Time is a slippery bugger. Especially if you accept Einstein, that time and space are the same thing – spacetime – which, as far as I know, is indisputable, according to standard physics.
But directly, experientially, phenomenologically, time is still a slippery bugger.
Where is what was, what was yesterday, five minutes ago, a second ago ?
Gone. Vanished. Over. Finished. Forever.
The only confirmable, tangible, solid reality, is this very instant. All the rest is imagining.
Everything previous, last year, all earlier time, is remembering something that has evaporated into nothing. And the future is even worse, speculation, conjecture, projected imagination of what might be. Plan your future ? Well, you can try. The Grim Reaper is out there, biding his time, that’s a certainty we can all rely upon, isn’t it.
The only place where we can actually be effective is the present moment.
So what do we have ? Is yours a jabbering inner monologue, an agitated cacophony of internal mental activity ? Perhaps you can’t even answer, because you don’t know, you don’t often notice. In my case, attentive introspection was something I had to learn. It was hard.
Like training a muscle so it strengthens, it took time, determination, perseverance, before I learned how to see every thought as it pops up and to monitor all that stuff. Eventually it became a habit. I think the greatest clarity is achieved when the mind is completely silent and still. Mushin.
I’m talking of course of the superficial surface of the mind, that is easily accessible by conscious reflection.
Beneath, behind, below, before, there’s the sub-liminal, the sub-conscious, ( which can be accessed, also by meditation, by training ) and beneath that, the unconscious proper… the murky depths, the Id, from whence spring gods, angels, demons, visions, dreams, intuition, the Otherworld, along with all the other psychic pressures, compelling impulses, the machinery which interprets chemical, biological, physiological, requirements, for food, for sex, for rest, into desires, sensations, feelings that we recognise. Fuel gauges, temperature gauges, sensors, to inform the mind that there is a lack, or a need, or damage, requiring attention and satisfaction. And much else besides.
A pulsing homeostatic fountain of energy, which began its trajectory, through spacetime, when daddy’s sperm met mummy’s egg… or perhaps, when the first molecules congealed into an autonomous cell structure that could reproduce itself, some thousands of millions of years ago… or perhaps, when the Universe introduced itself into existence with the Big Bang and made starstuff… or perhaps, before that, although, if I understand what the physicists say, there was no ‘before’ that makes sense, because space and time emerged simultaneously… from The Void ? from The Cosmic Egg ? Who knows ?
The Great Mystery. The Great Question. Why is there anything at all ?
So, where are we, where are we located, in spacetime, in history, in the human story ?
I read a quote on the weekend, ( from Bodhi on Automatic Earth ) :
“The problem with not collapsing is that it’s not possible. If we don’t collapse we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing until we do collapse. I don’t see any way to climb back down to sustainability (whatever that means) – that level is so far below where we are right now that the climb down would look/feel like collapse anyway.”
To my way of seeing things, this is a perfect zen koan. Not just for me, but for the whole human race.
We can’t stop doing what we are doing, because it would be a disaster.
We cannot continue doing what we are doing, because it would be a disaster.
So what do we do ?
It’s the man chased by a tiger, who jumps over a cliff to escape, gets saved by grasping a vine, looks down, there’s another tiger below waiting to eat him, and looking at the vine, he sees a mouse gnawing it, so it will soon break.
So, death above, death below, no escape.
But then he sees a wild strawberry, and he picks it and eats, and it is delicious…
Daily life, in the moment, can be as sweet as you want it to be, even when suspended between disasters… more so, because you realise how brief, ephemeral, fragile and exquisitely precious it is…
On a personal level, for the individual, that’s one answer to the koan.
But it isn’t an adequate answer for the human race, for the children, for all the other species, is it.
It’s the answer that appeals to the hedonist.
‘Gather ye rosebuds whilst you may’, have fun, don’t worry. Let’s all party !
I need something which takes a broader perspective, less self-centred, more profound.
Even parties eventually get boring if you do them hard enough for long enough.
Disaster above, disaster below. Stuck.
I see us as jumped up Bonobos, too smart and too restless and too ingenious for our own good, we opened Pandora’s Box, spilled out all the toys, – the guns, the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the nuclear power stations, the rockets, the planes, the computers, the microscopes and alchemical doodaas – and now we have the result. The house is on fire, and we’re still only jumped up Bonobos, and too stupid to know what to do…. so do we go extinct ?
…Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future.
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
As I see it, whatever choice we make, it’s a disaster. And if we make no choice, it’s still a disaster.
Look at it from the point of view of the seventh generation…. two centuries ahead, what will the planet be like ?
Let’s look back a couple of centuries, at the choices the folk made then, which have resulted in our present predicament. Did anyone consider the future ?
William Blake certainly did, he saw exactly where the Dark Satanic Mills of the early Industrial Revolution would lead. To the destruction of nature and human relationships.
