Punishing the Earth

Guilt-free confession; I know very little about what’s going on in Houston with the hurricane. I haven’t looked at any photos, watched any news reports or cell phone footage of disasters and tragedies. I don’t personally know anyone who lives there—I have a good friend who used to live there and thankfully no longer does. She’s got family out there; I hope they’re okay. But those are personal concerns, reflective of my web of relationships. The only reason I even have a sense of a scale of the hurricane’s damage is because of how much is posted about it on FB, from hearing other people talk about it, and from being petitioned for donations to hurricane relief at stores.

I’m perfectly okay with this; I have no interest in the spectacle. I went through the spectacle back when Katrina happened. I was working in a hotel bar that had a TV. I saw images of cops pointing shotguns at (black) people carrying clothes and food, ordering them to drop the “loot.” I watched those clothes and that food wash away in the flood water. I saw images of people in that stadium, ignored, hot, hungry, dehydrated. I saw images of political inertia and apathy. I watched passive racism and disposable lives.

From what I understand, major hurricane disasters are happening in a number of places around the globe. On top of that, a whole lot of the western and central parts of Turtle Island are currently on fire. I have family in Oregon; my mom has barely left her house in weeks because the air is full of smoke. My cousin has ashes raining down on her house. Visibility is limited; the smoke is so thick, it’s like fog. The forests are burning.

Living in California means being around people who are once again talking about the possibility of earthquakes. From a rational standpoint, that makes no sense; earthquakes are not weather-related phenomena. But nothing about this is rational. A lot of people are making pronouncements about Judgement Day, or about the earth “punishing” humans with disasters. The earth is taking revenge on us! Run, scream, gnash teeth, etc.

This is absurd, of course. Global warming is responsible for these horrid disasters, and industrial civilization is responsible for global warming. This is not punishment or revenge—it’s cause and effect. I get that it’s almost impossible for anyone to grasp; these things operate on a scale that strains the limits of the imagination. We may see smog in the sky and concrete everywhere, but none of us can see “climate change.” We see cars and plastic, factories and roadkill, we might even see a polluted river or ocean dead zones. But no single human’s experience could ever encapsulate or even make sense of something happening on a global scale, the result of over 250 years of building and operating toxic machines.

It bothers me when people ascribe the values of their judging, punishing biblical god/lord/sky-daddy to the earth. Mother Earth (Lakota – Ina Maka) earth doesn’t punish or judge. She lives, and creates life, and has done so for a very long time. If she didn’t love life, she wouldn’t continue to create it. The idea that she would judge and punish what she loves and creates is a pathological idea, a psychic sickness—another disease imported to Turtle Island by European invaders, far more dangerous and deadly than smallpox or syphilis.

A couple of stories: For some time now, I’ve been ambivalent about the idea of having children, reproducing. Other than when I was myself a child, until I started teaching I spent very little time around children. I never helped raise any siblings or cousins, nieces or nephews. In a way, this has served to help me in teaching; I never absorbed the common approach that adults have to children—treating them like idiots—so I’ve been free to treat them as what they are: young humans. People with feelings, needs, abilities, potential.

During my “I hate the world” years—until I was about 24—I hated children too, naturally. Couldn’t stand to be around them. I found them irritating as shit. Eventually I realized that they were annoying because of incompetent parenting in a psychotic society. Once I began to see children for what they are—young people who have not yet been rendered cynical and mentally dead, people who are still filled with curiosity and wonder—I began to enjoy kids. A lot. Like, more than most adults. Any seven-year-old is way more interesting and fun to be around than 90% of the adults I’ve met in my life. Adolescents and teens are hilarious. Eventually, the damage of Schooling and Media Trance takes hold, and those same magical children turn into boring, neurotic adults.

For a long time, I was adamant about not reproducing. Why would I sentence a child to living in such a fucked up world? To take just one example out of the hell pits, do you have any idea how many people I know who were sexually abused as children? Either directly by adults, or by other children acting out what adults did to them? In their most sensitive, formative years, loaded up with humiliation, shame, regret, and all the other vampire poisons that come with the bite. Most of us humans now live fragmented, isolated social lives—community is a buzzword and a distant fantasy. Who knows what may happen to little Jaime when we send them off to wherever?

Then of course, there’s the whole impending collapse of the biosphere thing going on. There’s a very good chance that in 100 years—less time than has passed since my grandmother was born and lived her full life—this planet will be uninhabitable not only for humans, but for almost all species who are left. And as that collapse gets more serious, human institutions will crumble, and a whole lot of fragmented, isolated, neurotic people will suddenly find themselves scrambling for what few resources remain. This is already happening; those of us in the U.S. mostly don’t see it, because the government here has used enough violence internationally to make sure we don’t. Why would I want to bring a kid into this world?

One day, a few years back, I was at the beach watching seagulls. I thought about images I’ve seen of seagulls covered in the slick of an oil spill, struggling to breathe, to eat, to live. And I realized: life wants to live. Seagulls and bumblebees and butterflies and lions—all of them will continue to do everything they can to live, as long as they’re alive to do so. They will fight to live until they’re extinct. Can humans be so different? I know we all think we’re so much more sophisticated and valuable than “animals,” but come on. We’re a species in a habitat. We want to live.

The truth is, the odds of survival for humans and everyone else would be much better if we humans mostly stopped reproducing—especially those of us living in countries that suck up all the resources. There’s a certain strain of “environmentally conscious” (white) people who really believe in the problem of overpopulation—they just believe that it’s not their problem. It’s those people, those dark-skinned savages, here and abroad, who just won’t stop making babies. I don’t have exact stats on the subject, but I know enough to know that a single Becky Jr. in San Francisco causes, however indirectly, far more damage to the earth than dozens of slum-dwellers and subsistence farmers.

But none of that changes a simple fact: life wants to live. Understanding that, these days, I’m open to the possibility of having kids, even if I’m not on a mission to do it. Why miss out on such a beautiful, magical, human, living being experience just because the world’s fucked up and we’re all doomed? If anything, that’s a good reason to do it.

To bring it back, given how clear it is that life wants to live, the idea that the earth would punish that life—and therefore punish herself—is not only absurd, it’s insulting, degrading, and evil. Newsflash—it’s not only humans who are hurt by these disasters. It’s everyone who lives there, walkers, swimmers, crawlers, flyers, growers.

And really—and I’m going to continue to say this, until it makes a difference in the world or until I die, and I know which one is more likely to happen first—global warming is not the fault of humans, per se; it’s the fault of systems and machines that humans created over many generations. I’m not taking the blame for industrial civilization, ya’ll can keep that cross and nails. Frankly it seems more and more every day that—as amaz0n put it—the war is over and the machines won. But there are prizes they never can and never will take from me.

The love between me and Mother Earth is one of them.


About DZAtal

The true and living
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