The Twilight of Our Tale: Part Three

April 16, 2015 § 27 Comments

“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”

– Alan Watts

Rains have come hard. Explosions of thunder pull me into a state of half dreaming amid the depths of night. Come dawn, the morning light is not blue, but a thin coffee brown as it fills our cabin. After making breakfast on the woodstove, the millions of rattling hooves racing across our steel roof begin to slow, and then peter out completely. I pull on my overalls and slip on my muck boots to head up to the front of our land where the chickens are no doubt waiting to be let loose into their yard. After gathering eggs, I walk to a back field to scatter our wood ash, and it is there that I pick the first oyster mushrooms of the year off of a wet tree stump.

Soon I am wandering about our land, drawn by the sprouting sea of trout lilies to venture into the pockets and corners where I rarely step. Water runs in the wet weather creeks. Toothwort flowers paint the ground with the faintest flecks of pink. A downed hickory branch has me taking high steps and bracing myself on a maple trunk. My hand feels the rough surface. I move to a shagbark hickory, and drag my fingers down his body. Shaped like tongues of fire, draped down the tree’s mass like plumage, for a moment I think of a rooster’s hackles. I wonder if bats are sleeping under the shagbark’s skin.

Mayapples have just barely begun to poke through the clay, and I look for the Sparassis mushroom which blooms in the same place every year, and looks like a cross between cauliflower and coral, but I am too early for her on this morning. Moisture hangs in the air, the slightest humidity, as I listen to the water in the creek and the songbirds and the wind. I find myself overwhelmed. Here in this moment I am surrounded by – no – interwoven in what I can only call truth. I feel sadness and euphoria and altogether present. All at once it becomes very clear to me that our salvation lies waiting for us in these fecund and wild places, and in the next moment, I think about just how many of them will be destroyed today. As the scent of moss centers me, in region after region the scent of diesel portends doom where bulldozers and feller-bunchers and generators are all rumbling into motion across the globe.

What does it mean to know a thing? So much of what we think we know boils down to a complex interaction between an onslaught of various symbols, each of those brought into being by human minds, and then let loose to transmute into an ever evolving web of concepts and ideas, each only as meaningful as would be allowed by the human mind receiving them.

There is a stark difference between what we perceive subjectively with our senses and what we can communicate with our words. My experience of walking through the forest this morning cannot be communicated no matter how much I try. Similee and metaphor offer attempts at emphasizing the color or form of that which I saw or touched, but without seeing or touching yourself there is no possible way for me to truly translate my experience to you. Words themselves are symbolic, and even though you may say “mountain” or “river” the picture that generates in my mind of a mountain or river will not be the picture you had in your head when you spoke. The picture in my head will almost certainly bear no resemblance to the mountain that you spent a month backpacking upon or the river that you went fishing in with your grandfather at age eleven.

Mountains and rivers are fairly fixed concepts too, so imagine the disparity in our minds’ interpretations of such notions as “republican,” “wealthy,” “patriotic,” “good,” “happy,” “sane,” or “environment.” It must be true that a great bulk of the time we are not even speaking of the same things when we are speaking of the same things.

The world is being killed. The living skin of the planet on which we reside is being killed. It is people doing the killing and they are doing it for reasons they often can’t really comprehend. They are told that they need to do what they are doing, and the words used to convince them are symbols and representations of concepts which are even murkier symbols and representations of…of what really? It doesn’t even matter. It is noise. Human noise. A cacophony of the howling mad all yelling in a disharmonic unison. It is a story that is just good enough to convince people to point guns at each other while they command those others to work.

It is a story that means nothing to forests, rivers, mountains, and oceans.

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!
Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!
Moloch Whose ear is a smoking tomb!

“Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the mind!”

