The wind is blowing hard, and the trees are bending down low, the air rushing across their branches, dragging leaves and blossom into the sky. The early summer grass, being soaked in the thick drizzle that falls in an urgent slant, ripples and chases with the gusts. A blackbird announces its territory, darting across the patch of green before being pulled askew by a fresh blast of air, still vocalising urgently. A family of humans are scattered throughout their house: one on a laptop, another immersed in a Nintendo game, the third goggling at the television that finds its market, and homes in on the hypnotised viewer. The humans barely hear the wind, let alone feel its embrace, as it batters the side of the house and cuts around leaving eddies of detritus dancing at the foot of the solid walls.
The trees and the grass and the blackbird feel the warmth of the sun as the wind drops and the clouds fracture like an ancient lace shawl. The atmosphere is thick with post-rain smells that rise from the soil, and the music of nature fills the sky in a celebration of continued life. The humans feel nothing different: they carry on living their civilized, disconnected lives.
Life exists in a complex embrace, the threads of each species’ existence intertwining in such a way that balance is the normal state of things. If one part of the energy web overreaches itself, like a fecund herd of reindeer overgrazing the winter lichen, the system tips into a localised collapse, until balance is restored and the lichen has time to regrow among the now sparse reindeer population. This connection is absolute: no food, no life.
Connections go far deeper than this, though; for it is our innate understanding of the patterns of nature, as the species Homo sapiens, that makes us survivors in so many ways. Humans are superbly adaptable: able to find water, bring about fire, craft shelters and tools, follow scents and tracks to find food – all of this utterly dependent on the connections we make and refine from the moment we emerge into the sensory storm that is the real world.
And then we shut the door; shut the windows; shut the blinds; shut our minds...it’s still going on out there, but we would rather let the caustic rain of civilization wash it away and supplant it with connections that have been manufactured to keep us in our place. We feel safe, even though we are on the edge of catastrophe; we enjoy what we do, even though we have forgotten what joy feels like; we experience self-worth, even though we have become worthless; we feel in control, even though we have no control at all...the system has us where it wants us. And now it can use us like the metaphorical batteries and cogs that signify our labour and our spending, and our naïve compliance in which we live our synthetic lives, from the plastic toys we grasp as babies to the flickering, energy-sapping screens that fix our attention on the advertisers’ world; from the blacktop roads we populate in our teeming masses, contained in metal caskets with wheels on our way to and from our places of work, to the offices and factories and shopping malls we spend a third of our lives operating in order to keep the machine moving, in order that we can be given currency with which we, in our docility, reinsert into the system so it can keep growing, and taking, and killing everything it is able to reach.
And when we feel weary, we take a packaged, predetermined vacation. And when we feel hungry, we eat a packaged, predetermined meal. And when we feel bored, we go to a packaged, predetermined slice of entertainment. And when we are of no more use to the system, we are retired...and only then do we, in those moments of reflection we never had during our urgent “productive” days, think about what we could have been.
Homo sapiens is connected. Homo sapiens civilis has had the connections ripped away from it.
What If We Connected?
We would be free.
In a culture that seeks to timeslice our attention span into smaller and smaller chunks, so that we are left always wanting more, but never reach what we think we are seeking, there is little time for contemplation. Silence is the enemy, and open minds are force-fed a diet of trivia in order to keep us sated.
Full silence departed; empty silence became like a weight around our necks, something to be cast off at any opportunity: anything to keep the flimsy cultural dialogue going, a defense mechanism against the naked, voiceless underpinning of life that was quietly lurking beneath.1
Civilized humans are born into a world where the big questions can only be answered by those in “authority”, and the biggest questions are ignored, for fear that the answers may take people to a place that is not state-sanctioned or approved by the machine. So we must ask the biggest questions: like, “Why are we here?”
To a civilized, disconnected Homo sapiens civilis, there is no answer to this question, for there is no world outside of the civilized one. The best answer a civilized human can give is one that is framed only in the confines of his or her experience: we exist to serve the machine. The ecology of such an answer – for in reality we exist to be a part of nature within the endless cycle of birth, life and death – goes no further than that which we told we are dependent on: the government, work, product, the economy. The true ecology of any answer in a genuinely connected state is limited only by the environment of which we are a part. Where does my food come from?
Or the soil, the solar energy that warms it and the rain that falls upon it, and the countless micro-organisms that work as one to create the ideal growing conditions for the plant; that may feed an animal, that may feed yet another animal, or may simply be picked and eaten like the rosehip from the briar that bursts with flavour on a warm September afternoon.
The machine fears the second answer: we have to believe that our food is the product of a systemic, organised process that culminates in an economic transaction. If we don’t then we might question the system and decide to grow or pick our own food, depleting the industrial economy of its energy. We have to believe that in order to live, then we must go to work and produce something, whether that be a consumer product, an energy flow, a service or an ersatz lifestyle; and we have to keep believing that this is the only way to live. If we don’t, then we might fail to turn up one day, and the machine will have lost one of its cogs or rivets or pins. Take away too many parts and the machine will break.
In the glass of the window that shields me from the world outside, I see the reflection of a tree, blowing in the breeze, and wonder what the air tastes like. I open the window and feel the cool air touch my face as the soft rain patters on the sill and wets the floor in tiny circles of darkness – difference. A sudden gust brings a litter of flora across the threshold that dances in the spaces and falls upon my feet – beauty. The blackbird sits on a swaying branch and tells its story in a burst of sublime avian music that pushes back the noise of the traffic below – joy.
I have let the outside in, and now I need to let the inside out. It’s time to reconnect...
1. Sandy Krolick, “The Recovery Of Ecstasy”, BookSurge Publishing, 2009.