RSAnimate on Sir Ken Robinson's talk (part of it anyway) on Changing Education Paradigms, on the occasion of his acceptance of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin Award.
01/22/13...adding his TED Talk...
Here is the full talk - @ 55 minutes:
Here's more info on RSA, from their website:
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
RSAnimate on Sir Ken Robinson's talk (part of it anyway) on Changing Education Paradigms, on the occasion of his acceptance of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin Award.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Originally published in the January/February 2012 issue of Orion Magazine.
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist
Scenes from a younger life # 1:
I am twelve years old. I am alone, I am scared, I am cold, and I am crying my eyes out. I can’t see more than six feet in either direction. I am on some godforsaken moor high up on the dark, ancient, poisonous spine of England. The black bog juice I have been trudging through for hours has long since crept over the tops of my boots and down into my socks. My rucksack is too heavy, I am unloved and lost and I will never find my way home. It is raining and the cloud is punishing me; clinging to me, laughing at me. Twenty-five years later, I still have a felt memory of that experience and its emotions: a real despair and a terrible loneliness.
I do find my way home; I manage to keep to the path and eventually catch up with my father, who has the map and the compass and the mini Mars bars. He was always there, somewhere up ahead, but he had decided it would be good for me to “learn to keep up” with him. All of this, he tells me, will make me into a man. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Only later do I realize the complexity of the emotions summoned by a childhood laced with experiences like this. My father was a compulsive long-distance walker. Every year, throughout my most formative decade, he would take me away to Cumbria or Northumberland or Yorkshire or Cornwall or Pembrokeshire, and we would walk, for weeks. We would follow ancient tracks or new trails, across mountains and moors and ebony-black cliffs. Much of the time, we would be alone with each other and with our thoughts and our conversations, and we would be alone with the oystercatchers, the gannets, the curlews, the skylarks, and the owls. With the gale and the breeze, with our maps and compasses and emergency rations and bivy bags and plastic bottles of water. We would camp in the heather, by cairns and old mine shafts, hundreds of feet above the orange lights of civilization, and I would dream. And in the morning, with dew on the tent and cold air in my face as I opened the zip, the wild elements of life, all of the real things, would all seem to be there, waiting for me with the sunrise.
Scenes from a younger life # 2:
I am nineteen years old. It is around midnight and I am on the summit of a low, chalk down, the last of the long chain that winds its way through the crowded, peopled, fractious south country. There are maybe fifty or sixty people there with me. There is a fire going, there are guitars, there is singing and weird and unnerving whooping noises from some of the ragged travelers who have made this place their home.
This is Twyford Down, a hilltop east of Winchester. There is something powerful about this place; something ancient and unanswering. Soon it is to be destroyed: a six-lane motorway will be driven through it in a deep chalk cutting. It is vital that this should happen in order to reduce the journey time between London and Southampton by a full thirteen minutes. The people up here have made it their home in a doomed attempt to stop this from happening.
From outside it is impossible to see, and most do not want to. The name calling has been going on for months, in the papers and the pubs and in the House of Commons. The people here are Luddites, NIMBYs (“not-in-my-backyard” grumblers), reactionaries, romantics. They are standing in the way of progress. They will not be tolerated. Inside, there is a sense of shared threat and solidarity, there are blocks of hash and packets of Rizlas and liters of bad cider. We know what we are here for. We know what we are doing. We can feel the reason in the soil and in the night air. Down there, under the lights and behind the curtains, there is no chance that they will ever understand.
Someone I don’t know suggests we dance the maze. Out beyond the firelight, there is a maze carved into the down’s soft, chalk turf. I don’t know if it’s some ancient monument or a new creation. Either way, it’s the same spiral pattern that can be found carved into rocks from millennia ago. With cans and cigarettes and spliffs in our hands, a small group of us start to walk the maze, laughing, staggering, then breaking into a run, singing, spluttering, stumbling together toward the center.
Scenes from a younger life # 3:
I am twenty-one years old and I’ve just spent the most exciting two months of my life so far in an Indonesian rainforest. I’ve just been on one of those organized expeditions that people of my age buy into to give them the chance to do something useful and exciting in what used to be called the “Third World.” I’ve prepared for months for this. I’ve sold double glazing door-to-door to scrape together the cash. I have been reading Bruce Chatwin and Redmond O’Hanlon and Benedict Allen and my head is full of magic and idiocy and wonder.
During my trip, there were plenty of all of these things. I still vividly remember klotok journeys up Borneo rivers by moonlight, watching the swarms of giant fruit bats overhead. I remember the hooting of gibbons and the search for hornbills high up in the rainforest canopy. I remember a four-day trek through a so-called “rain” forest that was so dry we ended up drinking filtered mud. I remember turtle eggs on the beaches of Java and young orangutans at the rehabilitation center where we worked in Kalimantan, sitting in the high branches of trees with people’s stolen underpants on their heads, laughing at us. I remember the gold miners and the loggers, and the freshwater crocodiles in the same river we swam in every morning. I remember my first sight of flying fish in the Java Sea.
And I remember the small islands north of Lombok, where some of us spent a few days before we came home. At night we would go down to the moonlit beach, where the sea and the air was still warm, and in the sea were millions of tiny lights: phosphorescence. I had never seen this before; never even heard of it. We would walk into the water and immerse ourselves and rise up again and the lights would cling to our bodies, fading away as we laughed.
