Ursula K. Le Guin and the hole in the world
"To be sane is to see and accept what is real. "
Someone needs to tell that to the transgenders who seem to be waging an Orwellian war on the real world of biology, plumbing and chromosomes that affirm a 99%+ reality of two sexes.
Thank you so much for this… I have been struggling mightily with the “earn what your worth” spirtual crowd & the deep messages of shame & worthlessness that are heaped on the poor & working class & those who work with them. I am both. And as I watch and experience the financial bottom falling out from under us, I attempt to be open to what’s next & how to serve, while keeping myself housed & fed. It is scary. And I am open.
So, beautiful, one of your best yet! A friend of mine had an older woman mentor die ravaged by cancer. In tears she asked God what she was like now. Soon after she dreamed she saw her mentor who was simultaneously a little child, a young girl, a young woman, a mother, middle aged and old all at once, all of her beings alive together.
Le Guin has long been one of my faves. In EarthSea she also articulates the vital union of self and shadow. Reading this essay I'm reminded of this daily dance, beyond the lazy convenience of materialism or the comfort of the spiritual bypass. A good friend died last month and we'll honor his life next Sunday. His partner said he visited to assure her that he hadn't gone anywhere. She doesn't experience him gone. She didn't lose him. He simply outgrew his body. Death is that transition, ideally after a human life well lived, it is an invitation to a larger party. Rejoice!
Thanks Charles! This is a great articulation of thoughts, feelings, and experiences I’ve been grappling with. Might save me a few therapy sessions (were I in therapy :-). Nice to know one is not alone in this. An aphorism holds that “In a world of the blind, the sighted man is king”. In my experience, that sighted man is actually in Hell.
Send this to Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab. Ask them to read it at the next Davos meeting...in China.
I highly recommend the delightful book Momo by Michael Ende. His storytelling is a bit more direct and simple than LeGuin's but pointing out the same things. The sickness of a culture that has outrun itself. In Ende's book it is the time stealers, the grey men, who have convinced everyone that if they only work faster and harder, life will be better and Momo is the heroine who 'saves' her friends by stealing back time. So many complex issues and yet at the root it seems to me that there is just way too much technology replacing the value of direct meaningful human interaction and we are innundated with so many people it is difficult for us to value the individual anymore. All of our so called 'care' agencies only reinforce this with one size fits all policies and paperwork. We are dehumanized at every single turn until we have become redundant in our own lives. Especially the elders. How many grandparents feel they have nothing to share with their children's children as all 'knowledge' is to be found on the internet these days? The old have no clear useful role anymore except to be a burden on an already overburdened system. And the young have to exhaust themselves just trying to pay rent and have a life. All of the ideas to 'fix' these problems just seem like so many bandaids to me because they do not deal with the real traumas and legitimate fears underlying our frenetic pace. We are a society that uses coffee to wake up in the morning and then uses alcohol or pot to wind down at night and in between we try to get everything done, which is basically impossible because we have made life so incredibly complex.
It is synchronicity, I think, because I just read this book and finished it last week. I felt the clear resonance with our current time and actually thought of you and some of your other essays where you describe our time of separation and our movement towards interbeing and connection. I feel the desire among the people I know. Thank you.
I cannot believe how serendipitous your essay is! I have just been recommending the Earthsea books to a French friend of mine. There are few of my friends who understand English but happily this friend does ….and loves reading!
You continue to inspire me and I do really feel that we’re singing from the same hymn book, this despite the differences in age and culture.
Thank you Charles 🙏🏻🙋🏼♀️🌈✨❣️
Great piece Charles, that last paragraph especially resonated.
As I was reading this, the theme of transhumanism kept coming back to me, both in its total domination desires (domination of good and natural human limits so much that they cease to exist) and its abject ideological hatred of death.
For the transhumanist, death is to be avoided and fought against at all costs - even if that means becoming something other than human (post-human) or cryogenically frozen only to come back to "life" when the technology exists - but as you say "if to be is to relate" (and if the "resurrected" transhumanist has come back to life in a world severed from all his or her past relationships - are they truly alive?
Also, in removing human limitations - transhumanists open the door for extreme ecological degradation. If limited human beings have caused this much ecological destruction - just think what catastrophic devastation could be caused by "unlimited humans"...
I see transhumanism therefore as one of the main threats to the Good Life you described in the final few sentences of this essay.
