CHAPTER NINE: IMAGINARY VALUES
RENOVATION OF LEARNING
ENERGY AND ECONOMY
A FOREST PHARMACY
When Marcel Duchamp invented the idea of Ready-made sculpture, he became something like a sorcerer's apprentice primed to perform the role of an Optical Magician, with a vision unlimited by palette, paint and canvas. He cannily conjured a revolutionary spectrum: an informational array of gleaming abstruse cogitation refracted in the fourth and higher dimensions, notions even today pretty much only understood by a rarified community of theoretical scientists and assorted zanies. In the first quarter of the twentieth century perhaps no more than a few dozen, or at most a few hundred people in Europe--almost none of whom had anything to do with the fine arts--really grasped such ideas.
[See, Linda Dalrymple Henderson, The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art, Princeton University Press (1983).]
Yet, at that same time the very name of Einstein was newsworthy. The public at large was fascinated by the curious, awesome yet intimidating inscrutibility of new science. In the lively arena of Parisian intellectual discourse, Duchamp was perhaps better qualified than most to attempt grappling with the issues seriously, and his perspective on all of these conceptual fireworks remained remarkably well-balanced:
There were discussions at the time of the fourth dimension and of non-Euclidean geometry. But most views of it were amateurish. Metzinger was particularly attracted. And for all our misunderstandings through these new ideas we were helped to get away from the conventional way of speaking--from our cafe and studio platitudes.
[Sanouillet, Salt Seller, p. 126.]
While Duchamp was neither inclined nor equipped to play cerebral hardball with the genuine scientific geniuses of his day, his trained eye and hand, together with the acuity of his intelligence, his highly disciplined analytical capabilities and practiced memory--honed by his life-long love affair with chess--allowed him to transform that conceptual study of pristine abstractions into art as concrete, elegant illustrations of an unremittingly modern space/time imagination.
Marcel Duchamp had set about establishing a rigorous foundation for his whimsically deliberate aesthetic stance with the event/piece Three Standard Stoppages (1913-14). He began, as would a meticulous practitioner of the exact sciences, by specifying the standard unit of measure to be employed. Wisely avoiding blind chauvinism, he did not automatically adopt the meter, which had been the Parisian standard since the system was made compulsory by the Commune of Paris in 1795.
[Lloyd A. Brown, The Story of Maps, Bonanza Books, New York (1949), pp. 287 ff. His study has proven valuable for the following summary account of the meter as a standard unit of measure.]
Technically, the meter was supposed to be one forty-millionth part of a great circle meridian, but it was based upon an arc from Dunkerque to Barcelona and so reflected only a local French measure, having little to do with a truly earth-commensurate standard. The English inch and the Egyptian cubit, on the other hand, are both intimately related to genuine geodesy. Moreover, the French people of the late eighteenth century, despite the elaborate rationalizations of savants and the passing of compulsory laws, offered considerable resistance to acceptance of the metric system. A platinum standard deposited in the National Archives in 1799 was replaced by a platinum-iridium H-bar following an international conference on weights and measures convened at Paris in 1875. Thirty exact copies, each defining the "legal meter" as 3.28086933 feet, were distributed to the signatory nations. But at the same time there was established an "international meter" of 3.2808257 feet, also official.
In common speech and thought the metric system is primarily associated with the decimal ordering of coinage, weights and measures....Scientific lexicographers say that the metric system took its origin in the need imposed by the development of scientific thought for immutable and at the same time CONVENIENTLY related units of physical measure; and they imply that this need was not satisfied until the last decade of the 18th century. This may be true enough for Europe, but...an approach was made to such an immutable unit in China in the first decade of that century. Moreover, as in the case of so many post-Renaissance scientific developments, there is an earlier history of this celestial-terrestrial bond, and we can find it already in the 8th century [A.D.] in China....Though decimalisation is not the main issue here, it is worth recalling...a remarkable predilection for decimal metrology on the part of the ancient Chinese. This goes well back into the Chou period, as foot rules dating from the 6th century [B.C.] remain to witness....In no other part of the world was the decimalisation of weights and measures so early and so consistent....