Now, back home, the world seems changed. A two-month break from my country, my upbringing, my cultural assumptions, a two-month immersion in something far more raw and unmediated, has left me open to seeing this place as it really is. I see the atomization and the inward focus and the faces of the people in a hurry inside their cars. I see the streetlights and the asphalt as I had not quite seen them before. What I see most of all are the adverts.
For the first time, I realize the extent and the scope and the impacts of the billboards, the posters, the TV and radio ads. Everywhere an image, a phrase, a demand, or a recommendation is screaming for my attention, trying to sell me something, tell me who to be, what to desire and to need. And this is before the internet; before Apples and BlackBerries became indispensable to people who wouldn’t know where to pick the real thing; before the deep, accelerating immersion of people in their technologies, even outdoors, even in the sunshine. Compared to where I have been, this world is so tamed, so mediated and commoditized, that something within it seems to have broken off and been lost beneath the slabs. No one has noticed this, or says so if they have. Something is missing: I can almost see the gap where it used to be. But it is not remarked upon. Nobody says a thing.
What took hold
It is nine-thirty at night in mid-December at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. I step outside my front door into the farmyard and walk over to the track, letting my eyes adjust to the dark. I am lucky enough to be living among the Cumbrian fells now, and as my pupils widen I can see, under a clear, starlit sky, the outline of the Old Man of Coniston, Dow Crag, Wetherlam, Helvellyn, the Fairfield Horseshoe. I stand there for ten minutes, growing colder. I see two shooting stars and a satellite. I suddenly wish my dad were still alive, and I wonder where the magic has gone.
These experiences, and others like them, were what formed me. They were what made me what I would later learn to call an “environmentalist”: something that seemed rebellious and excitingly outsiderish when I first took it up (and that successfully horrified my social-climbing father—especially as it was partly his fault) but that these days is almost de rigueur among the British bourgeoisie. Early in my adult life, just after I came back from Twyford Down, I vowed, self-importantly, that this would be my life’s work: saving nature from people. Preventing the destruction of beauty and brilliance, speaking up for the small and the overlooked and the things that could not speak for themselves. When I look back on this now, I’m quite touched by my younger self. I would like to be him again, perhaps just for a day; someone to whom all sensations are fiery and all answers are simple.
All of this—the downs, the woods, the rainforest, the great oceans, and, perhaps most of all, the silent isolation of the moors and mountains, which at the time seemed so hateful and unremitting—took hold of me somewhere unexamined. The relief I used to feel on those long trudges with my dad when I saw the lights of a village or a remote pub, even a minor road or a pylon, any sign of humanity—as I grow older this is replaced by the relief of escaping from the towns and the villages, away from the pylons and the pubs and the people, up onto the moors again, where only the ghosts and the saucer-eyed dogs and the old legends and the wind can possess me.
But they are harder to find now, those spirits. I look out across the moonlit Lake District ranges, and it’s as clear as the night air that what used to come in regular waves, pounding like the sea, comes now only in flashes, out of the corner of my eyes, like a lighthouse in a storm. Perhaps it’s the way the world has changed. There are more cars on the roads now, more satellites in the sky. The footpaths up the fells are like stone motorways, there are turbines on the moors, and the farmers are being edged out by south-country refugees like me, trying to escape but bringing with us the things we flee from. The new world is online and loving it, the virtual happily edging out the actual. The darkness is shut out and the night grows lighter and nobody is there to see it.
It could be all that, but it probably isn’t. It’s probably me. I am thirty-seven now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile, more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world is the same as it ever was, but I am more aware of it and of the reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part of it is that I can’t seem to look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us.
How it ended
I became an “environmentalist” because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places and the other-than-human world: to beech trees and hedgerows and pounding waterfalls, to songbirds and sunsets, to the flying fish in the Java Sea and the canopy of the rainforest at dusk when the gibbons come to the waterside to feed. From that reaction came a feeling, which became a series of thoughts: that such things are precious for their own sake, that they are food for the human soul, and that they need people to speak for them to, and defend them from, other people, because they cannot speak our language and we have forgotten how to speak theirs. And because we are killing them to feed ourselves and we know it and we care about it, sometimes, but we do it anyway because we are hungry, or we have persuaded ourselves that we are.
But these are not, I think, very common views today. Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.
It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for “the planet.” In a very short time—just over a decade—this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total—at the price of its soul.
Let me offer up just one example of how this pact has worked. If “sustainability” is about anything, it is about carbon. Carbon and climate change. To listen to most environmentalists today, you would think that these were the only things in the world worth talking about. The business of “sustainability” is the business of preventing carbon emissions. Carbon emissions threaten a potentially massive downgrading of our prospects for material advancement as a species. They threaten to unacceptably erode our resource base and put at risk our vital hoards of natural capital. If we cannot sort this out quickly, we are going to end up darning our socks again and growing our own carrots and other such unthinkable things. All of the horrors our grandparents left behind will return like deathless legends. Carbon emissions must be “tackled” like a drunk with a broken bottle—quickly, and with maximum force.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt the potency of climate change to undermine the human machine. It looks to me as if it is already beginning to do so, and that it is too late to do anything but attempt to mitigate the worst effects. But what I am also convinced of is that the fear of losing both the comfort and the meaning that our civilization gifts us has gone to the heads of environmentalists to such a degree that they have forgotten everything else. The carbon must be stopped, like the Umayyad at Tours, or all will be lost.
