Tag Archives: ecocide

The Ghosts That Roam Among Us

To many of us who live near to nature the idea of ghosts is far from fantasy.  The concept is neither childish nor macabre.  We commune with our ghosts and respect them.  They are the embodiment of our lost dreams and elusive joy, and only haunt those who misinterpret their messages.  They have no malice, only longing.

 

Ghosts are the shadows of our psyche.  They, like other archetypal figures, represent our lost aspirations both as individuals and as a species.  In many indigenous societies it is the ghost who guides us toward emancipation and actualization, not the angel.  This is because every one of us can identify with a ghost. Few of us have the piety or inherent detachment necessary to make us an angel.  In mythology ghosts can never attain angelic or demonic status.  They live outside the rhythm of life like dissonant chords, condemned to only remember loss.  And it is in this very quality that we see our selves reflected.  In this time of the Great Dying, ghosts call to us more than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, the reductionist cannot understand this embrace of the mystery of transcendence.  The intangible is broken down into facile explanations which extinguish imagination and deride wonder. They equate spirit with superstition or magical thinking.  Authoritarian and patriarchal religions are much the same and have had a lot to do with this backlash.  It is understandable why this is so given their legacy of cruelty, crusades against science and repression of free thought.  But even all of that does not make the narrow reductionist perspective a correct one.

 

Neither science or religion have the final answers to the questions all of us hold deep inside us about life and death, our existence and the existence of this marvelous universe, and the meaning of it all. Throughout history there have been numerous visionaries that have found the courage to step outside their esteemed roles and institutional bias and open their hearts and minds to a greater understanding of who we are. They not only asked questions or sought truth, they yearned for a meaning greater than their societal worldview. A meaning greater than the sum of their parts. The best of them used the arts to express their quest. But art is accessible to all of us. It is the greatest passage way toward understanding.

I think that is why I have appreciated the artist Joan Jonas ever since I encountered her work. She considers rural Nova Scotia, my home, her second home. And I can see why. Outside the city, a place where the songs of ghosts are often mercilessly drowned out by modernity, there are vast stretches of wilderness dotted with sparse communities carved into history and nature like a sculpture. Jonas’ art not only touches on the ghosts of human beings, but of animals and other species, especially the ones who have disappeared forever.

 

Her and other works of this nature bring up many questions for me. When humans pass into the void will our ghosts roam with them? Are those who have gone on already doing this now? Or will we damn our souls to the mediocrity of pseudo separation and supremacy? Will we listen to the ghosts struggling to teach us? Will we hear their pleas for connection, community and solidarity with one another and the myriad of other species that inhabit this life drenched world?

Truthfully, I do not have the answers for any of these questions. But we are all staring down a gun. This is an unprecedented epoch in the age of homo sapiens.  We are witnessing the alarming acceleration of species extinction mostly caused by human activity. With this terrible knowledge we must all choose if we are going to continue to ignore the carnage or face it with courage. Of course awareness alone is not enough. But it is the beginning of transformation. Facing death, ours and that of other living beings, can ignite a fire that can burn away the illusions that fill our modern, congested lives; and rise us out of the din.  Illusions that crowd out our capacity for connection and solidarity.

 

The ghosts that roam among us should not to be feared. They are merely the refracted reflections of our missed opportunities, wars of conquest, folly, misplaced rage, scorned wonder and repressed joy.  They are, in truth, us.  But they have an urgent story to tell; and if we ignore or dismiss them it will be at our own peril.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

 

Title art piece for this essay is Japanese Ghosts, Katsushika Hokusai: Phoenix, 1835.

An interview with artist Joan Jonas:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4CCsVFhi9o

Free Fall

Perhaps you can commiserate.  I keep having this recurring thought.  I am perched on a branch above a flooding stream. The muddy waters below me churn and swell.  The winds howl around me.  Torrents of rain beat down on my head. Others clamber up the tree near me. I reach out a hand only to watch them pulled away into the dark waters.  Then the branch on which I sit begins to crack and I realize I am in free fall. It is a helpless and desperate feeling.  It is the end of the world… the end of my world.

