Discuss: Calling All Fanatics
In principle, I agree with Jensen. We ARE murdering the planet, if we haven’t done so already (see Bill McKibben’s “EAARTH” for a compelling and traumatizing argument for the latter claim).
But we don’t live “in principle.” We each live in complex realities of interrelationships and dependencies, including the complex reality of our own thoughts and feelings. And so adopting a single linear approach—“RESIST!” is likely to backfire quickly, and the first casualty will be our own peace of mind, as we become more and more frustrated, bitter, and hateful.
Instead, we need a more complex and nuanced coping strategy, more adapted to the actual complexity of our daily lives and relationships. My own recipe for this challenge is to develop strategies that skillfully combine Vertical Healing—healing of body, mind, and spirit—with Horizontal Healing—healing of self, community, and planet. A unilateral focus on Vertical Healing will turn us into self-indulgent bliss puppies, sitting in a lotus position while the planet burns around us; a unilateral focus on Horizontal Healing—neglecting our own emotional state—will turn us into bitter, angry, frustrated, and hateful people, ignored or avoided by all around us. But a skillful mix of the two can create the next Gandhi, the next King, the next Mandela, or the next Wangari Maathai—self-integrated, planet-healing bodhisattvas. And THAT is what we need, not more angry fist-shakers.
I appreciate Derrick Jenson’s call to action. I think there are several reasons why American’s are hard to mobilize. One is that we have been infused in a culture of personal choice, so that simple doable things become issues of individual choice instead of group decisions that would move us closer to a livable planet for future generations. For instance, it is quite easy to air dry clothes year round here in Montana, but not many are committed to it. They haven’t made the leap to joining forces with their neighbors and community members. They are still in the thinking mode of one person, one family.
Further, I think we have trouble mobilizing ourselves because we have been taught though many cultural messages to expect to see results from our actions, often immediately. I hear and see in print the statement “I don’t know what difference I can make” all the time. I think this translates to “I don’t know what I can do that will guarantee a result” (or at least one I can see). OUr form of capitalism has taught us to expect and seek immediate gratification and results. But activism, like all other endeavors of the heart, is not like that. It’s the long haul, it’s knowing you may NOT see any visible result for a long time, or even in your lifetime. I love Lily Yeh’s quote, in response to the question “What should I do?” Her answer: “Do something.”
Finally, I appreciate those, including Derrick Jenson, who are brave enough to call this moment an emergency. It is, and we need to respond as though everything was at stake, because everything IS at stake.
Our planet cannot forever support a growing human population, no matter how self-integrated, planet-healing, or mindful we are. The biggest kindness an individual can bestow in their lifetime is to resist the urge to procreate beyond replacement.
As an environmental lawyer and professional classical musician, Derrick’s piece cut to the core and caused me considerable self-doubt. Is performing the music of Bach a frivolity when the need for environmental action is so great? Perhaps. But what if the only thing that reaches a deadened world is our music and art?
I’m reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s quote: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” I’m reminded of Vedran Smajlović, the cellist of Sarajevo, who as much as any writer or activist touched people’s consciousness.
I’m reminded of this wonderful essay by violinist Karl Paulniak: “[Music] is not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.”
If we do not celebrate that which is beautiful about life, both in nature and humanity, what is the point of preservation? If humans hasten their own demise, would not the earth be better off? Is it not, at the end of the day, as much about us as it is the oiled dolphins of the Gulf coast?
And yes, dammit, we who work for and care about the earth should do more. In the face of this catastrophe, I identify as much with H.L. Mencken who said “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” We are past time for raising the black flag.
But who will join us?
Perhaps that is Derrick’s real message. Not that the activists are insufficiently active, but that we are insufficiently powerful and our message is not being heard.
I am trying to reconcile Derrick’s passionate plea with my own inner sense that my well-being and that of others is less to be found in the law than in the arts. And yes, the real fear, as Tom Auer wrote in the comments is that “we’ve lost agency and nothing we do will matter.” Perhaps it is that above all that we must overcome whatever our chosen work.
Here’s Karl again: “If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
I always enjoy hearing that others are invisibly standing beside me in my journey and struggle through this life, and what I have always seen as my life’s purpose. Of all of the comments, I think that Bob Vance’s inspire me the most to go on, and give me a little more juice to struggle my hardest.
I feel very strongly that our culture is killing the planet. But what can I do about it? I’m as caught up in this way of life as anyone else, only now I’m really starting to think about the consequences. I live in my air conditioned house and drive my car and I work in a stupid ass luxury automotive accessory shop; how do I get out of it? What can I possibly do to make a difference? It seems so hopeless…
I’m hearing the same tired old voices calling for us to be “peaceful” and “not shake our fists” that I always hear after one of Jensen’s essays.
You still don’t get it, do you.
I don’t think you’re mentally deficient, though. I just think you haven’t learned to make the leap. You’re like any other human being, only believing what is right in front of your face, because we’re a visual species and must be guided by our eyesight. (I wonder sometimes how that translates for blind people. Maybe it explains why their other senses become sharper—to perceive that-which-is right in front of them even though they can’t see it.)
So if someone busts into your house and threatens you and yours with immediate extinction, naturally you’re going to do what it takes to make them back off. Sometimes acquiescing helps. Sometimes begging helps.
But sometimes you just have to hit the bastard. And I just *bet* that despite all your admonitions for peacefulness and your singing “Kumbaya” over and over and over… if you had to hit the bastard to save your family, you would do it.
Now you need to extrapolate this concept to cover the entire planet. The planet is your home too. More to the point, you are a part of the planet, literally a cell in an organ of the part of its body that is living.
There’s a cancer in the system. It isn’t humanity so much as it is one of humanity’s ideas which has spiraled way out of control. But it is a cancer, and it will kill its host—including you, and everyone you care about. Now mount that immune response.
Don’t just sit there and do nothing because you’re “peaceful.” Immune cells do not sit still.
Hopefully that sinks in. I doubt it, but I can hope. Hope may be all we have left.
It is the advocates of violence who “just don’t get it”.
Not only are we each a cell in the body of Gaia, we are each a hologram reflecting both the beauty and the dysfunction of the Whole.
What you don’t “get” is that the cancer is not out there somewhere where you can attack it as a foreign body. The cancer is within you. If you attack another you destroy yourself. That’s not an immune response, it’s chemotherapy.
The immune system always acts to restore harmony. Western medicine, like warfare and the actions of fanatics, creates a terrible amount of collateral damage.
You cannot defeat the real enemy with anger or outrage, because those responses are two of the many faces of the enemy. Every true warrior knows that the only way to win a fight is from a place of inner peace and the goal is never to destroy the other but to restore harmony.
That’s not “kumbaya” - that’s universal wisdom.