IMG_2891What do you mean by the Age of Consequences?

We live in what sustainability pioneer Wes Jackson calls “the most important moment in human history.” The various challenges confronting us are like a bright warning light in the dashboard of a speeding vehicle called Civilization, accompanied by an insistent and annoying buzzing sound, requiring immediate attention. I call this moment the Age of Consequences—a time when the worrying consequences of our hard partying over the past sixty years have begun to bite, raising difficult and anguished questions.

Part One: Wisdom without Doctrine

 
1.

The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it is true – in terms of being handed down from heaven to the sound of trumpets and supernaturally governed by prophets and celestial beings.

To save time, and at the risk of losing readers painfully early on in this project, let us bluntly state that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense. This is a book for people who are unable to believe in miracles, spirits or tales of burning shrubbery, and have no deep interest in the exploits of unusual men and women like the thirteenth-century saint Agnes of Montepulciano, who was said to be able to levitate two feet off the ground while praying and to bring children back from the dead – and who, at the end of her life (supposedly), ascended to heaven from southern Tuscany on the back of an angel.

Ten miles of rough road separate the ghost town of Bodie from the paved highway. Swift-moving clouds add to the particularly scenic melancholy. In a group of people, Bodie is charming, even a little mysterious; but when you stand alone in the shade of a crumbling house, you feel the severed edge of civilization. Bodie’s allure runs deeper than the harpsichord in the schoolroom or the bleached swatches in the window of the general store. Bodie embodies the hope that no matter how brutal our present, the past was infinitely worse.

Here are some quick, belated thoughts on why the Star Trek universe (which should be celebrated) is appropriately analogous to Columbus Day (which should not be celebrated):

One of Star Trek’s main purposes is to revise the tenets and practices of imperialism and colonialism, to promote the idea that humans can perhaps explore the world (the universe) around them without actually conquering it.

Dear Real Bigfoot,

I super love you. I want to hug you. You might not like that. I wonder what you smell like. Like a wild animal, I guess, but you’re not a wild animal. You’re different. You’re a freak of nature, and I mean that in the most outstanding way. You are electric and organic and everything the rest of us wish we were. You are what e.e. cummings wanted us to be. You are everything we’ve lost touch with: Nature, body hair, animal instincts, and the sheer size of life. You’re a hunter-gatherer, baby, and that is hot.

When I saw the photo of you last week, I was skeptical, of course. All photos of Bigfoot or other legendary creatures are subject to skepticism because, as reasonable, mature, working adults, we can’t be always buying into fantastical stories then finding out we were duped. The whole Santa Claus thing was embarrassing enough. Do you know about Santa Claus? Do you even concern yourself with this stuff?

Anyway, I was skeptical, but the thought of you stirred such strong feelings in me that I felt compelled to write to you. I hope you can read, or I hope someone reads this to you, maybe some very lucky liaison of the hairless world who brings you snacks and cookies in the woods and shows you how to read and stuff. But you are such a savvy woodsman you probably don’t need that kind of help, and in fact, the cookies would be an interference with your natural, healthy diet. Look how strong you are, how tall, how stealthy and smart, how luxurious your hair! You don’t need anything from us soft, bald, squishy, oil-addicted, technology-dependent folks, and that is what I love about you. I dare say that’s what all of us love about you — you are so not us in all the right ways, even if you are exactly like us in some other ways.

My first instinct was to say that photo was a hoax because people are always claiming to have seen, found, caught or even killed you. I know, it’s awful. Last year, some guys even produced a frozen corpse, which I was so grateful to discover was only an ape suit, and not even a very good one. I was completely offended by that hoax and didn’t want to be fooled again, but I can’t help it. I want to believe in you more than I want to believe in God.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be calling you “Bigfoot.” It’s like if you called me “Squishythighs.” I wouldn’t appreciate that very much. I’d like to give you a name. I’d like to call you Francis. It’s a good name, gender neutral, and has a bit of a rock-n-roll twist while being quite classic. If you don’t like it, I can call you something else, OK? But for now, I’m going to call you Francis.

So, Francis, sometimes I day dream about the life you must live. So many of us supposedly civilized people have drifted so far away from what matters most — and I’m not just talking about family and love — we’ve lost touch with our real survival needs, our health, our basic nature. I’m talking about eating, breeding and staying warm. You’ve got that down.

Is your life hard? Do you like it? Is it worth living? The rest of us tend to think we couldn’t cope with life if we didn’t have our houses, our jobs, and our cars, and yet those are the very things that make our lives so complicated. I don’t want to lose my job, and yet, in any given day, the hardest thing I have to deal with is most likely related to my job. Most of us are in codependent relationships with our jobs, wanting to be free of the responsibilities of work, yet feeling that without the money we earn from work, we couldn’t be happy. What kind of sense does that make?

I wish you could tell me about your days, Francis. Do you spend a lot of time looking for food? Do you cook your food over a fire, admiring the warm glow on the faces of your family? Or do you eat it alone, satisfied by your natural ability to provide for yourself? Are you tired at the end of the day? Do you wonder if there is more to life than eating, breeding and staying warm? I wonder, too.

I love you, Francis Bigfoot.

Sincerely,
Mary Squishythighs

Visceral

By Mary Hendrie

Essay

Visceral: Of or pertaining to the viscera.

Viscera: The organs in the cavities of the body, especially the abdominal cavity.

Viscus: Singular of viscera

Viscous: Of a glutinous nature or consistency; sticky; thick; adhesive

Vicious: Addicted to or characterized by vice; grossly immoral; depraved; profligate

I could go on looking up definitions of words all day. My vocabulary is so lacking. Visceral, though. That’s a good one.

This word keeps cropping up lately, mostly when people describe their reactions to dramatic events. A visceral reaction: instinctive, possibly even impulsive, wild, presumably a strong response. An animal moment. A moment in which we are not just in touch with our guts but ruled by them. One with them. We are intestines.

[Go ahead. Allow yourself to get strange. Maintaining normalcy is exhausting.]

Visceral is a car wreck, the way time slows down, the way we have no clue, no matter what we tell the police and the insurance adjustor and the other driver, no clue what we did in that split second that allowed us to live. We just remember spinning.

My theory, and I always have one, is that we use these words to reflect more of what we wish we were than what we actually are. We are so goddamned civilized, or at least on the surface, with all our methods and tools. With all our evolution, we are standing up straight, even at an unnatural incline in our shoes, and we are buttoned down and made up and watching the news and trying not to cry because it will damage the five-minute-makeup job we have perfected. I cannot cry over Iran because I will have to explain myself, and I didn’t bring the makeup to patch up, and there is nothing crazier than crying at your laptop because someone across the world got beat up by a cop.

Civilized people know these things happen and do not cry about it.