The cultural picture

Posted September 16th, 2009 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

So what do climate change, rising risk of heart disease, and Jimmy Carter’s concerns about racism embedded in the attacks on Prez Obama all have in common?

Yesterday’s front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had these two headlines:  Warming in Wisconsin: A rise in average annual temperatures by 2055 could make state’s climate more like Missouri’s, study finds, and, Fewer in U.S. at low risk for heart disease.  I was struck by the juxtaposition and what it says about our difficulty responding appropriately to the danger we are in.

We in this society seem to have lost our ability to adapt to changing conditions. We seem to have lost our ability to alter course, whether in our personal or societal behavior, even when we are in increasingly dire circumstances.

We are warming, our climate and weather patterns are changing, we are eating ourselves to death — and we just go on, the numbers get worse, we hope some new technology or new pharma drug will keep our world intact while we continue down the same road.  I can keep on spewing carbon, I can keep on eating MacDonald’s french fries, and something magical will come along to save me. I won’t die, the climate won’t warm, nothing really bad will happen.

Global Temp Record - Climate Research Unit, Univ. of East Anglia

Global Temp Record - Climate Research Unit, Univ. of East Anglia

As a matter of fact, the completely insane rabble-rousing around health care reform, manipulated by corporate interests — even though, once again, we are in urgent need of drastic change, our health system endangers most of us and helps keep us sick and stressed out — shows just how unable we are to change and adapt, to respond appropriately to our actual situation, the concrete contexts of our lives.  We are frozen in a lethargy that has deep cultural roots in our American mythology — that go-it-alone, leave-me-alone, let-me-have-what-I-want, get-out-of-my-face, I-am-not-responsible-for-my-neighbor, individualism that rears its angry, ugly head every time we face the necessity of real and sweeping change.

Necessity.  We don’t face change right now simply because it would be a good thing; we face change because we are in terrible trouble. We are hanging suspended in completely unsustainable systems that are unraveling all around us.  Increasing millions of us are falling between these frayed threads. What has held us is letting us go, discharging more of us as excess weight and in large numbers — not just here, but around the world.  The systems that have held us for 2-3 generations now, beefed up with manipulation of our belief systems, are not able to hold us any longer, cannot keep our climate stable, cannot keep us from dying of heart disease and diabetes while we support this fake economy by eating bad food — in great excess — supporting corporations that make profits off corn syrup and food additives and CO2 emissions and denying us health coverage if we are sick, etc., etc.

Yet millions of us also believe that the problem is not in the systems, not in the profit-making sectors that want to hold onto the unsustainable systems as long as they can because they profit so lavishly from them.

No, it is easier to blame the ‘black man’ in the White House.

Here’s what Jimmy Carter had to say about that on NBC’s Nightly News:

Can we see the connections?  Our difficulties right now facing ecological crisis are not about ‘issues’ and ‘policies’ and mere disagreements across the political spectrum.  They are deeper-seated than that, deep roots in the national and cultural psyche.  They go to our cultural self-identities. An African American in the White House, however moderate, pro-business and centrist his politics (to the dismay of many of us), is an image, a reality, that clashes mightily with the deep cultural roots of racism and white privilege, and, in the case of people like Joe Wilson, perhaps wondering who you will be superior to if those you feel superior to become commander-in-chief (by a wide margin of the popular vote), attorney general, Supreme Court Justice, ambassador to the UN…

But get ready, because the fossil fuel industry is preparing to repeat the tactics of the health insurance and pharma industries as Congress crafts legislation to battle CO2 emissions and climate change. See also, Fossil fuel industry outspending clean energy by nearly 7-1.

We at this project have been convinced for some time that the greatest challenges we will face in terms of pulling ourselves back from our ecological cliffs are cultural, rooted in frameworks of meaning that no longer work, cultural identities that we are loath to give up.  Our greatest challenges are spiritual because a spirituality rooted in individualism (which does not actually exist anywhere in the universe), a sense that I have a separate identity cut off from impacts on other lives and realities and therefore I can do what I want, pursue what I want, have what I want — in many cases fortified by religions based on private personal salvation (which I cannot find in the gospels) irregardless of the fate of the Earth — that kind of spirituality keeps us on course, keeps us frozen in place.

From that vantage point, so much of what we need to do feels like personal threat to identities. But that vantage point keeps us obese, stressed, breathing dirty air, taking chemicals and manufactured food into our precious bodies, fuels social divisions and tensions, makes us feel threatened by the world rather than a part of it.

A mere 7.5% of us in the U.S. between 25-74 are at low risk for heart disease. 7.5% of us. And we think our health care costs are high now!

I don’t know what holds us to this unhealthy and unhappy way of life. I don’t know why this is preferred as opposed to renewing our lives within the context of new meaning frameworks, the kind that would bring us back into creation and renew a sense that the human aspect of creation is far too precious to pollute, to hate, to abuse, to damage, to continue on as we are.

The renewal of creation on this planet is something we need to take into ourselves as essential to our reality. It’s not something outside of us that is in crisis, but we are in crisis; it is we-embedded-in-the-whole that is in crisis.


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One Response

  1. hombredelatierra

    The need for denial is intense. The public – especially in the US – is programmed by media in the service of despoliating megacorporations and the fossil fuel lobby (particularly oil). See work of Noam Chomsky and Robert MacChesney:

    The public, living a media inspired lie, must naturally deal with the tension generated between reality and their false internal “road map of reality” in a number of more or less destructive ways:

    – psychotropes, legal and illegal (including booze and even sex, since the latter has “drug-like reinforcing properties”),

    – extreme sports (have, at the minimum, many of the addicting “drug-like reinforcing properties” mentionned above: they stimulate endorphin production in the brain). Drugs, sport, and probably celebrity seeking, also evoke feelings (or “intimations”) of transcendance hence become overcharged with value in a society lacking valid, meaningful forms of inducing transcendant experience.

    – scapegoating (FANTASTIC – but temporary – tension relieve if ever there was one!)

    – political / religious cultism (world got ya down? Move to another one..). Particularly in the case of religious cultism, the “transcendant drive” is particularly evident.

    The degree to which the public has been effectively brainwashed by corporation fostered GW “scepticism” is quite amazing:

    The above site, by scientists sceptical of Global Warming (GW) “scepticism”, is enlightening. A study – see graphs – shows that the more active and knowledgeable in the fields of climatology and climate change one is, the more one believes GW is caused by humans.

    BUT OUR BRAINWASHERS KNOW THEIR BUSINESS! The following commentary by a “sceptical” (=brainwashed) reader shows the profoundity of the conditioning process by the fixity of the thought-mantra he worries to drive away the inner demons of fear: count how many times the word “socialist” is employed:

    “Here are just a few ideas/models which have largely come out of ‘consensus’ fields within academia (going back thousands of years in some cases), or more specifically, from ‘radical intellectualism’ (typically socialist) within academia:

    -Communism (socialist-determinist economics) (see books by Richard Pipes)
    -Eugenics (socialist-determinist race, biology)
    -Astrology (socialist-determinist astronomy)
    -AGW? (socialist-determinist climate and energy). ”


    The reply of a real scientist to this claptrap is rather enlightening:

    “Response: “Why would anyone want to study climate change for long peiods if you don’t believe humans have anything to do with it?” The same reason I got into astrophysics and it had nothing to do with vested interests or political views. The same reason any scientist gets into science. The love of knowledge. Curiosity. The challenge of furthering our understanding of how the universe works.”