A Demon Haunted World

March 31, 2016 § 14 Comments

She picks up a stick. Her two year old hands are pristine, without callouses. Standing straight up she begins to walk forward on the path that leads along a ridge line deep into the forest. On uneven ground her steps still betray a clumsiness, but she overwhelms her lack of experience with exuberance and then turns to see me walking a few steps behind her.

“Dada get a big stick?”

She wants me to use a hiking stick as well. Last year I would carry her in a hiking pack, and I would use a large stick for support as I navigated slopes and downed tree trunks. Now she imitates the habit using the small bit of hickory in her hand, poking the ground with it as she walks, and she expects me to do so as well.

“You want me to find a hiking stick?”
“Uh huh.”
“How about this one?”

Leaning over I pick up a bowed piece of a fallen branch and proceed to snap off the twigs that jut from it in crooked tangles. It is a brittle piece of wood and suffices as more of an accessory than anything, but my daughter is happy that we are now both equipped for our walk. She turns once more down the path. A two year old girl takes confident steps with her hiking stick in one hand, and a plastic pink magic wand in the other. We are going out in search of fairies, and she flat refuses to embark on such an adventure without her wand.

Economic collapse finds itself a popular plot device across a broad spectrum of the internet. Those who anticipate such a collapse monitor the details of international trade, noting the ups and downs of stock and bond markets, currency values, volatility and shipping indices. Economic collapse is one of those concepts that is out the door and around the world generating hype, fear, and sales of pocket knives before anyone who would take the time to explore its value can even settle into an armchair. As with so many other premises and cliches we are bombarded with, most people take for granted that the economy is even a thing.

In 1776 Adam Smith published his magnum opus, “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” in which Smith establishes the now firmly entrenched and wholly mythical notion that barter societies preceded the invention of money, which was an inevitable progression due to its efficiency at facilitating trade. In “Nations,” Smith also establishes the idea that the economy is even a thing that exists and that can be studied. Of course, it will be men like himself that are capable of doing the studying and imparting their wisdom onto the world. It is quite a ruse, if you think about it, inventing a specter and then inventing the business of studying it.

When we speak of “the economy,” what are we even talking about? The Dow Jones Industrial? The S&P 500? Or are we merely speaking of some amalgamation of the habits and behaviors of humans which combine to provide for our daily acquisition of needs? It may seem silly to question because it is such a prevalent notion in this culture, but for the majority of human existence, there was no economy. It was an idea that had to be invented, and now, there are whole academic wings dedicated to the maintenance of the idea, as well as sections in newspapers and channels on television focused solely on its changing winds. Those who lord over such institutions have their charts and maps and a host of methods for describing the economy to everyone else. At times, they speak of their trade as a science, which would lead one to believe that the thing which they observe is predictable, that they could establish some level of capable control over it. At other times, the economy is a wild thing, and it moves and thrashes of its own chaotic will like a storm squall.

So people watch the signs. They generate charts. They consult the experts. Some believe that the economy, despite its tantrums, is an all loving God that will always rise again, and so they tithe. Others believe the economy is a false idol set to feast on the souls of the avaricious or the merely ignorant, and so they prepare.

As someone who long ago came to the conclusion that the civilized method of human organization is one that is always bound to fail, I have many times put forth the suggestion that we need to transition into living arrangements that do not rely on the creation of cities. This is all to say, I have an anti-civilzation philosophy, which to the uninitiated perhaps seems extreme or absurd. Consider quickly, this definition of civilization offered by wikipedia:

A civilization is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms (typically, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment by a cultural elite. Civilizations are intimately associated with and often further defined by other socio-politico-economic characteristics, including centralization, the domestication of both humans and other organisms, specialization of labor, culturally ingrained ideologies of progress and supremacism, monumental architecture, taxation, societal dependence upon farming as an agricultural practice, and expansionism.

To be against civilization is not to be in favor of some inhumanity towards others, but simply to believe that urban development, infinite growth, ecological destruction, social stratification, agriculture, etc. are ultimately unsustainable pursuits that are dooming our possibility of existing very far into the future. Further, the anthropocentrism inherent in such societies results in the widespread extirpation of the other beings with whom we share this planet.

