Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apocalypse? Now?

Those of us living in Southern California may be forgiven for a sense that the apocalypse is approaching faster even than some evangelicals would have us believe. The place is an inferno, with wild fires raging out of control from Malibu to the border with Mexico. Living here, you can't help but be aware of it.

(The above is not a minimalist abstract painting. It's a digital photo taken from the window of our car.) The smoke pollutes the air even in those areas, like our own, which have been spared the actual burn. You can feel the heaviness in the lungs, the burn in the nostrils. The sunset glows an ominous, but glorious red.

Should we beat our breasts? Should we do a Pat Robertson, blame the gays and lesbians and our other evil ways? Is God trying to tell us something? Well, maybe not... Brush fires are a part of the natural cycle, nature's way of clearing things out to allow for new growth, new life. If they are now so terrible, though, it's in part a result of human behavior: over the past century, we have made valiant attempts--often in the interest of "development"--to control nature's efforts. Our need for housing and transportation routes has defaced the natural topgraphy. We know, too, that our greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to the climate changes that have promoted drought in this part of the world, as in the southeast of the United States and elsewhere on the planet. This in turn has created ideal fuel for the fires, desert-dry brush and timber in huge quantities. Our drought has also depleted the wherewithal to fight the fires where they flare up. Our human obsession with control and exploitation has done much to bring these situations on.

And then... I can't help but see these local brush fires in the context of the global ones: wars everywhere, civil (though how can war be "civil," ever?) inter-national and territorial; famine and plague; disasters of the kind we seem to read about daily in the papers. We co-create these events with nature, as the California fires, or we invent them all by ourselves. The latest brush fire that I hear about is the one on the border between Turkey and Iraq, with Turkey now threatening to invade that benighted country from the north, to protect itself from Kurdish terrorists seeking to consolidate an independent Kurdish nation. The particular fire we Americans lit amongst the already many conflagration points in the Middle East is sending burning embers flying into the surrounding brush.

Here's the "burning" question: are we nearer to our annihilation as a species than we had ever imagined? Is the process of destruction already beyond all hope of control? Are we now fated to stand powerless in the face of hurricane force winds, like those California firefighters, and watch as the world burns? It's a frightening thought, but a frighteningly real one at this moment in our planet's history.


carly said...

P:re: Dreams, a balanced rebuttal

No, Robin, life is not a dream, only dream-like sometimes. The more bizarre life gets, the more dream-like we perceive it, until our perceptions shape life itself. A note-to-self on my painting easel reads, "This is a nightmare, from which I cannot awake." In sleep dreams (the precursor of meditation) are escapes or other forms of dealing with reality. A long-time bachelor friend of mine confides that he has wild sex in some of his dreams, otherwise he "would have none at all". A very gifted and creative writer, he says, "If only real life was as much fun...or as weird".

The difference is you can't awake from life, plus we die in life. But for sure, it's no longer a novel idea nor is it creative anymore to think life is a dream. For the insane it's life as usual. For the sane It's a dreary, friggin' nightmare or beautiful, depending on your orientation. Buddhists understand the importance of re-orientation.

But the most interesting aspect of dreams is connected to the prehistoric and ancient ideas that dreams are mental windows to other dimensions, or as they thought, a nether-world. In modern dream analysis it's ESP. The Egyptians and Greeks noted the freer state of the mind while sleeping, in which it can uninhibitedly fathom things too difficult or obtuse in waking hours, and see things in a freer way.

For me, dreams are empirical evidence of something I can't do while awake, since I have personally seen with accuracy, things in dreams which happen exactly like my dream. The two most notable examples recently were 9/11 and the theft of my car. In the least, I can conclude that our minds are more powerful than we consider. But those 'visions' are never very far from reality, unless drug enhanced, like the time my sex partner, turned into a scaly dragon-like snake or when my body turned inside out, and came up over my head and I had great fear of suffocating. What in life is like that! So maybe Chuang Tzu was using some very mellow stuff. And maybe the Dharma was hallucinating. Maybe what is a powerful something just seemed to him like nothing, but was an insight into artificial man, not an artificial world.

Philosophy that life is a dream and dreams are reality also found voices in the ancient sources of Artremidorus, and earlier in Aristotle, 350 B.C., who attributed dreams to impressions seen in waking life and his Chinese counterpart, Chuang Tzu, who couldn't tell if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Sounds like what you would hear in The Sixties.

As in all art, it's a fanciful idea. And in the Hollywood frame of mind, we are indeed mistaking shadows for reality, as Plato described it. To think dreams invalidate concrete reality is probably back-ass-wards.

Boring as it is, it's more likely that reality not a dream, only like a dream, because dreams are an unknown function of the mind. While reality is the only function of the mind we know and the mind has nothing else to base it's dream state on than reality - plus films, which none of us are unaltered by and what purposefully play on the sense that life is like a dream. The most pervasive art form ever invented has influenced how we see everything, with shadows on a wall, not the things which make the shadows. (Plato's description. 400 B.C.) Ours will be seen as an age shaped by artificial 'dreamy' illusion exactly as primitive man was shaped by his dreams.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

You're right: There is no such thing as a "civil" war. War is mankind at its absolute most uncivil.

My daughter lives in L.A. and I keep imagining that I can see the smoke from here.

We have, sadly, brought this disaster upon ourselves with our manifest destiny mentality. The world is overpopulated and thus we have extended ourselves into nearly all areas that were formerly inhabited by other species and overburdened Nature with our need and our greed.

Isn't it supposed to be "the fire next time?" That is um, chilling. Stay safe.