Category Archives: Nature

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Arrival: Toward Nonlinear Time and Consciousness

In the film Arrival nonlinear time is understood through the structure of a language, specifically that which humans come to learn from the advanced beings who have paid a visit to our primitive time-bound planet. Theirs is ideogrammatic in form and concept, with fractal squiggles of ink delivering constellations of meaning. Inspired, I come out of the theatre wondering how English, for example, might be reprogrammed to convey the same sense of nonlinear time. Arrival uses the language of film: with cuts mid-scene, flashbacks and flashforwards, interposed with chronology. In life this understanding can be approached by synchronicity: in which forces converge to prove the apprehension of interconnectivity.

For example, as I sat through the largely actionless first half of the film, I was preoccupied with my own thoughts and feelings about relationship, a seeming distraction… until later, the film turns on a developing relationship between the two communications experts, the scientist and the linguist. A particular synchronicity appeared in the reference to the “non-zero-sum game,” one night after I had written in a blog post of the competing debates over climate change in just such terms. Was I prescient when writing those words the night before? Or I am merely aspiring to attach meaning to this random coincidence of which any person could find a similar recognition in any of the hundreds of dialogue snippets in the film? This is another ability of language: to use a particular instance to represent a universal condition.

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If language can be a tool of cosmic understanding, as was attempted in the Vedas, can it also be used today as a weapon of peace, by which to blast open or subvert our conditioned minds to grasp the interconnection of all beings, the harmony of desires and common ground of multiple truths? Can this universe, this earth, this medium and this transmission of writer to reader stand for all possible universes, planets, media and conversations, embodying that feature essential to any successful communication, the transfer of understanding? Such learning might be the ultimate survival tool, which in fact, as Jared Diamond argues in The Third Chimpanzee, drove our very brain development in a period when the resulting cooperation proved essential to the species.

In further resonance with this key history of language, Diamond comes full circle to the present crossroads of history, quoted in an article (“Stay Alert, America: The Worst Is Yet to Come”) by John Whitehead, which I just read and shared prior to writing this article.

We’ve been stuck in this political Groundhog’s Day for so long that minor deviations appear to be major developments while obscuring the fact that we’re stuck on repeat, unable to see the forest for the trees.

This is what is referred to as creeping normality, or a death by a thousand cuts.

It’s a concept invoked by Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond to describe how major changes, if implemented slowly in small stages over time, can be accepted as normal without the shock and resistance that might greet a sudden upheaval.

Diamond’s concerns are environmental in nature, but they are no less relevant to our understanding of how a once-free nation could willingly bind itself with the chains of dictatorship.

Writing about Easter Island’s now-vanished civilization and the societal decline and environmental degradation that contributed to it, Diamond explains, “In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism… Why didn’t they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?”

His answer: “I suspect that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper.”

Much like America’s own colonists, Easter Island’s early colonists discovered a new world—“a pristine paradise”—teeming with life. Almost 2000 years after its first settlers arrived, Easter Island was reduced to a barren graveyard by a populace so focused on their immediate needs that they failed to preserve paradise for future generations.

This last conclusion dovetails with another film, which I saw last night, Before the Flood, which shows where we are now and we’re we’re headed if we don’t change our ways of living and our way of thinking—toward the eco-dystopia of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.

Indeed, my only hope as a wielder of language is that the skillful use of this tool will make possible wider and deeper understanding of what is possible, beyond the limits of our conventional bounded reality, personal and collective; a felt appreciation of the sacred beauty of nature’s creation, and of the possibility and necessity of living in harmony with it, and our fellow creatures, in body and spirit.

 

Before the Flood

Before the Flood, a Leonardo DiCaprio documentary about climate change, was shown as a fundraising event for the Standing Rock camp for land and water rights in North Dakota. The connection between the two issues is represented by the Dakota Access Pipeline. Together these issues point to a variety of all-important problems and paths to solutions. Here are some that come to mind after the viewing:

The role of corporate power, in driving both fossil fuels and the propaganda against climate change science.

The urgency of the time frame in which action is possible to prevent cataclysmic changes: ; devastating weather events like droughts, floods, hurricanes and forest fires; rising sea levels in coastal cities and farmlands, causing displacement and conflict over resources; dying of species, oceans and ecosystems, and human cultures that depend on them.

p1030876-800x600The need to engage in the issue where we are, at our point of contact with the fossil fuel industry system: wells and fracking sites, seismic lines, pipelines, ports.

The need to deconstruct the opposing arguments. The climate deniers suspect proponents of the carbon tax for a conflict of interest, through global financial governance, from the measures they propose to reduce climate change. On the other side, climate change activists can target the self-serving links between the media-scienced political hirelings of the deniers and funding by fossils like the Koch brothers. But it’s not a zero sum game… or a game at all. The problem comes down to trusting the globalists (like Obama) to solve climate change, when they are tied to the existing rule of the fossil fuel industry as part of the financial elite; and when they propose technocratic solutions like geoengineering, AKA chemtrails, as the preferred method of solving the problem so we can continue our overfueled lifestyles.

So if not global, then local. But the antiglobalist Trump is also a denier, and heavily invested, as it happens, in the Dakota Access pipeline. Meanwhile in Canada we have the neoliberal Trudeau likely approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Site C dam, and other catastrophes for the indigenous peoples of the region, the local ecosystems, and global warming.

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So we talk to our neighbors, feel the pain of the problem and the struggle, which is not only the world’s pain but the toxic effects of all this denial, both collective and personal, in one’s own body, heart and soul. Because even if we are aware and educated, even if we are concerned and taking action, our lives our programmed and dependent, woven into the very fabric of this matrix of destruction and falsehood. We all wear this cloak of denial, in every visit to the gas pump, each bite of cheeseburger or palm-oiled potato chip, every footprint we make on this overtaxed earth. We destroy, we burn, we exterminate. So we must accept this pain too and learn to live with it, making amends where we can. Exposing the hard choices to shared scrutiny, and putting heads and hearts and hands together to try things a different way.

youthThis too is where alternative governance grows: in the one-to-one, local village style (as at the Standing Rock camp). Where people have evolved to survive over millennia, not just one empire at a time. Taking care of where we are, where we call home, and knowing it deeper than our pavement. Feeling the earth beneath our feet, and the connection to our brothers and sisters in this species and all elements of the sacred creation. Deny this and we are as nothing, going nowhere for no purpose, and erasing all in our path.

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Jumbo Pass: The Edge of Tomorrow

The novella Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass is based on a real-life adventure, a tale of survival in the heart of wilderness: Jumbo Pass, situated between the East and West Kootenay valleys in southeast British Columbia. That pristine wilderness is threatened by a massive tourist development for the benefit an Italian megacorp. Despite rubberstamp support from the BC government bureaucracy, 90% of area residents oppose the development, as they have since the early 1990s when the scheme first was proposed. In this clip Sean Rodman sings of the struggle and what is at stake (and note, when the camera pans, the little cabin where the action of Rendezvous takes place):

This week I saw the Tom Cruise sci-fi action thriller, Edge of Tomorrow. If you liked Groundhog Day and can stomach a heavy diet of mechanized mayhem, you’ll enjoy this latest twist of the narrative device, the time loop. Deja vu all over again. Watch the trailer… and then, if you want a more natural version of the same kind of story, head on up to Jumbo, hitching a ride on the gondola called Rendezvous at Jumbo Pass.

New: Jumbo Wild – documentary film (2015)