HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED how many excuses we all find to not act in defense of the planet? Sure, we all have errands to run and e-mails to answer and we all need down time and the problems are so big and [INSERT YOUR BEST EXCUSE HERE]. But lately I’ve been encountering a particularly frustrating excuse that a lot of people seem to be giving for not acting: they say it’s too late, that various tipping points have been reached in terms of runaway global warming, and that especially because of the lag time between carbon emissions and increased temperature, we’re already doomed, so what’s the point of fighting back?
This faux-tragedian posturing infuriates me. What infuriates me even more is that this reasoning has become so familiar. I encounter it all the time. Literally the moment I finished typing the above — and I’m not making this up — I received an e-mail that said, “Solutions are inadequate, futile, and too late. I wish people would admit this, rather than scramble for last ditch efforts. . . . Just as people speak of peak oil and peak civilization, we’re peak life. Three billion years of cyanobacteria, 500 million years of increasingly complex life forms, and a cherry topping of too-intelligent human beings. Humans are demonstrating that intelligent life is unsustainable, perhaps triggering the downward slope of life complexity and returning the planet to its microbial past.” And as I finished pasting that quote into this column I received yet another such e-mail.
The notion that humans are the peak form of life (and everyone else is just background) leads to a sense of entitlement, which leads to atrocities against those who (or, in this formulation, that) are seen as less-than-peak forms of life. And anyway, what kind of peak life form would knowingly degrade its landbase and then throw up its hands when action is most needed to counteract the destruction?
I’m not convinced that humans are particularly more intelligent than parrots, octopi, salmon, trees, rivers, stones, and so on, but even if you did believe that humans were more intelligent, it wouldn’t alter the fact that the Tolowa Indians lived where I live for 12,500 years and did so without destroying the place. I’d hate to try to make the argument that the Tolowa didn’t destroy the land because they weren’t intelligent enough to do so.
But there’s another point I want to make here, which has to do with the tragic posturing. In his book The Comedy of Survival, Joseph Meeker points out that human cultures through the ages have created comedies, but only civilization has created the genre of the tragedy. In fact, you could easily say that tragedy is this culture’s tragic flaw. A tragic flaw, you probably recall, is a flaw in the protagonist’s character that brings him or her to ruin. The flaw could be indecision, hubris, jealousy, etc. The point is that the character is unable or unwilling to examine and overcome this flaw, and, in my perspective at least, it is this, and not the flaw itself, that leads to the downfall. Tragedies presume inevitability, which presumes an inability to choose. As one definition puts it, “Tragic behavior assumes change is not possible and will defend this assumption to the death.”
I’ve always found classic tragedies such as Hamlet or Othello to be more frustrating than cathartic. I mean, if your behavior is leading you and those around you to ruin, why not just change your behavior? Why hold tight to a character flaw that’s killing you and those you love? The tragic “hero” only becomes aware of his or her fatal flaw once it is too late. I’m far more interested in stopping the tragedy before it’s too late than I am in feeling sorrow or empathy for those who cannot or will not change their destructive behavior. What’s worse is that in this human-culture-as-tragic-hero narrative, the flaw is nothing so ignoble as greed, lust, jealousy, or even indecision. Rather, the tragic flaw this culture ascribes to itself is intelligence. We’re simply too smart to allow life on the planet to continue. And of course we are unable to change, so there is nothing to be done. Cue the tears, drop the curtain.
I’m not interested.
First, the premise that intelligence is behind the murder of the planet is both inaccurate and absurd. Second, the murder of the planet is the result of behaviors — which can be changed — and infrastructures — which can be destroyed. There’s nothing inevitable about it. Nor do I believe that global warming has reached a final tipping point. There are plenty of options to try first, like deindustrializing. People like James Lovelock (who predicts that by the end of the twenty-first century, “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that [who] survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable”) are already acknowledging that this culture, if left unchecked, will essentially kill the planet. Well, if this culture will kill the planet, then it looks like it’s time to roll up our sleeves and do what’s necessary — not stick our heads in the sand. The best way to guarantee that it is too late is by saying it is too late and not acting to help the world as we know it survive, a world with goblin sharks and pencil fish, where bats flutter by at night and butterflies and bumblebees light up the days.
My friend the great Dakota activist Waziyatawin once said, “That defeatist attitude makes me want to scream. The battles we’re fighting are overwhelming, but we know things won’t get better if we do nothing. Our only hope is enough people intervening and taking action, people willing to risk something now so we all don’t lose everything later. The only sense of empowerment I feel is by taking some kind of action, whether it’s writing, working to undermine the existing structures, or sitting on the open prairie in December with a Dakota man trying to save our landbase.” She went on: “If our actions will do nothing, why would anyone even want to live anymore? That kind of hopelessness, in the defeatist sense, means an embracing of victimage and complete powerlessness. Here the salmon have much to teach: either they make it upriver to spawn, or they die trying.”
If our actions make it so there is even a one-thousandth of 1 percent chance that things will work out better for ourselves and the planet, then it is our moral duty to act and act and act. Before it’s too late.
Am I optimistic? Not in the slightest. Am I going to quit? Not on your fucking life.
The Empire cannot fall, and you cannot win. Give up.
Thank you for saying EXACTLY what has been on my mind today, as I sit here writing to save Florida’s springs.
Thank you Derrick, for your books and blogs. I’ve been getting a lot of the same “the writings on the wall” BS too lately and find it really frustrating. There’s still so much we can do and so many important ideas and organizations out there that we need to support. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Transition Towns, Common Security Groups, Living Future Institute, and so many more.
Great voice you have, but I have a bone to pick â€“ or a different perspective to offer.
Brian Swimme is my main man, and he suggests something opposite to your conclusion when you say, â€œThe notion that humans are the peak form of life (and everyone else is just background) leads to a sense of entitlement, which leads to atrocities against those who (or, in this formulation, that) are seen as less-than-peak forms of life.â€
What he talks about is that, as the top of the intelligence chain on Earth, the ongoing movement of the fireball that has us as the leading edge of billions of years of evolution and the first species that can both appreciate and destroy the creation, we have a responsibility to do well by our planet. He inspires us to feel ennobled, where we get how we have to take responsibility for preserving and enhancing the world. If you donâ€™t know Brianâ€™s voice, I suggest you tune in. Being inspired is better energy for action that feeling guilty, and he is a master at calling us to higher ground.
