Because of industrial agriculture, and because of changes in ocean currents caused by industrially induced global warming, there are increasing numbers of ever-larger hypoxic zones in oceans all over the planet. In some regions, such as off the coast of southern California, oxygen levels have dropped by 25 percent in the last twenty years. In some regions, such as a 1200-square-mile patch off the coast of Oregon last summer, there is essentially no oxygen in the water whatsoever. This kills bottom-dwelling creatures like crabs and stationary creatures like anemones, and forces fish to at the very least change their migration routes. It allows jellyfish and squid to move in, and causes great mats of anaerobic bacteria to grow.
Do you think that if these zones—caused by the activities of industrial civilization—were in the air and not water, and do you think that if these zones frequently passed over major cities and caused people to flee their homes or die, that those in power would stop the activities that were causing these zones?
Nah, I don’t think so either. I think they’d figure out a way to make a dollar selling tanks of oxygen. Soon enough, a lot of people would consider this normal. And a few environmentalists would get really fed up, and, why, by gum, they’d sign a petition, and maybe even ride their bike (recycled oxygen tank strapped to their organic cotton backpack) to their next Voluntary Transformation Club meeting. The earth can’t take this much longer. I don’t know about you, but neither can I.
—Derrick Jensen, from a letter to his inner-circle “reading club” and his upcoming book, Dreams
Our culture takes away all the real essentials in our lives—the things that naturally conduct health, joy, and connection—and then, in their place, offers “solutions.” These solutions are often welcomed and celebrated, and in time they become a seamless part of our reality.
To recognize this phenomenon, we must see through many layers of cultural illusion. It sounds absurd that one day we’ll think it’s normal to walk around with tanks of lab-generated oxygen strapped to our bodies for survival—can you imagine?!—but wait, look what we’ve already accepted as normal…
Our civilized climate is already inhospitable to the human organism. Yet we completely ignore this fact and assume that the shortcomings of our bodies, minds, and emotions in this setup are normal. In fact, we pay homage to modern medicine, psychology, and technology for providing solutions because, from this cultural vantage point, the alternative would be to perish, or at least to suffer as humankind did before these advances.
The very fact that our civilization is not life-generating to our species (let alone other species) remains hidden to most people. We are under the spell that our civilization should set the standard for all others—it should be revered. It brings to my mind the image of elegantly attired couples dancing on the Titanic as it’s sinking.
The so-called solutions reinforce the illusion that everything is running smoothly, that all is well and normal. They keep people believing in this culture. Sure, any number of citizens might see a movie like The 11th Hour, Food, Inc., orRevolutionary Road and feel a surge of outrage, but just as quickly that feeling fades and they fall back under the old spells that keep them dancing on the Titanic.
A culture (in our case, post-agricultural civilization) provides a blueprint for the life of its people, and the solutions it offers are like the nuts and bolts that hold the structure in place.
Imagine for a moment the common blueprint for the life of a child living the American Dream, with all its ups and downs: school, sports, play dates, getting sick, wearing glasses, getting braces, playing video games, skateboarding, watching television, sleepovers, tests, friendships, losing virginity, getting drunk, feeling reckless, summer jobs, graduation ceremonies, dates, proms, disappointments, finding a job, trying to please parents, running into trouble, making bad choices, excelling at something, feeling great about life, failing at something, feeling horrible about life, not understanding life but carrying on nonetheless, finding a mate, and so on and so on.
Cramming our lives with activity after activity, we become so busy, so intimately and multiply connected to the cultural blueprint, that we mistake it for who we really are. We become so entrenched in the demands of the blueprint that we fail to recognize that it enslaves us. The blueprint is so profoundly reinforced that it’s hard to recognize that it’s the cause of our pain and confusion—that is, if we’re aware enough even to acknowledge our pain and confusion.
If we take this cultural blueprint as our only guide, as our only means of navigation, we must accept all of its conditions and solutions:
• It fills the air with substances that inhibit the flow of our breathing. Solution: a steroid inhaler.
• It ruins our water supply and makes living spring water largely inaccessible. Solution: bottled water.
• It offers a life plan that begins with miseducation—forcing children to sit for hours on end indoors, imposing a curriculum that excludes essential information about the nature of our world, and filling the brain with facts that are drilled into memory only to be forgotten. Solution: PE classes that are more about discipline and competition than joy and playfulness.
• It offers stimulating, refined substances for our food and drink that make people of all ages expand with toxic by-products (e.g., gas pressure, fat deposits, yeast overgrowths). Solution: fewer calories and more exercise.
