Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Appreciating Michael Jackson

Monday, July 6th, 2009

On the one hand, I feel I have no right to write a tribute to  Michael Jackson. On the other hand, I feel compelled to.

Until his death, I had really never paid much attention to him.  I have never been especially interested in popular music, and I was in my forties when he was really coming into his own. I knew about the white glove – and I would sometimes glance at his videos when my children were watching MTV, but that pretty much sums up my exposure to him – except for the periodic and vitriolic media attacks which were hard to avoid. So, when I heard of his death, my only thought was, “He’s still so young; how sad.” But that was  pretty much  it.

The Friday evening  after his death, I was watching Charlie Rose and to my surprise I discovered that he was devoting part of his program to Michael Jackson. I learned that Michael Jackson was possibly the most famous person in the world, that news of his death had brought the internet to its knees. What was this global outpouring of grief all about?

That night, I got on my computer and went in search of Michael Jackson videos. And I found them! I watched well into the early morning – and found myself, like millions of other fans before me, mesmerized by the magic and power of this incredibly gifted man. Although a great deal of tv time and printed matter has been devoted to the brilliance of his performances, what interests me the most are the powerful feelings he expressed and inspired in others – including me, watching him, all alone, the day after his death.

The video, and song, which I love the most is the hauntingly lyrical “Earth Song” with its  deliberately jarring segue into the angry and accusatory refrain “What About Us?”. In “Earth Song,” Michael connected with  and called forth the terribly deep pain and anguish  — the anger and frustration — we all would feel all the time if we would — or could — allow ourselves to internalize the terrible things we, and those who act in our name, are doing to all Life, including human life,  on our planet.  In “Earth Song,” Michael Jackson, his whole being filled with love and compassion,  arrows his powerful message straight into our hearts.  In “Earth Song,” he makes us feel earth’s pain  – which apparently was his intent when he wrote it.

Although I applaud Al Gore’s environmental efforts and commitment,  “An Inconvenient Truth” is addressed to our heads, not our hearts. To put a stop to the multitude of human and environmental tragedies playing out globally on an hourly basis, we need to feel them, experience them, at the level of our deepest, most powerful, emotions – those having to do with our survival and the survival of others. But we don’t. Because we can’t. We are too busy erecting defenses precisely to keep ourselves from feeling, because we can’t face the pain and the guilt.

Michael Jackson in “Earth Song” cuts through all those defenses and brings us face to face with  the consequences of our destructive  acts. He gives voice to the planet and to the planet’s most vulnerable  inhabitants.  And death cannot still his voice.


The Shattered Image, A Personal Journey

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

I was an environmentalist from an early age, before the term had even come into use. I had always loved nature and been especially sensitive to nature’s beauty. In fact, I felt most at home, most safe and secure, out in the countryside or hiking in the woods. When I was eleven or twelve, I would take the family dogs for long walks alone in Alsop Park – a nature preserve behind our apartment house right in the middle of Little Rock – and I was never afraid. I think growing up in the south and being raised by a father who claimed the woods as his church had something to do with it. Even if one grows up in the suburban south, as I did, the wilderness was never far away – was always accessible for country drives and afternoon walks. My childhood dream after seeing Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger in “King Solomon’s Mines” was to go on an African safari. I longed to experience nature at its wildest. That was far more appealing to me than a Roman Holiday.

Many years later, I was able to realize the dream of going to a rainforest, but it was not on the continent of Africa, but in Central America – in the Quaker community of Monteverde, Costa Rica. In August, 1972, I finished a graduate degree in English one week and left for Costa Rica to get married the next. It was quite a jolt, going from the Barsetshire of Anthony Trollope’s novels, which had been the subject of my thesis, to the world of Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo.” Like most North Americans of that era, I knew something about Europe, but almost nothing about Central or South America. I had never even heard of Costa Rica. So, when I boarded LACSA, the national airline of Costa Rica, I felt like I was stepping off into the void. I had no idea what an impact this tiny beautiful country was going to have on my life. I was going to Costa Rica to join my husband to be; I was focused on my marriage, not the locale. (more…)

Shattering the Image, Part II

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

This website focuses on the negative role Christian values, derived from the image of God, currently play in determining, not only the fate of western civilization, but, as the result of a western-dominated globalization, the fate of the whole world. I have felt compelled to write these essays because, not to be overly dramatic, I truly believe that the future of the human species is at risk. And it is at risk because our system of values has become totally corrupt – to be Biblical, it’s become as a “whited sepulchre.”