I want to know more about undermining or destroying the existing infrastructures. What can we as individuals do to stem the tide??
I totally agree. My experience is that by acting you have two birds. One is, like you say, you increase chances of survival, and two, you just plain feel MUCH better physically, emotionally, mentally than if you just do the same ol’ stupid routines feeling worse and more guilty with each bad act.
I also agree with Suzanne and Swimme and Native Americans in regards to the idea of our need to realize our RESPONSIBILITY to the planet- even putting responsibility above the idea of human rights. And you know that I especially mean that our so called leaders need take on MUCH more of the responsibility than they now take, which is minimal to next to nothing as far as I can see, so far.
Check out this great blog from David Korten for a while back: The Big Picture: 5 Ways to Know if Youâ€™re Making a Difference http://bit.ly/lQyUnG
Another great site from David Korten livingeconomiesforum.org
I particularly like the page on Breaking the Cultural Trance
I go around looking at every bird and think we are killing these creatures .I apologize to the bird,but they are like the thing called hope in Emily Dickenson’s poem and they ask nothing of me.I would like to accept that we may end much of life,and the Universe will still go on..but it is still ok for me to do all I can every minute of the day to try to stop it..I cannot do much,but every little bit adds up..
I respectfully request that Mr. J. provide some concrete examples of what he actually does – not writing, or preaching, but doing – to improve the future. I expect all his words make him feel better himself, but are there any real, demonstrable impacts of all his (too often holier-than-thou) pontificating? To put it another way, what actions does he take to practice what he preaches?
DJ. I will point young minds to these words. I’m not optimistic either, but I’d like to spend my life living next to people who will go down with callous hands.
To all those that commented, your POV’s have helped further engage m thoughts, and so I thank you as well.
I’m one of those people who would like to see change but does not fully believe that the degree of change that is needed to rescue the planet is possible.
Your lack of interest or empathy with the very real problem of the fatal flaw will not help further the mission. My life experience tells me that change is not possible without empathy. And ther is far too little of that in the world.
The greed that that has gotten us to these planetary conditions are not the fault of just our modern society. Aquisition has been the driving for for eons.
It seems to me that most environmentalists write/speak in a way that suggests that this is all our (modern culture’s) fault.
Thank you Derrick for always taking the time.
I canâ€™t quite agree on intelligence being the flaw and the argument from there.
It may be too simple but it seems the tragic flaw is ignorant self interest with a strong dose of denial; not typically wrapped up in intelligence. Itâ€™s really about my favorite quote from Chief Seattle:
We are all children of the Great Spirit.
We all belong to Mother Earth.
Our planet is in great trouble.
If we keep carrying old grudges and
Do not work together
We will all die.
Of course we will all die but I think the Chief meant us, for good. Very similar to Vonnegut, the earth will be fine as soon as it gets rid of the people.
Sorry to turn it all back around with the last part.
Thanks again for the inspiration.
I don’t want to give in. What should I do?
I dunno Derrick….I’m tending to agree that humans are no different than every other life form on the planet. I mean, why should we be different just for the fact that we’ve (apparently alone) developed consciousness? I’m really not trying to be ironic either. What we share in common with all those other life forms is that we will, without fail, exploit a resource until the point of population overshoot and collapse. We are doing it now. What skews our perception of this has been that the duration of the fossil fuel bonanza has allowed that overshoot to blow a bubble of absolutely unprecedented dimensions. The deflation of that will be like nothing humanity has had to comprehend before. That is o.k. though, because our comprehension won’t be necessary. One other consequence of the perception-skewing effect is that we now lack the ability to imagine a world where human labor and sunlight are the prime resources for converting energy into work. We’re going to pay dearly for this lack of imagination.
I’d also be willing to bet you that if the noble savages you hold up as the nature-cooperative paradigm had tapped into something that would have kept them from incessantly hunting for cooking fuel, they’d be right here with us. Or, to quote a quote of Rudy Gulliano’s I read last Sunday, “People are human.” (Rudy, apparently, has been reading Yogi Berra’s biography lately.)
So, I wouldn’t include myself in the category of those who see no point in resisting the ecological damage to the planet, but I would describe myself as stoic about the outcome, just for different reasons. It is a race to see if we can finish off the planet, before the limitations of the planet finishe off extraordinarily large numbers of us. My bet? Wellâ€¦.
Mike….and to further Rudy’s point…we can’t resist a great story either, even if the actual facts are inconvenient. That “speech” of Chief Seattle was a piece from a 1970’s television script. Not to say that there is not anything there to emulate, but they are not words the words of Chief Seattle.
“Heroic” action a term that strikes me uncomfortably, but I do regularly consider what action is significant. First, change the way you (I) live, becoming increasingly low-impact over the months and years. Second, help others change the way they live, not least of which by pointing out alternatives that are simple, joyous and life-giving. (Another commenter mentions the Transition Towns movement, for example).
I often go back to Rifkin and his identifying “cars and meat” as levers. If significant numbers of people gave up cars and meat (or drove a lot less and ate a lot less meat) the strain on the earth would be eased considerably.
To Live or Not to Live. Is that the question? Many days I struggle to believe we have a chance. Natural disasters human made disasters BAM BAM BAM to fast to keep track of.
You say you are not an optimist but I disagree. As long as we can get out of bed in the morning make it through another day and try however greatly or feebly to make a difference we are optimistic. If I am to live in this world I have to live as if I believe I can change it. Am I fooling myself? Perhaps, but that doesn’t matter it’s what gives me hope, “the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all”
Thanks Derrick and Emily
Thank you Derrick. Yes, it is hard to act without any assurance that the outcome you wish for is guaranteed. We in America have lived through an unparalled period of prosperity, and with it, a sense that we are in control. Most of the rest of the human posulation gets up without knowing or feeling they control what will happen in the big picture. This discussion of carrying on without knowing the outcome (or assuming it is a bad outcome) makes me think of an interview I once heard with the author of a book interpreting the Bagavad Gita. The interviewer asked, ‘Could you sum up the message of the great book?” The author replied: “You are entitled to your labor, but not the fruits of your labor.” There is rarely a week that goes by that I do not think of that wisdom. For both large and small actions, including what each of us does to try to prevent this coming disaster, we have only our intentions. The result? We do not control that. For us, taking this attitude requires a cultural shift, but I know we can do it. For any thing or person that we really love, we don’t give up because we aren’t guaranteed the result we want . Loving the earth and the people of the future is no different. So I say, lets do what we can, let’s do what our hearts tell us to do, and lets not use our precious energy trying to get a promise that our actions are powerful. Some won’t be, some will.
