On Summer Solstice I always come back to this poem, and if I begin reading it aloud, I’m already crying at the end of the first sentence: “Who made the world?” Why the tears—particularly on that question? Strangely, the most important word in that question is not “who,” but “made.” It is a question of “pure amazement” which is another phrase Oliver uses in other places. It is brimming with innocence and awe. It is the sigh of speechless reverence—pure worship as she declares that “I know how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass.” And then, “how to be idle and blessed.”
We easily associate empathy, compassion, an open heart, support, cooperation, honesty, integrity, and gratitude with love, but how about boundaries, limits, grief, anger, discernment, comfort with not knowing, and a commitment to working on our personal and cultural shadow?
The elephant in the room that is not seen in the United States or in Canada or in most parts of the world is the trauma we experience each day as even a small part of us feels consciously or unconsciously the gargantuan loss of our ecosystems, the loss of species, the loss of each other, and the loss of our own souls.
In reality, what Emma and her friends are experiencing is a profane, contemporary iteration of what youth in ancient, tribal times experienced in a sacred, contained, ritual setting. In those times, the community understood that rites of passage in youth were as necessary as learning to walk, cutting teeth, or entering puberty. Thus the community prepared its children for adolescent rites of passage because they understood that children come to this life with an inherent need for them. In fact, they understood that not providing rites of passage or what is sometimes called initiation, guarantees that the child will never grow up and in fact, will become toxic to the community
As we awaken to the horrors of industrial civilization, we must carefully examine the ways in which we have been colonized by it in a manner similar to the ways in which native peoples have been colonized by it. Derrick Jensen has written extensively about de-colonizing ourselves, and I have written a great deal about it as well because I have experienced that it is foolish to rail against industrial civilization if we are not committed to healing within ourselves the traumatic marks that it has left in the personal shadow of our psyches.
I have no problem with preparing for the future. I’ve been writing books on that topic for about six years. The future has come to meet us and smack us upside the head on just about every level imaginable. And…living primarily in the future takes a terrible toll on us in current time. In fact, it strip-mines our lives in the here and now and guarantees that we become “extinct” long before NTHE does its dirty deed.
So whether you choose to perceive the dissolution of the American Dream as the hero’s journey or as the collapse of industrial civilization—or both, the American Dream was fated to fail each time the collective refused to be instructed by something greater than itself.
In a recent article “Beyond Trump: Rebooting the System from inside the Death Machine,” Nafeez Ahmed, Andrew Markell, and Gunther Sonnenfeld articulated their perspective on Trump’s rise to power less succinctly and with fewer no-nonsense tools than I intend to offer in this essay. While coming close to the heart of the matter, they didn’t quite arrive which often happens when attempting to clarify “the crisis of civilization.” After all, we’ve never been here before, and if we’re honest, we must admit that we have difficulty articulating it for ourselves and never quite know how to articulate it to others.
King Donald is the ultimate finished product of industrial civilization’s paradigm and the consummate mirror of our personal and collective shadows. It may be that before he completes his first term, he will be impeached or removed by some other means. Catabolic collapse and the climate catastrophe that he is presently exacerbating will continue unabated. Other madmen or madwomen will succeed him. But more importantly, he isn’t just one politician who isn’t any worse than another.