The Amazon Is Burning

In case you haven’t been paying attention…

As I write this the Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

I feel it is most likely that most of us, most of the time, just don’t know what to do with the question. Don’t know what to do with the accelerating litany of…, crises is too bland a term for the cascade of increasingly devastating dynamics replacing what had been the relative stability of the past few thousand years.

It is necessary to clarify that what we had taken as normal has, for most of human existence been a case of shifting baselines and re-calibrating normality based on recent experience versus any understanding of long-term dynamics and the way our ascendancy has been paralleled by a loss of diversity and a general decline in the health of the Earth’s Web-of-Life. As Genesis intimates, we were born into a Garden of Abundance and then something happened and we were driven out.

Still, for all of human existence up to this point there has been a reservoir of abundance from which we’ve been able to…, not only draw sustenance, but develop and accept the notion that destroying abundance in one area can “create” wealth in another. Every human activity beyond the lightest level of hunter/gatherer pressure on the land has done this. Our entire History has been the playing out this trade of general abundance for some localized surplus, what we call wealth.

This goes back much farther than Capitalism, although Capitalism has deified this process and made it the single, significant endeavor for human-kind. It has taken the notion of translating abundance into a form of social control into its present form within the Technocratic system under which we all suffer today.

There is so much that could be said on this topic…. Much is being said. What has been lacking is how we might make a connection between the way we exist within the Edifice of Thought that has been building from that moment, poetically marked in Genesis, to the point where we are today.

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

The American Dream has been a license for its people to give themselves to nothing and sell themselves to anyone willing to flatter or frighten them into accepting what money can buy.

Part of the Abundance we’ve plowed through has been an abundance of what we can only call wisdom. Pre-Genesis, not literally, but figuratively, there was enough human wisdom. Wisdom, not knowledge. We’ve come to accept these terms to be identical, or at least much more closely coupled than they are in fact. The climax of this particular confusion comes in a confluence of a deluge of data and a sore lack of any useful point of view.

Useful…, this term too, as with so much of our language today, has been muddied and confused almost beyond redemption. As with so much else, we rush off into battling over distinctions of detail while completely ignoring the foundation of meaning. Useful does not mean fitting to this or that system of belief. Useful means being of use. And for something to be of use it needs be effective. Effective, not efficient. Efficiency is the institutionalization of urgency and the raising of urgency to the level of supreme value. To be effective something needs to make contact with something we might call reality beyond what we hold within whatever system of thought we might suffer under. To be effective something needs to turn the course of events in the direction intended by those doing the acting. Today the only thing that is effective is our capacity to confuse ourselves and others over how to deny or obfuscate the unintended consequences of all of our actions.

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

We have no place to stand. We are alienated from our own minds, parasitically infested by an Edifice of Thought that fulfills its own agenda at the cost of everything else. It defends its agenda. We defend its agenda whenever we allow ourselves to avoid even a moment’s uncertainty to rush back into the arms of the fabricated illusion of certainty it provides. We have grown accustomed to seek security in defending its incoherence and discounting our own, innate sense of self-preservation.

A fog closes in on us and we find we just cannot enter into a space outside its confines. Confines we take, gratefully, as the limits of all that can be. Confines that enforce our alienation from any and all sources of vitality.

And, into this terrible hole in our attention everything we fear, and everything we try so hard to avoid, rushes in. As Jung said, “That which we seek to avoid in our Shadow comes back to haunt us as Nemesis.”

Even this we fail to be touched by. Our efforts, and therefore our attention, are dominated by the demands of defending a system of thought that insists we sacrifice anything and everything to maintain it.

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

What drives us to avoid clarity? What drives us to submit; even at this point when it is increasingly clear that our unwillingness, our desperate poverty of imagination, is condemning the world as we’ve ever known it to pass away?

At the risk of burying the lead, It’s only now that I get to what may be the most salient point. No one wants to hear any of this.

How many people do you think will even look at this post? Two? Five?

How many will reach this line without having found sufficient excuses to move their attention elsewhere?

Hm….

There appears to be an unspoken rule,* a fundamental etiquette that must be followed if a voice expects to be heard. In this America; whose founding beliefs, if not its rationalizations, are spreading around the world and swallowing up every potential alternative way of life; that rule is,

“Ask me to do anything and charge me what you will for your trouble; but never expect me to drop my illusions. Even for a moment.”

All public discourse; every entertainment, distraction; any way in which this people spend their time; all these activities are bound by this rule. It is enshrined in the Holiest term known, Freedom. Every knee-jerk reaction burned deeply into every psyche is to take any whiff of a challenge to this rule as a challenge to Our Highest Value….

And so we defend our own alienation.

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

What is on offer here if we were to let this holiest of holies go? Would all our dreams come true? Would we, “Make America Great Again?”

“But that’s what those people believe! Not me!” Or, “What so bad about that?” It doesn’t matter how any of us react to this suggestion. What matters is that its presumptions and foundations in unexamined beliefs and expectations infect us all. This particular excrescence rises to the surface at this particular moment; along with the vacant grins beneath greedy eyes under mops of unruly, implausible hair; held as if in parentheses between upraised thumbs, our new Fascist Salute; these the greatest sign of approaching Nemesis and our, perhaps ultimate, tragedy.

