Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Brothers Grimm Launch Point

Thursday, November 03, 2011—Orange, CA

Still trudging thru this difficult semester. I feel, though, like I’m getting a handle on things—finally. My hip/back is more or less back to normal and I’m getting caught up on my school work; all I have to do is rework a few lectures and then my semester will mellow out considerably. What’s really frustrating me, I’m beginning to realize, is that I have so little time for serious writing. This is especially annoying in that the main reason I teach to begin with is that it’s supposed to leave me with the time to write. Oh well, at least my schedule next semester is looking much more reasonable. Maybe this forced fallow period is a blessing. I was a little burned out after finishing Mother Earth and probably needed a break. I just don’t like being pushed into anything—I want my writing to wax and wain because of my own internal dynamics, not because of forces coming from the outside.

Still, I’ve been getting into some interesting places intellectually lately. I think I mentioned earlier that I’ve started learning Greek. So far I’m really getting into it. Unlike romance languages, the structure of which I always found a bit counterintuitive (I’m already enjoying learning Greek far more than I ever did French, which did little beside drive me up the wall), Greek grammar makes sense to me. I also like the sound of the language, the way it feels in my mouth and brain. It’s of course very early in this journey for me and my opinions may change, but for now at least Greek really seems like I a language that I could learn well. Crossing my fingers on this one …

I’m also continuing with Grimm’s fairy tales. Telling stuff. Though I’ve long been familiar with a lot of the stories, or at least their basic themes, in other incarnations, reading them one after the other is causing me to see some patterns I only sort of noticed before. The one I find most striking is the role of the forests (the woods) in these tales. They’re always places of mystery, of strange and often dangerous happenings. They’re also places of darkness, places inhabited by bears and wolves and other creatures that inspire fear in the story’s human characters. A lot of these stories go back to the middle ages at least, I’m sure, and the social-environmental juxtapositions really bear this out. What these are are stories told by people living on farms and in towns that are surrounded by then widespread, but now mostly long-gone, European forests. As farmers, though, these people have long lost most of the important connections with their ancestral foraging past. In other words, these stories are byproducts of living near wild wooded ecosystems, but not really in them. When their (our) ancestor’s traded their foraging lifeways for that of agriculturalists they lost their knowledge of these environments—and fear tends to fill knowledge vacuums. In Grimm’s fairy tales then there is a direct connection with the advent of agriculture and our general loss of ecological knowledge. Forests have become a place to gather berries and get firewood, but little else. They are something to be tamed, culled, destroyed, turned into fields “safe” for farming. This, I’d say, directly correlates with the current collapsing of the world’s last wild ecosystems: we destroy that which we don’t understand, both out of fear and because on many levels we don’t even realizing what we’re doing—ten-thousand plus years of agriculture have left us that divorced from the wild world which spawned us.

All this ties into broader views I’m developing on human history. Like most people in the Western world I grew up viewing history as a series of political decisions—the disgusting doings of one scum-bag king after another. I now see this as a side show, the outcome of bigger forces. What history really is is the evolution of how we relate to our environments.

So far there have been two overarching modes of human behavior: the lifeway of the forager and the lifeway of the agriculturalist. The forager gains his/her living thru complex interactions with what are essentially wild ecosystems: they shape these systems only to a slightly greater degree than most other creatures in these realms. Agriculture, however, is about control. It is the mass simplification of ecosystems to meet short-term human needs, (or perceived needs): everything that does not directly serve us get ripped out and replaced with a plants and animals that will do our bidding, so to speak. We lived the first of these lifeways for millions of years (if our full hominid lineage is included). Agriculture is only 12,000-10,000 years old. Until extremely recently the most important intellectual lineage it has given us is the aforementioned diminution of general ecological knowledge—this informs nearly every move we have made, from our diets, to disease, to the nature of our towns and cities, to our rising populations, to our general social systems, to our intellectual accomplishments, to our religions, etc. etc. However, this lifeway, as we currently practice it, cannot go on.

The instability of socio-economic systems based around unthinking ecosystem simplification have always been striking—human history since the advent of agriculture can be viewed as one long series of wars over dwindling resources. As the planet hits seven billion people and we sit on the verge of planet-wide environmental collapse it has become apparent that we’re going to be entering a new phase in our existence—one way or another. If we continue as we’re going cascading ecological collapse is a given. If this happens there will be planet-wide war and famine, of which only a relative handle of people will survive, if any (the lifeway of these survivors will be the equivelent of picking thru the garbage heap of our socio-ecolocial failure). The second option will be to enter a phase in which we begin to infuse the re-aquired knowledge of our forager ancestors into our lives. The result will be a worldwide compromise with the rest of the living world. Smaller human populations. Many more wild ecosystems. Farmer as ecologist. Economics and political science taught as small subsets of ecology. A demise of the religious structures that have arisen out of predatory agricultural societies and the emergence of philosophies which combine science with the values of ancient animist-pagan notions of land and spirit being co-joined (think a kind of Daoist-sacred woods religion that both informs and learns from science instead of battling it). A human mindset thru which we see ourselves once again as part of the planet instead of its owners.

Wow, that’s a lot to get from the Brothers Grimm! It doesn’t surprise me, though—I’ve been living with these massive kind of thoughts, developing them for years now—and they’re ready to come out. One of the writing projects I see for myself in the coming years is a book of essays where I discuss these kinds of topic—in a much less tangled and better realize manner that I’ve started doing here. What I’m doing, I can now see, is using this diary as a warm up for this book. Now I’ve really interested to see where this diary will go in the coming months—I apparently have a great deal to say.

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