Time to Tell a Tale

“When our time is in the dark confusion of Golgotha one need be only a degree or two off course, left or right, and one is kneeling before a thief.”
Insearch: Psychology and Religion, James Hillman

 

The election process in the United States has been a reflection of acrimonious will across the political spectrum. Kindness and respect are out of fashion; our higher impulses are all suspect. By constellating the fear of a very uncertain future, both campaigns left their people feeling as if the end of the world as we know it was coming if the other party won the election. Regardless of how the election’s transitional days play out it is safe to assume that about half the country is going into an emotional tailspin. Fear places a cold hand around the throat, chills the heart, and constricts the vision of tomorrow’s potential to a narrow band of unwelcome outcomes. For the losers this great anxiety eats away at their sense of security, but the winners are not wholly immune to the tenor of our times.

Back in March when the Academy Awards featured a performance by the sexually abused I wrote about the Spotlight on Rage involved. Perhaps the movie treatment of abuse in the Catholic church prepared us for this election season featuring, for the first time in history, sexual abuse. Hours of talking heads took up the subject, some sincere, others not so much. Just here is another well of fear and pain left in the wake of these historic elections: the trauma among survivors triggered by all the lose talk.

Imagine, now, what fear has grown in the minds of our children as they have watched all this unfold. How do you think it feels for them when they hear talk about sexual attacks on defenseless women and children? This from an adult generation handing them a world burning up its breadbaskets and melting down its ice caps.

Remaining mindful of ecology, it is hard not to see parallels between how we abuse people and the way we abuse the earth. In the enraged, abused child we are looking into the eyes of ecological blowback. This child has no respect for the two-faced authoritarian dark father figure or the scapegoat sacrificing dark mother figure. If depth psychology can be any guide to how these things play out when whole societies are caught up in them, we can expect the constellation of this child archetype to manipulate circumstances in such a way they allow the child to take its revenge; to show the father for a fool, an emperor with no clothes, and the mother for a bewitching mystagogue with a taste for blood.

So far only a few people are able to call a spade a spade, cut through the enchantments of non-ecological will-o-wisps, and offer realistic assessments of our existential circumstances. These are the voices insisting on spreading the most unpopular of messages; that we must place restrictions on the  madness threatening everything we hold dear. Mistaken notions of power have blinded modern societies from their total dependency on the functions of the biosphere in which they are embedded. In a parallel fashion modern notions of identity have blinded us to our psychological dependency on the non-dysfunctional family unit. We can walk all over the earth’s fragile ecosystems with Jack Boots, just as we walk all over poor and powerless people in our families, but it would be the height of folly to believe a day of reckoning would never come.

Last week I mentioned sometimes I think it is not the content of our beliefs that can lead us astray but the type of faith people are bringing to that content. We looked at the difference between literal and metaphorical readings of scriptures as one way of differentiating between those who are committed first to reality as it really is and those who are committed first to a story. It is a good model. It explains some important things for us to understand in our time of rising fanatic desperation.

Other times, however, I think it is the content of our stories that matters a great deal. It matters that the airwaves are filled with sensationalist treatment of such sensitive human issues as sexual abuse. The way we speak of these types of things matters a great deal. The actual content of our conversation determines much about its psychological impact. The rating chasing sensationalizing just adds to the cheapening of human dignity in our time. Where were the carefully crafted documentaries covering abuse issues with care and counseling advice? Where were the science programs sharing what neuroscience has learned about the effects of abuse on the nervous system and the biology of violence? Did we take this as an opportunity to have a national conversation, long overdue, to educate ourselves about these issues that run so deep within the human breast? Or were we satisfied just triggering the herd and getting its fear-fogged mind to accept another round of demagoguery?

Content matters as well when we turn our attention to existential questions of ultimate worth as found in our religions and philosophies. There are some tales designed to give an individual freedom, to guide them to the creativity and independence of thought that is their birthright. There are other tales, sadly, designed to enslave individuals. When an abused and hurt person turns to those tales for emotional and philosophical comfort, they become little more than the twice damned. In Hillman’s words, they end up “kneeling before a thief” who robs them of their very souls.

I would like to share with you an explosive truth in the most gentle way I know how, through the means of a story. Regular readers may well recall our discussion of overcoming childhood gullibility in the Parental Unkindness posts. This is not wholly unrelated. Don’t be too impressed that the unscrupulous can build such fine traps. Without the power of fear which deep time evolution bestowed on us within our biological inheritance, their tricks wouldn’t work at all. We do, however, have such an inheritance and as such their dark arts can cause real harm. As our grandparents used to say, it pays to keep one eye on the Devil lest he catch one unawares…

I invite you to read a telling of the ancient Sanskrit story The King and the Corpse.

Literally Dying

“Global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970, a report says.