From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Our delusion spins away from center caught in the centrifugal force of entropy. We are animals endowed with functions of body and brain to move through our environment successfully navigating the challenging and changing conditions before us. Somewhere along the way people began altering the environment instead of navigating it. Further along the way people began killing those who warned against the pitfalls of such behavior. Today we try to maintain sanity as we dance with a demon under carnival lights, pretending to be one thing then another then another with the different phases of the day, just hoping to placate the beast with every coin we drop into a parking meter, with every late fee we write a check to pay, with every punch of the time clock when we would rather be anywhere else.

Won’t someone please come and scatter the cinders of this hell? Our prayers are answered by an automated system. Press one to leave a message. Press two to hear these options again.

We know that the system is insane, that it doesn’t care for us, that it is killing the planet, and that it grinds our spirits into meal along the way. So why retreat further into the isolation and alienation that is laid out for us like a deathbed? Why spend so much time logging on to forums and chat boards and reading the assessments of strangers? Are you are seeking a friend, or maybe a sage? Are you looking for someone to finally tell you that we all in unison are going to stop playing the game on the count of three?

Here is the best I can do for you: Log off. Sign out. Shut down the tablet, the phone, the laptop. Sell your television, or hell, just destroy it so it doesn’t poison the next person. I know that existing within this paradigm is painful. I know the weight and misery that dealing with all of the requirements forced upon you by other people, faceless and nameless and uncaring, can generate. But retreating into the wrinkles of the Leviathan’s pale smile is not the cure. We cannot rescue and resuscitate our spirits when our blood courses with alcohol, Prozac, and corn syrup. We cannot slay the loneliness in doors, tribeless, illuminated by the dim glow of a screen.

Further, you need to stop looking for a plan. Stop trying to figure out how to make the workable work or the unsustainable sustain. Society is the demon. Civilization is the leviathan. The wise of Middle Earth knew that no good purpose could be achieved with the dark lord’s ring, it had to be destroyed in the fires where it came into being. Society is not redeemable. It cannot be made good.

So let up a big Bronx cheer to all of the politicians and bureaucrats and high-minded engineers and NGO white collars who continually try to sell you their version of the scheme by which the demon can be bridled and made to do the bidding of the righteous. One moment’s glance at a news feed will turn up hundreds of these schemes, littered with plans for progressive taxation, solar panels, deregulation, and geo-engineering. They are wasting what precious little time might remain, and worse, they are convincing you that you are powerless and that they are powerful. The truth is that they are the overseers of this plantation, and you alone hold the key to your liberation.

So I toast to the scofflaws, the turnstyle jumpers, the shoplifters and the squatters. I raise my glass to the tribal warriors who set RCMP vehicles on fire while defending their homes and to the ELF ninjas who by night drive spikes into trees and pour concrete into bulldozer exhaust pipes. I sing “solidarity” to the black clad youth who set ATM’s on fire and to the white haired granny who flips the police the bird from the bus window as she makes her way to knitting group. If society is irredeemable, we must be anti-social, and breathe the liberated breath that comes with finally giving ourselves the permission to feel such things. We can choose how we manifest such feelings into action, and in no way do I expect anyone to do anything they deem inappropriate for their set of circumstances. Your individual resistance can be poetry, it can be stealing a box of pens from work, it can be the time-honored tradition of carving your anger into a bathroom wall. All that matters is that we never let the demon in, not completely, and that the part of us that we keep for ourselves remains wild and untouchable

But may I humbly suggest, that we need to touch the Earth. We need to sit in circles with our tribes. We need to experience the world subjectively through our many senses, and to know that our subjective experience of the land around us contains more truth and validity than all of the photographs and recordings humming away on spinning hard drives in an office tower somewhere. We have to value the direct experience of our individual lives and try however we might to cross the divides of time to remember that which the demon and his acolytes have beaten, and raped, and killed to make us forget.

We are the earth made animate, and our brothers and sisters, the animals and forests and rivers and stars, are crying out to us to stop. To please just stop.