Good words/thoughts from Joan K. Not only are we not entitled to the fruits, we are not even entitled to know if the fruit will be sweet. Not every good intention is necessarily free from negative consequences.
My concern is that this intelligence also created capitalism and the corporation deity will not be tampered with. I haven’t given up hope but have no clue how to proceed…
Hi Derrick, Thank you for calling out the crazy, lazy, slacker mentality of “it’s too late!” Your thoughts and energy are always an inspiration to me. You were on my local radio show last year and I was fortunate to spend the day at Earth at Risk in San Francisco with you, Waz, Lierre and other non-tragic, visionary warriors. After that Saturday I’ve doubled down on my efforts to fight back hard and fight back now. My focus has been on stopping the proliferation of GMOs and while Monsanto is a nasty Goliath – they’ve been ousted from the UK and much of Europe in a movement that started in part with the little old English ladies filling their shopping carts and forcing clerks to go through every item and identify what may or may not have gmo ingredients. It all adds up to doing what you can, wherever you can and never giving up.
Thanks Derrick for all of your great work.
Flaneuse, meat is not a lever. Grain is. Meat can be grown on pastures that do not harm the earth. Grain needs bare fields that wash and blow away. Read the Vegetarian Myth? Much good could be done by converting fields into grasslands… and eating less grain.
Down with “typhoid Marys” who spread hopelessness around. “Too late” indeed… can you imagine our ancestors sitting around fires 21,000 years ago, noting that the planet was getting colder and colder, people and animals were dying while the rivers of ice were taking over… yet they did not give up! And we are here because they did not give up.
We live on an amazing planet. Let’s each and together do everything we can to keep it amazing. Don’t let the “hopelessness peddlers” get you down!
I think it’s time for an evolution and revolution based on awareness of humans as part of an entirely conscious and “intelligent” web of life. What does this entail? Waking up and changing our current ways of living from exploitation and utilization values to living in balance with ALL the other living things on the planet. Yes, it’s ALL alive, it’s ALL sentient and we’re ALL connected. Imagine what it would be like to live as other animals do. Pick your favorite “creature” and put yourself in its skin/feathers/scales and consider how it lives every day. It’s not intelligence that’s killing us–it’s our CHOICES, our values, our creations. We could make different choices. We can make choices to change as fast as possible or just lay down and die. Our extinction could be a huge benefit to all the other speices affected by OUR choices to live like mechanical robot zombies conducting a love affair with the industrial revolution like it’s the greatest thing ever. It’s more like an addiction that the addicts complain about while continuing to wallow in because they really enjoy being addicts. The first step to changing the status quo game is to say NO to it. To confront the stark reality for what it is. Then–decide on effective behavior for bringing about change.
Oh and I don’t want to hear a word about “numbers”. If just three women could start a movement to save the San Francisco Bay then what the hell are the rest of us waiting for to save the Earth? An engraved invitation from the Universe? It’s arrived in the form of scientific knowledge and everything we can see for ourselves in our everyday polluting. We start by saying “NO!” together to the status quo of development in the wrong directions. No more oil drilling. No more fracking. No more plastic packaging. No more destruction of “wilderness” and habitat. We must imagine and create lifestyles that nuture our environment. WE have to do this. No government or corporation will do it because they’re still in the status quo game. So WE will have to turn away from the status quo game and create the new. What else have we got to do? Play grand theft auto a million times? Three well off women started a movement to save a body of water–and oh my, found a lot of other like minded people. Do you know two other people who share your love of all living things?
What am I doing? “This” at the moment.
>The only sense of empowerment I feel is by taking some kind of action, whether itâ€™s writing, working to undermine the existing structures, or sitting on the open prairie in December with a Dakota man trying to save our landbase.<
How does one undermine the existing structures? I would like to know.
Right now the best way that I can see is to live life without money. I think it is money that removes us from a direct connection to the nature that sustains us. Not using money would disrupt the existing structures quite thoroughly.
The folks that Derrick is deriding here constitute a tiny fraction of the American (or world) population. At least they are awake enough to the impending disaster to feel the need to articulate a response to it, even if it is only an alibi and a cop-out.
The vast majority do no have a clue to the enormity of what we are facing. Most are simply ignorant and unaware of the realities of our global situation. Many are to busy scrambling to secure their own â€œpiece of the pieâ€ to give any attention to larger and future concerns. Others are in a state of constant denial that refuses to look at anything unpleasant or threatening. Still others have been persuaded that global warming and even evolution are hoaxes.
Also, the psychological mechanism that allows a â€œtragic heroâ€ (more accurately a protagonist) to walk blindly into his fate is the unconsciousness that Freud was so concerned to elucidate. It was not that Oedipus was stupid, he was simply totally unaware of his tragic flaw, and how it was set to destroy him. To not see this as an audience member experiencing the play, is to be one of those movie goers who are impelled to cry out at a crucial moment â€œWatch out, heâ€™s got a gun!â€
The real tragedy (that which Aristotle said evokes pity and fear) is that humankind is prone to the same forces of deep unconsciousness highlighted in the dramatic stories of ancient Greece. If we are not to sleepwalk over a final precipice, it will be essential to find means to awaken. Those means have been developed over the centuries; they are often referred to as spiritual paths. Their relevance to our present crisis is undeniable. Unfortunately real spirituality has been misunderstood and co-opted by myriad forms of pseudo religion and fantastical imaginings to the extent that its resurrection represents a major problem. Unless we find a way(s) to do this, we will fail the present test we are facing, and remove ourselves from the company of those orders of living beings who have successfully met the challenge, and are entitled to continue existing and evolving to higher levels of being.
