"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Siren Call of Ecological Despair

Erich Fromm, who has a section in the "Sane Society" called "The Principle of Nonfrustration" seems particularly relevant to the current ecological crisis. As Aldous Huxley said in Brave New World, the principle of the current world order is: "Never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today." Happiness has become the instant realization of wishes, and these wishes, moreover, are largely dictated by corporate marketing departments who form the personal images that we unconsciously emulate.

In the context of the current climate crisis, this attitude translates into deliberate self-deception. Psyches formed by the principle of non-frustration cannot cope with our inherent limitations. We are impelled to achieve higher and higher degrees of satisfaction, which in real terms mean greater and greater exploitation of the world's limited resources. To accept this reality would mean a sudden and devastating sense of despair. Eventually, if we had the courage, we would crawl out of that despair, but being the people we currently are, we simply can't face it. We WILL have our satisfaction, even if it means starvation for hundreds of millions of our fellow creatures.

We have been transformed into a system of desires and satisfactions. This is the system that guides us without the use of force. No matter what the depth of our disappointment with the satisfactions on sale, we return to them again and again because alternatives have been systematically excluded from consciousness. We are eternal infants, never weaned from our receptive orientation. Aldous Huxley described it well, "There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist." - Brave New World.

Indeed, the temptation to save the planet sheds dim light compared to those temptations to which we have become addicted. And the corporations continue to sing their siren song and we, unlike Odysseus, are not bound to the ship's mast, but steer passionately toward the empire of illusion:

"First you will raise the island of the Sirens,
those creatures who spellbind any man alive,
whoever comes their way. Whoever draws too close,
off guard, and catches the Sirens' voices in the air -
no sailing home for him, no wife rising to meet him,
no happy children beaming up at their father's face.
The high, thrilling song of the s=Sirens will transfix him,
lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses,
rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones..."

- The Odyssey, Book 12, verses 44 - 52.

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