I started my series of essays last fall asking, “What are we to do when we simultaneously need a thing and yet are destroyed by it?” The house, civilization, our domestication, the story that we were told and that we re-tell every day, all were supposed to be tools to serve us. It is clear beyond doubt that this is no longer the case if it ever was. We have become the tools of our tools. It is time to bury them. It is time for a new tale to explain who we are, and we are each one of us free to write that tale, and to sing it to our children.

This is me signing off. I have said what I have to say, and it has been hard on my body and spirit to do so. As I type these words the sun now shines down on the red buds and magnolia flowers opening at the tips of the tree branches outside my home. My daughter is playing and I am clicking at keys. The asymmetry of my bent body ignoring the wonders of life in this moment is glaring. Look at your world. Enter into it. For the love of God, go outside, be in the place where you are, and connect with it. Better still, see where it needs defending and defend it. On the count of three.

One. Two. Three…

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Doomstead Diner Podcast

April 7, 2015 § 7 Comments

My writing has of late been cross posted on the blog, Doomstead Diner, and last week the folks who run that site had me Skype in for a chat. Here it is in two parts:

Part One

Part Two

The Twilight of Our Tale: Part Two

April 1, 2015 § 20 Comments

Part 2

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

-Kurt Vonnegut

Daffodils have thrust their green blades through the warming soil, and despite the softly falling sleet tapping on the still barren branches in the forest all around me, spring is here to stay. With spring came the thaw, and last week my gravel driveway was subsumed by the clay Earth under the weight of my truck. Life lessons are everywhere if we listen. Watching hundreds of dollars worth of heavy limestone sink into mud tells me something about man and his works, about diminishing returns, entropy, and desire.  It also tells me that if we had no capacity for laughter, we would likely have all died long ago.

This is going to be a year of stone for me. A friend helped me acquire many tons of reclaimed, hand hewn brownstone which I will now have the pleasure of carrying and stacking one at a time around the perimeter of our home. It was not long ago that I finished filling the trench atop which our cabin is built with gravel, all carried into place by hand in five gallon buckets.

Such work gives one time to think.  And to re-think.  And then to think some more.

One of my favorite writers of the current era is John Michael Greer. He posts a weekly essay at his website thearchdruidreport, and he posts a monthly essay on his more esoteric blog thewellofgalabes. Aside from his amazing ability to step back from the time we are living in, and to try to view the world through a wider temporal lens, he also has been keen enough to brave the topic of our subjective perception of reality. As the edifice of civilization weakens, such ideas are of great importance.  From his piece “Explaining the World.

“Most people nowadays think of the world as a static reality, over which time flows like water over rocks on the bed of a mountain stream, and to this way of thinking the rocks and the water are both “out there” existing by themselves without reference to any human beings who may or may not be observing them.

The interesting thing about this sort of thinking is that scientists pointed out a long time ago that it’s wholly incorrect. The world you experience is not “out there;” what’s “out there,” as any physicist will tell you, is an assortment of subatomic particles and energy fields. Your senses interact with those particles and fields in idiosyncratic ways, triggering electrochemical flows in your nervous systems, and those flows produce in your mind – we’ll discuss what that last word means later on – a flurry of disconnected sensory stimuli, which you then assemble into an image or representation.”

What Greer then goes on to extrapolate is that, in essence, the world as you experience it is a story you tell yourself based on cultural, biological, and sensory factors. Philosopher Thomas Metzinger delves into the same territory with his book, “The Ego Tunnel,” in which he ultimately postulates that a self does not objectively exist. As a biological entity of significant complexity and mobility, traveling through an unpredictable environment, we require an internal sense of wholeness to navigate the events we are presented with. The combination of a sensory image of the world before us combined with the perception of a unified center that is ínside as opposed to outside, creates what Metzinger calls, the Ego Tunnel.

