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.
But it’s not over yet. And I’m here with my brothers and sisters, and even if we go under, and I have to admit looks more likely today than yesterday, we’re going to discover how big is our strength, and how big is our love for life. We can do that, and see how much we care. And we can be scared. I can see myself now in a situation where I can forget these words. Because the global corporate economy has developed such tools for destroying the mind through different ways of breaking the mind.
Susan Tchudi speaks with with Carolyn Baker about her new book “Dark Gold: The Human Shadow and the Global Crisis.”
Contact with the pain of the world, however, does not only bring grief but can also open the heart to reach out to all things still living. It holds the potential to break open the psychic numbing. Maybe there is also community to be found among like-hearted people, among those who also can admit they’ve been touched by this “Great Grief,” feeling the Earth’s sorrow, each in their own way. Not just individual mourning is needed, but a shared process that leads onwards to public re-engagement in cultural solutions. Working out our own answers as honestly as we can, as individuals and as communities, is rapidly becoming a requirement for psychological health. To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference. And with this deepening, an extended caring and gratitude may open us to what is still here, and finally, to acting accordingly.
It is hard for us to take in the reality that Earth is an extinction machine, and it has been here before. It doesn’t need us, and we cannot control it. The ‘ecological crisis’ we hear so much about, and which I have written so much about and worked to stave off – well, who says it is a ‘crisis’? Humans do – and educated, socially-concerned humans at that. For the Earth itself, the Holocene Extinction is not a ‘crisis’ – it is just another shift. Who determined that the planet should remain in the state in which humans find it conducive? Is this not a form of clinging to mutable things, and one that is destined to make us unhappy? When we campaign to ‘save the Earth’ what are we really trying to save? And which Earth?
What does this mean? I’m not a scholar, but I can say what it means to me: it means that if you make nature your witness, and if you act as a witness for nature too, there is a truth to be found. It even means, perhaps, that the ultimate witness to who we are comes from the earth itself. When you sit with the earth, when you make it your witness and when you act as a witness for it—what do you see? What are you compelled to do? These are questions that take us beyond political stances, beyond principles, beyond arguments about engagement or detachment. They are questions, it seems to me, that can never be answered in any way other than the strictly personal. Sitting or acting; engagement or retreat; perhaps there need be no contradiction.
What Michael and I set out to do in this paper is try to understand why, despite all the efforts of animal protection groups, things are getting worse — not better — in most areas of abuse. What we found is that there may be a psychological process that undermines our ability to really connect with the other animals as equals.
When hope is used to reject reality, this is called denial, and denial usually has a darker side than the (fertile and therefore rejuvenating) darkness it initially resisted. When we accept the dark and difficult side of side of life, the experiences that are not rosy and peaceful, we give ourselves an opportunity to undergo transformation, a transformation that can deliver us in earnest to a new level of fulfillment, integration, and therefore healing.
Our time is one of apocalypse, an archetype found in the lore and myth of many times and peoples. As we face crises of ecology, economy, religion, politics, finance, education, agriculture, housing, water, air, and soil, as Earth overheats, species go extinct, and the air-giving oceans die on every side, we wonder how to make sense of it all, or indeed whether it’s even possible to. “It’s all a question of story,” wrote “geologian” Thomas Berry, priest and environmentalist, as things began to slide downhill. “We are in trouble just because we do not have a good story. We are between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”
Yet, despite all the horrors we have created, we are still doing precisely what we know will be ultimately destructive. Denial! Denial! We are still accepting a cultural value that annihilates the Earth. If we don’t change, we are going to our own extinction. This is precisely what addicts do. Addicts—in other words most of our society—pretend there’s nothing wrong. As they laugh and talk and plan, they deny their dying souls. That’s what we’re doing to the planet. We fight about things that won’t matter if we are extinct.