Help Wanted: Willing Ring Bearer Seeks Quest

All week the energy of the summer solstice seemed to build in me. After a week of rain, the sun burst through and we had a whole week of clear, low-humidity days in which it appeared that you could see the plants growing happily, stretching their roots down into the soil and their leaves up towards the bright sky.

My peaceful backyard in the Shire

My peaceful backyard in the Shire

In anticipation of several weeks away (I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to Nova Scotia soon) I spent a lot of time out in the garden, planting vegetables and annuals, weeding flower beds, mulching and staking and tending.

morning lettuce

morning lettuce

pumpkins

pumpkins

Garlic; note the gas tank in the background

Garlic; note the gas tank in the background

It’s always hard to leave a garden in the summer, when you know the minute your back is turned the invasive weeds will grow with vindictive vigor, the slugs will multiply and munch away at the lettuce, and the Japanese beetles will arrive to decimate the roses.

However, I must get away from the confines of my little corner of the world to clear my head and ready myself for another year—for me, as a lifelong academic, the year always starts with the fall semester of school.

Last night, in honor of the longest day of the year, my son and I took an evening hike up a local mountain, and sat on a rock ledge facing west as the sun slowly and majestically dropped towards the horizon.

Eric in woods

We were happy to find some friends up there—a caterpillar with beautiful markings, making its way up an oak sapling, and a pair of orange-and-black butterflies, sunning themselves just like we were.

caterpillar

butterfly

solstice sunset

As we walked down again in the last rays of sunshine, I couldn’t help thinking about the strong contrast between the peaceful, lovely landscape of my home ground, where for many of us the most urgent question of the day is “what shall we have for dinner?” or “what movie shall we watch tonight?” and the social landscapes that cry out to me every day when I read the news headlines—arid, violent, rigid, harsh.

Reuters photo taken June 11, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq

Reuters photo taken June 11, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq

 

This summer solstice, as I sit in my peaceful green American haven, Iraq is again descending into crazed sectarian violence. The news reports that “militias are organizing” or “Mosul was taken” focus on the politicians playing the mad chess game of war, and the young men drawn into the armies as battlefield pawns. There is no mention of the mothers, sisters and grandmothers of those politicians and young men. The women rarely surface in the headlines, and when they do, the news is not good: a woman who dared to go out to a rally stripped and gang-raped, for example.

We hear about women obliquely in the reporting about the incredible surge of refugees living in camps this year: of the 51 million people living in refugee camps under U.N. supervision, half are children—which means that a high percentage of the other half are probably mothers and grandmothers. But that is in inference I am making by reading between the lines; those women are invisible in the official story.

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, now Jordan's fifth largest city

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, now Jordan’s fifth largest city

jammas.hussain20130212012158677

I have to recognize the incredible privilege I have as an American woman, living in the heart of the heavily guarded gated community that this country has become.

Other people around the world are paying the price for the peace and plenty I have here in my home. And not just people—the animals and insects and birds and forests are paying the hugest price of all to maintain my privileged lifestyle.

How long can I continue to live comfortably with this knowledge?

The more time goes on, the more I see how prescient J.R.R. Tolkien was with his Lord of the Rings series. Berkshire County, where I live, is indeed “the Shire” of legend—peaceful, productive, green and jolly. Outside our borders, far, far away, the armies of Mordor are mobilizing in the midst of lands laid waste by the industries of the Dark Lord. Few in the Shire are worried; the chance of those nasty people and industries actually coming here seem remote indeed.

JRR Tolkien

JRR Tolkien

In Lord of the Rings, it is Gandalf the wizard who serves as the bridge between these two very different landscapes. He gives Bilbo, and later Frodo, the charge of becoming the change agents who can make all the difference. The fight against the Dark Lord is fought on many fronts, but the quest to destroy the Ring of Power is paramount, and in order to destroy the ring Frodo must journey to the heart of the dark Empire itself.

I can’t escape the feeling that here in the quiet Shire where I live, ordinary people like me are being called upon, as Bilbo and Frodo were, to step up to the immense and dangerous challenge of resisting the darkness that is brewing on our borders.

But in our case there does not seem to be a Gandalf who can give us a mission and guide us as we set off on the quest. Not even the wisest leaders of the environmental and peace movements seem to be able to provide that kind of leadership. Worldwide, those leaders who claim to know with absolute certainty what is right and what to do are precisely the ones who are fomenting war and leading us down the path to environmental, civilizational suicide.

That must be why I am drawn to study with those who are exploring other epistemologies, outside of the normative range of politics, science, philosophy and religion.

Right now my bedside reading includes Anne Baring, Pam Montgomery and Pamela Eakins, along with Brian SwimmeMartin Prechtel, Bill Plotkin,  and Daniel Pinchbeck.

spring meadowWhen I look out into the green world stretching up towards our beneficent Sun, or glowing brightly under our sweet white Moon, I can see and hear the harmony that life on Earth evolved to sing. Put water and sunlight together, wait a few billion years, and you get this incredible lush planet, pulsating with life.

Human beings have flourished so well that now we have become overpopulated, an invasive species that is destructively taking over every last environmental niche on the planet. In a normal terrestrial cycle, we would go bust, our civilization would collapse, and with time the earth and the sun would gradually rebuild life in endlessly new creative forms.