Metzinger’s work is involved and discusses our perception of time and where we reside within it, and ultimately describes the same phenomenon Greer wrote about from a neurological perspective.  The long and short of such theories is that, we are a story that we tell ourselves.  Most of this story is delusion.

The more in depth explanation is that our perceptions of ourselves and of the world in which we live are representations. You are a story that you tell yourself. The world around you is a story that you tell yourself. When you become despondent with the state of things, wondering why people aren’t rising up and changing the world for the better in light of just how bad the facts of our situation are, remember that by and large, we are not motivated by facts so much as we are motivated by stories. Remember as well that stories, like all of the creations of human beings that are intended to serve us as tools, are subject to the laws of diminishing returns. This is to say, they have shelf lives of usefulness. When a story people tell themselves no longer serves them under the conditions in which they exist, and when more effort goes into preserving the story than people gain in benefits from believing it, the story becomes useless, and the people who are wholly bound to it, who benefit the most from it, can become dangerous.  This applies to individuals as well as to entire societies.

Writing of a demon that destroys souls and leaves vacuous skinwalkers wandering the landscape in search of fried cheese and alcohol is certain to anger some readers. In our culture, objectivity is king, and any suggestion of a non-quantifiable phenomenon is treasonous to the dogma established and maintained by the church of math and science that proclaims their order has brought us all of the good we see in the world – medicine, computers, Instagram – and that those who promulgate non-measurable ideas are the source of all that is evil – superstition, war, fear, etc.  They would say my talk of demons is nonsense that only obfuscates the truth of our circumstances.

I claim no objective truth. I make no promises that the right Geiger counter or infared camera will detect the fell beast behind the persistence of the system. But I do humbly suggest that the story we have been told – and have ourselves been retelling – is a story that is doing more harm than good. As evidence for my claim I present the tragedies unfolding in the world right now that are colliding in an exponentially more dangerous synthesis with every passing day.

Let’s be clear, the people responsible for acidifying the oceans, clear cutting the rainforests, and completely inundating our very blood and tissues with industrial fire retardants and other carcinogens are people who all subscribe to a particular story about themselves. It isn’t the people who tell themselves a story in which they are children of a mother Earth, bound by responsibilities to their ancestors, descendants, and land bases who are causing these traumas. It isn’t the people who tell a story in which the animals and the plants and the rivers are alive and sentient who are operating slaughterhouses, mono-cropping Round-Up Ready soy, or leeching coal ash into waterways.

We know which people do these things. We know the story that they tell themselves, because we are barraged with it. It is a hot iron brand that scars our hearts from birth or maybe before. We are hopelessly traumatized by and unflinchingly committed to this tale.

It goes like this:

We are the wisest ape, having discovered our place in an objective and material universe we set out conquering nature and are on a trajectory to move off toward colonizing the cosmos. Having beat back the jungles of irrational superstition we have ascended to the summit of being, as civilized and democratic individuals we have conquered our Hobbsian state of nature which was always nasty, brutish, and short. Our very nature is one of yearning for constant technological progression that consistently nets benefits in health, freedom, intellect, and ability.

But this is a tale, a myth, a television screenplay. As individuals we have been cast as characters, and we have lived the story so entirely for so long that we have forgotten that we dance about a thespians stage.

Nature cannot be conquered. Nature is not a thing apart from ourselves. We are spun of the same swatch of fabric as every tree, spider, moss, and pebble. Technological progress has brought us a body burden of toxicity and a land base that is struggling to survive, not to mention a near total erosion of personal autonomy. Behind every smart phone is a dragline, a smokestack, a poisoned waterway, and a whole mess of miserable human workers, shackled to cubicle or an assembly line while overseers look on, weapons aimed.  Not to mention the entire host of police, spies, and spooks all collecting every bit of data you generate should ever a case need to be manufactured to demonstrate your guilt.