What is this America that has swept everything and everyone else aside? One way of looking at it came to me in this poem, From Wood End…

Written while sitting on the Easternmost beach in this country facing water to the West, these lines get at the point…

From this spit of sand, here was glimpsed the first
of the “Purple Mountains’ Majesty.”
That would continue to beckon westward across this continent.
New, or not new, to those who felt its tug.

From this sand spit today, knowing what lies beyond,
long enough for that yearning to have circled the globe entire.
Rubbing off every potential new promontory
any vestige of that naive,
yet hopeful, wish.

From this sand spit, where now too many come to visit,
or, to stay.
Longing for the very qualities
that appeared to have no value to them then.

From this sand spit, looking west.
Ticking off the meridians lost to date:
The misty forests of the Lebanon. The glades and bowers of Crete.
Green plains of Tripoli. Syracuse’s pines.
Carthage and Nova Cartagena desert now.
Lusitania, land of light!
Where the wide sea met deep forests along abundant shores.

California!
This word has held all that remained of that hope for a paradise to the west.
Burning, consumed by billions of greedy eyes around the globe.
The last of its promise lost in acrid, orange flames.
Visible from space.

That was ten years ago. Even then there were significant fires…. All that on top of the daily conflagrations of Petroleum and Coal feeding the insatiable maw….

The America that has engulfed the world has been this ultimate expression of this wish to be someplace else. This,

…, looking west.
The clarity of winter sun,
low all day, has lost its pull.
Can we resist, and not yearn, to follow
it west, and west, and back again?

This America, now enraged that its yearning has run out of places to run to…. This America that goes back to Gilgamesh and the Cedars of Lebanon, that Big Sur of the ancient world so long ago sacrificed to this burning desire…. This America today finding its cruelest expressions – no mean feat to out-do the original! – in Brasil. The Philippines, Indonesia, China. And back again in the Cradle of Civilization….

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

Our alienation, our lack of a place to stand, has been codified and is defended by the might of these United States™! This U.S. of the Mind, fed chlorinated chicken and promising burgers for all.

But even here…, you see, for anyone today to “make a point” is to establish a binary and everyone will come down on their favorite side, “Oh! Yes!” or “Oh! No!” And any movement away from what’s brought us here comes to a moaning halt.

One lesson of the past decade, a lesson I’ve been loathe to admit, has been that we can’t be scared into changing. As the litany of disaster and enclosing doom continues to escalate so have the defensive reactions. Denial knows no bounds and takes many forms. Denial has a “Bi-partisan” appeal. Fear is not a tool, a form of leverage we can bring to bear. Just today I saw a quote somewhere that politics is the art of harnessing hatreds. This is all that fear leaves us. We become reduced to what we hate.

The other lesson, too hard to accept and too apparent to deny, is that having a sense of the dynamics that have brought us to this point does not guarantee us any ability to act on this understanding. So long as people value their delusions over an ever-increasingly harsh reality we have no way to even begin to present any pathways that might lead us to something else. Again, see the above rule.*

The Amazon is burning.

How do we respond?

What am I getting at? Maybe it’s just this. Tut-tutting, Pearl-clutching, Gnashing of teeth; none of the available mechanisms for a primate just recently out of the trees to broadcast alarm; are useful today. Nothing that keeps us turning and turning again within the same tired and failing orbits is of use today. We are far beyond the habits of infants discovering what is good to eat: Put everything in your mouth and spit out what doesn’t taste good. But there we are. We need to cultivate this practice of negation. We cannot find anything different unless we can close all the customary doors that we can clearly see only return us to where we started.

We live in a world of negation. Our world views have been reduced to giving ourselves to nothing. And so we entered this “Two hundred years of Nihilism” as Nietzsche foretold. No amount of denial and wishing it were not true will do anything more than strengthen the Shadow and make our Nemesis that much greater.

To find a place, our place, we need to discover and reject all of the aspects of this no-where we find ourselves in. We can never do this without facing our fears. We can never do anything but compound the world’s suffering without finding our courage. We can never respond to anything without first renouncing all that holds us in its thrall.

Most definitively, we can never do anything about anything alone. Until we can face the work required to unravel the tangle that binds us each and binds us all we can never do anything about anything.

How do we respond?

We need to recognize what it is to respond and not simply to react, again. We need to begin to see that a response does not have to feel rewarding, therapeutic, cathartic…. A response, to be an action and not a reaction, must touch the foundations of what is useful and effective. We will never find such action without doing the work.

We find such action in doing the work. It’s not a question of, “Three, Five, Nine!, Twelve Easy steps! and then you’ll be there.” We are there as soon as we begin to let light into those places of darkness. We’re there as soon as we connect with our vitality and re-awaken our sense of self-preservation.

What keeps me up at night is that none of this can happen in isolation. Unless we can find each other and work on this together Nemesis will have its way.

2 Comments

  1. Tony – I read this post. Not sure what I learned from it, but I do admire you for trying to understand and respond to this incredibly complex and muddled social system that we all live in.

    Like

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