Is that what is coming? Or will we be able to be the Gandalfs of our own generation, waking ourselves up out of our complacency here in the beautiful American Shire, and conquering the inner and outer Dark Lords that are laying waste to the planet?

What is the quest that is mine to carry out? What is yours? If we at least start asking these questions, with the greater good of the Earth in mind, perhaps the answers will emerge in time to set humanity on a better path.

solstice sunset dark

The Solutions are Hidden in Plain Sight–if you look through 21st century eyes

IMG_4806A lot of us in the Northeast are doing our share of grumbling this year about the Arctic air that just won’t go away.  Usually March is the time when the winds start to blow, the sap starts to rise, the snow melts into the thawing earth and our thoughts turn to snowdrops and crocus.

This year, we’re still in the deep freeze with a hardpack of snow on the ground, and no end in sight.

It’s all part of the erratic weather of our climate change era.  The question for all of us now is, how, beyond bitching and moaning, are we going to respond?

Most of us just shrug and turn the dial on the heater up a little higher, not thinking about what that very small, ordinary act really entails.

If your thermostat is wired into an oil burner or a natural gas furnace, like most homes and apartment buildings in the Northeast, then when you turn up the dial in response to the bitter cold you are, perhaps unwittingly, enabling, supporting and becoming an integral part of the very industry that is relentlessly destroying our climate.

The fossil fuel industry is not some demonic force outside of our control.  It’s just a human business that is responding to human needs for energy—lots and lots of energy.

We Americans are used to getting what we want, and what we’ve wanted, in the 50 years I’ve been on the planet, is ease.  What could be easier than turning a dial to make your house warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer, or gassing up your comfy car before you get on the freeway?

1_RussetLikewise in terms of agricultural production—we like to get our vegetables pre-washed and sometimes even pre-cut, all even-sized, no blemishes, laid out attractively in faux crates under spotlights in our upscale grocery stores.

When we buy that bag of potatoes or carrots, we’re not thinking about the tons of pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and fossil fuels that went into making it easy for us to throw these items in our shopping cart.

We’re not thinking about the bees, butterflies and other valuable insects that have been driven to population collapse by industrial agricultural practices; or the huge dead zones in the ocean at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where fertilizer and chemical run-off from the Midwest runs down to the sea; or the millions of birds that are affected each year by the toxic chemicals we spread over the landscape.

We’re just throwing that bag of veggies into the cart, or turning up that dial.

Well, the time of such oblivious innocence is over.

The curtain has been pulled back, and the Wizard of Industrial Capitalism has been revealed—and lo and behold, he wears the ordinary face of each one of us.

Every step we take on this beautiful, battered planet of ours matters.

Eric and me at the February 2013 Forward on Climate rally in DC

Eric and me at the February 2013 Forward on Climate rally in DC

I am heartened to know that this very weekend, one year after the big climate change rally in Washington DC that I attended in the hopes of pressuring the Obama Administration to block the Keystone XL pipeline, thousands of activists, most of them college students, will be raising a ruckus at the White House gates to insist that the politicians stop gambling away their future.

Here in my backyard, in the Massachusetts-New York region, people have woken up to the fact that mile-long trains of crude oil and gas are being run through heavily populated neighborhoods.

We’re moving to block gas fracking in western Massachusetts as the sight of contaminated tap water in fracking regions brings the dangers right home.

We’re also starting to get serious about making solar energy accessible to homeowners and businesses.

UnknownThis week’s New Yorker magazine has a fascinating article about a little-known scientific program to create a controlled thermonuclear fusion power plant.  Unlike the current fission plants, which burn radioactive fuel and generate dangerous waste, the fusion plant, if it were successful, would run indefinitely on seawater and lithium, with no waste.  It would be ten times hotter than the core of the Sun.

Talk about an audacious plan!  You have to hand it to human beings, we are nothing if not hubristic.  It is our greatest strength and our most glaring weakness.

Why spend billions on creating an artificial sun here on earth?  Why not just learn from our cousins the plants, and start to use the sunlight we have more efficiently?

It’s time to take off our grimy 20th century glasses and start looking at the world and ourselves through 21st century eyes.  When we do, we’re going to find that the solutions to all the problems that beset us have been hidden in plain sight all along.

It’s time to Occupy Congress!

What is happening in Washington, DC these days could lead not to anarchy but to monarchy, says political philosophy professor Michael Lynch in a New York Times op-ed piece today.

“Should shutdowns, debt-ceiling fights and the radical political legislative gridlock they represent really become a fixture of American political life, it will be more tempting, more reasonable, to think that someone should  “step in” to make the decisions,” Lynch says. “The chorus calling for action — for the president, for example, to go around the Congress — will only increase. If you are on the left, and Obama is still in power, you may even tell yourself that is a good thing. But it is a bad precedent, the type of precedent that causes democracies to erode.”

To me it seems clear that the someone who should be stepping in here is WE THE PEOPLE!!!

Judging by the Republicans’ abysmal and rapidly sliding approval rates, the obstructionists in Congress no longer represent the will of the people.  It’s up to us to show them the door and get on with all the much more important issues that face us.

gty_occupy_washington_dc_thg_111107_wg

Where is Occupy when you need it?  Why haven’t any progressive groups been calling for a march on Washington to demonstrate on behalf of what we believe and what we want to see our elected representatives doing for us?