This reductive approach to the human-environmental challenge leads to an obvious conclusion: if carbon is the problem, then “zero-carbon” is the solution. Society needs to go about its business without spewing the stuff out. It needs to do this quickly, and by any means necessary. Build enough of the right kind of energy technologies, quickly enough, to generate the power we “need” without producing greenhouse gases, and there will be no need to ever turn the lights off; no need to ever slow down.
To do this will require the large-scale harvesting of the planet’s ambient energy: sunlight, wind, water power. This means that vast new conglomerations of human industry are going to appear in places where this energy is most abundant. Unfortunately, these places coincide with some of the world’s wildest, most beautiful, and most untouched landscapes. The sort of places that environmentalism came into being to protect.
And so the deserts, perhaps the landscape always most resistant to permanent human conquest, are to be colonized by vast “solar arrays,” glass and steel and aluminum, the size of small countries. The mountains and moors, the wild uplands, are to be staked out like vampires in the sun, their chests pierced with rows of five-hundred-foot wind turbines and associated access roads, masts, pylons, and wires. The open oceans, already swimming in our plastic refuse and emptying of marine life, will be home to enormous offshore turbine ranges and hundreds of wave machines strung around the coastlines like Victorian necklaces. The rivers are to see their estuaries severed and silted by industrial barrages. The croplands and even the rainforests, the richest habitats on this terrestrial Earth, are already highly profitable sites for biofuel plantations designed to provide guilt-free car fuel to the motion-hungry masses of Europe and America.
What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”
A while back I wrote an article in a newspaper highlighting the impact of industrial wind power stations (which are usually referred to, in a nice Orwellian touch, as wind “farms”) on the uplands of Britain. I was e-mailed the next day by an environmentalist friend who told me he hoped I was feeling ashamed of myself. I was wrong; worse, I was dangerous. What was I doing giving succor to the fossil fuel industry? Didn’t I know that climate change would do far more damage to upland landscapes than turbines? Didn’t I know that this was the only way to meet our urgent carbon targets? Didn’t I see how beautiful turbines were? So much more beautiful than nuclear power stations. I might think that a “view” was more important than the future of the entire world, but this was because I was a middle-class escapist who needed to get real.
It became apparent at that point that what I saw as the next phase of the human attack on the nonhuman world a lot of my environmentalist friends saw as “progressive,” “sustainable,” and “green.” What I called destruction they called “large-scale solutions.” This stuff was realistic, necessarily urgent. It went with the grain of human nature and the market, which as we now know are the same thing. We didn’t have time to “romanticize” the woods and the hills. There were emissions to reduce, and the end justified the means.
It took me a while to realize where this kind of talk took me back to: the maze and the moonlit hilltop. This desperate scrabble for “sustainable development” was in reality the same old same old. People I had thought were on my side were arguing aggressively for the industrializing of wild places in the name of human desire. This was the same rootless, distant destruction that had led me to the top of Twyford Down. Only now there seemed to be some kind of crude equation at work that allowed them to believe this was something entirely different. Motorway through downland: bad. Wind power station on downland: good. Container port wiping out estuary mudflats: bad. Renewable hydropower barrage wiping out estuary mudflats: good. Destruction minus carbon equals sustainability.
So here I was again: a Luddite, a NIMBY, a reactionary, a romantic; standing in the way of progress. I realized that I was dealing with environmentalists with no attachment to any actual environment. Their talk was of parts-per-million of carbon, peer-reviewed papers, sustainable technologies, renewable supergrids, green growth, and the fifteenth conference of the parties. There were campaigns about “the planet” and “the Earth,” but there was no specificity: no sign of any real, felt attachment to any small part of that Earth.
The place of nature
Back at university, in love with my newfound radicalism, as students tend to be, I started to read things. Not the stuff I was supposed to be reading about social movements and pre-Reformation Europe, but green political thought: wild ideas I had never come across before. I could literally feel my mind levering itself open. Most exciting to me were the implications of a new word I stumbled across: ecocentrism. This word crystallized everything I had been feeling for years. I had no idea there were words for it or that other people felt it too, or had written intimidating books about it. The nearest I had come to such a realization thus far was reading Wordsworth as a teenager and feeling an excited tingling sensation as I began to understand what he was getting at among all those poems about shepherds and girls called Lucy. Here was a kindred spirit! Here was a man moved to love and fear by mountains, who believed rocks had souls, that “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” (though even then that sounded a little optimistic to me). Pantheism was my new word that year.
Now I declared, to myself if no one else, that I was “ecocentric” too. This was not the same as being egocentric, though some disagreed, and while it sounded a bit too much like “eccentric,” this was also a distraction. I was ecocentric because I did not believe—had never believed, I didn’t think—that humans were the center of the world, that the Earth was their playground, that they had the right to do what they liked, or even that what they did was that important. I thought we were part of something bigger, which had as much right to the world as we did, and which we were stomping on for our own benefit. I had always been haunted by shameful thoughts like this. It had always seemed to me that the beauty to be found on the trunk of a birch tree was worth any number of Mona Lisas, and that a Saturday night sunset was better than Saturday night telly. It had always seemed that most of what mattered to me could not be counted or corralled by the kind of people who thought, and still think, that I just needed to grow up.