The Living Planet assessment, by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WWF, suggests that if the trend continues that decline could reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020.
Dr Barrett said some groups of animals had fared worse than others. “We do see particularly strong declines in the freshwater environment – for freshwater species alone, the decline stands at 81% since 1970.
This analysis looked at 3,700 different species of birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles – about 6% of the total number of vertebrate species in the world…The team collected data from peer-reviewed studies, government statistics and surveys collated by conservation groups and NGOs…Any species with population data going back to 1970, with two or more time points (to show trends) was included in the study.
The researchers conclude that vertebrate populations are declining by an average of 2% each year, and warn that if nothing is done, wildlife populations could fall by 67% (below 1970 levels) by the end of the decade.”
BBC News, World wildlife ‘falls by 58% in 40 years’

 

Did you catch this ecological news last week? It deserves a moment of silence; it is a fitting subject for many contemplations. Where were the headlines and the documentaries teaching us about this crisis in our ecosystems? Where can we gather together to mourn, to seek repentance and swear on our honor to do better?

People have lost all respect for the earth. A bit more than half the animals are gone in less than my lifetime; 58% animal loss since 1970. We lack the courage to even speak it among ourselves with the weight it deserves. We are living through the great dying. So far our species has yet to join the great population declines, but surely our turn is coming. I wonder what will happen over the next 40 years. I don’t see us changing course anytime soon, do you? Reminds me of Chief Seattle’s apocryphal “when all the animals are gone, man will die of loneliness.”

We have been looking at being gentle. It is tested not when times are easy but when they are tough. Can you be gentle, with yourself and with the world, when they seem to spiral out of control?

We have known since the 70s that the ecological footprint of industrial society was too large to be sustained on this, our one planetary home. The shock of our knowing has disabled our ability to speak the truth. This Limits to Growth news is viscerally traumatizing, felt first in the flesh with searing sadness that immediately confirms it as true. As Bowie sang,

“News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying.”

Since that time we have engaged in sociological repression through diversions. We have continued to concentrate on the many comings and goings of business as usual, but they get increasingly bizarre as the repressed knowledge grows in the darkness of the blasphemous and unspeakable. The US presidential elections center around abuse issues while wars run ever more hot and oil economic-politics, as always from here on out, sends up red flags, all the while the global financial system is being propped up by unprecedented means – all this edgy, scary international news is mirrored in the same edgy, scary content that has overwhelmingly taken over our mass media. The staccato cutting techniques, the camera shake, the sudden close ups of gore flashing unpredictable and uncontrollable; all these are director techniques of film as replaying trauma. Our repression is leaking out. We are bringing the war home.

Outside the human echo chambers the earth is really dying. Within our human communications with one another this reality is barely given voice. Instead, the collective is rehashing the tried and true non-ecological explanations for our troubles. Foremost among those is the use of religion within politics. True believers on every side are growing ever more insistent that their agendas be implemented in our societies right now. It will serve us well in the days ahead to be able to clearly identify when any faith crosses the line into toxic territory. It is not always as obvious as a beheading.

Sometimes I wonder if what really matters in a person’s faith is how they hold it, and not what it contains. It seems that the major religions are in accord in their role of assisting people through the difficult processes of maturing. All of them christen the life passages with ceremony and community. It is in this sense we could say, as the New Age movement was all to quick to assert, that all religions agree.

Within the membership of these organizations there are people who hold to the literal interpretation of their sacred stories and those who do not. The literal interpretation entails a rejection of reason. It is a regressive strategy that fails to give science the proper gravitas it has earned in the modern mind. The literal reading of virgin births and resurrections, walking on water and flying through the sky, ignores both the evidence of how the molecular world works as it presents itself to our senses and the fact that the same mythological images occur throughout all our human cultures throughout recorded history. To insist all the others but your own were demonic illusions is a paranoid view of creation.

Those who read the stories as metaphors have cast their lot with a wholly different sort of faith. It revolves around a core commitment to trust reality as it is to be the real revelation of meaning, love and intelligence in our lives. The agnostic scientist might have a deeper willingness to let the creation be the creation, than a roomful of bible-thumping church types. In that stance the West has found its path. It has lead to some serious disillusionments about what we had been telling ourselves. We are no longer the apple of the one god’s eye in our 4,000 years old island-earth universe, our solar system is not even in a particularly remarkable location within the spiral arms of our galaxy.

What we have lost, however, is not the whole story. We have come to know a solid truth about how precious the individual human is in the great scheme of things. We know how empathy began in the mammals and found its fullest flowering in us as love. Long have people said god is love, I wonder if we can really come to understand what we are saying? We have also discovered a profound wisdom in the sacred stories, how they map directly onto our body-mind encounters and experiences. In these tales our species’ confrontation with the inexpressible has been clothed in images, an a-rational form. They are not nothing, far from it. It does not hurt us to pray. But the reality of what they are cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the role of metaphor in the greater field of human cognitive abilities.

