Warriors for the Planet

Another summer, another war. I wonder how many summers there have been in the last 5,000 years when human beings were not occupied with killing each other?

Correction: not “human beings,” “men.”

Let’s be frank: even though there may be women in the armed forces of many countries now, war still remains a masculine activity and preoccupation. The women who serve as soldiers must adhere to the masculine warrior code and become honorary “bros,” for whom the worst insult is still be called a “girl” or a “pussy.”

AnneBaring_A_lgI have been reading Anne Baring’s magisterial book The Dream of the Cosmos, in which she gives a detailed account of the shift, around the time of Gilgamesh, from the ancient, goddess- and nature-worshipping “lunar cultures” to the contemporary era of solar, monotheistic, warrior-worshipping cultures.

In her elaboration of this shift, I read the tragedy of our time, enacted over and over again all over the planet, and not just by humans against humans, but also by humans against the other living beings with whom we share our world. I quote at length from Baring’s remarkable book:

Gilgamesh-187x300“The archetype of the solar hero as warrior still exerts immense unconscious influence on the modern male psyche, in the battlefield of politics as well as that of corporate business and even the world of science and academia: the primary aim of the male is to achieve, to win and, if necessary, to defeat other males. The ideal of the warrior has become an unconscious part of every man’s identity from the time he is a small child.

“With the mythic theme of the cosmic battle between good and evil and the indoctrination of the warrior went the focus on war and territorial conquest. War has been endemic throughout the 4000 years of the solar era. The glorification of war and conquest and the exaltation of the warrior is a major theme of the solar era—still with us today in George W. Bush’s words in 2005: ‘We will accept no outcome except victory.’ This call to victory echoes down the centuries, ensuring that hecatombs of young warriors were sacrificed to the god of war, countless millions led into captivity and slavery, countless women raped and widows left destitute. It has sanctioned an ethos that strives for victory at no matter what cost in human lives and even today glorifies war and admires the warrior leader. This archaic model of tribal dominance and conquest has inflicted untold suffering on humanity and now threatens our very survival as a species.

2014-06-15-Mission

“The cosmic battle between light and darkness was increasingly projected into the world and a fascination with territorial conquest gripped the imagination and led to the creation of vast empires. It is as if the heroic human ego, identified with the solar hero, had to seek out new territories to conquer, had to embody the myth in a literal sense and as it did so, channel the primitive territorial drives of the psyche into a Dionysian orgy of unbridled conquest, slaughter and destruction. We hear very little about the suffering generated by these conquests: the weeping widows, the mothers who lost sons, the orphaned children and the crops and patterns of sowing and harvesting devastated and disrupted by the foraging armies passing over them, the exquisite works of art pillaged and looted….The long chronicle of conquest and human sacrifice, of exultation in power and the subjugation of enemies might truly be named the dark shadow of the solar age” (118;124).

Like Baring, I see our time as a critical era in the long history of homo sapiens on the planet. There is still hope that enough of us will be able to detach ourselves from the pressures and busyness of our lives—will become conscious of what is happening to the planet and human civilization writ large—will understand that there are other ways to relate to each other and to the Earth, ways that will seem increasingly possible and obvious once we focus on them and begin to put our energies into manifesting our visions of a creative, collaborative, respectful mode of being.

Baring ends her disturbing chapter on the ascendancy of the solar warrior culture with a hopeful quote from The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, from which she springs into her own positive vision of the potential of our time.

“’We stand at the threshold of a revelation of the nature of reality that could shatter our most established beliefs about ourselves and the world. The very constriction we are experiencing is part of the dynamic of our imminent release. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously.’

“As this deep soul-impulse gathers momentum, the ‘marriage’ of the re-emerging lunar consciousness with the dominant solar one is beginning to change our perception of reality. This gives us hope for the future. If we can recover the values intrinsic to the ancient participatory way of knowing without losing the priceless evolutionary attainment of a strong and focused ego, together with all the discoveries we have made and the skills we have developed, we could heal both the fissure in our soul and our raped and vandalized planet” (130-131).

My heart aches for the suffering of the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire in Gaza this summer, and for the grieving families of the passenger plane heinously shot down by warriors who were either poorly trained or just plain evil.

I am heartsick when I think about the holocaust that is overtaking living beings on every quadrant of our planet as humans continue to ravage the forests and seas, to melt the poles with our greenhouse gases, and to poison the aquifers and soil with our chemicals.