It had been made clear to me for a long time that these feelings were at best charmingly naïve and at worst backward and dangerous. Later, the dismissals became encrusted with familiar words, designed to keep the ship of human destiny afloat: romantic, Luddite, NIMBY, and the like. For now, though, I had found my place. I was a young, fiery, radical, ecocentric environmentalist, and I was going to save the world.
When I look back on the road protests of the mid-1990s, which I often do, it is with nostalgia and fondness and a sense of gratitude that I was able to be there, to see what I saw and do what I did. But I realize now that it is more than this that makes me think and talk and write about Twyford Down to an extent that bores even my patient friends. This, I think, was the last time I was part of an environmental movement that was genuinely environmental. The people involved were, like me, ecocentric: they didn’t see “the environment” as something “out there”; separate from people, to be utilized or destroyed or protected according to human whim. They saw themselves as part of it, within it, of it.
There was a Wordsworthian feel to the whole thing: the defense of the trees simply because they were trees. Living under the stars and in the rain, in the oaks and in the chaotic, miraculous tunnels beneath them, in the soil itself like the rabbits and the badgers. We were connected to a place; a real place that we loved and had made a choice to belong to, if only for a short time. There was little theory, much action, but even more simple being. Being in a place, knowing it, standing up for it. It was environmentalism at its rawest, and the people who came to be part of it were those who loved the land, in their hearts as well as their heads.
In years to come, this was worn away. It took a while before I started to notice what was happening, but when I did it was all around me. The ecocentrism—in simple language, the love of place, the humility, the sense of belonging, the feelings—was absent from most of the “environmentalist” talk I heard around me. Replacing it were two other kinds of talk. One was the save-the-world-with-wind-farms narrative; the same old face in new makeup. The other was a distant, somber sound: the marching boots and rattling swords of an approaching fifth column.
Environmentalism, which in its raw, early form had no time for the encrusted, seized-up politics of left and right, offering instead a worldview that saw the growth economy and the industrialist mentality beloved by both as the problem in itself, was now being sucked into the yawning, bottomless chasm of the “progressive” left. Suddenly, people like me, talking about birch trees and hilltops and sunsets, were politely, or less politely, elbowed to one side by people who were bringing a “class analysis” to green politics.
All this talk of nature, it turned out, was bourgeois, Western, and unproductive. It was a middle-class conceit, and there was nothing worse than a middle-class conceit. The workers had no time for thoughts like this (though no one bothered to notify the workers themselves that they were simply clodhopping, nature-loathing cannon fodder in a political flame war). It was terribly, objectively right wing. Hitler liked nature after all. He was a vegetarian too. It was all deeply “problematic.”
More problematic for me was what this kind of talk represented. With the near global failure of the left-wing project over the past few decades, green politics was fast becoming a refuge for disillusioned socialists, Trots, Marxists, and a ragbag of fellow travelers who could no longer believe in communism or the Labour Party or even George Galloway, and who saw in green politics a promising bolthole. In they all trooped, with their Stop-the-War banners and their Palestinian solidarity scarves, and with them they brought a new sensibility.
Now it seemed that environmentalism was not about wildness or ecocentrism or the other-than-human world and our relationship to it. Instead it was about (human) social justice and (human) equality and (human) progress and ensuring that all these things could be realized without degrading the (human) resource base that we used to call nature back when we were being naïve and problematic. Suddenly, never-ending economic growth was a good thing after all: the poor needed it to get rich, which was their right. To square the circle, for those who still realized there was a circle, we were told that “social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand”—a suggestion of such bizarre inaccuracy that it could surely only be wishful thinking.
Suddenly, sustaining a global human population of 10 billion people was not a problem at all, and anyone who suggested otherwise was not highlighting any obvious ecological crunch points but was giving succor to fascism or racism or gender discrimination or orientalism or essentialism or some other such hip and largely unexamined concept. The “real issue,” it seemed, was not the human relationship with the nonhuman world; it was fat cats and bankers and cap’lism. These things must be destroyed, by way of marches, protests, and votes for fringe political parties, to make way for something known as “eco-socialism”: a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95 percent of the population.
I didn’t object to this because I thought that environmentalism should occupy the right rather than the left wing, or because I was right-wing myself, which I wasn’t (these days I tend to consider the entire bird with a kind of frustrated detachment). And I understood that there was at least a partial reason for the success of this colonization of the greens by the reds. Modern environmentalism sprang partly from the early-twentieth-century conservation movement, and that movement had often been about preserving supposedly pristine landscapes at the expense of people. Forcing tribal people from their ancestral lands, which had been newly designated as national parks, for example, in order to create a fictional “untouched nature” had once been fairly common, from Africa to the USA. And, actually, Hitler had been something of an environmentalist, and the wellsprings that nourished some green thought nourished the thought of some other unsavory characters too (a fact that some ideologues love to point to when witch-hunting the greens, as if it wouldn’t be just as easy to point out that ideas of equality and justice fueled Stalin and Pol Pot).
In this context it was fair enough to assert that environmentalism allied itself with ideas of justice and decency, and that it was about people as well as everything else on the planet. Of course it was, for “nature” as something separate from people has never existed. We are nature, and the environmentalist project was always supposed to be about how we are to be part of it, to live well as part of it, to understand and respect it, to understand our place within it, and to feel it as part of ourselves.