A great step forward was taken when the idea arose in China of fixing terrestrial length measures in terms of astronomical units....In the years [A.D.] 723 to 726,...important expeditions were organised under the direction of an Astronomer-Royal, Nankung Yeh, and a Tantric Buddhist monk, I-Hsing, one of the most outstanding mathematicians and astronomers of his age....The results of the pioneer geodetic survey...form an impressive body of data [with field observations corrected by sophisticated computation using trigonometric functions]....Their work takes an outstanding place in the pre-history of the metric system, not only on account of the spaciousness and amplitude of its plan and organisation, unmatched elsewhere throughout the Middle Ages, but also because of the advanced mathematical methods used to compute the ideal set of values.
[Joseph Needham, "China and the Metric System," Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 4: Physics and Physical Technology, Part 1: Physics, Cambridge at the University Press (1962), pp. 42-55. The emphasis on CONVENIENTLY is ours, as we have, from time to time, here and there, drawn attention to words inscribed on With Hidden Noise.]
Many serious European scientists in the nineteenth century were still unsatisfied with the objectivity of evidence about the curvature of the earth--which of course, as we now know, varies from place to place--and so were reluctant to accept the French standard. Thomas Jefferson, the wisest mind in these matters among America's Founders, recommended against adopting the metric standard. Not only was Paris a point of geodetic inconsequentiality (unlike, say, Philadelphia which was situated precisely on the 40th parallel), but also the metric system, as Jefferson aptly noted, failed to provide a really complete and consistent set of standards for measuring the full range of mechanical and electromagnetic phenomena. Moreover, the fragmentary and inconsistent decimal/metric system did not fit with the (Sumerian) sexigesimal basis for our common divisions of time. Therefore, whatever the "conventional conveniences" of the meter, it still remains--as Jefferson rightly thought--essentially an expression of arbitrary political influence rather than an objective basis for true science.
Every country involved in geodetic operations has evolved an elaborate technique and precise instruments for making earth measurements, none of which is flawless. The results obtained in each case have approximated a constant, but a single value for the flattening of the earth at the poles would obviously be highly desireable. No such universal standard has yet been established....Since 1849, no fewer that thirteen values, based on the most precise measurements, have been set forth, each one having its merits and its faults.... [In 1924] the Congress of the Internatonal Geodetic and Geographical Union discussed the matter at great length...then proposed the adoption of Hayford's estimate of 1910....There were dissenting voices...on the grounds that Hayford's determination was based, not on European degrees measurements, but on observations and measurements made entirely within the United States....Today there are no fewer than seven different values for the spheroid in use in various parts of the world, no one of which is Hayford's.
[Brown, Maps, p. 293.]
Marcel Duchamp may have been very bit as arbitrary as his 18th century fellow Frenchmen perhaps, but this quality was complemented by the humor and insouciance of a witty, creative artist. Therefore, he was able to avoid the self-serious pretensions of pseudo-science-as-politics; rather did he set out unabashedly to institute:
a personal system (metaphysics) of measurement and time-space calculation that "stretches the laws of physics just a little." Drawings become mechanical renderings. Three-dimensional objects become quasi-scientific devices: e.g., Three Standard Stoppages, a manifestation of "canned chance" that remained one of the artist's favorite works.
[D'Harnoncourt and McShine, p. 14.]
Insofar as we have considered With Hidden Noise a quasi-scientific device, our analysis and careful scrutiny might (all the better) serve to confirm its poetic intricacies, artistic power and historical significance. The Ready-made may be seen today as a very lovely and intriguing object, highly unusual for its time, to be sure, just as it still piques conservative tastes that demand sculpture must show a patina of bronze on some human or animal form. Duchamp's handiwork is every bit as well-proportioned and nicely put together as the elegant "Louis XV chassis" that inspired the Chocolate Grinder, and as fine in its way as a piece of original furniture from that period.
With Hidden Noise, as we have revealed, is something more: an engrossing cryptological enigma, presenting a conundrum which has one simple, clear, real, and objective answer. Our functioning premise was supplied by Walter Hopps, that the solution (identification of the secret object) could be figured out. Even so, the original secret was Arensberg's and--with a decisive break in continuity of what might have become a direct, authentic, esoteric, oral tradition--it died with him. Duchamp also died without even caring to know the answer, preferring the subtle contentments of "holding the question" to indulging in the satisfaction of some gnawing curiosity desirous of discovering the answer. To date, the secret has been compromised only technically (but not artistically) by the professional peek permitted to Walter Hopps--and explicitly authorized by Duchamp--in 1963. Therefore the question, the mystery, is still alive. The issue of "Duchampian complementarity" also lives because the magic of the piece, paradoxically interacting with posterity, continues to taunt us with its title, virtually shouting, "I've got a secret!" and daring (yea! enjoining) anyone who might have guessed it to bruit the same.