From CDS’s to WMD’s, nothing is as it seems, and it seems to matter very much what “the meaning of is” is. Our literal financial bankruptcy is a metaphor for our moral bankruptcy. No matter what venue one might be talking about, value given does not result in value received, but in value lost. We value that which no longer has any value and devalue that which is valuable. We do those things we ought not do and do not do those things we ought to do, to paraphrase the book of common prayer, and there is no health in us.

But just because I am out to expose the problems inherent in the image of the Christian God, it is not my purpose to deny the value of religion altogether. (more…)

Shattering the Image

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

The survival of the human species demands that we do nothing less than recreate  human nature.  Luckily, because we are humans and humans are adaptable, we can.  But in order for us to recreate ourselves,  we must first recall the image in which we,  western man, were famously created – the image of God.  To reconstruct human being, we must first deconstruct God. For, regardless of whether or not you are a believer,   the image of God as presented in Genesis – and throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles – permeates western culture and has had a profound effect on how Western Man sees himself, and consequently on how we relate to our social and physical world.

If you are wondering why I am using the politically incorrect term “man” for humanity or why I am  using the masculine pronoun to refer to all humanity,   I do it because the image we were created in is a male image (He is after all Jesus’ father, not his mother, and the pronoun He is universally used to refer to Him throughout the English-speaking world).  Consequently, we live in a society which is based on the idea that only those who are male are truly made in the image of God; therefore, only those who are male can be understood as fully human. Females are merely a subset,  as Eve’s secondary creation makes manifest,  their single purpose being to act as vessels to incubate the next generation. To be made in God’s image is to be not only male, but also a dominant male,  as Eve’s mandated submission to Adam represents.  In short, we live in a patriarchal society,  the hallmark of which is a dominant male deity – such as God or Zeus.  And it is this “patriarchal bent” which is causing all the trouble – both socially and environmentally.
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Are Women Human? Do We Want To Be?

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

This essay is written from the radical or ecofeminist point of view.

As has been pointed out since feminism stepped forth onto the cultural stage, Western civilization is fundamentally patriarchal. A patriarchal society is founded on the idea that the male of the species represents the standard –the ideal–for what it means to be human. Women, being by definition different from men, have been considered to be substandard, as any difference from the standard implies inferiority. Women have therefore been constructed — both physically and mentally– as inferior to male humans, their brains and their bodies, like the brains and bodies of other female mammals, understood as serving one purpose only – reproduction. Women have been viewed as less well developed, less evolved, than men, with the logical consequence that to be a woman in Western civilization has been to be something less than fully human.

This outdated cultural assumption has been lodged so deeply in the collective unconscious of western civilization, that most of us don’t even know that it is still there until a political campaign like the one we are currently experiencing comes along, where both parties have put forth candidates for high office who are not male – unleashing a shocking level of sexism in a society which thought it had said “goodbye to all that.” It is to be hoped that the psychological meltdown exhibited specifically in the liberal visceral rage which has met the candidacies of both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin will bring to consciousness the original sin of misogyny on which our culture is based. We really need to move on.

The “Western” definition of what it means to be human originated approximately 2500-3000 years ago. It arose from a weaving together of ideas from Greek philosophy and Hebrew religion. According to the Hebraic/Hellenic narrative, Man is possessed of free will and the reason to exercise it. Man’s transcendent reason frees him from the biological constraints of lesser creatures. Man identifies with mind – rather than the lowly physical body. Where non-human animals depend on “instinct” for survival and are ruled by these instincts, Man’s key to survival is his reason, which lifts him out of nature’s prison and puts him in control of himself and his environment. For Man, alone, biology is not destiny. Nobly exercising his free will, Man can chart his own course, determine his own fate. As Shakespeare put it (with some irony) –

