Earth Day and the Phantoms of a Pathological Culture

I must start with a confession.  I have always been troubled by the concept of Earth Day.  I understand its origin and why it came to be, but as an environmentalist I see it as window dressing an unfolding disaster of monumental proportions.  It’s not that it is useless.  Raising awareness is never useless.  But over the years it has morphed from an almost spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice into an opportunity for corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet” all while they mercilessly plunder it.  It also has the effect of neutralizing public outrage at the dire state our world is in.  It spreads an all too pervasive “feel goodism” to a situation that is truly existential, not only for countless other species on the planet but for our own.

Corporate Greenwashing, by Pete Dolack via Climate and CapitalismIn our time, the powerful have crafted enormous facades of pomp and ceremony extolling their efforts.  Their conferences and consortiums serve as a distraction from their business as usual pillage, and a placation of our collective angst against the backdrop of a gathering storm.  But each year gives us a terrifying glimpse into a fast approaching future.  One rife with super storms, floods, mega-droughts, crop failures and species collapse.

Reocrd breaking Houston floods, April 2016, photo via Traci Siler.The economic model that dominates the world is incapable of grappling with our dire predicament.  It simply does not possess any sense of ethical obligation, even when it comes to its own species.  It has become imperative for us to shake free from this paradigm of self destructive failure and begin the process of true community building.  We can talk about the benefits of permaculture and a gift economy, but in order to reach this we need to do something that the Western world routinely scoffs at and ridicules.  We must take a long, hard and urgent look into the underpinnings of our entire way of life and the pathology that is industrialized civilization itself.  We must look into our soul.

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forests. Photographer Peter EssickWe can start with natural landscapes.  They are the contours of the soul.  And they have been, and continue to be, brutalized and decimated, or replaced by concrete, glass and steel.  The effect this has had on our species is collective alienation and crushing despair.  Modern mega-cities are emblematic of this tremendous disconnect from reality.  They are scratched onto the land with feverish disregard for nature as well as for their inhabitants.  They create an illusion that we are separate from nature, divorced from its power except when confronted by a storm, earthquake, volcano, flood or heatwave.  Western science and religion, in whatever form it takes, reinforces the myth of separateness from the natural world, and otherizes the myriad of species we share this planet with.

Mexico City. Source Stock Footage.When European explorers set out to “discover” the world most did not do so as observers.  They unmoored their ships and set sail in search of gold and other “precious” metals.  In the process they decimated indigenous societies and imposed their world view on where ever they landed.  They justified all of this madness through a perverted form of patriarchal religion which augmented a hierarchical system of domination and class that persists to this day.  This paradigm still informs the current global economic system, neoliberal capitalism, which commodifies every thing and everyone in the known universe, and transforms them into exploitable, consumable or disposable products.

mindless consumerism Philosophers StoneThe truth is that materialism corrupts the very nature of the human soul. It deadens the tendrils of empathy and compassion that have evolved to give meaning to our existence.  And it creates an insatiable void needing to be filled by elusive and meaningless junk, which is eventually discarded once the novelty wears off.  It is the reason landfills are bursting their confines. It is the reason the world’s oceans have become a toxic soup where plastic refuse is fast out weighing fish and other wildlife.  It is behind the rising global temperatures and changing climate. It is the cause of stagnation, addiction and ennui within the general public. It is the reason for every war and conflict; and why our species, along with every other one on this planet, is facing extinction.

Landfill, photo from Stock Footage.To be sure, we cannot expect the dominant culture to bring about any positive or substantive change.  It cannot.  Not now, not ever.  It reflects the pathology that industrial civilization is at its heart.  Its “solution” to the looming ecological collapse is to spruce up its image to the “consumer” by taking small, meaningless actions that momentarily sooth our conscience at the moment we are consuming their product.  At its very core it is a cancer that must grow rapaciously regardless of the terminal malignancy it inflicts upon the living planet and the weakest of our species.  And, as I have noted before, a cancer cannot be “reformed.”  It must be extracted or eradicated, or the condition will lead to nothing other than death.