Pick up the piece (would that one were permitted to do this!) and even without knowing the title, we naturally might be led to wonder about the nature of the secret object, the source of the hidden noise. Anyone can see that what we have attempted here represents only an illustration of one way in which Duchamp's With Hidden Noise may be read, or "worked," as a cosmogram. With respect for the procedures of applied science: its elements have been explained by the numbers, as one after the other (nacheinander), or as one alongside another, as if laid out side-by-side on some imaginary plane (nebeneinander). We trust anyone can understand such a complementary approach. Still further complementarities have been generated by Duchamp and Arensberg's col-aborative work, as a continuity of collaboration: materially in the assembly of re-creations, and interpretively on the metaphysical or the 'pataphysical plane. Truly pithy collaboration with the creative cryptophiliacs who composed With Hidden Noise implies solving the puzzle in the spirit of a game, i.e., without peeking. Only then might one command a certain poetic right to reveal the mystery, to bruit the secret: realizing the implications of the title read as an injunction. After all, it's not much of a secret unless somebody knows; and it's not much fun as a riddle unless the solution is possible to figure out or to guess. Under such circumstances, the sculpture seems to have languished for a short aion, awaiting "collaborative" cryptanalytical completion by one of posterity's respectful, civilized regardeurs. Thus, might the mystery be revealed. Thus an apocalypse, a revelation.
RENOVATION OF LEARNING
The state of the arts and the general level of education most people would regard as better indications of "civilization," in its more lofty and enlightened sense, than the art of war preoccupying theheads of nation-states in the millennium's last days. An old saw is that Truth is War's first victim, however, War is not Truth's only adversary since, together with the generals, none of the other "bolt-heads" (desperate to hold together a construct of the world that keeps secret the shaky determinant of their power) wants the ordinary people of the world to be educated, with a true and real, good and beautiful realization what is actually going on, or about to happen.
To characterize the alternative, revolutionary, realistic, and basically sane approach linking the idea of "information" with that of "consciousness," the remarkable scholar Leo Frobenius, just about one short-aion ago, employed the richly meaningful Greek term, paideuma, which refers not only to "the thing taught" and "the system or method of teaching," but also to "the nursling, pupil or scholar," that is, to the PERSON involved in the process. Acknowledging--almost lionizing --Frobenius, the term Paideuma then was borrowed by Ezra Pound, as in A Guide to Kulchur, that suggests a sort of reassembling of the Cumaean Sibyl's prophetic, deciduous, and scattered loose leaves.
We cd. take a tip from the book-keepers. The loose leaf system is applied in effective business. Old accounts, accounts of deceased and departed customers formerly blocked the pages of ledgers....
An "education"...which does not fit the student for life [20 years down the line] is a sham and an infamy....The value of Leo Frobenius to civilization is not for the rightness or wrongness of this opinion or that opinion but for the kind of thinking he does...."Where we found these rock drawings, there was always water within six feet of the surface." That kind of research goes not only into past and forgotten life, but points to tomorrow's water supply. This is not mere utilitarianism, it is a double charge, a sense of two sets of values and their relation.
To escape a word or set of words loaded up with dead association Frobenius uses the term Paideuma for the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period...the normal anglo-saxon loathes a highsounding word, especially a greek word unfamiliar.
The Paideuma is not the Zeitgeist....Frobenius has seized a word not current for the express purpose of scraping off the barnacles and "atmosphere" of a long-used term...including also the tints of mental air, the idées réçues, the notions that a great mass of people still hold or half hold from habit, from waning custom. Paiduema [Pound takes to mean] the gristly roots of ideas that are in action. The "New Learning"...can imply whatever [we of our] generation can offer our successors as means to the new comprehension.
A vast mass of school learning is DEAD. It is as deadly as corpse infection. CH'ING MING, a new Paideuma will start with that injunction as has every conscious renovation of learning.
[Pound, Guide to Kulchur, p. 56 f.]