Suggesting that we abandon, once and for all, the project of civilization is often met with a buffet of criticisms. That civilization gave us the sciences, and the sciences – usually now expressed simply as Science! – gave us a candle in an otherwise dark, demon haunted world, is usually proffered as reason enough for humanity to continue on a civilized trajectory. Critics of anti-civ ideas would have us believe that as primitive people we lived in constant fear of disembodied spirits that stalked and haunted us, manifesting as sickness and death that we could not otherwise explain. Science! they claim, was a great demon slayer that has brought illumination in the form of germ theory and biology, and thanks to optics of all kinds, both micro and telescope, we can see that the universe both minute and macro is not subject to god or djinn, not spirit or elemental but merely to the wind of a grand mechanical clock of subatomic particles and fundamental forces.

What light! It bathes us in such cleansing luminance! Fear not as you walk through the world sons of Ptolemy and daughters of Hypatia!

Now check your stocks. There are movements in the markets. How is your 401K?

More is happening in the space around you than you can possibly imagine. Your body is equipped with various sensory abilities that allow you to gather information about the world around you, and this information is used to generate a picture of existence that you as a biological entity can use to go forth and attain your survival. This picture exists in your mind only, and it is further shaped and formed by your particular biological makeup, as well as the cultural programming that you have been inculcated with since birth.

The world you see is not the world I see, let alone, is not the world an owl, or a butterfly, or a snap pea sees. Human societies have a habit of claiming that through their sciences that have been able to package and interpret reality as it is. The fun sets in when we notice that each of these societies that has claimed such a handle on reality have all, in fact, had different descriptions of reality.

Again, more is happening around us than we could know. We are filtering. We are constructing from the pieces we capture. We are naming and simplifying and manufacturing volumes of symbols. In a sense, we must do so so as not to be crippled by the overwhelming weight of all that we experience. But ultimately, more is not included in our picture of the world than is included. The cutting room floor actually contains more reality than the final film playing out in our heads.

It is this understanding that stays my hand when others might wave theirs in dismissal of the disembodied phenomena that live outside of the lens we in the modern industrial world currently use to view our surroundings. Those who fear the crumbling of the city walls for what hordes of demons might come rushing in like a torrent to corrupt our understandings so finely crafted over centuries of weighing and measuring might do well to look around and see which demons already stalk the streets and halls. We have traded one set of lesser gods for another. You many not make offerings to the spirits of rain after holding the dry dirt in your fingers, but your faith in tomorrow’s full stomach might have you watching for a little green triangle to come drifting across a stock ticker. Where a few centuries ago a geomancer may have cast a chart that relied on the anima mundi – or soul of the Earth – for its answers, today’s economists are numerologists drawing meaning from the staggered lines that connect disparate values of commodities and currencies, hoping to tease from it all some prediction about future well being.

Am I attempting to claim that germs do not exist? Of course not. Am I attempting to claim that science has produced nothing of value? Of course not. I am simply suggesting that civilized life has not rid the world of demons, but merely shifted the demons we concern ourselves with. Priests have not gone out of fashion, to be sure, they just wear a different costume and spin incantations of a new variety. This class of priests extends far beyond the realm of economics, and the demons they promise to exorcise can be found anywhere uncertainty and fear have taken root. The simple fact is that life is a dangerous pursuit, and we all enter into it with a debt. We owe our lives and will all be held to account sooner or later. If we do not create cultures capable of accepting this most basic truth, we will invariably create cultures that attempt to mitigate our fear of death with palliatives. The palliative du jour in our particular civilization is technological domination of the ecological systems of the Earth, and it is this behavior that is responsible for the variety of cataclysms now unfolding globally. Sea ice melt, top soil loss, forest die offs, oceanic dead zones, mass extinction of species, climatic disruption; all have now long passed the formative stage and are well underway.

But so afraid of the dark beyond the city gates, the civilized world clings to their neon gods. They pray to markets and justice, progress and innovation. The Maya may have found it prudent to sacrifice some humans, perhaps by throwing them into a cenote or by letting the blood of a Pok-ta-tok victor to replenish the vigor of the tree of life. We modern civilized are far more sophisticated, and instead sacrifice the salamander, the Ash tree, the island chain, the clean flowing river, the indigenous tribe, or the global poor.

If we refuse to defecate in the river because we consider the water sacred and believe it contains within it a spirit of its own, does it matter? The water runs clean. If we continue to clear cut jungles so as to mine for rare Earth metals using diesel fuel and laborers fed mono-crops all because we believe that technology will somehow repair the wounds we have inflicted on the living planet, can we really claim that our demon free world is now safer?

She kicks up leaves as she walks.

“Shh!” I crouch low, squatting on my hams and I tap my ear with a forefinger. “Listen.” My daughter emulates my posture and I cannot help but smile. She looks out into the mass of trees before us. I whisper when I ask her if she sees any fairies, and she whispers her replies.

