Sunday, June 8, 2008

And you thought the beat slowed down HIT IT (5/21/08)

Apparently I can't stop thinking. I'll get back to New York and everybody in it soon, but for now let me trot out some more in what is increasingly becoming an ongoing discussion with myself and anyone else who wants to jump in.

Again, two stimuli triggered this response. The first is the news that the polar bear has been placed on the endangered species list, or as Olivia put it in an unintentionally nasty way: "it made it." The second thing that got my gears grinding is one of those embedded web-polls you can take, you can "vote" on. This one was on, the weather channel's website (I love the weather channel, and without cable i love The question was, basically, how concerned are you about global warming? There were four answers, with three of them being various degrees of concern, from I'm really freaking out about it/super worried about it to who gives a five cent wooden beaver I bought at ozarkland? Fair enough. But what was really different for this format was the fourth option, which, incredibly to me, was "I don't believe it really exists." I was incredulous because the country I call my own is the laughingstock of the first world for its persistent ability to deny the solid, ubiquitous across nations science that proves the earth's atmospheric layers are heating up at a much greater rate due to gases that are industrial exhaust products, and thus man-made pollutants.

Well, I should have saved some reserve in the old flabbergastank, because when I clicked on my vote, which was holy shit I think I'm probably melting right now, the current percentages showed that something like 32% of the votes were in my category, something like 12 or 14% were in each of the other three categories (I really wanna meet the "midly/somewhat concerned voters: I bet they're either accountants or ambassadors, or both), and 38% did not believe this wacky conspiracy theory known as "global warming" was a thing at all.

Whoa nelly. Thirty eight percent? That's nearly four out of ten! And these are visitors--I KNOW anybody who can read a doppler radar is no dummy!

So my head began to spin. I was visibly taken aback. Seriously, normally watching someone virtually vote on a webpoll is pretty unexciting. Their face has no expression, nothing to listen to but the errant click or two on the mouse. But if you had taken my picture that day after I saw those results, man, you would have thought a mack truck was coming out of that screen with its high beams on full blast.

So I got to thinking, got to thinking, and then along the way I heard about the polar bears, and this is what I came up with:

4 out of 10 Americans don't believe polar bears exist.

Ok, bear with me here. There's actually some logic here--I didn't just smoosh together the end of one stimulus and the beginning of another in some sort of hysterical logic rebuking juxtaposition. I actually have some way of arriving at this destination by normal roads of reason, or at least normal by my definition.

First, consider polar bears. How do you know they exist? If you're me, you have two pieces of experiential evidence. The first is the san diego zoo. I could say zoos in general, but my memory holds on very clearly to a polar bear i saw in the san diego zoo. This bear sticks out because I got very close to the underwater glass you can walk up to and watched him play endlessly with this red ball. He was kicking, he was splashing, the ball was being launched into the air--he was huge! And furry, and not as white as I expected. In short, I was as charmed as everyone else, though I didn't ooh and ahh in that look how cute we're at disneyworld and minnie just gave you a kiss that only a giant plastic inanimate head with big red bows on its ears can give a nine year old boy way. I couldn't quite get to thinking of the polar bear as cute because I saw his paws up real super zoomin close. They were also huge, and had bigass claws that looked more like sabertooth tiger fangs to me at this distance. These claws never, it should be added, punctured or even grazed that red ball, however; only his big soft black pads batted the ball about.

The other polar bears I remember distinctly live on the north pole with santa claus and offer him coca-cola to drink in december of like 2004 or 2005, somewhere around there. The scene is kind of blue, and these polar bears smile and make cute teddy bearish sounds and nuzzle each other and wear scarfs, presumably to keep them from getting chilly around all that pallid blue animated ice. These bears are perfectly white, and their fur is never wet or even matted into haphazard tufts like the bear i saw in the san diego zoo.