No, this recurring feeling I have had is not about the circus unfolding in Washington DC.  It is rooted in our collective predicament as a species.  I have said this several times before, but I believe more and more that we are at a place in human history where the status quo of almost everything is about to shift and the American political landscape is only one piece of this dire reality.  It is true that no one can predict the future with certainty, but it it is also true that many of us have a pretty good idea of where we are all heading.

floods-in-thailand-source-the-atlanticIn case you were off world and missed it, let me break it down: the climate is rapidly transforming in real time before our eyes.  Ice sheets in Antarctica, frozen for millions of years, are disintegrating rapidly and collapsing in a months time.  Massive wildfires and intractable drought on each continent have become a year round reality.  Biblical floods are a terrifying, new normal.  Soil depletion is widespread; and the integrity of biomass is greatly degraded and imperiled.  The planet’s oceans are acidifying with dead zones growing exponentially in size each year.   What we are witness to is the Sixth Mass Extinction, a human caused disaster that is sweeping over us like a tsunami.  In its insurmountable wake it is taking with it the earth’s largest living organism, a being visible from orbit, the Great Barrier Reef.  Petrifying it in a blanket of stark, white death.

Within mere decades many, if not most, of the coastal areas of the world will be inundated.  Drought is poised to cause widespread famine and disease will follow close behind.  Of course the poorest of the poor who have always suffered the most will suffer exponentially in the years to come.  A refugee crisis not seen before in human history is on the horizon, but Westerners should not kid themselves.  We are all in the same sinking spaceship; and at some point this global catastrophe will leave no one untouched.

Greetings from California by Joe Webb.The companion to this appears to be a collective lunacy among world leaders and the most powerful.  Armed to the teeth with life extinguishing nukes, they seem to have reduced our collective, existential predicament to a joust between failing empires.  They are bolstering a renewed, reactionary authoritarianism and stoking base prejudices among the masses.  The melting Arctic sea does not alarm them.  On the contrary, it presents them with new opportunities for exploitation of ever dwindling and harder to reach oil reserves, the earth’s poisonous primordial blood.  They look at the coming collapse with shrugged shoulders while they fill their coffers with coin.  And make no mistake, they will not cease this destruction voluntarily.  In the end the failing systems of the earth’s biosphere and climate and the impossible equation of infinite growth on a planet with finite resources will put a stop to their unhinged folly.  But what price will we all have to pay for their madness?
I Shop Therefore I AmAnd how, then, can we make sense of our predicament?   How do we live lives of dignity, purpose and meaning in the midst of a free fall of civilization and the biosphere?   I think it begins with disengaging from the dominant narrative of a profoundly sick culture.  It is a narrative which reinforces separation from nature and the universe itself.  It is a message center which controls how we see the world and all of its inhabitants.  It objectifies, commodifies and nullifies the inherent worth of all living things and replaces them with absurd facsimiles of life which end up both mocking and crushing the soul and polluting the verdant earth.  It is a culture responsible for war, poverty and avarice; and it is blind to its own imminent demise.

This age we live in reinforces alienation, denial, apathy and despair by hapless design.  If we are to reclaim our humanity and our place in this rapidly deteriorating world we must return to that most childlike of qualities: imagination.  We need to find the courage to place ourselves unashamedly into that dream time of imagining a world of connection with all that lives and the sense of wonder that comes with it.  We need to give ourselves permission to pry open the cultural locks that have constrained our soul in a prison of lies, and reject anything that devalues us or separates us from the other.  Perhaps then we can really begin to live the life we were all intended to live on this life drenched planet, even if we are in the last great epoch of our species.

refugees-seek-sanctuary-souce-the-vienna-reviewA growing number of scientists argue, and with compelling empirical evidence, that a free fall of the biosphere is already under way.  If this is true it will inevitably lead to the breakdown of complex societal systems and social order.  The increase in relentless storms, droughts, famines and disease will accompany the rise of authoritarianism, racist xenophobia and militaristic nationalism around the globe.  Truthfully, we are already seeing much of this happening today.  In fact, much of the world now deals with this uncertain brutality and barbarism.  But in the dark days that lie ahead no one will be spared the painful choices such a convergence will bring.

Many of us who have lived relatively calm lives in more affluent or stable societies will be increasingly asked to take uncomfortable stands that billions in poorer countries encounter daily.  These stands can result in the loss of social status, jobs or even relationships.  Many of us may endure unjust hearings, inquisitions or trials, or even face state or mob violence if we speak out against social hatred, defy repression, break unethical or inhuman laws, or provide shelter, sustenance or sanctuary to the foreigner, or the migrant, or the persecuted.  It will not always be straightforward and certainly not easy.  In the end. however, it has always come down to a fundamental choice between the better part of our humanity or in its rejection.  We must all find this part and grapple with these troubling things sooner or later, but for me the choice is a clear one.

 

Kenn Orphan 2017

Grief and the Unbreakable Sinew

As the close of this year approaches I have been thinking a lot about grief.  I have reached that age in Western society where one begins to lose family, lovers, friends and even childhood archetypal heroes from the celebrity world at a faster and more alarming pace.  Two years ago it was my father, a year later I learned of the death of one of my first loves, and very recently I lost a sister-in-law whom I adored.  I have worked in hospice care for half my life so I am familiar with the stages of grief and the theoretical approaches to death and dying, but I have learned that nothing can fully prepare one for the journey through grief.  And that journey, once began, has no end.