I am in my 50s. I think I can say with George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life that I have never been much of a praying man. When I was taught about praying the act was real wordy, full of requests and needing a special ritualized form to be effective. The truth is that the things I want most, the dreams of my deepest heart, are all about hoping the lives of those I love will be blessed; that they will be free from unnecessary suffering. It is not a request made in ritualized moments, so much as it is a never ending part of my every heartbeat. It is not a sycophantic request to some patriarch in the sky, full of a bunch of words. There is no fawning like a slave. Words do not even begin to touch how deeply the hope is felt. It is who I am, not what I say. A guilty conscience is the same, it remains a burden no ritualized magic spell is ever going to fully remove. Our shadows have a role to play in the creation of our character and will remain ever with us while we remain who we are. From the eyes of the elderly among us, many things that look to be religious and righteous are childish. Sometimes even harmful.

Wasn’t it the Gospel of Thomas that quotes the Christ as saying the kingdom of god is spread out on the earth even now, but people do not see it?

There is an eternity in the mystery of time. Science found it. There is a universe in a grain of sand. Science found it. There is a resurrection of the dead in the living. Science found it. Contemplate what these mean: relativity, quantum mechanics, and evolution.

If we were created in the contingent play of universal forces, are not those forces something we can reliably trust? True, it is not like we have any real choice. True, that which created us also destroys us with equal intent.

We have cast off the wisdom of our elders and gotten lost in cartoon religions of GDP growth and Jesus marketing. The idols do not nurture the culture. This is what the old records of scriptures the world over have documented. We mistake some of the meaning of these cultural stories when we read them only as religious tales. Many are also warning about what leads to cultural breakdown when economic and military forces get out of hand. Man’s folly has lead to his rise and fall, throughout the ever cyclic seasons, from time out of mind. Along the way a few things were noted, here and there.

These cultural messages were so important that the ingenuity of mind found a way to assure they would get transmitted over the generations. It clothed the knowledge in stories of myth and magic. These stories are carefully crafted. They make unreasonable assertions and juxtapositions in just such a way that the human mind cannot leave them alone. It makes them memorable. Like a tongue searching out the bad tooth, our thoughts whirl around concepts like the haunted broom that features in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Here is a thing, a broom, which means it belongs to the conceptual category of ‘objects’ defined as those things that do not have a will of their own. ‘Things’ are not alive. This broom, however, does chores and as a magical broom it is an image that we cannot soon forget. It was designed that way.

Apply the same analysis to sacred stories and we see how the wisdom of our inherited psychological strategies exceed any conscious planning on the part of our species. It is simply a characteristic of how our minds work. More specifically, it is a characteristic of how the power of reasonable conclusions work within our consciousness. Namely, by cloaking the unreal in the awe of the numinous. But, of course, there is more to it than this. Without our imaginations it is unlikely our psyche could bear the burden of its self-reflective awareness at all. Without our stories we could not share our emotional lives, for isn’t it so that fiction often expresses our truest emotional selves? Our minds swim in the sea of stories, and not only those in the scriptures, great novels and the blockbuster films. We are all story tellers and do so like to tell memorable tales.

There are two ways we can tell our stories. We can relate what really happened and how we found within those experiences the meaning of what our sacred tales are all about. Or we can relate a particular sacred tale and force our experiences to conform to its plot and expectations. This is akin to the different ways of approaching the stories; the literalist values the revelation of the story above the revelation of their own lives, the metaphorically inclined think that is the height of folly.

Right now our earth is being threatened by cultures that place more value on money than air, water and soil. We have here, evidently, another bewitching image. Loosing sight of the metaphorical nature of our exchange systems, we bring a fundamentalist faith to economics. We act as though we literally believe in the power of money above the needs of the flesh. It has become easier for us to imagine WWIII than to choose to turn away from endless growth economics. That has all the earmarks of a dangerous cult that has used witchy images to gain undue influence over a human mind. We need to be deprogrammed. We need to find the courage to think blasphemous thoughts. We, and our societies, will remain slaves to our fears until we do.

We suffer from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance. We know the existing industrial processes are using up resources faster than four earths could continue to supply. Yet, the dominate public conversation insists that the best thing we can do to solve our problems is to grow the GDP, aka increase the rate at which these industrial processes use up those resources.

There is no escaping this dilemma.

What I would like to know is this: when we lose our faith in money, and we will, will we also lose our faith in science and reason? It seems to me this is not inconceivable. Those who will stand up for reality now, in the face of the onslaught of irrational claims made in our day both economic and religious, just might be participating in the most critical arenas where this is going to be decided for many generations to come.