The emphatic significance of the person is solidly substantiated by turning to a standard reference, Matthews' Chinese-English Dictionary, which can be accessed by anyone, whether or not they can actually read the Chinese characters, because it is organized alphabetically according to standard Latinized transliterations. But the standard changes--and changes still--so Pound's "CH'ING" has become CHÊNG in the 1972, twelfth printing of the Revised American Edition of Matthews' available to us for reference.
[See, Matthews', p. 42, where begins the entry for the character CHÊNG, which is numbered 351; at the top of the right-hand column on page 42 appears the combination CHÊNG MING; and on page 633 begins the entry for MING (considered separately), which is numbered 4524.]
As part of its definition, we learn that the character MING has a special syntactical function in Chinese, as a "classifier" indicating that the other character(s) with which it appears is (are) to be understood as relating to persons; thus it CORRESPONDS most appropriately with our sense of the "quintessence" as discussed above, in the context of revolution. When used together, the two characters CHÊNG MING acquire the specific meaning = "To define the correct terms."
This is to say, we must "Define terms correctly!" Such a resolve is not only the beginning, it is also a recurrent function which must be programmed into the process, because (as reasonable people understand) no definition in a living language is ever rigidly fixed and absolute. That is precisely why the oral tradition must be given its proper due. But just as there are those--the poets and singers, writers and thinkers--whose contributions serve to keep the language alive, there are others who subvert the common modes of communication with their spins and twists, with base guile and impure hearts. The German language never suffered more than under the tortuous deconstructions of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels; nor has the Chinese language and culture been more massively permuted than under the renovations following the advent to power of of Mao Zedong. For--as George Orwell in 1984, Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, and many writers of science fiction have clearly recognized--language is perhaps the most crucial domain within which are joined the issues of slavery or freedom.
ENERGY AND ECONOMY
The term ECONOMY literally refers to housekeeping, since it derives from the Greek oikos, "house" or "household." The Indo-European root weik yields VILLA and, through the Latin vicus meaning "quarter, or district of a town, neighborhood," the word VICINITY. So economics, in its most basic sense is how one keeps house, or manages (-nomos) and maintains a household. By extension, the idea of a good HUSBAND is one who acknowledges bonds to the household, helping it to continue in existence and to grow. The Indo-European root bheu is the source of several important related words in modern American English, all having to do with BEING, including the FUTURE, to BUILD, NEIGHBOR, words such as PHYSIQUE related to the Greek stem physis "growth, nature," those such as BEAM related to Baum the Germanic word for tree, BOODLE meaning "riches, property," and in Welsh the wonderful word EISTEDDFOD which, for the bards and ollaves of yore, was a great national challenge competition of language, music, poetry and lore.
"Is your gold rams and ewes?"
I suppose a man might still learn from Hesiod if he had no other access to agricultural knowledge. The civilized farmer will want to compare today's knowledge with Hesiod's, the civilized merchant will want to compare monetary practice with what Shakespeare and Dante and/or Demosthenes knew. "Usury as Mahomet forbade." The evil wrought on the arts by pustulence in the system of money. All these are part of the
POLLON D'ANTHROPON IDEN
of the serious questions whereto civilized men, as distinct from prig, pimp or nitwit, will give serious answers.
[Pound, Guide to Kulchur, p. 149.]
Students of the academic discipline of economics have come to realize that the foundations of their study must be sought in the nature and structure of any system's basic source of energy. This is not just a theoretical position, since we also see it illustrated in historical terms quite literally. Of course, virtually all energy on the Earth may be attributed to the Sun (give or take a couple of cosmic rays and the incidental neutrino). In a more local sense, mankind began the controlled burning of wood, apparently, around half a million years ago. With the catastrophic rise in human populations, particularly over the last few generations, the global crisis in wood burning threatens annihilation of the world's last great forests, assaulting the diversity of life forms representing the true riches of the planet, and thus assuredly promising disaster for ourselves.
Around 1750 coal began to be burned and, rendered into coke, fuelled the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution. Other fossil fuels also followed, including natural gas and--greatly stimulated by the automobile's popularity--the petroleum products, especially oil and gasoline. In the twentieth century, electricity came into serious production with the construction of vast hydroelectric facilities, damming many--if not most--of the world's wild rivers and destroying the colossal natural wealth of riparian habitat. Electricity was and is produced also at plants fired by fossil fuels, generating in the BARGAIN enormous, nasty problems of atmospheric pollution, and many deleterious impacts upon the environment, from acid rain to carbon dioxide imbalance. In the second half of the twentieth century, massive--if checkered-- attempts have been made to shift the production of useable energy (as heat, which would then boil water, spin turbines, and generate electricity) to a nuclear basis with fission reactors.