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There are no magic spells or elixirs or incantations that get us over grief.  In fact, no one ever “gets over it.”  If you love someone that love is not discontinued by their absence. Our bodies feel this deeply, so much so that we feel their detachment in very tangible ways.  Our hearts and body literally ache.  As the author C.S. Lewis put it: “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”  This is not only defined by physical distance though. Even when we learn of the death of a loved one who is miles away the pain is no less deep as if they were by our side.  The soul is not bound by time and space like the body. We feel on a visceral level that something has shifted and that a direct link in this realm of existence has been altered. Grief is the response not to the absence of love but to the absence of direct connection with the beloved.

In fact, grief is the dreaded companion of love. But like love, it has the power to transform the barren into fertile ground. It can expand our capacity to embrace others and increase our empathy for the universal experience of suffering and loss.  However, if allowed it can also preclude the flowering of compassion in exchange for self-absorption, self-destruction and bitterness. It is ruthless when ignored and can inflict madness on anyone foolish enough to think they have mastered it.  The only coherent response to it, therefore, is respect.

The pain of grief can have the effect of chasing us away from ever loving again. But to do so would invite spiritual death upon us and poison everyone who surrounds us with unyielding despair. The journey through grief is agonizing and its manifestations and twists and turns are often unpredictable. But we can navigate our way through it by gaining insight on the very nature of love itself.

Here is what I have learned. Love is not merely affection. It is not a drug. It is not a state of being either. Love is the unbreakable sinew that connects us to each other. And without it we are nothing more than single cells of life drifting aimlessly in the void, meaningless, empty and featureless. Death tears apart the corporeal, but love completes us by making us one organism.

In the broader sense I believe that grief, whether recognized or not, defines our current age. We are a part of a living web of life, but unbridled consumerism has divorced us from this ancient knowledge. Ever since then we have lived as aliens on our own home world, plagued with emptiness, apathy and neurosis, disconnected with each other and the myriad of other life forms that live here. The biosphere on which we all depend is being hurried into oblivion by rapacious greed and this is something we either feel great sorrow for or we bury it under layers of denial fostered by our pathological culture. Denial is abundant in this age, free to anyone and everyone. But once ingested it can rapidly transform into a poison that is difficult to extract.

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When we lose someone we love those around us generally respond with caring and support. But we have all lost the sense of our connection with the living world that we inhabit.  The phantoms of materialistic pleasure haunt every corridor and room and especially at this time of year. If we look beyond the surfaces we will see a landscape designed by capital, a landscape of desolation, the Great Emptiness that all of this disconnect has caused.  Plastic bags and packaging choke our oceans and waterways.  Traffic clogged roadways spew toxic soot into the air.  Dehumanizing and base advertising hammer home feelings of alienation against the backdrop of a landscape festooned with billboards with hollow promises. Demonization of the “other,” the foreigner, the stranger.  Wars for material wealth and dominance still menace.  And mass species extinction is fast becoming the norm as climate change and greed driven exploitation devastate ecosystems across the planet.

Where, then, shall we look for caring or support? Truthfully, it must be from others who recognize that something is gravely wrong with the direction of the world.  Those who see the Great Dying unfolding before us and refuse to be silent witnesses to it.  For all we know, this epoch of human history may be the last. After all there are many powerful forces converging to create unmatched havoc and chaos.  Facing our grief can expand our capacity to love and nourish the courage we need to meet what ever calamity comes our way.  But this is not a solo experience.  It is a journey of solidarity and one we must all take together or not at all.

 

A special message to all readers of this blog: This month people around the world are celebrating the birth of Christ and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  Earlier this month was Milad un Nabi or the Birth of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), Bodhi Day when the Buddha attained supreme enlightenment and Geeta Jayanti, the beginning of the sacred text of the Bhagvad-Gita.   There are many more traditions that see this time of year as hallowed for honoring birth and rebirth.  For me, the most powerful is the Winter Solstice which is one of the four sacred turns of the living earth, our beloved home.  But whether you are religious or not the message of healing is natural and universal.