It seems like social media has frozen us in the sidelines as spectators rather than actors in this political tragi-farce that is unfolding day by depressing day.

Expressing one’s outrage to one’s circle of Facebook friends is like looking at one’s own reflection in a hall of mirrors.

Let’s get out of the funhouse and go march on the State House!

And not a tame weekend march, either.  Let’s march on a weekday, calling a general strike of work and school and civil business as usual until the Congress gets its act together and unclamps its stranglehold on Federal business as usual.

If there was ever a time when the President needed us to turn out and support him it is now.  Not just in donations, not just in approving tweets, but in the flesh.

Let’s Occupy Congress and stay there until the job is done.  Who’s in?

Rotten Tomatoes for Republicans

All right, I admit defeat. I can’t tune out those crazy Republican Congressmen who actually believe that they are acting righteously in preferring to shut down the U.S. Government rather than guarantee all Americans the right to affordable health care.

I need to let off a little steam, so bear with me.

First of all, WHO ELECTED THOSE CREEPS????

It is beyond depressing that we have such an apathetic, distracted, numbed electorate, of whom barely 50% generally even bother to show up to the polls.

Of the half who do show up, obviously they are the easily manipulated types, because these Tea Partiers have managed to convince them to vote against their own interests time and time again.

It’s no secret that the Tea Partiers have been most successful in the so-called Red States, where the egregious gap between rich and poor (ie, the gap between the 1% of extreme wealth and the 99% of everyone else, way down at the bottom of the mountain) is huge.

Why would people vote against their own best prospect of getting affordable health care?

Why would people vote against the political party that, while far from perfect, has at least shown a measure of human decency and responsibility in its approach to governing?

images-2It’s only fathomable if you remember how, in Tea Party country, education and the media are entirely controlled by these same craven elites, who will stop at nothing to seize power and control of the country.

In these parts of the country, people live in ideological bunkers, where party-controlled propaganda is the only message they get.  Red China anyone?  1984?

With the advent of the World Wide Web, in America at least, it’s hard to maintain a complete lockdown on information.  But as we all know, we tend to surf to places on the Web that are familiar and tell us what we want to hear.

So I get my news from The New York Times, while in Tea Party country the average citizen is more likely to check out Fox News.  The same story looks entirely different as reported by these different media—check it out and see for yourself.  Spin rules.

This is the only way I can explain the fact that these Tea Party maniacs were elected to Congress in the first place.

I can only hope—yes, I still do have hope—that in the next round of elections, they will be sent back to their Neanderthal caves where they belong.

Then the rest of us adults can get on with the much more important business of the day.

HillaryCare1993aAffordable health care—yes, of course!  We should have had it long ago, back when Hilary Clinton tried to get it going in the mid-1990s.  She was stymied by lack of authority as merely the First Lady, seen as overstepping her bounds (get thee back to the parlor, Mrs. Clinton!).

Now President Obama is getting blowback for daring to challenge the status quo and lobby openly for the rights of the poor and for all Americans who have gotten screwed by the medical industrial complex over and over again.

It’s the same old same old, which is why I have resisted taking up the Tea Party gauntlet this time.  Why should I waste my time and energy with their nonsense?

And yet, as the government shutdown looms, and behind it the mythical debt ceiling crisis, I just have to add my voice to the chorus of BOOS and throw some metaphorical rotten eggs at those stinking Tea Partiers who want to deprive ordinary Americans of the right to a functional government, along with the right to affordable health care and an economic system that at least attempts to lift all boats.

images-1I thank the President and the Democrats for holding the line on this one.  “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” right?  Let’s let those terrorist Republicans dig their own fox holes and stew in their own SH*T.  I’d like to see John Boehner coming out when it’s all over like Saddaam did, dazed, dirty and totally deposed.

images

Turns out “Crazy Mary” isn’t crazy after all: Homage to Mary Daly’s Green Philosophy

In my quest to drown out the drone of the mindless Republican obstinacy-for-its-own-sake that is currently taking up so much of our media bandwidth, I have been reading the work of Dr. Mary F. Daly, someone I’ve known about for many years, but never actually sat down and read.

You may have heard about Mary Daly too—she was a professor of philosophy and theology at Jesuit-run Boston College, whose first three books, Beyond God the Father, The Church and the Second Sex, and Gyn/Ecology, were runaway bestsellers among women readers, but so infuriated the powers that be at her institution that they mounted campaigns to discredit her, first trying to deny her tenure and then harassing her to step down from her tenured position.

Who was this oh-so-threatening gadfly on the flanks of the Church and Academia?

Mary Daly wielding the Labrys

Mary Daly wielding the Labrys

Daly called herself by many names—one of her projects was to take back the English language from the patriarchy that she saw used language as yet another misogynist weapon against women and the natural world.  She was a self-proclaimed “Radical Lesbian Feminist Philosopher,” a “Wild, Wicked Woman,” a “Postively Revolting Hag” who “proclaimed that Laughing Out Loud is the Virtue of Crackpot Crones who know we have Nothing to lose.”