In the teeth of several horrendous problems insistently posed by radiation, this approach is plagued with so-far unanswered issues of toxic pollution, waste treatment and storage. Plutonium, indeed, may fit the definition of the proverbial "forbidden fruit" of Biblical notoriety, having been "created" not by Nature, nor strictly speaking by God directly, but diabolically fashioned by the hand of man.
From the Almanac of Shame:
THE RADIOACTIVE DOGS OF PRIPIAK
(Fifth year since the Chernobyl incident)
When the people evacuated Pripiak, they had to abandon their dogs and cats. Since the animals all lived outdoors, soon their fur became radioactive. The dogs had followed the departing buses as far as they could, but then turned back to an empty town. They formed packs, and all began to roam around attacking anything still alive. After a while, men returned and shot them all.
he Almanac of Shame, by Clifford Barney; this reference from "Tales of Chernobyl," broadcast by National Public Radio, April 26, 1991]
Since the half-life of plutonium is very nearly that of the 25,920-year "long aion," its terrible consequences for all life forms cannot be denied or ignored. On the contrary, a focussed awareness of radioactivity's clear and present dangers must be woven into the fabric of all future civilization, at the very least for the purpose of providing fair warning. This profoundly serious obligation falls upon all of us, as for the ancient Greeks the binding skein of Fate fell even upon the laps of the gods. The price of guaranteeing this awareness is forgiveness, as ghastly as the deeds have been which first conceived, made, used, and spread the use of nuclear weapons.
When I think about how beings of the future will relate to our radioactive legacy, an unexpected danger occurs to me: the danger that they may not take seriously the toxicity of these wastes. The beings of the future need to believe the danger, that is, believe that their ancestors knowingly produced plutonium that cripples and kills for one quarter of a million years. They will have to come to terms with that....The challenge for the beings of the future will be in accepting what their ancestors have done, and for that acceptance to occur, a measure of forgiveness will also be necessary....
[Joanna Macy, Inquiring Mind, p. 4.]
In his eloquent Introduction to The Gospel According to Jesus, Stephen Mitchell presents the attitude of forgiveness as essentially "openness of heart." Forgiveness is to be understood as a letting go--releasing both those whom we feel have committed wrongs however great, and releasing ourselves--so that a space opens up inside us where others are always welcome. While commenting on the significance of forgiveness with respect to matters in heaven and here on Earth, Mitchell cites the artist, poet and master printer, William Blake:
It is Jesus' most important teaching for those who aren't ready to enter the kingdom of God, as Blake recognized:
There is not one moral virtue that Jesus inculcated but Plato and Cicero did inculcate before him. What then did Christ inculcate? Forgiveness of sins. This alone is the gospel and this is the life and the immortality brought to light by Jesus, even the covenant of Jehova, which is this: if you forgive one another your trespasses, so shall Jehova forgive you, that he himself may dwell among you.
Forgiveness is a sign pointing toward that kingdom. We ask Jesus, How should we live? He says, Love God, love your neighbor. We ask, What is that like? He says, Let go. Letting go of an offense means letting go of the self that is offended.
There are only a few passages in which Jesus mentions forgiveness, but they are central. In all of them, he is teaching us forgiveness; it is never a question of his forgiving sins. The two passages in which Jesus himself is said to forgive sins--the story of the man sick with palsy, and of the repentant sinner who wets Jesus' feet with her tears--probably derive from the Church's image of him as a divine being. The most that Jesus could have taught these unhappy people would be to forgive themselves. Or he could have said, as a provisional teaching, that God had forgiven them. But actually, forgiveness is an experience that happens only outside the kingdom of God. If you have to let go, then there was something to hold on to. Where there is no offense to begin with, there is nothing to forgive. It is more accurate to say that inside the kingdom of God there is only acceptance.
[Mitchell, The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 54 f. Blake's passage is from The Everlasting Gospel, with spelling and punctuation modified.]