Music and art are perhaps the most powerful mediums for the expression of the sacred.  And for me there is something about Marc Chagall’s “L’Ange Bleu” or “The Blue Angel” that resonates at this time of year. When I worked with terminally ill people, with refugees or with the mentally ill it seemed to bring many of them calm too.  Blue is the color of both healing and spiritual birth in many traditions and I think it is appropriate for winter where our hearts lay dormant so long waiting to be reborn into the world.  Waiting to add our humanity, our life force.  The angel is symbolic of our aspirations to transcend the muddy world of suffering we are all born into.  Her wings give our soul flight to meet our rebirth.

marc-chagall-the-blue-angelMany grieve, may you find solace in the fact that you loved and loved deeply. Many are angry, may you find justice. Many are uncertain, may you find strength in the core of who you are. Many are joyful, may your joy increase and bless the world.

 

Kenn Orphan  2016

 

In loving memory of my sister, Lisa Hanaway~Herrera (1962-2016).  Your absence makes the world a much dimmer place.  But your love is an inner light that will help me find my way through it.

Title artwork for this essay is a painting by Lisa.

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The Omnicidal Madness of Empire

The atrocities being committed by militarized police on behalf of the Fossil Fuel Industry against the unarmed Water Protectors of Standing Rock Sioux is beyond appalling.  A horrifying page of history is being reopened which may signal a more radical fascist turn for the US in general.  With barely a peep from a weak and sycophantic corporate media, jackbooted thugs in armored trucks are firing water cannons on protectors in sub freezing temperatures, using flash grenades that can cause blindness and burns, and firing rubber coated bullets which have already maimed many.

water-cannons-used-on-water-protectors-at-standing-rock-sioux-in-subfreezing-temperatures-source-twitterThis hideous face of Empire is nothing unique.  It is the same banal, raw, aggression and power seen all over the world.  The militarized police of the Dakotas share their unoriginal brutality with the Israeli Defense Force in Palestine, and the Indian Army occupying Kashmir, and the Indonesian military forces against the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea.  The aim of Empire is always the same: to crush, exploit, rape and plunder the vulnerable of the earth and the living earth itself for the gain of power and coin for a select few.

President Obama’s tepid response to what is happening at this very moment at Standing Rock Sioux is nothing less than complicity in the crimes of Empire.  And it is chilling to think about a Trump regime which will most assuredly ramp up the violence and state aggression to a new and more horrifying level.  He can do this thanks to expanded powers the Obama regime has enabled and empowered.

standing-rock-sioux-water-protectors-attacked-source-news-unfilteredI would be saddened but not be surprised in the least if drones were employed by the coming regime.  Water protectors could easily be labeled with vague, all encompassing terms like “enemy combatants” and “terrorists” because they threaten “US interests,” code words for corporate industry plunder and exploitation via the State.  Targeted assassinations of US citizens are now completely legal thanks to the Obama administration.  In fact, US citizens have already been assassinated without due process.  Indefinite detention is also now completely legal and there is no reason to think that a Trump regime would not use these powers and even expand upon them.

This signals a major shift in the US that is nothing less than monstrous.  And it forces a choice on the rest of us. We must either stand on the side of the Water Protectors or we lend our tacit, albeit apathetic, support to the omnicidal madness of Empire.  This avarice fueled insanity will not stop at Standing Rock Sioux; and there is no middle ground when it comes to this.  Our fragile biosphere is imperiled like never before.  Water is life and we must passionately protect it.  Otherwise we will all suffer the immeasurable misery and self annihilation of doing without it, and that potential nightmare is sooner than anyone could ever imagine.

Kenn Orphan  2016

The End of the Charade

This is going to be a sort of political rant, so for those of you who are sick of or hate that sort of thing I encourage you to scroll on.

It is a rant regarding the charade which is finally coming to an end.  It is about the selected puppets of the ruling elite in the American Empire who will be paraded before the world a little more before its subjects are told that they have “chosen” one of them to lead.

Here is the deal.  I should be happy for the absurd theatrics finally being over, right? But the thing is, I’m not. I shouldn’t give a damn either, right? I no longer live in the heart of the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. But the thing is, I do.  America IS, in fact, the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. And its machinations have effects very far from its contested borders.

trump-vs-clinton-photo-newsweekI guess I fear what I know is coming next.  If Hillary Clinton is crowned those of us on the far Left who weep will be ridiculed, maligned or chided for not celebrating with gusto the first female President and the continuance of American aggression and dynastic rule. If in some bizarre anomaly the orange tinted creep sweeps to the throne those of us on the Left who denounced Clinton’s horrific war mongering and corporate loving record and refused to play the inane game of “lesser evilism” will be pilloried and blamed for enabling it all.