“As an Offensive, Tasteless, Haggard Pirate,” Daly wrote in her 1992 memoir Outercourse, “I was inspired to acquire the Courage to Leave the doldrums of Stag-nation, Sailing off with as much loot as my Craft could carry.  I tried to foster in myself and in Others the Courage to Live Wildly, that is, to refuse inclusion in the State of the Living Dead, to break out from the molds of archetypal deadtime (a.d.), to take leap after leap of Living Faith, becoming Fiercely Biophilic” (198).

Biophilic as opposed necrophilic, which is how she described Western society—a society built on and organized around sucking the lifeblood from the planet.

Although the dominant feminist movement has resisted the eco-feminist tendency to link women and nature “essentially,” Mary Daly saw women as having a special role to play as bearers and defenders of life—not in terms of the conventional “right to life” type of discourse, but in terms of the right and indeed the responsibility to protect and nurture the planet and other life forms on it from the predations of patriarchal society.

“By being the originator of my own Green Philosophy,” she wrote, “which is the tabooed woman-identified/nature-identified philosophy, I have uttered a Great Refusal of the patriarchal prescription of Self-lobotomy for and by women” (326).

The truth is that most people I know automatically turn off and turn away when a woman dares to utter the word “patriarchy.”

It’s a word-bomb wielded by feminist terrorists, and “we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” do we?

Maybe it’s time to remember that one man’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter.”

Maybe it’s time to be honest about the fact that the rape and pillage of our planet has in fact been a male-dominated project.

To criticize the patriarchy as a system of knowledge and action is not to condemn any individual man.  All individual humans are free to choose how they will act in the world, and many individual men have acted honorably and with loving care towards women, animals and the planet as a whole.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh

But in general, I have to agree with Mary Daly that since the advent of patriarchal human civilization–say, around the time when Gilgamesh defied the gods and cut down an entire cedar forest to build his city—humanity has lived by extractive, exploitative, often cruel and extremely destructive frameworks of ideology, policy and praxis.

Women in power, or women close to men in power, have often gone along for the ride and enjoyed their entitlements.  For example, in education: education for centuries was the exclusive prerogative of men, and when women were finally admitted to the august halls of higher learning, they tended to conform to whatever it was the authorities expected of them.

A woman like Mary Daly, who was able to think for herself outside the box of patriarchal philosophy, and who dared to criticize the masters, would be undercut by whatever means possible—dismissed as a lunatic, ignored and disdained, exiled and excommunicated.

Mary Daly was gutsy enough to survive all the attacks that were lobbed at her, and come back swinging.  Each of her books is more radical and free-thinking than the last, and she never wavers from her central insight, which she credits to her interchange with a clover blossom at age 14, that every form of life on the planet has intrinsic value, meaning, and a purpose on the planet.

Unknown-1“There was the Moment…when one particular clover blossom Announced its be-ing to me.  It Said starkly, clearly, with utmost simplicity, ‘I am.’…The encounter with that clover blossom had a great deal with my becoming a Radical Feminist Philosopher.  If a clover blossom could say ‘I am’ then why couldn’t I?” (23).

Daly takes a great leap here away from the artificial structures of the kind of “post-structuralist” philosophy that I, for example, spent countless hours studying during my years in graduate school in the 1980s.

Like Derrida, Daly is interested in words and language and how the “binary oppositions” of Western philosophy, starting with the mother of them all, Good and Evil, have played out in socio-political frameworks that conspire to maintain the patriarchal status quo.

But she is not interested in staying in the labyrinthine worlds of textuality; she is very much engaged with how these linguistic issues affect real, flesh-and-blood women and other beings.  She not only dares to call out the patriarchy, she also dares to discourse with other species in her writing—not just clovers, but also cats, cows, and trees—and to raise what she calls “Fore-Sisters” of earlier times to engage in philosophical dialogue.

Daly was not afraid to call herself a Witch, and to reclaim the demonized power of magic to confront the necrophilia of dominant society.

For instance, in Boston in 1989, she worked with friends and students to create a multimedia performance called “The Witches Return,” which would “expose the gynocidal/biocidal atrocities [of patriarchy] and the connections among them.”

On Mother’s Day, 1989, the group acted out with intense emotion a Witches’ Trial that culminated in the symbolic beheading of those who were accused of “the massacre of women’s minds, bodies and spirits.” Daly wrote, “Our dramatic indictment was created with utterly Fiercely Focused Rage and Elemental, Creative Power” (398).

The performance was a rejection of what she called the “foreground,” ordinary day-to-day life so totally saturated in atrocity that people became numb to it—and a reaching into the “background,” the deeper truths that, if accessed, could light the way to real change.

Daly’s description of the difference between the foreground and the background makes so much sense to me, now in 2013 even more than in 1989.

In our media-saturated lives, it is so easy to spend most of our waking hours tuned in to someone else’s vision, listening to someone else’s insights, digesting information packaged for us by someone else.  And most often, that someone else is—let’s face it—a white man, or someone who is reacting to the dominant white-male patriarchal vision.

How often do we allow ourselves to simply sit down in a field and commune with a clover?  How often to we allow ourselves to listen to ideas that seem radical or weird or crazy?

