October 6, 2003
"O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind."
Animism: The belief the world in ensouled... That all things (rocks, trees, water, tea kettles, toothbrushes, words, clouds, tattered sport jackets) are alive, contain consciousness, long for intimacy, and should be afforded dignity.
Ridiculous, you say. What kind of a cracked-brain, flaky-ass view-of-the-world is this? I'm supposed to attribute consciousness to and respect the dignity of a toothbrush? Bestow rights and privileges upon an appliance? "We find these truths to be self-evident that all toasters are created equal..." During political debates, candidates would stand absolutely still, in complete silence, attempting to court key blocks of inanimate voters. (Now is it beginning to sound appealing?)
Contemporary people have come to believe that all of the objects of existence (sans ourselves) are inert, inanimate, insensate. The world is ours to have our way with -- is ours to exploit in any manner we deem fit. Everything and anything must first and foremost serve our needs.
Perceiving existence in this manner diminishes the world and ourselves; it is the antithesis of the creative, poetic, and spiritual imperative to make every moment holy.
At this point, please indulge me, by allowing me to pose a series of modestly outlandish (seeming inane) questions. What if we knelt to prayer before a plastic patio chair -- or believed we could lose our souls to the Mephistophelesian light of a polystyrene sign -- or took up the ritual of speaking Kaddish for the spirits of the dead who rise from landfills? Preposterous, huh? Then answer me this: What would previous generations have made of the ubiquity of TV, radio, print, and online advertisements, of the landscape-occluding billboards and the stupefying infomercials of the present era -- all of which praise material objects to the point of a fetish -- if not -- a prayer? Would they, perhaps, see it as the litany of a corrupt priesthood, the machinations of an elite who have grown rich on false promises and who have turned us into acolytes of dross?
The creators of commercial advertisements distort words and images by employing the same techniques as religious demagogues and the old school, political propagandist of totalitarian states: This corrupt priesthood usurps ours dreams, nightmares, and longings by employing powerful archetypal imagery to gain and retain power over a gullible and ignorant populace. But there are consequences: When dreams mean nothing -- when words and images are rendered meaningless -- our lives reflect these dismal states; because, our dreams are our internal analog of the vast, manifold, and incompressible sublime of the cosmos. When we dream: We are spiraling supernovas and spindling stalks of slime mold. We are schools of silent fish and we are the fulmination of thunder. We are uniquely ourselves -- but also contain all of existence... To lose our dreams is to lose our soul. Hence: To have the verities of our inner selves twisted and distorted towards the selfish ends of corporate capitalism and the dishonest agendas of mass media-driven political discourse is to become estranged from the realities of the vast cosmos; thereby, we grow inured to phrases such a preemptive war, collateral damage and acceptable losses, expression that we should find repellent, if not, mortifying. It should follow then: We should change the names of the civilian casualities of war inscribed upon tombstones to simply "Collateral Damage." Then, narratives of the bereaved might sound something like this: "You see, when the bombs of the preemptive warriors fell on our home -- our child, 'Collateral Damage,' who was asleep in her crib, was turned into an acceptable loss." Now try this: See how the statement above sounds out when you insert the names of your loved-ones -- or even the names of your pets.
High tech and mechanized warfare does to human beings what industrialization first wrought upon nature. Objects are used, used-up, then discarded; nature is subdued, exploited, and decimated; trees are toppled; rivers are dammed; mountains are ground down to silt; words are degraded, attenuated, finally stripped of meaning -- then they come after us.
What have we conjured? What sort of a world do we call forth when our lives become increasingly isolated, benumbed, and inauthentic? The answer is: We're living in it -- this age of hucksterism and crypto-colonial conquest, this era of pervasive flim flam and permanent war... How does one endeavor to remain authentic? How can one even know what authentic is when dwelling in times such as these? Who are we -- when -- our identities are formed in, and even, molded by a culture dominated by proliferate propaganda, empty salesmanship, and lies of omission? Are we condemned to slouch through our lives as somnambulating ciphers, dim denizens of a world made manifest by mountebanks? Not only do we lose our sense of identity -- but -- what we inflict upon the world -- we will, sooner or later, inflict upon ourselves: Workers lament the feeling of being "used" by a faceless, corporate system; Nazis architects appropriated the model of the assembly line when creating the death camps as organs of mechanized mass murder; neo-conservative ideologues compare American troops in Iraq to "flypaper."
What if we were seized and shook by shamatic visions sent to us from an ensouled earth that had grown enraged with our ignorance and indifference towards its plight? What if these fantastic and terrifying narratives warned of dire events and augured destruction, in which, oceans rose, hurricanes roiled, glaciers melted, the very young and the very old perish from extreme heat and cold, as clouds of pestilence descended upon the land?
Are these visions outlandish mythos -- or last summer's weather reports? What difference would it make whether these dire and dread circumstances are wrought by wrathful Gods or Global warming? The structure, plot, theme, and dénouement are essentially the same: Hubris and ignorance transform nature into a force of blind destruction, rendering arrogant folly rending tragedy. Whether engendered by Gods, or memes, or molecules -- suffering is suffering, untimely death is untimely death, regardless of the cause.
The inanimate world, it seems, has much to say to us. We are the ones who are just sitting there like a bump on a log, dumb as dirt, thick as a brick, deaf as a post, as insensate as stone, oblivious to the warnings and admonitions of the besieged earth. We can ill afford not to listen. If we begin to afford dignity to the things of the world, we might begin to restore it to ourselves.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).
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