4 Jun 2009, 6:23pm
5 comments

apocalypse soon

do you feel it, too?

the world is changing.

i just finished rereading this book i read ages ago, sometime in high school: girlfriend in a coma, by douglas coupland. back then i was more or less in the midst of constructing a personality; i think i was aiming for sort of indie-intellectual. i spent a lot of time alone in my dorm room, listening to belle & sebastian and mazzy star and reading books by gabriel garcia marquez and milan kundera. this construction was sort of separate from my actual life with my wonderful group of schoolfriends. i didn’t really feel like an integrated person until sometime in college, i guess. i think that’s probably the way it goes for a lot of people, especially sorta nerdy indie-intellectual types, haha.

anyway, i spent a lot of time on the internet reading online journals and looking at personal sites of the online indie-intellectual teenager elite, and i guess coupland’s name came up somewhere, and i thought i ought to read one of his books, and so i did. i remember liking the story well enough and feeling sort of bored and betrayed by the ending, which i dismissed as new age-y deus ex machina. basically, i didn’t get it. ’cause i didn’t feel it. maybe ’cause i wasn’t a whole person, yet, or maybe ’cause things are changing.

now i feel it (it’s not just me, i think. i see and hear these thoughts and fears and dreams in my friends, too…), and i’m gonna take a risk on this blog and talk about it. i am scared to write about it here, because i’m not even sure yet that i’m asking the right questions. but i want to make this blog a place where i feel okay writing about this stuff. so here goes.

i don’t know where to begin, exactly. i don’t remember when or why i put ishmael by daniel quinn on my library holds list, but i remember when i got tired of waiting for it and bought my own copy. i was talking with two of the women in the show i was stage managing in march, about improvisation and how learning how to improvise (in a theatrical context) is so important and useful for living and communicating and being with other human beings, because it teaches one to accept what the other offers, rather than rejecting it because it doesn’t mesh with one’s own perception of reality or the situation or whatever, or because it’s easier. and somehow ishmael came up, and one of the women said, oh i have read that book so many times. i have bought and given away so many copies. you should read it. so when i said goodnight to them, i walked to powell’s and i bought a copy, and i read it in a couple days during my breaks between shows.

i mean, fuck, it started way before that. last spring i started reading zines and thinking about anarchism, and the spring before that and the winter before that i was reading so much about feminism and radical mental health… starting to ask the questions i sure believed i’d been asking all along but hadn’t been, really, because the answers were hard. the answers demand action, and i was still in school. i loved school, and i grieved when i left it. school was part of my 22-year plan, and until i started year 23 i had no room for action. or for those questions.

i don’t know what action is or will be, for me. it was and is scary to exist without and beyond that 22-year plan. it could easily have grown into a Life Plan, but i am glad it hasn’t. my life is mine. it does not belong to a plan. it is mine to spend and invest as i choose and it is incredibly valuable.

despair, elation, joy, hope, love, love, love.

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after i read ishmael i read story of b, also by daniel quinn. and i read a whole lot of stuff on the internet by people like derrick jensen and ran prieur, and i read other people’s thoughts about quinn and jensen and everything else in blog posts and online forums. i read novels by edward abbey and ursula le guin. i am still reading endgame: vol 1 by derrick jensen, and have been for about a month, ’cause that is one thick book and i’m a slow reader of nonfiction. i have dogeared it all to heck.

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girlfriend in a coma is about the end of the world, sort of. i mean, the end of the world happens, in the book. and after it happens, someone who knows better gives the characters a plan b, and says to one of them, “Linus–the world is not going to end in your lifetime… That form of self-flattery is gone.” (oh i know; i promise that this is not about 2012; it is about irreversible climate change and disappearing species and monoculture and diminishing resources and waste. slowly or quickly, the earth is dying. it will die if we don’t stop it. it might die anyway.)

this person also tells them,

“The past year–if you’d have tried, you’d have seen even more clearly the futility of trying to change the world without the efforts of everybody else on Earth. You saw and smelled and drank the evidence of six billion disasters that can only be mended by six billion people.

