The Dream of Descent

Last night I dreamed about descent – again. This time I was in a cylindrical elevator, with six other people (three adults and three children, none recognizable from real life), on a high floor of a steel-glass tower. I knew we had enemies within the building, whom we’d had to elude to reach the elevator, who might yet prevent us from reaching ground and getting out. Yes, the doors were closed – we were safe for the moment – but it was a long way down.

In other dreams, I’ve descended – or considered doing so – by way of a staircase, a rope ladder, a flat-bottomed wooden boat dropping from a rock face into a lake. Just yesterday, I realized that the metaphor of descent, which has us tumbling from the cultural peak we’ve supposedly reached to the depths of dearth and violence, is both inapt and coercive. Inapt because a sky-high whiz-bang quotient (yes, we’ve got that!) does not imply (and usually militates against) profound wisdom, witness, humility, and respect. Coercive because who wants to take a great fall, and wind up shattered? Better cling to that height for dear life!

Yet I still dream in this metaphor. I still fear descent.

I need a new story.

Here’s an idea: Replace descent with recovery.

We’re sick. We’re addicted (to whiz-bang). We feed our war machine with one hand while slapping it (squawking, “Stop that!”) with the other. We hack at the web of life (or, more often, have others do the hacking for us, out of sight) in perverse pursuit of what we need, or think we need, to stay alive.

It’s true, recovery can be painful. Jolting. Even scary. But, for the most part, it beats staying sick.

Beyond Bounded Choice

Let’s talk about bounded choice.

Years ago, on my way out of Zendik, I read a book of that title (subtitle: True Believers and Charismatic Cults). The author, Janja Lalich, had become a sociologist, specializing in cultic studies, after ten years in a political cult that dissolved when the followers lost faith in the leader. In the book, she draws on her own experience, as well as her research into other groups (Heaven’s Gate, in particular) to show that cult members are neither stupid nor mindless, that they do think and choose for themselves – it’s just that great swaths have been removed from their field of possibility. So they operate within an extremely narrow range.

This last election, and its aftermath, have confirmed for me that yes, industrial civilization is a cult, and yes, its true believers experience, and act from, a condition of bounded choice.

The range of options was already dismally slim, before the campaigning began; it excluded (for example) a shift to bio-regional governance, an overhaul of a constitution designed to smooth the transmogrification of a continent into cash, and meaningful participation by a party opposing corporate rule. Then Bernie – who threatened to expand the view at least a few degrees – was shoved off the stage, and the pressure (in my world) to fall into lockstep behind Hillary intensified to the point of suffocation. Two choices remained: Back Her, or be responsible for bringing on the apocalypse.

Never mind that She too is a creature of the technosphere, which can’t help but chomp sovereignty, joy, leisure, and other requirements for health and well-being, with every beat of its frigid heart.

Anyone who insists you have only two choices is lying, and/or terrified you’ll peek behind door number three (or door number infinity), and/or hoping to stave off further abuse from a person or entity she or he does not yet recognize as an abuser.

Now, post-election, some are calling for a Love Revolution – sounds good to me! But, for the most part, the range of response seems cramped: Protest. Call or email your corporate stooges – I mean, elected officials. Rage against Chief Tweet-Tweet’s latest appointment. Boycott X department store. Take your money out of Y bank. Maybe that’s because pretty much every suggestion for “action” comes to us by way of the technosphere, which, despite its seeming omnipresence, represents a mere blip in the field holding all the many ways of knowing. What do the trees say? The insects? The fungi? How about the water? The soil? Our ancestors? How about our own souls – have we paused to consult them lately? How about our bodies, our inner teachers, our deep wisdom, revealed to us through sacred mirrors?