So there was a reason for environmentalism’s shift to the left, just as there was a reason for its blinding obsession with carbon. Meanwhile, the fact of what humans are doing to the world became so obvious, even to those who were doing very well from it, that it became hard not to listen to the greens. Success duly arrived. You can’t open a newspaper now or visit a corporate website or listen to a politician or read the label on a packet of biscuits without being bombarded with propaganda about the importance of “saving the planet.” But there is a terrible hollowness to it all, a sense that society is going through the motions without understanding why. The shift, the pact, has come at a probably fatal price.
Now that price is being paid. The weird and unintentional pincer movement of the failed left, with its class analysis of waterfalls and fresh air, and the managerial, carbon-über-alles brigade has infiltrated, ironed out, and reworked environmentalism for its own ends. Now it is not about the ridiculous beauty of coral, the mist over the fields at dawn. It is not about ecocentrism. It is not about reforging a connection between overcivilized people and the world outside their windows. It is not about living close to the land or valuing the world for the sake of the world. It is not about attacking the self-absorbed conceits of the bubble that our civilization has become.
Today’s environmentalism is about people. It is a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots and, at the same time, with an amusing irony, it is an adjunct to hypercapitalism: the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy. It is an engineering challenge: a problem-solving device for people to whom the sight of a wild Pennine hilltop on a clear winter day brings not feelings of transcendence but thoughts about the wasted potential for renewable energy. It is about saving civilization from the results of its own actions: a desperate attempt to prevent Gaia from hiccupping and wiping out our coffee shops and broadband connections. It is our last hope.
The open land
I generalize, of course. Environmentalism’s chancel is as accommodating as that of socialism, anarchism, or conservatism, and just as capable of generating poisonous internal bickering that will last until the death of the sun. Many who call themselves green have little time for the mainstream line I am attacking here. But it is the mainstream line. It is how most people see environmentalism today, even if it is not how all environmentalists intend it to be seen. These are the arguments and the positions that popular environmentalism—now a global force—offers up in its quest for redemption. There are reasons; there are always reasons. But whatever they are, they have led the greens down a dark, litter-strewn, dead-end street where the rubbish bins overflow, the light bulbs have blown, and the stray dogs are very hungry indeed.
What is to be done about this? Probably nothing. It was, perhaps, inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism, and inevitable too that the greens would not be able to last for long outside the established political bunkers. But for me—well, this is no longer mine, that’s all. I can’t make my peace with people who cannibalize the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming.
Like all of us, I am a foot soldier of empire. It is the empire of Homo sapiens sapiens and it stretches from Tasmania to Baffin Island. Like all empires, it is built on expropriation and exploitation, and like all empires it dresses these things up in the language of morality and duty. When we turn wilderness over to agriculture, we speak of our duty to feed the poor. When we industrialize the wild places, we speak of our duty to stop the climate from changing. When we spear whales, we speak of our duty to science. When we raze forests, we speak of our duty to develop. We alter the atmospheric makeup of the entire world: half of us pretend it’s not happening, the other half immediately start looking for new machines that will reverse it. This is how empires work, particularly when they have started to decay. Denial, displacement, anger, fear.
The environment is the victim of this empire. But the “environment”—that distancing word, that empty concept—does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us. We make ourselves slaves to make ourselves free, and when the shackles start to rub we confidently predict the emergence of new, more comfortable designs.
I don’t have any answers, if by answers we mean political systems, better machines, means of engineering some grand shift in consciousness. All I have is a personal conviction built on those feelings, those responses, that goes back to the moors of northern England and the rivers of southern Borneo—that something big is being missed. That we are both hollow men and stuffed men, and that we will keep stuffing ourselves until the food runs out, and if outside the dining room door we have made a wasteland and called it necessity, then at least we will know we were not to blame, because we are never to blame, because we are the humans.
What am I to do with feelings like these? Useless feelings in a world in which everything must be made useful. Sensibilities in a world of utility. Feelings like this provide no “solutions.” They build no new eco-homes, remove no carbon from the atmosphere. This is head-in-the-clouds stuff, as relevant to our busy, modern lives as the new moon or the date of the harvest. Easy to ignore, easy to dismiss, like the places that inspire the feelings, like the world outside the bubble, like the people who have seen it, if only in brief flashes beyond the ridge of some dark line of hills.
But this is fine—the dismissal, the platitudes, the brusque moving-on of the grown-ups. It’s all fine. I withdraw, you see. I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving. I am going to go out walking.
I am leaving on a pilgrimage to find what I left behind in the jungles and by the cold campfires and in the parts of my head and my heart that I have been skirting around because I have been busy fragmenting the world in order to save it; busy believing it is mine to save. I am going to listen to the wind and see what it tells me, or whether it tells me anything at all. You see, it turns out that I have more time than I thought. I will follow the songlines and see what they sing to me and maybe, one day, I might even come back. And if I am very lucky I might bring with me a harvest of fresh tales, which I can scatter like apple seeds across this tired and angry land.
Posted by AlexTangoFuego at 9:01 PM
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Animators:Greg Shirah (NASA/GSFC)
Horace Mitchell (NASA/GSFC)
Video Editor:Victoria Weeks (HTSI)
Scientists:Hong Zhang (UCLA)
Dimitris Menemenlis (NASA/JPL CalTech)
Writer:Kayvon Sharghi (USRA)
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Video doesn't appear to play...here's the link...video is on FB...
Video by Alejandro Rumolino...
Posted by AlexTangoFuego at 6:07 PM
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I haven't written a "Happy New Year" post in a couplafew years. Life trumps blog.
