Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reversing corruption and greed in America

One man, one vision...

Here is a book that I have really enjoyed, so I thought I would share a few passages with you.

Excerpt from the book The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eustace Conway created Turtle Island—the thousand-acre perfect cosmos of his own design—the ultimate teaching facility, a university-in-the-raw, a wild monastery. Because, after years of studying primitive societies and after countless experience of personal transformation within the wilderness, Eustace has formed a mighty dogma. He is convinced that the only way modern America can begin to reverse its inherent corruption and greed and malaise is by feeling the rapture that comes from face-to-face encounters with what he calls "the high art and godliness of nature."

It is his belief that we Americans, through our constant striving for convenience, are eradicating the raucous and edifying beauty of our true environment and replacing that beauty with a safe but completely
faux "environment." What Eustace sees is a society steadily undoing itself, it might be argued, by its own over-resourcefulness. Clever, ambitious, and always in search of greater efficiency, we Americans have, in two short centuries, created a world of push-button, round-the-clock-comfort for ourselves. The basic needs of humanity—food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, transportation, and even sexual pleasure—no longer need to be personally labored for or ritualized or even understood. All these things are available to us now for mere cash. Or credit. Which means that nobody needs to know how to do anything anymore, except that one narrow skill that will earn enough money to pay for the convenience and services of modern living.

But in replacing every challenge with a shortcut we seem to have lost something, and Eustace isn't the only person feeling that loss. We are an increasingly depressed and anxious people—and not for nothing. Arguably, all these modern conveniences have been adopted to save us time. But time for
what? Having created a system that tends to our every need without causing us undue exertion or labor, we can now fill these hours with...?

Well, for one thing, television—loads of it, hours of it, days and weeks and months of it in every
American's lifetime. Also, work. Americans spend more and more hours at their jobs every year; in almost every household both parents (if there are two parents) must work full-time outside the home to pay for all these goods and services. Which means a lot of commuting. Which means a lot of stress. Less connection to family and community. Fast-food meals eaten in cars on the way to and from work. Poorer health all the time. (America is certainly the fattest and most inactive society in history, and we're packing on more pounds every year. We seem to have the same disregard for our bodies as we do for our other natural resources; if a vital organ breaks down, after all, we always believe we can just buy a new one. Somebody else will take care of it. Same way we believe that somebody else will plant another forest someday if we use this one up. That is, if we even notice that we're using it up.)

There's an arrogance to such an attitude, but—more than that—there's a profound alienation. We have fallen out of rhythm. It's this simple. If we don't cultivate our own food supply anymore, do we need to pay attention to the idea of say, seasons? Is there any difference between winter and summer if we can eat strawberries every day? If we can keep the temperature of our house set at a comfortable 70 degrees all year, do we need to notice that fall is coming? Do we have to prepare for that? Respect that? Much less contemplate what it means for our own mortality that things die in nature every autumn? And when spring does come round again, do we need to notice that rebirth? Do we need to take a moment and maybe thank anybody for that? Celebrate it? If we never leave our house except to drive to work, do we need to be even remotely aware of this powerful, humbling, extraordinary, and eternal life force that surges and ebbs around us all the time?

Apparently not. Because we seem to have stopped paying attention. Or this is what Eustace Conway perceives when he looks around America. He sees a people who have fallen out of step with the natural cycles that have defined humanity's existence and culture for
millennia. Having lost that vital connection with nature, the nation is in danger of losing its humanity. We are not alien visitors to the planet, after all, but natural residents and relatives of every living entity here. This earth is where we came from and where we'll all end up when we die, and, during the interim, it is our home. And there's no way we can ever hope to understand ourselves if we don't at least marginally understand our home. That is the understanding we need to put our lives in some bigger metaphysical context.

Instead, Eustace sees a chilling sight—citizenry so removed from the rhythms of nature that we march through our lives as mere sleep-walkers, blinded, deafened, and senseless. Robotically
existing in sterilized surroundings that numb the mind, weaken the body, and atrophy the soul. But Eustace believes we can get our humanity back. When we contemplate the venerable age of a mountain, we get it. When we observe the superb order of water and sunlight, we get it. When we experience firsthand the brutal poetry of the food chain, we get it. When we are mindful of every nuance of our natural world, we finally get the picture: that we are each given only one dazzling moment of life here on Earth, and we must stand before that reality both humbled and elevated, subject to every law of our universe and grateful for our brief but intrinsic participation within it.

Granted, this is not a radical concept. Every environmentalist in the world operates on a philosophy based on these same hypotheses. But what sets Eustace Conway apart from every other environmentalist is the
peculiar confidence he's had since earliest childhood that it is his personal destiny to snap his countrymen out of their sleepwalk. He has always believed that he alone has this power and this responsibility, that he was to be the vessel of change. One man, one vision.

We may not all agree with this one man's view of the way things are or how they should be, but after reading this book, you will have to admire the man's clarity of purpose. His convictions are unwavering. His vision is focused and sharp. He has himself a mission, a goal. He has taken the three-point stance, has lowered his horns and is plunging forward with everything he's got, holding nothing back—Lord help anyone or anything who gets in his way.

What wouldn't we all give to have so clear a picture of who we are and why we are here, on this planet?


No comments:

Post a Comment