Take, for example, Obamacare. In my world, repealing it is heresy – how will X number of people access health insurance, and techno-medical care, without it? The bounded choices are: Fight for Obamacare, or suffer from lack of access to allopathic medicine. Okay, now how about let’s widen the field to include a few more options: Quit subsidizing the production of edible food-like substances (by paying “farmers” to monocrop, by destroying beings of all kinds in the name of “cheap” oil, by building and maintaining highways plied by long-haul trucks). Redesign human communities for local trade, and walking. Restore sovereignty to localities, which won’t necessarily be willing to surrender their “resources” (aka living webs) to the highest bidder. Revive our millennia-old relationship with plants as medicine. Reject wireless internet, with its EMFs and push towards isolation. Close schools and prisons, and replace jobs with mutualistic community-based contribution, so we can relax and move at a pace we choose. Replace house-boxes with commonly held farms, woods, and gathering places, capable of providing all the social nourishment we need. Quit subsidizing, and legitimizing, psychopathic (corporate) polluters. Begin to create the possibility of real, glowing, exuberant health – imagine that!

Can you?

Meet Me in the Meadow of Miracles

Imagination is a muscle. It strengthens with use.

This coming Saturday, my dear friend Deborah and I will be leading a workshop called Building Imaginal Bridges here at Earthaven Ecovillage, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Earthaven is just down the road from the old Zendik Farm, where I first encountered “imagine” as a future-forming verb.

At Zendik, we believed that we could spark change by envisioning our “imajia” world, our “imajia” selves; we called our utopia “Ecolibrium,” short for “ecological equilibrium.” While there, I read descriptions by Wulf (one of Zendik’s co-founders) of Ecolibrium, wrote about it myself, tape-recorded a conversation with a friend in which we tried to render our future visions in sensual detail. From Wulf’s writing, I recall the idea of diverting the military to eco-restoration, and the idea of the “simpleton system” – an approach to tools, machines, and devices dictating that all of them should be understandable, and repairable, at least by a village craftsperson, if not by every user; in my own writing, I tried to re-form myself as the perfect Zendik, and the world as a place where everyone lived as I believed we did – in total honesty and cooperation, with respect for each other’s genius, joyously pursuing work we loved. Sometimes I mentioned specifics – advertising would disappear, attempts to lie would cause skull explosions, there’d be “lots of singing, lots of music—color in sound, as in sight. Many distinct tones and trills and voices. Laughter and weeping. Goats bleating. Birds warbling and cats squawking and babies caterwauling.” In our tape-recorded conversation, my friend and I imagined a web of villages, each with its own cast of growers, gatherers, makers, its own art, music, food, clothing, stories – walk a mile or two down the path and find a different culture.

Despite the etheric electric fence around my mind, at Zendik, I did catch a glimpse of the power and wonder of imagining, with as much precision as I could, how life might be a generation hence, what shape my own life might one day take. After Zendik, as my imaginal field expanded to include any idea or source that appealed to me, as I claimed freedom to write and speak freely, I began to notice that dreams drawn from my inklings and yearnings, then seeded in word and speech, sometimes came true.

Here’s the thing, fellowbeings: We are called, now, to do far more than proofread, or edit, or even revise our collective story – we are called to reimagine it. We can do this, if we strengthen our imaginal muscles by using them, if we bust through our current story’s etheric electric fence to the meadow, just beyond it, where miracles sprout like wildflowers.

Thirteen years ago, in Chico, California, the man who inscribed the curvy purple “W” on my arm told me that only when he was able to see a plan in action did it wind up being realized. In a culture beyond fixing – but ripe for rebirth – it is our responsibility, and could be our joy, to practice seeing – with all three eyes – the worlds, the lives, the webs that make our hearts sing.

Come to Earthaven – where “village” is a verb – and build imaginal bridges with us. Stone by stone. Pebble by pebble. Grain by grain of sand.

#Imagine.

Derrick Jensen and Charles Eisenstein Fistfight in Heaven

I have just read Charles Eisenstein’s freshly published essay, Standing Rock: A Change of Heart. This is fortuitous, since I’d been wanting to write about how it feels to be immersed in Derrick Jensen’s perspective versus how it feels to be immersed in Charles Eisenstein’s.

