Contamination

Our progress today is more of a process of disillusion. We are confronted, assaulted, by evidence of the enormity of what is taking place. We react in various ways. Sometimes we strive to deny what is going on. We distance our selves from awareness at the risk of numbing in-attentiveness. Sometimes we buckle under the weight. This can lead to reactions, passive or active, depression or anger. It can also offer us the only true solace available, an approach to clarity.

Lately for me, this has been a struggle with an awareness of the totality of our physical, chemical, and radiological contamination. Not only the burden of what has been and is continuing to be released, but what will be released. The inventory of catastrophe imminent and implicit in what we have built.

It’s easy to focus on the big items. Thousands of nuclear plants around the world. Stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Tar Sands. Waste dumps. The sea of plastic that overwhelms the living ocean. The full-scale assault on life that is chemo-GMO-Agriculture.

Then I walk the dog. A neighbor has a jug of Roundup beside her gravel driveway. The bright green of early summer replaced by a brittle malevolent dry brown. A Mylar balloon that came to rest in the salt-marsh just out of reach until next winter’s freeze. A daily litter of plastic and cigarette butts and chewing gum. The kind of things derided as merely a nuisance to cover up their deadliness to any creature that runs afoul of them.

Every habitation within the “developed” world, and increasingly the “under-developed world,” and with less window-dressing to hide the virulence of the assault, is its own little hot-spot of contamination. Every store selling just about any industrial consumer item. Is there any other kind today? Every filling station and its underground tanks. The list is endless and if the inventory is completed it would cover every place we come in contact with, and many we never see. An old favorite of mine, every campfire, bonfire pit, or trash pit in which plastic has been burned, “Such pretty colors!” Leaving an invisible plume of dioxins, a miniature of the dispersal patterns we can now follow of Fukushima’s spreading contamination.

How do we respond without jumping to conclusions?

The mechanism that leads to our exhaustion in the face of our predicament is fed by this habit. We want to jump out of contemplation and into denial, or fantasy. Our fantasies range from Utopian to apocalyptic. None of them offer anything beyond a temporary escape as they deepen our complicity.

Here’s the thing…. We assume that if we don’t react we are “part of the problem.” But by reacting in stereotypical ways we are most certainly only perpetuating whatever we have reacted against. Our naiveté in this regard is getting long in the tooth and has gone beyond being counterproductive.

“It’s almost as though ‘The System,’ a la The Matrix, were actively interceding.” To paraphrase what a friend said yesterday. And from here we run smoothly for the exits. Out into conspiracy-land.

It’s not that there are no conspiracies! Kleptocratic Oligarchies like the one over-lording on us today are full of conspirators and their handiwork. It’s not delusional to believe conspiracies are at work. Only thinking/believing these “explanations” leave us anywhere but in a morass of dead-end finger-pointing.

It’s hot. At least here in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s easy to get exasperated.

We look for what we’ve lost beneath a light. Not because this is where we lost it. But because it is easier to see here.

Chasing ease. By now that should raise plenty of red flags.

Why do we need strength? Perhaps, in the end, not so that we can prevail. What would that mean today? How can anyone continue to believe that “God is on Our side!” in that way?

What if strength were the only way to keep from short-circuiting? The only discipline that stops us from acting badly simply because we are confused.

Stereotypical responses got that way because they became easy to take up.

Morphic Resonance. A concept described by Rupert Sheldrake. He posits that forms have histories. That forms develop and evolve in a process in which changes resonate with what has come before. This leads to a conservation of forms. It shows a mechanism for why we not only have incremental evolution but parallel evolution. Look at the similarities between the eyes of a squid and a human. A cephalopod and a primate mammal. There is no lineage connecting the two, yet our eyes are very much alike.

Sheldrake extends morphic resonance to physical and chemical processes, as well as to mental states and intellectual constructs. He has evidence, ignored by today’s auto da Fé, that catalyzing the formation of a new crystal anywhere on earth makes it easier to do again, anywhere else on earth.

The same holds true for concepts, for world-views, for ways of being and acting.

On one side we have an increasing ease promoting the repetition of established forms. On the other we have an evolving series of situations and conditions that make the established patterns increasingly inappropriate and counterproductive.

In such a scenario chasing ease only speeds up the process. And in our case, since chasing ease has become enshrined as our birthright, we rarely consider anything else. It should be no surprise that we have reached the point we are at with an exponential acceleration that will only be stopped by hard, external limits.

In this light. The clarity provided by our contamination points both at the futility and error of continuing to jump for easy satisfactions, whether escapist or revolutionary in nature.

New forms. Forms that have not been reinforced by repetition are hard to create.

There’s another glimmer we can appreciate.

We know what it feels like when we approach a breakthrough. It’s the same feeling whether it comes from a dawning sense that we get a certain joke. That little shift beneath our feet just before we begin to laugh. The same thing happens in a bona fide Eureka moment.

Now, the realization sometimes eludes us. But even then, there is a residue. We are left with a sense of the uncanny. Perhaps even a sense of awe. Certainly we are touched by grace and some level of joy at such times.