Aside from early on here throwing Brian Swimmeâ€™s perspective into the mix, where through his lens humanity is an ennobled species at the edge of creation, still glowing with the fireball and here to serve the creation, I have an ace up my sleeve for how things could turn positive. I am working with the crop circle phenomenon. (My documentary just got a good review in the New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/04/22/movies/what-on-earth-probes-mysteries-of-crop-circles-review.html?.) My two cents is about needing something shocking enough to make us rethink reality, and being aware that we are being visited by other intelligence would be a shake-up of enough magnitude. Those who think itâ€™s all done with boards and string donâ€™t know the data â€“ my movie surprises a lot of people. The circles could create the biggest shift ever in how humanity perceives itself. If we knew we were being visited we would be one humanity in relation to ‘the other,’ and, as someone in the film says, “That could be what saves this civilization.” The evidence is being ignored, and I am doing what I can to get attention paid.
“What On Earth? Inside the Crop Circle Mystery”
That beings from beyond our planet will intervene to pull our chestnuts from the fires that we have created is an illusion that substitutes for the real work on ourselves that is the only real way out of the mess we have created. This is a form of bad faith and delusion that denies our own capacity to heal our global illnesses, encouraging us to wait instead for some mysterious others to do our work for us. It is only to be expected that the unwillingness to face our real situation will spawn numerous bizarre substitutes for the difficult work that constitutes the only basis for realistic hope. We can only wish that people come to their senses and begin to change what is responsible for our problems — ourselves.
Thanks Derrick. No I don’t believe anyone will give up, but many choose ignorance and it seems a devalued living experience as a way of life. I think we stand for or against industrial fed consumerist lifestyle with every thought word and action, can any of us control that? It is such a weird thing to live from a concept of personal truth? Can anyone imagine what it would be like to take freedom away from what we despise?? I believe many people would see choosing other than whats being fed to us as a burden, but really it strikes me as freedom. The greatest freedom possible to come back here, right now. The only reason this global state of affairs continues because the people comply and seem to lazy to do anything personally. I wonder if all that current modern burdens; finances, future worries, responsibilities could be chosen to be different. I see the simplicity movement in part, a process to grant freedom, to find wriggle room. I see people indulging in primitive skills gatherings and I see great community, flourishing love and connection. I see people growing and becoming whole again in their own way. Not tied to a poisonous system that will surely change but by then the choices may be far diminished. I am reminded of this quote from the author David R. Hawkins, ‘Every thought, action, decision or feeling creates an eddy in the interlocking, inter-balancing, ever-moving energy fields of life, leaving a permanent record for all time. The realization can be intimidating when it first dawns on us, but it becomes a springboard for rapid evolution’.
It is difficult to fight for a civilization that would murder their mother (Earth).
But I do want to live!
“It is difficult to fight for a civilization that would murder their mother”
If it was easy more people would be trying. This is not about easy.
I may have come across the opposite of what I intended. It is not easy to fight for this civilization. And, happily for those of us who note that, this civilization ought not to be fought for. It’s a vicious Leviathan destroying the planet.
We are stressed, frightened, angry, greedy, violent, ignorant, uncaring. To imagine that simply de-industrializing our world would result in some kind of utopia is very shallow thinking. After all, what was our history like before industrialization? War and mutual oppression were how we lived in past ages as well. Something deeper than a simpler lifestyle needs to happen to pacify our world, and open the possibility of a way of being together that is truly healthy and happy for all. We ourselves are what needs to change. Until we do the work to effect that transformation of our minds, and hence our behaviors, we will continue to repeat the tragic cycles of our history. Belief in the efficacy of external fixes is delusional and counterproductive.
I keep reading your columns and all the comments they inspire exactly because I am one of the people that you are currently frustrated by. I was a Green Peace, Save-the-Whales child turned lifetime social/environmental activist. My dreams, fantasies and aspirations have always been the same – to save the planet. A ludicrous notion taken literally, but I believe most of us, at least in this current discussion, share the root quality underlying this fantasy â€“ to help preserve the life, beauty, and artistry that is our planet in any way we can offer.
So it is a deeply sad, spiritually eviscerating experience to have come to a point where I no longer have this hope. It has stripped me of purpose and passion, and created an overall lethargy that does in fact make it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning (as someone earlier posted). I have spent a lifetime reusing, recycling, bicycling, carpooling and on and on only to have to come to terms with what now seems like a fact – that it wasnâ€™t enough. Thatâ€™s a tough nut to swallow and shouldnâ€™t be dismissed as a cop-out or some form of justification-lite that an aging babyboomer uses to purchase a Harley. It comes only after nearly twenty years of intensive personal research on all fronts of this climate change issue and has created something like a personal mid-life crisis of monumental proportions that I most certainly will be dealing with till the very end (my end, that is. I donâ€™t think the end of it all will be so sudden or even so final, just likely slow, painful, spastic, and with intermitten joy and beauty amidst the chaos).
All that being said, it does not stop me from now pasting onto my own post an earlier comment I found to be inspiring:
â€œDown with â€œtyphoid Marysâ€ who spread hopelessness around. â€œToo lateâ€ indeedâ€¦ can you imagine our ancestors sitting around fires 21,000 years ago, noting that the planet was getting colder and colder, people and animals were dying while the rivers of ice were taking overâ€¦ yet they did not give up! And we are here because they did not give up.
We live on an amazing planet. Letâ€™s each and together do everything we can to keep it amazing. Donâ€™t let the â€œhopelessness peddlersâ€ get you downâ€
The paradox of hopelessness is that those afflicted by it are those most desperately in search of it. I am intimately aware of the slippery, dark nature of this cunundrum and thus unsure if I hope to one day be at peace with my hopelessness, or hope to forever be burdened by it. In the meantime, I do know this: I love the morning sun, my dog when he sleeps with his chin on his paws, the sparkle that my wife has when she is presented with a plate artfully considered. I want all children to have hope that is real even if ours is delusional. I want islands of nature preserved. If only that, then that is enough, and so I will continue to do what I can, whatever end may come. That is my commitment.
Dave Reagan — It is an irony of this work that those most open and caring are also most vulnerable to the great sadness and periodic bouts of depression that afflict those most concerned with the good, the true, and the beautiful. I congratulate you that you have chosen to work on for your ideals, in spite of the seeming hopelessness of your individual efforts to save the world. I too have been periodically afflicted with the Ajax Syndrome — trying to put the world on my back. When I wake up and realize what I am doing, then I usually take some time off, and do stuff that is totally unproductive, but relaxing and satisfying. I know by now that I, like you, will never be able to quit doing what I can to help, in spite of all contrary inner voices or disheartening circumstances. We will never have an absolute guarantee of the ultimate value of our efforts. But we will have the inner satisfaction that we have been true to our ideals, regardless of outcomes.
