Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Derrick Jensen’s most recent book is titled As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial (Seven Stories Press). He lives in Crescent City, California.
In the dream, there was a sacred, intelligent starfish that represented — that was — my thyroid. That was the exact language of the dream: “sacred, intelligent starfish.” And in the way that these healing dreams — sometimes called “big” or “numinous” dreams — seem to work, this one had a dimension of synchronicity with waking reality: The next day, on the spur of the moment, I went with my daughter to the Boston Science Museum, where I’d never been before. They happened to have an exhibit on starfish, and someone there put a starfish in my hand and said to me, “They can regenerate.”
Five times as many farmers now die of suicide as die from equipment accidents — which, historically, have been the single biggest cause of unnatural death on the farm. And that’s not even counting suicides made to look like accidents: if you’re about to lose your farm and have life insurance, you can crawl into your combine, and your family might be able to keep the farm. Personally, I suspect there are more fraudulent accidents than straightforward gunshots to the head. So it could be that ten or fifteen times as many farmers die from suicide as die from accidents.
The hunger that is so common worldwide and that kills so many people every day does not result from a scarcity of food. Hunger is not about the relationship of people to food: it is about a human relationship in which a small number of people determine who has access to food and what is grown on what land. In Diet for a Small Planet and with my work at Food First, I’ve tried to drum home the fact that, in many of the countries where people are the most hungry, much more land is devoted to crops grown for international trade than to crops that sustain the people who work the land.
The central realization that pulled me away from monkhood was that there is no escaping from life; the spirit has to be practiced in the everyday world, and not outside of it. The world is beautiful — the earth, the land, the people — and you have to accept even pain and suffering as part of that beauty. That realization threw me into the social, political, economic, cultural arena. It convinced me that wholeness of life is paramount.
Public relations is now inseparable from the business of lobbying, creating public policy, and getting candidates elected to public office. The PR industry just might be the single most powerful political institution in the world. It expropriates and exploits the democratic rights of millions on behalf of big business by fooling the public about the issues.
I’m talking about time not existing. Time as a continuing thread that unravels in an endless progression, linking all events together while remaining independent of them — that doesn’t exist. Sequence exists. Rhythm exists. But not time. This reification of time is related to the notion of mass production and division of labor. Tick, tick, tick, as you said: Identical seconds. Identical people. Identical chores repeated endlessly. But when you realize that no two occurrences are identical, and that each moment is different from the moment before, time simply disappears. If events are always novel, then not only is routine impossible, but the notion of time is meaningless.
The notion that exposure to violence incites violence is itself media-driven. Exposure actually does something much worse than incite violence: it cultivates a sense of insecurity and dependence that makes people submit to indignities no human being should ever have to bear.
At thirteen minutes, fifty-five seconds chart time, the thought entered my mind to burn the leaf. I didn’t verbalize the idea; I didn’t touch the plant; I didn’t touch the equipment. Yet the plant went wild. The pen jumped right off the top of the chart. The only thing it could have been reacting to was the mental image.
But, once in a blue moon, we communicate with the whales in such a meaningful manner that I experience a sense of grace. That’s what communication with nonhumans is really all about. When that communication happens, no matter how subtle it is, whether or not it registers on tape or film, I feel as if I’ve been blessed. It is the greatest blessing of my life, and, in some way, it is the same experience that I see lying at the heart of religion.
Our new false god is the idea that we can order the future. It’s a secular messianic view of a world in which there will be no death, no sickness, no stupidity — a world we will have totally ordered by the force of our own intellects and technology.