Monday, October 31, 2011

The Needle and the Camel

 I am writing again.  I currently live in a giant metal warehouse.  I don’t have a yard, no garden, no neighbors.  I walk around an industrial part of town with Chico, my Portuguese water dog for those who don’t know, at night and listen to the sound of cars whizzing by on the 101 freeway.  It is strange to think how much things change in a short amount of time.  I am working on the dissertation and I have a big trip planned, but I can’t be silent.  I tried to turn it all off and focus inward.  After so many months consumed by my own heart, I am out and watching a world fall apart in some ways, but also be built up in ways that lift my heart.
                I support the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  It is pretty easy to support them, but the more I find myself in arguments and debates over what it means and how it works, the more I realize I can’t ignore it either.  I am a creature of Thoreau.  There are four men, from about the same time period, who influence me every day.  I try to simplify my life because of Thoreau.  He reminds me that non-violent civil disobedience is more than a right, it is stronger than any gun we could wave.  Whitman reminds me to love.  He rips open my minuscule ideas of compassion, splays open my heart to a world sometimes so ready to stomp it down, all you can do is hope.  Twain reminds me that as cruel as the world might be, we must find laughter in the ways we fight it.  And lastly, perhaps most importantly, I hear the quiet and subtle voice of Lincoln making decisions and acting in ways in which you know has serious repercussions, but it is ethically and morally right.  In Lincoln’s haunting face I see the hard decision of thousands of battlefield deaths and yet sometimes a decision has to be made.  Somebody has to rise up and finally say, “this isn’t right; things should be better.”
                This morning, I rolled up the large metal door to the early morning sun cresting the Coast Range Mountains.  As the door squeaked and cried awake, I looked out into the industrial lots and asphalt; non-native ice plant creeps along the hillside used for erosion control, non-native pampas grass reaches panicle flowers up into the new sun, waving in the delicate morning ocean breeze, and wind-blown seeds glimmer against another day.  Soon, the monarch butterflies will return in droves to the coast.  Where the cypress trees once wintered the vitis-like lianas of orange and black butterflies, bunches of drooping wings now dangle from non-native Eucalyptus trees.  The smell of Eucalyptus is engrained into my childhood as if the trees were always meant to be here.  In my lifetime, wine grapes have taken over the hillsides where cattle roamed before them, dry bean farming before them, and sage seeds and oak acorn before them.
                And when the so-called native people arrived 5000 years ago, the landscape was different.  When the mountains that migrated here on the Pacific Plate emerged from the ocean and created the land, everything was salt water.  And perhaps it wasn’t until the same land washed out to see and long shore currents carried sand south closing the gap between South and North America, creating the Panamas isthmus, that real migration took hold—the great exchange between what we now call South and North America.  The isthmus closed off ocean currents and created the current jet stream, pushed the ice age back up to the poles, opened land bridges, warmed the new land for seeds carried by tides and birds and the wind.  Change is forever and constant.  The very land we stand on is moving north.  The recent earthquakes are reminders that everything west of the San Andreas Fault is land of the ocean.  And one day, if our beautiful sun permits the earth the time, this land will cross out to sea up near San Francisco, and possibly submerge back down into the blue depths.  Nothing stays the same; nothing is permanent.
                And yet the idea of stasis, the abstract thought of forever, is an idea conceived in the minds of a species alive and able to think about these topics for a fraction of a second.  Nothing is forever, not love, not the human race, not land, and not even the boulders strewn about the hillside.  Adaptation and evolution is the key to survival.  As land moves, so must we.
                As the earth’s population crosses the 7 billion mark today, we have to learn to realize that nothing remains the same.  There is no great golden age of politics, no perfect time of the past.  I don’t believe in a Garden of Eden.  What was is a story we tell, a lesson we learn to help maximize reproductive fitness now.  The earth wasn’t created for us, we were created for it.  We are part of a long line of evolutionary history stemming out from the stars.  And when I look out into the winter constellations of Orion rising to the east at night, I wonder why?  Is there an end goal?  What is the next step of evolution that carries us out into the Universe?  Are we nothing but a pale blue rock floating in a dark abyss one day silenced by supernova?  Perhaps that is too big to even think about.  I don’t know where we are going or why.  I do know that arguably few other species on this earth form the type of relations we do with other people.  And some learn to love the plants, the animals, the landscapes of the world around us because our survival is not solitary, not species specific, but interdependent.  And yet, we fight wars, mostly over resources such as oil and water, but often over stories of supernatural people with powers to walk on water and convert wine to blood, people who can speak directly to a being we can’t see or completely fathom but hope exists because the abyss is too daunting and scary to face.
