christmas koyaanisqatsi … remaining naive in the new year

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It’s upside down, isn’t it? It’s backwards.  Not the Buckminster Fuller Quote. The world is Koyaanisqatsi, right?! It can’t just be me.

From where I am sitting, it’s especially obvious during the holidays.  Peace on earth.  Good will toward all.  New beginnings.  Resolutions. Gifts and garlands fill homes with good cheer. Friends surprise us with visits and kind words. It feels as if something better is right up ahead … just around the corner. Dickens described the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Yes, I know, of course it’s too commercial.  Yes, it is an over-shopping fiasco. (We all saw store decorations go up just after Halloween!) And I know it’s not everyone’s holiday. How about if we call it solstice-celebration?  The point is, whatever we call it, this holiday time of year still feel magical, as if there is a new and better world just up ahead, and it is filled with possibility. No matter where you are, you can imagine snow falling.  As if the the whole solstice-celebrating-world is encouraging us to see a truth that is otherwise obscured: so very much of our world is shaped by human choices, by the choices we make.  We can choose peace. We can choose good will.  We can choose to live another way, where we ‘open our shut-up hearts” and ‘think of others as fellow passengers to the grave’ rather than ‘other.’

I want to be clear: I am not a Pollyanna. This is not some glib assertion about simply choosing other work.  I know there’s a big machine out there, and it can and will try to grind us up if we so much as point in a different direction.  But we do – human beings individually and collectively do – have choices.  The fundamental assumptions within which we live are not the only ones out  there.  They were created by people: people who could, who might… sometimes easily, sometimes with great effort … create others.

And then, perhaps even more quickly than they arrived, the holidays are gone. Within just a week or two, we return to the conventional ‘audio and video feed.’  Back come the grey men in grey suits with grey brains as Helen Caldicott used to call them. Back is the world as it ISN’T. Back upside down.  

I am not just talking about going back to work. You might have a job you love, or perhaps not. It’s not that we need to set the alarm again, that our schedules are driven by the need for the wheels to keep the machine moving. It’s that suddenly what we have all been told about choice just goes away.  As quickly as it appeared, it just vanishes!

“But wait. It was obvious: we can choose other possibilities!”

You know … like ‘Peace on Earth’ or ‘Good Will Toward Others.’

No. Gone! The idea that perhaps We do not need to go to war to end the conflict in Syria, is met with the hardboiled thinking of the hardboiled analysts who know otherwise. “No more drone attacks?  So naive. You don’t really understand what we are dealing with.”

“What do you mean health care is an inappropriate arena for insurance profits? No insurance profits involved in health care? Health care for everyone? It’s really quite preposterous.”

Perhaps we would be used to it.  Perhaps it would be easy to swallow. But the holidays. It’s all so fresh! For those couple of weeks every year, we see our world as it actually is: A mess to be sure, but pregnant with the possibility that we might do otherwise, we CAN do otherwise. And then… gone. An abrupt about-face. It’s koyaanisqatsi.  Out of balance. Maya, the world that ISN’T.

Why do some people have more than they will ever use, can ever use, while others go homeless and hungry? “Well you see… there will always be those who must go without. Without enough food, without a place to live? It’s the way the world has always been. You have to be ‘realistic.’ You are so delightfully naive.”

Why, if we know that factory farming and an animal heavy diet is responsible for as much as 50% of greenhouse warming (Yes, check it out: Goodland and Anhang, 2006) won’t we mandate a change in farming techniques? Why won’t we report that our widespread assumptions about food and diet are not only inaccurate, but destroying our future.  I mean Miley Cyrus?  Really?

If we know our continuing reliance on fossil fuels is killing the planet at a pace far faster than we imagined, why don’t we change?  Wait… there are sustainable alternatives? Why don’t we require them?

We know corporations are not people.  Why do we pretend otherwise?

How about this?  You are hunting for a worthwhile New Year’s resolution.  This year, let’s all remain NAIVE. When one or another economist tells us we cannot feed people who are hungry, even though we have the food, let’s remain naive and insist on the obvious: we can.  When a group of unelected experts tells us that because corporations are people, we need to allow them to upend democracy by behaving as if they are, let’s not play pretend: we know they are not. When they tell us we must take up arms, just this one more time to prevent … well  to prevent war, to put an end to violence(??), to assure access to oil, to ______ …  let’s not. No, we cannot shift our resources away from a meat-based diet… Yes… we can.  We cannot be sure that the earth is warming… Yes we can.  We cannot to anything to ….  Chances are we can!

So perhaps we can agree to make 2014 a year for reality.  Let’s all make a bid for reality.  Let’s make ourselves as naive as we can be.  Happy New Year.

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