Mike k; “We are stressed, frightened, angry, greedy, violent, ignorant, uncaring. To imagine that simply de-industrializing our world would result in some kind of utopia is very shallow thinking.” Yes Mike k that’s true. But what supports it? I remember reading a self improvement article. The analogy presented was of a fish (self) in a fish tank (current environment)and needing to be a more efficient or productive or caring fish to adapt. The point stated was it’s the tank that needs changing, not the fish. Change the circumstances, of what milieu we are in, what do each of us what, or better, need to perform with better qualities brought to the fore? I don’t condemn us so easily. From this position it’s the circumstances that make the person. Your thoughts?
I think humans have gotten so far off the grid with Ma Nature that “survival of the fittest” no longer makes sense for us.
That’s about to change… like it or not.
“Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is. You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate”
“Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000”
Wanted to ensure that everyone knows that we will discuss this essay live with the author on Tuesday, May 17th – Derrick Jensen will join a web event hosted by Orion magazine that day exploring this issue, and those contained in other recent columns in Orion. Go here for details and to register, the event is free and open to all:
Time is 7 pm Eastern, 4 PM Pacific.
AT — The extent to which our inner conditioning determines us is the measure of our inner freedom. The basic script of our culture is a many-faceted lie. This is of course the one thing it insists we must never uncover. As long as we agree to live within itâ€™s twisted narrative, culture feels secure. But those who step too far outside its delusive reality threaten itâ€™s very existence, and will be met with the most determined resistance and persecution. The movie â€œThe Matrixâ€ explores some of these issues in its own way.
One of cultures most effective moves is to convince itâ€™s victims that they are themselves the cause of whatever dissonances and discomforts they are assailed by. Derrick Jensen makes us aware of the abuserâ€™s cry, â€œYou made me hit you, its your fault, you are a bad person!â€ Usually the endless repetition of this false accusation eventually becomes accepted and internalized by the victim — as in the movie Good Will Hunting. It worked in my case too.
I was made aware early on that my father considered me a bad boy, and as I rebelled against his abuse, he further concluded that I was mentally ill. Ultimately he wanted to have me lobotomized, but my mother would not allow it.
A major feature of my growth and awakening beyond the traumas of my early life, has been realizing the great extent to which I was not primarily responsible for the distortions to my personality which I manifested throughout young adulthood. Finally I have come to realize the extent to which our cultureâ€™s deeply abusive and insane narratives and practices have rendered everyone within it deluded, and insane. At one point in the play Hamlet says, â€œThe time is out of joint; oh cursed spite that I was born to set it right!â€
We are all Hamlets (or Ophelias), born to struggle with the enormous negative karmas of humankind within ourselves and in the world that we are â€œthrown intoâ€ (Heidegger). As I have said, culture is at great pains to reward those who obey and believe in itâ€™s mask of benevolence or inevitability, and even greater vigilance to punish and silence those who awake to challenge it. This is the great drama of human evolution on planet Earth. How it is resolved will determine our fate.
Rob — You make an important point. We live within a context of many limitations. In our hubris we tend to forget that. This was one message of the old Greek tragedies. Our task on Earth is to work within an awareness of our basic limitations to gradually expand our possibilities in harmony with our higher ideals. Patience, care, and humility are necessary for this evolutionary process: otherwise we face disaster due to our overweening arrogance and egotistical heedlessness.
Mike K: There are so many parallels between what you say WRT culture and what Buddhism teaches WRT ego that I had to comment, even though I know this is not technically a religious discussion–especially: Replace “the basic script of our culture is a many-faceted lie” with “the basic script of our ego is a many-faceted lie.”
I think it’s because we (and I’m using the collective “we” here, for humankind as a whole) don’t understand who we really are, and feel extremely threatened even when this question is raised, that “we” are refusing to deal with so many of the issues that could save what is precious here on our planet.
Once we start awakening to these kinds of core questions–Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? (to paraphrase Paul Gauguin), we DO become threatening to others who don’t want to deal with these questions at all.
So how do we reach those people who don’t care, and don’t even want to make the effort to know?
One of my teachers once said, “You are more like Chenrezig and Tara than you are like what you think you are.” Chenrezig is the bodhisattva of compassion; Tara represents swift and compassionate action. Our times certainly call for the manifestation of all of these qualities.
My teacher’s words ring like a bell in my head whenever I feel like giving up.
Not giving up either!
Thanks for the inspiration Derrick!
Lucinda — Thank you for your insightful comments. You said:
â€œReplace â€œthe basic script of our culture is a many-faceted lieâ€ with â€œthe basic script of our ego is a many-faceted lie.â€
For most of us, our cultural script is our ego. When we consider that language (which is loaded with questionable ideas) is a major element of our egoâ€™s construction, we begin to realize how culturally determined our â€œselfâ€ really is. Our cultural belief system tells us that the world revealed by our senses is the ultimate and bottom line reality. So, our ordinary ego (that we take to be our self) is chock full of delusive ideas and interpretations that can only be deeply deconstructed by lengthy conscious inner work.
As Plato said, the individual is the culture writ small. To exit the cave of our conditionings is the essential beginning of awakening to Reality. On realizing this, your next question becomes relevant.
â€œSo how do we reach those people who donâ€™t care, and donâ€™t even want to make the effort to know?â€
In one of the stories of Buddhaâ€™s spiritual awakening it is told that after his definitive realization under the Bodhi tree, he went his way, and refused to teach others about the Truth he had experienced. The Gods became uneasy about this, since they felt he was destined to become a World Teacher, so they sent a delegation to urge him to share his enlightenment. However, in response to their entreaties he said, â€œThere are two classes of people — those who already know what I would have to share, and thus have no need of it, and the second class — those who do not have a clue or any desire to consider what I might say, who would also derive no benefit from my teaching. Thus it is clear that there is no useful purpose in my becoming a teacher.â€
The emissaries were confounded by Buddhaâ€™s response, and repaired to the higher realm to consider it. After long deliberation, they framed a response, and sent one of their number to relay it to the Enlightened One. He said, â€œ What you have said is undoubtedly true regarding the two classes of beings you have spoken of. However, we find there is yet a third class of the people, who have not realized enlightenment, but are at the beginning of the awakening process and only need someone to guide and inspire them in order to progress. These are the people you should teach. Hearing this Buddha agreed to take up his teaching mission.