Isn’t it interesting that radical ideas coming from white males get plenty of press time and are entertained with great seriousness by the entire world (I’m referring to the crazy, weird, radical ideas of the Republican Tea Partiers) while when a woman dares to utter the taboo word “patriarchy” she is immediately not only dismissed, but completely ignored and excommunicated?

In the last book she wrote before her death in 2010, Amazon Grace, Mary Daly called on women who understand the connections between gynocide and ecocide to come together and dare to, as she phrased it, “Sin Big”—dare to call out the patriarchy and insist that, as Arundhati Roy memorably put it, “Another world is possible. On a clear day, I can hear her breathing.”

Yes.

Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

As a college professor with a focus on media and issues of social and environmental justice, it’s my responsibility, I believe, to be tuned into the news of the day.

I need to know that, as reported by Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times, “For roughly 30 hours over several days, defense lawyers for three former United States Naval Academy football players grilled a female midshipman about her sexual habits. In a public hearing, they asked the woman, who has accused the three athletes of raping her, whether she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex and whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she had intercourse “for being a ho.”

I need to know that the Obama Administrations efforts to regulate and clean up the American coal industry “are certain to be denounced by House Republicans and the industry as part of what they call the president’s “war on coal.”

I have to follow the progress of the latest massive floods in Colorado, noting that they involve the release of unknown quantities of toxic chemicals into the region’s waterways; these floods happened in a populated area of Colorado that also happens to be the site of thousands of gas fracking wells.

Then there are those unprecedented wildfires in California, finally under control after having burned 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, with “a solid 60 square miles burned so intensely that everything is dead.”

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13 Photo by Robert Martinez

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13
Photo by Robert Martinez

I have to pay attention when our nation threatens missile strikes on another Middle Eastern country, or there’s another crazy gunman on the rampage with assault weapons in a peaceful civilian setting, or a bunch of ideologically blinkered Republican politicians threaten to shut down the U.S. government and force us to default on our international debt obligations, putting the world financial system in jeopardy, simply in order to embarrass the country’s popular Democratic African-American President.

To do my job well, I have to know about these issues and episodes, and so I follow the media daily.  And yet day by day I grow more resentful of being dragged along on storylines that I find so—so—well, so boring.

They’re boring because they’re so repetitive.  Another fire, another flood, another mass shooting, another U.S. missile or drone strike, another government shutdown to be averted at the last minute.  Another woman raked over the coals when she tries to bring a rapist to justice.

And in the background, the real story, the Big News of our time, grinds on relentlessly, it too so endlessly repeated that we have all become blind, deaf and dumb to it.

I’m referring, of course, to the story of global climate change, with its attendant melting ice, rising seas, rising temperatures, erratic weather and, ultimately, mass extinction of life as we know it on Earth.

I understand why very few humans alive today want to grapple with that story.

If the news episodes I listed above are boring in their repetitiveness, the Big News of climate change is just too scary to take in.

No wonder so many people of all ages just don’t bother following the news, preferring instead to focus on televised sports or the latest mini-series or movies.

People seem to have a fatalistic approach to reality lately.

Obamacare will go through or it will be defunded, no matter what we think or do.  Fossil fuel plants will continue to burn, not only unregulated but subsidized at that; politicians will continue to act in criminal ways (shutting down the U.S. government is an act of treason in my book!), boys will continue to be boys and get slapped on the wrist when a woman dares to cry rape–no matter what we do.

The entire American populace seems to be locked in some kind of slumped-over apathy, just trying to keep up the mortgage payments, trying to stay healthy in an increasingly toxic environment, trying to raise decent kids despite the toxic media entertainment landscape in which the kids spend most of their time.

I’m slumped over with the rest, a lot of the time.

But there is something in me that resists this posture, too.  There is something in me that yearns for a different narrative.  Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

Not a return to the triumphalist patriarchal Manifest Destiny that led us inexorably to the disastrous brink on which we now perch.

Not the macho environmentalism that tries to beat the fossil fuel villains in the courts and the high seas.

Not the moralistic sermonizing of those who see the world in strictly black-and-white, Good-and-Evil binary oppositions.

I’m hungering for something deeper.  Something bigger.  A story that truly acknowledges where we are today as a species, and can help us to perceive the way forward out of the current slumped-over morass of bad news.

Briane Swimme

Briane Swimme

The closest I’ve been able to come to such a story so far is the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.  In their visionary description of the “Ecozoic Era” that we could create, acting in the best interests of the planet as a whole, I find the map and the compass I’ve been seeking to guide me to a livable future.

In the final chapter of their book The Universe Story, Berry and Swimme lay out a vision that, tragically, we have not heeded in the more than 20 years since the book appeared in 1992.

“In economics it is clear that our human economy is derivative from the Earth economy.  To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Gross Earth Product is an economic absurdity.  So long as our patterns of consumption overwhelm the upper reaches of Earth’s sustainable productivity, we will only drive the Earth community further into ruin.  The only viable human economy is one that is integral with the Earth economy” (256).

“We need an inter-species economy, an inter-species well-being, an inter-species education, an inter-species governance, an inter-species religious mode, inter-species ethical norms,” they say (257).

Berry and Swimme end their vast “journey of the universe” by describing the celebratory aspect of the universe, which perhaps only humans, at least of the beings on Earth, can fully appreciate.

