Friday, December 26, 2008

One with Nature 1: Recovery

I'm briefly going back to doing a post every other day, because there are a few things that I want to get in before the official New Years. First of all, I want to review two books that I see as connected, the way that compost is connected to gardening or winter is connected to spring.

The first is a book entitled My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization by Chellis Glendinning. It's about the ways we're disconnected from the natural world and the problems this disconnect causes. She talks about a 'Primal Matrix' that she claims most hunter-gather tribes live in, being part of nature rather than a part from it. She does say that: "Idealization of nature-based people looms as a constant temptation, a kind of knee-jerk filp side to the denigration so potently drummed into us. I definitely mean to bolt open our eyes about the psychology, social practices, and ecological awareness of nature-based people. I do not mean to forget that life is difficult, snow is unbearably cold, people everywhere are given to imbalance and conflict, and animals can devour human flesh." It's a great quote but, unfortunately, she then goes on to idealize nature-based people. Much of what she says is powerful, but some of it is not quite believable.

I'd love to think that simply being back in touch with nature would put us on track for creating the type of society I spent the last few months outlining, and Chellis Glendinning seems to claim this: "What occurs when human beings live in intimacy with the Earth? The kind of society we formulate is likely to be participatory, democratic, equalitarian, leisurely, ecological, and sustainable." She gives examples of this happening in hunter-gather tribes. While the examples are impressive, I also get the impression that she is selecting from the literature, and someone else could select examples that prove the opposite.

Glendinning claims that our separation from nature is the 'Original Trauma' that all other traumas procede from. It's our detachment from the natural world that allows addictions and the violent acts that cause more trauma to happen. She believes that our separation from nature began, not with the industrial revolution, but with agriculture and the domestication of animals. While there is some truth in this, I'm not sure that getting rid of all we've learned from western civilization and living in the woods hunting animals is the answer. She refers to what Annette Kolodny calls "the nagging fact of Euro-American and native relations", claiming that most native peoples have never wanted civilization. That doesn't square with what I've read elsewhere. While I'm sure there are tribes that have turned their back on our civilization, there are also many peoples who have wholeheartedly embraced it--many, it's true, regretting this, but after the fact. She also refers to the Kogi people of Colombia, who seem to have emerged from nowhere to give one interview to the BBC before disappearing again. I'd love to believe this but it sounds like a hoax to me.

Nevertheless, there's a lot of useful stuff in this book, and a lot of good reasons to get back in touch with nature. Whether or not you buy all Chellis Glendinning's assertions, she gives enough in this book to make me want to reconnect. I was disappointed that she didn't have clear guidelines on how to do that. She does suggest personal healing--which is certainly useful--and small steps of social change such as turning off the TV, walking to work, and eating dandelions rather than spraying them. She also says that there is much political work to do--but doesn't elaborate. The key thing she suggests is creating ceremonies to celebrate the natural world. She claims "All nature-based cultures praise Creation." And she ends the book by stating that we "...can initiate our recovery from western civilization with a simple but radical act: praise Creation." (Italics hers.)

Next: The Path

Quote of the day: "It is imperative that we go about the task of creating an alternative society, and a culture that is interconnected with nature now." - Gloria Ornestein

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