Now, if you're anything like me, zoo and those coke commercials are probably pretty close approximiations to your own reference points--they're what you have in the memory file labeled "polar bear." That's not so important. What's so important is that very few of us have a memory of a polar bear that sees them in the wild. I've seen plenty of national geographic and discovery channel and nature on PBS (lately more of that)--I love nature shows. On these nature shows there have been plenty of polar bears doing their thing--padding around on glaciers, hunting and fishing, wreaking carnage on threatening males in competitive territory. You know, the usual. But my brain doesn't hold on to these things, except as facts. I KNOW polar bears are pretty badass, and could pretty much rip me in half if they wanted to (anyone who's seen the documentary grizzly man knows what i'm talking about). But I only REMEMBER coca-cola and the zoo.

I have a simple answer for that. I have no idea what the wilderness is all about. I don't live in or around wilderness--I really don't now, here in Bklyn Zoo. But even when I was living in all the places I've lived--over fifteen different towns and about as many states--I knew nothing of wilderness, or almost nothing (if i squinch my eyes really tight and then relax the mind muscle I can recall in pomona, in southern california, the time when we had to drape a plastic bag over a cat we found half-eaten by a coyote in our front lawn. what flashes before my eyes first is not the way the body looked like meat where it had been ripped in half, but the snarl of pain on the cat's "face." I felt very far away from that look of pain, from that grotesque wincing that comes as a body is ripped into two pieces by bloodied jaws).

But here's what really trips me out: If I don't know wilderness, but I CAN know things from the wilderness in protected, domesticated environments like the zoo or an animated commercial, if all i can remember of a polar bear is that it is a bear with a great life who sometimes wears scarfs and drinks coke with his buds, how the hell am I ever gonna worry or even consider the fact that it as a species is endangered? I don't even know what it IS as a species in its natural habitat, let alone how many there are out there wherever polar bears live, among these sheets of ice (again, something i have no direct knowledge of) that are supposedly melting or whatever--this all gets too abstract, too foreign, and thus too far-fetched for me.

And so I think you can see where I'm going here. If I know on the one hand polar bears come from the wilderness, but only know through experience and memory that polar bears live in domesticated spheres, how do I reconcile this disjunction? Well, a couple of possibilities emerge, but the one I'm interested it trotting out, the one that leads to my 38% of people up there, is the one that determines, perhaps sub-consciously, that the wilderness doesn't exist. How could it for most of us, except as an idea? And yet, if it exists as an idea long enough, that idea is going to be influenced by representations of things that come from that wilderness--things like polar bears. And if those things from the wilderness are presented in domesticated spheres....from here, to me, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to an idea that the world never existed without human industrial development, and its attendant waste. In effect, my argument here is that our minds, our four out of ten (presumably American) minds who vote on, cannot conceive of a wilderness that is outside of human control. We cannot understand anything but a world that was both created for us and by us, and thus any effects created by us cannot have detrimental effects, or at least not long-lasting detrimental effects that we won't be able to solve with the same minds of mastery that this world is evidence of; and perhaps most importantly, this world cannot have negative effects on other things in the world, because, for the most part, those other things are controlled by us, too, and we would never let that happen. How could we, right? If there is no wilderness, then there is no need to "protect" it, so the presence of wilderness, a place and system that operates outside or beyond human control, ceases to be relevant, and any discussion about "global warming and its effects" is irrelevant because it describes a globe that includes a wilderness that doesn't exist. In short, polar bears cannot be endangered because the only real species of them live under our control; to speak of them in the wild is, again, to describe a world we no longer believe in.

Or at least 38% don't seem to.

There's more to say on this, and many other different things to conclude, I'm sure. But before I go let me quickly say this: I'm not human-hater. I don't wanna eradicate the fruits of human ingenuity, among them the internal combustion engine or the ability to generate energy out of matter or any number of many, many things that unfortunately have negative consequences in the form of pollution. What I want is balance, a recalibration of the scales with human activity on one side and the aweinspiring, spiritraising beauty and diversity of all the different form so life on earth, a place that is wonderful and singular BECAUSE it can support so many different forms of life and its activities, on the other. And that will mean more than CFLs, or hybrids, or ethanol, or "going green" in a buy different shit approach. TO me, it will mean a real reckoning with how we think of ourselves within the world, and a new definition of what the world is relative to us.

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