“A thousand years ago this wouldn’t have been the case. If human beings had suddenly vanished a thousand years ago, the planet would have healed overnight with no damage. Maybe a few lumps where the pyramids stand. One hundred years ago–or even fifty years ago–the world would have healed itself just fine in the absence of people. But not now. We crossed the line The only thing that can keep the planet running smoothly now is human free will forged into effort. Nothing else. That’s why the world has seemed so lrge in the past few years, and time so screwy. It’s because Earth is now totally ours.

“…The New World isn’t new anymore. The New World–the Americas–it’s over. People don’t have dominion over Nature. It’s gone beyond that. Human beings and the world are now the same thing. The future and whatever happens to you after you die–it’s all melted together. Death isn’t an escape hatch the way it used to be.”

and then he tells them to question. that that is their new purpose: to ask, and to ensure that others are asking too.

“Ask whatever challenges dead and thoughtless beliefs. Ask: When did we become human beings and stop being whatever it was we were before this? Ask: What was the specific change that made us human? Ask: Why do people not particularly care about their ancestors more than three generations back? Ask: Why are we unable to think of any real future beyond, say, a hundred years from now? Ask: How can we begin to think of the future as something enormous that also includes us? Ask: Having become human, what is it that we are now doing or creating that will transform us into whatever it is that we are slated to next become?

“Even if it means barking on street corners, that’s what you have to do, each time baying louder than before. You must testify. There is no other choice.

What is destiny? Is there a difference between personal destiny and collective destiny? ‘I always knew I was going to be a movie star.’ ‘I always knew I was meant to murder.’ Is Destiny artificial? Is it unique to Man? Where did Destiny come from?

and the characters react:

“We’ll go crazy!” …

“No. You’ll become clearer and clearer.”

“No–we’ll go totally effing crazy.”

“Haven’t you always known that…? At the base of all of your cynicism across the years, haven’t you always known that one day it was going to boil down into hard work? Haven’t you?”

this book is not overtly about the environment, about saving planet earth. it’s about saving souls, i think. which is about saving the earth. we have broken ourselves… to heal ourselves we need to love ourselves, and to love ourselves we need to love that which sustains us, and that which sustains us is the earth, and the love.

derrick jensen believes–and says he has never met a person who, when asked, answered differently–that “this culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living” (endgame premise 6). he says that to hope for this transformation is to excuse oneself from personal action, that hope implies the possibility that someone else will take care of it or that it is out of one’s control, i.e. “i hope the weather’s not too bad,” “i hope so-and-so doesn’t hate me.” if you hope, you have no agency. “When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to ‘hope’ at all… Hope may be fine–and adaptive–for prisoners, but free men and women don’t need it. Are you a prisoner, or are you free?”

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i want to qualify what i said about saving souls, above. us humans, we are the best human animals we could ever be. we have beautiful souls. but we are taught by this culture to keep them in metaphorical tiny plastic cages, feeding them occasional scraps or junk food… maybe “rescuing souls” would be a better term to use, one that doesn’t imply sin or individual fault. what is wrong is the way we are living. so many people are unhappy and unfulfilled, or starving, or being killed. it is not just about rescuing salmon… it’s about rescuing us.

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here are two “notes” i took when i was in the bay area in january. the first–

* thinking about people’s park and student movements and that a certain sense of “entitlement” for which liberal arts students are so often chastised is probably necessary for real change to occur–if we do not believe ourselves entitled to free happy lives (and a free happy community) why would we fight–or work or play or love if you prefer (i do)–for them?

ran prieur wrote the following about privilege, and it resonated with what i think i was trying to get at above–

I reject the entire concept of “privilege.” It’s a lie. No one is or has ever been “privileged.” If ten people are living happily on an island, and I go and lock nine of them in a cage, have I made the tenth person privileged? If ten people are playing in the woods and eating fruit, and I give one of them an intravenous feeding tube and a hand-held computer game, and then I get him to cut down the fruit trees, have I done him a favor? The concept of “privilege” does not make sense except in the context of an exploitative system, and in an exploitative system everyone is exploited.

