be appearing soon in Issue #2 of: The Plant Healer Magazine)

Languages are forever evolving, depending on shifting understandings and cultural context, the watering down of some definitions and the recasting of others.  This is true of the English language in general, and the ways we use it, and even more so when it comes to the vernacular of both informal and professional sub-groups.  Vernacular involves a particular emphasized vocabulary shared in common by folks with mutual association or interests, involving not only specialized connotations of broadly known words, but also definitive slang or jargon that is by nature incomprehensible to those outside the group or field.  Understanding amongst any group is based first and foremost on the extent of shared definitions and the clarity of communication.  The cohesiveness and progress of those identifying with a certain activity or purpose, is in part determined by the terminology we collectively select and employ.  And our effect on others and this world, hangs not only our efforts but on the words that we choose.

The word “water” will not in and of itself sate our thirst or float our boat, and is thus no substitute for the real thing it describes.  Far too many people get caught up in mental imaging and discourse, to the point of residing largely inside their minds instead of the actual reality their bodies move through, objectifying their feelings, reducing everything to what appears to be equally significant stories, making it easier for them to do nothing about the pain and structure of their lives, or to actively respond to the destruction and injustice of our times.

On the other hand, when we either hear the sounds or see letters that together form “water”, we  may informed of someone’s need for a drink, the Southwest ecosystem’s need for rain, or even our own called for role as a potential provider of that precious liquid to houseplants or a garden that need our assistance or some family without working plumbing or a well.  It may be communicated to us that a certain river is in danger from pollution or proposed damming, and in that way alert us to what we might be able to do to either remedy or resist.  Inscribed in a well crafted essay, it can not only evoke hot aromatic tea or the caress of a skin stimulating waterfall, but also the connotations of subsistence or cleansing, of transparency or the ability to transform, of the cycles of human culture as well as the more literal cycles or evaporation, condensation and precipitation.  Nor are word associations always so literal.  When I say that some terms have been “watered down”, it’s doubtful that you picture an actual, soaking wet document, and more likely that you perceive an expression that has been thinned and diluted beyond recognition, of little remaining use.  And often these word associations hinge on endemic or situational reference.  If our reference is physical constitutions and healing, for example, we may be reminded of the five elements model where identifying a client as “water” can be of immense help in understanding how their bodies respond to various illnesses and the actions of herbs, as well as in determining the best course of treatment.  Finally, we know that when read in the lines of a particularly emotive poem, the mere mention of water can be enough to either awaken childlike bliss or set our tears to flowing.

“It’s only talk”, some have been known to remark, but all talk can be said to be consequential even if not deeply useful.  There is consequence to any sentences imparting relevant information, significance or meaning, and consequence to the wasting of words and despoiling of silence that is “small talk” and prattle.  Words have both provoked and inspired revolutions, triggered by the careless use of expressions like “let them eat cake”, furthered by the distribution of impactful information printed behind closed curtains on clandestine flyers, emboldened by rousing song lyrics and artful slogans chanted from the lips of the dispossessed and determined.  Words in  advertisements not only stimulate merchandise sales to suit our tastes, they also work to mold those tastes, to create an illusion of endless new phantom needs, to influence opinion and – together with current television show dialogue – fashion the substance and shape of contemporary culture itself.


With this essay we are calling for each and every empowered member of our loose knit Anima and herbal community to each ourselves edit (not censor!) what we present to the world, personally reexamining, reappraising and redefining our language so as to best abet our values, intentions and aims.  We need to look between the lines of our communications for every imparted meaning, overt or subtle; to measure listener, student and reader response, while being careful not to sacrifice personality or purpose for the sake of acceptance, popularity or consensus; and to keenly assay consequence and result, without neglecting, surrendering or dishonoring our essential principles.  To increase the chances that we are clearly imparting what is most important to clients and students, minimizing projection and confusion, avoiding unnecessary hot buttons and trigger words, encouraging rather than discouraging response, it’s important that we consciously craft our sentences to best effect.

This way, we make sure that we say what we mean… the best first step on the way to doing what we say.

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Flogging Wife-Beaters & Bombing Protesters

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Flogging Wife-Beaters & Bombing Protesters

An Argument Against Violence As A Means of Control

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

No one is likely a more fervent advocate of self defense than I am, being certain that it is not only a legal but a moral right, and even a primary, primal instinct… the response of any living being that values itself and its life.  On the other hand, violence as punishment (including the quiet violence of incarceration) has never appeared effective to me, and both I and my once young delinquent friends were made more resentful and rebellious – not more obedient or subservient – by any beatings or jailings that we were subjected to as kids.  Plus it must be added, that the most evil and least productive or beneficial of all violence is that which is conducted by the state or nation, violence legitimized by a vastly superior and advantaged public entity (whether elected or not!).

Near the time of writing this, the governments of Egypt, the Sudan and Libya have tried to violently suppress the popular uprisings in their respective countries.  In deference to world opinion, they have in most cases done their best to mask that violence by restricting media access, attempting to shut down the internet, using secret service manipulation, and instructing their attacking security forces to conceal their identities and dress like common citizens.  Ghadafi of Libya, however, showed no such reticence or concern, ordering his air force to strafe crowds of demonstrators instead.

It’s significant that our country’s tight fisted managers don’t send in jets when Wisconsin state employees gather to raise hell in Madison, protest signs flying as bullets tear into disgruntled janitors and teachers.  This violence is less blatant by far, but more insidious in that it is more subtle, codified, effective and accepted by a largely acquiescent population.  The prison industry is considered the fastest growing new sector in the United States, suspected terrorists are taken offshore and tortured, and the Bill of Rights has suffered as the power of the government to control, repress and punish has rapidly increased post 9-11.