In all truth I will be thoroughly shocked if Clinton is not selected.  Even George W. Bush, the vile war criminal of the previous administration, has given tacit endorsement of Hillary Clinton in a letter condemning Trump. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, but it is remarkably simple to condemn that repugnant man with fire retardant flesh tone. And this letter speaks volumes because Bush knows full well that it will bolster Clinton in the neocon circles of the oligarchy. Scores of conservative newspapers have lined up endorsing Clinton also. So with Clinton nearly a shoe in, I know what else is coming.

 

With the Obama regime as historical precedent, it is safe to assume that white American liberals will shrug indifferent shoulders and fall asleep once more as their government drones children and grandmothers picking okra in their fields or subverts democratically elected governments in the Middle East or Africa or Latin America.  They will become champions of reactionary nationalism as a Clinton administration leads the nation into open conflicts with nuclear armed Russia.  They will once again turn their heads from the decades long Israeli apartheid regime as Clinton pledges even more support to the hard right despot Netanyahu.  They will stay silent in criticism of Clinton’s promotion of fracking or dismantling of social security, something which can be done without much protest under a Democrat.  But they can continue to post noncommittal memes on Facebook and Twitter expressing outrage or solidarity with black or brown or red people besieged by a racist system without demanding the dismantling of the very system of capitalist exploitation that is the source of their misery in the first place.

They will rest on the laurels in smug slumber since, in that case, a woman with a big “D” will be sitting in the Oval office. And we should all applaud that, right? First woman president of the American Empire and all?  Never mind that a woman named Jill Stein who, while far from perfect, had much greater progressive credentials. Never mind that Margaret Thatcher was also a woman, and one who had a remarkably similar neoconservative resume to Clinton.  Never mind that Ms. Clinton supported (and continues to support) a rightwing coup in Honduras that has taken the lives of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ people, including indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres.  Or pushed Obama into decimating Libya, once the richest state in Africa, and ghoulishly celebrated the gruesome murder of its president. Or in Haiti where she aided in the creation of a sweatshop economy on behalf of American garment corporations upon an already historically oppressed and humiliated people.

But really, who seriously believes that the privileged white Liberal class in America gives a rat’s ass about those foreign black and brown people?  How many white Liberals care about black, brown and red people here, the ones right at home labeled “super predators” by the Queen in waiting only a few years ago, or ignored by her at Standing Rock Sioux?

berta-caceres-murdered-by-the-right-wing-coup-government-that-hillary-clinton-supported-and-defends-to-this-day-photo-source-latino-rebels

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protests-against-clinton-in-haiti-photo-source-nytForgive me if I fail to celebrate with the Liberal Class if Clinton is anointed Empress. It is beyond question that Trump is a racist vile creature of narcissism and arrogant stupidity. But if self described “progressives” think the Bloody Queen will promote a left friendly agenda that will stop military aggression, the collapse of the biosphere due to blatant rape of the earth by corporations, and cease support for Wall Street then they have been drinking a Kool-Aid far more lethal than any flag waving, Trump supporting, walking head wound.

In any case, we on the true Left must somehow stomach it all and struggle on against militaristic imperialism for the sake of building a more compassionate and just world while there is still time left.  And I couldn’t be more serious about the “while there is time left” part.  We are running out of that one precious resource rapidly thanks to climate change, the ever present nuclear menace, global pandemic and biosphere collapse.  But after all, if we are still in possession of a conscience what else can we do?

End rant here.

 

Kenn Orphan  2016

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself.  To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself.  The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond.  These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.

This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

indigenous-leaders-from-ecuador-protest-chevrons-deliberate-pollution-of-the-rainforest-photo-from-new-york-timesI believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies.  Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time.  These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright.  But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.

One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society.  It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition.  It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression.  It is against aggression and wars of conquest.  It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit.  It commodifies everything, living and non.  It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence.  It is the way of Empire.

palestinian-protesters-stand-amid-blazes-set-by-settlers-to-their-olive-groves-photo-source-transcend

canadian-paramilitary-forces-attack-indigenous-elsipogtog-mi-kmaq-first-nation-and-local-residents-as-they-blockaded-a-new-brunswick-fracking-exploration-site-photo-from-common-dreams

activists-in-port-harcourt-nigeria-photo-source-earth-first-journalThe language of Empire is duplicitous.  It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions.  It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism.  It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.

In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement.  They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels.  They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance.  They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings.  They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment.  And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump and Clinton. Getty Images.

Oil Executives. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth.  And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire.  It is literally about life and death.  We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow.  We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry.  We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable.  We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year.  And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves.  When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy.  We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests.  But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.