The cosmic celebration--courtesy of the Hubble telescope

The cosmic celebration–courtesy of the Hubble telescope

“Everything about us seems to be absorbed into a vast celebratory experience,” they say.  “There is no being that does not participate in this experience and mirror it forth in some way unique to itself and yet in a bonded relationship with the more comprehensive unity of the universe itself.  Within this context of celebration we find ourselves, the human component of this celebratory community.  Our own special role is to enable this entire community to reflect on and to celebrate itself and its deepest mystery in a special mode of self-conscious awareness” (264).

In other words, our role is to be the storytellers of past, present and future.  Of all the amazing beings on the planet, no one else can fill this particular niche.

It is our privilege and our curse as humans to KNOW so much about what we are doing at any given moment on the planet, and to ceaselessly narrate that knowledge.  Now in the 21st century, aided by the global neural network of the World Wide Web, we have never been more tuned into the on-going global story, but this knowledge often becomes oppressive, since so much of what we are asked to absorb is negative, bad news.

It’s time to rebel–to resist the battering of the bad news, to become producers rather than just passive consumers of knowledge.

We need to start telling new stories.  Empowering, positive stories that light the way towards the human beings we could become, the human civilization we could create, in concert and harmony with the rest of the Earth community.

What stories do you hold locked in your heart, tenderly sheltered from the glare and cacophony of contemporary pop culture?

I suggest you look to the home ground of your deep childhood for inspiration.  Remember the stories you told to yourself then, or that you heard the flowers and the insects singing.  Remember the way the motes of dust twirling in the sunlight spoke to you.

Remember what it felt like to have an unmediated, imaginative connection with the world around you.

Then speak the truths that come out of that primary knowledge.

From Syria to Sunshine

And so we find ourselves, once again, on the brink of sending our military to attack another country, about which, again, we seem to know pathetically little.

Will it be possible to perform a “surgical strike” in Syria, preventing the government armed forces from using chemical weapons without actually taking sides in the civil war?

To what extent have the “rebel forces” been infiltrated by radical Muslim fighters coming over from Afghanistan and Iran?

What are the motives of the shadowy big players looming in the background—China, Russia, Saudia Arabia, Iran, Israel?

Why has the United Nations been so silent?

But here’s the big question that no one is asking: why aren’t we working like banshees to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil?

The fact is that the sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf were insular, off-the-the-beaten track kingdoms until the advent of the modern Western addiction to oil.  It’s all about resources.

If humans replaced our dependence on fossil fuels with a dependence on the mother fuel of it all, the Sun, we would be so much better off.

The Sun is one of those resources, like air, that is free and available to all.  Every tree, every blade of grass, every phytoplankton, benefits from the sun.  The sun plays no favorites, though sometimes clouds intervene.

If we put anything near the amount of dollars we currently put into weapons development, production, and the waging of war, into research & development of solar energy capture, storage and distribution, we would suddenly find ourselves accelerating into a whole new era of human civilization, as dramatic as the shift from coal to oil, or from horsepower to steam.

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The Middle Eastern nations, being naturally sunny, would do fine in a new solar-based economy.

But there’s no part of our globe that is cut off from sunshine.

In fact, the sun shines in my backyard just as brightly as it does in yours.

Exxon/Mobil/BP and all the rest couldn’t lay claim to a monopoly on sunshine, although I am sure they will try to control the storage and distribution networks.

But solar is naturally inclined to egalitarian distribution.  Just as every daisy in the field and every apple on the tree has an equal claim on sunshine, so every human being is also entitled to soak up those rays.

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Photo by Eric Hernandez

Wake up, humanity!  Wake up, Americans!  Understand that we do not have to spend our hard-earned tax dollars on war instead of peacetime priorities like education, health and social security.

Understand that the same forces that want to wage war are the ones that want to frack and drill and build pipelines to Kingdom Come.

Gone is the time when oil came gushing up out of the wells, black gold that would make us all rich.

Now oil is a fool’s gold, bankrupting the majority even while it enriches the few who control the wells, the refineries and the gas stations.

Another world is possible—a world that looks to the sun to warm us and the wind to cool us, at a fraction of the cost of the 21st century extraction of oil.

When we think about intervening in Syria, or Iraq, or Iran, or Afghanistan, or Colombia, or Venezuela, or Ecuador—understand that whatever the stated moral goal, the real reason is a very simple three-letter word: O-I-L.

To which we can respond with some very simple words of our own: S-U-N, W-I-N-D.

N-O-W.

Queer Visions of a Better World

Bradley Manning at work

Bradley Manning at work

The news this week that Private Bradley Manning had come out as Chelsea made me think first that truth is way stranger than fiction, and second that it makes perfect sense that one of the most courageous warriors of our time would be a queer woman.

Gloria Anzaldua, who has been one of my heroines since I first read her seminal work Borderlands/La frontera back in the 1980s, always insisted that queer folk have a special role to play in bringing about a change in human consciousness—moving us from the patriarchal mold of the past 5,000 years or so to what she called “a new mestiza consciousness,” a much more holistic, inclusive, planetary awareness.

