Dan McCaslin: Nature and Shallowing the Mind – Noozhawk

Posted: January 28, 2020 at 8:45 am

Regarding todays dominant Facebook/iPhone digital connective culture, conservative New York Times editorialist Bret Stephens critiques the impact of our eras instant communication and endless websites. Far from increasing important knowledge to enhance personal prosperity and individual happiness, we swim like homeless hominids in this digital connective culture (DCC) that causes "a kind of shallowing of our inner life," according to Stephens (see 4.1.1. Books).

Im a backcountry hiker and outdoor columnist, and lately have followed John Ruskins sublime footsteps into wild nature seeking repeated deep time episodes. In repetitive forest bathing hikes, one finds urban detox, mental rejuvenation and those crucial oceanic feelings that rewild the spirit. Rewilding, juvenescence, forest immersion, hill-country music and awe-stricken moments surrounded by Earths green beauty absolutely will compel a mental reawakening. We need new terms or new word combinations to describe the postmodern ennui and depressions sprouting all around us in the Anthropocenes harrowing DCC.

Shallowing is not actually a word, but Stephens neologism fits a new concept demanded by the infowars and "fake news" of this early Anthropocene. Like juvenescence, adjacentcy and forest bathing, the shallowing description helps me figure out whats going awry in so many westerners spirit-lives (see 4.1.1. for adjacentcy). Depression and deteriorating mental health among millennials certainly terrify everyone in America today.

The vast and ever-expanding Internet "meridians" apparently cover everything there is, but this proto neural membrane is also incredibly thin so while we know more and more and also more quickly, its usually about less and less. As a world culture, weve fallen into left-brain overspecialization again. (I covered left-brain vs. right-brain neurologies in my recent column.)

Inner resilience emerges out of the outdoor interludes that humans truly require. We can follow the animistic example of our Stone Age ancestors, and especially as urbanization/digitalization/optimization race ever onward. When your life is one of constant optimization, youre never free and you can never fully relax, as eloquent millennial Jia Tolentino points out describing todays ideal woman of the DCC

good looks, the impression of indefinitely extended youth, advanced skillsof self-presentation and self-surveillance. The ideal woman, in otherwords, is always optimizing. She takes advantage of technology. Herhair looks expensive. She spends lots of money taking care of her skin The same is true of her body. it has been pre-shaped by exercise thatensures there is little to conceal or rearrange. Everything about thiswoman has been preemptively controlled to the point that she canafford the impression of spontaneity .

Similarly, most adult humans, especially the mournful millennials, must relearn Stone Age ways I strongly recommend a process of rewilding the mind and spirit. Neo-animism (my neologism) simply means re-enchanting the world and holding off the de-animating digital destruction. The process commences with simple outings in or near green nature; its what I pushed in "Eternal Backcountry Return" (constant walking). Millennials, Gen-Xers, boomers, weve all got to re-valuate the manifest advantages in paleo thinking.

This curative process embodies the call for a renewed animism for the Anthropocene Ive dubbed this way of thinking neo-animism. The inanimate is indubitably as alive in those holy boulders shown in another column as in the dancing bees buzzing about my face. The ancient Mesopotamians even worshipped the life-force in Salt (their famous Hymn to Salt prayer), although left-brainers see only the NaCl formula. The left brains revenge on the right brain is to suffocate the wide-angle communal viewpoint.

In our collective shallowing, weve lost the appreciation for the life and life-giving force in natures inanimate stone artifacts, including mountains and exotic canyons. Perhaps it is less a shallowing than an extraordinary widening that some minds cannot comprehend or stretch to. If everything is indeed alive, then the individuals cosmos feels very different to her than in our hyper-kinetic speedy DCC.

If a reader struggles with the interpretation offered in the idea of living boulders in the field near Hurricane Deck, or seeking wisdom in places, then she should realize she might profit from extended forest bathing jaunts as she begins the neo-animism process.

After postmodernism comes post-humanism, and with the latter my neo-animism emerges as a necessary corollary.

In neo-animism, we conjure the image of the natural world working on us humans, not the other way round. Guardian columnist George Monbiot argues for a radical political rewilding that can mirror natures own rewilding processes. Rewilding allowing dynamic, spontaneous organization to reassert itself leads to organic complexity, and need not be exclusively top-down the way our politics are today (Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, President Trump, Kim Jong-un, Mark Zuckerberg).

Bruno Latour argues that were all actually climate skeptics: Whatever our intentions, we all act as if climate change is not real. In the same vein, most of us live our lives in some child-like state where we all act as if human life isnt time-limited. However, human lives are indeed time-limited as Buddha constantly said, and refusing to honor this crucial condition makes us weak, and also sometimes violent.

My neo-animism resembles an eco-theism where the actual planet Gaia is our church/temple/mosque (a kind of pantheism). The demands in "Facing Gaia" form a moral imperative and enhance a novel mode of experience. In a new politics for this human-created Anthropocene Era, neo-animism joins with radical post-humanism to ask fundamental questions of us, like:

Shouldnt there be fewer people?

Should 90 percent of the humongous herds of cows and pigs be culled (killed off)?

Why not rewild locally by returning grizzly bears to the San Rafael Wilderness?

How can humans accord natural rights to the evolved animals on this Gaia?

The 19th century Romantic right-brain view of physical nature was replaced by the left-brain dominant scientific view that justified any activity to wrest more value (resources) from Gaias rich body. This Industrial Age left-brain dominance allies seamlessly with the DCC today, and thus fosters that shallowing of so many human minds and imaginations.

The first step in resisting the corrosive DCC is to buy sturdy shoes or boots, and begin a regular hiking program in or near our backcountry. The Eternal Backcountry Return beckons, and certainly bring your children along!

Books and articles: For my term adjacentcy, it defines the way densely populated California urban zones lay next to wild and wilderness zones, see my Autobiography in the Anthropocene, p. 60 and passim). Stephens quote: New York Times, Dec. 21, 2019. For Tolentino quote: Jia Tolentino, "Trick Mirror," p. 64; Bruno Latour, "Facing Gaia" (Polity 2017); J. Purdy, "After Nature A Politics for the Anthropocene" (2015), discusses the "new animism," 272-275; George Monbiot: click here.

Dan McCaslin is the author of Stone Anchors in Antiquity and has written extensively about the local backcountry. His latest book, Autobiography in the Anthropocene, is available at Lulu.com. He serves as an archaeological site steward for the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest. He welcomes reader ideas for future Noozhawk columns, and can be reached at [emailprotected]. Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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