Pandora’s Hope

I am exceedingly grateful to Occupy! I suspect that, in general, we need someone(s) outside ourselves to wake us up; I don’t think we’re particularly adept at self-awakening. Wherever people are gathering in the name of Occupy, others of us are waking up, not always happily, and not without a fair measure of trepidation.

In a slight re-imagining of the myth of Pandora’s Box, we begin not by inhabiting a paradise in which there was no pain, no sorrow, no violence, but rather, inhabiting a nightmare, with so much distress that paralysis, despair, and a pent up anger with nowhere to go, have been common responses. But the Occupy Movement, has blown the lid off the box, bringing the “winged horrors” ~ hate, slander, bitterness, envy, greed, violence, unremitting pain into the light, a that has released many of us from our state of resignation. As I watch the hours of the last day of this past year slide by, I enter the new year with gratitude.

Doesn’t mean I am not scared to death! What if this 2011 awakening fizzles. What if we who the ground and life blood of a dream that seems to be filling pockets other than ours, can’t keep it up, can’t find the stamina to sustain these efforts, or worse, shrug them off as ephemeral.

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague/friend and ecologist whose name is Steve. In a paraphrase of his exact words, he put words around what he feared troublesome about Occupy, namely that the goal and destiny of the Movement would be satisfied with a more equitable distribution of the vast wealth accumulated by those who profited immorally from the great misfortunes of countless others.

“It’s not what we’re after,” he said. “What we’re after is the utter transformation of the cultural paradigms that have failed the great majority of us.”

I agree with him. And I want to clarify what I mean by the “us” – not only “us” the humans, but “us” the land and waters, the air, animals, birds, fish and their habitats. I am after the utter transformation of the paradigms that have engendered such climate change as to have moved the planet itself into the status of endangered.

My inbox, during these last few days of the 2011, has been flooded by requests for donations: Sierra Club, Alternet, the Center for Biological Diversity, Courage Campaign, Defenders of Wildlife, Oceana, ForestEthics,, NationofChange, Care2 Action Alerts, Environmental Defense Fund, NRDC, and let me not forget my Church; truthfully, I am overwhelmed, and as I delete request after request, my anxiety level rises, because I know I can’t begin to say yes each time I am asked.

What I find troublesome about the battle lines as they have been drawn so clearly, is that we’re still working for the quick fix without addressing the need for transforming the paradigms. We’re not looking at what Carl Safina, in The View from Lazy Point, refers to as the whole enterprise.

In a similar way, the redistribution of wealth within existing paradigms transforms little, maybe even nothing. In her paper Elements of Renewal: Fourfold Wisdom, Dr. Marion Grau writes, “We have been conditioned to understand the term economy in a rather narrow fashion, as referring to stock markets, profits involved in human consumption, consumer prices, financial markets and derivatives.” As she unfolds her thought, she expands the notion of economy:

The broader definition of economy means that our economic lives, our wheelings and dealings, our work lives and what we produce when we work, the structure of our workplaces and its finances, our personal credit, our mortgages, our investments and bank accounts, our debt, our stocks—all are deeply integrated with our spiritual lives, our daily practices and the way we live on the earth, our consumption, our trash, our sewage, our gardening projects, our food production and composting. How might we re-member, and trace the links between the symbolic and material?

In other words, transformation requires that we come into solidarity with all life forms – both in spirit and in practice – for all life is interconnected and interdependent on a cosmic scale. Sustainability – a popular word these days – is (bottom line) simply another way to protect us from the profound changes required of us if we are to engage what it means to know our appropriate place within the living web we call the cosmos.

Although I have done my share of “purchasing” wolves, grizzlies, polar bears, sea turtles, elephants, tigers, and black rhinos from various environmental groups, given them as gifts to family and friends (each donation of $25 “buys” an endangered creature), I am after something else ~ the teachings that remind us of the intricate nature of cosmic relationships; the clear message that, just for example, to clear cut a forest is to damage eco-systems essential to the health and well being of all life forms; Insert link to Listening to Trees that the logic of what Dr. Marion Grau refers to as a capitalist reductionist framework that prioritizes and isolates profits and externalizes nature, elements, animals, even humans, needs to live in history books as an archaic philosophy that moved the cosmos to the the brink of collapse. (This assumes, of course, that there will be history books)

With this unlikely assortment of resources, I want to remind us of that which lay at the very bottom of Pandora’s box, at last able to breathe, hope. Hope.

Sierra Club

Zevin Asset Management, LLC

Amalgamated Transit Union

United Electrical Workers

Here’s my intention for 2012, to insist on hope. I invite you to do the same.

1 Comment

  1. Karen Floyd Shepherd on January 4, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Yes, very well said, Caroline. Thank you! Quick fixes are only temporary, and willl just lead to another crisis in a few years time. But we as a society want the quick fix, because we’ve gotten used to having things as soon as we get the idea that we need them. I think that very few people understand how systemically our way of life as well as our economics, our consumerist economics, need to change before anything will “get better.” And it will take time for this change to happen. It is up to “us” to hang in there and make sure the changes happen, to not give in to the quick fix mentality, that will only hasten the breakdown of our country and our planet.

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