Changing course in the middle of a slowly unfolding disaster is no small feat. Our society is a great system of systems, all of which work against the self-realization of the individual toward freedom, true community and happiness. Even worse, it commodifies everything. Everything. Not just the air, water, land and animals, but is this mindset of monetization is now reaching into our thoughts and emotions. It’s a scary thing, raising the question of why so many of us are going along with this slow-motion train wreck — sometimes against our will, sometimes unconsciously.
In this thought-provoking post on Truthdig, Chris Hedges skillfully analogizes our existential angst with that of the crew of Moby Dick:
And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.
“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”
We, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess. We believe in the eternal wellspring of material progress. We are our own idols. Nothing will halt our voyage; it seems to us to have been decreed by natural law. “The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run,” Ahab declares. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. Microbes will inherit the earth.
In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism and a form of eroticism. We are made supine by hatred and fear. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. We are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.
This mad march toward our own destruction has always perplexed me. It’s a collective death wish, perhaps spurred by a illusory sense of unworthiness? We know that sleeping evil within us, and perhaps have yet to find the inner strength and courage to defeat it for good? It’s difficult to say. As long as there is a glimmer of hope in the human spirit, there will always be Edward Snowdens and Bradley Mannings, people who override the habitual sense of self-preservation to make a stand. Are we — as individuals and as a collective — able to aspire to their example and do the same?
Read the rest over at Truthdig.