The last Polar Bear

This is where the solar cultures, with their “great” warrior kings, have led us. And yet, as Baring says, they have also presided over the most amazing advances in science and technology that humans have ever known in our long history on the planet.

We don’t need or want to go back to the simple innocence of ancient lunar societies. We don’t have to bomb ourselves back into the Stone Age.

What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.

Never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. It is already happening.

Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

As a college professor with a focus on media and issues of social and environmental justice, it’s my responsibility, I believe, to be tuned into the news of the day.

I need to know that, as reported by Jennifer Steinhauer in The New York Times, “For roughly 30 hours over several days, defense lawyers for three former United States Naval Academy football players grilled a female midshipman about her sexual habits. In a public hearing, they asked the woman, who has accused the three athletes of raping her, whether she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex and whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she had intercourse “for being a ho.”

I need to know that the Obama Administrations efforts to regulate and clean up the American coal industry “are certain to be denounced by House Republicans and the industry as part of what they call the president’s “war on coal.”

I have to follow the progress of the latest massive floods in Colorado, noting that they involve the release of unknown quantities of toxic chemicals into the region’s waterways; these floods happened in a populated area of Colorado that also happens to be the site of thousands of gas fracking wells.

Then there are those unprecedented wildfires in California, finally under control after having burned 400 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, with “a solid 60 square miles burned so intensely that everything is dead.”

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13 Photo by Robert Martinez

California Rim Fire, 8-21-13
Photo by Robert Martinez

I have to pay attention when our nation threatens missile strikes on another Middle Eastern country, or there’s another crazy gunman on the rampage with assault weapons in a peaceful civilian setting, or a bunch of ideologically blinkered Republican politicians threaten to shut down the U.S. government and force us to default on our international debt obligations, putting the world financial system in jeopardy, simply in order to embarrass the country’s popular Democratic African-American President.

To do my job well, I have to know about these issues and episodes, and so I follow the media daily.  And yet day by day I grow more resentful of being dragged along on storylines that I find so—so—well, so boring.

They’re boring because they’re so repetitive.  Another fire, another flood, another mass shooting, another U.S. missile or drone strike, another government shutdown to be averted at the last minute.  Another woman raked over the coals when she tries to bring a rapist to justice.

And in the background, the real story, the Big News of our time, grinds on relentlessly, it too so endlessly repeated that we have all become blind, deaf and dumb to it.

I’m referring, of course, to the story of global climate change, with its attendant melting ice, rising seas, rising temperatures, erratic weather and, ultimately, mass extinction of life as we know it on Earth.

I understand why very few humans alive today want to grapple with that story.

If the news episodes I listed above are boring in their repetitiveness, the Big News of climate change is just too scary to take in.

No wonder so many people of all ages just don’t bother following the news, preferring instead to focus on televised sports or the latest mini-series or movies.

People seem to have a fatalistic approach to reality lately.

Obamacare will go through or it will be defunded, no matter what we think or do.  Fossil fuel plants will continue to burn, not only unregulated but subsidized at that; politicians will continue to act in criminal ways (shutting down the U.S. government is an act of treason in my book!), boys will continue to be boys and get slapped on the wrist when a woman dares to cry rape–no matter what we do.

The entire American populace seems to be locked in some kind of slumped-over apathy, just trying to keep up the mortgage payments, trying to stay healthy in an increasingly toxic environment, trying to raise decent kids despite the toxic media entertainment landscape in which the kids spend most of their time.

I’m slumped over with the rest, a lot of the time.

But there is something in me that resists this posture, too.  There is something in me that yearns for a different narrative.  Tell me a different story, somebody, please!

Not a return to the triumphalist patriarchal Manifest Destiny that led us inexorably to the disastrous brink on which we now perch.

Not the macho environmentalism that tries to beat the fossil fuel villains in the courts and the high seas.

Not the moralistic sermonizing of those who see the world in strictly black-and-white, Good-and-Evil binary oppositions.

I’m hungering for something deeper.  Something bigger.  A story that truly acknowledges where we are today as a species, and can help us to perceive the way forward out of the current slumped-over morass of bad news.

Briane Swimme

Briane Swimme

The closest I’ve been able to come to such a story so far is the work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.  In their visionary description of the “Ecozoic Era” that we could create, acting in the best interests of the planet as a whole, I find the map and the compass I’ve been seeking to guide me to a livable future.

