Tell Me a New Old Story

June 19, 2010

We are a story telling species; mythmakers extraordinaire. From our earliest times as a thinking, talking species we have told ourselves and each other stories – about where we came from, who we are, about the world around us and our place in it.

There are two stories that have shaped mankind – one that we’ve forgotten and need to re-tell ourselves and one that has led us to this brink.  The one we’ve forgotten is that of man as a reasoning animal, embedded within the limits of the natural world and its vagaries, yet sustained by it.  The other is that of man set apart from nature by his reasoning and intellect, giving us dominion over nature, which exists only to serve us – and the more we can force it into serving us, the richer we are.

I’ve heard some doomers tell about spending thousands of dollars to buy land, build a little fortress with guns enough to outfit a small army, solar panels and two or three of everything they might conceivably need in the future, food to last five years or so while they plow up a tract full of edible weeds, nuts and berries to maintain, not their lives, but their life styles.  And I think, how is that any different than the “sheeple” they make fun of or the elite they fear, who are so busy collecting ever more things to maintain their life styles?  Why aren’t they prepping to devolve?  Learning to be satisfied with less as less becomes available?

I’m not talking about going back to “nature red of tooth and claw” – I’m too damned old to fight Ozark panthers or MZBs – just of finding ways to re-embed ourselves in the natural world and seeking out those moments of contentment and fellowship within the privations as we go down the slope.

There’s a part of me, in spite of the inconvenience, that loves when a rainstorm or an ice storm takes out the electric for a while.  I can go out into the yard at night and actually see the stars and remember in my bones what for most of our life on this earth we humans took for granted – that we didn’t “rule” nature, we were only embedded in it.  Can I sustain that sense of embeddedness if the lights go out permanently?  I think I must.  We must.

Nature doesn’t come with guarantees.  So what?  It did equip us with a big brain, consciousness, conscience.  I can’t save the billion and a half people in India or the billion in China as civilization hits its limits.  They will have to work out their own salvation.  I can’t save anyone.  I can accept what nature throws at me as a result of our collective foolishness.  I can share what little I have – in goods and knowledge.  I can use my brain to deal with the hardships and take my chances with the world of nature I’m embedded in.  It may or may not be enough.  Ever it has been; ever it will be – whether we re-embed in nature and relearn its lessons, or continue raping and using her to the death of our species.

Maybe it’s because I had the good luck to know my mother.  This was a woman who, between the ages of 20 and 30, lost an eye in an accident, found her father dead of suicide from a gun shot to the head, went through the great depression as a pastor’s wife in a small, poor rural town, lost the baby that would have been my older sister at birth and had the first of what would be cyclical manic episodes that for several months every nine years, for the rest of her life, put her in the mental hospital until the episode “wore off”.  There was no lithium for most of those years and the “treatments” she went through would curl your toes.  She knew nature didn’t offer guarantees.  Yet every time it knocked her down, she found a way to get back up.  She lived to be eighty-seven and, in spite of all the hardships, she lived a life of genuine contentment amidst them – maybe because she knew life didn’t come with guarantees and was happy to share what little she had and be grateful she had it to share.

Yes, nature can be red of tooth and claw.  When a species overshoots the limits like we are doing, it faces die-off.  Again, ever it has been; ever it will be.  But, when TSHTF, I’d rather take my chances working within nature than against it like we are now.

We don’t own life; we just borrow it for a while.  Nature owes us nothing but what it has already equipped us with.  That’s the challenge of life, to accept that, to find ways to live within the limits of the natural world that we are a part of and still find those moments of “salvation” within it.  And, yes, ever it has been; ever it will be.  If there is hope of our species not going the way of the DoDo, of that center of evolving conscience holding as things fall apart, that’s the ancient story we must tell ourselves anew.

This post is based on conversations with some of my internet doomer friends over the last week, some of them in response to two articles by John Michael Greer at his Archdruid’s Report blog.  His articles can be found here and here They are excellent articles.

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