Eco-Living Magazine

Step Outside the Matrix

Posted on the 27 February 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev
Choose As a graduate student in the environmental field, I find myself perpetually asked to re-define my reasons for studying what I study- framing an explanation to fit into the context of whatever fellowship, internship, or research application I’m working on. Well, there’s nothing like a leisurely review of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael to remind me of the fundamental reasons I chose to redirect my path in the direction that I did. To anyone who has never had the pleasure of embarking on the intellectual journey piloted by an insightful gorilla teacher with a knack for seeing mankind from a perspective he cannot muster on his own, I say: do yourself this favor!

When asked why I am drawn to my particular field of interest, agriculture, I can offer many a technical response. But to illuminate the deeper motives behind my fascination with agriculture I cannot help but draw upon the messages explored in Ishmael. The tale’s ingenuity lies in its ability to dig down to the very roots of man’s seeming environmental irreverence. Quinn eloquently suggests to his readers through the gorilla, Ishmael, that man’s ultimate departure from the laws that govern the rest of the natural world was sparked when he discovered the freedoms afforded to him through agriculture. I’m naturally drawn to agriculture because I buy this theory. For someone who questions the subsequent merits of this departure, an investigation of its roots seems like the right place start poking around for clues about an alternative.

Much in the way the Wachowski brothers’ Matrix drew a veil around its human captives, Ishmael blames “Mother Culture” for perpetuating the faulty story that says: humans don’t have to obey all the laws that limit other Earth species’ success. While agriculture itself did not necessarily emerge as a calculated defiance of natural laws, what spawned from the freedoms of settlement afforded by agriculture were manifestations of this disregard for basic ecological community laws like ‘don’t take more than you need’. With a long-rooted culture telling us that we don’t have to obey those laws, why would we?

As more and more signs of environmental stress pop up, the possibility that Mother Culture has been lying to us seems increasingly likely. But the steadfast cultural infrastructure is guaranteed to put up a good fight, clawing and biting at those who stand up to question it. And perhaps the crash of humanity hypothesized not only by the fictional Ishmael but also by Malthus, Thoreau, and countless other long-gone intellectuals, is approaching at a rate too speedy to thwart now. But I find hope in the truth that many these days are willing to question this illusion maintained by culture for so long. For those who blame the fundamental failures of our civilization on its willing acceptance of delusion, the fervent defense of it in fact, this truth signifies a new and promising departure. The growing body of fellow humans waking up to the possibility of a different reality may be the only hope for rewriting the story we enact. To borrow another symbol from one of my favorite pop culture tales of widespread social deception, I refer to the pivotal moment in The Matrix wherein the protagonist (Nero) is given the choice to accept a clouded existence by taking a red pill that would return him to his former delusion, or choose enlightenment by taking a blue pill. I consider the choice to turn my back on un-questioned acquiescence with modern culture and pursue a worldview that seems more realistic, that which many an “environmentalist” posits as his true quest, as my choice to take the blue pill.

**Edward O. Wilson, a writer for the New York Times, wrote eloquently about his take on the importance of understanding our role as participants in the natural world. It’s worth a read. A pertinent piece:

“We will also, I believe, take a more serious look at our place in nature. Exalted we are indeed, risen to be the mind of the biosphere without a doubt, our spirits capable of awe and ever more breathtaking leaps of imagination. But we are still part of earth’s fauna and flora. We are bound to it by emotion, physiology, and not least, deep history. It is dangerous to think of this planet as a way station to a better world, or continue to convert it into a literal, human-engineered spaceship. Contrary to general opinion, demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. We are self-made, independent, alone and fragile. Self-understanding is what counts for long-term survival, both for individuals and for the species.”

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