Imagine a wood sprite appears before you while hiking and, assuming you love nature and possess a heroic character, it informs you that if you sacrifice your life forthwith youíll save an entire species of indigenous plant.
Explaining, the sprite tells you that if you take another step in any direction, youíll permanently disrupt the delicate balance comprising the habitat of the final patch of blackjack trillium anywhere.
If you relent, the wood spirit will simply make you disappear, ending your physical existence in this realm, or transform your current mode of energy -- whatever it is you choose to believe in.
What would you do, assuming you had faith the offer was genuine? Just how important do you think you are? Where do your sentiments and sympathies lie, and why? Are true heroes self-indulgent? Do they believe in the superiority of their kind, or do they serve a higher purpose than their own self-interest, expanding their identity to include everything they relate to with love and reason?
These questions seem preposterous to many, and are perhaps as unnerving as asking a chemical corporationís spokesperson whether or not that companyís product -- Tupperware -- is worth endangering the life and health of the surrounding community, which shares in the risk of but not the profit from its production.
Yet, the very reason itís impolite is the very reason itís so important. Who we think we are dictates our behavior and defines the choices we make. This behavior and these choices, psychologically motivated, have profound material effects on the ecosystem that maintains us, and the story that defines and conceptualizes our sense of self, allowing us to function.
My guess is that such questions prick us with profound discomfort because they point out the degree to which each of us in some way has sold out to the amoral philosophy of the free market system, and then rationalized that corrupt sense of self with an incoherent, toxic form of sky god monotheism validated by space age military technology. In other words, weíre as moody and agitated as any heavily armed addict whose supply is threatened.
The fact is each of us is who we are because of Americaís superpower status. Each and every human being in America has materially benefited from the nationís military budget in some way, either directly or indirectly, and the price paid for this is made painfully aware to everyone but Americans themselves -- at least so far -- in the form of the primacy of American national interests, politically and economically defined, around the globe.
The fact is the prices we pay for goods are artificially low across the board, as the true costs of their marketing; production and distribution are externalized or socialized. American politicians of both parties, to remain in power, must ensure that this goes for the duration of their term in office. Any deviation from this unfair advantage will land them in hot water with workers and investors alike, and most likely cost them their prestigious livelihoods.
In other words, Americans donít realize that they pay less for things at the store than people in other countries do, but will end up paying more in the long run for a suite of problems associated with this imbalanced cost-benefit formula. American military might perpetuates our advantage, allowing us to go to Wal-Mart or have a pizza delivered to our door in 30 minutes. It allows us to go anywhere in the world and feel at home with the golden arches just down the road and the latest products from Hollywood and New York filling the airwaves and movie screens. Itís an advantage we take at gunpoint. Does that make those who support such a political economic system guilty of armed robbery, even if we are merely unwitting accessories after the fact? Is ignorance of a law an excuse for avoiding the consequences of violating it? This may be so in the case of human jurisprudence, where sympathy might be taken, but certainly not in wild nature, which operates by the immutable laws of physics.
One of the things I was required to do to get my dolphins when I was on a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine during Reaganís first term, was to trace the path of a water molecule in the ocean through the submarine, which was to be viewed as a living organism, the chemical changes that water molecule went through, and how it was dispersed back into the environment and in what forms. From there it was only a matter of reading a few ecology books to realize how the subís poop ended up back in its mouth again. Itís the way an ecosystem works. Ironic Iíd learn about that, or begin learning about it, in the place I did.
Another, perhaps deeper irony, is that one wasnít recognized as a citizen on the boat until one recognized how the air one breathed was made and where the water that one drank came from, and who and what was responsible for the whole process. The submarine was a mini-ecosystem. Sailors had virtually no rights or no means of escape until they recognized their function in that system, which could not be fully understood until recognizing the functions of all the other ingredients that made the organism tick. This level of enlightenment was attained because everyone recognized that education, training and awareness were literally a matter of life and death. The true freedom to act in oneís enlightened self-interest was an absolute necessity within the authoritarian program that operated the boatís life support systems. Poseidon is unforgiving when it comes to submariner error.
