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Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Seer Will Sneer, But It's Merely In Fear: An Existential Meditation Of Species

Frederick Sandys Cassandra
Image of Cassandra purloined from Pre Raphaelite Art

One strives to be realistic.

The fates of Cassandra, in her various incarnations in mythology, all resolve around an inevitable descent into madness, borne of the unnatural gift of prophecy. Perhaps "unnatural" is unfair, since it appears that prophecy is as ubiquitous as is the psychic self-immolation of madness itself.

In this age of Cassandras-come-lately (as ironic as that may sound, one can't help but notice the ahistorical cacophony of the various perceptions and assessments of just what is going on right now,) I am struggling with a rather infantile but compelling thought-experiment: With all that I now think that I understand about the limits and consequences of the boom of the last few centuries, unleashed by the obscene ease with which we unearthed and harnessed eons of ancient sunlight, what if, with that knowledge and certainty of the end of such folly, I were to find myself back in time?

Back in time to a place where measured and convincing admonishments might be successfully delivered, before the mass madness overtook the trajectory of history?

Many of us dream today of an "awakening," a time (a nearby and looming time, of course) when, in the face of climate and environmental collapse, of economic (resource) collapse, we may finally come to our senses and retract our foolish ambitions and set on building a global Shire of sustainable, Gaia-friendly lifestyle filled with the fundamental pleasures of life, unshackled from the hypnotic pursuits we've perniciously marketed to ourselves in screaming neon and the High Definition advertisements delivered with the urgency of sexy bottom back-beats.

(Leave aside for the moment, if you please, the irony that such dreams bear the unmistakable characteristics of the "shiny dreams" that have embedded themselves in the DNA of the last three or four television generations. We can only work with the material that we have, after all.)

Back in the 19th century, my soul-brothers the Luddites serve as a model worthy of comment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but these rather prescient folks were ridiculed and marginalized by the capitalist barons of that age, such a feat being made possible only due to the seductive popularity of that rapacious elite. For to see the disingenuous nature of our ostensibly negative reporting on those times today one must merely note the ongoing dancing of the masses at the feet of the Golden Calf, now grown up as the bronze Charging Bull of Wall Street. Not to mention that "Luddite" to this day recalls visions of cranky oldsters railing senselessly against "progress" (see Luddite Fallacy and "buggy whips.")

Now, while the Luddites where primarily concerned with displacement of employment by technology, one can easily see that in injection of perception regarding resource exploitation would have dove-tailed nicely with their curmudgeonly obstructionism. One can easily see, as well, that adding that to their charter would have brought them even more quickly into the darkened and empty boardroom for the inevitable lecture of inevitability by Arthur Jenson.

Point being that there appears to be something existential to our species that consigns us to the proverbial fate of bacteria in the petri dish - consumption of resources to the point of collective suicide. It appears that it matters not just how many "enlightened bacteria" are amongst the hoard, banging their drums of prophecy, things will just keep on keeping on until the the whole lot of us totter on the Seneca cliff, hedonists and Stoics and Cassandras together, with the reasonable conclusion being that the ones who enjoyed themselves along the way were well and truly the sanest amongst us after all.

Pointing out that the prophets are right, in noting that it is the indulgences themselves that bring about the end, is a rather empty triumph (a Pyrrhic victory, if I may rather vulgarly segue to the ancient Romans here), and hardly a marker itself for sanity.

Martyrs and prophets do make a difference but, in looking at the trajectory of history as a whole, one wonders if there is much sanity in such morality.

Now, I must say that I'm "all in," as they say, on the whole Cassandra/Luddite/truth-sayer thing at this point, but I must ask myself, in my infantile thought experiment:

It's 1890-ish, and I know everything, and I'm clearly going to be dead before 2001. General Electric and Standard Oil, or the self-immolation of the prophet? Which would bring one more of a "life" to a member of this fated species - to me? I know everything, mind you, because I'm a time-traveler now - including the utter impotence of the sparely-numbered truth-sayers in the coming century. The Shire will not be cultivated.

And what does the answer to that question truly say about ourselves? (He asks to invite more of that sweet, sweet Cassandric madness.)

1 comment:

  1. Cassandra's problem wasn't that she was a prophet -- but that she wouldn't put out for Apollo. (Hadn't sought 'credentials', status as a recognized 'authority' or 'spokesperson'? -- Just saw and said, thinking that anyone who looked straightforwardly would see... while Apollo, that god of apparent transparent lightfulness, had a preference for cryptic rhymes muttered by dizzy young women in dark, smoky crevices.)

    There's this story where Vishnu's devotee asks him, "Hey, could you show me a little of that Maya stuff? Just so I'll know what to look for?" Vishnu just says, "Hey, why don't you just go bring me a drink of water from that stream down there?" Devotee meets a cute young woman down by the riverbank; and before he knows it he's settled into her village and married and raising a houseful of kids... and then, one night, there's a sudden flood that washes them all away. Drowning, calling out for help, he sees Vishnu reaching for him, pulling him out of the water. "Well, where's my drink?"

    Unlike that young man, we can make our own flood. But it all looks, to me, like another version of that story.

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