Connecting the inside and the outside, gouache on paper 2020
The crises we are facing are all inextricably connected with each other.
Driven by a wickedly complex, emergent, yet well-designed system that provides illusory growth at the expense of the fabric of life. Thousands of years of (particular) human cultures seeking to dominate other cultures, and the living ecosystems around them, in order to grow, in order to expand, in order to dominate more spaces, so they can expand more, needing more space to expand, therefore taking more from the next geographical area they can access… and so on.
The cyclical dynamics of taking, consuming, expanding, and erasing the personhood, needs and lives of those our (now) global culture takes from, repeat in micro and macro levels throughout history, and we see them unfolding, normalized in front of our eyes– even at the most personal level between intimate partners, between parents and children. At the biggest-of-big-pictures, we are doing this globally: exploiting land and living systems to the point that all living species are in the process of dying right now – some quickly, some slowly dwindling. Some fall prey to illnesses that would be kept in check by intact ecosystems (that includes us: we’re feeling the effects of the global unraveling through Corona). At the cultural scale, we are seeing black people (especially in the US) and their allies rise up against systemic violence and brutality after George Floyd’s murder– as they too have been oppressed by a complex system of exploitation and abuse.
The crisis of police terrorism in the US and systemic disadvantaging and persecution, targeting black people, is an urgent humanitarian crisis. It demands immediate response, a critical mass of people willing to do whatever it takes to stop the cycles of abuse of non-white individuals and communities.
We see these similar factors with the Amazon fires, which became uncontrollable out of the system’s demand for planet-wide (cheap) agricultural and cattle consumption; and indigenous land protectors who are fighting to protect the rainforest are being massacred to sacrifice the land to production and agriculture.
Only months ago, my home country of Chile saw an epic crisis of police violence and horrendous abuse of power, as the people rose up to protest economic exploitation and systemic inequality.
While completely different in time-scale and development, similar factors have been present in the Corona crisis: it has its roots in a virus that opportunistically arose out of a space were living beings are exploited, in brutal conditions, for human consumption; and once the pandemic set in, we’ve been called to choose to sacrifice our individualistic liberties to protect the most vulnerable and prevent an even more massive health disaster.
These are all humanitarian crises that demand certain, unequivocal response.
As the demands for basic, inalienable rights (of people, of animals, of nature) meet with the thousands-of-years-old systems of domination for “infinite growth”, we find ourselves mired in this system’s habit of demanding that we “prove” our position through reasoning, and creating “controversies” of differing opinions and positions. Let’s not allow for this trap to stop us from making change.
Just as the ultimate root of our existential crises is the extraction of the resources and collective life-force of “others” (people, animals, land-bases), ultimate death is the conclusion. Ultimate death of all living beings will not be reasoned with. Death deserves our respect, and death says: “ if you want to continue to exist, you must take, unequivocal life-affirming action”.
In a deeply existential way, our collective crisis toward death feels to me like it includes an element of possibility. Often people come “back” from a near-death experience radically changed– with insight, with wisdom, and with a willingness to live and an awareness of our radical interconnection that is unparalleled with anything they experienced before their death. In the same way, we can all meet the crises we are experiencing, exactly where we are at, and respond, knowing that we are contributing to the global goal of creating a chance for life to continue, to regenerate, even to thrive. We don’t each have to participate in the mitigation efforts for all crises, but we don’t get to bow out either– we have to each become informed, mobilize, communicate with our social circles about the need for change.
Where to get started learning and taking action:
Inform yourself about racism and its impacts, and learn how you can take connected action at the Black Lives Matter website.
Explore the many resources we have collected in nearly a year of I Heart Earth, the educational project I cocreate together with my dear friend Jennifer Harvey Sallin.