by Alfie Turnshek-Goins
The space between. Not wild, not domesticated. Something else. Something new and old. Whether we are reclaiming lost knowledge or using our integrated be-ing to create new ways of floating along with the material needs of life, it makes no difference. Nothing new under the Sun. Indigenous or civilized, the only way forward is through the playful creation of sustainable ways of living. This means, as Derrick Jensen says, not being a culture of occupation. We have much to learn from the indigenous people of this continent. Some of these cultures stretch back 10,000 years or more. The way of living practiced by many of these cultures is green of a very deep shade, before green was a political ideology or anything other than the color of life; green like the quiet of the forest under the canopy, duff and twigs crunching beneath your feet. And a softness to the air, a rich stillness where the processes of life around you march on, perceptibly. Ant footsteps can be heard if you listen. And breathe.
These spaces between open us up to the fact that in our cities and society we inhabit a psycho-physical world where the most taboo things we can feel, the things we are told by our governments and self-proclaimed elites we are not allowed to feel, yet those things which deep down we all know to be utterly, simply true; are that we are powerful and beautiful and free beyond our imagining. That our imagining is the only thing that limits us. That we may be imagining the wrong things. That we are not prisoners. That our needs are greater than those of The System. That the Earth freely provides everything we are currently being tricked into paying for. That we are capable of living together in peace, in concert with the natural limits of our biosphere. Two times, two times for emphasis: we are capable of living together in peace, in concert with the natural limits of our biosphere. Maybe not everyone is, but many are. I don’t know if there’s some sort of pendulum effect (where pendulums near to each other and swinging at different rates will eventually synchronize) in societies. Maybe in smaller, local communities. Whatever the case may be, I’m looking for the ones who are capable of living in concert with their total environment. I call them The Happy-Monkey-People.
When I am in urban space I see ruins. Living, breathing ruins. The structural violence of industrial civilization. A scavenger’s paradise. I see the frustration of the superego; its futility. I see the enclosure, the limits, the boundary of the city. An outpost. In Phoenix, where I currently live, those ruins are sometimes not so living and breathing. They’re just broken down, forgotten buildings with old stories on the façade and older chairs inside, the decay of decades of industry and metastatic economic growth. It’s strange to feel nostalgic about things that are currently happening. There is no such thing as history. There’s only what happened in the past. In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes: “It struck me, a belief that has never left me since that we [humanity] are just a great machine for looking backwards, and that humans are great at self-delusion. Every year that goes by increases my belief in this distortion.”
When I think of people in cities, I wonder how on Earth we are going to make this transition to living in a way that is predicated on health and wellness for everything. I was led to believe that was the whole point of the Universe (by whom or what, I’m not sure, but that’s what I think, anyway.) All the fixtures of the contemporary American city: the cabs, the restaurants (diabetes and heart disease are on the menu), the trucks, the girls, the guys, the homeless, the criminal, the waste, a great martini, the waste, traffic and horns, urban growth, urban decay, gutter punks, bad water, good art, the afterhours, narcissism, the farmers markets, god damn near everything … (breath) depends on oil, and is thus linked to all the tangible effects the use of that substance entails. And what it entails is ecocide. While that is not news to many of those reading this blog, I am still thinking of American city-dwellers, of whom I am currently one. How is it to be done? What force could motivate the conversion of those who depend on supermarkets for their food and Amerika for their infotainment into those who produce much of their own material sustenance, right down to the rocket mass heaters and Hugelkultur beds? The compost pile hot water heater? The creation of a personality with the spiritual knowledge of a being who can live peaceably and joyfully among a diverse group of biological entities? Is Snooki gonna help with that?
The force we usually think will initiate this conversion is the murky specter of collapse. Peak oil and the Economy! are complex beyond prediction, and it is no surprise that so many of us feel like something is shifting, something so massive it does not immediately register on our scale as powerful movement. The combination of these two forces will most definitely be converting some things in our world, although it’s likely to be the living into the dead. I really hope not. Doom and gloom take the place of rational predictions (although they are still possible) precisely because the nature of the problem does not appear to be rational. The word “non-linear” has been ringing in my ears of late. One side of the function of the exponential curve is about to turn for the heavens, and the other side, in a poetic nod to Lao-tse, is about to dive for the center of the Earth. Peak everything. Except peak mayhem, peak denial, and peak possibility. What peak oil is really about for me, is not how much oil we have left, but how much more of this shit I can take before I spontaneously and compulsively start building cob houses in the middle of the street and planting perennial polycultures in my immediate surroundings, fending off herbicide-spraying landscapers and cops with a combination of wit, bearing, charm, and Spanish. And fruits and nuts and vegetables, of course. You can get a long way with fresh figs.
Carless, mega-village, agroforest. Die-off is a touchy subject that is beyond the likes of a knave like me. I don’t want to think about it. This is not out of a desire for ignorance; as Jan Steinman said recently, “Although I appreciate those who fight against the wrongs in the world, we prefer to work for the rights in the world.” I understand the gravity of what we face. It’s so catastrophically profound of an idea, that I won’t waste another second thinking about it. I’m getting going, most ricky-tick. I want to have kids. I want those little wise monkeys to grow up without having toxins put into their bodies. Without toxins being put into their minds and their spirits. I think I speak for the majority of Earth’s living beings when I say I’m over it. I want to walk outside my earthen berm house that I built with my hands and pick fruit for my family’s breakfast. Trade vegetables and comedy gatherings and beer. Artwork and hand tools. Salvaged battery systems that enable diverse art forms and certain life-affirming technologies to continue. Street corner forums on the continental philosophers. Cheese and herbs. Scrap metal and books. Medicine and massage. I want to feed everyone who needs food. I want to figure out how to grow avocadoes at temperate latitudes, because damn it, I want the guacamolé, but I care where it comes from and how it gets here. I want to live, love, and laugh. Vandana Shiva, in the wonderful documentary, Dirt!, says we must feed the Earth first. What it gives back is our food. Feed the Earth. Feed yourself. Simple, not easy.
That is where I’m headed. The inner spiral, the rooting down, and the outward expansion. I’ve transferred my loyalty. What’s left in the intervening space between this place and a place where I produce my own food, my own hot water, and my own happiness, is the time and effort required to prepare an escape trajectory from the orbit of a death-culture with immense mass and spin. Calculate when and for how long to burn my rocket stove to achieve the appropriate velocity for the interculture voyage between civilization and something else. Figure the correct angle and orientation of my solar dehydrator for a safe re-entry into the atmosphere of a healthy planet. Some people call it dropping out. I call it leaving one world and appearing in another, which is the same world you just left. Not the country, not the city. The space between. Let’s build it.
Alfie Turnshek-Goins was born and raised in Berkeley, California and relocated to Phoenix, Arizona last August at the age of 33. As a kid, he ran pretty free and spent a lot of time in the woods of the Northern California and the Pacific Northwest with his families, where he learned about what he thought were the most important things in the world. He has worked since before graduating from high school, and finds himself checking the “some college” box on job applications. Occasionally he suffers from fits of leaping and grinning as well as from bouts of running for long periods of time. Favorite thing: shower beer.
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