Talisman | by Via Davis at Studio Psycherotica

Life in the Balance

Planet Waves for Nov. 2000 | By Eric Francis

so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen,
because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

--Adrienne Rich, 1991
from Dark Fields of the Republic

My recent environmental campaign in this column has ushered me into some interesting discussions, and many reflections on life. I have my doubts about all of it. I am not the straight-ahead environmental activist that many people perceive me to be; I'm in way too much conflict for that, and I still drink water sold in plastic bottles. As an environmentalist, my specialty is corporate fraud. It is less about trees and more about making Xerox copies; less about human health and more about solving a murder mystery.

One of those interesting discussions was with author Inga Muscio (Cunt: A Declaration of Independence) in Seattle last month. Inga's book is a major contribution to awareness of and by women, and if you find one copy you're likely to go back and buy three more for your friends a week later.

Sitting beside a wood fire burning in a barbecue late one Saturday night on the outer-edge of the 20th century, we were talking about activism and social change. Inga's position was basically this: Boy, give up on trying to save the world. You'll be a lot happier, and you're not going to save the world anyway. She observed that the more things get better, the more they get worse; and the more they get worse, the more they get better. Both processes are happening at once; we're in the midst of it all, and we get to make some choices as to what we experience while we're here.

But saving the world? She said she tried and gave up. The funny thing is that her book is a lifesaver; it will literally save the lives of women who otherwise would have died of misery or violence. This inspires me, and we agreed that writing has the power to change consciousness, which I say is progress. When it comes to environmental issues, I do take a save-the-world approach. But the question is, save it from whom, and for what?

Recently, I've had a number of interactions with a student newspaper on a campus where 990 students sleep in contaminated dormitories. I spent most of a day in July photocopying articles that took me most of three years to research and write, as well as assembling all kinds of other background information and purchasing a copy of Our Stolen Future for the editors to have some real information about what PCBs and dioxins can do to young students. Saving the world or at least trying, I offered the paper contact with some of the wisest souls in the environmental movement and unlimited access to my time and resources.

Two meetings with one of the editors (which occurred 3,000 miles from my desk), many emails and a few phone calls later, the newspaper declared the campus perfectly safe and said that my information was sketchy and not objective. I had a "conflict of interest" (I cared too much had done too much work on the story to be trusted). A detailed letter to the editor (requested by the newspaper) explaining the contamination problem remains on their hard drive and has never made it into print; I doubt it ever will.

Meanwhile, these editors have made the choice not to inform the 990 students that there is a problem or even a potential problem, despite having extensive knowledge of the situation (if a company did this, it would be called fraud and failure to warn). They claimed they did not want to seem like alarmists or cause a panic. Meanwhile, I am aware of one former dormitory resident who has advanced leukemia and others who have gotten cancer. I cannot say she got leukemia because she lived in a building laced with dioxin and PCBs, but I can tell you declaratively that the contamination she was exposed to did not help her. If you are close to the edge to begin with, that kind of exposure can push you over. She had chosen to stay there knowing that there was a serious risk involved. There are many people in her position today, and even if they knew, most students (as in at least 98%, in my experience) would choose to stay in their dorms rather than simply move out.

Where I live, we are friends with a young woman who works in our household as a nanny taking care of two kids. While she plans to have her own kids at some point (most women do), she smokes, she is on Depo-Provera (a birth control implant) and suffers side effects from this drug, including mood effects and not menstruating for a year on end. Hormone drugs have been shown to cause birth defects and multigenerational cancers, that is, cancer in our kids based on what we got sprayed with, ate or shot up in the past; she knows this because I told her; cigarettes contain dioxin, which is a cumulative toxin released to newborns at extremely high doses in breast milk; she knows this because I told her. But she is not interested, and it's not my place to say anything else.

There is, to the contrary, something wrong with me for being concerned, and to express that concern is an affront. Indeed, it is "not my business." I have witnessed this before, having spent a lot of time on that campus talking with students her age, who would come back with answers like, "My father will get mad if I tell him" when I explain their building is contaminated. This messes with my head, because, like most social activists with a few years experience, I look to young people for signs of hope.

One might well ask, what is the point?

Because I have some spiritual training, I am capable of adopting a different view, a more "be here now" approach. For example, I can see that this is simply the way the world is: most of the world, most people in the world. Physical incarnation may be a privilege, it may be some kind of purgatory and it may be just another experience, but this is what we are doing with the experience. One bunch of people goes about making poisons for profit, lying and spraying us; another, bigger bunch, buys more and more and more stuff and toxic food, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes and keeps the whole game going. We have access to incredible information through innovations like the Internet, but people, Americans, anyway, who do most of the damage, seem to know less and less.

So, being here now: in the States we are having an election. Of the two major candidates, one is the son of a war-monger oil baron and governor of a state where execution of criminals is routine business. Another is a career politician who is accused of being a sell-out, but so far I have only met one career politician, Al Coppola of Buffalo, who did not sell out to something.

Al Gore wrote a book eight years ago. It's called Earth in the Balance.

"Like the rules of a dysfunctional family," Gore writes, "the unwritten rules that govern our relationship to the environment have been passed down from one generation to the next since the time of Descartes, Bacon and the other pioneers of the scientific revolution some 375 years ago. We have absorbed these rules and lived by them for centuries without seriously questioning them. As in a dysfunctional family, one of the rules in a dysfunctional civilization is that you don't question the rules."

A presidential candidate wrote that, or even so much as signed his name to it? He continues:

"There is a powerful psychological reason that the rules go unquestioned in a dysfunctional family. Infants or developing children are so completely dependent that they cannot afford to even think there is something wrong with the parent, even if the rules do not feel right or make sense. Since children cannot bear to identify the all-powerful parent as the source of the dysfunctionality, they assume that the problem is within themselves. This is the crucial moment when the inner psychological wound is inflicted -- and it is a self-inflicted wound, a fundamental loss of faith by the children in themselves. The pain of that wound often lasts an entire lifetime, and the emptiness and alienation that result can give rise to enormous amounts of psychological energy, expended during the critical period when the psyche is formed in an insatiable search for what, sadly, can never be found: unconditional love and acceptance."

Hence: Daddy will be mad if I tell him my dorm is contaminated. Don't disapprove of me because I harm myself with cigarettes or Depo-Provera. And don't even tell me about things like PCBs or genetically modified foods. It's not my fault.++

What's New | Horoscopes | November Horoscope