There are lots and lots of positive affirmations and New Year's Resolutions being posted on Facebook. Things like "Lose 10 lbs" and "Read more/watch less television", although noble goals, don't seem to cut it these days. I'm seeing (or is it "feeling") more of a spiritual/energetic bent to folks' "Think and so shall ye be" thoughts.
Peace, love, understanding, forgiveness, tolerance, cooperation, humility, compassion. Perhaps it's a reaction to the vociferous invective that was being bandied about in our political world for the past year. That *is* being bandied about. The election and two years of ancillary malarkey, the dysfunction of Congress and tonight's Fiscal Cliff "resolution" (don't get me started). Perhaps it's a natural state of human coping with regard to the Red Hook tragedy, the death of the New Delhi gang rape victim, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
I think people, myself included, are wanting to go beyond losing weight and eating better and doing more yoga. Wanting, needing, to go beyond being more spiritual this year than last year. Beyond "You make me want to be a better man." I would like to believe that more and more people are feeling dissatisfied with the status quo. The status quo of the myth of perpetual growth. The status quo of the American Dream. The status quo of a capitalist economic system that is not only not good for our Mother Earth, but not good for humanity.
We know something's not exactly right in the world. We feel it in our bones. Something about our chi is just not lining up. We know something needs to be done. We know we the people need to do something more than has been done to date. We know we as individuals need to do less worrying and talking and bitching and moaning about the problems that are before us. I ran across a good quote the other day. "Worry is using the power of your imagination to create something you don't want."
I don't consider myself a worrier. I would say I'm more of a machinator. Or perhaps a cognitator. Machinating and cognitating "in my spare time while I'm resting" knowing that we have to do something about it all. Knowing that there has to be a solution. Knowing that the Serenity Prayer's "To accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference..." just somehow doesn't cut it. For me, that is.
Because, you see, pretty much *everything* has to change. Not just in America the land of the free and the home of the beige. We, we the people, have created a raft of problems and issues across the planet with our way of life and our apathy and our complacency. Luxury and comfort make us lazy. Football and HoneyBooBoo make us lazy. Cabela's and Nordstrom make us lazy. Substitute Dollar General and WalMart if you please. WalMart is bad for the planet. HoneyBooBoo is bad for humanity.
We are blind to it. We are lazy to it. We are apathetic and complacent. Luxuriating in the meadow, under the wispy Jerusalem Thorn tree swaying in the gentle breeze, laid back in our comfy lavender colored plastic Adirondack chairs made in China from plastic pellets manufactured from hydrocarbons sucked from Mother Earth beneath the Saudi Arabian desert. Or the Sahara Desert. Or the Venezuelan rainforest. Or natural gas liquids fracked from the shales outside of Goldsmith, Texas, on the fringe of the Chihuahua Desert, pumped via pipeline to Houston, to be refined and plasticized and pelletized, then shipped to China (via the Panama Canal) to be formed into my comfy albeit structurally under-designed for my pre-New Year's resolution weight, then shipped back across the magnificent deep blue Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles, then by rail headed east, then by tractor-trailer from some freight depot to my local Cragg's "DoItBest" handy homeowner wannabe rancher store. $19.95. Plus tax. We've got about a dozen of them - half of them broken (by me sitting in them, or more accurately from me getting up out of them - craaack!) retired behind the pole barn.
Talk about a guilt trip. I think I'm sorry now that I ran with that thread of thought. But I digress.
I'm all about the power of positive thinking, positive affirmations, positive vibes. Positively. There is definitely something at work in visualizing and manifesting one's reality. "Something at work" is an understatement. That "something" that enables a new reality to be manifested is a power to be reckoned with. A fundamental truth of the Universe not to be ignored. Think Deepak Chopra's "a thought is a physical thing that exists in the Universe..." Think of the docu-drama "What The Bleep?".
What about collectively visualizing and manifesting a new reality? Collectively for the collective. Concomitantly, hand-in-hand, with mutuality, not just for the individual, or a group of individuals, or an individual country, but for all of humanity and our fellow critters on the planet. Collectively for the Universe.
We have an opportunity before us to think and dream and shape and mold a new world for ourselves, our children, our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren. Five greats hence. My fifth great-grandfather fought at The Battle of the Alamo in 1836. One hundred seventy seven years. Seven generations. What those men did, the few that survived, and those who gave their lives, no doubt helped shape the future. My present. Maybe. Kindasorta. You get my drift. I hope.
We have the smarts, the knowledge, the "knowing vs. knowledge", the ability, the drive, the spirit, and the tools to do it. Picks and shovels and hands and strong backs and brains and brawn and imagination. Google and Facebook and Twitter. All the tools and knowledge and knowing to get done what needs to be done.
Do the right thing and do the thing right, as I like to say.
Perhaps it's the spirituality that's missing these days. Missing from these past many years. Perhaps we got sidetracked in our comfort. Sidetracked by the illusion that we could all live like Kings and Queens. Or rather the delusion.
Perhaps that's why we're seeing more affirmations and resolutions and revolutions of awareness and presence and spirituality and collaboration and community and unity.
We have a Renaissance level opportunity before us to manifest a new and sustainable reality for ourselves. An economy and a way of life that sustains not only the planet and her delicately balanced systems, but one that sustains humanity and the soul of humanity. To create a world/way of life that moves away from an "Industrial Growth Society" and toward a "Life Sustaining Civilization" - quoting Joanna Macy.