And then there is us. We see ourselves as job titles, confused by shiny badges and expensive suits. Roles are internalized and we believe that police, and judges, and presidents are as real and immutable as rocks and rivers and trees. We forget that a throne is just a chair, and never even question the true nature of chairs. So as the world falls into chaos, as armies of maniacs establish oil empires, currency unions, and caliphates, we must remember that these are all just stories that have out lived their usefulness in a time of diminishing net energy and growing ecological catastrophe. This will be the hallmark of our age; a cacophony of myths from all corners of the globe parading into a Colosseum at the end of history, waging war to see who can stand as grand master of the steaming heap of slag and bones together they have wrought, all before the grand consequences of several millennia of civilization come torrenting down upon us like a deluge.

What story will be left standing to define who and what we are?  Stream live with the Google app. Vote for your favorite cultural delusion at #TeamBabylon.

Previously I wrote that a driving reason so many people daily scroll through blogs and forums and news feeds all reporting in on the latest horror stories civilization had to tell is because, they are in effect, hoping to come upon a plan. Maybe today will be the day some individual or group will have posted an effective guide as to how we can all finally come together and act to destroy the current hierarchies of power, end the needless daily violence doled out by agents of state and capital, and maybe even to reverse the ecological destruction that is wiping out innumerable species and habitats.

I wish I had that plan to offer, but I don’t.  I’m not sure that anyone could. This is an unsettling thought for many because we are so used to conceiving of problems as necessarily having solutions, as if both are cast simultaneously in a factory somewhere and the existence of one thus proves the existence of the other. Of course, when most people consider the totality of the crises bearing down on us, when they seek solutions, what they are really seeking are solutions that fit into the narrative of their current existence without disturbing its boundaries. This is to say, the solution must not involve too much discomfort, heartache, or death. It certainly must not call into question who we believe we are and what we believe we have been spending our entire lives or even our collective history doing.

Our blood is just too precious to spill. Our story is just too important forget, or God forbid, to erase.

So you, dear reader, my digital comrade, my friend unmet and so far away, are going to have to figure out how to endure. To persevere.

These times are bigger than you or I, and indeed, all times likely are. Remember, we are hunter gatherers who have been endowed by nature with a plethora of tools for navigating and thriving in the environment in which we evolved, and whether by some stroke of cosmic irony or demonic cruelty, we now live removed from the environment in which those particular tools serve us best. You exist as you do to successfully participate as a tribe member in an organic environment of subjective experience.  Instead you stand in line, you sit in traffic, you fill out the paperwork in duplicate before retiring to your domicile dominated by right angles to sit with your eyes open while advertisers spoon-feed you your dreams.  Awash in symbols and slogans and a depressing amount of pornography, is it any wonder that the bulk of the population requires some sort of stimulant or depressant or anti-depressant or anti-psychotic just to keep from lashing out?

To quote a bit of pop culture, “The odds are never in our favor.”

So I apologize, I have no plan for solving the massive and converging crises of age, but I do have some thoughts on how to persevere.  Every one of us is laden with emotional and psychological baggage, and as we move through ever more difficult and tragic circumstances it will not be of service to anyone to cling to old narratives and myths that have outlived their usefulness.  The work of finding a truer tale, a better tale, a story that we can tell ourselves that is healing and has the ability to carry us for generations will be difficult and will likely take a long, long time.  But we have to stop telling the wrong story.  The story we need to be telling is one we will all write together over the coming generations, and the process of altering from what is to what will be is likely to be heartwrenching and backbreaking for a long time to come.  For a beginning to be made, and one must be made, we must remember to catch ourselves in the moment when we demand that others keep up their end of the current tale, when we out of habit demand that they continue playing the old roles.  We cannot be afraid that if we walk away first, we will walk alone. The desire to end the current story is palpable, it percolates just beneath the surface.

In this moment we may not have the collective power to slay the demon, but dammit we can stop doing the heavy lifting of immiserating one and other for him simply by being so very careful about what we pretend to be.

Where Am I?

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