….Albion Flour Mills, which was the first major factory in London, designed by John Rennie and Samuel Wyatt and built on land purchased by Wyatt in Southwark. This was a rotary steam-powered flour mill by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, with grinding gears by Rennie, producing 6,000 bushels of flour a week. The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed in 1791 by fire, perhaps deliberately. London’s independent millers celebrated with placards reading, “Success to the mills of ALBION but no Albion Mills.” Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. An illustration of the fire published at the time shows a devil squatting on the building. The mills were a short distance from Blake’s home.
Blake’s phrase, Dark Satanic Mills, resonates with a wider theme in his works, what he envisioned as a physically and spiritually repressive ideology based on a quantifiable reality. Blake saw the cotton mills and collieries of the period as a mechanism for the enslavement of millions…
“And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion…”
This is what the English ( and Scots ! ) invented and exported to the whole of the rest of the world. It gobbled up Europe, America, now China, and all the rest :
The Albion Mills, the first great factory in London, formerly stood on the east side of Blackfriars Road, on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge. They were steam-powered mills, established in 1786 by Matthew Boulton & James Watt, featuring one of the first uses of Watt’s steam engines to drive machinery, and were designed by pioneering engineer John Rennie (who later built nearby London Bridge). Grinding 10 bushels of wheat per hour, by 20 pairs of 150 horsepower millstones, the Mills were the ‘Industrial wonder’ of the time, quickly becoming a fashionable sight of the London scene… Erasmus Darwin called them “the most powerful machines in the world.”
But if the trendy middle and upper classes liked to drive to Blackfriars in their coaches and gawp at the new industrial age being born, other, harder eyes saw Albion Mills in different light. They were widely resented, especially by local millers and millworkers…
At one time the Thames bank at Lambeth was littered with windmills – eventually they were all put out of business by steam power. When the Albion opened London millers feared ruin.
Steam was one of the major driving forces of industrialization and the growth of capitalism. The spectre of mechanization, of labour being herded together in larger and larger factories, was beginning to bite. Already artisan and skilled trades were starting to decline, agricultural workers were being forced into cities to find work, dispossessed from the countryside by enclosure and farm machinery… Many of those who had not yet felt the hand of factory production driving down wages, deskilling, alienating and shortening the lifespan, could read the writing on the wall.
Mills & millers were often the focus of popular anger. Not only were they widely believed to practice forms of adulteration, adding all sorts of rubbish to flour to increase profits (Significantly in many folk and fairy tales the miller is often a greedy cheating baddie), but at times of high wheat prices and thus, (since bread was the main diet of the poor) widespread hunger, bakers and millers would be the target of rioters, often accused along with farmers and landowners of hoarding to jack up prices. Bread riots could involve the whole community, though they were often led by women. Rioters would often seize bread and force bakers to sell it at a price they thought fair, or a long-established price; this was the strongest example of the so-called ‘moral economy’ (discussed by EP Thompson and other radical historians) a set of economic and social practices based in a popular view of how certain basic needs ought to be fairly and cheaply available.
The idea of a moral economy was one that crossed class boundaries, a reflection of the paternalist society, where all knew their place, but all classes had responsibilities and there were certain given rights to survival. But this moral economy, such as it was, was bound up with pre-capitalist society – which were being superseded by the growth of
capitalism, of social relations based solely on profit and wage labour…
Was that ‘a good thing’ ? People who got very rich at the time presumably thought so.
William Blake watched the wealth of the country double over a couple of decades.
He watched as, instead of it being shared out for the good of all, the top ten percent grabbed it to enrich themselves.
Now, two centuries later, the mere blink of an eye, we, the seventh generation, can see the result.
Will there ever be another seventh generation ?
If you pay attention to what the scientists are saying, that looks highly unlikely to me.
I wish we had wise elders, who actually did consider the seventh generation. But that’s not the culture we have got. The central ethos of capitalism, is, grab what you can, while you can, and stuff everybody and everything else… we’ve had that for two hundred years. It’s become engrained into everyone.
The choice is very simple. Accept the limits, or we go extinct.
Everything – I mean everything – that relies upon fossil fuels, everything that damages the biosphere, has to stop. Otherwise, we will all go extinct. Those are the options.
That’s the koan.
Worse, there’s no time to procrastinate and mess about… the catastrophe is NOW.
Worse, we may have already destabilised the biosphere to such an extent that it’s now too late, because the system may well flip into some new condition entirely unsuitable for life as we’ve known it, and so we still go extinct. Whatever we do from now on. But perhaps we can delay, perhaps we can buy some time ?
Pushing global temperatures past a certain threshold, or tipping point, is likely to trigger a series of positive feedback mechanisms leading to the release of large quantities of greenhouse gases and even more rapid warming, the geologists said at the 34th International Geological Congress, being held in Brisbane, Australia.
The clock is ticking…
There will be those who insist on carrying on, business as usual, regardless, out of ignorance, malice, greed, stupidity, or simply because they don’t know what else to do.
There will be those who remain entirely unaware of any of this stuff.
There will be those who give up, to hell with it all, who cares, let’s party.
There will be those who dedicate every moment to the battle, because they do care.
What about the unborn seventh generation ? Those who have no say in this choice ?
Those from whom the world, their world, their chance, their life, is being stolen ?