Category Archives: buoys

In Grace and Reverence

In recent years, the values embedded in a classical liberal arts education have come under sustained attack, cannibalized from within and degraded from all sides. Deep explorations of philosophy and art are considered worthless in the labor markets of the vast data mine that increasingly dominates every aspect of our economies, our behaviors and eventually our souls. In order to remain “competitive” in the global rat race, we must – or so the prevailing narrative goes – accept our fate as rats in the labyrinth of an inverted utopia, where we can no longer imagine the implications of our increasingly lethal inventions.

This toxic narrative sustains and justifies both market economies that increasingly reward a minuscule percentage of the world’s population and authoritarian political movements where even mild civic engagement is criminalized and suppressed in the name of “national security”. The stakes for a defense of the classical “arts of freedom” have never been higher; thus we were delighted to come across the lucid eloquence of Marilynne Robinson in a recent edition of the New York Review of Books. The entire essay is worthy of careful consideration from DP readers; we relay a couple of excerpts below.

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In the history of the West, for all its achievements, there is also a persisting impatience with the energy and originality of the mind. It can make us very poor servants of purposes that are not our own. A Benthamite panopticon would have radically reduced the varieties of experience that help to individuate us, in theory producing happiness in factory workers by preventing their having even a glimpse of the fact that there could be more to life. Censorship, lists of prohibited books, restrictions on travel, and limits on rights of assembly all accomplish by more practicable means some part of the same exclusions, precluding the stimulus of new thought, new things to wonder about. The contemporary assault on the humanities has something of the same objective and would employ similar methods. Workers, a category that seems to subsume us all except the idlest rich, should learn what they need to learn to be competitive in the new economy. All the rest is waste and distraction.

Competitive with whom? On what terms? To what end? With anyone whose vigor and good fortune allows her to prosper, apparently. With anyone who has done a clever thing we did not think of first. And will these competitors of ours be left to enjoy the miserable advantage of low wages and compromised health? And is there any particular reason to debase human life in order to produce more, faster, without reference to the worth of the product, or to the value of the things sacrificed to its manufacture? Wouldn’t most people, given an hour or two to reflect, consider this an intolerably trivial use to be put to, for them and their children? Life is brief and fragile, after all. Then what is this new economy whose demands we must always be ready to fill? We may assume it will be driven by innovation, and by what are called market forces, which can be fads or speculation or chicanery. Oh, yes, rowdy old capitalism. Let it ply its music.

A music scribbled, we imagine, in what Carl Sandburg once called “the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints”. Then in closing, Robinson writes:

We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence. God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism, or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough.

Then how to recover the animating spirit of humanism? For one thing, it would help if we reclaimed, or simply borrowed, conceptual language that would allow us to acknowledge that some things are so brilliant they can only be understood as virtuosic acts of mind, thought in the pure enjoyment of itself, whether in making a poem or a scientific discovery, or just learning something it feels unaccountably good to know. There is an unworldliness in the experience, and in what it yields, that requires a larger understanding than our terse vocabularies of behavior and reward can capture. I have had students tell me that they had never heard the word “beautiful” applied to a piece of prose until they came to us at the workshop. Literature had been made a kind of data to illustrate, supposedly, some graceless theory that stood apart from it, and that would be shed in a year or two and replaced by something post- or neo- and in any case as gracelessly irrelevant to a work of language as whatever it displaced. I think this phenomenon is an effect of the utilitarian hostility to the humanities and to art, an attempt to repackage them, to give them some appearance of respectability. And yet, the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we can have of what is possible in us.

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Another World Is Possible

Discredited “elites” dither and blather at COP 23 while nearby, activists take direct action against the largest open pit lignite coal mine in Europe. Relayed from their website:

THE FOREST     The Hambacher Forest is counted among one of the last remaining mixed forests with their unique ecosystems in Central Europe. Of its original 5,500 hectares, less than one tenth remains today. The Hambacher Forest was once called a ‘citizens’ forest’. Its history goes back several thousands of years – to the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. With its diversity of flora and fauna, the forest offers a habitat to a multitude of species including tawny owls, bats and dormice. In the remaining parts of the forest you will find Hornbeam and English oak that are over 300 years old. Many migratory bird species use the forest as a resting place on their journeys.