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…

Admittedly, this is an attractive and seductive cultural construct – even godlike (In fact, one might say that the JudeoChristian idea of God is a symbolic projection of this ideal). It has served Western humanity (especially the white male part of it) well, providing us with the collective self-esteem to go forth and conquer the world – and the earth — militarily, economically, culturally, and technologically. But, today, the world and the earth are fighting back. This cultural construct is “out of joint,” causing a world of pain and demonstrating that it has outlived its usefulness. And, it is precisely this overrated, inaccurate, and inflated definition of male humanity which has made life in patriarchy so difficult for women – especially women in their reproductive capacity. And this is why –

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Some Inconvenient and Uncomfortable Truths

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

The immodest goal of this blog is to save the human species from self destruction by exposing the hidden (and not so hidden) values which drive western civilization — especially the values which form the foundation of cultural attitudes toward women and the earth.  But, along the way, I have come to some very uncomfortable realizations which I would like to share with you.

To save the human species from self destruction, we must learn to value both women and the earth. Hatred of women in addition to being wrong in itself is poisoning society. By continuing to construct obstacles to women’s (especially single mom’s) access to resources we are creating an undereducated, impoverished underclass which threatens the social stability of all humans. In much the same way, trashing the earth is poisoning our air, water, and soil, and therefore poisoning all humans who live on this earth. But learning to value women and the earth is such a radical notion that it threatens western civilization as we know it. Of course, you might say, that’s the point. But we must understand that to fully embrace both feminism and environmentalism is to remake our cultural value system, and that includes remaking our image of ourselves and redefining our relationship to nature, the earth, and each other. This is a tall order.

Feminism and environmentalism possibly are incompatible with capitalism. Capitalist profits have depended on the untrammeled trashing of the earth, which is why conservatives have been so opposed to environmentalism. Capitalist profits also may be dependent on a large segment of the population (e.g., women) either donating their work to society by working for nothing in the home or working for less than adequate wages in the workplace. No matter how you look at it, it is clear that capitalism has been dependent on the existence of an underclass – and women make up a big part of it. Where would the profits go if all workers were paid a living wage or industry cleaned up its act? I am not saying that it is a sure thing that capitalism is incompatible with feminism and environmentalism; I am saying that capitalism as we know it, the capitalism which assumes as its right and depends upon the exploitation of the earth and women’s bodies and minds, is.

Feminism which seeks to see women as equal to men also is incompatible with traditional marriage, the basic building block of western society. Feminism, itself, then could be seen as a threat to social stability. Feminism completely rewrites the relationship between the sexes. Many women as well as men are not ready to write off traditional marriage and the dominant independent male/dependent submissive female roles. These husband/wife roles are deeply embedded in our cultural and individual psyches and when they work, we can derive great emotional and erotic satisfaction from them. (But, more and more, they don’t work.) In addition, from a practical standpoint, society still assumes these roles and has made little or no accommodation for women raising children outside of a traditional marriage – making it extremely difficult for women to raise children on their own.

Feminism and environmentalism are also incompatible with any one of the transcendent patriarchal, Abrahamic religions – whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. Transcendent patriarchal religions, especially Christianity, are essentially anti earth and anti woman as they are centered around a transcendent male deity. Maleness and transcendence are sacred. And if maleness and transcendence are sacred, it follows that both earthly immanence and woman are profane.

So, all you feminists and environmentalists, are you ready for a complete overhaul of yourselves and the culture you live in? Are you ready to come up with some sort of alternative economic system? Are you ready to abandon traditional marriage? Are you ready to leave the religion you grew up in? But what is the alternative? Continuing down a path to self destruction. Folks, this is not going to be easy.


Human/Nature

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Nature is essentially and unapologetically pro-life. It “wants” life to live. From dandelion beings to human beings, Nature equips all its creatures with the tools they need to survive. These tools consist of biological drives, such as hunger and thirst, plus the means to satisfy these drives. In non-human animals the means to satisfy these needs comes in the form of a full set of survival behaviors — installed. Humans, on the other hand, come with a full set of needs, but must look to culture to provide strategies to satisfy these needs. In other words, human needs are biologically determined; but how we satisfy them must be culturally constructed. In order to survive, human nature is biologically determined to construct and be constructed by culture. It is this single characteristic which distinguishes the human animal from the non-human animal.

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The Perils of Transcendent Patriarachal Monotheism

Monday, April 30th, 2007

This essay was delivered as a talk to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee on April 29, 2007.

