Before the Ink Dries

December 5, 2010

There’s nothing like gazing into a clear night sky to give a mite in a macrocosm some perspective. Considering the size of the universe, comparing ourselves to mites is not a stretch.  Cosmically speaking our problems and anything we think or do today will vanish like the smoke of flash fires in a wilderness. Yet we feel this cannot be so.

Flipping logic on its ear (as he often does with great effect) Bob Dylan gives us this line in Tight Connection to my Heart: “What looks large from a distance,” he sings, “close up ain’t never that big.”

Though Dylan’s line seems counter-intuitive, a massive supernova light years away in fact becomes mite-sized when brought to earth and compared to problems we face  right here in our terrestrial cosmos. Next to terrorist bombs supernovas virtually disappear.  Immediacy is all. What’s worse than our problems themselves, however, is our apparent inability to take steps to solve them. The real problem is that the only problem-solving creatures around that can do anything about our problems have a problem grasping that our problems demand immediate problem-solving. In the USA everybody knows that problem-solving has come to a virtual standstill.

In the December issue of  The Atlantic, in a piece about work being done on clean-coal technology, Joseph Romm, a former Department of Energy official says, “No one in the U.S. government could ever imagine a 10-year plan to ensure U.S. leadership in solar power or batteries or anything else. It’s just not possible, so nobody even bothers to propose it.”

But it’s not just lethargy, money’s involved as well. There are bottom lines and economies threatened by doing something about concerns that might affect existing lucrative conditions. There are congresses, legislatures, ministers, parliaments and presidents bought by the financial networks of national and global business; big money —which (despite Dylan) looks even bigger close-up than it does at a distance, as in the moment a lobbyist waves a check in a politician’s face.

Even acknowledging the cosmic creations and acts of god I’d wager that human acts cause more woe on the planet than acts of god. In fact, some of the latest “acts of god” may really be the effects of acts of Man. I’m talking about such phenomena as the recent unprecedented floods in Pakistan, Australian and Bolivian droughts, the increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes —activity science tells us is linked to human-caused global warming. What’s more, the day-to-day suffering caused by person-to-person acts of Man does not need much explication; it’s historically well established and as up-to-date as today’s headlines. All of this cuts across class lines and cultures and is motivated in huge part by greed and indifference.

But we’re comforted by our imaginations. Our thought-dreams make it clear the world is filled with bad guys and good guys.  The bad guys are the other guys (them) —the ones who don’t look like (us), whose beliefs are other than ours, whose class is other, whose values are really screwed up. Most of us identify with the good guys —the ones who certainly can’t be terminally mischievous — they’re respectable, they dress well, they’re pillars of the community. It’s human nature. Self-identity trickles up. We are always among the respectable.

Bottom line: our society values and respects financial success above any other.  We either see ourselves as top dogs, or fantasize we’ll someday be a big barker. That’s how Wall Street gets away with what it does; it feeds that fantasy. That’s why money talks and what it says is golden no matter how much pain and anguish flows from its presumptions. Corporate tobacco, for instance, can still sell poison for profit legally because it has the financial influence to do so. What our fogged imaginations fail to see is that the so-called respectable may be as corrupt as your average drug lord. What our lame-brains refuse to admit is that the real problem may be a world-view distorted by our dead-end acquisitiveness.

Truth be told:

When suits enter the woods
the animals flee

When Pradas plod the undergrowth
not even the king of the jungle is safe
lions become lambs
and lambs, lamb chops

When the scent of Gucci
wafts through primal domains
even 800 lb gorillas take a hike
–like pipsqueak squirrels
who can smell death
at distances of light years
they scurry into shadows
at the glint of cufflinks

All forest creatures know
that a man in a tie may be
more vicious than a werewolf
at full moon or a great white
off Coney Island in high-sweat July

Beware the lapel, the mother bear
warns her cubs. Lapels frame the heads
of mighty predators like necklaces
of skulls and tiger’s teeth
and silk hankies that peek
from breast pockets are no less than
the marks of Cain

The spear-pens of bankers may pierce
the heart of a wilderness
more deeply than the bronze tips
of fierce Greeks pierced the heart of Troy

–once they’re hurled a wilderness dies
a sure death before the ink dries

by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent
Dec. 10, 2010


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