Thursday, July 12, 2012

Heat, Drought, Deer Grazing in Cities: Apocalypse Now and Papal Scripts to Turn History Upside Down

That small doe Steve and I saw standing stock-still on the perimeter of a park on 18 June, about which I blogged the following day: we spotted her again on our walk on the fourth of July.  This time, she bounded across the pathway of the park about 20 yards in front of us, heading down into the wooded side of the park that slopes to the Arkansas River, where herds of deer have long lived within the city, grazing along the banks of the river and sheltering themselves in the abundant copses that line the riverside.

What's unusual this summer, of course, is to find some of these deer moving uphill into the thickly populated areas overlooking the river.  To reach those areas--where they're more likely to be harmed in some way by cars and people--they have to cross a busy major road with four lanes.

The deer are putting their lives at great risk to come into the city in order, it appears, to forage in gardens when they can no longer find food in their usual habitat.  There are many complaints of people finding the hostas in their gardens munched back to the ground, for instance.

And two days after we had seen the little doe again on the fourth of July, the editor of the Arkansas Times, Max Brantley, posted a photograph of a small buck he had spotted in the same park that morning.  In response to the posting, one of the Times's journalistic staff, Gene Lyons, who lives on a farm outside the city, logged in to say that he is able to keep his cattle and horses alive this summer only by feeding them hay, and that the deer coming into the city are seeking water and grazing in the daytime because all the streams have dried up along with the forage in this summer's intense heat and drought.

We've now had a brief respite from the heat, and a tiny amount of rain, though not nearly enough to begin reviving the many trees that continue to drop their leaves due to the unbroken weeks of 100+ temperatures and two months of no rain.  And I'm certainly not inclined to deduce, on the basis of the shift to a few days of cooler weather, that global warming is a myth.  The evidence for planetary warming due to systemic human-induced climate change is now everywhere, and as the brilliant cartoon by Mike Luckovich which appeared at the Truthdig site yesterday (and which is at the head of this posting) reminds us, only a fool would deny that the house has burned down.  

Now that it has, in fact, burned down around our ears.

No, I'm not inclined to go the mythic route with folks like George Will, and claim that for God's sake, we're only having a normal summer this year, people!  Nothing normal about it in the least, and as farmers in America's Midwestern breadbasket begin to call this summer's crops a bust, the question I've asked persistently in postings about the effects of global warming on the world's economy continues to blare away in my head: who's going to feed us all, when the conditions to grow food in previously fertile parts of the planet shift such that producing food in those regions is well-nigh impossible?

I don't think we've thought nearly enough about these problems, most of us.  I think, with Mike Luckovich, that we've been all too ready to imagine that the house was not on fire even as it burnt to the ground around us.

I think, in other words, that we need to shift our perspective on these matters and begin talking apocalypse.  Now.  When wild animals begin to move into well-settled cities, putting their lives at risk in order to sustain life, we're living in apocalypse.

The deer grazing on hostas in Little Rock gardens this summer are forerunners of apocalypse, signs to us of how radically we have impaired the ecosystem that sustains all life on planet earth.  Signs of more gruesome apocalyptic events that will almost certain unfold in the future, as it becomes more difficult for much of the world to grow food to feed its population.

I've been mulling these apocalyptic thoughts in the past week, not merely because of our several doe sightings in recent weeks, but also because Steve and I watched the film version of P.D. James's dystopian novel Children of Men several days ago.  We both like P.D. James, and had both read the novel, and thought it would be interesting to see what a filmmaker had made of it.

For me, the experience was enlightening.  When I read Children of Men at the time it came out in 1992,  I don't think that I gave sufficient thought to the indicators the novel offers that James is moving in an ever more conservative direction in her thinking.  The stark conservative subtext leaps out in the movie.

Above all, there's the lament--an entirely wrongheaded one, it seems to me--about how the human race may well be upsetting its applecart altogether by producing conditions that lead to widespread infertility.  This lament seems wrongheaded to me because it's absolutely counterintuitive, in a world in which the problem right in front of our eyes--the problem only an ideologue or a fool could not see--is that we have burdened the planet with too many people, and in the process imperiled the future, since our burgeoning world population is now producing the ecological effects that lead to global climate change.

P.D. James's lament about diminishing fertility is set, it seems to me, within a myopic privileged-nation's growing sense that it has become a marginal nation, one insulated by its own power and privilege.  By its wealth, which depends on the impoverishment of the rest of the world.