                And here I am, alone in a metal warehouse in an industrial part of my hometown.  But, I’m not really alone.  I have friends, family, and even you—the people I love.  I would do almost anything for any one of you.  Would I kill for you?  That is the real question on my mind.  Should I ever be asked to do such things for love?  What would I give up in order to make sure not a single one you have to die?  My own life?
                Jesus is a figure in some people’s lives and in the stories they tell not because of some link to the supernatural or the hereafter.  He simply said, kill me, and let them go.  I don’t really know what he was blamed for, or why he needed to die.  I do believe he sacrificed to save other people’s lives.  Lots of people have done such things in history; they are martyrs and heroines.  Now, I don’t know all the motives of the people currently “occupying” different towns and places across the world, but I do know that the same mentality is there.  People involved in non-violent protest put their lives in jeopardy because they care about the world and the people in it.  They say things could, and should, be better.  I don’t know how anyone can say, I deserve more than you.  I do understand giving and saying, here, you need this more than I do.  Have we come so far in this history of earth to finally kill each other over big houses, big cars, big TV’s, and big egos?
                It is time to turn to science, to learn to use science.  It is not religion, but an orderly system of looking at the world around us and trying to make the best decisions possible.  With 7 billion of us, there are a few things I think, as intelligent people, we should be able to figure out.  Every single person should have healthy food.  We do know what a healthy diet looks like; we know how to grow foods that are healthy and sustainable.  Nobody should ever knowingly die from dehydration.  When there are massive droughts in part of the world, we can figure out how to bring water to every single person.  Where there is water, it should be as clean as we possibly figure out how to make it.  We are made of water. When we make a mistake and pollute the water, we do everything in our means to repair it.  I don’t care who it is, what their religion is, the color of their skin, or the amount of money in their wallet, when someone is sick, they should get medical attention to the best of the world’s ability.  Nobody’s life is more important than another. Nobody should get rich off of sick people.  We should use the minds and the resources of 7 billion people to heal and cure.
                Lastly, we must educate.  Everyone needs to understand how to use science, not as a belief, but as a method of observing the world, collecting information, and making informed decisions.  We must teach how the earth sustains life (ecologic literacy), and then how to come together to communicate, debate, and decide on actions.  We debate, not to win the debate, but to make the best decision possible.  Debate is not about the debater winning or beating the other person.  It is not a sports game where the outcome of one side beating the other side amounts to nothing but bruised egos.  We are talking about policy and decision making.  As groups, we listen to the debate and then continue the conversation amongst ourselves deciding why one seems more appropriate than the other, and often we compromise.  When things are inconclusive, we conduct more research and use science to try and help us make that informed decisions more informed.  Most of our efforts towards making decisions are to make sure we don’t hurt the food supply, the water source, or the health and well-being of any human.  We can no longer afford to agree to disagree.  People are rich, in our current view of wealth, only if there are things for them to buy.  Money is a social contract.  As a people, we make money have value.
                Thoreau reminds me that I don’t need much to live—good food, good water.  Whitman reminds me that the only real reason to live is to love.  “I give you my love, more precious than money, I give you myself.”  As Mark Twain once said, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”  Lincoln once said, at the beginning to the Civil War, in his first message to Congress, when not a single slave state voted for him, “This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”
                We are here, in the middle of trying to change something.  People are rising up to the streets and demanding for change.  The lists of demands are fairly clear regardless of how some media try to portray them.  As Thoreau once said, “To speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”
                It is evening now.  The fog is rolling in as I go to roll the door shut.  I can see the fingers of fog as they creep through the valleys, the ocean reaching up onto land.  I can feel the cold moisture in the air.  As the fog hits the warm metal building, the water molecules condense and I can hear the way the ocean drips off the roof splashing onto asphalt.  The asphalt is slowly eroding away.  I can see where the water runs and will keep running.  It takes time.