peripatetic precipitates: on nature, healing, and homecoming

A column by Craig Chalquist, PhD

Awakening to the End of Daze

We live admidst the ruins of failed isms. -- David Orr, Down to the Wire, 177

In the Year of Our Lord 999, fear spread throughout Christian Europe as the preachers of doom brought word of the End of Days. The calendar of the first millennium would stop, they said, and the sinful world along with it. People prayed feverishly, mended some of their ways, even stockpiled food for the great event; but when the sun rose on January 1, 1000, life went on as usual.

Despite a repeat performance on Y2K, some of us still insist on going apocalyptic. The date has been set forward to 2012, when the Mayan calendar is said to end. Otherwise intelligent people are warning about marauding planets unknown to science and solar systems passing through or aligning with the center of the galaxy (30,000 light years away at last calculation). In this latest literalization of what could be held instead as symbolic and mythic, the 2012ers find themselves newly aligned, in this case with fundamentalist believers predicting a spectacular end of the world followed by a heavenly (for them) ascension.

As worried eyes turn heavenward, Earth below endures still further human abuse, a weary mother of near-infinite patience, the occasional earthquake or tsunami aside.

On reflection, perhaps something is coming to an end: not the great globe itself, but our immature relationship with it.

Humanity has come through a long and, toward the end, troubled childhood. From a rift valley in Africa we walked around the planet, finally taking up agriculture, urbanization, and writing in the Fertile Crescent. From there we entered a long Age of Empires that brought institutionalized warfare, slavery, patriarchy, and tyranny, forms of alienation that coincided with a crucial shift in collective consciousness: once held sacred, Earth had become an object, a cafeteria, a resource.

Today, our adolescence peaks at a crucial juncture: a Great Turning (as Joanna Macy calls it) from the industrial growth paradigm of modernity to life-sustaining models of Earth-based society. Successful experiments with these new models--and the new visions of community, economy, and democracy they unfold --have sprouted all over the world.

Too late? Our best science tells us we live on the edge of runaway climate change. As David Orr emphasizes in Down to the Wire, quick technological fixes might apply bandaids here and there but cannot reverse decades of political, psychological, and financial malfeasance. Its environmental effects will be with us for at least another millennium. The Earth we knew is changing irrevocably, its ice caps melting into streaming tears of mourning. Our children and theirs will toil on a hotter, drier, less predictable and less hospitable planet. The Edenic security of the cradle that held us: that at least is going away.

But so are the beliefs and attitudes that led to these terrestrial mutations. Empires, religions, and nation-states find themselves unable to solve the problems of our day, which is another way of saying that these institutions are obsolete. One way or another, the period of politics as usual--a period stretching back at least to 2,400 BCE, when Sargon the First conquered Sumer--is coming to a close. All around us gigantic corporations battle for supremacy and dwindling resource, their piratical chiefs resolved to get in a few final raids. Banks closing down on every side are merely the first of the modernist dinosaurs caught by the rising waves of inevitable change. Their officers sense what our apocalyptic visions register: the great turning of the tide is now at hand.

So, perhaps, is our adolescence as we learn new ways to come home to Earth as responsible adults, free of omnipotent fantasies of luxury and power, seasoned by adversity, wary of those who desire power, suspicious of seductive single solutions, and fully aware that planetary integrity and human health are inseparable.



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