Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Butterflies on Steroids

I recently finished reading "A Question of Values" by Morris Berman and was stopped dead in my tracks by his statement:
"Wouldn't it make sense, at this point, for America to "resign' with dignity? To come to terms with its collapse, and just accept it?" I think about this all the time. It's been my personal Zen koan, even before reading Berman's book.

So you open your safe and find ashes. But exactly who--what publisher, what network--would even entertain such a story? Of America "resigning" and coming to terms with its collapse? Acceptance of this damning truth may be our only exit from the culture of lies and denial--from the "psychic free radicals" poisoning everyone's energy field and filling the collective atmosphere with a sense of dread--but ultimately (once you seriously think about it), would facing up to this truth help or harm? Were we fully to acknowledge our civilizational and environmental collapse, wouldn't that signal a hopeless defeatism from which there could be no possibility of recovery? But what if recovery really is not possible? Would that mean a loss of faith in life, of still having confidence in something which is broken? Can we even grasp what it would be like to live without confidence in the future?

Anyway, it won't happen. Nobody, not Obama and certainly not the Republicans, not Charlie Rose or Jon Stewart or anyone else, is going to stand up tall and officially inform the American people that it's "over" for our country. Nobody wants to tell their out-of-town friends that the houseplants have died and gone black, sitting in their pots in the bay window. Who among us is likely to admit that we really have no idea what we should do? Life seems as if it just goes on, irregardless; it goes on as before, at least for those whose houses are still standing and are not under water--whose chess pieces can still be found in their rightful positions on an end table in some well-furnished room. For those who are still that lucky, there is no shortage of good days.

In his book, Berman cites a Feb.2, 2009 essay by Benjamin Barber, published in The Nation: "It is hard to discern any movement toward a wholesale rethinking of the dominant role of the market in our society. No one is questioning the impulse to rehabilitate the consumer market as the driver of American commerce." Many weights have fallen on the heads of the American people since then, with notable frequency, but thus far, nothing has broken the powerful pattern. "Rather than being on the verge of some possible cultural renaissance," Berman comments, "or a reversal of our entire history, what we are now witnessing is the slow-motion suicide of the nation, with Mr. Obama guiding us, in a genteel and semi-conscious way, into the grave. Indeed, what more can he or anybody do at this point?" I still vividly recall Berman's comment, even before Obama became president, that whoever got elected would end up being a funeral director, rather than a president.

One of my favorite writers (whom I've also been reading of late), Caroline Myss, in her Forward to Andrew Harvey's "The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism," claims that aside from the obvious social, political, economic, and environmental challenges facing us, there are even more treacherous subtle forces at play, such as the ever-accelerating rapidity of these changes--to the point where we can't really keep up with them. Change now happens at light speed and is global in magnitude. There is hardly such a thing anymore as a "local" change, says Myss.

"The Internet and the television have brought changes of all nations into view within seconds and not only into view, but into your bank account, into your stock holdings, into your insurance policies, and into your job security. A shift in the market in Japan or China could result in the loss of your job in the morning." It sounds like the "butterfly effect," only on steroids. (The "butterfly effect" refers to the proposition that whatever happens in the world has a ripple effect that eventually affects every other thing in the world. Thus, a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio can cause an earthquake in Beijing.) The information overload of news and information, warns Myss, affects not only our exterior lives but also our emotional, psychological, and mental well-being:

"I frequently have people tell me," she writes, "that they avoid the news because it's all negative, but is avoidance really a mature response?" (To me, avoidance seems like a nickel magic trick.) If you decide to avoid the news because it's all negative, "then who should respond to those assaulting the environment?" asks Myss. "And to those committing war crimes? And to those violating our constitution? These crimes happened and will continue to happen precisely because people do not want to look at the shadow of the society we live in, much less the shadow of the global community." Don't imagine for a moment, she adds, that by not following the news you can avoid the psychic free radicals generated by the collective unconscious. They are penetrating willy-nilly into your individual psychic field whether you are paying attention or not.

Item. From my local newspaper today: "For the first time in a year, Americans have stopped spending more. Consumer spending failed to budge from April to May, evidence that high gasoline prices and unemployment are squeezing household budgets....Consumer spending is important because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity."

Item. A friend from Roanoke, who has been driving across the country to California with her dog, sends this bulletin (along with many others): "Arkansas seems to have missed the fact that the World did not end on May 21st. I counted 12 billboards still proudly displaying the 'message.' "

Enough for now. I am ending this post with opening lines from a poem by Ray Bradbury:

"Not smash and grab, but rather find and keep;
Go panther-pawwed [sic] where all the mined truths sleep
To detonate the hidden seeds with stealth
So in your wake a weltering of wealth
Springs up unseen, ignored, and left behind
As you sneak on, pretending to be blind."

And that, folks, is my collage offering for the week. I hope to leave behind a weltering of wealth that will spring up unseen in my wake, as I myself sneak on, pretending to be blind, which of course, I'm not.

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