• It gives us many strained relationships with family and friends that suffer from deep disappointment and poor communication and remain broken in ways we don’t know how to fix. Solution: therapy, self-help books, and a “that’s life” approach.
• It gives us birth defects and childhood leukemia. Solution: fundraisers.
• It gives us infertility. Solution: Clomid, Clomid, and more Clomid. (Who knows, the next round might take!)
• It gives us cancer and so-called incurable autoimmune diseases. Solution: chemotherapy and more fundraisers.
• It programs us to be insatiable, materialistic, status-conscious consumers. Solution: credit cards and debt. (Or wait, is it the other way around?)
• It gives us self-serving, impotent governments and political parties. Solution: more of the same and fundraisers.
In the context of this cultural blueprint, the solutions (like the oxygen tank in Derrick Jensen’s above scenario) make sense and seem completely acceptable, normal, and necessary. But in the context of the natural laws of life, they are flat-out insane.
The natural health world of Pilates classes and power shakes may pose as an alternative solution, but it has actually been co-opted as a reinforcement of the mainstream blueprint. It has become an industry much like any other. Do you think the Aborigines, Cheyenne, Bushmen, or Hunzas ever attended exercise classes or drank power shakes? C’mon!
As adults, we must be told how to breathe deeply, something we were born knowing how to do (most children breathe properly without any instruction) but lost through acculturation. Moreover, there was a time, before the environmental assaults of our civilization, when the air was so well oxygenated that we could get more vitality by sipping the air than we can get today by deep breathing in our cities and suburbs.
We are encouraged to take multivitamins and mineral supplements. Why? Because the topsoil has been denatured by civilized methods of agriculture and food production, and people can’t be expected to eat enough fruits and vegetables.
We are offered antidepressants to combat the feelings of a blocked and imbalanced body (chemically, physically, and emotionally) because of the way we live.
We hand our children off to childcare facilities so we can work all day in jobs that support this juggernaut of madness. We even suggest such a modern setup proves the evolution of our culture and the empowerment of women. Sister Suffragette, please! It’s just another oxygen tank in a dying world—another of our civilization’s mad solutions!
We have places to put our parents when they can no longer live alone. Poetic justice for all those hours of being cared for by strangers and coming home to empty houses after school? We have lost touch with the life-generating, inter-generational threads. Rarely do we see a family in which the grandparents are honored as contributing forces of guidance.
We go to gyms to offset sedentary jobs. During the workday, we look forward to the lunch hour just as much as we looked forward to recess when we were in grade school.
We spend half our attention on communication devices but never really connect from the heart or even hear what our own inner voices are trying to tell us.
We have very few examples of real love relationships but an endless stream of romantic entertainment, matchmaking services, and dream weddings.
We spend our precious lives working jobs we hate to pay for things we’ve been programmed to think we need.
We have no oxygen. We are wearing oxygen tanks. We perceive it to be normal. This level of cultural absurdity has already come to pass. What are we going to do about it?
Our bodies are dying, suffering all manner of illnesses because we are so clogged up and the vital fluids of life cannot do their job. Blood flow, lymph flow, and intestinal flow are all blocked and septic. What do we do? We turn to doctors, pharmaceuticals, “natural remedies,” vitamins, and super-food supplements to help us counter symptoms that we fail to understand. With these in hand, we go about the “bon continuation” of our toxic lives and accept the toxic norms, teaching our children how to follow in our footsteps.
Many who see through the illusions of our world end up turning on themselves because they don’t know what else to do. They often hide behind substance abuse and addiction. It seems that every day another celebrity or former child-star has died of a drug overdose or other form of suicide, not to mention all the non-celebrities who slip away from life unseen. Many more will follow. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, the set design is the same—whether elaborate or Spartan, it’s still a façade.
If we continue to accept the “solutions” offered by our cultural blueprint, we will come to accept that oxygen tank. As long as we work in jobs we hate to buy more junk to distract us and reinforce our illusions, we are working toward this oxygen tank. One day, we will heed the advertisement, “Yes, it may be expensive, but your life is worth it!” We will save for it like parents save to send their kids to college—working our whole lives so our children can break through to the next level of societal acceptance, the ultimate validation in a world gone mad.
If we continue to ignore the depletion of oxygen in our oceans, rivers, and lakes—which are the very lifeblood of the earth and all of its inhabitants—there will come a day, sooner than we realize, when we will all need artificial oxygen just to live. The scariest part of this scenario is that we will come to accept it as normal.
The earth can’t take this much longer. I don’t know about you, but neither can I.
For Love of Oxygen and Consciousness,