DEFORESTATION     The energy company RWE (back then Rheinbraun) bought the forest  from the surrounding parishes in 1978. Since then the forest is being cleared to make space for lignite extraction. Less than one tenth of the once 5,500 hectare forest remains today. Whereas deforestation is only permitted between October and March, RWE has been clearing forest illegally outside of this period in the past years. If the mine continues as planned the remaining forest will be destroyed within the next three years.

RESISTANCE     And this is where economic, political, and the interests of companies meet with resistance. Some people remain in the houses that RWE wants to bulldoze. Others occupy trees and plant vegetables in the soil designated as overburden. During nightly strolls, signage disappears and machines are freed of their electronics. Resistance has a decade-long history and includes projects against forced resettlement, surface damage and fine dust pollution. People interested in their environment and activists are standing up against the destruction with art exhibitions and bike demonstrations, orchard and meadow occupations and blockades of coal trains. This lead to a wave of repression against international activists. From searches to taking of DNA and imprisonment. Resistance continues regardless.

 

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Now comes a voice from the forest, relayed from Amy Goodman and Democracy Now, a voice that embodies the urgency, courage and resolve that has been largely absent among those engaged in the “official” conference:

RWE is a multi-international company, producing energy from lignite mining, traditionally, but they also have stone coal that they export from, for example, Colombia or China, where it also causes enormous damage also to indigenous people. They also have nuclear power plants. And now they have part of the company that does renewable energies, since it’s where they can make money from now. And the whole thing just works out for them, because they don’t have to pay the costs, but—the costs of the environmental destruction happening because of lignite mining.

They say what they do is legal and what—because it’s like legalized by democracy, so they say what they do is right and what we do here is illegal. And so, they asked the police to evict us, what they have done in the past. But for us, that’s a strong sign that the problem is the system we live in. So, if it’s legal for a company to destruct our whole planet, that means that it’s time to also resist against state power.

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid, because I’m here to fight. So, from the first day I came here, I knew that police can enter all the time. So, it gives me motivation to go on.

Regarding the proximity to COP:

That’s really a sign about how absurd it is that we believe that the people who were actually part of the people who caused this disaster, which is global warming, that we trust in them solving it, even though they are profiting from how the situation is right now, and that, actually, just some kilometers away from there, there’s the biggest CO2 source of all Europe. And yeah, for me, it seems really [hypocritical]. They’re sitting there and talking about global warming and climate justice, because—yeah, it really shows me that it’s time that we take responsibility for our own lives and that we change something and that we create a world which gives us the power to act, instead of hoping that other people will solve problems.

I also don’t believe in technical solutions. I think, like, there is a lot of hope in technical solutions, and it can really help us, but we will not stop destroying this planet if we don’t overcome capitalism and domination. And yeah, it’s definitely no—not a good idea to replace lignite mining with nuclear power. Both cause enormous damage. And for me, it’s one struggle that’s really important for me. I’m not just fighting against lignite mining, but I’m fighting against exploitation in general, and that means fighting against capitalism, and that means fighting against domination. And that’s why I see this as one struggle.

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Tiny House Warriors

According to a recent report by the UN, the gap between government pledges and carbon emission realities remains potentially catastrophic for coastal cities and communities. Current pledges made by governments and private corporations will increase temperatures by three degrees centigrade by the end of this century, well in excess of the stated two degree limit, as negotiated during the much ballyhooed COP 21.

As we stated at that time, the struggle against burning fossil fuels into oblivion will not be successfully advanced by fatuous elites at feel-good events such as the forthcoming COP 23; only direct action at the local level, such as the long struggle at Standing Rock, will create the necessary changes in behavior and global awareness.

This week, we serve as relay for a statement by the Secwepemc people announcing their action to block the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline, a statement that conveys far more power and meaning than anything that will emerge from the assembled gas bags in Bonn:

 

 

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For a Greenpeace video profile of the Tiny House Warriors, click below:

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Malignant Normality

In an essay published in the Spring 2017 issue of Dissent, Robert Jay Lifton reminds us that the same ethical distortions that he discerned among physicians in Nazi Germany may occur among other groups of professionals at any time. Excerpts below, with a few malignantly normal charts from Stanley Milgram’s Obedience To Authority.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are reminded also of a passage (slightly edited by DP for continuity) from a letter written in 1964 by Hannah Arendt to Gerhard Scholem:

You are quite right, I changed my mind and do no longer speak of “radical evil.” It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,” that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is “thought-defying,” as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its “banality.” Only the good has depth that can be radical.

