Reciprocity

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Reciprocity is a word we could use for the rhizomatic nature of life, or perhaps paradoxically, the social mechanics of earth. We are undeniably entangled in perpetual subliminal conversations and exchange with each other and the natural world. Reciprocity expresses our interdependence, whether conscious or not. The limits of that reciprocal relationship likely extend beyond any rational definition we might rely on. We can see ourselves in a new light, not as a single central species mastering life, but as just one species (the youngest species) sharing a vast web of life. We are learning this the hard way. 

Reciprocity, or what might well be called emergence, is an omni-variant, non-linear dynamic beyond our feeble attempts to determine chronology, origins or destinations. Much as we might wish to, or to be tied to the habit of gazing into a rainforest noticing only the layered canopy, the explosion of color, the cacophony of voices or the humidity, we cannot see the whole unless we also notice what is underfoot, buried in the rotting vegetation, the decomposing bodies, the leaf molds, the micro-organisms, the mycelium, the death amidst all that life. In fact, the death is giving rise to life. Without these, there is no rainforest, no reciprocity. Some relationships are visible, some invisible. Everything we are and all we do is part of that entanglement. 

In a culture that teaches and so efficiently reinforces separation for so long, we as individuals are reduced to atomized centers of resources to be mined and harvested. We have reached a point at which even our autonomy of thought and action are under threat. It is critical to disengage from the machine of Progress to discover and enact a new way of living closer to the reality of our place in the web of life. We are being called upon by unparalleled change to engage all our faculties, our vision and intuition, the ears and eyes, the sensations we have forgotten to notice and the capacities we use to listen for foreign and fugitive guidance to recover or discover for the first time the basis of our relations with each other and the more-then-human world.

We have to search our histories, poking around in the ashes, into the sources of imagery, before memory, before place, before blood, before nations, to the tribal, to the bones of our original values, to the individual cells of community where life is incubated and regenerated, where our relationships were not things to cultivate, where we watched each other grow and participated in the lives and transitions of everyone we knew. Somewhere in our past, even if only in our genetic memory, we have all known deprivation, displacement and domination. All is embedded in the epigenetics of the human story. More recently we have come to know the soulless commodification of fellow human beings. We have moved beyond some or all of these to be where we are and to carry that knowing with us. That is the common legacy of our time. 

The lifestyle I enjoy was built on the contributions of a billion partners, both human and non-human. For 200 years, capitalism has depended on the establishment of unequal relationships, hierarchies of privilege among all those partners. The unraveling we see around us is the legacy of that inequality, including the racism perpetuating them. We have all become complicit along the way, with colonialism and slavery, with those hierarchies of privilege, with entitlement and subjugation. We are the benefactors of exploitation and violence and we live in a nation built upon that violence and which continues to thrive on the suffering of others every day. 

The bill is coming due. I have a deep grief, emptiness and sickening feeling as I ponder all of this. But feeling guilty is also a perversion, an inversion of victimhood. It can be immobilizing, but it’s time to put it away and name and claim a different way. 

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