Reading A Language Older Than Words a few weeks ago (followed by What We Leave Behind), I noticed ghosts rising up, between the lines – whose voice does this voice remind me of? Oh yes, I realized – Jensen’s writing style echoes Eisenstein’s. Both take a measured approach to potentially inflammatory material; both logically, methodically build a fully furnished conceptual structure in which a reader could choose to live. Both marry clarity with eloquence; both work (I am guessing) extremely hard to avoid being misunderstood.

Yet the results – the conceptual houses, and how it feels to inhabit them – could not be more different.

Since early 2012, I have dwelt, on and off, in versions of Eisenstein’s house. Here, miracles happen (miracles meaning phenomena not possible from within my current story); here, the world can be healed by webs of relationships and spirals of gifts. This house is a live-in cathedral; it has high ceilings, and tall windows admitting floods of light. It invites me to gaze up, and out, in wonder.

Before the 2008 election (and its predecessor, the bailout) I paid a visit to Jensen’s house; after the 2016 election, I paid another. Here, miracles as Eisenstein defines them are magical thinking; here, wildness alone can renew us, and to preserve what little is left we must fight. This house is a hovel. A shack with sooty panes and splintered siding, a wood stove warming a tiny radius. It warns me to hunker down and huddle; the wind outside is worse.

Why is there a question, regarding which house I would choose? Because cathedrals are just as likely as hovels to collapse, in earthquakes, and cathedrals have farther to fall.

Meaning, what if the hovel is real, the cathedral a fantasy? Given a choice between prolonging a dream, and letting truth shatter it, I’ll take the latter.

Then again, there must be a third way. There always is. Maybe I don’t choose one house over the other; maybe I wander from one to the next, then elsewhere, then beyond the reach of my map. Maybe I track joy deep into the woods, whether or not I believe I can find my way back.

I Heart “the Environment”

The phrase “the environment” makes me gag. Why?

Here’s a puppet example: “Let’s cover a million square miles of desert with solar panels! It’ll help the environment.” What’s wrong with this picture?

First, the picture frames “the environment” as optional. We can “help” it or not – we choose. And “helping” doesn’t involve radical rediscovery of who we are, or deep reassessment of how we live – it means (can mean) implementing yet another industrial megaproject that fits in with business (monetization of the commons) as usual.

Second, the picture depicts “the environment” as separate from humans (those deigning to do the “helping”). Would you like to support the environment? Gun control? Abortion rights? You choose! Pick any dish on the menu!

Then there’s the term “ecocide.” It’s not widely used – and it too sets humans (those using the word) apart from that which is being killed. It allows us to gloss over the fact that this “eco” we are “ciding” is our home.

May I suggest a replacement? Home-icide.

Which raises the question: Why is it obviously repugnant to, say, shit on the living room floor, but completely acceptable to fence off a great swath of living room (room where beings live) and pile it with our trash? Imagine paying a first visit to the apartment of someone you’re dating. Imagine he treats his home the way industrially civilized humans treat ours. Would you even consider another date?

Maybe what’s most sinister about the words “the environment,” and the way they’re used, is that they evoke scenery. A backdrop. Look: In the foreground, there’s (industrially civilized) human life. There are people going to work, going to school. Consuming media. Shopping at supermarkets. Communing with smartphones. In the background, there’s a pleasant vista – grass, trees, sky, clouds, maybe some hills or a mountain range. The job of that vista – “the environment” – is to sit still and look pretty. To provide a matrix for our actions, without complaint. To give, and give, and give, and not get in the way.

In reality, industrially civilized humans play but a bit part in this scene; in reality, most of the action – most of the living – is happening in that backdrop.

Options for referring to the entity formerly known as “the environment” with greater accuracy: Home. The web of life.

Then again, maybe the way to add accuracy to straw statements like the one above about solar panels is to make plain what the speaker really means. As in, “Let’s cover a million square miles of desert with solar panels! It’ll prolong the death march of industrial civilization – while assuring us, for a few more years, that there’s really nothing wrong.”