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ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14: Ferguson activists march through downtown during a protest on March 14, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis and the nearby town of Ferguson have experienced many protests, which have often been violent, since the death of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August. On Wednesday evening two police officers were shot while they were securing the Ferguson police station during a protest. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in BrazilThe powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next.  It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand.   This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story.  It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out.   If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine.  We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach.  This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not.  But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.

a-native-american-woman-sits-on-a-bluff-in-north-dakota-at-the-pipeline-protest-source-the-guardianKenn Orphan 2016

The Preachers of Fear and the Winds of Peril

Donnie Swaggart. Photo source, Catch The Fire.The other day I had the misfortune of coming across Donnie Swaggart on a channel surf. He is the son of the disgraced, fire and brimstone televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. I never thought anyone could be more horrifying of a preacher than Jimmy, but his son appears to have successfully surpassed his father in being a completely repugnant and hate-filled lunatic. It seems the progeny of televangelists strive to excel at medievalism and vitriol. One look at Franklin Graham should confirm this to almost anyone.

I ran across the blustering extremist Chuck Hagee on another day and had to question my own ears. His sermon sounded more like a war room briefing for Dr. Evil in an Austin Power’s movie. He “educated” his congregation, with the measured cadence of a a traveling snake oil salesman, on Iran’s nefarious plans somehow known only to him. He warned his followers of the perils of not “blessing” the state of Israel even though this smacks of idolatry, a grave sin in his religion.  But the camera panned out to his megachurch filled with saucer eyed congregants applauding when he talked about bombing the Islamic Republic in a pre-emtive strike.  My skin literally crawled.

John HageeThe same was true of Donnie Swaggart’s tele-church. Applause and “praise the Lord’s” rang out after each screaming rant against Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, or marriage equality and transgender people, or “abortion” doctors and “lukewarm Christians” and all I could do is feel a deep sense of grief and dread. Is this emblematic of a dying empire?  Are they a foreboding sign of the Dark Ages we stand poised to enter given our planetary trajectory towards ecocide and climate chaos?  With a bombastic egotist, proud of his racism and misogyny, running for the highest office in the nation against a promoter of military aggression and defender of the corporate plutocracy, could this portend a dystopic landscape in the not too distant future?

As the Mayan civilization died their leaders became even more fevered in their bloodlust for scapegoats. Human sacrifice was amplified to frantically stave off the ravages of crop failure and drought. Life in the cities became a living hell for many. And in ancient Rome the plutocracy became more obsessed with bread and circuses to distract demoralized masses from their misery as they feasted on whatever remained in their dying empire.   The megacity of the 21st century appears to be setting itself up for similar horrors but on a global scale, with those on the margins of empire suffering the greatest and most immediate pain. And in the midst of this I see preachers like Swaggart, Graham and Hagee gleefully celebrating apocalypse and ushering in a new era of “Inquisition” where anyone “otherized” is fair game for scapegoating. It would be unfair and inaccurate to paint all evangelicals with a broad brush, but it is a fair conclusion that after each coming drought or flood certain zealots, like the aforementioned televangelists, will jump up to point a finger of blame at the refugee, or those who oppose war, or the gender non-conforming person, or the immigrant, or the socialist, or the woman wearing a hijab.  This is not so far fetched a scenario when one considers that one front runner in US Presidential elections spews racist xenophobia to cheering crowds and a sycophantic media, and the other has a long history of warmongering and reactionary policies.
Mayan Civilization. Image from Storify.Americans have a remarkable capacity to think theirs is a society that is exceptional even with mountains of history to demonstrate otherwise. And they have been fed a steady diet of pablum to sate any thirst or longing for knowledge about the world in which they are a part of.  Consumerism is the real religion of America, and it is the greatest threat to all life on the planet.  How, then, will they react when their world begins to disintegrate in this new epoch of ecocide and the Anthropocene?  When climate change becomes the unbearable reality? When the infrastructure that is taken for granted begins to fail?  History has dark lessons to teach us on how that might very well look.   If allowed, those who peddle fear and those who revel in authoritarianism will marry each other at the first winds of peril.

World under water. Image from Adweek.And with daily reports of temperature records being broken, drought and crop failure expanding, the oceans dying and fresh water waning, I cannot help but fear that those winds are beginning to blow in earnest.  If they are, God help us all.

Kenn Orphan  2016

Grieving in Silence

When I was in my early twenties I never thought that in my lifetime I would see the death of the Great Barrier Reef and scores of other coral reefs around the world.  I never thought I would see the temperature of the North Pole reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, or gigantic nation-sized shelves of ice simply break off and fall into the sea in Antarctica.  I never thought I would read about scores of species dying en masse, washing up on shores, or going extinct every single day.   I never thought that plastic in the seas would outweigh marine life by mid century, or huge swaths of forest succumb to pine beetles and blight.  Now twenty years on I have witnessed all of that and more, and most of it has happened in just the last few years. I often find myself being overwhelmed by an enormous tide of grief that envelopes my entire being; and it doesn’t countenance being ignored.