In the final chapter of their book The Universe Story, Berry and Swimme lay out a vision that, tragically, we have not heeded in the more than 20 years since the book appeared in 1992.

“In economics it is clear that our human economy is derivative from the Earth economy.  To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Gross Earth Product is an economic absurdity.  So long as our patterns of consumption overwhelm the upper reaches of Earth’s sustainable productivity, we will only drive the Earth community further into ruin.  The only viable human economy is one that is integral with the Earth economy” (256).

“We need an inter-species economy, an inter-species well-being, an inter-species education, an inter-species governance, an inter-species religious mode, inter-species ethical norms,” they say (257).

Berry and Swimme end their vast “journey of the universe” by describing the celebratory aspect of the universe, which perhaps only humans, at least of the beings on Earth, can fully appreciate.

The cosmic celebration--courtesy of the Hubble telescope

The cosmic celebration–courtesy of the Hubble telescope

“Everything about us seems to be absorbed into a vast celebratory experience,” they say.  “There is no being that does not participate in this experience and mirror it forth in some way unique to itself and yet in a bonded relationship with the more comprehensive unity of the universe itself.  Within this context of celebration we find ourselves, the human component of this celebratory community.  Our own special role is to enable this entire community to reflect on and to celebrate itself and its deepest mystery in a special mode of self-conscious awareness” (264).

In other words, our role is to be the storytellers of past, present and future.  Of all the amazing beings on the planet, no one else can fill this particular niche.

It is our privilege and our curse as humans to KNOW so much about what we are doing at any given moment on the planet, and to ceaselessly narrate that knowledge.  Now in the 21st century, aided by the global neural network of the World Wide Web, we have never been more tuned into the on-going global story, but this knowledge often becomes oppressive, since so much of what we are asked to absorb is negative, bad news.

It’s time to rebel–to resist the battering of the bad news, to become producers rather than just passive consumers of knowledge.

We need to start telling new stories.  Empowering, positive stories that light the way towards the human beings we could become, the human civilization we could create, in concert and harmony with the rest of the Earth community.

What stories do you hold locked in your heart, tenderly sheltered from the glare and cacophony of contemporary pop culture?

I suggest you look to the home ground of your deep childhood for inspiration.  Remember the stories you told to yourself then, or that you heard the flowers and the insects singing.  Remember the way the motes of dust twirling in the sunlight spoke to you.

Remember what it felt like to have an unmediated, imaginative connection with the world around you.

Then speak the truths that come out of that primary knowledge.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

So OK, having slept fitfully and woken up resigned to accepting the basic premise that it is unlikely that the world as I have always known it will continue into the foreseeable future…what then?

How do I spend my one wild and precious life on the planet?

I am quite clear that I want to put my time, talents and energies into doing my best to head off catastrophe for the natural world.

But this often feels like trying to stick my finger in a huge roaring dyke of bad news—how can I, a small and ordinary person, make a difference for the trees and animals and birds and bees that I so want to protect?

All I can say is that making the attempt is better than giving up.

My gift has always been writing, and so I am using that gift to try to reach out to others, in the hope that if many of us, in our small, ordinary lives, can join our voices together, the resulting chorus could indeed change the world.

I am continually amazed at how the technological innovation of the World Wide Web has facilitated the meeting of minds and the catalyzing of movements.  There has never been a better moment for human progress and connected intellectual growth.

I wake up with a new thought, write it down and send it out into the gushing waters of the internet, where, within the hour, it will be read by someone living on the other side of the planet, who will bat it back to me with comments that will cause me to see the idea from a whole new perspective.  All within the space of an hour! How remarkable is that?

But sadly, it is precisely our reliance on and success with technology that is causing our demise, from simple overpopulation to the poisoning of our environment.

This is the challenge of our time: to very quickly learn to adapt to our rapidly changing climate, and to find environmentally sustainable ways to hang on to our positive technological inventions.

I believe it can be done, which is why I am totally invested in the challenge of waking people up and getting them engaged in fighting the good fight to make our epoch, which many call the Anthropocene, a positive transition to a better human relationship with the Earth, rather than a nightmare ending in the dark night of extinction.

If we were to shift our resources from weapons of destruction–guns, bombs and missiles, chemical poisons, and ever-bigger drills, earth-movers and chain saws—to implements of cultivation and the harmless harvesting of the bounty of our natural world, what a huge difference that would make!