This short essay landed in my inbox at about the moment I planned to use the above photograph as a contemplative motif for further exploration into what I intended to get at in my essay, On Commoning -- https://www.resilience.org/stories/2022-10-24/on-commoning/. The photograph is included in a Wikipedia page on the topic of "hostile architecture". Hostile architecture is intended to keep poor and homeless people from taking rest and shelter. That's what is hostile about it. And in the example from Stockholm we see bars meant not to keep prisoners inside a cage (a prison cell), but to keep otherwise free people from seeking shelter from rain or snow under a stairwell. It's a jail to keep prisoners out -- away from shelter or rest. That's what hostile architecture is designed for. Oftentimes it's meant to keep folks from resting on a park bench--maybe having a much needed nap.
I want to write about this in a philosophical way, and so I've been exploring the historical usage of terms like public and private again -- but in relation to commons and commoning. But that's when the phrase "the weight of libraries" hit me. There is a very long, complex history of the relation of public, private and communal ... in philosophy, which goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, and which was taken up in early modernity by Kant, then later by folks like Jürgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt, John Dewey and Nancy Fraser. And, quite frankly, as a want-to-be philosopher, I am feeling the "weight of libraries" in my wish to know this history so I can reasonably comment upon it. I want to legitimate and reveal another way of thinking (and thus living) which includes the notion of commons and commoning. But this is such a very radical thing to do in this time of hostile archetecture. And so I feel the weight of libraries -- and of this photograph.
The weight of libraries ... it is a weight of the past, the weight of the long history of ideas which provide refuge for a cage like the one we see in this photo. The weight is a burden. How does philosophy escape the burden of many years of pressing one's nose into book after book, or of "screen time"? https://carolineross.substack.com/p/the-machine-stops-us-moving
Our animal bodies know a cage when we see one. But how do we reveal the cage to those who do not see it as a prison? It's obvious to me that modern civilization has come to its obsolescence. What we regard as 'reason' is pitiful, heartbreaking... mad. Must we spend our lives in libraries as prisons? Or can we let the thousand words of a photograph awaken us from the trance?
When I saw that photo, I thought (this is a confession) I'd love to turn this prison in to a tiny house ... with a door and some windows. It's about the size of the home I require. What I need is time, not things or money. And something worthwhile to do with my time. The latter I have -- something worthwhile to do. But the burden of seeing crashes upon me like a wave from the sea of imagination. It's almost--very nearly--too much to bear.
It is possible to translate the last page's linked content into English.
"And, while technology in the West is certainly still progressing, it seems somehow impotent to accomplish anything really worthwhile, certainly anything on the scale of the problems that afflict us."
such potent and painful words. i am currently reading John Steinbeck's "America and Americans" (written in 1966) and this is feels like one of its the underlying theme...and a plea and prayer.
His following words linger in my mind most powerfully and connect me to the strength you are calling out for us to muster:
"Now we face the danger which in the past has been most destructive to the human: success--plenty, comfort, and ever-increasing leisure. No dynamic people has ever survived these dangers. If the anaesthetic of satisfaction were added to our hazards, we would not have a chance of survival--as Americans."
But his closing words, like yours, give me hope:
"We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back--never."
i hope he is right.
I think this is my favourite piece of everything you've written. it's beautiful. Thank you 🙏🏻
What a beautiful essay, a splendid re-telling of a marvelous tale, teasing out its beauties and its benefits. “To be sane is to see and accept what is real.” -- I’ve never heard it put so well. Yes, to be sane, -- balanced, tempered, measured, whole. To see., to taste and see!, to celebrate and come to our senses. St Thomas wrote that the Angels envy us because we have bodies, that sex was better in Paradise before the Fall. To accept, to be at peace and find contentment. The real, with the really real, the Constants of Life, Birth, Death, Love, Tragedy, Earth, Sky, Dawn, Dusk, the Cycle of the Seasons, Art, Craft, Chop Wood and Carry Water, Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, Sex. And as you have shown so well, the reciprocities and rituals in an Economy of Gifts. And it’s all political isn’t it? Politics, community, the opposite of War, of the solitary life that is ‘nasty, brutish and short’, Politics the only defense against all that is draining us. ‘Primitives’ they used to say are afraid to have their pictures taken for fear the camera will steal their souls. It’s not cameras now and photographs that steal our souls, it’s screens and screen time. And with politics our other defense? Stories, music, poetry, the wizardry of which retains the power to overcome the spells and spell-casting magic of screens.
The last sentence is perfect! Wow.
So beautiful. I feel the way you do when I look at my daughter and granddaughters. The only time I feel a sense of normalcy and innocence. One must shut that door to feel the presence of God. Also, walking in the forest and being in nature helps to feel that presence.