In the long run, weapons may not be the worst of the problems. Dangers from relatively low-level radiation pose far more intractible difficulties. Perhaps the worst to be dealt with begin at the sites of uranium mining where very low-level, but ubiquitous and persistent, radioactivity challenges all imagined efforts to render it safe. The karmic prospectus for posterity, even in the shorter term, contains several certain and interrelated imperatives, among which dealing with the consequences of radiation--simply in the light of the radioactive toxins already produced--must figure significantly.
Paramount among these imperatives, and every day becoming more painfully obvious as the root of many other problems (such as devastation of the environment, extermination other species, fouling the sources of pure water and polluting the ocean itself), is the need to contain the numerical size of our human household. Population must be controlled--and very likely needs to be reduced. We must stop destroying the planet's biosphere, including all forests, both tropical and temperate, as well as savannah, grassland and hill country-- even DESERTS--all of which provide habitat essential for the diversity of life. We must stop despoiling our water sources, and stop polluting and overfishing the oceans. This should be immediately obvious to all but the most innocent of babies, on the simple analogy of fouling the nest, or the sophisticated one of profaning the sanctuary.
James Lovelock, the pioneer of the Gaia hypothesis, first came across the astounding notion that the consequences of entropy had been reduced (or temporarily reversed, in a sense) by the principle of life on Earth...naming the hypothetical system that regulates the planet for Gaia, or Ge, the Earth Goddess of the archaic Greeks. The primary mechanism by which all living matter--conceived as a single super-organism--has achieved this long-time global climatic creation and control involves maintaining, through atmospheric circulation of ordinarily highly reactive gasses, a dynamic equilibrium favorable to life itself. By such subtle means, even though the temperature of the Sun is considerably higher than when life first appeared, atmospheric changes effected by life have compensated for that increase, keeping the Earth within the temperature range, generally that at which water remains liquid, that state preferred by life itself.
Since our sanctuary is the planet Earth itself, the key to its proper maintenance is an attitude of at least mutual tolerance if not respectful stewardship. As obvious and self-evident as this might seem, many people find it difficult to acknowledge a sense of collective responsibility even in caring for other human beings. Whoever may speak for the plants and the animals, there is, anyway, a great need for compassion to soften the hearts of those who stonily ignore the plight of the poor or homeless, the exiles or dispossessed, the infirm and the mentally or emotionally distraught, and the suffering of all innocents including the old and the very young. Yet one might recognize a certain cruel logic in all this so long as there continues unchecked the rampant proliferation of our species, the plague of human beings upon the Earth. Once we stabilize our global population, it may be easier to persuade benevolent action toward the guarantee of basic needs, with food, shelter, essential health care and educational opportunities for all, in the recognition that we are One.
From such a perspective, genuine optimism is possible. We may entertain the serious promise of recapturing some part of the sane and wonderful realities of the Paleolithic "Golden Age," when again all the world, and all of human consciousness was obviously One. Quite another focus is the gloom of so many so-called environmentalists according to Theodore Roszak, author of The Voice of the Earth, characterized by Harold Gilliam as a "brilliant new book, which probes the plight and the possibilities of this planet and its inhabitants in greater depth, I believe, than anyone has previously reached." In a conversation with Gilliam--himself a remarkable chronicler of environmental consciousness--Roszak expressed his concern about:
the tactics many environmentalists have been using--the attitudes of hectoring, bullying and badgering people. We continually harp on doom and disaster and fear and panic. We try to make people feel guilty and often rely on exaggeration and distortion....You hear people telling you `the most important thing is to save the rainforest' and `the most urgent problem is to save the oceans' and `the first thing you have to do is save the ozone,' and after a while you get the phenomenon of overload....There's got to be a better way to get the point across with greater sensitivity....We have to learn how to stop pushing the panic button all the time and to connect with what is generous, positive and noble in people....Suppose educators attended a conference with a tribal medicine man or shaman who talked about his people's reverence for the sacred in nature, and they began to put into the curricula some courses and field trips emphasizing the connection between nature and mental health.
Suppose environmentalists were to shift from a negative to a positive approach, coming on not as scowling Puritans and ideologues but showing that healing people and healing the planet are part of the same enterprise. People have a deep psychological need for contact with nature, the planet needs the reverential care of humans....I can even imagine an ecopsychologist...telling people: `You're leading a crazy life and need to get bck to sanity by cultivating a relation to plants and animals and the natural world' [recapitulating the message of Koyaanisquatsi].
