Reciprocity is a word we could use, perhaps paradoxically, for 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, and the limits of that reciprocal relationship likely extend beyond any prevailing rational definition. 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 could say we are learning this- but it’s too slow and surely the hard way.
True reciprocity, or what we could call emergence, is an omni-variant, non-linear dynamic beyond our feeble attempts to determine chronology, origins, directions or destinations. Though we may each define our reciprocal actions in linear terms, we will have only a very limited grasp of the truth. Much as we might wish to be (tied to the habit of metaphorically) gazing into a rainforest noticing 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, all the death amidst all that life. In fact, it’s the death that’s giving rise to all that life. Without this, there is no rainforest, no reciprocity. Some relationships are visible, some invisible. Everything we are, all the stories we tell and all we do are part of that entanglement.
In a culture that has taught and so efficiently reinforced separation for so long, we as individuals are reduced to becoming atomized centers of resource to be mined and harvested. We have reached a point at which our autonomy of thought and action are under threat. Even our anonymity is coming under threat (see Facebook Smart Glasses). 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 amidst all life. We are being called upon by unparalleled change to engage all our faculties, our vision and intuition, our 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 full nature of our relations with each other and the more-then-human world.
We have to search our histories, poke around in the ashes, into the sources of imagery embedded more deeply than personal memory, to the tribal, to the skeleton of our original values, to the sources of community where life is incubated and regenerated, where our relationships were not things to commodify, 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. We have moved beyond some of this to be where we are and we 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 300 years, capitalism has depended on the establishment of unequal relationships, hierarchies of privilege among willing and unwilling partners. The unraveling we see around us is the legacy of that inequality, including the racism perpetuating it. We have all become complicit along the way, in our large and small personal decisions, with the legacies of colonialism and slavery, with corruption, 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 fake economic and cultural 4-star rainforest spa is only for the few and is only made possible by the continuing destruction of the real rainforest upon which everyone depends.
This path is only sustainable by denying death and the reciprocity and renewal it brings. As that denial reaches extremes, 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.