(Unsplash/Jeremy Yap)

Our culture of death and what we can do about it

Reflections on the climate crisis and how a “media fast” might help clear our minds from mass culture's damaging view of nature.
(Unsplash/Jeremy Yap)

Not to mince words, the destruction of life on Earth, or as Bill McKibben puts it, the “end of what it means to be human,” has begun. The most important question before every one of us is how can we stop this — for I assume that it’s still possible. A close second, which I’ve been pondering for some time, would be how did we get here, and some insight into that second one came when I happened to be in a hotel room with my son recently and glanced up from time to time to see what he was watching on the inevitable big screen all but the very cheapest hotels provide. 

It did not take long to see the underlying message of the film, evidently from the Godzilla series, if, like myself, you have very little exposure to the mass media, by choice, and some training in looking under the surface of media for their unstated but potent messages. I paraphrase:

1. Nature is malevolent.  This is an understatement.  Nature has in its depths a vicious power and will to destroy human life — quite the irony, considering that it is now we who have the power to destroy so much of nature.  At any moment we can awaken this primeval power accidentally.

2. Nature is a military operation. From the film: “We believe nature has an order: to restore the balance of power.” That is, we have “conquered” nature and now it wants to conquer us, in Cold-War terms.

3. Only a secret, military-science team can save us. Science is also, by the way, a military operation.

4. The vast majority of people do not and should not know anything about this. We, the people, are ignorant and entirely helpless; only the “team” can save us.

Weird and destructive as it seems, this message is not a fluke.  Some 15 years ago, I wrote an analysis of another popular “action movie” with exactly the same underlying message.

Now, the belief system of principled nonviolence is exactly the opposite of this message at every point. We believe that nature is profoundly benevolent. It is the opposite of military. It’s (her) underlying power is to be sought within us, deliberately, not stumbled upon accidentally in the depths of the sea or the depths of outer space. We are the ones who can save us, each and every one of us (oh yes, the thing called democracy).

This month, as activists gather around the world to protest for the planet and — I fervently hope — launch a sustained, strategically-crafted trajectory of action, begins a “do or die” crisis for this struggle which is partly a struggle between opposing groups and individuals and partly, at base, a struggle between two worldviews. In the short term, we must bring a stop to this madness on all fronts.

In the long term, we must find ways to debunk this absurd culture of death relentlessly conveyed in the commercial mass media (massive boycotts, anyone?) and adopt one somewhat along the lines I’ve just outlined, compatible with the perennial traditions of wisdom and spirituality mankind has inherited and best science of our day. We cannot dare to do less; we cannot afford to fail.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence

We provide educational resources on the safe and effective use of nonviolence, with the recognition that it’s not about putting the right person in power but awakening the right kind of power in people. We advance a higher image of humankind while empowering people to explore the question: How does nonviolence work, and how can I actively contribute to a happier, more peaceful society?

Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.