Meditation: On Long Emergencies

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Last week I was thinking about how, as Chekhov puts it (thanks, Paula!), "Any idiot can face a crisis -- it's this day-to-day living that wears you out." But having heard Jim Kunstler speak at NYCAMS this week, I now wonder, What do we do if it's our daily living that is the crisis?

Kunstler is the author of several books, most recently The Long Emergency, and in a free-wheeling and awfully entertaining talk, he mapped the connection between the American Dream of a house in the woods, the eventual mutation of that dream into the dangerous banalities of suburbia, the effects on our cultural soul of living in places not worth caring about, and, finally and scarily, the fundamental shifts that will be required as oil production passes its peak and we can no longer afford our 3,000 mile Caesar salads.

"Yet living beings drowned in the midst of all this, delight and amuse themselves, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. They feel no sense of loathing and make no attempt to escape. In this burning house which is the threefold world, they race about to east and west, and though they encounter great pain, they are not distressed by it."

--The Lotus Sutra

In other words, as far as fiddling goes, Nero's got nothing on us. "Human kind cannot bear very much reality." But as streetwise New Yorkers rather than suburbanites, we may drift into smugness, thinking we're pretty darn green: after all, our house in the woods is a co-op with a houseplant. Kunstler won't let us off so easy. We may not have cars and power mowers, but oil, at root, powers our elevators, our broadband, our designed-in-Italy-made-in-China fashions, and the trucks that ship in our food.

Luckily, the world that Kunstler wants to wake us up to is, at least in some respects, exactly the one we ATers want: downscaled, resized, a world in which we cured of our mania for more and re-connected to our food supply and our neighbors.

You say you have cried at my plays. And you are not he only ones. But this is not why I wrote them....I wanted something else. I simply wanted to say to people honestly: 'Look at yourselves, look at how bad and boring your lives are!' The important thing is, that people should understand this, and when they understand it , they will, without fail, create themselves another and better life. I will not see it, but I know — it will be completely different, and nothing like this life. And until it arrives, I will say to people again and again: 'Understand, how bad and boring your lives are!' What is there in this to cry about?
--Anton Chekhov

Dreams are what you wake up from, sings Everything But the Girl. Good morning.

 

Photo credit: eris23 via flickr

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