We know where the regressive impulses lead societies. The way into racism, brutality and war is well trod. Superstitious people make paranoid decisions. We do not know where the trail of ecological knowledge might lead us. It is my hope that more than just a few will be curious enough to want to find out.

Morphing Stories

The pursuit of greed at the cost of destroyed ecosystems is not worth it. This is the simple truth global society has had to face since at least the 1970s when Limits to Growth was published. The ecological news captured the imagination of the world in that decade that saw the first Earth Day, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the rise of the environmental non-profits. Last week we looked at David Bowie’s song Five Years to get a sense of the emotional reaction that went along with the “terrible news.”

It is important to acknowledge the emotional factors inseparably linked to the ecological data. Since the 70s the trickle of terrible news has become a torrent. It has played a role in the social developments we have seen since that is hard to underestimate; we have been running away, terrified. The United States recoiled from Jimmy Carter’s sweater message from the Oval Office that it had an oil problem straight into Ronald Regan’s Great America. We then fascinated ourselves with the virtual reality of our high tech, frittering away precious years of opportunity, only to come around full circle and be talking in this election about making America great again.

Now, of course, it is late in the day. Another bit of evidence that this is true, to add to the mountain of it already gathered, came out last week from the United Nations. The State of Food and Agriculture 2016 Report studied the probable food crisis heading our way due to climate change and the need to reform our agricultural sector. Same reforms we knew we needed half a century ago.

The psychological price we pay for denying the ecological facts is a war on our children; taking their land is also taking their hearts. This is something that the Native American’s understood but was lost. Another bit of evidence that this is true, to add to the mountain of it already gathered, is Amanda Ripley’s How America Outlawed Adolescence report in November’s Atlantic. Remember the 16 year old girl thrown from her desk by the school police officer on the video that went viral? Amanda investigated. She found that 22 states have now passed laws that make predictable adolescent behavior illegal.

Running away we have run into a wall. Ecology is the black death of our times, tearing away our hope for the future and replacing it with a dark shroud. It is also like the Lisbon earthquake in that it has made us question our worth, our god, the power of evil and the power of good. These are religious questions.

Socially, it sometimes seems to me, there are two faces to religion. One face is the positive one in which the stories and symbolism nurture what is best in us and aid us in our difficult journey to maturity. Religion increases our compassion for one another. Western religious tradition, particularly in its Evangelical form, has earned a reputation for being there when a personal conversion experience takes place. More than a century ago William James wrote about these powerful, life changing psychological-spiritual encounters with conscience in The Varieties of Religious Experience. Group hysteria aside, the sacred has helped many, many people through very troubling times and brought true peace of mind and healing to some who were suffering in the deepest, darkest nights of the human soul. The angry atheists, in my opinion, do not give this aspect of religious life sufficient weight when they rightly condemn its dark side.

On the other hand, it is remarkable to me that the Evangelical population of the United States has thrown in with Donald Trump this election. They reason because the Supreme Court appointments are up for grabs and because he takes the pro-life stance, they have to vote for him. It is hard to imagine a less Christ-like character than the one portrayed throughout the many years The Apprentice was on the air. In my opinion this is a sign of seriously confused religious impulses.

This dark side is the second face religion shows a society. Then it is little more than a dangerous patriarchy, that thinks it owns women and children, writ large. The gods become little more than the final, ultimate stick by which to bully people. It is not called the bully pulpit for nothing. Threats of hell are the ultimate threats. What else could strike fear into the heart more than the idea that you will suffer physical and emotional torture for eternity? The very concept of hell is the most cruel invention the cognitive mind has ever conceived. As such it is the best barometer of someone’s compassion; who do they assign to hell? Hell is used to persuade people that the preacher’s bill of goods must be purchased, that the preacher’s intellectual philosophy must be adopted, that the preacher’s set of social and ethical opinions must be accepted as the final truth. Or else.

People acting from a place of fear do not make the best judgments.

Hell is also the image that captures the horror and pain of our suffering. Suffering seems to go on forever, that is one of its characteristics. The Buddhists have hells too. Each is described in graphic detail, providing plenty of images by which the emotions encountered along the contemplative path might be given flesh. Each and every life in these Buddhists hells is said to go on for eons, or multiples of. This is one of those mythic areas that seem so odd to Western sensibilities that are used to the island-earth universe only 4,000 years old. The point of the Eastern teachings, I think, is the same one about impermanence that is always the Buddhist observation. Each of those hell realm lives do come to an end; there is no eternal damnation. I think that defuses the stick the unscrupulous are using in their bully pulpits.

