In my last post I wrote: Language is wonderful because, by inventing and using it, we create worlds. Its drawback is that these worlds do not exist, in the same way water and rocks and you and I exist. There is an actual difference, an epistemological abyss, between our “world” and the “earth.”
I was prompted to think of the difference between the world we make up with language, and the world that is the earth, by a recent finding that autism is caused by environmental factors.
Clinical Epigenetics, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published the conclusions of a “macroepigenetic” research study of the links between our factory-farm diets, the industrial toxins we ingest, and the effect that both have upon our neural development and genetic structure. This is the crux:
Neurodevelopment can be adversely impacted when gene expression is altered by dietary transcription factors, such as zinc insufficiency or deficiency, or exposure to toxic substances found in our environment, such as mercury or organophosphate pesticides.
The scientists argue that the cause of autism is a combination of dietary and environmental factors:
- Consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS] is linked to the dietary loss of zinc, which interferes with the elimination of heavy metals from the body. Many heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and cadmium are potent toxins with adverse effects on brain development in the young.
- HFCS consumption can also impact levels of other beneficial minerals, including calcium. Loss of calcium further exacerbates the detrimental effects of exposure to lead on brain development in fetuses and children.
- Inadequate levels of calcium in the body can also impair its ability to expel organophosphates, a class of pesticides long recognized by the EPA and independent scientists as especially toxic to the young developing brain.
The link between what we do to the environment and who we are is clearly seen in these conclusions; we are creatures who poison the environment, and by doing that damage our own genetic structures, and the genetic structures of our future ancestors.
Of course, most people will go on thinking that autism is something parents passed on to their kid, and they will be partially correct. What they will not think is that our economy causes autism, because that is not an idea that their world-built-by-language will allow. For example—
Ayn Rand is the favorite social philosopher of Rep. Paul Ryan (who is the GOP’s top economic “thinker”) and former Wall Street wiz Monroe Trout (who in the 80′s invented computerized short trading that allows traders to make gigantic split second trades, which led to the chronic destabilization of the stock market and our present plutocracy; as described by economist Dean Baker:
Many of the country’s biggest earners run hedge funds that specialize in computer algorithms that allow them to front-run large trades. This means that if a major investor is about to buy a large amount of a company’s stock, these high-speed traders can buy shares ahead of them and then resell the shares, second later, for a profit. In effect, this is a form of insider trading. It is very profitable for those who can do it successfully, but it provides no benefit to society. It actually harms society… )
Ayn Rand wrote:
Whether you or I agree with this statement is of no consequence (except to us), b/c it is the keystone of the our national mythology. This giant creature of the USA, and more broadly all nations who have industrial capitalistic economies, has—as we learned above—attained the ability to shape our very genes, to re-make us in the image of its god of money. Our realization that capitalism hasn’t created the highest standard of living ever known on earth (the evidence begins with your local brownfield) will not stop capitalists from redesigning the environment, and our genes, to suit their short-term goals of personal monetary gain.
What will stop industrial capitalism is already occurring: global warming, the collapse of ecosystems and thereby economies on a planetary level, the dwindling of fossil fuel resources, the increasing failure of our armies to take natural resources for corporate profit, the lack of investment in public infrastructure, etc etc.
Until it stops, we’ll be trapped in a cage of language like Rand’s that helps us pretend that we are not caged, and industrial capitalism is not an enormity.
Darwin said that evolution by natural selection does work for the benefit of the “supermen,” who by popular myth are regarded as the prize product of evolution. No. Evolution looks upon the 1% as monstrosities and aberrations, who are the 1% precisely because they do not embody the common virtue of the species. Evolution by natural selection works to secure the survival of species, not exalted individuals. As Joseph Stiglitz put it, in context of our present economic decline:
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.
Our survival depends on wild thinking because our language, and the mythologies our language webs us into, has let us imagine that we are not part of the earth—what Aldo Leopold called the “biotic community.” This illusion that we are not physically, existentially and psychologically part of the long body of Gaia is needed by the industrial capitalists, because it allows them (and lots of others) to imagine that they are history’s greatest success stories, not its most complete losers.
I once met the president of a global soft drink corporation, at the exact time he learned that his child was autistic. He was obviously under great pressure at work, but under even greater pressure at home, where he and his wife were scrambling to find out how to heal their child. He told me about all the specialists they were going to, all working at the best research universities in the nation; but none could offer any real hope that his child would live a happy, healthy life.
Do you think, if he had a second chance, he would forsake his pursuit of fantastic wealth gained by the selling of High Fructose Corn Syrup drinks, and trade that perfect success story for his own child’s well being?
There’s more going on today than our media or our mythology or our language can, or wants to, handle.
I urge you to step beyond your carbon footprint and think outside. You are first and foremost part of the biotic community that begins right where you live and spreads out to connect with all that lives. You are only secondarily, or thirdly or fourthly, a citizen of a nation, and an actor in a doomed and dooming economy. Return in your mind and heart to the sources that give life, if only in your imagination, to prepare yourself and your loved ones to adapt to the circumstances that are revealing themselves. Learn the trees, and how to grow and forage for food. Learn where your water comes from, and become a steward of that lifesource. Observe the sky, and the birds, and weather patterns—learn to read them.
There are languages already being spoken that issue the truths of Gaia, and there are new languages being uttered, clumsily and somewhat incoherently, that are linking us to the new realities we are, at the end of industrial capitalism, starting to apprehend. Welcome to this struggle out of darkness and into light, out of death and into life. The person who stays in the cage of language and myth perpetuated by industrial capitalism will go the way it is going, in the same way ancient Egyptians went the way of pictographs. The person who figures a way out of that cage will do so with wild thinking, and will head in the better direction of the biocitizen, the citizen of the biotic community.