A Meditation on Disgust and Despair
When I first went to New Mexico from Ohio in 1975, I was struck, as were most who travelled there, by the incredible blueness of the sky on a sunny day (two shades bluer than any I had ever seen in Ohio), the knifedged sharpness of the shadows, and the pinpoint brilliance of the sun in that dry, high desert air.
When I returned twelve years later, I half noticed-- as one always half notices a change in something reacquainted, which was once strong in the memory, but has now become routine--a spreading whiteness around the sun that dulled those shadows and forced me to look due north for the blue that I once remembered in every point of the compass.
Since my business there the second time around was to think about things rather than to look at them, I never confronted my half-acknowledged puzzlement at this change until I was about to leave in 1993. Then one day the explanation simply popped into my head. I was seeing the loss of the ozone layer.
So much of our past has simply vanished in the sunlight like dew on the grass. I sometimes have the fantasy that one day I will wake up, and nothing that I have ever enjoyed will be there at all.
The tigers are going, the deep sea fishes are smaller and fewer in the nets with each passing year, the acid in the rain eats the trees, the species from abroad drives out the native, prarie grasses are found only in the pioneer graveyards, and fully six inches of topsoil over the entire Mississippi drainage basin has silted up the delta in the Gulf of Mexico.
Pack ice at the pole in summer will soon be a memory, as will much of our low lying coastline. The country road where my parents took me to buy sweet corn and river-bottom tomatoes from small rural fruit stands developed, boomed, busted, and blighted. And now daft city committees are being formed to discuss its urban revival. What it will be like if it finally "gentrifies", God alone knows.
None of this "just happened". Choices, individual or collective, political or social, of commission or omission, were made, and more and more things disappeared more and more rapidly as a result.
No one making the choices that I know of has had any conscious or coherant vision of where these choices were supposed to lead. No one making them does now either--and certainly not the blue suits with the American flags in the lapels and with heads above the collar and tie only for courtesy's sake. They have no ideas at all--let alone ideas of where we are supposed to be going.
And the first ones who warned us--like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, which I read ever so many years ago as an earnest undergraduate--have all gone to their graves with nothing essentially done or changed--just a few types of destruction slowed, until the election once again of the "common sense" of rape, pillage, destruction, and blacktop for profit, to be invested in the latest go-go equity, sheltered from taxes, and sqaundered in old age in Orlando, Las Vegas, or Six Flags over America.
So while we are waiting for some new species to become extinct, some further crop to fail due to "unseasonable" weather, some freeway to be widened and the orange barrels removed, some new shopping mall to open, or some market or other to return to the high old bullish days of yesteryear, let's describe once again where we are all headed when 6 billion turns into 12.
Imagine a continent sized theme park, with all that we used to love, in miniature--Wildernessland, Small TownAmerica, Wild Westerly Gunfight, Kung Fu Fists of Fury, The Greatest NFL Game of All, and so forth.
From the center of all these carefully and lovingly developed theme dioramas stretch endless covered air-conditioned shopping malls, tastefully punctuated by Casinos, Cocktail Lounges, and Internet Cafes. And radiating from these a network of suburban streets all the way to the other side of the earth, conveniently accessable from the expressway ramps, for all of us to own a home in, and dotted, here and there, with gleamingly anonymous office buildings, full of carpeted cubicles and ergonomic chairs, for all of us to work in.
Tucked away among the theme dioramas is a smallish The Signing of the Declaration of Independence. After the life sized figure of Thomas Jefferson speaks of Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, there is a pause which is a little too long--some breakdown or other of the machines, you guess--and you say in a very soft voice so that no one else will hear, "Life is worthless, Liberty meaningless, and the Pursuit of Happiness just a con game for suckers in this world which we have made."
Heart of Darkness, right?