Not So Simple: Notes from a Tech-Free Life by Mark Boyle

“I intended to begin a new life without modern technology. There would be no running water, no fossil fuels, no clock, no electricity or any of the things it powers: no washing machine, internet, phone, radio, or light bulb…

…What are we prepared to lose, and what do we want to gain, as we fumble our way through our short, precious lives?”

—Mark Boyle, “Not So Simple.” Plough. July 4, 2019.

Lessons Learned from the Hemingway Editor

As an exercise, I tried rewriting an essay I wrote for this blog, Ergot on Rye, in the Hemingway editor. I learned that my writing in too academic. It is too hard to read. Expressions need to be simpler. I need to use fewer qualifiers.

The Hemingway editor helps me break down some of those learned habits. It also has direct to WordPress publishing capability. But, it’s only available for Windows and MacOS. writegood-mode in Emacs might be an alternative on Linux.

Below are quotes from the first few paragraphs, followed by their rewritten counterparts. The difference is quality is obvious.

Original:

“tl;dr: Ergot is a forgotten plague that teaches a lesson about the cost of ignorance, and perhaps, offers another one on the price of sanity and the value of a little madness. (1,620 words)”

Rewritten with the Hemingway Editor: “tl;dr: Ergot is a forgotten plague that teaches a lesson about the cost of ignorance, and perhaps, offers another one on the price of sanity and the value of a little madness. (1,620 words)”

“This is a cautionary tale about ergot. Ergot is a fungi of the genus Claviceps that is a parasite of grains — primarily rye, but also triticale, wheat, barley, sorghum, pearl millet and rarely, oats. It has two major effects: (1) hallucinations, often with convulsions or epileptic symptoms, and (2) constriction of the blood vessels in the extremities that lead to gangrene and/or death. Generally, it is one or the other, which predominates likely depends on ergot genetics and the alkalinity of soil in which it grows. Other symptoms include strong uterine contractions (making it an effective abortifacient), nausea, seizures, high fever, vomiting, loss of muscle strength and unconsciousness. Its active ingredient is lysergic acid, a precursor to lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD. Historically, tens of thousands of people have died, been disfigured, or gone mad from ergot poisoning. Today, it is controlled and very rarely effects anyone.”

Rewritten with the Hemingway Editor: “This is a cautionary tale about ergot. Ergot is a fungus. It is a parasite of rye. But, it also grows on triticale, wheat, barley, sorghum, pearl millet and rarely, oats. It has two major effects. One, it causes hallucinations, convulsions and seizures. Two, it constricts the blood vessels in the extremities causing gangrene and/or death. Which effect happens depends on ergot genetics and the alkalinity of soil in which it grows.

Ergot also causes abortions, seizures, fever, vomiting, loss of muscle strength and unconsciousness. Its active ingredient is lysergic acid. Lysergic acid is a precursor to lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD. Ergot poisoning has mutilated, driven mad or killed tens of thousands of people. Today, it very rarely effects anyone.”

“Historians have speculated that lysergic acid in ergot may have been converted into ergine by boiling ergot-infected rye for an extended period of time. This process matches historical recipes for kykeon, which was the drink culminating a religious fast in the Eleusinian Mystery cults and perhaps used in other mystery cults as well. While there is some archeological evidence for the existence of rye after the Bronze Age, it did not become a widespread food staple until the Middle Ages.”

Rewritten with the Hemingway Editor: “Boiling ergot-infected rye for an extended period of time converts it to ergine. This matches historical recipes for kykeon. Kykeon was drunk at the culmination of religious fasts. Eleusinian Mystery cults used kykeon in their rituals. People ate rye after the Bronze age. But, it did not become a widespread food staple until the Middle Ages.”

“Rye is a grain that grows on marginal lands. During the High Middle Ages (1000-1250 C.E.), there was a population boom and expansion that put pressure on the food supply, and as a result, rye was seeded in the winter to provide a bonus and/or nurse crop for more extensive agriculture. With the increased eating of rye by the population, the effects of ergot became more widespread and notable. For example, possibly the first example of a dancing plague in the historical record is a 1021 C.E. incident in the German town of Kölbigk:”

Rewritten with the Hemingway Editor: “Rye is a grain that grows on marginal lands. During the High Middle Ages (1000-1250 C.E.), there was a population boom. The expansion put pressure on the food supply. As a result, planting rye in the winter provided a bonus and/or nurse crop for more extensive agriculture. With more people eating rye, ergot poisoning became more widespread and notable. For example, the first example of a dancing plague is in a 1021 C.E.. It happened in the German town of Kölbigk:”

“Except for the apocryphal year punishment, these outbreaks of dancing mania closely match the descriptions of the Eleusinian Mystery rites after consumption of kykeon, which suggests a reaction to a hallucinogenic variety or ergot. Perhaps, the psychological effects lasted for a year because that’s how long it took the population to eat through their store of rye grain for that year? Whether this story is an accurate depiction of events or has apocryphal elements, it is clear that a widespread mania is preferable to gangrenous ergotism. The first major documented case of gangrenous ergotism happened in the Rhine Valley, in 857 A.D., but it recieved it’s common name of “St. Anthony’s Fire” during the 1039 C.E. outbreak in Dauphiné, France. The cause of ergotism, at that time, was unknown. It’s not hard to imagine that those inflected with madness from ergot would be seen as being possessed by the Devil and the gangrenous form as punishment for sin. To speculate, perhaps ergot had a role to play in religious purity movements such as the strict vegetarian Carthars and the subsequent Catholic crusades and inquisitions that were in response to it.”

