Trans-generational Amnesia, part 4
Biocitizen maxim: “You are more than you have ever been taught.”
You are the product of 4 billion years of evolution by natural selection. In other words, you”re not 12 or 65 or 27 or 34 years old. You are the breaking crest of a wave of life, a tsunami of being, generated in deep oceans of space unfathomed because unfathomable. You are a living record, and carry the design, of everything before you.
Much more recently, you are African. A member of a rambling pack that, 50,000 years, ago spread forth from roundabout Kenya.
A blink of an eye ago, our ancestors gained a new and powerful kind of self-consciousness, through the power of writing and reading stories. With this “evolutionary leap” in self-consciousness came a certain kind of collective amnesia: a forgetting that the earth is our body.
Until writing appeared, the collective memory of all peoples existed in the living tissues of those people; the oral tradition, as it”s called, was passed like a relay-race baton from the minds of elders to the minds of next generation of elders. All survival- and religious- knowledges were empirical to the extent that, if they were false, those who carried them died.
Writing allowed humanity to distance itself from nature (that which gives birth) in an imaginary way. Humans could make up ideas that did not grow like trees, and these ideas—all written down and transportable in space and time far beyond the edge of any particular tribe—began to be worshiped, particularly in the “the word of God” and Biblical cultures. Where once a god was as substantial as wind and waves and heartbeat, the word appeared and that word was “God“; and pls click here too.
“Words, words, words“: before the “word,” there was no distance between the human and what we conceive of as “God” (the source and end of life) b/c the elders carried living, immediate, tactile knowledge of spiritual realities. If these realities did not exist, the empiricism of reality would ensure that everybody knew, and the elders” stories would not be listened to.
Writing allowed humans, particularly those living in Europe from about the 3rd to 17th centuries, to imagine there was a part of the human self that was not natural. Generally given the name “spirit” (the Latin word for breath), this part of the human was super-natural and as insubstantial as the “word.” Its insubstantiality allowed its imaginers to apply it everywhere, so it did not need to be inherent in anything. After multiple generations of such application, “God” and “spirit” disappeared into a realm that was not of this earth, as William Blake pointed out in a ditty entitled “To Nobodaddy.” The same writing that brought “God” to our ancestors allowed “God” to leave them. Whatever “God” remains in print is for that time immortal; an out of print deity finds few worshipers.
Along with the “word” came tedious dualisms: spirit/body, nature-as-she/god-as-he, heaven/earth, (superior) male/(inferior) female, chosen ones/heathens, etc etc. If these dualisms did not enter the knowledge base of European cultures, they would be amusing because, as handled by the greatest western metaphysicians, they are cartoonishly antagonistic, like Punch and Judy. But Plato, the Inquisition, Descartes and Calvin successfully promulgated them, and today these dualisms provide the basic structure for the thoughts, value-systems and behavior of multitudes. The same multitudes as us, we, you and me, who face the biggest challenge our species has ever faced—that of evolving beyond the unsustainable fossil fuel economy.
Writing allows humans to imaginarily distance themselves from reality. Because it is not actual, this imagined-distance is our greatest impediment in terms of evolving beyond our present global economy of suicide. We use the distance to pretend that what is happening to us is happening somewhere over there, in a place that is much less important than the place our technologies, including this one, place us in. But there is no other place than this reality beneath our feet and in our lungs, as people who get slammed by natural disasters or have their water poisoned will attest.
We know our economy fails us, and it is becoming common knowledge that it fails because we burn and kill too much. Codless Cape Cod comes to mind, and the brownfields we drive by quickly, feeling actual pain and deep shame. To avoid unpleasant thoughts & feelings such as these, we retreat back into the “word,” substituting its imaginary world for the actual one to ease the pain. We like stories that assure us the way are behaving is the right way. That”s why Fox News is popular, and not worried about actual reality.
And so, we cling to the distance, imaginary though it be, that the word gives us. The more we cling, the less we change, and the more likely it is that we will fail as a species in the 4 billion year context of evolution by natural selection. Many of us even know this, including the UN, the World Bank and Pentagon. We have learned to place the distance between ourselves and reality, because our reality is by comparison with that which preceded, a garbage can—a rusting toxic fallapart brownfield left behind by our very recent ancestors. The distance we have from our own reality—and reality includes the very ground you stand on—is also an amnesia, a forgetting.
Can anybody remember how we ended up living in a garbage can?
In the USA, our descent into the garbage can officially begins in , a text Jefferson absorbed and recast as the Declaration of Independence. Locke laid out the moral argument for the European colonization of the Americas, by drawing up three stories from the Pentateuch. The first was that “God created the world for all humans,” and their divinely-appointed job was to subdue and improve nature. The second was that, because of “the curse of Adam,” humans could no longer be nomadic hunter-gatherers, and had to farm. Finally, Locke used the story of how “God gave land to Abraham to subdue and improve” to explain that if a colonist finds land that no Native American is subduing, he can subdue and claim ownership of it.
Locke”s story made colonists feel great about their nation-building activities of committing genocide and subduing nature. 300 or so years of ever larger populations of colonists doing the same thing, and—voila—we live in a big garbage can. (I think about how my grandfather hunted ducks with my dad in the Meadowlands. You probably have similar memories.)
What I”ve written above is kind of obvious. This is less so:
The colonial mindset is our mindset to the extent that we imagine a distance between us and the ground that constitutes, and air that enlivens, us. This imaginary distance, which is also an amnesia (a forgetting of where and who we actually are), is caused by the “word.”
The extent to which we comprehend reality with the “word” is the extent to which we are colonists. It is not good to be a Lockean colonist because that actor”s means of subsistence is immoral and unsustainable, and to persist in acting out that role is self-punishing and ultimately suicidal.
Let us be at home, something colonists never are. When Europeans entered America, they entered it imagining that “God” had given it to them because they were “chosen.” The distance the “word” seemed to give them, made it so they never even perceived the mandalas of life—biomes—that they “subdued” without ever improving. We understand their failure because we live it, and feel ashamed that we are passing it on.
Let us be home, because it is our body, the one we share together with our 4 billion year ancestors who are not dead because we are the tippytip of the breaking crest of the trans-generational and to this day immortal wave of life on Earth:
“the earth is our body”—