Welcome To The Polyculture!

by Milo Clark

July 19, 2004   


(Swans - July 19, 2004)  Jack (to the audience):

"The designated mourner. I am the designated mourner. I have to tell you that a very special little world has died, and I am the designated mourner. Oh, yes, you see, it's an important custom in many groups and tribes. Someone is assigned to grieve, to wail, and light the public ritual fire. Someone is assigned when there is no one else." (1)

A very special, very big world has died. I have grieved, wailed and lit fires. I have raged, ranted and raved here and elsewhere. Nothing is bringing it back. Nothing can bring it back now that it is gone.

What was this very special and very big world? That's an easy one. The world of my illusions rests not in peace but in starkly etched shadows masking the losses involved. I thought peace had a chance. I thought all this Bush stuff was exception rather than norm. Let me publicly put that old monoculture to rest.

Two stalwart Swans' readers, Ray O. And Staci S.* [see Letters, ed.], both of Missouri, the "Show Me State," I think they called it that once upon a time: both Staci and Ray have helped me reconnect with patterns that needed to be recollected.

Ray O. called my lapse in naming Wendell Berry as Thomas Berry's brother. In doing so, he brought back Jim Berry, Thomas Berry's actual brother.

Some years ago, it would have to have been in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Jim Berry, then at his magnificent Center for Reflection on the Second Law, participated in a letter-writing process now mimicked in Internet chat rooms and lists. There were about a dozen folks in the loop. On a very broad topic, we wrote each other letters.

Every week or so a packet would show up in the mail which contained the round robin of letters since my last one. I would take my old one out and put in a new one in and send it to the next person on the list. Wonderful exchanges in a time when there was no Internet and few such opportunities. Exciting, stimulating.

I called up one of Jim Berry's articles published in 1994, toward the end of his days. "Thinking About Rules and Strategies" is the title. (2) Jim wrote, "The corporate world organizes and directs a huge proportion of the total human work available in pursuit of corporate success and with little regard to its effect on earth's ability to function. Whereas work ought to be directed toward integrating humans into the life community and achieving a satisfactory relationship with earth, it is not so directed. This represents a huge failure of our society and our world. For surely it is our obligation to make a comfortable fit of the human community into the earth community as a whole. . . and here we are ruining Earth's suitability for habitation by humans as well as other creatures. That's why I say the crazy people are in charge."

No argument possible on that conclusion.

Jim Berry goes on to run the now too familiar litany of horrors inflicted on Gaia for all who may care about such issues. If you need some pumping up or refills for your juice, look up the complete article.

Thomas Berry is still alive and writing. His most recent book is The Great Work, Our Way Into the Future. (3) I cited his four points recently in the Swans piece for which Ray O. called my tune.

Our way into the future is anchored in four wisdom points: 1. Indigenous peoples; 2. Women; 3. Traditions; and 4. Science. "It seems quite clear that these all agree with the intimacy of humans with the natural world in a single community of existence." (p. 193) There is wide continuity between the brothers' perspectives and writings.

"The story of the universe is now being told as the epic story of evolution by scientists. We begin to understand our human identity with all other modes of existence that constitute with us the single universe community. The one story includes us all." (p. 200)

"We are now experiencing a moment of significance far beyond what any of us can imagine. . . . The mythic vision has been set into place. The distorted dream of an industrial technological paradise is being replaced by the more viable dream of a mutually enhancing human presence with the every-renewing organic-based Earth community. . . . In the larger cultural context the dream becomes the myth that both guides and drives the action."

". . . moments of grace are transient moments. The transformation must take place within a brief period. Otherwise it is gone forever. In the immense story of the universe, that so many of these dangerous moments have been navigated successfully is some indication that the universe is for us rather than against us." (p. 201)

As designated mourner for the monoculture, I say Welcome to the Polyculture! Cherish it.

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Notes and Resources

1.  Wallace Shawn, The Designated Mourner, Noonday of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1996, ISBN 0-374-13822-2.  (back)

2.  see http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/content/v11.1/berry.html (as of July 10, 2004).  (back)

3.  Thomas Berry, The Great Work, Our Way Into the Future, Bell Tower, New York, 1999, ISBN 0-609-60525-9. The detailed and annotated bibliography is worth more than I can say.  (back)

*  Staci, I'll work your insight into the next Swans commentary. Thanks for your help. You may also want to add Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism to your bibliography.  (back)

US Elections & Democracy on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).

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Published July 19, 2004
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