Anzaldua extended Virginia Woolf’s famous statement, in her anti-war tract Three Guineas, that “as a woman, I have no country.  As a woman, I want no country.  As a woman, my country is the whole world,” giving it a new queer mestiza twist:

Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldua

“As a mestiza I have no country, my homeland cast me out; yet all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover.  (As a lesbian I have no race, my own people disclaim me; but I am all races because there is the queer of me in all races.)  I am cultureless because, as a feminist, I challenge the collective cultural/religious male-derived beliefs of Indo-Hispanics and Anglos; yet I am cultured because I am participating in the creation of yet another culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.  Soy un amasamiento, I am an act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”

Because queer folk have lived in their own bodies this awareness of being more—more than meets the eye, more than can be limited by any label or category—Anzaldua believed that they would be able to lead the way towards a new human civilization founded not on dominance and subordination, not on hierarchies of value, not on black-and-white binary systems, but on synthesis and what she called “a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity.”

Some, like Anzaldua herself, would be called upon to become what she called nepantleras, boundary crossers and bridge builders who would go through the wounds and pain of traumatic life experiences to access courage and wisdom to lead others into a new awareness of human potential.

Chelsea Manning is such a nepantlera.

Several years ago, in a class I offered on human rights, my students and I watched, horrified, a recently leaked video called “Collateral Damage,” which clearly showed a group of American soldiers in a helicopter searching out and gunning down unarmed Iraqi civilians who were simply talking together on a quiet, sunny, bombed-out village street.

Still image from the Wikileaks Collateral Damage video--before the machine guns started

Still image from the Wikileaks Collateral Damage video–before the machine guns started

The language the soldiers used as they hunted down their targets was straight out of a violent video game, which is probably where they had learned the shoot-em up skills they displayed.  But this was no game.  Of the several men who lost their lives that day, one was a journalist on assignment for the Western media, armed only with his digital camera.

My students and I agreed that we needed to know that this kind of behavior was taking place under the banner of the American flag.  Keeping us in the dark about the reality of what was happening in Iraq, at the cost of enormous sums of taxpayer monies, was a violation of the rights of every American citizen in whose name this war was being fought.

Many obviously agree: the clip “Collateral Damage” has now been viewed more than 14 million times on You-Tube. Only because of the courage of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange of Wikileaks, both now branded political heretics, did we find out this information.

imagesWe like to think that America is a free country, but it turns out that our freedom has very carefully regulated borders and boundaries.  We are free to dissent as long as we have a permit.

The World Wide Web knows no such boundaries.  It is truly a queer space, a space that has room for every kind of human activity and belief.  In exercising her freedom to circulate information on the Web, Chelsea Manning ran afoul of those who would try to dam the flow, controlling access to knowledge.

Some insist that it is essential that knowledge be controlled, in the name of national security, counter-terrorism, American interests, etc, etc.

It’s past time to start asking questions about whose interests are really served by restricting the free flow of information.

Are we going to become another China, where all individual freedoms are subordinate to the will of the State?  Has it already happened?

What all totalitarian states have eventually learned is that the more human beings are repressed, the more our will to resist is strengthened.

In this country, for the past few decades, our attention has been dulled by the opiates of the entertainment media, consumerism and drugs of many kinds.  A majority of us have slipped without even realizing it into a new form of labor bondage, in service to the almighty Bank, by whose credit and in whose debt we live.

During this time, the military-industrial-financial-media corporate conglomerates have grown huge and menacingly well-armed, to the point where it seems almost impossible that those of us who dare to imagine another way of living—another way of relating to the planet and to each other—might prevail.

We must not allow our vision of a better world to be limited by those who are currently in power.

We must insist on the freedom of the World Wide Web as a queer space for those who understand that “our country is the whole world.”

Chelsea Manning, I salute you!  You had the courage to shine a light into the dark corners of our government, no matter the consequences, and now you courageously step into the full measure of your own identity.

May we each learn to be so bold.

World on fire

I had to dig deep into the New York Times, my usual go-to source for “all the news that’s fit to print,” to find any mention of this weekend’s train explosion in the province of Quebec, not far from the Maine border.

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Lac-Megantic on fire July 6, 2013

I knew about it only because here in Canada it’s at the top of the headlines, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper taking the time this Sunday to journey to the small town of Lac-Megantic, where the disaster occurred, to size up the situation and offer his condolences.

Officially, so far, five have been confirmed dead, with scores still missing; Lac-Megantic, pop. 6,000, is said to look like a war zone, with black fumes rising from the burning crude oil carried by the 73-car train.

This on a weekend when temperatures in the Canadian Maritimes soared to record-breaking heights, and harmful algal blooms worldwide choked out marine life along all the coasts.

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Algae bloom on the Yellow Sea in China, July 2013

Astoundingly, at least one Canadian pundit responded to the burning crude and the smoldering township by calling for increased building of pipelines!

Another columnist, in the very same newspaper that reported on Nova Scotia’s unprecedented heat wave, had the nerve to call for more drilling and fracking for oil and natural gas on land and sea in the province.

If there are no more fish in the sea, we can at least extract the last of the fossil fuels, eh?

It’s time to get a grip, people.

What we need is not more oil and gas, but more wind and solar.

We need clean sources of energy, and we need to lower our consumption dramatically.

The window of possibility is smaller and tighter than most of us care to realize.

The tipping point is upon us.