“Yes.”
“How many?”
“Two fairies.”
“What color are they?”
“Blue.”

The afternoon sunlight is gold as it falls all around us. We stay there a while and I tell her that we must not disturb the fairies. We tell them that we are not there to do them any harm. We are nice people, we assure them. We hope that they are safe in the forest and we wish them well in their endeavors. After all, the forest can also be home to goblins, which is why I am glad my daughter had the foresight to bring her wand.

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§ 14 Responses to A Demon Haunted World

  • […] posted from PrayforCalamityby […]

  • In the purest sense, economics tracks energy flows and relationships in an environment. All ecosystems have some balance of energy flows ongoing, how many predator to how many prey, oscillating fairly regularly in a balanced and successful ecosystem. Homo Sap economics got transformed by the development of Ag and then numerical counting systems to account for production, and then monetary systems to distribute the resources. It’s still about energy flow and relationships though.

    RE

    • td0s says:

      Applying this definition, it becomes meaningless. If you and I share a bag of chips, is that “the economy?” What about two buddies fishing, is that “the economy?” If anyone doing anything is “the economy,” then it can be diluted into nothingness.

      • No, sharing a bag of chips is not the economy, and neither is 2 people fishing.

        The economy we live in is all the things we depend on to share the chips or go fishing. To share the chips we need money to buy them from a store that sells them after getting them off a truck that delivered them from a factory that produced them. To go fishing we ride in the car that we fill with gas that was delivered to the convenience store from the refinery which got the oil from a well that was fracked in Williston, ND.

        The fish lives in its own economy, depending on the smaller fish it eats which live off the bugs they catch which were hatched from eggs in a pile of manure from a goat on your farm.

        When you catch the fish, it leaves it’s economy and becomes part of yours when you eat it.

        RE

      • I pasted this debate over to the parallel discussion thread on the Diner Forum to see if others have their opinions on what an Economy is or means.

        http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/index.php/topic,6903.msg100750.html#new

        RE

      • td0s says:

        The greater point is that its an amorphous package of relationships and behaviors that is ultimately meaningless. There is no hard line on either side of which you have a definitive set of activities which are or are not “the economy.”

      • It is abstract but I do not think meaningless, the economy is a metabolism of sorts; the sum total of all energy exchanges within the human world. The concept is arbitrary and abstract, it is a short hand or contrivance to describe a process or activity. The origin of the concept is from the Greeks I think, at least I know Aristotle wrote about it anyway.

  • This is especially meaningful to read today, as this morning I walked through one of the last forests in our “rural” “urban growth area” and cried as i gazed at this society of trees, undergrowth, and wildlife, knowing what will befall it very soon, as the ‘dozers will come and rip and savage this beautiful ecosystem for more clustered, supposedly “affordable” housing, while the working class is driven out due to high rents and influx of rich dot.com-ers and landed gentry. For 20+ years I have tried to talk with the “civilized” people here to STOP the carnage – tried to educate them what a wetland and forest is – and what they do – for us and for life itself. never once have they listened. “civilization” is breaking my heart – and i am but a speck of sand in the microcosm of all affected beings on this blue planet in space – floating in space, itself a microcosm of galaxies and universes we can’t even begin to dream.

    Thank you for your thoughts and experiences – they are a comfort in the weight of all this destruction. Your words are always like true north; they help me to bear it – this idea of “economy” that destroys life itself.

  • Robert Bowyer says:

    Many years back, looking for answers to the Who Am I conundrum, I had decided to take some University courses to hopefully broaden my perspective. Indeed. In one course, probably Anthropology 101, we were discussing civilization and cities in particular. The Prof suggested both were merely an experiment. He said nothing was conclusive yet about the permanence of either structure. It was still to be decided and time will tell. Having bought into and been another one of those programed by the world view model of endless progress I was taken aback. It was a life altering ‘ah ha’ moment. Thirty five years later I still remember our discussion and have watched with interest, and perhaps some melancholic amusement, our supposed journey of ongoing progress and the assumptions that support it. Looks like the way we are going the experiment may reach its end much sooner than I would have imagined those many years ago. Thanks for the thought invoking read. And personally, I prefer spending time with the faeries then passing time with an economist. Bring on the night stars.

    • td0s says:

      Thanks for reading. The stars were brilliant last night, and as i stood in the chill air looking at them, i thought, “do those who preach progress and life beyond the stars even like the stars?”

  • […] this article at the Psychology Table inside the […]

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