peripatetic precipitates: on nature, healing, and homecoming

A column by Craig Chalquist, PhD

California, Land of the Giants

The rationalists of our day, those beneficiaries of Enlightenment, insist that the trolls, Titans, and giants of mythology never existed. In California we know better, and not because of San Francisco's baseball team.

From World War II onward, California has bristled with vast military bases, air fields, docks, training areas, and reservations. But that was just the beginning. From urban hubs like San Jose, San Fernando, and Fresno, suburbs have proliferated outwards, covering the land with row upon row of identical stucco frame housing units. To service them, enormous strip malls covered still more ground, much of it fertile farmland. An electronic billboard at the Irvine Spectrum Center makes the point: "The Great Indoors."

California is a land of immense megachurches, especially the Southern California Bible Belt bulging between Los Angeles and San Diego, where the glittering spires of the Crystal Cathedral, Knotts, and Disneyland stare down upon oddly similar audiences. After the service they rush to WalMart, Applebee's, Costco, or Home Depot, stopping only to pump gasoline piped down from Contra Costa County refineries owned by Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil.

Hard to imagine California being broke in the very presence of so much wealth, but the giants, whose capacious pockets hold many politicians, have banded together to keep the state legislature from taxing them or otherwise persuading them to contribute monetarily to the communities covered by their towering shadows. Like the Cyclops who dined on the men of Odysseus, they eat much but give back little.

Chevron, California's largest corporation, made $24 billion in profit last year (2008). Their profits have gone up every year since 2002 by 2,100%. Imagine how much good serious investment by this company alone could do the ailing state, with its escalating unemployment, deteriorating infrastructure, erratic budget, declining social services, violent lawlessness, air pollution, and oceanic dead zones. Chevron's officers and shareholders could be known to all as exemplars of ecological regeneration and community responsibility instead of as heartless oil barons, the Daniel Plainviews (There Will Be Blood) of this generation. And the same with the other gargantuans sucking away what's left of California's vitality.

When I think about how much space these titanic organizations consume, with huge chunks taken out of the land as well as out of the lives and minds of anxious Californians, I remind myself that the world's mythologies also speak of giant killers: Durga against the demons, Nayenezgani breaking the Rolling Rock down to size, Zeus burying the Typhon under Mount Etna, Hermes lulling the Argus to sleep before chopping off its head. And Thor, whose mighty war hammer Mjollnir gave off lightning as it crushed the heads of impertinent trolls.

These mythic images are violent, but their lessons transcend physicality and the futility of armed conflict. As Jung pointed out, the giants of myth point to giantism, a dangerous inflation of egos and institutions grown far beyond their natural limits. Exaggerated growth and entitlement in turn set themselves up for an inevitable deflation, a rapid shrinkage similar to that of an economic depression. The ancient Greeks called this force Nemesis, restorer of violated balance and punisher of hubris.

If we wish to come out from under the umbra darkening the places we call home, we will have to perform as agents of Nemesis on our own behalf and that of our damaged landscapes. Our meditations and prayers, charities and advice-giving come to little so long as giants carry on their undeclared but devastating warfare against us, our families, and our planet.

I therefore recommend ecotherapizing with a hammer, which means promptly, fairly, and firmly deflating the lies, false optimisms, concealments, pretentions, skewed statistics, and self-justifications of giants wherever these cloud public consciousness. With the haze of their propaganda and fake fronts set aside, we can break their stranglehold on our food, sovereignty, and energy by scouting out alternatives.

Deprived of resources and capital, shrunk back down to human proportions, perhaps the formerly titanic will consider actually joining the communities upon whose lives, freedoms, and resources they have gorged themselves so relentlessly.



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