March 1, 2011

Absence of the Sacred

Sometimes you read a book that you want to share with everyone in the world. It moves you in so many ways that you don't know where to start even talking about. You highlight so many passages that you do not know which ones to share first. The review remains shelved, because you so want to get it right that you become paralyzed. Problem with books like this is that if you wait too long to get "it" right, you will never write about them. The trick is to just start writing and have faith that you will write more as necessary. Sometimes these books that shift our world view and make us doubt everything we stand for, need more than a 750 word review. Sometimes they need a few years to really be absorbed. Trouble is that you want to share them with everyone right now!

Well, faithful reader, I have read such a book. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations by Jerry Mander had me asking questions, reflecting on my values, and really looking closely at my relationship to technology and nature.
Mander's book is an angry protest against the uncritical adoption of technology, the expansion of capitalism, and the centralization of political power. He warns that these trends will lead to a New World Order dominated by multinational corporations, resulting in devastation of the earth's natural environment and native cultures. Mander argues that technologies like television and computers extend corporate control in society and promote the uncaring consumption of natural resources. From Amazon
Mander makes many claims throughout the book:
  • We have lost touch with nature and the earth.
  • We have created false reality through the use of technology and this disconnect from the earth is at the heart of many of the world's problems
  • We are only ever "sold" the best of technology by those it befits most (Corporations ) and so we never really look critically at how technologies affect society and nature.
  • Indigenous people's have lived at one with nature for thousands of years, while technological society is relatively young and is headed for extinction.
  • If we do not change our relationship with the earth we are doomed.
  • An economic system based on infinite growth cannot function on a finite planet.
  • We have a lot to learn from Indigenous people
  • We feel Western, technological society is better off or more advanced than "primitive" cultures
  • When really they are just waiting for us to kill ourselves off, so they can go back to living life on earth.
  • They do not enevt us or want to be like us. They pity us an dhow lost we are.
  • The Earth is alive, when we forgot this, we began to recreate nature to fit our technological needs. (malls, suburbs, domes, space stations etc..)
  • Failing to see the earth as alive we do not feel guilt or shame as we exploit her for resources for our own "comfort"
  • We are so disconnect from nature that we live in our own minds. Our technology mirrors our disconnect.
  • Most technology is born from corporate and military parents.
  • Television is a tool of corporate powers to influence and shape culture into a homogeneous consumerists society.
  • Corporations are not made up of people, but behave systemically like machines
  • They have grown beyond our control
  • We have become part of the machine so we have difficulty determining it's boundaries and shape.
I could go on and on. This book is similar to Ishmael, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunshine, and A Language Older than Words. In short, they are all warning us that the myth of technological advancement, perpetuated by corporate interest to make them money, is not the only model for our planet, and it would behoove us to begin to explore alternative ways of being human on this planet. The west is not the best, we are not number one and if we do not wake up soon, we will be gone. Please read this book, track me down and let's chat.

One final note, this really could be two separate books, while the beginning covers most of the topics I mentioned above, the second half is a brief history of the various genocides both past and present against the indigenous people of the world. From Hawaii to Alaska, Canada to Indonesia, Mander documents how technological society has always been at war against native peoples, because of the fundamental difference in worldviews. One group sees the planet as alive with humans as one aspect of a greater whole. We are part of nature. While the other group sees the planet as a dead pool if resources to be exploited for the benefit of mankind, a superior species destined to control the planet. From Manifest Destiny to Globalization, Mander claims that we have been moving in the wrong direction and that we should slow down, stop and re-evaluate our existence on this planet.

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