Monday, October 15, 2007

Existentialism and environmentalism

In my hop-skip-jump-style of web surfing, I came across several links to Blog Action Day. On October 15, participating bloggers are to post "about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic." Consider me participating.

The site says bloggers can post something off-topic for their blog, or find a way to work it in to a blog's general theme. What works even better is to keep in the tone of the usual style. I, uh, have a style? Well, I am fond of sharing nifty quotes I've found in my reading. First, I thought I'd find some poetry to share. Wendell Berry, I thought, and googled him, read a few poems, enjoyed them, then thought I probably wouldn't be the first to post his poetry for an environment-themed day. Back to the drawing board, then. It shouldn't be this hard for someone versed in British Romanticism...

Something related to Daniel Quinn's Ishmael? I could re-post that "review" I wrote on my old blog. Nope. Cheating.

So I settled on Derrick Jensen. The following excerpt is from his teaching memoir Walking on Water. Inspiring reading, if you're into environmentalism and teaching and helping to foster creativity. Even if you disagree with his politics, it's at least worth a read to see how his political beliefs translate into what's ordinarily a hierarchical structure in the classroom.

There's really only one question in life, and only one lesson. This question is whispered endlessly to us from all directions. The moon asks it each night, as do the stars. It's asked by drops of rain that cling to the soft ends of cedar branches, and by teardrops that cluster at the fold of your nose or the edge of your mouth. Frogs, flowers, stones, pieces of broken plastic, all ask this of each other, of themselves, and of you. The question: Who are you? The lesson: We're born or sprouted or hatched or congealed or we fall from the sky, we live, and then we die or are worn away or broken or disperse into a river, lake, or sea, ripples flowing outward to bounce back from the far shore. And in the meantime, in that middle, what are you going to do? How are you going to find, and be, who you are? Who are you, and what are you going to do about it?

If modern industrial education--and more broadly industrial civilization--required "the subsummation of the individual," that is, the conversion of vibrant human beings into "automata," that is, into a pliant workforce, then the most revolutionary thing we can do is follow our hearts, to manifest who we really are. And we are in desperate need of revolution, on all scales and in all ways, from the most personal to the most global, from the most serene to the most wrenching. We're killing the planet, we're killing each other, and we're killing ourselves.

And still our neighbors--hummingbirds, craneflies, huckleberries, the sharp cracking report of the earthquake that shakes you awake in your bed--ask us, who are you, who are you in relation to each of us, and to yourself?

Our current system divorces us from our hearts and bodies and neighbors, from humanity and animality and embeddedness in the world we inhabit, from decency, and even the most rudimentary intelligence. (How smart is it to destroy your own habitat? Who was the genius who came up with the idea of poisoning our own food, water, and air?) I've heard defenders of this system say that following one's heart is not a good enough moral compass, that Hitler was following his heart when he tried to conquer the world, tried to rid the world of those deemed unworthy. But Hitler was no more following his heart than any of the rest of us who blindly contribute to a culture that is accomplishing what Hitler desired but could not himself bring to completion. The truth is--as I have shown, exhaustively and exhaustingly--that it is only through the most outrageous violations of our hearts and bodies that we are inculcated into a system where it can be made to make sense to some twisted and torn part of our psyches to perpetuate a way of being based on the exploitation, immiseration, and elimination of everyone and everything we can get our hands on.

Within this context, the question the whole world asks at every moment cannot help but also be the most dangerous: Who are you? Who are you, really? Beneath the trappings and traumas that clutter and characterize our lives, who are you, and what do you want to do with the so-short life you've been given? We could not live the way we do unless we avoided that question, trained ourselves and others to avoid that question, forced others to avoid placing that question in front of us, and in fact attempted to destroy those who do.
If Jensen interests you, there are some video interviews with him on Youtube, a series of about six clips, beginning with this one.

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