In the end, state violence as means of control – whether by individuals or agencies – is not only repugnant and unacceptable, but ineffective as well.  Unlike the chastened wife-beater in this odd cartoon flogging promo from the 1940’s, the survivors of Ghadafi’s air strikes are unlikely to feel grateful for the violence and glad to have their strong man ruler back.  Nor should we as U.S. citizens be repaying legitimized and systemized bullying by spending our days in aprons baking the government and corporate ruling “hunks” sweet cakes.

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What’s Worth Gambling On – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

What’s Worth Gambling On

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

Magazine and newspaper attention to my book Old Guns & Whispering Ghosts (deep ecology, libertarianism, rewilding and land conservation posed as a history of Old West firearms) has resulted in being periodically asked to speak in diverse and sometimes odd venues, from small town libraries to rodeos.  I’ve enjoyed spinning tales of the 1800’s, watching folks’ eyes light up either from the memories I’ve awakened, or else my descriptions of a life of adventure that still waits and beckons.

One of the odder venues I was hired for, was a historical symposium in Deadwood, South Dakota, that in it’s heyday it featured noisy saloons and steamy bordellos, catering to the free spending gold rush miners.  It was there that the famous Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back of the head, while uncharacteristically sitting at a card table with his back to a door, keeling over with what is now thought of as the “Dead Man’s Hand”: aces and eights.  While he had only been in Deadwood for less than six weeks, his death there has forever linked that town to the deadly gunfighter with the failing eyesight.  Knowing the attraction to tourists, the community has long been active in working to keep history alive.  Most of the area buildings are the original sandstone-block structures where Calamity Jane Canary once sold her affections to half-drunk cowboys, the bars sported scales for weighing the gold nuggets used to pay for drinks, and card games and other forms of gambling flourished.

Oddly enough, it is gambling once again that sets the tone, with slot machines spinning in nearly every restaurant and bar.  And the twist is that taxes on gaming that pays for much of the town’s preservation, and even covers the costs of bringing notorious people like me there to speak.  According to the brochures, the state has been raking in multi-millions of dollars ever since gaming was made legal there in the 1980’s.

Of course, it was hard to remember those figures when watching the mostly lower middle class men and women spending hours stuffing all their savings down the slots of the clanging machine.  Each of them was being bled to fill the North Dakota state slush fund, and all with the hope of an improbable win that could pay their kid’s college tuition or at least cover the ticket on a wide screen TV from a big box discount store.  Some stared mournfully at the twirling bells and stars, like drug addicts refusing to quit long enough to get some sleep.  Others, strangely enough, actually seemed to be enjoying losing.  There was no shortage of laughter and smiles, as purses were emptied and wallets laid bare.  It seemed that people had come from thousands of miles away, on a quest to find a place where they could hand over their hard earned money and get absolutely nothing in return.

While none of the card tables or machines got any of my change, I suppose I have not always been completely immune to sporting ways.  After all, I took a gamble leaving school long before graduation, following my dreams, depending on a writer’s meager income to cover the groceries, and moving at age 25 to a financially impoverished but otherwise oh-so rich area where I shall ever after live.  At great expense, I gambled on love, even when I often lost.  Gambled that every time I have stood up to a bully, I would somehow manage to win.   I gamble with my liberty when voicing my opinions about our government and its corporate bosses.  I gamble that I have the wisdom to make honorable if difficult choices, and that I have the strength to do what I need to.  And on our trip to Deadwood, I bet that my talk would be well received, as well as that I would survive the intimidating Denver traffic on my way back back south.

All of us who live out in the “sticks” seem united in betting that we are living in the best imaginable places.  We bet that we’ll somehow survive there, with damn little income, and even without the kinds of changes that can ruin the land or destroy valued rural traditions.  Every child created is a parent’s gamble that she or he will be healthy and happy.  Herbalists bet their credibility that they can help contribute to the health of others.  When we plant a garden, we bet our efforts that a sweet crop will grow.  We bet our very lives, with our devotion to freedom and what’s right.  And bet that we can each – in our own small but significant and rewarding ways – make things just a little bit better in this ol’ world we share.

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Snow: Catching Life In Our Mouths

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Snow: Catching Life In Our Mouths

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

We’re getting only the second storm all Winter, just as are 2/3 of our students and readers.  No matter what inconveniences it might bring, it is a noteworthy gift to this thirsty mountain land.

It began as usual, with winds shifting direction or even whirling in great circles, a darkening of the ever so bright Southwestern sun, and then a not so usual progression of small, gentle and ever so silent flakes, followed by the first scattered snare-drum rattles of hardened hail, a roar of larger hail rising to a crescendo, quickly replaced by the softest of tiny light flakes again.

It is not only the land that laps up the moisture, with wild-eyed Rhiannon rushing out in her wool fairy tale coat to catch the drops in her mouth.  She is proof that kids don’t need to be shown such behavior, nor to even read about it, to just naturally take up habits that children for thousands of years have most certainly enjoyed.

I next see Loba, supposedly tending to things outside, but clearly circling and rejoicing, her and Rhiannon both perfect examples of excitedly embracing the whitening world.  And I, too cannot resist an ancient pull, to strike out into the gathering fluff, to stack fuel close to our wood heated cabin, scan for the tracks that have so long signaled winter food and survival, rejoice in the nettles that glow bright green against the blue tinted snow.



Concerns about personal health, finances and family loss, the world’s despots and conflicts, even the ongoing destruction of nature or the shortage of water in the West, cannot and should not dampen our enthusiasm and hope, our activism and other efforts to make things better, nor the daily joy of wondrous existence… taking a moment to catch a flake or two of snow – of life – in opened skyward mouths.

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