Watch out you might get what you’re after
Cool baby strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house
Hold tight wait ’til the party’s over
Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house
Talking Heads, Burning Down the House
I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s Endgame. Part one is subtitled The Problem of Civilization. I still have another hundred pages, or so, left to read but there has been something bothering me since I started and I think I have finally pinned it down. (In fact, I noticed the same thing when I read A Language Older Than Words, but it was even vaguer then)
There is a disconnect. Derrick goes to great pains to prove (and I think he does) that ours is a culture of abusers, and that we are abusers because we have been abused ourselves for our entire lives. It is well known that children that have been abused grow up to become abusers more often the not – the trauma being too great for most people to overcome. Not that it is impossible, just that the process of healing from trauma takes a lot of luck (in having people around you that can and will help), a lot of strength of will (to face the abuse and the emotional damage it creates), and a lot of time and willingness to let-self-heal.
On the other side of this is the language of stopping that abuse: stopping them, specifically. And the repeated rejection of the idea of our own responsibility, our own complicity, in this culture of destruction.
If we are all abused and therefor we are mostly abusers ourselves, then who are they and how can we be so arrogant to point our fingers at this supposed other that is to blame?
I have always been very comfortable with pointing at “the system” — and acknowledging that some people embrace the system even as others of us have begun to spurn it. Hell, my parents embrace it, as does my sister, so how can I point at them and still face my own life and loved ones?
But last night I realized two things. First is the shamans mind. One of the defining characteristics of a traditional shaman is the he (sic) can simultaneously hold two contradictory ideas in his mind at one time. More precisely, as I have come to connect more and more with the community of life I have come to see: what our western ethnology sees as conflicting ideas, are in fact not in conflict to the shaman – but rather different facets of the same vista.
So how does this apply?
We ARE all responsible, we are all complicit. Our every action has an impact on the overall destruction of our landbases. There is NO way around this. We are, all of us, victims of abuse and fundamentally damaged as a result. So we are all, forgivable, in that we understand the trauma we have been forced to endure. And, as Dave discussed today, we are all constrained by the system that is civilization. Whether homeless man on the street, peasant in China, businessman in Rome or President of the United States, there are only so many options that we can take in a given situation. If Obama were to announce tomorrow that the dismantling of industrial civilization were to commence on Monday, you can be certain that he would no longer be president by Sunday.
The second thing I realized, that nonetheless, there IS a valid they to point at and reproach. Most of us are constrained into inaction, or simply numbed to the systemic reality of our day to day actions. We don’t know what to do, so we allow ourselves to forget, we refuse to see, we make our excuses and take our daily soma. But there are some, and we probably each know a few, that do not need soma. They are so damaged, so incapable of normal, human empathy, so inured to personal responsibility that they can and do pursue the fundamental goals of the civilizational system with relish. They are, in every meaningful sense of the word, sociopaths. They are not redeemable, they are not curable, and most often, their psychosis leads them into positions of power, simply because they are quite willing and able to use the system as any borderline sane person cannot.
Now, I think Derrick is quite correct that we are all insane. But for most of us that means we are delusional, emotionally unstable, mildly narcissistic, and abusive. But what do we do about those that DO cross over into psychosis? The only answer to that is another question. What does our culture normally do with sociopaths? Or, to be even more blunt, what do traditional societies do with their sociopaths (as rare as they are) if they are determined to be unreachable, unmanageable and dangerous to the community?
Now, I am in no way suggesting that eliminating a few psychotics will “save the world.” In this civilization with billions of humans there are certainly millions that are too damaged to be salvagable. But understanding this is useful in that we can be responsible for our own actions, our own collusion, our own part in the matrix while at the same time understanding that we, also, are not responsible. We can choose to apply our own unique gifts and passions to unmake what has been made, to do less harm, to live as “harmless as a lion”, to create something new and functional and native to our landbases. And we can do all of this without carrying the guilt and hopelessness that civilization offers as our heritage. Because we didn’t do it. But we do bear the responsibility for the choices we make moving into the future.
So we each have to decide, now and in the future, what choices those are going to be.