Saturday, August 13, 2016

Reflections on the End of the World

Newsweek, 2014

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

I've always had an  apocalypse problem.  

I  grew up with THE BOMB in the 50's, and I remember the mini bomb shelter my father built, with its barrels of water and shelves full of cans of beans and tuna  fish.  It seems so hopeful, naive, and sad in retrospect,  to think that such a stock would help a family survive a nuclear war.

But like all unimaginable horrors it was, ultimately..... unimaginable.  How can humans actually live with something like that?

Later I encountered literary and film variations on an atomic "End of the World".  Like the poignant  movie  "On the Beach" with Gregory Peck ("Waltzing Matilda" still evokes that heart-breaking image of lines of people waiting for  their euthenasia pills as a radioactive cloud slowly approaches the shores of Australia, the song playing in the background).  Or "Fail Safe", or Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles , which envisioned an inevitable  nuclear war that exterminated what Bradbury seemingly   considered a hopelessly violent and destructive  humanity.
Gregory Peck in The Martian Chronicles (1979)

Being a native Californian,   I also grew up with the San Andreas Fault hanging over  our free-wheeling, hedonistic culture  (actually under us) with an omnipresent End Times inevitability as well.  Fueled by Hollywood and various New Age prophets "The Big One" with its visions of L.A. skyscrapers collapsing and the San Francisco Bay splitting off as the Continental Plates shifted were always underfoot.  But considering the Fukushima disaster of Japan, which will continue to impact the people of Japan, and the entire Pacific ocean, for many, many  generations.........what happened there could very well happen in California.  

In fact, the high stakes End Times has informed me and my generation, provoking  post-apocalyptic artforms, utopian communes and survivalist camps, dark Gothic   philosophies and Ascendance cults, as well as massive denial.  For me it has always been a kind of mythic backdrop to a life lived, as well, among astounding wonders and miracles. 

What an era to be alive.  I also came of age in the optimistic, activist 60's, a child of the wealthiest, largest, best educated generation the world has ever seen.  A time of huge possibility and creativity. 

As a child I watched black and white tv (with tv dinners on tv trays) while I tried to understand images on the news about the  struggle to integrate the schools. I remember well the terrified faces of those black children........fifty years later I watched a black president dance with his beautiful black First Lady at the inaugeral ball.  I've seen  the re-birth of feminism, marched for women's rights, and joined the emergence of a spiritual paradigm devoted to the  Goddess.  I've seen the development of ecology.  And gay rights.  I've seen a man walk on the moon (on another black and white tv).  I've watched computers appear  into the common market,  and just when it became possible to actually own one of the amazing  things, I watched the Internet appear to  change the world and human culture with stunning rapidity. 
A movie poster displays industrial smoke stacks whose emissions form a hurricane eyewall
I don't know if the New Age we so fervently believed in in the 70's will include the arising of Atlantis  and a global Golden Age, but I do sometimes think we're beginning to get the  possibility for the language and technology for  it.    If we can survive our adolescence, if we can survive human greed.
Earth balance.jpgI remember in 1994, when we were attempting to form the Taliesin Community, leading discussions about Al Gore's EARTH IN THE BALANCE (and what a different America I believe it would have been if Gore had rightfully been President).  Later, when  a movie was made about Al Gore's work to wake up America to the ecological crisis, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH..........I thought, YES!  Now things will change, now the real priority will take precedence.  It's been ten years since then, and this is not what the presidential candidates are speaking about. This is not what people in Congress are speaking about.

But it is what scientists are speaking about.

 Here it is, accelarating  between the cracks of our so-busy lives.  Streaming away on Facebook between the cat videos and the latest warning of what not to eat because it will make you obese or give you cancer. Looming like a shadow over the kids sitting lost over their cellphones on the bus.   As I enjoy movies at the touch of a fingertip, or explore the greatest library the world has ever known, also, literally, at the touch of a fingertip.  As I plan a trip to the other side of the continent, a trip that will take me a day, and took my great grandmother a month.  Or go shopping for new shoes invariably made by exploited labor in China or Bangladesh.   

Or notice  a magazine, found ironically at the checkout counter (see above), next to the latest about Bruce Jenner's sex change or Brad and Angie's marriage problems.  "Places to see before they're gone".  Think about it.  At the checkout counter.

The end of the world.   

Not the end of Gaia, Her evolution and experiments, which for all our cleverness and all the gods we've invented and called upon......includes us.  But not the end of humanity either, although there will surely be a lot less humans on the planet in 100 years.  But surely the end of so much, so many other species, so many beautiful places, so many lives that will never fulfill their promise.  Our magnificent civilization,  our expanding, insatiable, unsustainable,  global civilization, in its infancy, really.    How do you, really, deal with that?  
It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake… 
because my great great grand children
won’t let me sleep.
My great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
What did you do?
(Excerpts from Hieroglyphic Stairway,  by Drew Dellinger)

I used to feel self-rightous when I pulled out my shopping bag, or recycled my paper, I would sneer at people in SUV's, feeling "appropriate" in my little mini car.  But now.....I don't.  We're all in this together  and the world my grandson will inherit, and all of those yet to come............will have to know it so much more than I.  

How do we deal with this?  How do we live with this?  What do we do, in our small and daily lives?  Where is the wailing wall, the support groups, the encounter groups, the consciousness raising groups, the "sitting Shiva", the "climate change meditation rooms"......that might bring about dialogue, that could shake us out of our denial, our complacency?  And yet.........every day, in truth, there is a laundry list, there are the hopes and duties of living a life in the face of the storm clouds in the distance.   It is simply too vast and too terrible and too seemingly distant to encompass.

Many people vividly recall from childhood unexpected moments of perceiving the grand unity.  Some experience the grace of inter-being on extended trips into the deep silence of wilderness. Some know a version of it in the postorgasmic state.  Some have reported that such "altered" consciousness occurs suddenly in mundane circumstances.  It seems to persist even through our deeply ingrained habits of seeing only separateness and fragmentation.
Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace:  The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age
I can cast no judgement on others, or myself, for needing to turn away from this, for needing to make my plans, plant my gardens.  This is not an essay in which I have answers, in which I can somehow conclude with a hopeful closure or self-help cliche.  Yes, we all should be getting solar panels, recycling our gray water, eliminating plastic waste, driving the smallest cars we can get.........but we are all still part of the problem. 

Perhaps the only place to begin, each day, is a spiritual place.   The point in the center of the mandala, remembering that we are each a part of the planet, and each other.  From that place.  Today, that is the only answer I have.



The Perfect Storm: Food, energy, water security and climate change: Sir John Beddington


Rain-in-the-Face said...

Gosh, dads kinda wigged out in the 50s, didn't they?

My dad had faith. He displaced the chooks so I could
have a cubby-house.

We are all still part of a solution you know.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

My hope is that every Dystopian novel that is published and widely read pushes the apocalyptic vision farther away from reality. 1984. Farenheit 451. Blade Runner.

Great piece, Lauren!