And rather than address those conditions and our complicity in making them, we in the privileged parts of the world prefer to spin apocalyptic fantasies about how darker-skinned hordes of hungry people now threaten to overtake us, because we've bought into myths about population control and contraception.  Rather than look at how radically unequal the system of wealth distribution we've created is, and how our own thin layer of astonishing privilege depends on the deliberate impoverishment of the rest of the world, we want to identify the desire of more and more people around the world to control their fertility as the source of the problem, and not the solution.

This topsy-turvy dystopian thinking is now resurgent within the very heart of the Catholic church, as the papacy and bishops try manfully to remount attacks on contraception and the "contraceptive culture," and to convince us that the human race took a woefully wrong turn in the 20th century when it developed more technologies to manage fertility.  Brash young Catholic ideologues, willing foot soldiers for the papal anti-modernist armies, are seeking to stand history on its head and convince a new generation of young Catholics that contraception is not merely unnatural but unsexy (and, it goes without saying, that the only real sex that counts is, per a divinely ordained plan for nature, unprotected sex between men and women).

Because real sex is, don't you know, just plain sexy: truth becomes true in the ideological worldview by being parroted tautologically over and over, until the truism is, one imagines and devoutly hopes, transformed into truthiness.  Real sex is just plain sexy, unlike that phony sex a male-female couple using contraceptives have.  Or that phony sex all gay couples have all the time.  Which is nothing but mutual masturbation, devoid of any impulse towards or capability for fertility (see, e.g., the comment "Anonymous" makes to Jim McCrea in this thread, on 10 July).

Yes, this is where we find ourselves as apocalypse arrives now in this hot, dry summer of 2012: callow young Catholics from privileged social backgrounds, who attend right-wing Catholic universities that are far more about indoctrination than about education, wagging their 18-year old fingers at the whole world, because they know The Truth and the rest of the world is devoid of it, and warning of the dire consequences of contraception.  As the planet burns down around our ears precisely because its population is skyrocketing.

And all those new inhabitants of the globe naturally and with simple justice want all the luxuries the finger waggers--and I myself--enjoy.  Cars.  Refrigerators.  Air conditioners.  Strawberries in December and cool iced drinks in hot summer.  Computers and I-phones and hamburger stands on every corner and anything else that comes along to mark status and set me apart from the common, less-privileged herd.

And in the case of the women living in those developing sectors of the globe, there's a very strong and entirely understandable concern to exercise control over one's reproductive cycles, to be relieved of the burden of being considered merely a fertility machine designed to produce babies.  There a very strong and entirely understandable concern to be empowered by the very same technologies available to women in developed areas of the planet--i.e., by contraception--to rise above the brutal conditions created for women in cultures that view females as mere baby machines and beasts of burden.  

We're on the cusp of apocalypse, and one of the major religions of the world, through its top leaders (all of whom are male, almost all of whom are elderly and European, all of whom are, it goes without saying, privileged) wants to look history blandly in the face and diagnose the cause of apocalypse as precisely the opposite of what our eyes can see.  Thereby setting the conditions for even more disastrous consequences, since, as the climate grows more unstable and food production is more seriously interrupted, there will be--there will naturally be--serious struggles between the haves and have nots.

Since the have nots want to eat every bit as much as the haves do.  And they enjoy the same right to life that the have nots do.

And the only way the haves have ever, throughout history, dealt with the demands of the have nots for more power and privilege--for more food, when they are starving--is by repression.  This is, as St. Augustine insisted (and if I'm not mistaken, he was citing the Judaeo-Christian scriptures in so insisting), the Ur-script of postlapsarian human history: the repression of the weak by the strong.

This is the script that the claims of the current papacy and its privileged ideological foot soldiers are setting into motion, even as they claim that they are combatting apocalypse by insisting on unrestricted fertility.  One has to conclude, I think, that it's actually the script that the religious right throughout the developed areas of the world, the Catholic church included, wants to set into play, despite the claims of this movement to be all about protecting and defending human life: a script that will justify the increasing repression of the populations of developing nations by nations with power and privilege, to sustain the power and privilege of the developed nations.

And this is very definitely the script that the U.S. Catholic bishops are cynically seeking to set into motion with their clamor to elect a Republican president of the U.S. and a Republican majority for Congress this fall.  It is a script that they imagine will empower them, since people commonly turn to religion, rites, and priests in the midst of apocalyptic uncertainty.  And when they fail to turn to religion, rites, and priests with sufficient alacrity, the handiness of a repressive right-wing regime is that it has the power (and won't hesitate to use it) to force submission to the clerical elite.

And the likelihood of that apocalyptic uncertainty arriving sooner rather than later--for the entire world--is much stronger if the reins of the American government are placed directly in the hands of the 1% in the coming elections.

No comments: