This post evolved from several unrelated events . . . connected only by the meaning I assigned to them.
- I watched Pirate Radio, a fictional account of a pirate radio ship broadcasting off the coast of England in the 1960s.
- I linked out from a blog post the other day and landed on a hunting site touting a coyote killing contest, with a mound of dead coyotes heaped under grinning mugs of the shooters.
- I walked by a public trash bin, crammed full of dumped food and plastic cups.
- I lived through (but not in the middle of) another Black Friday.
The brain is a master of finding consensus among non sequiturs. Thematically, what struck me about each event on this list was the lack of preciousness afforded the experience — or the life, or the thing. It’s easy to pick on modern excess. Hell, we just came off of Thanksgiving which is, more and more, a pathway into Black Friday and celebrated gluttony. There’s no question that in our processed world, a lot is taken for granted. And the physical tolls on the planet are obvious.
I would argue that an even more important thing is lost in the wastefulness. And that is, an understanding for the intrinsic preciousness of an object or a living thing. We assign something value instead of assuming it has value. Any marketer knows that perceived value guides the choices we make. It also forms our interactions with the world around us. Without an appreciation for worth, expendability is easier to rationalize. From expendability comes a revised ethic of utility as a primary measure of behavior. That is, an object or living thing holds value as long as its useful to us, instead of inherently.
In Europe, as one example, the House Sparrow — often viewed as a pest in the States — is becoming precious because they’re disappearing in great numbers from the continent. Species we now regale like the Bald Eagle were once vermin, vile, competitive predators. They were nearly wiped out for that perception. Hunters who shoot waterfowl will refer to some of their kill as “garbage” birds, because of how they believe that bird tastes. Perceived value is responsible for the status of almost every species, whether that value is nil or grand, endangered or not . The problem is, as long as anything can fluctuate in value based on perception, it is entirely vulnerable to our notions of its importance . . . to us.
In the 1970s, Arne Naess used the term “Deep Ecology” to counter some of these anthropocentric notions of animals and earth. He used the word “deep” to contrast with what he called “shallow” ecology, environmentalism that concerned itself with technological solutions (recycling, organic farming, resource consumption, etc). Deep Ecology is obviously concerned with those same aspects of environmental necessity, but it also calls for a fundamental change in how we view ourselves vis a vis our environment. Fritjof Capra described it thus:
“Deep Ecology is rooted in a perception of reality that goes beyond the scientific framework to an intuitive awareness of the oneness of all life, the interdependence of its multiple manifestations and its cycles of change and transformation. When the concept of the human spirit is understood in this sense, its mode of consciousness in which the individual feels connected to the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological awareness is truly spiritual.”
I’m not sure if Capra or the late Naess would appreciate my tangent to Pirate Radio, but you know how the brain thrives on weak connections. This particular weak connection leads to a most precious time in Amsterdam, where I grew up in the era of Pirate Radio (late 60s and early 70s), to the idea of relative value.
We listened to off-shore pirate radio of our own: Radio Nordzee.
Getting good radio reception at all was a feat. Sitting with my dad late at night and fiddling with buttons of the shortwave until we heard strains of Russian or Italian or the American voices of Armed Forces Radio was magic. As I sat watching Pirate Radio, wishing there was more character development and momentum, I did remember what it was like to hear the chords of the Stones and the Who, sputtering through interference. I thought about how treasured those strains of sound. I felt nostalgic for those times, for those impressions . . . precious and elusive.
But were they, are they, any more precious or elusive than what gets taken for granted today … things that in 50 years time will be gone or in such disrepair, they might as well be gone? Is there any redemption from James Howard Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere, where “the living arrangement Americans now think of as normal suburban sprawl –- is bankrupting us economically, socially, ecologically, and spiritually.”
The mindset of waste, of course, transcends suburbia, as exemplified in that pile of dead coyotes, killed well outside of any cul de sac. You could argue those shooters had the same sense of disregard for the coyotes, that our predecessors had toward the bison and the passenger pigeon. Maybe even the same sense of indifference that drove a voracious mob to trample a Walmart worker on Black Friday a few years ago. Or, maybe a few steps removed from that, the carelessness I exhibited when I discarded something plastic in the trash years ago, something that’s now pulverized by ocean currents and floating around in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Which brings me back around to the idea of preciousness, and how genuine transformation probably won’t come until we humans recognize inherent value, render the common uncommon, and forge a relationship with life outside ourselves, making it clear we actually are that life. Is that paradigm shift even possible in the face of what George Orwell called the public hunger for cheap palliatives? Or does our species face a revised existence, wherein our increasing alienation ultimately renders our own existence irrelevant? Maybe … if that’s how we choose to treat it all.
Apropos of my Pacific Northwest relocation, I’ll leave you with the famous quote from Chief Seattle, observations pre-dating Deep Ecology and Black Friday, both:
“This we know… the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth. All things are connected, like the blood which connects one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life — he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
~ Chief Seattle