One of the problems encountered by those in AA is how to reach those who refuse to be reached? The answer is: you donâ€™t. And you do not waste your energy trying to do the impossible. Hence AA does not advertise or proselytize. They are there for those who have some degree of awareness and openness to being helped. These are the people who may end up being deeply changed by work on themselves in the context of a fellowship of people committed to a program of fundamental change. Some of these same principles of free association could be useful in designing small groups dedicated to overcoming our numerous unhealthy conditionings and addictions, and awakening to our higher possibilities, and responsibilities to each other and our planet.
We are not the people we were waiting for. But we might grow to be those people if we are willing to join together in small groups to work on ourselves, so that we might become those truly worthy and capable of changing our world fundamentally.
Thich Nhat Hanh: Impermanenece makes all things possible. Will Shakespeare cease to captivate us if we realize that tragic flaws are curable? What if we started to pay attention to the real story of Scrooge, not the miser he is in the beginning of the story, but as he is in the end, transformed and expanded in his humanity against all odds. There are so many stories we should be framing our environmental dialogues with that celebrate triumph over insurmontable obstacles. Acid rain and the ozone hole got better with human effort. There is no reason to quit on global warming, Its always the best of times and the worst of times. We are always as Bucky Fuller says on the brink of utopia and oblivion. Being alive has to be about diving into the ocean of overwhelming conflict.
Optimisistic? I call it being alive.
Buckminster Fuller: “Pollution is only a resource that we have not yet figured out how to harvest.” When I read this several years ago, I put it on the back burner of my mind and then yesterday I read in Nat’l Geographic that Terra Preta region of the Amazon Basin has up to seven feet of extremely fertile soil due to carbon deposits. The possible tie-in to carbon emissions boggles the mind. Solutions can be had. The questions we ask may have to come from be outside the box.
Patricia — Thich Nhat Hanh: Look deeply.
If we look deeply, we will find that our own minds are the source of our problems in the world. As long as we are in the box that looks for solutions outside ourselves, we will fail to understand that the one looking is the problem. Without engaging a Path, such as the mindfulness espoused by TNH, we will forever be trying to correct this or that in the outer world, and never look within where the real answers are waiting. The inner determines the outer, the subtle is the origin of the gross dimensions. The materialist mind is trapped in the hall of mirrors created by its own limitations. Pogo was right — we are the problematic entities that we mistakenly project outside ourselves.
Thanks for your thoughtful insights.
You are free to do whatever you want to try, but if you seem to be succeeding the corporate fascists will stamp you a terrorist. Economic terrorist or wearer of the Casio F91-W El Qaeda watch there is no difference.
Derrick, For someone who is demanding so much from others in regards to waking up essentially, you might consider re-examing your own fantasies which serve to support your sustainable living hypothesis. Namely, you continue to say (and use as example) that the Tolowa have lived where you live for 12,500 years and not destroyed it. Bullhonky. No Native American group has had a contineous occupation for even near that long, and especially the Tolowa who are Athabaskan speakers who are relatively late arrivals in the lower 48. Support your ideas not with idealized, romantic notions of the noble savage. We humans are all humans with the same genes expressing varying traits at varying times, in various places around the globe. Being human is problematic, not being white westerners as opposed to “natives”.
When the Tolowa people first settled on the northwest coast of North America is open to debate, and will forever remain somewhat uncertain. But one thing historians agree on: they were largely decimated by white westerners. This massacre exemplifies the global disaster that mainly white western culture has wreaked upon our planet and its peoples. This damage far exceeds anything negative that â€œpre-civilizationâ€ cultures did in the long period of their existence. This remains true regardless of Derrickâ€™s or anyone elseâ€™s tendency to romanticize these earlier human groups.
I agree that the existence of all humans who have ever existed is problematic. However some individuals and groups are more dangerously problematic than others. The garden of Eden myth made it clear that our task and destiny on Earth was not to return to a condition of almost animal simplicity. The Angel with the flaming sword was created to convey that point. Nevertheless, we â€œcivilizedâ€ folks have a lot to learn from those who lived simpler lives in better harmony with the other beings we share the planet with. There is no need to invoke ultra-Spartan images to understand that our present western lifestyles are unsustainable and ultimately destructive of all higher values. We do not have to quibble over exactly how much simpler we need to live, or argue about how long an obscure Indian Tribe lived in a certain locale.
Another comment on DJâ€™s essay. Getting pissed at those who just donâ€™t get it, and make lame excuses to cover themselves, is in some ways a cheap shot. It makes us feel righteous and superior to those we criticize. Shouldnâ€™t we instead be making an effort to understand these folks, and find diplomatic and effective ways to wake them up?
To Mike, I would never argue that what euro and euro-American culture has done and does to this continent is brutal and devastating. I do think though that it does not help our current situation, or our attempts to find better ways of being, to romanticize the past or other cultures past and present. Derrick repeatedly uses the Tolowa in this way, and the falseness of that claim only hinders reaching a better understanding. Making up the past and then saying – see we should be like that – is silly and useless. Western civilization is not alone or the first to have devastating effects on the planet. China was essencially deforrested before there was a western civilization. The fertile cresent is now largely unfertile desert. Ditto the Saharra, partially or largely due to human activity. It is also likely that North America was cleared of it’s mega fauna of the pliesticene at least partially at the hands of those early (invasive) native people.
I don’t know anything about angels and flaming swords.
Rod– You wrote: â€œTo Mike, I would never argue that what euro and euro-American culture has done and does to this continent is brutal and devastating.â€ Did you perhaps misspeak here? As written, this sentence implies that the impact of euro-American culture was not brutal and devastating.
â€œWestern civilization is not alone or the first to have devastating effects on the planet.â€ But we may be the last, due to the tremendous powers our science has put in our ignorant and incompetent hands. We are the first culture on Earth to have the power to destroy all or most life on the planet, and we are busy now carrying out our macabre mission.
