Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Secretum Vita

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited." --Albert Einstein, 1931

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." --Albert Einstein, 1940

Every year it becomes increasingly clear to me -- as we humans race merrily along our path toward self-destruction -- that religious and political establishment don't care about saving us, that as a society of communities we must save ourselves. I know making such a statement will raise a few eyebrows and prompt a few comments along the lines of "a bit extreme, don't you think?" but it's also the sort of statement that requires either enslavement to or freedom from delusion. Nay-sayers will say that I'm deluding myself, that we're fine and that our religions and our governments care about us. Yes-sayers will say that nay-sayers are deluding themselves, which is a sort of nay-saying in and of itself.

Strowde: Look at the moon rising. Time on the move! Can you bear the sight of it?
Serocold: Just...if I keep busy.
Joan: And she's dead, poor thing.
Strowde: A shining nonentity....still going on her ordered way.
Serocold: The moral's plain as the moon is, thank you.
-- from The Secret Life (1922) by Harley Granville Barker

Substitute "America" for "moon" in the Barker quote and you'll get an idea of what I'm thinking. Here we are, moving forward in all our glory, not realizing we're a pitiful reflection of the real glory waiting to come up just past the horizon. Religion would have you believe that real glory is the glory of the after-life. Well, I'm sorry, but after I'm gone there are still people who need food and shelter and medicines. Saving souls is merely fine and dandy, the hard truth is that the after-life just means there's one less mouth to feed.
And how do we feed those mouths? With genetically-engineered, petroleum-based corn products; is that what we're happy with: we must destroy the world to save the world? We must pollute our air and water, destroy our ecology, fill our dirt with trash and our mountains with nuclear waste because of what reason? Because we need to survive, or as Garrett Hardin wrote in his 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons, "Injustice is preferable to total ruin"?
I reject the assertion that those are the only two options. I refuse to believe that the only way to stave off the self-extinction of humans is to go about it more slowly.

And yet, so many people think this is the way civilization works! You have to poison the planet to be healthy, you have to go to war to bring peace, you have to give up freedom to have liberty. It brings to mind another quote from Barker's The Secret Life:
Strowde: Scratch off our clothes and instead of the savage it's likelier you'll find nothing at all.
Salomons: But my dear good heroic fellow...why not be content with appearances?
 That is the question I feel Religion and Government ask of us: "Why not be content with appearances?" (Note: Now, I know that when I say "Religion" a lot of religious people start revving up their protest engine. So let's be clear: Religion is an establishment that has very little -if anything- to do with personal belief. Just like Government has very little to do with governance.) The answer is simple: it euthanizes our imagination and our will to improve. George Bernard Shaw wrote in his play Major Barbara (1905), "You see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask 'Why not?'."

"By nature you're all for absolute values, for rooted virtues: flourish or perish! You're capable of suicide and murder and of all extremes... But don't you want to see heroism and patriotism and altruism - all the kingdom of heaven that's within you - turned to some practical account?" -- Barker, The Secret Life

"But," you might ask, "are things really all that bad?" Yes, they really are. Think about this: Pollution particles in the air create haze clouds that prevent sunlight from getting through which can unnaturally cool the planet. 
Planet cooling? Scientists actually call it global dimming. Here's the problem: in the 3 days after 9/11 when air-flight travel was suspended, scientists discovered that the global dimming caused by air pollution is slowing the effect of global warming. Destroying the world to save the world.
This isn't an environmental problem, as strange as that may seem. It's a moral, psychological and ethical problem.
"How we treat nature is how we treat ourselves. If we exploit nature to extinction, we are exploiting the human species to extinction. The outer world is a reflection of our inner lives. Americans have become fat and even 'morbidly' obese in unprecedented numbers because they carry a perverse and gluttonous mentality. Not only are they addicted to oil, but to isolation, political corruption, and a permanent war economy that trains people for its dastardly deeds at universities. The rising of the seas from the melting ice caps, the loss of paradise islands in the Pacific, 'dead zones' in the ocean, and the increased severity of storms and droughts around the world are all caused by living in a destructive, chaotic pattern of development."
--Doctress Neutopia,

What we need is a complete change from the way we've been operating, a conscious decision to alter our course. The trick - the really big seemingly-impossible trick - is that it's not enough to change ourselves. Look around your neighborhoods, we're a civilization of individuals enslaved to a means of transportation that reinforces the idea of the individual: the automobile. There's no concept of humanity or nature in our community. Change means reaching out to find the faces in the people around you.

"The key to government is self-understanding, which must mean, in terms of a community, mutual understanding." -- Harley Granville Barker, The Exemplary Theater (1922)

Every community is different: different cultures with different needs. We complain about the government in Washington, D.C. and how they don't do anything for us. We look at the State and wonder what cave they're living in to be so out of touch. But our communities are different. We're all people that commute to work and scrape together change to make ends meet. We go to school and send our children to school. We get along because we have to. Now it's time to change because we have to.

Take part in your community; you're a partial owner of it, after all. Work towards and have a commitment to social justice. Recognize that just as we are inseparable from our planet we are also inseparable from each other.

"I do not want to wage war against what is ugly, I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish only to be a Yes-sayer." -- Nietzche, 1882 New Year's Resolution (emphasis mine)