This is not another action movie, a “White House Down”-style disaster flick, ending with the good guys reliably saving the day.

As we saw with the Arizona fires the other day, even the most hot-shot of heroes can go down in a blaze of glory when the fires burn out of control.

Do we really want to wait until the entire world is going up in flames, literally and figuratively speaking, before we act?

This is not a rhetorical question.  And the answer, I believe, is NO.  We can’t afford to sit on our hands any longer.

The time to act is NOW.

Playing hardball with the fossil fuel industry: if not now, when? if not us, who?

Bittersweet sadness fills me this morning as I read an excerpt at Women’s E-News from Eve Ensler’s new memoir, In the Body of the World, about her long, determined, agonizing battle with uterine cancer.

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler

Her TED talk, “Suddenly, My Body” is one that I have returned to watch several times over, and have recommended to many friends as a pulsating, powerful performance that makes perfectly clear what many of us are coming to realize: that there is no separation between our bodies and the world around us.

Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler

Not only is it true, as Joanna Macy and Brian Swimme tell us, that we are the most recent emanations of the stardust that created the life on our planet eons ago, it is also true that our fragile bodies are porous and open, made of the air, earth and water that we move through each day.

If we poison our environment, we poison ourselves.

So many of us are learning that the hard way.

Warrior lionesses like Rachel Carson, Audre Lorde, Wangari Maathai and Eve Ensler—each one snared by her own body’s encounter with the internal malignancy of cancer.

How many powerful, active, full-of-life people do you know who are no longer with us, felled by cancer?

A quick look at the cancer statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control shows cancer rates soaring, especially for Americans 50 and older, and especially in the South, Midwest and Northeast of the country.

In the South and Midwest, they make and use those toxic chemicals—the ones that lace our food supply and flow into our waters, creating a dead zone the size of the state of New Jersey at the mouth of the Mississippi River; the ones that ride the prevailing winds east to fill the skies of the eastern United States and Canada with sooty particulates and airborne toxins.

None of us is immune from this.  No matter how careful we are to buy organic produce or grow our own, to keep BPA plastics out of our kitchens, even to pull up stakes and move to an area of the country that appears to be cleaner—we cannot hide from the reality that we live in a contaminated country, on a planet that is crazily out of balance and on the verge of a major correction.

When the colonizers came to the Americas, they were careful to try to pick off the leaders among the native peoples they encountered, knowing that if you deprive people of their most charismatic, powerful leaders, you will demoralize them and leave them open to takeover.

Although there is no devilish intelligence at work in the cancer epidemic, this dynamic still applies: when cancer takes from us leaders like Rachel Carson, Audre Lorde, Eve Ensler or Wangari Maathai, it leaves the rest of us stricken and reeling, spinning like a rudderless boat.

Sandra Steingraber

Sandra Steingraber

There are those, like Sandra Steingraber, who have been fighting cancer for a long, long time, and using it as a spur to work harder to save our planet/ourselves.

Steingraber was recently put behind bars for two weeks as punishment for her protest of the fossil fuel companies’ plan to hydrofrack for gas in her home territory of upstate New York.

She wrote from prison that it was her love, for her children and for all livings beings on the planet, that drove her to civil disobedience:

“It was love that brought me to this jail cell.

“My children need a world with pollinators and plankton stocks and a stable climate. “They need lake shores that do not have explosive hydrocarbon gases buried underneath.

“The fossil fuel party must come to an end. I am shouting at an iron door. Can you hear me now?”

Yes, we hear you Sandra, and we’re with you!

And yet, so many of us do not act on what we hear and know.

A low-level depression seems to afflict a great swath of the American public, and I would wager that the feelings of powerlessness that come with being unable to control the health of our environment or our selves may have something to do with it.

No matter how many times we go down to Washington D.C. to protest, it seems that the fossil fuel and chemical industries have the U.S. Congress sewn up tight.

Even someone like me, living in what appears to be a clean, leafy rural place, has to contend with farmers who still spray Roundup on their cornfields every spring, or rivers, including the Housatonic, just blocks from my home, heavily contaminated with PCBs from the upstream General Electric plant.

Since there is no way to play it safe, what we need to do is forget about safety now, in these end times, and play hard.

It’s time to give everything we’ve got to the fight to preserve the capacity of our planet to support life on down the generations into the future.

If humans are to be part of that future, we have to rise to the challenges we face now.

Like Eve Ensler, wracked with cancer and yet still leading the charge of One Billion Rising to fight violence against women this spring, we cannot afford to take time out.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai

Like Kenyan Wangari Maathai, felled so quickly by cancer even as she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in preventing the desertification of her country by teaching ordinary women to raise and plant trees, we have to be creative in our approaches, working at the grassroots when those at the top won’t listen.

Like Sandra Steingraber and so many other activists, we have to be willing to face the consequences of our disobedience to those in power.

Playing nice, following the rules, being polite—where has that gotten us?  When the polluters of the planet are playing hardball, we have to respond in kind—although our life-affirming version of hardball might involve planting trees, or raising flash mobs of dancers, or forming human chains of resistance at the boundaries of old-growth forests.

Rachel, Audre, Wangari, Eve, Sandra…we’re right behind you.  Fighting all the way.

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