“Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House. . .”

…says Thomas Paine, describing the primitive origins of government in his pamphlet entitled, “Common Sense.”

“Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters”

In describing that democratic form of government, Paine is chronologically mid-way between no government at all (which he posits can only exist before families joined with other families in the form of tribes. I find it doubtful that humans ever existed as solitary creatures, and thus there was always some need for arriving at a group consensus), and the representative form of government required by an increase in population to the point where the old tree just doesn’t cut it any more.

This idea of true democracy, wherein every citizen is empowered to speak out and have his voice help to shape the political process, is appealing, and is arguably a long-standing dream amongst the civilized nations. Thomas Jefferson believed that property ownership would encourage citizens to become engaged in public affairs, and that therefore he government should encourage home ownership as a means of engaging its citizenry in the hard work of shaping society. It’s arguable that home-ownership is a mere proxy for the ability to speak under the tree concerning tribal affairs.

Will the internet, with its revolutionary ways of connecting people and disseminating ideas, finally return us to that primitive state of government in which every man’s voice is valued?


The Instagram Terms of Service Backlash

#instagreed #instafraud #protest @instagram. Why is such a large segment of the creative community that populates instagram up in arms over the proposed change of TOS? Clearly, there is widespread sentiment that the change will somehow quash the creative spirit, that the community will somehow dissipate, that the connections we’ve made with other IGers all over the world will be twisted, cheapened, commercialized.

To understand the sadness, it’s important to recognize that the underlying impulse that drove instagram to success is a facet of what I’ve come to call the treeistic impulse. It’s the impulse to create, to share, to connect, and to articulate. It’s the impulse in each of us to find our voice in whatever medium we can, whether it’s through a photograph, a short poem, a “like” on someone else’s photo, or just a decision to encourage someone else’s artistic output by following them.

It’s the impulse to create a journal, a diary, a chronological history of our lives. An artist friend of mine has gotten into the habit of documenting the life cycle of each of his pieces through instagram. From custom motorcycle tanks, to paintings, to a photographic series, each was documented, step by step, and his followers gained a deeper appreciation for the end product and the process. In the context of art, it’s a little bit like establishing the “provenance” of an antique. When there’s a story attached to it, the value, both economic and otherwise, tends to increase.

My own journey on instagram has been similar. Through my photos, I created a running journal of my life. In addition to sharing the photos with friends and family, I was creating a log of my life events. Favorite pictures of my daughter would go up on IG. In my heart, I hoped that even if not a single person liked my photos today, my daughter would one day treasure the feed as a keepsake of her childhood, and perhaps her own descendants would one day look back at her childhood through my eyes. Likewise, my photos have documented buildings, graffiti, friends, sunsets. My instagram feed has become a way to document the things in which I have found beauty or significance, and to share them with my community, now and in the future.

As I posted more, I made more friends on the site. People I’d never met in person, folks living in Turkey, and Sweden, and Thailand. People making art in Chile, in Mexico, in New York. I became connected to them, I followed them and took inspiration from their work. Some of them followed me, too. My instagram feed became a laboratory for trying new things, expressing myself in new and different ways and seeing others do the same.

On instagram, I’ve seen soul-wrenching work from people I’ve never appreciated the depth of in real life.

It’s for all the reasons above, and no doubt countless more that I’ve failed articulate, that the threat of commercialization and destruction scares me so much. However, I know that all of the above is NOT just a random, one-time event. It is the treeistic impulse, ever expressing itself in new and creative ways.

If Instagram dies, the impulse will not. I am confident that we will see it manifest in new and astounding ways that draw us closer together and give each us a stronger, clearer voice. In turn, our collective voice will become stronger and clearer also.

That’s what this whole treeism thing is all about.

A generation of Artists?

How many photos a week do you take? How many a week did you take 10 years ago? If you’re anything like me, the first number is a huge multiple of the second.

Likewise, I watch my two year old, as she grabs mama’s phone, and starts to frame and snap photos. Maybe later, her three year old cousin will facetime (there, it’s a verb now) her, and she’ll run around the house, videographing the dogs, her room, and daddy sitting on the patio.

Will our kids feel more comfortable expressing themselves through visual arts as a result?

Likewise, my own generation is undergoing a shift in the expressive arts. Although I used to despise it as a waste of time, I’ve recently taken to browsing through the Facebook newsfeed. Many of my friends are regularly posting items meaningful to them: their own photos, short stories about their lives, links to interesting items, the list goes on. I admit, I do it too.

In sharing these things people reveal a side of themselves that might not get exposed during normal daily life, and they become practiced in the sharing those things. As they transmit these snippets across the internet to their friends (and maybe their own descendants too!), they transmit along with each one their own values. There is a subtle but powerful form of peer pressure and social molding going on; even as they transmit their own values and ideas, they are shaped by those of their friends.

Returning to my original point, these people are practicing their expression skills. They are becoming “artists” in the sense that they become more adept at expressing the beauty that they perceive in the world. As this phenomenon intensifies, and people become more comfortable with it, it will be interesting to watch it blossom in new directions


This post is fairly extemporaneous, and attempt to kind of regurgitate onto paper some thoughts I’ve had on treeism over the last weeks. Some of the thoughts are likely to be redundant of things I’ve already said, but since my own evolving concept is still relatively inchoate, the process of expressing these thoughts, whether through conversation, writing, or otherwise, helps to focus them and bring a deeper understanding.