i am hesitant to include the above here, because questioning privilege is not exactly kosher in many communities i would like to be a part of, and insofar as the trappings of civilization are concerned, i’ve got it really good. but i think that recognizing and examining one’s own privilege is about recognizing and examining one’s assumptions and what one takes for granted that others may not be able to. here is one such assumption–that we can do any real work equalizing privilege and combatting oppression without recognizing, and combatting, the oppression inherent in our hierarchical culture (with corporations and government at the top and the land, the earth, at the bottom). i do disagree with prieur insofar as i believe that examining one’s privilege can be a really important part of (beginning to) understand(ing) one’s role–which can be very hard to see and understand from within that role–in this hierarchical culture.

and the second–

* ben’s friend ben, improvising lyrics to pedro’s guitar jamming: “if love was the answer, we wouldn’t be asking all these questions”

but you can’t destroy what you love. if people loved the earth they would not destroy it. if people loved themselves they would not destroy their hearts and minds and bodies. so maybe love is the answer, but only if we can destroy our self-hate.

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all of this (and more) is changing me. i am asking a lot of questions. so far i am mostly asking them of myself. now i guess i am asking them of you, too.

i really like this entry. it leaves me really fascinated by what your definition of “love” is. because in my experience people *often* destroy what they love.

i just updated to a new version of wordpress, so i can reply to this and (i think) it will be nested below your comment! hurrah!

anyway, i think love is a verb (and an action!) that means the opposite of destroy. if you are destroying the object of your love, you aren’t loving it. you’re lying to yourself or to the loved one/thing, or both. i think i was starting to figure this out before based on my own experience (with love, and with what i called love but was actually addiction), but what really solidified this for me was reading (though i didn’t finish it) bell hooks’ book, all about love, last spring.

Interesting post. I think that it is not so simple to distinguish love from not-love (or destruction?) in practice, though in theory I do find your love/destruction dichotomy useful. I think that, for whatever reason, human beings are somewhat incapable of displaying pure, unabashed love towards one another all the time. I think that for practical reasons it is perfectly possible for people to love the earth and destroy it at the same time. What if they love something else more (or at least they love something more immediately) that is at odds with their love for the earth? For example, what if a person loves his/her family and the only way he/she can think of to express that love (because of cultural norms) is to buy them gifts which are manufactured to the detriment of the planet? Sure, one could argue that materialism is not a “true” expression of love, but what if the impulse comes out of a genuine and honest expression of love?

Something that I am increasingly attracted to is the idea that that the journey of life, or at least the idea of the “journey” that most appeals to me, is learning to appropriately love one another. This is a messy process, and often we will hurt those we love most (sometimes without even realizing it), but I do like the implications of this.

i think that in your example, the person’s love for the earth is not a real love but an abstraction. i think that our cultural norms OFTEN (or even always) make it impossible or very difficult for love to be more than an abstraction or even pastiche of love… maybe. my point is not that people do not feel intense, positive, enormous emotion towards one another (and the earth, etc), because they indisputably do, but that we are so wrapped up in professions of and symbols of love that we are not actually loving. one can say “i love the earth” but to actually love the earth would be to improve it, to regenerate it, to protect it, etc… love as an action. it’s sort of like standing at the opposite end of a room from someone and saying, “i touch you,” instead of walking across the room and hugging the person. only in the latter scenario does the person really receive the warmth, strength, etc in the touch. with regard to love it’s almost impossible for us to understand the difference, especially since we’re so inundated with pop culture and other stuff that tells us that sentences like “i love you, that’s why i had to hurt you” are not semantically impossible. i also think that because people think of love as that intense emotion, instead of that hard work of support etc, that they are really sensitive to and defensive of implications that one can love better, etc, which makes this sort of a hard topic to talk about.

i think it’s a really difficult thing to do, and yes i think that learning to appropriately love one another is really important. i think that as we practice loving with each other, it will get easier to love the earth and all the life around us, too.

Thanks for the response, I see much more clearly what you’re getting at now and am inclined to agree with you.

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