Not to be too Henny Pennyish, but I think the end times are upon us – not the end of all times, but the end of western civilization as we have come to know and love it – and, from my point of view, it’s about time. If we don’t accept and promote this end – and look for a new beginning, a radically new way of being in the world, we or our grandchildren may be facing the end of the human species altogether.

From my point of view, the place to start in changing our ways is with the way we think about religion in general and Christianity in particular. One of the ways we liberals think about Christianity is that it is a collection of silly stories and superstitious beliefs which only complete fools could believe in. Another way we think about religion is that the stories are not meant to be taken literally, for it is the morals of the stories, not the stories themselves, which form the kernel of religious belief.

Perversely, I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both approaches: I do not dismiss the Bible or Christian doctrine as being fundamentally silly or superstitious; but, along with the Richard Dawkins’s of this world, I do believe that anyone who takes the stories literally is more than a little off base. Like the liberal Christians of this world, I do believe it is the moral of the story, not the story itself which is where the message is; however, I no longer believe in the message, having come to the conclusion that, due to unintended consequences, the moral itself has become immoral – promoting death and destruction rather than life and the well being of all.

So if I believe in neither the story nor the moral, why don’t I just get on with my life and abandon religion altogether? Because I believe that Christianity is too powerful and dangerous a force in our culture to be cavalierly dismissed. To me, religion is not just one aspect of culture, it is the essential shaper of culture and cultural institutions. Religions, when they are functioning properly, have an evolutionary purpose: religious symbols are the carriers of cultural value systems which in turn generate cultural worldviews which ultimately promote social stability and individual survival.

The JudeoChristian God is the symbol which carries the value system of western culture. From my perspective, Genesis is not the story of the creation of the world, but the story of the creation of our worldview. God The Symbol is the creator of our psychological reality, the shaper of human consciousness within JC society, signaling what is important, what is not important, what is good and what is bad, what has value and what has no value.
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Taking Religion Seriously: Moral Minds and Mary Midgley

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Even though I’m sure I’ll disagree with a lot of what it has to say (I’m a post-modern deconstructionist, after all, and words like universal always raise my hackles), I am so glad that a book like Moral Minds has come out (Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right And Wrong, Marc Hauser). We need some sort of antidote from the scientific community to books which have recently been published denouncing religion as too silly to take seriously. I have not yet had a chance to read Moral Minds, but based on the NYT review and some brief participation in Professor Marc Hauser‘s online research project, it appears that, although Moral Minds does not address religion per se, focusing instead on what Professor Hauser believes is the significant role of morality in human evolutionary biology, Moral Minds at least opens the way for serious scientific discussion of the function of religion in human evolutionary biology – given that religion is a primary provider of moral system and therefore a shaper of moral minds.

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Rape and Pillage: The Sacred Marriage and the Gospel of John, Take One

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

The Christian version of the new creation as told in the Gospel of John completes the transition from pre-Western to Western consciousness – a symbolic journey which began in the dark mysteries of the great Mother and moved through the various iterations of the Sacred Marriage to finally arrive at the current version of the story — which reads like wife abuse and an ugly custody battle leading up to an acrimonious divorce.

From a survival strategy based on a worldview which saw all life as dependent on a Sacred Nature, humanity evolved a new survival strategy – a strategy which focused on the domination of a desacralized nature (land) and the conquest of the people most closely associated with nature and the land (women, farmers, peasants, campesinos, etc.). Western culture moved away from a reality which placed the highest value on life-giving activities: the care and feeding of plant, animal, and human life, and constructed a new reality where the highest survival value was given to life-taking activities: the conquest of land and the extermination or enslavement or colonizing of the people on that land. Why did this happen? Is Western humanity cruel and perverse?
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Homage to Lynn White [Revised]

Friday, January 20th, 2006

A discussion of the destructive effects of the Christian attitude toward Nature

Why does Western culture believe it has the right if not the mandate to exploit nature? Why is this attitude so deeply rooted in our psyches that some of us can’t even imagine any other way of relating to nature? What is the root of this attitude? Human greed, human perversity? A biologically determined human nature?

According to historian Lynn White, Jr., Western society’s exploitation of nature is the logical working out of Christian teaching; it is, ironically, moral conduct in action. Simply put, the historical roots of the ecological crisis can be found in Christianity itself.

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