We are making a hell on earth. It is right in front of our eyes but we cannot see it because our fear shrouds our perceptions. It is not fear that is the problem, that is a survival signal. It is that we fear the wrong things. We fear images of the mythological imagination divorced from their intellectual and emotional moorings. Re-rooted the images can train fear and strengthen reason, but that requires the courage to walk into the hell our imaginations have conjured up. Don’t fear to face the gods acting like scarecrows. We gain this courage by trusting that whatever reality lies behind our hellish images, it is a reality we cannot ever be truly separated from. We fear ghosts. We do not fear poisoning our ground water. We are very confused.

Churches mark the coming and going of the stages of life. This is their role in our society. This remains true even today when most people are married and buried. Traditionally churches kept the village records of just such things. Why? Because this is where the reality of human lives takes place and this is the referent for all those sacred stories. The church graveyard teaches the human animal as much as the church altar. The stories are not there to point us to some far away place over the rainbow where things are more real and true than they are right here and now. No, the meaning of the stories is what counts. The meaning is carved into our flesh.

This being the case, when a culture’s stories fail them, when they are no longer able to capture the truth of the lives being lived, people are without guidance. A search for meaning becomes desperate as a sickness of soul spreads. As this process progresses the society’s stabilizing features weaken until a collapse of business as usual takes place. One could say that the search for a new story is taking place but, at least for me, that minimizes the experience. The way we experience this is by dissecting the previous story intellectually. It is exactly what we are doing right here. The fact that I find it easy to do this type of analysis of the Christian tradition’s cultural effects is itself a sign that the story is no longer speaking effectively to the needs of our time.

You have a chance to work directly with these stories that are morphing into something new in our times. It is not helpful to simply allow them to absorb your individuality; dehumanization through cult membership is not the goal. It is not helpful to simply ignore them as impractical concerns in a world of hard nosed business; they hold necessary ingredients of your individuality if it is to resist dehumanization through persuaders pushing fear buttons. To join the work of dreaming these stories forward you will need to engage them in whatever fashion you can in order for them to speak meaningfully in your own life.

Engaging the search for the very best understanding of ourselves in a time of ecological crisis cannot ignore what we have learned about the role of reason and mythology in the workings of the human soul. This is a time of science. Neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology are profoundly relevant to the crisis we find ourselves in. The apocalyptic symbols are constellated in the collective mind just now because what we are involved in while wrestling with our ecological crisis is also a spiritual crisis.

A spiritual crisis is one in which the inversion of our mythological tales overcomes their upright meanings, as it were. Put plainly – we are sorely tempted to write ourselves into the role of the villain. We are sorely tempted to blame our rabid exploitation of fossil fuel’s highly concentrated energy source on our moral nature having an irredeemable flaw, instead of accepting it as an inevitable outcome for an animal as clever and curious as ourselves. Yeast overshoot given the chance. Humans do to. The question is to what degree will we be able to incorporate this new knowledge about ourselves? Will it make us wiser or will it destroy us? The moral position is a non-starter: judge and jury has passed sentence as soon as the premises are accepted. A natural position grounded in ecology holds out the hope that we might retain our compassion under pressure.

The Black

“Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got”
David Bowie, Five Years

 

We have been talking about being gentle with ourselves because, I submit, as a culture we have been suffering from the trauma of what the Limits to Growth study taught us about the future of industrialized civilization. Part of our reaction culturally, I submit, involves increasing child abuses. Abuse can be physical, sexual or psychological. We have decided, as a culture, it is ok to have more than 20% of our children living in poverty, at a time CEOs make 300% more than there employees. Physical abuse, check. Previous posts have already covered how pervasive sexual abuse is. Sexual abuse, check. What about psychological abuse, or what is also known as spiritual or emotional abuse? That is what we are going to talk about today.

It is not a small thing that this was the first presidential debate, watched by children all over the nation as homework, that was not family friendly. Nor is it a coincidence that this event coincides with the first woman to run for the highest office in the land. Somehow, that seems to make it ok.

I wrote awhile ago that, “we seem to get a kick out of terrifying our children, as if we could take our revenge for everything that has disappointed us about life under Babylonian Capitalism by taking it out of their hides.” Last week I was told about another example of exactly what I had in mind. As Halloween approaches another deeply archetypal eruption tears into the social landscape with crazy clowns putting in an appearance. Here is another way to attack the child’s mind and fill it with fear and terror. Blood in school hallways has become fair game for… for what?

Why are so many adults being driven to attack children, or look the other way?

In this post I want to share an archetypal reading of the David Bowie song Five Years. I offer these ideas as a model, knowing they are in-part personal associations yet trusting there might also be some helpful insights into what is happening to us socially. Like any model of how archetypal themes might be playing out in a society this one is sketchy at best. Still, by my lights it is worthwhile. I think much of Bowie’s gift was in taking the position of the abused and outcast, seeing their worth and giving emotional expression to the truth of their lives.

