“I will rise from my grave with the hunger of wildcat, wings of kestrel, and with possession of my granddaughter’s granddaughter, to see what we have lost returned.” – “There Is A Miracle For You If You Keep Holding On,” from Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
John Beckett wrote an otherwise very fine article on “re-enchanting the world” which you can read here. I’m not blaming him for the terminology, because he was just trying to fit his recommendations into an existing conversation. The trouble is, that conversation is based on some assumptions that to my mind are part of the problem in the first place.
This isn’t just a quibble. The framing of ideas, the unspoken premises that support our thoughts like so much rebar in concrete, shape the conversations we are able to have on a given subject. When those premises go unquestioned, they can feel absolutely true. We look around at ourselves, our society, our history, the bubble of human activity in the form of modern industrial society and the discourse of those whose voices are loudest, and we do see a bleak uniformity. Heirs of the Enlightenment* which knocked a monotheistic God off his pedestal and installed the individual human at the center of the universe, we think, “I feel disenchanted. The world must be disenchanted. What am I to do?”
No, no, honey. There is nothing wrong with the world. The world is as magic as it ever was. The problem is us. And to be more exact, the problem is some of us. There are still people in the world who are not disconnected, disenchanted, nor lost. Though we do hunt them down and send them to school and blow up, flood, or raze their land just as fast as we possibly can. Still. We exterminate those who never lost their enchantment at the same time we are burning acres of rain forest which hold untold treasures of undiscovered medicine, so McDonald’s can have more hamburgers.
I am not saying that there is not an urgent need for re-enchantment, re-wilding, resurrection. There is. I am saying that you need to get over the idea that it’s all about you. Or us. Your feelings of disconnection are not the problem; they are just its symptoms. The problem is not that modern Western society produces a pernicious, all-encompassing malaise made up of equal parts madness, ennui and greed…although it does. The problem is that it’s killing us. And not only us. We are the Anthropocene extinction. And that cannot be solved with a change of attitude alone.
Well, Miss Cheery Pants, what do you recommend? John Beckett’s steps are a good start, actually. Though I would emphasize and re-emphasize that we live in a speaking world, and it will talk to us if we just shut up long enough. Gods, ancestors, deified Nature, critters, the water, the weather, trees…I don’t care who you feel comfortable talking to (though maybe you should get outside of your comfort zone once in a while), just listen to them. Listen. Listen. Listen. Connect.
And then…do something. Take that wisdom and insight and connected peace, “the peace of wild things” as Wendell Berry would have it, and don’t just go home to the rest of your life, problem solved. This is not the resolution. This is just the beginning.
I’m not telling you what to do because I don’t know. That’s for you to figure out, in consultation with things and beings and divinities bigger than you. I do know that if there is a way out of this mess, it will be made up of equal parts listening, work, and ferocious love. Let us re-enchant ourselves, and begin.
*Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Enlightenment, an intellectual earthquake which eventually led to science and contact lenses and women almost being regarded as persons. I’m just saying, it didn’t go far enough.