But I live within a society that values denial over truth.  And lately I have begun to relate more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of the status quo.   I realize that many of us feel this deep sense of sorrowful terror; but many more can do little more than cry out in that private, interior space that our culture has consigned us to.
The Scream by Edvard Munch.Many traditions have a public means for displaying private grief.   Years ago, in Europe and in the Americas, those who were mourning the death of a loved one announced their grief to others by wearing a piece of black cloth around their arm or by placing a black wreath upon their front doors. Today much of that has been rejected as being too morbid or depressing Perhaps part of this normalization is due to our evolutionary heritage; but certainly the distractions of our industrialized culture have numbed most of our senses and reinforced the myth of our separateness from the natural world.  How else can the absence of outrage or public lamentation regarding the unfolding ecocide be explained?

I, like almost everyone else I know, go about my day in the routine that has been assigned to me by society.  I get up in the morning, take the drugs that keep my blood pressure in check, eat something processed, wash up and merge into the busy and confining passages that define modernity.  Living within this labyrinth discourages any introspection. There simply isn’t enough time, ever.  Thoughts about our place in the universe, or our mortality, or the meaning of it all are summarily dismissed in this culture.  In the media or in popular entertainment this subject is usually only included as a form of comic relief.  “What is the meaning of life?” has become the crux of jokes.  We are chided or ridiculed for thinking too much and sent to a cubicle to perform as a useful cog in the machine of industry; and then to another cubicle to shop for items we are told we need or that will “enhance” our lives, and then to a cubicle that we are charged money to live in and sit in front of yet another cubicle that tells us what to think, how to feel, and what is important.

Cubicles via The Repetitive Swan.This is the only way that it can all work.  It is the only way that the natural world can be compartmentalized and commodified.  It is the only way that the killing ideologies of militarism, nationalism and capitalism can go unquestioned.  Now, of course, we can see it has worked all too well as we march head long into extinction with nary a concern.  But the tower of mythology that supports every aspect of industrial civilization is beginning to crumble beneath the weight of its own hubris and apathetic indulgences.  We ignored the planet’s boundaries, and now those boundaries are closing in on us fast.

The world will look very different in just a mere decade or so.  This is not a prophetic declaration, it is a certainty that is easy to demonstrate.  Our leaders, when they are not in outright denial, reinforce the absurd notion that we still have plenty of time to stop climate change even as it is abruptly shifting before our eyes.  And sustainability is nothing more than a lie of consumer capitalism.  What, after all, is worth sustaining?  A societal model that requires an economy that must grow regardless of the ecological and social costs?  Or that tolerates mass species extinction?  Or that allows for endless military aggression to ensure a constant flow of minerals and fuel to produce objects which will end up in a landfill or in the ocean for eons?  If depression and neuroses are companions of cancer and heart disease in this model of sustainability, is this really worth preserving?

The stark truth is that there is little collective will to change the path we are currently on as a species.  Its trajectory is solidly towards collapse of the biosphere.  And even if monumental changes were implemented tomorrow by the powers that be it would not stop the seas from rising, or stop the process of ocean acidification, or resolve the plastic soup that churns at its center, or solve the never ending meltdown at Chernobyl or Fukushima, or prevent the release of methane from the seabed, or stave off famine for millions of people, and bring back thousands of species now gone forever.

Greetings from California by Joe Webb.I realize that this entire essay is antithetical to the zeitgeist of interminable optimism that defines our age.  In truth, I gave up trying to fit into this model a long time ago when I saw it as merely a kind of collective psychosis.  I write because, selfishly, I must.  It is my silent scream outward from a dark, interior pain of alienation, frustration and sadness.  I am not looking for a magic elixir or a pharmaceutical or an intervention to medicate or block out this pain either.  I want to feel it because it exists and because this is a culture that I wish to separate myself from; and I think we must all feel it and show this publicly while we still have time.  I don’t think that doing any of this will spare us the calamities that appear to be waiting for us just down the road, but maybe it can help us reclaim a sense of meaning to it all that has been robbed from us by an insipid, manic and brutal system of mindless consumption, and vacuous distraction.

I see what is unfolding and I cannot help but feel great sorrow.  My scream of anguish, though silent, can no longer be inward.  I am in mourning.  I grieve all that has been and will be lost.  And I will place a black wreath upon my door and wear a black cloth around my arm for all the world to see, not because I am brave, but because I simply cannot grieve in silence anymore.