A Renaissance level opportunity in that it will take not just years, nor decades, but centuries to bring ourselves away from the brink, and move towards sustainability.
But we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Chin up, gaze to the horizon. For our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.
Happy New Year, ya'll.
Sidenote: I had intended to just post the article that follows. A little something that I ran across that struck a chord on this New Year's Day. I wanted to just post the article and include some sort of happy new year comment. I had intended to be brief, but that obviously didn't work out. I'm glad I finally took the time to write this. It's been on my mind for some time now. Extemporaneous and "free written", not outlined nor well-thought-out nor edited. Saying most of what I want to say on the subject of positive thinking/manifestation vs. bitching and moaning and getting pissed off as an effective motivational/educational/informational tool vs. getting off my/our collective asses and really, truly getting to work. Meditating on a rock in the woods and thinking happy thoughts isn't the answer. But it's a start, and it's definitely part of the solution.
AlterNet / By Charles Eisenstein
Everything We Tell Ourselves About America and the World Is Wrong
Why we need a new story that gives meaning to the world.
December 29, 2012
Charles Eisenstein is an essayist and author of the books Sacred Economics and The Ascent of Humanity. He is a contributor to Shareable, where this article first appeared.
Every culture has a Story of the People to give meaning to the world. Part conscious and part unconscious, it consists of a matrix of agreements, narratives, and symbols that tell us why we are here, where we are headed, what is important, and even what is real. I think we are entering a new phase in the dissolution of our Story of the People, and therefore, with some lag time, of the edifice of civilization built on top of it.
Sometimes I feel intense nostalgia for the cultural mythology of my youth, a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the Superbowl was important, in which the world’s greatest democracy was bringing democracy to the world, in which science was going to make life better and better. Life made sense. If you worked hard you could get good grades, get into a good college, go to grad school or follow some other professional path, and you would be happy. With a few unfortunate exceptions, you would be successful if you obeyed the rules of our society: if you followed the latest medical advice, kept informed by reading the New York Times, and stayed away from Bad Things like drugs. Sure there were problems, but the scientists and experts were working hard to fix them. Soon a new medical advance, a new law, a new educational technique, would propel the onward improvement of life. My childhood perceptions were part of this Story of the People, in which humanity was destined to create a perfect world through science, reason, and technology, to conquer nature, transcend our animal origins, and engineer a rational society.
From my vantage point, the basic premises of this story seemed unquestionable. After all, it seemed to be working in my world. Looking back, I realize that this was a bubble world built atop massive human suffering and environmental degradation, but at the time one could live within that bubble without need of much self-deception. The story that surrounded us was robust. It easily kept anomalous data points on the margins.
Since my childhood in the 1970s, that story has eroded at an accelerating rate. More and more people in the West no longer believe that civilization is fundamentally on the right track. Even those who don’t yet question its basic premises in any explicit way seem to have grown weary of it. A layer of cynicism, a hipster self-awareness has muted our earnestness. What was once so real, say a plank in a party platform, today is seen through several levels of “meta” filters to parse it in terms of image and message. We are like children who have grown out of a story that once enthralled us, aware now that it is only a story.
At the same time, a series of new data points has disrupted the story from the outside. The harnessing of fossil fuels, the miracle of chemicals to transform agriculture, the methods of social engineering and political science to create a more rational and just society – each has fallen far short of its promise, and brought unanticipated consequences that threaten civilization. We just cannot believe anymore that the scientists have everything well in hand. Nor can we believe that the onward march of reason will bring on social utopia.
Today we cannot ignore the intensifying degradation of the biosphere, the malaise of the economic system, the decline in health, or the persistence and indeed growth of global poverty and inequality. We once thought economists would fix poverty, political scientists would fix social injustice, chemists and biologists would fix environmental problems, the power of reason would prevail and we would adopt sane policies. I remember looking at maps of rain forest decline in National Geographic in the early 1980s and feeling both alarm and relief – relief because at least the scientists and everyone who reads National Geographic is aware of the problem now, so something surely will be done.
Nothing was done. Rainforest decline accelerated, along with nearly every other environmental threat that we knew about in 1980. Our Story of the People trundled forward under the momentum of centuries, but with each passing decade the hollowing-out of its core, that started perhaps with the industrial-scale slaughter of World War One, extended further. When I was a child, our system of ideology and mass media still protected that story, but in the last thirty years the incursions of reality have punctured its protective shell and have ruptured its essential infrastructure. We no longer believe our storytellers, our elites. We don’t believe the politicians, we don’t believe the doctors, we don’t believe the professors, we don’t believe the bankers, we don’t believe the technologists. All of them imply that everything is under control, and we know that it is not. We have lost the vision of the future we once had; most people have no vision of the future at all. This is new for our society. Fifty or a hundred years ago, most people agreed on the general outlines of the future. We thought we knew where society was going. Even the Marxists and the capitalists agreed on its basic outlines: a paradise of mechanized leisure and scientifically engineered social harmony, with spirituality either abolished entirely or relegated to a materially inconsequential corner of life that happened mostly on Sundays. Of course there were dissenters from this vision, but this was the general consensus.