Put these two together. It doesn’t seem to be much to go on in the face of the enormity of our position. But that is precisely the value of a moment of clarity. Futility and the total lack of answers threatens to overwhelm us. At the same moment we notice the few scant items that are outside the general poverty of our circumstances.

In this case these elements are all that remain. Doing what comes easy will kill us – and that includes whatever bi-pole of active/passive, just/unjust we might imagine. All that is left is what is hard.

To face this we need to be strong. Not powerful.

Our strength gives us a chance to remain in the question.

Within that work we receive clues when we approach what has not been realized before.

Complicity, and its symptoms, contamination and corruption, do not go away. They will not go away.

But, we can use this situation to work. To create something that is not more of the same.

Strength has another outcome. Strength is a capacity to see beyond the selfishness of weakness that seeks refuge in power.

Part of our growing strength is a sense that we do not need to be caught-up in the cycles of striving after salvation. Strength brings a realization that there is no “I” that needs to be saved. No world either.

This is not a consolation. That reaction is part of the striving after salvation. Instead of making bargains. We get down to work.

The rest will take care of itself. The rest is part of all. We are part of all.

We take care.

We attend.

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5 thoughts on “Contamination

  1. Thank you for this post, Tony.

    I just spent half an hour writing an angsty reply to your ‘History’ post, and the answers to my angsty questions are here. Go figure.

    I’d started to be concerned that there was an implication that ‘joyful disillusionment’ was a passive thing – POW and you’re in a liminal, postcultural state. There’s no ‘you’. so there’s no work for ‘you’ to do, just kick back and grok the ride.

    The flipside of Sheldrake’s ‘Morphic Resonance’ is the crisis of imagination that kicks in when you try to make the first step out of Conimbriga. Culture is powerful stuff – it makes the local look universal: ‘There Is No Alternative”. (Maybe if you’re trying to ‘rebuild a culture’, there isn’t?)

    But you’re right. This is not about creating new societies, definitely not about utopias and not about saving the world. It is about every small creative act, every hour of every day, made in a spirit of joyful craft. Each thing either good or not, right now.

    We buried my grandfather last week. He had two lives; one as an engineer, designing great boilers, massive incinerators, bombers and fighters during WWII; and one as a craftsman, making small things, by hand with what he had, each thing only itself, only good if it was good itself.

    Best wishes, Jack.

    • Jack,

      So good to hear from you.

      And thank you for your close reading and for responding in this way.

      I do believe, from my own experience, that it is possible to leave the angsty-bits behind. Focusing on the present isn’t what the Ego’s caricatures make it out to be. It is, “about every small creative act, every hour of every day, made in a spirit of joyful craft. Each thing either good or not, right now.” Well put.

      Your grandfather’s life sounds lived. Returning to the History post, we are all complicit and entangled in our history. This is a starting point. Not to condemn, but to forgive. Once we recognize that the world wars were not “good against evil” in the black and white ways they are depicted, we can see how we have all been involved in both good and evil. This change of focus giving us a chance to break down the barriers.

      As a designer and maker of things I do see a high calling in doing just as you say, “making small things, by hand with what he had, each thing only itself, only good if it was good itself.”

      How else can we void the momentum of expectation and remain focused on what is?

      Tony

      • Tony,

        I wonder, should the words good and evil be eliminated, and replaced with wholesome, and or not wholesome. This gets us away from the black and white mentality of good v.s. bad. It allows for that critical space in between. Thus something could be somewhat more or somewhat less wholesome. No thought or deed would be right or wrong, just less or more beneficial. Without all the bilateral stuff going on the organism could move naturally in a state decision making based on what nourished it best, created the most beneficial environment for itself, and let the creative soul be reflected to do these small things you speak of.

        John

      • John,

        Yes, something like that. It’s related to dissensus. Within a spirit of dissensus we cannot make black and white judgements, only respond with what we consider might be more wholesome, or appropriate.

        The term “right action” in this light is more nuanced than it first appears. It is right not because it is good. It is right because it is the closest approximation we can come to what may be wholesome or appropriate.

        We see this all around us in the “natural world.” At least when we take off the anthropocentric blinders that project our own desires onto other creatures and forces. There is no avenging tiger. Moby Dick was after revenge only in Ahab’s mind. As we approach this, it is possible that all that we do may not be “small.” It’s just that what we do lacks the momentum of judgement.

        Tony

  2. Tony,

    Not unlike fairing the lines of a boat. When we let our eyes and minds work as one, finding the slightest bulge or hollow or that perception of mental logarithms that says that the line is not fair. The aberration will tell you what needs to be done. Read thoughtfully, the eye sees the whole and the hand, carefully draws forth the fluidity and grace.

    Our approach to life needs to be done with the same perception and equal attendance. Not wrong, not right. Read the bulges. ease the tension a bit here or there, fill the perceived void, look to emulate natures grace, and never just start over, that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    John

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