As to the Cherubim and the flaming sword: consult the Christian Bible, Genesis chapter 3, verse 22. It is interesting that this â€œGodâ€ banished the first citizens because they threatened to challenge His monopoly of higher knowledge. It looks like we may do ourselves in with our advanced scientific know-how, coupled with our abysmally underdeveloped moral sense.
So much smart talk here. Itâ€™s an everyone is right sort of thing. And here we are. Stuck. What we “need” to do re inner awareness is unarguable, and that we are headed for disaster where it could be hopeless and too late also is a cogent point of view.
I put visitation from elsewhere into the mix not wanting to argue about whether it’s bad for us to look to some external fix, but to say that if indeed such info came to light it could be a game changer. We need a new worldview. Itâ€™s fingers in the dike to try to fix the problems we face when our basic perspective on who we are and what we are doing here remains the same. The establishment of other intelligence could make us rethink everything
Having found crop circles many years ago, and gotten deeply into the data, my Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude brain became convinced that the evidence was overwhelming that there was an inexplicable phenomenon. And it became a mission of mine to tell that to a resistant world.
When you look at the evidence the idea that the formations all are human made is harder to believe that than they arenâ€™t. Maybe we could chat about that on the call tomorrow.
Rod, past civilizations of the sort we have wreaked damage where ever they were, in Mesopotamia, or China, or Easter Island. But, not Sahara. I looked into it, and Sahara is not man-made… though humans added to the expanse by mining the soil in the vicinity, already in Roman times and later.
Suzanne, I always thought that the explanation given for the circles was too quick, to facile… On the other hand, even smart people can get overenthusiastic. I will look for your film.
As for external fixes… what then are they waiting for? It’s like the legend of the knights of old slumbering in a hill, who will come out when the times are direst. Well?! 🙂
Maybe they are waiting for us to get it that they are signaling. No good to land on the White House lawn, so to speak, if we shoot them. Interesting to see what they would do if we were open to hear.
Thanks Mike k for the reply. It was saddening to read about your relationship with your father. With these later posts I am reminded that humans and their attendant societies have been disregarding and climbing over each other since day dot. It seems the way to live has been written by victors and so our story is more ruthless and destructive. So I would say it’s important to pull inside and find our hearts and what connects us to each other, the joy and happiness of good relationships. We live in community, why not include the planet? I don’t know of other beings and UFO’s, like God, they exist for others and during their quest the world is still being poisoned and ruined. Generally living requires some way to ensure longevity. It seems the current goal is be more competitive and destructive and more segregating the longer humanity has existed. I think it is difficult for one person who wants to live in respect and connection, in communion, not competition. Kind of seems the ‘losers’ are the real ‘winners’ if they can harmonize and create ways for others to bring equality and respect into our lives. For me most of these posts remind me of a three cups and a pea game and it’s about, Earth, the board underneath that goes unnoticed. I’d say everyone is right! Everyone lives their truth. Can we change everyone? Can we let go of defensiveness and need to win? I’d say the least we can do is to live from our truth and build from there. We can live with respect for ourselves and let others live their lives with self respect. We can build and respect our family, friends, our world? We will always have choice. If we see our values as primary to our best behavior and functioning in the world, why not spurn all that threatens that? I see that holding to values no matter what would be like standing in a strong stream. It must be acknowledged and accepted. I think if one can live such a life, in their own way. I’d say thats worth living for.
Mike, yes my sentence incorrectly said the opposite of what I meant. Vera, Yes right you are about the Sahara not being human made but as you also say it has been and is expanding with the help of us. I don’t know much about the Tasili (sp) who were apparently there, but it makes me wonder how different it was back in the day and how much of a hand humans have had in it’s change.
While I am in full agreement on the fact the we humans are living destructive, blinded lives, there is something uncomfortable with the deep negativity of the discussion. We are still so self important, even in the discussion of how not to be. Perhaps we really have less power and control than we think. Perhaps everything is as it should be, despite our particular feelings about it. The idea that we humans could end life or destroy the world is, I think hubris. We are not so powerful. We did not begin life and cannot end it. We may make things very uncomfortable and undesirable for ourselves, and we may make species go extinct, but life will go on, no beginning and no end. We get attached, I am attached, To the beauty and majesty of this world as we have become accustomed to knowing it. That is not however (sound as it may) a call to do nothing.
Well, Suzanne, quite a few people believe they are signaling. So? Are these supposed entities making contact with them?
You seem to be open to hear. So I am back to the question, what are they waiting for?
Rod, I agree, we are not powerful to destroy life, and if we keep on going diminishing it, we will be the casualties.
Personally, I would like to see us get it together so that we enhance the chances of life, rather than the other way… sigh…
We may not (yet) have the capacity to destroy all life? Wow! What a wonderful consolation. Aside from the billions of human lives we have destroyed, and the innumerable marvelous species we have permanently exterminated, I guess this kind of thought is really heart warming. But I do have some doubts about what some assert so confidently; after all DARPA and other mad scientists are working overtime to create more totally lethal inventions. Just gives us time and we may be able to accomplish what seems only a distant vision now.
Does this sound a little negative? Hey, maybe I need to change my medications, maybe switch to those blue pills, because reality keeps bleeding through the inner fog.
AT — I agree with all you have shared, including:
â€œI see that holding to values no matter what would be like standing in
a strong stream. It must be acknowledged and accepted. I think if one can
live such a life, in their own way. I’d say thats worth living for.â€
I would only add that we need not stand against that stream by ourselves. Find some like minded spirits to gather in a small group, and share your mutual concerns. Enough such groups could eventually create some major diversions in the stream of unconscious madness that is our culture.
Darn! I missed the conference call with DJ. Just slipped my mind. And I had signed up for it. I hope their will be a transcript or something?
Me too. I got pulled away.
In answer to Vera, see comment 59. They signal; we ignore. Logical to have to say hello before we could expect a download.
Yes, if you missed the conversation with Derrick Jensen today, no fear, audio of the event will be available here later in the day on May 18:
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Suzanne, they signal, *you* don’t ignore. So when it comes to you and others like you, my question again is… what are they waiting for? 🙂
Interspecies communication is usually nearly impossible, with one or both sides making lots of false assumptions about what it all means. So you seem to think they have things to teach us about math, Suzanne?