People say that over-population will continue no matter what, but I know from years of studying women’s issues worldwide that when women are educated and respected in a society, they have fewer children.

Between fewer children in the developing world, a lower rate of consumption in the developed world, and the invention of new technologies that act in harmony with nature rather than against her, we could transform our planet within a generation or two.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy The Lord of the Rings is looking more and more prophetic, and it’s surely no accident that the films have come out now, to appeal to the current generation of young people.

We are the ones who must enter the fight to hold off the dark forces of Mordor, in order to preserve the happy, healthy lives in the Shire that all humans are meant to live.

tumblr_m9hm5vDG2h1qzhkvho1_500Today is the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and I invoke his memory to remind us that although it is true that by ourselves each one of us is puny and limited, it is also true that if we pool our resources and act together we have tremendous power.

We must each start by determining what gifts we can bring to the table of this new movement, and then start where we are, doing what we can, and sharing our insights and passions by all the channels of communication that are open to us, from talking face to face with friends and neighbors to sending our ideas out into the World Wide Web.

Now is the time, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

I will close with two quotes from Dr. King:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Amen, brother.

Opening to the energy that can change the world

In the course of any given day, I swing from hope to despair and back again at least three or four times.

On the one hand, it’s such an amazingly hopeful and alive time in terms of communication and discovery.  We are constantly learning so much more about our relationship with the natural world and with each other.  Every day brings fresh evidence of the myriad ways in which we are deeply interconnected with all Earth systems and with other Earth-based creatures.

On the other hand, that knowledge does not seem to be adding up to practical change in the real world.  Every day thousands of acres of virgin forests are cut and bulldozed.  Every day drills open up new spigots for deeply buried oil and gas deposits, which can only be extracted at great risk to the surrounding environment. Every day more chemicals are wantonly spread over the landscape and taken up in the bodies of mammals like us, as well as birds, fish and all the other creatures of the land and sea.  Every day hundreds of species, including us humans, move inexorably closer to extinction.

Why is it that despite all we know about the crucial importance of protecting our planetary home, we continue to desecrate and destroy it at ever-increasing speed?

Maybe the answer has something to do with that “we.”  Maybe the “we” who know that our survival as a species depends entirely on our responsible stewardship of the environment just isn’t the same “we” that is out there with the chain saws and the bulldozers.

Maybe the great challenge of our time is getting through to those other people, the destructive ones, the violent ones, the ones who do not seem to be able to perceive the bigger picture and how urgent it is now that we—as a global human civilization, united in our desire to survive and thrive on our finite planet—begin to practice radical sustainability at an accelerated pace.

The stakes are huge.  At this week’s international “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London, the stark statistics were rehearsed yet again.  They’ve gotten so familiar to me that I probably mumble them in my sleep every night.  The new video “Welcome to the Anthropocene” does an excellent 3-minute job at summarizing what we’re up against.

Still image from "Welcome to the Anthropocene"

But knowing the statistics and seeing what’s wrong is not at all the same as knowing what to do to make things right.

It’s so hard to know where to put one’s energies.

Do I go full-bore at the sustainable energy issue, following Bill McKibben?  Maybe a hunger strike in front of the White House would be an effective protest against the Keystone XL pipeline?

Do I go chain myself to a tree in the Amazon or in the rainforest of Indonesia, to protest the deforestation that is depriving us of the vital lungs of our planet?

Should I use my skills as a teacher to try to rouse the young people from their media stupor, using whatever scare tactics are necessary to get their attention and galvanize them to action?

Should I just be out there practicing “re-skilling,” in the Transition Town vernacular: relearning the old skills of surviving off the grid, living leaner and closer to the land that sustains us? Is it time to learn to keep chickens and pigs in my backyard, and finally set up the bee hives I’ve always wanted?

Or maybe I should be up on a mountaintop meditating and communing with the natural world, seeking the vision that will eventually show me the light?

What is it that I should be doing with this one wild and precious life I’ve been granted, in this fast-moving, tumultuous, unpredictable time in our planetary history?

Asking these questions is all I can do right now, just keep asking them and pondering and feeling my way towards my role in what lies ahead of us all.

I want to make an offering of my life.  I want to be a channel through which the positive, loving energy of the universe can flow out and make things right again with our world.

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