July 5, 2012 @ 8:26 pm
That's what the residents call this place, as part of their practice. I'm going along with that, just as I'm going along with the all-vegetarian meals, as an experiment, and I'm enjoying myself in that experiment. But sometimes the trickster wind whistles something into my ear, and I write it down for later.
Happily but ironically, it has rained – hard -- three days in a row, after the residents lamented how dry it’s been all summer. The threat of one of those rainstorms and its lightning interrupted one of our sessions up at a Sufi master’s grave site last night (the first time I saw that heart-with-wings symbol, I thought it was a Harley-Davidson logo, which probably makes me a bad person).
That performance/sermon was by a really gifted storyteller, a sleight-of-hand magician turned philosopher named David Abram. I can’t do it justice, but the gist was about how to change the consciousness of humanity so that we’ll stop destroying the biosphere. He is a gymnast of language, and it was clear from the rapt looks on many faces that it was really working for them, working IN them. Personally, I had two things running through my head much of the time:
1) The view was distractingly spectacular, not just the mountains but the lightning skittering along the undersides of the clouds, occasionally running off and pouring down to the ground. It was reminded of a passage from a D&D-inspired fantasy series called Guardians of the Flame, where Rosenberg describes the stage at the great coliseum of Pandathaway, which could either inspire an actor to the greatest performance of his career, or break him. In my peripheral vision, Abram appeared not to be breaking (not even in the Electric Boogaloo sense, which would have been awesome), so then I started wondering if it would be fair to call the Cullinane compound from GotF an intentional community. It was kind of like Lama, only with a dragon and a lot more killing of slavers.
And once those thoughts had kind of broken the spell for me, something equally playful but darker:
2) No species I know of is capable of regulating its own numbers, much less its own environmental impact. The elk in Yellowstone were not deliberately over-browsing the aspens. Bhutan and Nepal are very spiritual places, and yet they’re being deforested. So what if our spiritual technologies are simply not enough? What could shift our behavior? For the elk it was wolves, which not only reduced their numbers but changed their behavior, kept them moving so their browsing damage was spread out. What if Terminators were the “killer app” of human ecology? The movies depict a blasted earth, but would it be? Would it look more like the forest around Chernobyl, emptied of humanity and full of life?
David Brin suggested something similar at the end of Earth, though when I read that I thought the ending had a frustratingly deus ex machina kind of feel to it. A single godlike artificial intelligence creates the “angels,” whirlwinds of gravity waves that occasionally rip bad people apart, just often enough and just randomly enough that most everyone else takes the hint. At the time I thought it was dumb. But here, in this place, watching the pretty birds terrorize the insects after a rainstorm . . . ?
Academics are always playing with ideas we don’t really believe in. It’s one of the things l like about us. The frightening thing is how often other, more literal-minded people take those ideas very seriously, and implement them.