Rewritten with the Hemingway Editor: “Dancing mania matches of what happens after consumption of kykeon. This may be a reaction to a hallucinogenic variety or ergot. It lasted for a year because that’s how long it took the population to eat through their store of rye grain. This story is may be apocryphal elements. But, it is clear that a widespread mania is preferable to gangrenous ergotism.

The first major documented case of gangrenous ergotism happened in in 857 A.D in the Rhine Valley. It received it’s common name of “St. Anthony’s Fire” during the 1039 C.E. outbreak in Dauphiné, France. The cause of ergotism, at that time, was unknown. People blamed the madness from ergot as possession by the Devil. The gangrenous form of ergot poisoning was punishment for sin. Ergot played a role in religious purity movements. The strict vegetarian diets of Carthars may have been in response to ergot poisoning. As the Catholic crusades and inquisitions may have been a response to were in response to it.”

Quaker Christ

I started reading a number of books on Quakerism years ago. It started with a book on simplicity, which approached the topic from a Quaker perspective. Eventually, I started attending an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting. An unprogrammed Quaker meeting is a religious service where everyone sits quietly, typically in a circle, and waits. You are open to your thoughts, and you try to see if any of them are God speaking through you. If so, then you simply stand up and say what you feel moved to share.

It’s a strange experience. It requires group trust that people will not hijack the meeting for their own purposes, which happens. But, when it does, it is often looked as a way to build our tolerance and learning to share space with others. Resolving these kinds of difficulties are central to the meeting experience. It is like the story of potatoes in a barrel, it is by rubbing against one another than we all become clean.

The key ideas of Quakerism are what I think of as PIES: Peace, Integrity, Equality and Simplicity. They are all inter-related. Fundamentally, we all have “The Light Within,” a connection with God, however you conceive of God. If everyone has this connection, then we have to seek peaceful relations because in a way, conflict with others is a kind of conflict with God.

But, we all are equal, and we have to speak our Truth. It is in this dynamic of a meeting, where equals listen to one another while staying true to themselves that a community can enter in a dialogue with God. In scripture, it is put this way:

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:20, King James Version

Simplicity is the final piece, and I think of it as making room for others. The less resources we use, the more there is available for everyone else. The more room there is for others, the more room we have to interact with others as equals. It is when we try to differentiate ourselves by our possessions that we cut off our internal connection to God. It changes our willingness to look at others as equals. It inflates our ego and turns us to aggression.

Quaker Christianity, particularly unprogrammed styles, is very different from mainline Christianity. There is little dogma beyond the above. For me it reframes the discussion away from Christ as redeemer, which I find problematic on a number of levels and moves it back to Christ as Son of Man, a person that is exemplifying the kinds of life we all should live. Christ is showing us how to live our own lives rather than a God saving the world that can live up to a standard that no mortal can because of the stain of original sin.

Note: It should be noted that not all Quakers believe as I do. Since it is a religion of the conscious that askews dogma, there can be a lot of variability in beliefs. I have met people that identify as atheists, universalists, Buddhists, and evangelical Christians, who have all also identified as Quaker. Unlike in other traditions, this variability is viewed as a strength.

The Radical Simplicity of Walking

“…travel on foot is slow. It is the speed that most of the human race experienced life for thousands of years, right up until the last couple of hundred years.

In the time span you have available for your adventure, you will see the fewest places if you decide to walk. But the places that you do see, you will truly see. And that is worth a lot.”

—Alastair Humphreys. “Let’s Hear it for the Radical Simplicity of Walking.” Adventure Journal.

The Temple of LiLoLa

From Catholicism, I learned the value of ritual, religious practice and the power of story to shape our understanding of the world. Years after hearing a homily from one Sunday, I still think of the need to leave a series of empty tombs. The resurrection applies not to some afterlife, it applies to this one, where we have to awaken new life within us, walk away from the old and to write new chapters to our stories.

From Quakerism, I learned of the testimonies I remember as PIES, i.e., peace, integrity, equality and simplicity. The need to be still and listen to the man of the heart and mind, which Quakers call the “Light Within”. This Light is in every sentient being. Knowing this we are called to peace, to follow the voice of our own hearts and to know others are following theirs. Simplicity is to cut through the desire for material things, which can cut us off from this voice within. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.

From Buddhism, I learned that the world is full of dissatisfaction. We assert ourselves against the world in ego delusion. We are dissatisfied, because we do not have what we want or are afraid to lose what we have. The living world is always changing and the best life is to live in each moment, experiencing it all without forming attachments to things as they are, things as they will be or to possessions, no matter how trivial.

When you ask, “What God do you worship?” Is there any better response than, “Life, love and laughter.” The Temple of LiLoLa is in our hearts. It is up to us to throw the doors open.