Discuss: The Barbaric Heart
I was poised on the brink of not re-subscribing, when I got the latest issue with this article. That’s what I’ve been waiting for—a NEW way of looking at an old problem. Loved it. I miss the old Co-Evolution Quarterly/Whole Earth Review for its truly avant garde nature, its edginess. The Barbaric Heart brought that back for me.
But what is to be done because the Invisible Megamachine (Mumford) seems to be almost unstoppable.
Orion altogether provides some very useful guidelines.
I dont know if you accept other website references but this essay ,and the book of which it is a part, gives a very sobering assessment of the origins and consequences of the current system, and what needs to be done to turn the situation around.
An excellent and very thoughtful essay. I believe the breakdown of the Beauty Way starts at birth. In Chinese Medicine there is a concept called “Shen,” or spirit, which is the Yang animating force that marrys the Yin vehicle produced in the mother’s womb at the moment of birth when the first breath is taken. If there is a Shen disturbance at any point in someones’ life, and the Shen flees, then all kinds of barbaric and unthinkable acts become possible. A severe Shen disturbance is at the root of mental illness.
Perhaps the thoughtfulness of your article will lead to more self-inquiry. I also agree that we would do better to find a Dionysian love.
I understand that this essay will have its god-as-nature-swooning devotees.
It’s right in line with the Pastor McKibben/Revered Hedges/ folk-strumming types, all in a row, all talking to themselves about capital letter this and sacred that.
So the good Professor comes up with this “Barbaric Heart,” has it thinking and doing improbable acts for a muscle, and I’d advise its instant retirement as a literary conceit. Don’t look for it to come to a theater near you.
These Deep Think essays mix in a few decent, Grade C sociological observations with the kind of “Being” and “Beautiful” ginned-up religiosity that might wow the seated prepsters who need the good professor’s approval for their own high grades, but as in his use of the term “crisis of faith,” it all seems issued from deep, deep within his sanctum sanctorum office hours. I admire Orion for trying to advertise this essay as being about something, but in the end, between the capital letters and the nonsense, I’d like to ask that short-form Big Thoughts essays by long-tenured profs be canceled, fortwith. Sorry to wreck the high, folks.
Excellent, unusual piece, Curtis. And thanks to Orion for publishing this important work.
The question you raise moves us in the direction of psychological introspection which, God knows, we badly need (witness the comments of “mjosef”). As Jung put it, “The origin of all coming evil is man himself.”
Why indeed has our planetary situation reached this point?
The premise of the Barbaric Heart is a valuable metaphor that deserves much consideration. Lewis Mumford did a lot of spadework in his book The Pentagon of Power, tracing the modern myth—in effect, the power-complex—back to ancient Egypt. Theodore Roszak, co-editor of the book Ecopsychology, saw fit to include a chapter devoted to the idea that humanity is behaving toward nature in what amounts to a psychopathic way.
The Barbaric Heart resonates with that notion.
After so many millennia, the psychology of the Barbaric Heart has become self-perpetuating, as the “sins of the fathers” reverberate for generations in the souls of their children.
However predominant among humans, the Barbaric Heart is not inevitable. There is a choice, which begins by deciding whether to remain unconscious or to become conscious. Unconsciousness is by far the easier path.
If Beauty—your gentle antidote to the unreflected brutality of the Barbaric Heart—ever fulfills its promise, it will be because enough individuals have chosen to open their souls to Beauty’s inherent claim on our Earth-born allegiance.
“It is odd that we have so little relationship with nature, with the insects and the leaping frog and the owl that hoots among the hills calling for its mate. We never seem to have a feeling for all living things on the earth. If we could establish a deep abiding relationship with nature we would never kill an animal for our appetite, we would never harm, vivisect, a monkey, a dog, a guinea pig for our benefit. We would find other ways to heal our wounds, heal our bodies. But the healing of the mind is something totally different. That healing gradually takes place if you are with nature, with that orange on the tree, and the blade of grass that pushes through the cement, and the hills covered, hidden, by the clouds.” Jiddu Krishnamurti
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” J.K.
“When one loses the deep intimate relationship with nature, then temples, mosques and churches become important.” J.K.
Excellent piece full of thoughtfulness. I think we probably don’t fully realize where we are going when we propose the development of a sustainable culture. Obviously many people flat out oppose the concept. But even those of us who believe in it may not be grasping the full implications. I certainly am not, but I am at least finding myself standing at the abyss looking down into the crazy changes of society and nature and realizing, holy cow. One interesting perspective to ponder is what kind of changes are implied to the meaning of virtue in a sustainable culture. For example, it has been written that the virtues of sustainability—character traits that are conducive to promoting environmental sustainability— are temperance, simplicity, farsightedness, attunement, and humility. Not so common in mainstream America, eh? Throw in care, compassion, non-maleficence, restitutive justice, and ecological sensitivity as character traits and you start seeing that some profound changes will have to occur in culture to nurture such traits. Maybe we have to go back in history a long ways, when certain other traits oriented to religion were in place, to find some common ground about human behavior. Unquestioned piety to imaginary friends is practiced all over the world but how about devotion to sustainability duties and practices, how would that work and how would it feel and would the hearts and souls of our young people enjoy that reality? What does it take to even approach nature with wonder, openness, attentiveness, aesthetic sensibility and love? What reinforces such approaches in modern life? What will appear—and how—to be forces that reinforce? The challenges are significant unless viewed as incremental achievements over time, as behavior responds to changes and all evolves in various directions, but of course time is something we often feel we no longer have, faced with catastrophic consequences in our atmosphere and other physical breakdowns. But none of our virtues are going to change quickly, they just don’t do that. What young people are doing right now anticipates what is coming, slowly if at all. Pretty wild.
As I’ve been navigating my own tortured path between the shortcomings of environmentalism and the shortcomings of capitalism, this is exactly the type of insight and perspective that helps everything snap into focus. Kudos, Mr. Curtis White.