 

“Development” as Home-icide: Cover Your Eyes

I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen’s semi-memoir, A Language Older Than Words. In a chapter called “Seeking a Third Way,” he describes making a comment at a public meeting that breaks “the basic commandment of our culture: Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.” Later, in “The Goal Is the Process,” he ponders what to name the people responsible for destroying the forest near his home, so they can build houses. His dictionary, he says, “defines develop as to cause to become gradually fuller, larger, better” – which is not what happens when a thriving – albeit non-human – community is replaced with a monocrop of petro-cement apartment blocks. I too have struggled with this question; when I dare, I replace “develop” with “monetize” – knowing I’m breaking the social consensus, yet loath to let the easier, falser word constrict my throat.

Jensen ventures a step further: “Killers is probably the best name for them,” he says, “because that’s what they do.”

Right now, in Beacon, in the “linkage zone” between the train station and Main Street, carnage erupts behind a gesture of a fence. Apartments are slated to be built there; the trees have been bulldozed in preparation – along, I presume, with countless creatures who once made that place their home.

I think now of a friend’s comment that white people like to wax eloquent about their precious environment, while ignoring the violence we perpetrate on black and brown people, in collusion with our culture of white supremacy, every day. What is true here? What is true about that?

In the case of this particular stretch of land, there’s a connection between violence done on behalf of white supremacy and violence done to trees. The urban removal project executed in that area decades ago destroyed a black community. And the common thread, as Jensen points out time and again, may be the silencing – the pretense of no pain felt, no pain that matters – preceding the forced uprooting of our fellowbeings.

The “linkage zone” is on my mind because I attended a meeting the other night on Beacon’s comprehensive plan. I believe the planner at the podium was speaking of the MTA when he said, of a particular parcel, something like, “That’s their property. They can do whatever they want with it.” For some reason – maybe because I was in the midst of the Jensen book – I heard the word “property,” and the sentence surrounding it, in a new and sinister way. I heard it echoing back to the days of slavery, and wives as wards of their husbands. I flashed on a man flinging a woman across a room, not caring if she cracked a bone as she smashed against the wall – she’s his property; he can do what he wants with her. Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.

Should the verb “develop” ever take a living object? Perhaps it can only respectfully be transitive when what’s being developed is a story, an understanding, an idea. Then again, maybe not even stories can be developed – maybe they are received, through listening. Maybe when the writer, or teller, listens well enough, the story develops itself.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Dictator

I am hearing fears of fascism, in relation to the election of Tronald Dump. (Don’t you love a good spoonerism? Me, too!) Some seem to believe that he can destroy (what’s left of) our liberty all by himself. But: Fascism requires foot soldiers. Like, lots of them. Where will they come from? Will President Dump hire Russian mercenaries? Start a cloning program (as the South does in The Fifth Sacred Thing) to produce androids without family or empathy? Not likely. Chances are, if he wants to assume dictatorial powers, he’ll need to rely on millions of reg’lar ’muricans. People just like – I mean, not at all like – you and me.

In The Dandelion Insurrection (which I’ve mentioned before), a network of Oath Guardians emerges, in opposition to a government that is obviously rotting from the inside. “An Oath Guardian,” one character explains to the hero and heroine, “is a soldier, a cop, or any other security officer who refuses to enforce unconstitutional laws. They took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States and they aren’t about to let scumbag politicians use them as pawns in their power games. Not against their own people.” And so, when the frackers come to town, some of those deployed to protect them secretly side with the locals who want the extractors gone. Plus, the locals temporarily close their businesses, so the frackers and their ilk will have nowhere to lodge, buy food, get gas. The moral of the story? It takes a village to raise a dictator. Fascism can only take hold if we the people choose to collaborate.

Which brings me to the commons. Why might we choose collaboration? What is the most common excuse ever for doing shitty, abusive things? “Just doin’ my job, ma’am.” “I gotta make a living.”

Okay, and why do we need jobs? Why do we make this thing called a “living”? Because air, water, soil, food, fun, learning, shelter, travel, etc., have all been monetized. You wanna eat? You need money. You want a roof over your head? You need money. You want to get from A to B? You need money. And so, I would say, if you want to head off fascism, shrink the reach of money. De-monetize. You cannot use money to coerce the service of a human who does not need money to survive.