So what am I referring to by titling this post “illumination?” Basically, it has occurred to me that the whole “treeistic” tendency I described in earlier posts can be viewed as man’s attempt to illuminate, and thereby make visible and strengthen, the connections that already exist between he, his fellow man and the world around him.

Take for example, the social network. Since time immemorial, upon meeting a new person and striking up a dialogue, the conversation would wend its way and the new friends might discover that they shared a common friend or even a common relative. That piece of information would serve to bind the two closer together in a way. Not only might it make them feel more at ease, but it might serve to make each feel more socially responsible to the other.

Nowadays, you can meet a person and friend them of Facebook. The discovery of mutual friends is a pleasure, although there are those misanthropic individuals who might fear or disdain the discovery of those mutual connections, I believe that on balance a sense of “belonging” is a positive social benefit.

The above example illustrates my point when I refer to “illumination.” That mutual friend was a mutual friend regardless of whether or not the two individuals ever discovered that fact. The tree, Facebook in this instance, only served to illuminate, or make apparent, a connection that already existed.

The recent news story about President Obama being linked genetically to John Punch, the first black slave in the US, is another example. That relationship existed prior to the folks at Ancestry illuminating it. In my own family tree, I have discovered a heritage that I was never really aware of before. The result was a sense of connection to a remote area of the world, as well as a slightly greater interest in the history of that area.

My feeling is that as these connections become more illuminated, many people will have a similar experience of finding a sense of history, or rootedness. Perhaps others will experience the opposite effect. Time will tell.


Augmented reality — in nature

Here’s an idea. In an earlier post, I discussed some of the social networking possibilities inherent in “google glasses” or a similar technology. As I was walking through the woods today with my step-son, we discussed the fact that the indigenous people that walked those woods centuries ago were intimately familiar with the plants, bugs, and animals that were all around them. They knew what was good to eat, and what was bad. They knew which plants had healing properties. They knew how and where to take shelter. My step-son and I were acutely aware that we lacked that type of connection to nature, despite being appreciative of its value.

What if augmented reality were extended to the natural world? What if, as we peered through our Google glasses in search of food, we saw a section of the forest floor gently glowing red, indicating an edible plant? What if all the plants were immediately recognized and cataloged, providing an on-tap source of food, medicine, building materials, etc. What if we could walk through any setting, urban, rural, wild, or otherwise, and be instantly apprised of all the life-giving vegetation contained therein?

The idea that there is an untapped abundance in our environment is an idea I’d like to explore in another blog, urbancornucopia.com, also known as environmentarian.com, but it does occur to me that technology could be used to shortcut the intensive studying and learning required to gather true sustenance from an uncultured, natural environment.

I am growing more and more attracted to the idea of man as modern hunter-gather, a vision of man who lives largely like our distant ancestors, but carries with him some means of tapping into the “tree” — that source of social and natural connection that I believe we’re meant to have as humans.

As an aside, I’ll admit that the part of my brain inclined to believe in the supernatural sometimes wonders if the “tree” even requires any sort of external technology. What if buried in the collective unconscious there is already a sort of hyper-developed internet, a means of instantly and effortless ly conveying all the vital info that I believe the “tree” is meant to provide? Subject of another post I guess:).

Connection disconnection

This is a post that really deserves a full flushing out, but because of time constraints (or maybe articulation constraints?), I have yet to do so. This post will serve to illustrate in broad strokes my evolving concept of the connection/disconnection dichotomy.

As a Jew, I was interested to learn several weeks ago that the Hebrew word for commandment, mitzvah,may actually stem from an older Aramaic word that has a more specific meaning: connection, or to connect. What significance does that minor distinction hold? To me, if that etymology is accurate, it seems quite noteworthy. I never really grasped the significance of the word mitzvah when I thought of it in terms of meaning simply a commandment, or order. Order to do what? It implied the memorization of LISTS of postive and negative rules, lists that began with 613 distinct commandments, and ended up in the esoteric minutia of the Talmud and Hebrew Academia. Who could afford to dedicate a lifetime of study to the question of whether or not it is legitimate in God’s eyes to flip a light switch on the Sabbath or to eat Quinoa on Passover?

To my perhaps overly simplistic mindset, giving the “commandment” a more concrete meaning seemed more penetrating, more elegant in its simplicity: just connect. Of course, it also meshes nicely with my emerging philosophy of Treeism, which stands exclusively for just that: realizing our connections with every other human by constructing a global family tree, so that we can all see and appreciate our place within it, savoring the the context, rootedness, and consciounce that being firmly connected to both our ancient ancestors and our distant progeny brings.

However, recognizing our manifold connections to the individual people we encounter is only a small part of our “connection” in the larger sense. We are intimately connected to the physical world around us.

To be continued:
Food we eat, water we drink, air we breathe. Shanahan idea of food as communication. Juniper berries and local honey. Eating from our environment. Urban foraging? Shma yisrael, sunrise, sunset, solar noon, the cycles of the moon. Significance of the sun, influence of the stars, tribal model and wisdom, garden of eden, the jungian “shadow” archetype.