But we need not be plugged into this matrix of delusion and absurdity.  We need not play the cruel game of mindless consumption of sentient beings housed in torturous concentration camps, or gadgets crafted in suicidal sweatshops that promise a better life, or entertainment that dehumanizes us or others, or trends that celebrate avarice, militarism and violence.  That choice is still left to us.  And our agency lies in us realizing this and beginning a transformation that connects us to each other and to the living, yet besieged and battered planet on which we all depend.

IMG_2560I have another confession.  I am not a preacher.  I loath those who connive or badger or guilt people into altering their lives.  I am one of you.  I was born into this theater of the absurd, bathed from conception in petroleum, the primordial life blood of industrial civilization.  I have been dazzled by the spectacle and I have consumed far more than I have ever had a right to.  So I am taking this journey with you because none of us, not one, can do it alone.  We cannot face the phantoms of our pathological culture in isolation and think we will emerge on the other side unscathed, intact and whole.  One thing I am certain of is that the future of humanity, perhaps nearer than anyone of us could fathom, is destined to be full of misery and strife.  In truth it already is for the vast majority of us and countless species we are not even aware of.  But if there is any solace to be found it begins in our refusal to be willing participants in the unfolding ecocide, and the recognition of ourselves in each other and every other life form we are surrounded by.

The only way I can honor Earth Day is to grieve all that has been lost, and to refuse to participate in the ongoing destruction.  It only has meaning to me if it is not externalized as a commodity with a catchy jingle, and is the beginning of the end for the pathological mindset that has gotten us to where we are now and the collective death knell that lies before us.  Maybe the best way to “celebrate” it is in realizing that we need a new community with a natural soul, unseparated from this world.  Because in its absence it is nothing more than a mechanical set of empty routines.  And a soul without a community has no meaning at all, and is adrift in a universe where love cannot penetrate.

Kenn Orphan  2016

#earthday  #climatechange  #capitalism  #ecocide  #consumerism


7 thoughts on “Earth Day and the Phantoms of a Pathological Culture

  1. Reblogged this on Industrial Civilization – A Cult of Death and commented:
    Thank you Kenn for another brilliant essay.

    This culture has no future & we in its end days are the subjects to bear witness to it.
    Sadly the apologists for it’s psychological sickness are running like crazy to keep the hamster running on the wheels of destruction………………..The deep sadness & tragedy is the other species that await the day when the sun ascends on a planet devoid of the industrial empire……………..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kenn I agree with your thoughts about Earth Day. What will be required to turn our lethal course around is so much more massive and profound than this feel good exercise plays with; Earth Day is simply a sop to self-delusion. People go away from it with a feeling that they did their part, and now they can relax in all the destructive performances of their lives with a clear conscience. No wonder the corporate Molochs vie in sponsoring it. Their mantra is “this much we allow you, but no more.”

    What we need is a revolution that turns our ‘way of life’ upside down and inside out beyond anything the majority of Earth Day participants can even imagine. This empty ritual reminds me of the calls for gradualism that plagued the quest for an end to discrimination against people of some degree of African descent in the USA. That took revolutionary action to initiate some real changes. Earth Day has more the flavor of a middle class holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How can I like the essay so much when I disagree with the premise so completely?

    I see no reason to abdicate the “spiritual movement for ecological consciousness and justice” just because it has also been used by “corporations and politicians to tout their empty gestures at “saving the planet.” That kind of thinking is what killed Christmas as a celebration of generosity. Or to put it a different way, just because some people cheapen their bodies by selling sex for money doesn’t mean you can never again express love and respect sexually. As for “neutralizing public outrage,” I don’t see your outrage getting neutralized by the feel-good, commercialized celebration of Earth Day. And furthermore, what good is your outrage doing? None at all for the Earth, I’m sad to say, although I imagine you might achieve some sort of personal satisfaction or relief from expressing it.

    I, too, celebrate Earth Day with mourning. In Nonviolent Communication, celebration and mourning are two sides of the same coin. Both deal with the recognition of the monumental significance of some energy moving through our life. And I think love is the common denominator.

    I do have a ritual that I perform every Earth Day: I calculate my carbon footprint with one or more of the on-line tools. It’s not even meaningful any more; my footprint is as low as it can go as long as the accident of my citizenship in an overdeveloped country rules my life. I, too, am owned. So my mourning takes on a very personal flavor.

    So please accept my Earth Day greetings in the spirit we know we intend, regardless of how others may or may not honor the day.

    Liked by 1 person

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