I want to read the song Five Years as an oracle. Oracles do not predict the future, that is a modern conception. Oracles read the way the wind is blowing at the time they are consulted, wrap that intuitive perception in enigmas and poetry, and do so to bestow wisdom so people might recognize things more clearly and act more skillfully. It is an important question to contemplate, who will you trust as an oracle?

It was in 1968 the Club of Rome asked for a study of the world problematique using system science and computation. The resulting study was completed about the time this David Bowie song was written in 1971. These things were in the air. The opening verse states clearly “earth is really dying.” In interviews with both the Rolling Stones and William Burroughs Bowie explained this was because the earth “will end because of a lack of natural resources.”

From the interview with Rolling Stone just mentioned (italics added):
“It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources.  Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock n roll band and the kids no longer want rock n roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s advisors tells him to collect news and sing it, cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news.”

What the artist was able to see, I propose, is how this type of news was changing people. He identified the archetypes that would accompany us on our journey bearing this “terrible news.” In the interview he mentions how ” all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.” I look around at the dissolution of the barriers between adult and child material in our society and think these couple of sentences from the early 1970s capture the state of things rather well.

For what it is worth I believe this vision into the resource restrained future stayed with Bowie the rest of his days. Blackstar takes up the theme, in my opinion. In his penultimate work, appearing after a 10 year hiatus from public music making, it animates Where Are We Now? (“just Walking the Dead”). The video he released with it artistically captures faces frozen with anxious eyes watching as time passes by. The video is full of shots of Berlin in the 1970s. Why does the woman just join him in the video only to watch along side him as he sings? Why the woman with the tail in Blackstar? What Bowie saw was how the male and female are each playing different roles under the pressures of living with what we know.

Pushing through the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying

The market square is of course how we wove the spell that grew us from the sustainable human scale to the unsustainable Homo Colossus. It is pushy in here as the pie shrinks. I get an image of young mothers pushing strollers with their children in them. How can they be happy for their children again? With a heartbreaking sigh they look on the reality, such a small amount of time left to cry in. What his hauntingly beautiful lyrics proceed to express for us is the emotional impact the news of limits to our growth has on people. It hurts. It is true. There is no escape, what are we to do?

I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys, electric irons and TV’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people.

When this vision gets ‘stuck in your eyes’ everything you see in the normal world of struggling humans is touched. Everything we have worked so hard to achieve suddenly looks to be so very impermanent. We scan the built environment and the culture so intimately bound up with our identities, like the identity of Bowie once a boy fascinated with a toy from father, mother’s electric iron and the wonder of TV. The consumer cornucopia is our embedded mind, our brain made over like a warehouse. These common, everyday things carry powerful emotional connotations in the unconscious. As he thinks about the loss of all these things taken for granted since his childhood he suddenly realizes what this “terrible news” will also mean for all the people in the world. Billions and billions of us.

His attention turns to people: a world full of laughing, crying, struggling human beings with warm bodies in an endless variety. Some, like himself, destined to give form to the dreams of the many and others destined to be the many. The contemplative who has worked with compassion understands the truth, “I never thought I’d need so many people.” We are the same. Equal.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn’t pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that.

A whole lot of people were going off their heads as the 60s dreams of the Age of Aquarius were shattered in the dark 70s. I read in these next two lines an accurate description of what archetypal psychology knows as the dark mother. Those mothers pushing their baby strollers through the market square sighing sometimes snap. How could it be that this most wonderful and beautiful baby of mine is the source of so much darkness and pain in our over-populated world? Going off her head the unconscious rage at the unfairness of it all was given free reign. What happens next is just as Jungian thought would expect; sometimes the only way to beat a monster is to invoke a bigger monster. A compensating darkness rose to protect the survival of the battered child. This was touched on when we discussed how the shadow can be a person’s protector. The theme is being given sliver screen treatment this holiday season in the movie A Monster Calls. Missing dads, dark moms and monsters make up the heady concoction in Babylon Capitalism’s bitter cup.

Next evocatively, have we not all broken our arms saluting the military-industrial complex one too many times, while staring with mono-vision at the automobile as the summit of industrial wealth? When Law and Order are put in service of the True Believers it makes society’s outcasts sick with fear and disgust. The sad news invokes not only the dark mother. The dark father puts in an appearance as well as patriarchy’s physical violence is put at the service of its spiritual violence, causing physical sickness among the broken and abused they leave in their wake. The lawman puts in an appearance in another song, Is There Life on Mars? “Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy.” That is in the news of late as well.

I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour, drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine, don’t think you knew you were in this son.
And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk.

