Category Archives: bearings
We close our 2018 voyage with a few passages from a 1993 essay by eco-theologian Thomas Berry, whose words resonate through the decades with ever increasing vibrancy. Images are Arborglyphs from the studio of Linda Everson.
The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.
This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.
Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.
We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. A disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.
The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.
We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.
Yet the universe is so bound into the aesthetic experience, into poetry and music and art and dance, that we cannot entirely avoid the implicit dimensions of the natural world, even when we think of art as “representational” or “impressionist” or “expressionist” or as “personal statement.” However we think of our art or literature, its power is there in the wonder communicated most directly by the meadow or the mountains or the sea or by the stars in the night.
Of special significance is our capacity for celebration which inevitably brings us into the rituals that coordinate human affairs with the great liturgy of the universe. Our national holidays, political events, heroic human deeds: These are all quite worthy of celebration, but ultimately, unless they are associated with some more comprehensive level of meaning, they tend toward the affected, the emotional, and the ephemeral. In the political and legal orders we have never been able to give up invocation of the more sublime dimensions of the universe to witness the truth of what we say. This we observe especially in court trials, in inaugural ceremonies, and in the assumption of public office at whatever level. We still have an instinctive awe and reverence and even a certain fear of the larger world that always lies outside the range of our human controls.
Here I would suggest that the work before us is the task, not simply of ourselves, but of the entire planet and all its component members. While the damage done is immediately the work of the human, the healing cannot be the work simply of the human any more than the illness of some one organ of the body can be healed simply through the efforts of that one organ. Every member of the body must bring its activity to the healing. So now the entire universe is involved in the healing of damaged Earth, more especially, of course, the forces of Earth with the assistance of the light and warmth of the sun. As Earth is, in a sense, a magic planet in the exquisite presence of its diverse members to each other, so this movement into the future must in some manner be brought about in ways ineffable to the human mind. We might think of a viable future for the planet less as the result of some scientific insight or as dependent on some socio-economic arrangement than as participation in a symphony or as renewed presence to the vast cosmic liturgy.
Many thanks to adventurous DP readers in over one hundred countries across this wounded earth; your messages, queries, soundings and bearings keep us going through the ever-deepening fog.
Onwards into 2019….
We are once again grateful to a DP correspondent for bringing the work of Rob Nixon to our attention, in particular his research on the environmentalism of the poor as recounted in Slow Violence. The book is on order (NOT from Amazon); for now, we turn to a 2011 interview which provides a concise summary of his core thesis. Images are from the studio of the Nigerian artist Jerry Buhari.
Amidst the disgraceful blather pumping through the sound system inside the former coal mine that served, perversely enough, as the assembly hall for COP 24, there have been a few sane voices. First, we relay the address of activist Greta Thunberg in its entirety; lucid, not a single word wasted, and cutting to the very heart of the matter.
Also present giving voice to a perspective equal to the challenges ahead: Extinction Rebellion activist Liam Geary Baulch. Images above and below derive from recent ER actions.
As for the discredited suits that jet around the world pretending to be the global “elite”, we strongly echo the words of Greta Thunberg, addressing their paralysis in the face of the Sixth Extinction:
Change is coming, whether you like it or not.
The real power belongs to the people.
A central theme for DP over the years: the violence we do to other life forms, and to our living earth, will eventually become manifest within our own bodies, hearts and brains. Such manifestations are inevitable, given that — despite our delusional protestations to the contrary — we are part of nature, and not lords over her.
Now comes artist Gillian Genser, whose generous, luminous presence in the face of tragic agonies was brought to our attention by a faithful DP reader, for which we are deeply grateful. What magnificent creations, birthed from Genser’s studio, at the cost of her own health and well-being!
The below testimony, first published elsewhere, is relayed below with permission from the author. Images are from her website, where her entire body of exquisite work, made from the memory of joy, can be studied and celebrated.
It is impossible to arrive at consensus over what we must collectively do when there is not even the dimmest outline of consensus regarding what is happening, or what part of our imaginary narrative is real. Many years ago, Philip K. Dick identified reality “as that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Yet strange beliefs become ever more fervent — transcendent, even — as the weight of factual reality slowly and oh so surely attains a crushing critical mass.