Now, letís return to the original question, but rephrased: Imagine for a minute that youíre on a submarine and the captain said you had to go into the torpedo room to battle a fire and fuel leak that you were specifically trained to handle. If you go in there it will be certain suicide, but you may save the boat and your shipmates if you do. If you donít, the subís most likely going down and then youíre all dead. What would you do?
Most of us will say weíd go in there and do our duty, but itís not that simple. Unless one is trained to fight, itís a 50-50 bet whether or not theyíll take flight or do so. Of course, training also makes one more effective in a crisis. Everything actually depends upon what oneís mind contains and its potential capabilities in the moment before the crisis occurs. Life is a preparation for behaving responsibly when one must. Those who lack the discipline perish and fail to reproduce, and their traits get lost to history.
Unfortunately, most people donít view their lives on land as being equivalent to life aboard the sub. They fail to see that we basically inhabit a space ship that has evolved its own degree of self-consciousness, an organic self-awareness or nascent sentience in the form of humankind, as opposed to an artificial intelligence, made manifest in holding faith in something that does not exist in and of itself. It is our ecological function, therefore, to be hyper-sensible and responsive to the systemís needs. If an asteroid is headed for Earth, we are the planetís defense system. If we are causing it to die of fever, weíre a virus hoping to spread its disease elsewhere. Truth is weíre both a contagion and anti-asteroid defense mechanism. Existence is the friction between chaos and entropy, death and desire, which warm and light the universe.
Yet we live in a society in which hardly anyone would be willing to sacrifice his or her life for an entire species of weed. We instinctively value our individual life over that of a complete strand of lifeís web because we are human, lord over nature, and deep down believe the world ends when we die. Our lifestyles and standards of living must be maintained at all costs. We are so perverse that weíll kill and die for the convenience of microwave ovens and the lizard brain pleasure of an SUV in heavy traffic, but not to ensure the healthy future of life on the planet. We commit genocide against dandelions and grubs, poison birds and contaminate groundwater, trigger asthma attacks in our neighbors and cause their motherís breast cancer and childís leukemia for the sake of a green lawn. And we disenfranchise billions of people worldwide through the international financial system that our nationís elite private interests currently dominate.
The result of our perverse national belief system is that itís probably already too late to save the planet. America, which was seen by its citizens and many around the world as humankindís best hope, is nailing nature to the cross for its own short-term benefit. The effects of global warming are accelerating beyond scientific predictions. Our sub has sprung too many leaks and too many vital systems are crippled by fire. Weíre in deep water with no backup, no rescue in sight. Itís time for a deathbed conversion before itís even too late for that.
Since humankind is, perhaps, Earth Motherís ego, it would be nice if she came to some sort of realization about herself before she perishes. Otherwise, her life and ours will have meant nothing.
Finally, I will be honest and confess that I wouldnít kill myself to save the last specimen of a species of wildflower. To save the last individual of a great ape may be another story, but to say the least I would make a concerted effort to change my lifestyle, which Iíve done and continue to do with varying degrees of success, in an effort to tread as lightly as I can on the Earth, despite my considerable appetites.
The bottom line is if one does not strive to function responsibly as an individual human being within the ecosystem and seek to overthrow our nationís current amoral political economic dogma, one may as well do the world a favor and drop dead. The preferred response, of course, would simply be for you to alter your lifestyle, to decide to end your current mode of being in favor of a better, more meaningful one.
The fact is, everything alive has been convicted and sentenced to death. Our response to that news dictates what our existence will feel like.
How do you want to be and whatís stopping you from being that way?
Itís so complex itís that simple.
Chuck Richardson is a freelance writer whose work is archived at www.bastardpolitics.com. His first book, Memos from Apartment 5, is now available in most online bookstores. © 2004 Copyright Chuck Richardson
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