When a story nears its end it goes through death throes, an exaggerated semblance of life. So today we see domination, conquest, violence, and separation take on absurd extremes that hold a mirror up to what was once hidden and diffuse. The year 2012 ended with just such a potent story-disrupting event: the Sandy Hook massacre. Even realizing that far more, equally innocent, children have been killed in the last few years by, say, U.S. drone strikes, it really got under my skin. No one was immune. I think that is because its utter senselessness penetrated every defense mechanism we have to maintain the fiction that the world is basically OK. Unlike 9/11 or Oklahoma City, and certainly unlike the horrors that go on around the world, there was no convenient narrative to divert the raw pain of what happened. We cannot help but map those murdered innocents onto the young faces we know, and the anguish of their parents onto ourselves. At the base of our Story of the People is separation, of humanity from nature, of me from you, of each from all, and this event united everyone, of whatever culture, nationality, or political persuasion. For a moment, we all felt the exact same thing. For at least a moment, I am sure, most people were in touch with the simplicity of what is important; I am sure many people had that fleeting feeling, “It doesn’t have to be that difficult, if only we could remember what is so obvious now, that love is all there is.” We humans have made such a mess of things, forgetting love. It is the same realization we have when a loved one is going through the dying process, and we think, “Ah, how precious this person is – why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I appreciate all those moments we had together? All the arguments and grudges seem so tiny now.”
Following that moment, of course, people hurried to make sense of the event, subsuming it within a narrative about gun control, mental health, or the security of school buildings. Maybe I am imagining things, but I don’t think anyone really believes deep down that these responses touch the heart of the matter. Gun culture, we know, is a symptom of something deeper, and the violence that finds expression through guns would, even in their absence, come out in some other way. Mental illness too is a problem so vast that it is essentially unsolvable in our current system; it too comes from a deeper source. As for school security, a Chinese saying describes all the measures proposed: they stop the gentleman but not the villain.
No one would say that Sandy Hook was more horrible than the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges, or the imperialistic wars of the 20th century and 21st, but it was less comprehensible. Try as we might, we cannot fit it into our Story of the World. It is the anomalous data point that unravels the entire narrative – the world no longer makes sense. We struggle to explain what it means, but no explanation suffices. We may go on pretending that normal is still normal, but this is one of a series of “end time” events that is dismantling our culture’s mythology.
The evident futility of the responses that we are capable of imagining also points to this deep ideological breakdown. The responses are all about more control. Yet control, as we may or may not realize, is a key thread of the old story of humanity rising above nature, imposing technology and reason on the wild world and the uncivilized human. All around us, we see our efforts at control backfiring: wars to fight terrorism breed terrorism, herbicides breed superweeds, antibiotics breed superbugs, psychiatric medications lead to explosive outbursts of violence.
Looking back on the community schools a couple generations past, where children and parents could walk in and out of any door, can we say that the inexorable trend toward fortress schools in a fortress state is something anyone would have chosen? The world was supposed to be getting better. We were supposed to be becoming wealthier, more enlightened. Society was supposed to be advancing. Here I am in America, the most “advanced” nation on Earth, yet even as our financial wealth has doubled and doubled again in fifty years, we have lost wealth of a more basic form; for example, the social capital of feeling safe, feeling at home where we live. Is more security the best we can aspire to? What about a society where safety does not equal security? What about a world where no human being wields an assault rifle? What about a world where we mostly know the faces and stories of the people around us? What about a world where we know that our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people? We need a Story of the People that includes all of those things – and that doesn’t feel like a fantasy.
Various visionary thinkers have offered versions of such a story, but none of them has yet become a true Story of the People, a widely accepted set of agreements and narratives that gives meaning to the world and coordinates human activity towards its fulfillment. We are not quite ready for such a story yet, because the old one, though in tatters, still has large swaths of its fabric intact. And even when these unravel, we still must traverse the space between stories, a kind of nakedness. In the turbulent times ahead our familiar ways of acting, thinking, and being will no longer make sense. We won’t know what is happening, what it all means, and, sometimes, even what is real. Some people have entered that time already.
I wish I could tell you that I am ready for a new Story of the People, but even though I am among its many weavers, I cannot yet fully inhabit the new vestments. In other words, describing the world that could be, something inside me doubts, rejects, and underneath the doubt is a hurting thing. The breakdown of the old story is kind of a healing process, that uncovers the old wounds hidden under its fabric and exposes them to the healing light of awareness. I am sure many people reading this have gone through such a time, when the cloaking illusions fell away: all the old justifications, rationalizations, all the old stories. Events like Sandy Hook help to initiate the very same process on a collective level. So also the superstorms, the economic crisis, political meltdowns… in one way or another, the obsolescence of our old mythos is laid bare.
We do not have a new story yet. Each of us is aware of some of its threads, for example in most of the things we call alternative, holistic, or ecological today. Here and there we see patterns, designs, emerging parts of the fabric. But the new mythos has not yet emerged. We will abide for a time in the space between stories. Those of you who have been through it on a personal level know that it is a very precious – some might say sacred – time. Then we are in touch with the real. Each disaster lays bare the real underneath our stories. The terror of a child, the grief of a mother, the honesty of not knowing why. In such moments we discover our humanity. We come to each other’s aid, human to human. We take care of each other. That’s what keeps happening every time there is a calamity, before the beliefs, the ideologies, the politics take over again. Events like Sandy Hook, for at least a moment, cut through all that down to the basic human being. In such times, we learn who we really are.
How can we prepare? We cannot prepare. But we are being prepared.
Charles Eisenstein is an essayist and author of the books Sacred Economics and The Ascent of Humanity. He is a contributor to Shareable, where this article first appeared.