Monday, 24 November 2008

962 - What I Believe May Be Happening

[Advance warning - too many words in this post!]

A Whitley Bay Thousand is a local blog, but I'm using it to explore a big idea.

This, in a nutshell, is that we are moving beyond the dichotomies by which we've been living as agrarian and hunter-gatherer civilisations, into a new assimilation of the two.

If, in broad strokes, hunter-gatherer societies have known their ecosystem before they have changed it, and farmers have changed their ecosystem before they have known it, it is also true that both philosophies have brought benefits and damage. In no sense can we say, unequivocally, that one is better than the other.

But we can say that enormous and immediate pressures are influencing us, as civilisations, to change the ways we live. Population growth, and what appears to be an increasingly unsustainable pace of consumption, are depleting the biodiversity and mineral resources of the planet. Or, at least, rearranging them in ways that are starting to boggle our minds. Scientific models predict a boggling in reality too, in ways that may compound one another; in ways that, through complexity, become more and more difficult to anticipate.

At the same time, and perhaps as a response, some of our big ideologies are starting to change. Christianity, for example, with which I am perhaps most familiar, is seeing a rejection of traditional forms of church in favour of new, 'emerging' structures. These are increasingly open to ambivalence, doubt and equivocation, not, as the stereotype would have it, because the core of Christianity is rejected, but because it is actually seen to be a celebration of such attitudes from the very beginning.

Simultaneously, the most cutting-edge science, that which it is quite easy to portray as antithetical to Christianity, is itself embracing ambivalence, doubt and equivocation in the pursuit of the greatest precision. A case in point might be psychology, which increasingly understands consciousness, and all its emotional and cognitive underpinnings, in terms of homeostasis - our preservation, as minds and bodies, of optimum internal and external survival conditions - for sound evolutionary reasons.

Homeostasis is about the middle ground, neither too hot nor too cold, too pressured nor too free, too drunk nor too sober, too extreme in any direction. To use a Christian image, it is the narrow gate, not the walls stretching out on either side. It is the passage through life, rather than the graffiti about what that life might be. It is perhaps, were the choice to be required, a preference for the event, the experience of life, over a definition of that event, together with an understanding that defining life can only ever be the most provisional part of coming to know it.

Once again, Brody puts it well: "Everyone must pay close attention, be careful, use every faculty to be aware of the land and all that it may hold....There is a profound and intelligent uncertainty. No one knows what is going to happen or which decisions about any part of life will turn out to be correct. Hence the importance in [the Inuit language of] Inuktitut, for example, of expressing caution and qualifications of all kinds. The analogue nature of myth mirrors a sense that the world itself defies digital ways of speaking. " The Other Side Of Eden, p.246

If we are seeing a renewed commitment to this core truth on a societal as well as personal level, it makes sense to celebrate it in public. How best to celebrate it? Perhaps in story and myth, made relevant by its expression in local and relevant idiom. Hence my attempt to know the place I live, know the land around Whitley, and to celebrate it in words and images.

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