Now comes sociologist and political economist William Davies with an essay extrapolated from his recent book, Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World. His closing paragraphs, excerpted below. Images are from Alfredo Jaar’s 1984 project, Searching For K.
Nervous states have a way of resolving through nervous breakdowns.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
You know the rest.
On a day when the spirit of giving thanks, already strained by the historical realities of genocide and environmental exsanguination, distorts even further into the perverse frenzy known — fittingly enough — as Black Friday, we turn to the deep Indigenous wisdom of Sherri Mitchell with an excerpt from Sacred Instructions. Against the death-dance of consumption and commodification, she proposes a dance of life that begins simply, by listening to the one continuous song of the universe.
Images are from the Rockland, Maine studio of Eric Hopkins.
All the flap about the abysmal behavior of a pouting POTUS obscured deeper meanings surrounding the centennial of an armistice for a war that was supposed to end all wars. Of all the writing marking the occasion, an essay by William Vollmann in the Smithsonian best conveys the horrors of those years.
Brief excerpts below, with details from — and a source photograph for — John Singer Sargent’s painting, Gassed.
The recent release of a manipulated video to justify the exclusion of a journalist from the press corps provides yet more evidence that we have passed, possibly irretrievably, from a world of facts into a world of delusions, dreams and projection. The inability to distinguish between reality and fabrication suggests the presence of psychosis, whether at an individual level, or as evidenced in collective behaviors such as political rallies.
Now comes filmmaker Amanda Zackem, with excerpts from an interview in which she discusses her recent film with its title descending from an essay by Chris Hedges, who has been identifying critical pathologies within the American body politic for many years. On the big picture:
On gutting the Humanities within our education system:
On toxic masculinity:
The entire film is worth close viewing/listening, and is freely available on vimeo:
In the essay predating the film, Hedges refers to Dr. Joost Meerloo, in his pioneering research on the psychology of mass mind control, menticide, and brainwashing. Excerpts below, with images added by DP:
This week, we urge consideration of a timely and insightful commentary by historian Timothy Snyder, whose outstanding On Tyranny we featured in a previous post. Two salient excerpts below, with an image from Otto Dix.
The Nazis claimed a monopoly on victimhood. Mein Kampf includes a lengthy pout about how Jews and other non-Germans made Hitler’s life as a young man in the Habsburg monarchy difficult. After stormtroopers attacked others in Germany in the early 1930s, they made a great fuss if one of their own was injured. The Horst Wessel Song, recalling a single Nazi who was killed, was on the lips of Germans who killed millions of people. The second world war was for the Nazis’ self-defense against “global Jewry”.
The idea that the powerful must be coddled arose in a setting that recalls the United States of today. The Habsburg monarchy of Hitler’s youth was a multinational country with democratic institutions and a free press. Some Germans, members of the dominant nationality, felt threatened because others could vote and publish. Hitler was an extreme example of this kind of sentiment. Today, some white Americans are similarly threatened by the presence of others in institutions they think of as their own. Among the targets of the accused pipe bomber were four women, five black people and two Jews. Just as (some) Germans were the only serious national problem within the Habsburg monarchy, so today are (some) white Americans the only serious threat to their own republic.
Naturally, the president denies responsibility when people take him at his word and draw instead from the conspiracy thinking he himself spreads. Trump blames the press for attempts to murder members of the press. He seizes the occasion, as always, to present himself as the true victim. The facts hurt his feelings.
Trump and some of his supporters mount a strategy of deterrence by narcissism: if you note our debts to fascism, we will up the pitch of the whining. Thus Trump can base his rhetoric on the fascist idea of us and them, lead fascist chants at rallies, encourage his supporters to use violence, praise a politician who attacked a journalist, muse that Hillary Clinton should be assassinated, denigrate the intelligence of African Americans, associate migrants with criminality, run an antisemitic advertisement, spread the Nazi trope of Jews as “globalists”, and endorse the antisemitic idea that the Jewish financier George Soros is responsible for political opposition – but he and his followers will puff chests and swell sinuses if anyone points this out.