I think ecopsychology could shift the whole emphasis in the environmental movement from trying to scare people with threats of doom to showing them the prospect of greater personal fulfil-lment by bringing their activities in harmony with the Earth.
[Harold Gilliam, "Roszak's Ecopsychology," Environment section, "This World," in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 19, 1992), p. 17 f.]
The world needs and deserves a calling to account. And the world may get it. A determined reader can discover informative material--some portion of which bears a distinctly positive cast, celebrating bold efforts by the alternative press and heroic activities by organizations like the Council on Economic Priorities. The CEP's director, Alice Tepper Marlin, has written a surprisingly popular guide-book, Shopping for a Better World, helping to direct consumer activism toward "green" action. Since the late 1980s,
CEP has also sponsored America's Corporate Conscience awards. [In April], CEP announced the nine winners of the 1992 awards: Church & Dwight,, U.S. West, General Mills, Prudential Insurance, Supermarkets General, Donelly Corp., Tom's of Maine, Lotus Development Corp. and Conservatree Paper Co.
Three dishonorable mentions were also given to RJR Nabisco for its deceptive "Joe Camel" advertising; to Du Pont for the honor of being the "largest domestic emitter of toxic chemicals," and to MAXXAM Inc. for environmental destruction....MAXXAM [also involved in a takeover bid for Continental Airlines in 1992] received its dishonorable mention for Pacific Lumber [formerly a family-owned company with an excellent record for sustainable yeild timber harvests], a subsidiary it purchased with junk bonds in 1985. Despite prolonged opposition from environmentalist groups, the company doubled its rate of redwood cutting in order to pay off the bonds. Lost in one clearcut were 1,145 acres of virgin old-growth redwood forest.
[Micah Fink, "Tepper Marlin: Shopping till they stop," In These Times, Vol. 16, No. 20 (April 15-21, 1992), p. 4 f.]
While CEP's new project, the Corporate and Environmental Data Clearinghouse, will assess the environmental behavior of all 500 publicly held companies in Standard and Poor's, privately held corporations need not even file an annual report. No one outside such enterprises need ever know how much money has been made, nor how it was done, nor anything else about the operation of the business. Nor, in its shameless abandonment of public responsibility, has the United States government displayed much interest in bringing these issues to the awareness of the American public. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude demonstrated by govermental policies of the last decade has shown mocking, duplicitous effrontery, cynicism and lies. Official, perverse statements suggest that somehow--astoundingly!-- this bias toward secrecy, denial and cover-up is "good for business," or "protects jobs." Upon reflection, who needs those "jobs" of full-scale toxic polluting or cutting down the last stands of redwood trees? Ronald Reagan did say (and really may believe) that trees CAUSE smog.
There remain, then--on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven--certain general questions about good housekeeping, and practical problems about how to keep the Earth household going. No one really knows where the energy will come from tomorrow, but the best bets have to be on essentially renewable sources, whether geothermal, wind, nuclear fusion (pending technical success with containment design) and, inevitably, solar--from our nearest star, the Sun. Energy from the Sun might be considered as a "natural resource" in that we do not control its emission, but simply, naturally, and pasively receive whatever the star might send our way. Hypothetical projects for capturing asteroids or mining the Moon are fantasies thinner than gossamer, nigh infra mince. Therefore, with respect to the planet Earth, we are effectively operating within a closed system, with essentially finite resources. All economists who make assumptions of continuous "growth," unending "progress," "development," and so forth, must appear right alongside the prime practitioners of quasi-science.
Has any caring soul ever wondered why the "predictions" of economists--as reported daily in the standard press and nightly on the TV news--don't just fail to hit the bull's eye, but often miss the target entirely? So much for "experts." They can't have it both ways: either "the economy" really IS out of control, and nobody can do anything about it, much less predict what may happen (in which case the pretense of professional economists is a cruel charade), OR crisis after economic crisis has been engineered deliberately (and the people are not being told any part of the truth). Economics, operating easily within its proper limits, could help the world take care of its household; forgetting this charge, economists--and not the artists--have locked themselves up with the bad king in the countinghouse.
