Friday, August 29, 2008

Arguing and Mythology

"It’s pointless to argue with mythology. Once upon a time, the people of your culture believed that man’s home was the center of the universe. Man was the reason the universe had been created in the first place, so it made sense that his home should be its capital. The followers of Copernicus didn’t argue with this. They didn’t point at people and say, ‘You’re wrong’. They pointed at the heavens and said, ‘Look at what’s actually there.’”-(Quinn, Ishmael, p 83)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Two Authors Two Visions

Recently, over at The Ishmael Community Guestbook, John Kurmann posed this question about one aspect of Derrick Jensen's work to Daniel Quinn:

Post# 15601

This post is addressed to Daniel Quinn:

I first heard about Derrick Jensen's work through a recommendation you made on your reading list several years ago for his book A Language Older Than Words. I thought Language was a deeply moving and beautiful book--still do--and I also admired his next book, The Culture of Make Believe, though its subject was so dark as to make it far from enjoyable for me.

In his more recent work, though, Jensen has expressed his conviction that "[t]his culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living" (quoting from Endgame). Based on that assumption, he's argued that the very best those who love the world can do is to try to bring civilization down as soon as possible in a sort of planned demolition, like taking down a condemned building. While I don't agree with Jensen and see no reason to think you do based on my understanding of your work, my impression is that many people with an earnest desire to save the world have read books by both of you and would likely be interested in reading your reaction to his clarion call for us to "bring it all down."

Here was Daniel Quinn's response:

In ISHMAEL (pages 105-110) I dubbed our civilization "the Taker Thunderbolt," a badly designed aircraft that began in free fall and is still in free fall--in the air but not in flight. Nowadays, Ishmael says, "Everyone is looking down, and it's obvious that the ground is rushing up toward you--and rushing up faster every year. Basic ecological and planetary systems are being impacted by the Taker Thunderbolt, and that impact increases in intensity every year. Basic, irreplaceable resources are being devoured every year--and they're being devoured more greedily every year. Whole species are disappearing as a result of your encroachment--and they're disappearing in greater numbers every year. Pessimists--or it may be that they're realists--look down and say, 'Well, the crash may be twenty years off or maybe as much as fifty years off. Actually it could happen anytime. There's no way to be sure.' But of course there are optimists as well, who say, 'We must have faith in our craft. After all, it has brought us this far in safety. What's ahead isn't doom, it's just a little hump that we can clear if we all just pedal a little harder. Then we'll soar into a glorious, endless future, and the Taker Thunderbolt will take us to the stars and we'll conquer the universe itself.' But your craft isn't going to save you. Quite the contrary, it's your craft that's carrying you toward catastrophe. Five billion of you pedaling away--or ten billion or twenty billion--can't make it fly. It's been in free fall from the beginning, and that fall is about to end."

Derrick Jensen sees as clearly as I do the disastrous impact the Taker Thunderbolt is having on our planet. It is at this point that our visions diverge. I would like to avert the crash if at all possible by making the "passengers" of the Thunderbolt understand WHY the Thunderbolt can't stay in the air–and never could have. I want them to understand this for two reasons: first, to get them working on making the Thunderbolt airworthy, and second, if they can't do that–if the Thunderbolt crashes–to make sure they understand that they must not just BUILD IT AGAIN. Jensen merely wants to accelerate the crash. My point is that, if that crash were to occur tomorrow, the people of the world would, I believe, immediately begin rebuilding the Thunderbolt, putting themselves in a position to repeat the catastrophe once again someday in the future. As I say, I would like to avert the catastrophe; but if that's not possible, I would like time to make as many people as possible understand WHY it happened and that we must not just start doing it all over again. Jensen puts his faith in destroying civilization; I put mine in changing minds.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What We Say and What We Do

Here are two quotes that I think sum up the difference between how we civilized folks live our lives compared to how people from indigenous cultures live their lives.

“Religion is in reality of living. Our religion is not what we profess or what we say or what we proclaim. Our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think, all these things, 24-hours a day. One’s religion then is ones life and not merely the ideal of life, but the life that’s actually lived.” Jack Forbes

"Our moral syntax has no predicate. Hence we speak of doing good, good for its own sake, or evil. We convert each to a pure substantive, beyond experience, abstract. That is what [anthropologist] Paul Radin meant when he observed that the subject (or object) to which love, remorse, sorrow, may be directed is regarded as secondary in our civilization. All have the rank of virtues as such: they are manifestations of God's if not of Man's way. But among primitives . . . the converse holds. Morality is behavior, values are not detached, not substantives; the good, the true, the beautiful or rather, the ideas of these things, do not exist. Therefore, one does not fall in love, one loves another; and that is an intricately learned experience, as hate, in a certain sense, also is." Stanley Diamond

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Golden Thread

In the evenings we usually go for a big ride. Sometimes only for a mile or less, and sometimes up to five miles. Lately, while on the ride, I have been finding myself identifying wildflowers along the roadside. The beauty of the flowers is hard to resist. I bet you I've learned well over fifteen plant names in the past two weeks. Plants that I've walked and driven by hundreds of times but paid no attention to.

When this first started I was surprised, but then I decided to just go with it. And throughout this process there has been this voice inside my head saying: you've got to check out The Lost Language of Plants, you've got to check out the The Lost Language of Plants. I let it be. I'm reading another book anyway. Then this interview with the author made its way into my email inbox.

This paragraph out of the interview caught my attention:

I never have been happy in a box. Life is not a box (nor a box of cherries either). Life is some living thing that all of us are involved in. So, I dive in to whatever captures my attention. I immerse myself in it, learn to think through that field of knowledge. I have a sense of the book that is calling to me to be written. There is a feel to truth and I follow that feeling, what the poet William Stafford called the golden thread that all writers must follow for their work to be real. That thread, that feeling, leads to everything I study, often through processes that are not linear and that defy rational explanation. I just happen to stop to get gas at this gas station rather than that one and someone there just happens to drop a book in front of me that just happens to be related to what I am immersed in at that moment. I always know something about the topic I am going into but what I know and what is ultimately true are often different. I always learn as I go. Following golden threads is the most interesting kind of education I am aware of. There are no discipline boundaries with golden threads, interrelated data streams from diverse fields are the norm.

I will be checking out the The Lost Language of Plants soon