Reflection 97: Reality Check

May 1, 2009


(Copyright © 2009)


On March 28th, a sunny day with no wind, I walked to the shore to see what I could see. Turkey vultures, that’s what I could see, ten of them circling overhead. I first saw such birds in the Carolinas in the 1940s, where it was claimed you could tell the difference between those over North Carolina and those over South Carolina. In the 1980s, turkey vultures appeared in Maine, and now they are regular migrants who come back every spring. These were the first I’d seen this year, so as far as my consciousness knew, they had arrived that very day. I watched them wheel in the sky, then soar on rocking wings toward the Bar Harbor hills.


Also according to my consciousness, harbor seals come back every year on April 1st—the date I’ve usually first seen them. And great blue herons arrive on the same date—when I’ve actually seen them fly into their colonial nesting site. Robins and hermit thrushes come in great flocks a little later in April. The point being that the spring thaw happens roughly the same time every year, and migrating birds ride the north-trending wave of warmth (and food) which follows the thaw.


The thaw and subsequent migrations are natural events, what I call real-world events. The survival of millions of birds depends on them every year. People may not pay much attention to them, but they are taking place all the same. I mention them here to provide a contrast with the world many humans inhabit which is a cultural world built on expectation of comfort, profit, and entertainment, three concepts which may be of natural origin at some point in the past, but have become culturally obese in modern times as excess flab we can’t do without.


To many Americans, shopping, money, and movies are more real than turkey vultures. More of us live in cities these days than live in rural areas. Relating firsthand to the living landscape of our planet has become distinctly old-fashioned. We’re now into the virtual landscape of the Internet—as if our lives depended on it and not the terrestrial model. As if we ourselves had traded in our flesh and blood for some trendy iBod version with a motherboard based on nanotechnology. The next time you get sick, just try calling Tech Support for an iHeart or iLung as good as the original equipment that failed from carelessness or abuse.


Our consciousness has not culturally evolved so much as been sidetracked by the glitz of the big city economy where all things and services are said to be available at all hours—at bargain prices or even for free. But that is the laser show staged to lure us in. We can’t believe everything we think we see. Our consciousness is being manipulated so others can make money by getting us to act out our fantasies by spending money on their behalf. The modern economy is no more trustworthy than the snake-oil version of yesteryear. Behind the curtain, the natural world is still working the levers as fast as it can to keep up with our hyped-up demands, but is falling behind. Healthy ecosystems and the species they support are increasingly on back order.


The laser show is falling about our ears as surely as the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11. In this case the so-called terrorists are more apt to be U.S. citizens than Saudis. To a man or woman, practitioners of the American dream in victimizing their neighbors, feeding off their remains. Not a pretty picture, but there it is. Birth and death are still ultimate realities; in between, life has become a scam, a Ponzi scheme that seems reputable in the abstract, but falls apart when you learn the details of how it’s done.


The world we live in is built of percepts and concepts in our heads. Concepts are particularly dangerous because in themselves they are empty shells waiting to be filled with the content of our choice. That is how memory saves itself from having to find space for an infinite amount of concrete detail. It sketches the outline, and we color it in. We think we are seeing the real thing, but it’s only an illusion. That’s how conceptual consciousness works. We fill the sensory void with glitz we see with our own eyes—voilá, The Emerald City stands revealed! But only we can see it because we’ve collaborated in its construction.


I don’t have to list the failings of consciousness resulting from our gullibility. Nothing else has been in the news for almost a year now. The thing to remember is that it isn’t happening out there in the cubicles of finance so much as in the connections between neurons we’ve been making in our own brains. Our enthusiasm for living the dreams we have been sold makes us complicit in the collapse of the phony culture we have come to believe in. We are the culprits every bit as much as the celebrities named in the news. They made the offer of an easy life, our minds went along as if the come-on was good as gold.


The mystery is not how the mighty could have fallen, but how we came to view them as mighty in the first place. Something distracted us just long enough to divert our attention from what was really going on. We didn’t have sufficient foresight to insist on adequate regulation of financial institutions as they got bigger and more secretive. We didn’t hold our legislators responsible in their dealings with lobbyists. We let Team Bush fight its war against terrorism as if it were called for under the circumstances and not trumped up by men who lusted for war to entrench their own power. We simply forgot that the natural environment supports us in everything we do, and came to trust technology instead. When you take your eye off the ball, it’s sure to hit you right between the eyes.


What were we doing all that time? Watching reality TV, soaps, sports, pornography, celebrities, listening to talk shows and endless music. Being mindless by not paying attention to the details of real life. Which, behind all the glitz, will always be governed by natural processes we don’t fully understand. If we don’t know that by now, our education has failed to keep us abreast of the realest of realities.


We will learn nothing if we see the shock waves spreading around the Earth as a temporary crisis or catastrophe. They are a reality check on how well our cultural institutions are serving to keep within the effective tolerance of the natural-ecological-biological processes supporting all life on Earth. Now we see that we depend on those processes absolutely. Too, that we have let effective governance of our consciousness get away from us time after time. Consciousness is given us to help stay within the bounds set by our planetary home in the vastness of space.


Earth is telling us something loud and clear. If we chose to carry on not listening as we have for so long, we can’t continue to blame the likes of George Bush, Bernard Madoff, or other people’s greed for what is happening. Ask a turkey vulture who is responsible, or a cod, polar bear, or tropical forest—like us, they are all natural beings and know the true score. If we and our economy are not with them, we are against them. When we go against life, we go against ourselves. That is the message greed and global warming are making clear to us now.


The solution is not to bolster the humans-only economy but to get with Earth’s program, the program that has supported life on Earth for over three billion years. If we have let our consciousness fail us, that is because we haven’t been paying attention—as every wild creature knows it must to get through the day. This latest reality test shows how lax our vigilance has become.


We have outrun our genetic heritage and it’s time to pull back. The economy can’t do it for us, or government, or even the military or mighty technology. We are on our own now. If we don’t see that, we’re missing the point. As I’ve called out before in this blog: Consciousness, awake!







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