It appears that the freedom enjoyed by modernist art in this century was circumscribed after all. Seen from the centers of real power, even the license to épater le bourgeois was confined to clowning inside the ring. Because whatever artists did within their profession, whatever they might inflict upon themselves or their peers or on Art itself; whatever fantasy, privacy or obsession they chose to lay bare, to those at the social controls, these "histrionics of the art world" (Haacke's phrase) were harmless stuff, like the capers formerly permitted to mummers and mountebanks, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers, and their kind. Artists, like fools in motley at the courts of bored princes, had a protected right to their antics--within certain limits. For the old jesters too would take risks and could joke even at their patron's expense; but never about their patrons' sources of revenue. They could peer into the human heart, but not into ledgers; snoop from under the bed, but keep out of the countinghouse.
[Leo Steinberg, "Some of Hans Haacke's Works Considered as Fine Art," in Brian Wallis, editor, Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, (MIT, Cambridge, 1986), p. 11.]
The world's basic energy source was reckoned once upon a time as wood, when religion respected the dignity of all the animals and of the plant kingdom as well, and groves of trees were as sacred as cathedrals. Leather and wool were bartered, then commodity trading developed into abstract cash negotiations; scarce and difficult to obtain, gold and silver ruled as the noblest metals for coinage; fossil fuels and petroleum products followed, then energy-producing hardware and technology: electric, nuclear, and solar. In our time, there has been a major transformation of commodity and cash transactions to lines of credit and electronic transfers, all of which may remind people--as Henry Miller among others wisely observed--about the illusory, evanescent, ephemeral, and wholly imaginary nature of money. But there is the king (the President, Chief Executive Officer, or transnational CEO) is in his counting house, counting out "his" money. In even such puerile and pecuniary terms, however, there is a new case to be made for the preservation of biodiversity, as exemplified most dramatically by the exploitation of tropical rainforests, although life forms ought to need no "justification" for continuity.
A FOREST PHARMACY
In a study of forest plots in Belize, a small plot of 30-year-old forest in a low-lying valley yielded five native medicinal species, worth $564 for a single harvest. A Plot of 50-year-old forest in the foothills on the Maya Mountains produced four species worth $3,054 at local market rates. Clearing the land for other agricultural uses yield far less economic value....The current value of medicinal plants on the two acres, given...a sustainable harvest [of one acre per year, with 30 years for regeneration] they found, is $294 and $1,346 per acre....
Conservationists often argue that tropical forests should be preserved because they may contain undiscovered medicinal plants that would be worth billions of dollars if developed into drugs. Dr. [Michael] Balick does not discount such notions. But that abstract argument for preservation, which might not pay off for another decade, is of little interest to the farmer who needs to feed his family, he said...."For the first time, we are not talking about medicinal benefits that are years in the future. We are talking about benefits that people are realizing today." The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 80 percent of the world's population relies at least in part on traditional medicine for primary health care.
[Catherine Dold, "Tropical Rainforests Found More Valuable for Medi-cine Than Other Uses," New York Times (Tuesday April 28, 1992), p. B8. The research was conducted by Dr. Balick, director of the Institute of Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden, and Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, associate professor of forest policy at Yale University, with the help of local herb gatherers possessing critical knowledge.]
No one has reckoned, "computed," or even seriously guessed at the real costs that might be incurred by the total reconstitution, the complete restoration, of a single acre--much less of a square mile, or some larger, theoretically viable area--of rainforest (tropical or temperate), tundra, wetland or whatever. Therefore all talk of its "value" is, in a sense, babble and dissimulation. Because economists, working for international organizations intent upon investing capital in "undeveloped" areas, don't know, and cannot even guess what the real costs of such projects might be, mostly they do not even ask, but simply ignore this fundamental issue. Yet, as in buying insurance for our house or car, if the issue of replacement cost is not raised, how can we have a rational measure of real costs? Are we not here rather talking about anticipated returns on projects of exploitation, only thinly veiled by the skewed terms "progress" and "development"?
In his righteously violent poem, Edward Dorn muses over "a list of property to be blown apart / along the North Atlantic perimeter--" including, "last things first as usual: 1. financial consortia or power money then... 2. The functionaries of the fiscal apparatus / `computers' and the entire secretariatus...[and]:
[Edward Dorn, "A Theory of Truth: The North Atlantic Turbine," The North Atlantic Turbine, Fulcrum Press, London (1967), p. 23.]