Fantasies, Fables No Longer Enough For Fragile World
According to the Old Testament, the last time God got fed up with the mess humans had made of the Earth, He instructed Noah to build a big watertight vessel and stock it with one breeding pair of every living thing and provisions for 40 days. Those lucky few would thus ride out God's planned "ethnic cleansing"of serious but unspecified earthly "wickedness"(perhaps gay marriage and evolution?) and survive to replenish the Earth.
Of course not everything went according to plan. Apparently a couple of snakes balked at the instructions relayed by Noah to "Go forth and multiply," claiming that they couldn't do that because they were Adders.
But Noah was no dummy. He cobbled together a table out of some tree trunks and presented it to the snakes, saying: "This is a log table. Now you can multiply by adding."
Sorry, Reader. I have led you down a slippery slope, from a widely-accepted cultural myth to a story whose only point is a pair of bad puns.
But before I get tempted to further fancies (Bush the Uniter multiplying by dividing?) let's look at where the myths and stories on which we base our understanding of the world have landed us after four millennia (Biblical calculation), fourteen thousand years (since the last Ice Age) or four million years (evolutionary time) of humans and other living things multiplying and filling up the Earth.
Last weekend I attended my high school class reunion - Kent State High School Class of 1948. Members of my class were always largely Democrats, their politics haven't changed much in 60 years. Most are presently appalled at the Bush administration, at the human and financial cost of war, at torture and illegal detention and surveillance, at energy dependence and costs, global hunger, global warming and the costs of health care.
They're optimistic that the Democrats will sweep both Congress and the White House in the fall but pessimistic about what a new administration can accomplish, and generally gloomy about the likelihood of some Bush administration dirty-trick before the election - a designer psychodrama of a terrorist attack, or a staged incident to rationalize bombing Iran.
My septuagenarian classmates had concluded that we were wrong to invade Iraq, that Iraq had no WMD and was no threat to us, and that there were other good options for dealing with Saddam Hussein. Likewise Iran. They don't believe stories about Iran's nuclear weapons and think there are other good options for Iran. They were also very uneasy at Israel's nuclear arsenal and Israel's continued use of force against the Palestinians.
Yet most classmates agreed the U.S. was justified in using nuclear bombs on Japan, because we had no other option: "The Japs were very close to having an atomic bomb" or "The only other way we could defeat them was by invading." "They were killers, they didn't play by the rules of war" "They would have committed national suicide rather than surrender."
Though I don't agree with this conclusion I can see the logic behind it and understand the lifetime of stories we've all heard and told about World War II. I can't prove them wrong, either to them or to myself.
I recently started to track news articles, looking for stories that revealed events or practices that had been previously concealed from the public, those that had been dramatized to sway public opinion, and those designed to create some reality that didn't exist in the real world . I quickly realized that about 95% fell into those categories - very little was just plain reporting of events.
Over the last 60 years, as we became passive consumers of prepackaged TV programming, there has been a steady creep in news/public information from plain reporting to interpretation to persuasion/marketing to fabricated realities created to serve private interests. We now have masters of special effects using the tricks of theater and illusion: invention, deception, selection, repetition, distraction, disinformation, decked out in music and mantras, lights, mirrors, and glitter, masks and makeup, costumes, props and scenery in support of assorted facts, fictions, or frauds, depending on who's paying.
Since we disembarked from the Ark, planted crops behind receding glaciers, or crawled out of the primeval ocean [choose your favorite story] we've not only filled Earth with 6.7 billion humans, we're eating it up, driving other living things to extinction, consuming forests and fisheries and stores of fossil energy, and on the verge of creating our very own flood. Spurred by cultural and religious myths and political and economic fables, we are killing one another with advanced technologies of war, robbing our fellow humans of the means to sustain themselves, and triggering new forms of hunger and disease.
The stories we use to justify our actions and beliefs are squushy at best - fables or fantasies that reassure us that we belong to human society, that we see what others see and reason as others reason, that we do the right thing most of the time, and that we share a common reality, one that will be the same tomorrow morning.
But it's fairly apparent that most of these stories aren't adequate for a world approaching seven billion human souls and bristling with deadly weapons. Since no God has commissioned an Ark this time, we'd better get busy ourselves.
Can we say " No" to war and weapons? to unlimited personal consumption of oil? to the proliferating fictions and frauds of infotainment?
Can we say "Contraception"? "Renewable energy"? "Sustainability"?
Can we say "Impeachment"?