I think we’ll have to have a meeting of the minds in some other realm if it’s going to be meaningful. If they’re flying around up there they must know what a violent bunch we are. Seriously, why would they bother contacting us? And with pretty pictures on the ground? Not likely to make much difference to the mindset of humanity.
We’ll have to solve these problems ourselves or just deal with the consequences.
Vera — Have answered twice now.
All points are addressed in my movie — can ramble on here but easy to watch cheap on iTunes: “What On Earth?” (Trailer and DVD at http://CropCircleMovie.com.)
Not that they have things to teach us about math, but they are demonstrating that there is other intelligence besides us.
Current worldview could have us on on a collison course with disaster. With a new take on reality we’d stand a better chance to solve our problems ourselves.
Why wouldn’t this or that isn’t the right question. What they do is what they do, and we can’t do that. Need to speculate about the whys. Affect it would have is easier to foresee. We couldn’t maintain indifference. Our minds would be open to new ideas. Look to Galileo for how we had to rethink reality.
Having lost faith in the ancient tales of Gods and mysterious forces from beyond (largely due to the success of the modern scientific paradigm) many today have shifted their hopes of salvation from the perplexities of our times to belief in ufos, ets, space brothers, or other imaginary entities. Our current techno-science proving as much a source of problems as solutions, they turn to some alien science supposed to have what it takes to solve our dilemmas and reward us with all we desire.
Bad faith can take many curious and bizarre forms, all of which are escapes from reality, and a refusal to meet our responsibilities honestly and directly.
Audio from our conversation with Derrick Jensen on this column and his previous ones in Orion is now available, if you missed it, here:
Mike K., you dont get what I’m saying. No faith or belief or looking to anything. Just observing inexplicable phenomenon with observable and verifiable data. It should be paid attention to. And then, if it proved out, our worldview would change.
I am aware of the futility of reasoning with those who are fully committed to beliefs that are lacking any substantial evidence. I have a friend who is otherwise very intelligent and rational who persists in believing in the Bible Code. In spite of directing him to sites where reputable scientists and statisticians have exposed this hoax, including using Moby Dick, Joyceâ€™s Ulysses, and other books to give the same results supposedly to be found only in the Bible, he continues to hold onto his beliefs. Some of the wags among the scientists used the same methodology being pushed by the hoaxers to find some very naughty and unscriptural messages in the Bible. No matter. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.
I hope no one will take my remarks to be intended as a personal attack on them. Such is not my purpose. However I am committed to speak up for those approaches to our massive problems that seem to me to best justify our time and energy. I do not consider false paths and dead ends to be without serious negative consequences, including but not limited to diverting people from truly meaningful actions in the face of our all too real crises.
Hey Mike,look to http://bltresearch,com for peer reviewed papers in science journals attesting to the existence of an inexplicable phenomenon. Don’t go down the false path of listening to hoaxers’ unsubstantiated claims that there is no real phenomenon.
Suzanne — I clicked on your reference, and nothing came up.
BLTresearch? Sounds like a fast food joint! 🙂
Yes, that’s how I talk about it so that people will remember. Handy. I put a comma into the url instead of a period: http://bltresearch.com
First of all, thanks to Orion for giving Derrick Jensen an opportunity to speak his mind in a public forum. Any publication that enters the diverse field of environmentalism and its many controversies, must be ready to take risks and expect criticism for who or what it chooses to publish. DJ is a lightning rod for strongly emotional reactions. So thanks Orion for being willing to take the heat. To me, the greater danger is to water everything down to a lukewarm mush and bore everyone to death, at a time when we need to be awakened and galvanized.
One dimension Derrick touched on was capitalism. The national trance with regard to this dubious ism is a perfect example of how people can be conned into having their pockets picked, and even being impoverished, all the while believing that the so-called system of capitalism is just, fair, and the inevitable working out of some unquestionable cosmic law. After all, the alternative would be some form of â€œsocialismâ€. And the rich and powerful literally spent billions of dollars to demonize the idea that all the members of society deserve a fair and equitable share in the wealth of the Earth and the fruits of their own labors. At the peak of the propaganda against such an outcome, people were actually imprisoned for suggesting another way to divvy up the goods of our life together.
How can we help people break out of their ignorance with regard to the parameters of their existence? I suggest that those who are awakening to the realities of how the greed of the powerful few is devastating the Earth and the majority of the human population, gather in small groups of their friends, neighbors, and any other interested persons, and look together into the realities of our societal situation minus all the smoke screens and lies we are constantly being fed by those in power. The writings of Derrick Jensen would be an excellent starting point for such discussions and relearning forums. Unless we have a venue to rethink or basic understandings about our world and or place in it, we will be condemned like the prisoners in Platoâ€™s cave to endlessly enduring and repeating our misfortunes. What better place to wake up than in our own homes, talking with each other about the things that are truly important?
Suzanne, you have *not* answered my question. You have said: â€œMaybe they are waiting for us to get it that they are signaling. Interesting to see what they would do if we were open to hear.â€
So I pointed out that you and many others are getting it (that they are signaling), and *are* open to hear. So? Where is some indication that it makes any difference? If they are waiting until some humans get it, that has clearly already happened with you and those like you. So then? Havenâ€™t you wondered about that?
Ah would that some large proportion of humanity was receptive, which is what I envision it would take for any possibility of real engagement. It’s a jungle out there, with not only indifference but hostility. I’d like to see “CONTACT” in headlines, and then see what happens. All help to get attention paid is welcome. Look at this petition that my scientist friends won’t sign because it would threaten their funding: http://TheConversation.org/call.htm
In the end, delusional belief systems are a colossal waste of time and energy that might have been spent in constructive and realistic enterprises. It is an unfortunate aspect of the tragedy of these times that so many prefer to amuse themselves with baseless fantasies in a time of such great need for reality based thought and action. The artistic skill and dedicated work of the hoaxers who get out in the fields at night are commendable — if only they would put their energies to more practical usesâ€¦.
If one considers the vast plethora of unreal belief systems current in the world today, it is truly disheartening for those hoping for real solutions to our all too real life and death problems. Such mad dancing on the brink of the abyss reminds me of Robinson Jeffersâ€™ poem Dark Mountain. Check it out on the web, it is sad but all too true.
In case you missed it, Derrickâ€™s Q and A audio for Orion is here: