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Paresh Nath/The Khaleej Times

Earth Day and the phantoms of a pathological culture


Kenn Orphan writes: Earth Day has morphed into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout empty gestures at “saving the planet” while they mercilessly plunder it.  It neutralises public outrage at the world’s dire state and spreads an all-pervasive “feel goodism” to a situation that’s truly existential, for countless other species, and our own.

Kenn Orphan

I must start with a confession.  I have always been troubled by the concept of Earth Day.  I understand its origin and why it came to be, but as an environmentalist I see it as window dressing an unfolding disaster of monumental proportions.  It’s not that it is useless.  Raising awareness is never useless.  But over the years it has morphed from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  It also has the effect of neutralizing public outrage at the dire state our world is in.  It spreads an all too pervasive “feel goodism” to a situation that is truly existential, not only for countless other species on the planet but for our own.

In our time, the powerful have crafted enormous facades of pomp and ceremony extolling their efforts.  Their conferences and consortiums serve as a distraction from their business as usual pillage, and a placation of our collective angst against the backdrop of a gathering storm.  But each year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future.  One rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species collapse.

The economic model that dominates the world is incapable of grappling with our dire predicament.  It simply does not possess any sense of ethical obligation, even when it comes to its own species.  It has become imperative for us to shake free from this paradigm of self destructive failure and begin the process of true community building.  We can talk about the benefits of permaculture and a gift economy, but in order to reach this we need to do something that the Western world routinely scoffs at and ridicules.  We must take a long, hard and urgent look into the underpinnings of our entire way of life and the pathology that is industrialized civilization itself.  We must look into our soul.

We can start with natural landscapes.  They are the contours of the soul.  And they have been, and continue to be, brutalized and decimated, or replaced by concrete, glass and steel.  The effect this has had on our species is collective alienation and crushing despair.  Modern mega-cities are emblematic of this tremendous disconnect from reality.  They are scratched onto the land with feverish disregard for nature as well as for their inhabitants.  They create an illusion that we are separate from nature, divorced from its power except when confronted by a storm, earthquake, volcano, flood or heatwave.  Western science and religion, in whatever form it takes, reinforces the myth of separateness from the natural world, and otherizes the myriad of species we share this planet with.

When European explorers set out to “discover” the world most did not do so as observers.  They unmoored their ships and set sail in search of gold and other “precious” metals.  In the process they decimated indigenous societies and imposed their world view on where ever they landed.  They justified all of this madness through a perverted form of patriarchal religion which augmented a hierarchical system of domination and class that persists to this day.  This paradigm still informs the current global economic system, neoliberal capitalism, which commodifies every thing and everyone in the known universe, and transforms them into exploitable, consumable or disposable products.

The truth is that materialism corrupts the very nature of the human soul. It deadens the tendrils of empathy and compassion that have evolved to give meaning to our existence.  And it creates an insatiable void needing to be filled by elusive and meaningless junk, which is eventually discarded once the novelty wears off.  It is the reason landfills are bursting their confines. It is the reason the world’s oceans have become a toxic soup where plastic refuse is fast out weighing fish and other wildlife.  It is behind the rising global temperatures and changing climate. It is the cause of stagnation, addiction and ennui within the general public. It is the reason for every war and conflict; and why our species, along with every other one on this planet, is facing extinction.

To be sure, we cannot expect the dominant culture to bring about any positive or substantive change.  It cannot.  Not now, not ever.  It reflects the pathology that industrial civilization is at its heart.  Its “solution” to the looming ecological collapse is to spruce up its image to the “consumer” by taking small, meaningless actions that momentarily sooth our conscience at the moment we are consuming their product.  At its very core it is a cancer that must grow rapaciously regardless of the terminal malignancy it inflicts upon the living planet and the weakest of our species.  And, as I have noted before, a cancer cannot be “reformed.”  It must be extracted or eradicated, or the condition will lead to nothing other than death.

But we need not be plugged into this matrix of delusion and absurdity.  We need not play the cruel game of mindless consumption of sentient beings housed in torturous concentration camps, or gadgets crafted in suicidal sweatshops that promise a better life, or entertainment that dehumanizes us or others, or trends that celebrate avarice, militarism and violence.  That choice is still left to us.  And our agency lies in us realizing this and beginning a transformation that connects us to each other and to the living, yet besieged and battered planet on which we all depend.

I have another confession.  I am not a preacher.  I loath those who connive or badger or guilt people into altering their lives.  I am one of you.  I was born into this theater of the absurd, bathed from conception in petroleum, the primordial life blood of industrial civilization.  I have been dazzled by the spectacle and I have consumed far more than I have ever had a right to.  So I am taking this journey with you because none of us, not one, can do it alone.  We cannot face the phantoms of our pathological culture in isolation and think we will emerge on the other side unscathed, intact and whole.  One thing I am certain of is that the future of humanity, perhaps nearer than anyone of us could fathom, is destined to be full of misery and strife.  In truth it already is for the vast majority of us and countless species we are not even aware of.  But if there is any solace to be found it begins in our refusal to be willing participants in the unfolding ecocide, and the recognition of ourselves in each other and every other life form we are surrounded by.

The only way I can honor Earth Day is to grieve all that has been lost, and to refuse to participate in the ongoing destruction.  It only has meaning to me if it is not externalized as a commodity with a catchy jingle, and is the beginning of the end for the pathological mindset that has gotten us to where we are now and the collective death knell that lies before us.  Maybe the best way to “celebrate” it is in realizing that we need a new community with a natural soul, unseparated from this world.  Because in its absence it is nothing more than a mechanical set of empty routines.  And a soul without a community has no meaning at all, and is adrift in a universe where love cannot penetrate.

 

 

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