Imagine with me the headlines in future historical publications, contemplating the errors of humanity in a country called America during the early 21st century: Insanity at the Brink of Destruction. Imagine the intellectuals, historians, philosophers, and teachers sifting through topics of this time we’re living in now, illustrating the divide between necessary cultural changes and stubborn, blind resistance. Just imagine with me how they would see:
- The political divide between dominant parties (and the people) is stronger than any time in the previous century, and there was little hope for unification for the greater good of the country or its people. As the rift increased, it often appeared that a civil war would be imminent, as the difference in worldview and vision for the country was so vast, no possible compromise could be found. Anger, hostility, and violence were common enough to be considered normal.
- Overwhelming scientific evidence regarding the undeniable reality of climate change and the necessary actions to face it, while some powerful leaders hold on to a staunch refusal to accept the scientific data from around the globe. Even in the face of floods, fires, and destructive weather stronger than ever previously seen, the government continued its agenda in promoting destructive extraction methods, including mountaintop removal, coal mining, oil extraction, and fracking. Though new technologies were available that would have made these sources of fuel unnecessary, large corporations and government leaders blocked it on every possible opportunity, fearing their own loss of profits. In addition, lands previously preserved for national enjoyment, environmental protection, and the preservation of diverse wildlife habitats were rescinded and sold to promote the economic growth of the corporations already dominating the arena. Species extinction of both plants and animal life accelerated at an unprecedented rate.
- Human rights issues abound in the government: vast economic disparity; systemic racism and discrimination; inaccessible healthcare; crumbling educational systems from early childhood through post-graduate levels; the rise of religious dominance and impositions; sexual discrimination against women; discrimination against the LGBTQ population; stripping away the rights of any group united by perceived difference, aka. non-white, Christian, conservatives; support of terrorist organizations, including the NRA and KKK; government endorsed xenophobia of citizens and immigrants from the chosen scapegoat countries of the day, and in particular, Latin Americans and those from a select list of predominantly Islamic nations; the systematic attempt to force people to pay more and receive less for most things through the breakdown in regulations meant to prohibit such abuses; the systematic attempt to strip freedoms, independence, and any semblance of justice from all people; the breakdown of all systems of law previously agreed upon in order to protect all people from the potential violation, damage, and injustice in the hands of leaders who have only their own interests in mind.
- The moral and ethical fabric of the nation were questionable in many ways. While the most religious of the country’s population claimed to want to return things to a sense of “proper” values and order, based in “old-fashioned values,” the reality was that these values included the desire to discriminate against or repress every way of life that didn’t fit with what they believed to be correct. They promoted pro-life values, and sought to ban birth control, abortion, and healthcare choices for women, and yet passed shocking legislation that sought to make the path forward for struggling mothers and children ever more difficult, blocking efforts to support meeting even the most basic life needs, which were better protected in previous decades of government administration. In addition, in the face of pro-life agendas, the religious and conservative population also continued to promote a strong gun culture, and even though mass shootings had become the norm, and even children were being slaughtered in massive gun attacks, they were completely unwilling to consider the bigger questions of how to make cultural change and regulate the issue that had become monstrously out of hand.
- Change to the government came slowly, as there were certain rigged systems that were put in place that made it difficult to transform injustice. Gerrymandering was one strong piece of the issue, and though somehow legal, served to silence the true vote of the majority. Perhaps the largest issue, entrenched across party lines, was the deeply embedded problem of money in politics. It became common to consider corporations equally important as human beings, and elections became little more than a popularity contest where the wealthiest contestant would win through whatever means possible. Any historical leanings toward citizens voting for the ways that their country would operate were obliterated in this era. The richest opponent with the richest donors was always the winner, and politicians were almost always controlled by wealthy corporate benefactors who essentially bought them to do their bidding. While there is never full agreement among the citizens of any nation in how things will unfold in the best way, during this time, the actual needs and interests of the people were dismissed in favor of finding ways to increase the wealth among those who were already powerful and wealthy.
Pause now with me. Imagine who will be pondering these times. Who will be writing the texts about this dark era. How far in the future do you imagine them to be? How far ahead of our time must we go to find a time where the madness at hand has been clearly labeled as such and fully exterminated as what it truly is: greed, foolishness, and childish nonsense? Or an even bigger question: will there be anyone left to write about these times, to reflect upon them? Or will our collective human ignorance bring us right into extinction? Or perhaps consider that we do survive the effects of our own ignorance and destruction, but things continue in a darker direction, with less justice, less human rights, and less concern for the collective human good? The reality is this: in this moment, we don’t know what will happen. We may have feelings and wishes and desires and visions and insights about it, but we ultimately are poised in a time of great unknown. A time of great transformation and change, a time of awakening. But will we wake up fast enough to be able to engage willingly and consciously in the process of change that is unfolding? As much as we may desire to be hopeful and positive and know that things will be OK, the reality is that we just don’t know. We cannot. Not yet.
In that unknowing is a grief perhaps greater than all we can name. Grief for losses we can name is profound. Grief for losses we can’t name is somehow more hidden, more unspeakable, more mysterious. We can grieve for the loss of a loved one, for the loss of a relationship, for the loss of home and family, for the loss of identity as things change. But how to grieve for the loss of entire ways of life ~ such as the world’s few remaining indigenous communities ~ when we already *know* the depth of that loss, and yet we allow it to continue? How to grieve the loss of plants and animals and insects ~ our companions on this planet, our brothers and sisters ~ as we know in our hearts that this is a horrific atrocity, and yet we don’t know how to stop the progression, as it is brought on by forces so much larger than we are? How to grieve in the moment of realization that in the face of so much ignorance and greed and selfishness and denial, we are hearing the beginning of our own death knell ~ and now it is possible that not only may we perish because of it all, and not only may all the ones we love perish too, including our elders and partners and families and friends and neighbors and children and grandchildren, but there may be no one left to even access the depth of memory that is needed to process the grief of loss.
Imagine for a moment the ache of the loss of a beloved one. And yet, in spite of that hollowness and pain, holding the memory for a moment brings some comfort. And imagine now your own passing, and those who will grieve you once you are no longer in this world. The stories of your life, the memory of love that you shared in your life ~ these things continue beyond you and shape the world by living on in the hearts of your beloved ones. Now, imagine a reality in which the loss is so great that there is no one left to grieve, no one left to remember, and all the stories are simply gone. The whole timeline is gone. All of an entire thread of beingness and livingness and awareness, purged from this reality once and for all. Sit in that for a moment and imagine.
What is most helpful ~ and destructive ~ in the face of this unimaginable scenario is the belief in some better elsewhere that we will be swept away into ~ a heaven, a new world, a new realm. If there is a next place, and (as the conservative Christians are so devoted to believing) that this world doesn’t really matter so long as you believe the right thing, it is far, far easier to shrug off any sense of responsibility in contributing to such immense destruction. And it is far, far easier to keep on doing the same old thing, knowing that “Jesus saves” and that nothing here matters but believing in him and following whatever moral code is preferred in the moment. It is this kind of childlike denial that has brought us this far along the path, culturally, and though there have been strong moments of wisdom and positive change, there continue to be dark times of irresponsibility, self-interest, and greed, and brainwashing the ones who can be controlled into promoting that agenda.
What will it take for us to become the ones who create the tipping point, transforming this ignorance and bringing humanity back into balance with all of life? That remains to be seen, and is the ultimate question in this moment.