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Christianity, Race, Incarceration

Now comes Assistant Professor of Ministry Studies Matthew Potts, with lucid comments regarding the Carceral State, made in advance of a conference held at Harvard Divinity School. The charts derive from research compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative.

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See also an excellent essay  by Marie Gottschalk in The Atlantic Monthly; and Michelle Alexander’s recently published The New Jim Crow, which we will be reading closely for a future DP.


Reverence and Awe

This morning, the entire editorial staff of DP spent a productive hour closely observing a quartet of male turkeys making their way through nearby meadows and woodlands: vigilant, alert, very much in touch with each other and with the landscape. We were unable to suppress the recognition that within a few weeks at least half if not all of these sentient and social toms will likely be “harvested” by humans to participate through their death in yet another one of our fantasy histories: Thanksgiving Day.

In the bigger picture, the human species continues its mad descent into the unfathomable depths of what Robert Jay Lifton calls “malignant normality”, a concept we will explore in detail in a future DP. For balance and sanity regarding the whole of life on earth, we have been re-reading Mark Bekoff’s indispensable The Animal Manifesto, with an opening passage excerpted below.

Images: a trio of watercolors from the studio of Rebecca Clark, whose art so gracefully and powerfully embodies reverence and awe for the natural world, a wisdom that we must all embrace if we are to have any chance of breaking the death spiral, of which the psychopathology of contemporary American politics is but one of many alarming symptoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Resonant with Bekoff’s manifesto, please also consider a keynote address from this year’s Animal Rights conference, as delivered by Lauren Gazzola:

LG

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And finally, a few more words from Thomas Berry, from his magnificent The Dream of the Earth:

“Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human. It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species. This brings about a completely new sense of reality and value.”


Lost In Space

During a time of year when we crave the solitude of the deep forest, we revisit a few paragraphs of an essay by William Deresiewicz, dating from 2009. The image is from the solitary studio of Michel Nedjar.

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What’s Truly At Stake

Now comes a timely interview published by The Intercept between journalist Jon Schwartz and the novelist Suki Kim. Born in South Korea yet  having lived in the U.S. since the age 13, Kim spent much of 2011 teaching English to the children of North Korea’s elite, attending the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, an experience that became the subject matter for her remarkable 2014 book, “Without You There Is No Us.”

Below, two excerpts from the interview that we found particularly compelling, intercut with images from the work of Song Byeok.

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TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES

 

LET ME TASTE IT

HOPE

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Of Silence and the Flood

This week, we turn to an interview on Democracy Now: the voice of George Monbiot, who articulates a number of uncomfortable issues not addressed by the media storm surrounding hurricane Harvey’s itinerary over the past week.

Images are from 36.5, a “duration performance with the sea” conceived by Sarah Cameron Sunde.

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From Sunde’s project website, we relay the following:

36.5 / a durational performance with the sea is a time-based project spanning seven years and six continents: New York-based artist Sarah Cameron Sunde stands in a tidal area for a full cycle, usually 12-13 hours, as water engulfs her body and then reveals it again. The public is invited to participate by joining Sarah in the water and by marking the passing hours from the shore. The project began in 2013 as a response to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City and the parallel that Sunde saw in the the struggle for an artist to survive on a daily basis and the struggle of humanity to survive in the face of sea-level rise. The project was developed in Maine, Mexico and San Francisco 2013-2014, and launched on a global scale in The Netherlands in 2015. The fifth iteration was recently completed in Bangladesh. The performance is filmed from multiple perspectives and then translated into a multi-channel video installation that can communicate with a wider audience. 

Plans are underway for future iterations in New Zealand, Brazil, and Senegal, and working towards a large-scale iteration in New York City with an anticipated date of August 2020. 36.5 acknowledges the temporary nature of all things and considers our contemporary relationship to water, as individuals, in community, and as a civilization.

 


By Its Very Nature

Soil scientist Fred Magdoff is co-author of Creating an Ecological Society: Toward A Revolutionary Transformation. In a recent Truthout interview, Magdoff summarizes his critique of the entrenched notion that extractive capitalism mirrors and embodies “human nature”.

Images are from a 1982 project by Agnes Denes, Wheatfield, during which  a 2-acre wheat field was planted on a landfill in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street and the former World Trade Center, while facing the Statue of Liberty.

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In her Artist Statement for the project, Denes wrote:

Planting and harvesting a field of wheat on land worth $4.5 billion created a powerful paradox. Wheatfield was a symbol, a universal concept; it represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, and economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It called attention to our misplaced priorities.