Kenn Orphan  2016

On Being a Climate Migrant

When I first moved to San Diego twenty years ago I fell in love.  Blue skies, blue Pacific, lush, rolling hills of scrub oak and chaparral and warm sun most of the year. Back then the freeways did not seem to be full all day and night as they do now. People weren’t as aggressive towards each other either. I could walk along the beach alone and feel like I was the only one for miles; and the tide pools were brimming with life. The containment of urban sprawl was a cherished community value. The cost of living may have been high compared to many other places, but one could enjoy a very satisfying life even with a meager income.

San Diego Traffic. Photo from LA Times Blog.Now living here has become very costly, and enjoyment a rare luxury. The people seem perpetually hurried and harried. And so many of the hilltops have been scraped away for housing developments, shopping malls and industrial parks. Wildlife has been cordoned off into “preserves” and roadways lace the canyons and mesas. Make no mistake, I love California and will always consider it my home in many ways. But the state I knew only exists in memory. And now we are facing a megadrought in a place where the population is ballooning with seemingly few taking notice.

Suburban Sprawl in San Diego. Photo, Getty Images.So my partner and I decided a couple years ago that it was time to move on. We are collecting what we need and embracing our loved ones before we embark on a journey northward to the place of my ancestry and that I consider a home from my childhood, in what is shaping up to be the last epoch of human civilization as we know it.  I would like to carve out a small sanctuary in one of the few pristine places left on the planet. Is this hyperbolic? Am I only two cans of corn away from being an “end times prepper?”   I’m sure to many Americans I am being extreme. When I tell people that I am migrating from California because of abrupt climate change, and the ecological and societal collapse that will accompany it, I am often met with blank stares or eye rolls. I think this is because the reality of our dire circumstances has not yet hit home to most Americans who live in privileged, coastal cities. But to those of us who are paying attention the approaching maelstrom is undeniable.

San Bernadino Fires Getty

Homes fall to flash flooding in California. Source NBC News.Our planet has been warming, but this trend has taken leaps and bounds in the past few years with each one hotter than the last. Records are being shattered each month. For most of the world’s population calamity is not some distant risk factor. Water scarcity and famine now tower over hundreds of millions of people from Sudan to India to Malaysia and beyond like ravenous angels of death. Species extinction is accelerating across the globe as well. It is like watching a dystopic science fiction flick with no end of the chaos in sight.

Drought in India. Photo Source India Water Portal.

Rohingya Refugees Source The GuardianTo say that all of this is overwhelming is an understatement. But I think what is perhaps worse than this is living in the heart of a culture where grief is ridiculed and that is defined by a collective disconnect from the unfolding reality of ecocide. The sham that is American democracy is also demoralizing, especially when given the current spectacle we are seeing in the Presidential election cycle. And with climate change appearing to accelerate, the prospect of living in a divisive, burgeoning police state is terrifying to say the least. Dying empires cast long shadows of cruel absurdity as they unravel. And if one lingers too long in its darkness the soul begins to wither and harden.

Bread and Circuses Source International TimesSo I am declaring myself a climate migrant. But I am lucky. I do not have to clamber on to shoddy boats and risk drowning, or take a perilous journey on foot across a parched and dangerous land. I see what is ahead and I have the privilege of fleeing from a lot of it. This isn’t much consolation, though. Only a smug sociopath would get satisfaction with being right in this instance. For anyone with a conscience there is no joy in telling people “I told you so” when faced with their suffering and sorrow, even if you have been largely ignored or dismissed as over the top for years. Some can do this with ease. They can point jagged, scornful fingers at the smoker who is now dying from lung cancer, and feel somehow justified in doing so even as such callousness reduces their own humanity to ashes. I believe that the depth of ones character is measured in the compassion one has for other beings; and I haven’t shed near enough tears to measure up to the tremendous suffering of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Young Buck On The Second Peninsula Lunenburg Nova Scotia is a photograph by William OBrien.

Giants Lake Wilderness, Nova Scotia. Source, The Chronicle Herald.I hope that this move will at least demonstrate just how serious and dire I think things really are. Maybe it will cause some to sit up and pay attention. I realize that most people do not have the resources to take bold steps like this; and I am not attempting to cast myself as a martyr. I do not possess the spiritual credentials to warrant such a distinction anyway. But I think if more of us take steps, big or small, that shun mindless consumerism and recognize the urgent state we are all in, we may have a chance of building communities of compassionate souls who cherish each other and hold sacred this beautiful planet while we still have time left to do so.  I can only hope it will.

Kenn Orphan  2016

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