I am using a reading that ends with “in this son” instead of “in this song.” That way the reference to Ma follows naturally. It also leaves us facing the emotions of a son abandoned by his father, as so many boys are in our age of fatherless homes. The generation we inherited this mess from seem to just be going along just fine, happy as fat cats; “ the older people have lost all touch with reality.” In the cold rain he thinks back on the time of childhood and nostalgically wants to go back there. What is back there that causes this outpouring of compassion in the next lines?

Our love for our children is stronger than our fear. Even now. Our children bear our face, our race, the way that we talk. They speak directly to our hearts. Overshoot is not left as an unfelt abstraction. The child is recognized as precious, even by all the darkened mothers and fathers. Evolutionary blood, sweat and tears have made my child just who and what he or she is. The deepest parental wish is that one’s child will be able to balance their physical, emotional and mental lives so that they can live a good life and that the world will provide the stability and support a good life requires. All this, and more, is in that quintessential parental gesture; offering a steadying hand for our child’s grasping finger as they take their first trembling steps. “I want you to walk.”

Let us pray this spirit of help and nurturing will become more evident in our culture.

We got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

We’ve got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we got

The people of the industrial world were surprised by the terrible news. It pains the brain but once you know, you cannot forget. It gets stuck in your eyes.

We Know

Our time is overwhelmingly one of ecological disaster. Not one informed person on this planet has any doubt that the human ecological footprint has become huge. Some think its still not large enough to be causing as many serious problems as I do, but even these skeptics agree that the scale of our modern industrialized technology’s impact on natural resources is enormous. We are not all eating Tilapia instead of Cod for no reason. Our public conversations about our ecological predicament, however, are wholly lacking in a rational response to the circumstances. We lack the courage to face the facts; our story failed us; we have not the nerve needed to steel ourselves for embracing the truth. We are fighting maturing by denying the deep disappointment in our growing disillusionment with technological progress as a road to a better world.

The environmental movements have been coming from the position that people are not well enough informed about the ecological facts. They design marketing messages to persuade people to live with some semblance of proper concern for the health of the planet. I have come to suspect that this approach fails to recognize the social situation for what it really is. People are not lacking in ecological knowledge. People do know we are in an ecological crisis, they know it viscerally. We are not failing to talk about it, let alone act rationally in response to it, because we are ignorant. It is because we are numb with shock. The news is so bleak and so huge and so unchangeable that it has been necessary to repress it in order to carry on with the day to day chores that sustain our survival, such as it is.

We are doing the best we can.

We have known the true state of things since sometime in the 1970s. The strains on our societies since then have been enormous, yet so far international relations and market driven Main Street have not broken down. There is reason to believe that may not remain the case much longer. It is hard to see any way business as usual can continue in anything like its present form for another generation or two. It is unlikely to make it another decade or two if we are interpreting our ecological data correctly. Our institutions proved to be too frozen in their ways to adapt to the new reality. The authority of those institutions drew upon the shared mythology of the societies in which they functioned. All throughout the world this psychological symbiosis is breaking down.

Until we speak with straight words about the reality of our ecological overshoot our societies will remain prey to pied pipers. Some will claim the elite are to blame and if only we could get them to pay their taxes all will be well. Some will blame everything that is no longer working well on foreigners, immigrants and ethnicities in the tried and true march towards the sacrifice of the scapegoat. Many will be enthralled by the dark simplicity of apocalyptic fundamentalism and, certain the time of their god is near, perpetrate all manner of atrocities. Colorful cults will rise up here and there promising all kinds of cosmic trips into the inner worlds as an escape from the dismal, shabby, crowded and violent environments we have made for ourselves.

It goes without saying that none of these predictable responses will be designed to have the slightest impact on the real causes of our problems. But they will. Every one of the social madnesses just described will also have an substantial impact on the environment and its populations. Through it all the reality will remain the ecological facts: overshoot due to reliance on the phantom acreage fossil fuels provided. Societies that begin to include straight talk about our constrained position may also find themselves better prepared to make choices that have a good chance of actually helping their people deal with the changing circumstances. So much for societies, what about as individuals? What does accepting the ecological critique offer us? Individuals who use this simple analysis might be able to resist the pied pipers and even convince some of their neighbors not to sign up with the latest Coo-Coo de jour.

Eventually some disaster of failed infrastructure or diplomacy will be large enough to tip the majority of the population of one overdeveloped country after another into a configuration more in keeping with the resources that are actually available within its own borders. Resources, it should be noted, sorely abused by the reckless and frankly brainless way in which they have been exploited for the last few hundred years.

Accepting the truth is hard. It does however bring with it more than a few blessings. It provides clarity. We have to relearn to be gentle. We need to walk on the earth more lightly. We will do so when we walk among one another with less fear.

