Monday, February 27, 2017

The Necessity of Deep Truth

There are facts, and there is truth. And then there is deep truth.

What do I mean by that?

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We already know that the regime trying to gain control over all aspects of government and the economy is trying to create a fact-denying culture. Or I should say, they are trying to expand the power of a fact-denying culture that has been rising for decades in reaction to tumultuous change brought about by last century's world wars, including that Cold one, exponential population growth, collapse of old empires leaving chaos and violent power struggles in the former colonies, mass industrialization that has wreaked havoc on ecosystems, the rise of technologies that have separated us from knowledge of the natural world, the decline of White Western Domination as population diversity spills into every corner of the planet, transformational changes to the notion of work and labor as computers and robots replace people...

Breathless yet? We could all add to the list. Look, we're walking around in a world that is changing at a dizzying pace - a pace that is accelerating exponentially - and we are experiencing trauma, shock, lost expectations, stress, depression, confusion, insecurity, and a lot of uncertainty about what to do - not just in that big picture of the world or our communities, but even in our personal lives.

What gods do we believe in now? What old frameworks of meaning still work to support us, if any still do? How do we address any of these changes when, as soon as we dig in, more change keeps coming? How do we calm ourselves? How do we keep breathing deeply enough to keep ourselves grounded and focused?

Thing is, most people are experiencing these things without knowing why. Who is telling them? Who is brave enough to share the news with them of our human predicament? And yet the longer we are afraid to tell the truth about that predicament, the worse it gets, and therefore the less likely we can come to terms with it without great tumult and disruption and, yes, suffering.

Wow, now there's a cheery message, right?

Thus, the headline for this post. Truth is necessary. Deep truth is even more necessary. So, what then do I mean by that?

The mass culture of news, even most of the progressive kind, is a superficial culture in the extreme. Some facts are presented, but facts don't tell us the truth unless they are connected to the contexts in which they exist, and those contexts are both horizontal across the culture, and also vertical across historical time. The culture of the moment rose from history. The struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux nation against the Dakota Access Pipeline was based in crucial facts very much in the present - the threat to the environment posed by pipelines. But the struggle was also rooted in a far larger truth of the culture - genocide, theft of land, broken treaties, and more. The #NoDAPL struggle does not happen if not for that history.

The reemergence of white supremacy which has taken hold of a significant (though still minority) base of the political culture did not just arise in reaction to our first African-American president. Its deep roots are in the theft of Africans whose bodies were purchased for labor to build this country. Its roots are in white hatred rooted in white guilt for generations of enslavement of African bodies. It is rooted in a history of white denial of the humanity of Africans and their descendants because one has to dehumanize the body you are enslaving, or lynching, or stopping-and-frisking, or shooting in the streets for a broken taillight, or incarcerating as a new form of oppression and, yes, de facto slave labor.

Credit: M Swedish
And the sentient and non-sentient beings of this planet must be seen as inert, not subject to pain or feelings or intelligence, in order for us to strip-mine and contaminate them, to destroy their habitats, to push them into extinction as if they matter not at all to us and our future, in order for us to have the shopping malls or to do online shopping, to buy the latest hi-tech phones and screens, to travel the world, or for exclusive exurban development for the privileged while that development gobbles up arable land, depletes aquifers, disturbs vital habitats.
Credit: M Swedish

Deep truth. Part of that truth that we avoid as a culture at all costs (because of what it would mean to face it) is that we are so utterly dependent - for life and for our humanity - on what we are destroying.

Robots to help with our housework may sound adorable, but manufacturing millions of them (for those who can afford to have them) and hooking them up to satellites and cloud technology will be one of many drivers pushing us into the ecological abyss. This level of technology and consumption is not sustainable. We passed the point a long time ago. We are using up the planet much faster than it can heal, regenerate, or continue those living systems that kept the planet stable long enough for humans to evolve and make this mess of things.

Facts: the Earth has limits and we have surpassed them. Truth: we have entered a time of ecological unraveling because of that. Deep truth: this is because western humans, in their false belief that our clever minds have somehow put us in control of nature, separated themselves philosophically, culturally, economically - ecologically - from deep awareness of our complete dependence upon, our deep interrelatedness with the natural communities within which we live.

So let me share some facts that have come across the online news sheets these recent days, and then let's see what truth they have to tell.

On the record warmth of February: 736 record highs set this week
On record Arctic warmth: Unprecedented Arctic Weather Has Scientists on Edge
On looming food scarcity: Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity by 2050 
On the rise of robots and artificial intelligence: A Warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking
On the sinking of Mexico City, a perfect example of humans collapsing (literally) an ecosystem: Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis 

I want to share this excerpt from that last New York Times article because it has facts - and it has truth, some deep truth about what's going on there.
One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.

The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.
You understand, yes? We all get this, right? Many of the impacts of climate change, population growth, industrial growth economies, voracious consumerism, and inevitable upheavals due to these changes have been studied, predicted, written about, researched, computer modeled for decades. Yet there remains a stark state of disbelief that things could be getting this bad this fast.

Which is why, in a culture already struggling with truth, it is terrifying to see us now struggling with facts. It is unsettling to say the least to see that facts are suppressed for the sake of corporate interests and political power as we move into such dangerous times.

So we need to get beyond facts, and the argument over facts, and get down to some deep truth - about who we are, where we come from, what cultures have shaped our thinking and thought processes to prepare the ground for the crises we now face. We need to examine dispassionately what religious or cultural beliefs impede our ability to see truth fully and clearly, what institutions rely upon those beliefs or systems and therefore can no longer be trusted with our future. We have to finally acknowledge our need for some serious treatment or intervention, some "consumers anonymous" or "entitlement addiction support groups" - whatever it is we use as distractions to keep us from seeing the seriousness of our predicament.

Building the Beloved Community at Alice's Garden, Milwaukee
The term "intersectionality" is all the rage these days. But we have to get beyond the facts there as well. Yes, all of our most egregious issues of discrimination, poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation are intertwined, interconnected, cannot be addressed apart from one another. If we have learned anything from these recent election cycles, it is that. The politics of self-interest groups has not been up to the challenge. But we need to get underneath the layers of those horizontal connections to the deeper truth that really connects them - a western capitalist economic culture that has dehumanized "the other," perpetrated horrific violence down the centuries in the cause of western imperial domination, and separated the human project on the planet from the organic realities of its living communities, committing egregious acts of violence against Nature for the benefit of this one species.

I fear that if we stay on the surface now, we will never make the changes at the required depth and breadth needed to salvage a habitable planet. The Earth can heal - but only if we stop destroying it faster than it can do that. The Earth has to heal and regenerate from our human presence. That ought to humble us a whole lot. We are the perps. We have to be stopped. If we don't stop ourselves, it will happen some other way - and that will be an unpleasant experience in the extreme.

~ Margaret Swedish  
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