Our greed is born from the emotional and physical security modern life has removed from the human experience. For our long evolutionary history our species thrived, one might even say delighted, in our extended family arrangements. We were assured that there would be someone there who cared about us, to watch over us when we were sick, and to bury us when we died. Those same people had watched us grow up, marry and work as the years of our lives went by. The extended family was not the only feature of our long evolutionary history modern societies have unmoored themselves from. Living on the scale of villages and tribes, the extended family had a relationship with the place in which it lived we moderns no longer comprehend. The land and its flesh supported one another directly. The relations and community offered a context in which the provisioning of life’s necessities and the celebration of its stages was a shared phenomenon. Modern societies have all too often replaced this human touch, which nurtured us and gave our lives meaning, with faceless bureaucracies where an individual is little more than a number. And now our numbers threaten to destroy us.

Our greed is also born from the cognitive and spiritual security modern life has removed from the human experience. Naked spirit is exposed to the infinite universe of our space age cosmology. (TV and movies arose to aid us in clothing the nakedness of our spirit with images, the language of the soul, in such myth making as Star Wars.) In our rockets our Icarus dreams mock us even as they fall back to earth like fallen angels. None-the-less the technological peak of achievement they represent is something we should take great pride in. The Hubble telescope and what it has taught us alone is an accomplished fact with truly cosmic implications – we have gazed upon the heavens. Even so, we should not allow nostalgia for what was not meant to be, this space age vision of endless technological progress in space, “the final frontier,” to sicken us of the future we do have. The question before us now is not whether or not our children will be able to survive shooting from star to star but whether or not they will be able to survive right here on earth.

Can we live knowing what we know? Let’s take a mind healing metaphor. We are somewhat like a patient in analysis who has recognized the truth of formerly repressed material. From now on their view will include the new realization, often one that is very painful. We say the process has irreversibly expanded their consciousness. Mankind has long been facing Epicurus’ Atoms and Void view of its place in the big scheme of things. At times this wholly naturalistic view has been more repressed than at others, equivalent to the individual patient’s varying degrees of consciousness. I think most educated people would agree the sciences have advanced a picture of our place in the grand scheme of things that has now become impossible to dismiss out of hand. We have currently been forced to hold a number of astonishingly unexpected revelations in our collective consciousness. It is an open question whether or not we will be able to maintain this degree of awareness or not.

Consider a few. Quantum mechanics has taken pictures of the atoms, settling once and for all the debate that has rang out around Epicurus observations for millennia. We live in the world remade by chemistry, the molecular manipulations we have crafted atop the quantum nature of nature. Evolutionary theory uses the chemist’s molecular world’s ability to create a molecule capable of reproducing itself with variations to explain the diversity of life throughout the biosphere. The animal making all these theories finds itself situated on one branch of this enormous history in which 99% of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. Even so the variations of adaptations throughout the biosphere, the living 1% that is here right now, simply strains credulity. This 1% is time’s cutting edge where all that has gone before is currently being expressed. We locate ourselves within a biological vastness. Ever curious, we also turned to the stars and found it was a turtles all the way down; a molecular universe every direction we pointed our instruments. Astronomers also took a hint from the chemists. The Periodic Chart had established that there are only about one hundred elements, only a limited number of basic building blocks available to build a universe with. Reading the chemical signature of stars confirmed it, even as it opened our eyes to a host of phenomena stranger than wildest speculations of our imaginations – quasars, black holes, and galaxies other than our own. With the Hubble Space Telescope the universe became infinitely larger once again, unfolding a vision of billions and billions of galaxies surrounding us in every direction. It is against all this, and more, that our species now finds itself confronting the results of our ecological ignorance.

This is what I mean by our spirit is naked before the cold light of the stars. There is no escaping the revelations of ourselves as yeast’s close cousin. And like the therapeutic revelation, knowing has brought pain. Yet we have also awakened to our place. Can we take our seat? Will we find a way to incorporate what we know with how we see ourselves and conduct our affairs? The old ways of explaining the human experience are buckling under the weight of these new revelations. The seals have been opened on the final scroll, as it were. The god or nature of Einstein, Spinoza’s god, just might be the voice of reason bursting forth from the pearly gates of our cosmic story.

To live through all this feels so traumatic, little is assured and much is likely to be lost. We are understandably still in a bit of shock. It will take time to learn to live with what we know. It helps, I think, to look at the whole thing from the perspective of thousands of years to respect the gravity of what we are discussing. How might this nugget of demonstrable understanding of our place in the universe, as revealed by our technological sciences, evolve within our ever adapting traditions? It is a particularly interesting question now that the industrial foundation of those technological sciences is coming undone.

We should be gentle with ourselves. To carry the precious gift of human consciousness within this vast and grand universe ,while living on the planet of the apes, is not easy. It is not easy at all. It is, however, inexpressibly…