The Lure of the Hopeful Guru

Having just finished a Memoir REBEL MUSE My life with Peter Paul Ochs and a website I am feeling a tad wrung out. And I haven’t written on this blog for months, bad girl. In spite of all that, while reading the Guardian this morning, I came across a new name in the emerging roster of people, gurus, experts et all, who are making an impression on our collective psyche. Or the Internet, which may be the same thing. And while I haven’t quite made up my mind about him, he did galvanize me back to my blog. For the Guardian long read, click here:

His name is Timothy Morton, a super smart not yet fifty Brit, son of musicians and environmentalist activists and someone who, after garnering a ‘first’ at Cambridge in Literature, is now a professor of something at Rice University in the US. Oh, and he is a devoted fan of Bjork, and sometimes performs music in places like Glastonbury. And he is a fave of highly influential people in the visual art world, people like the German curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, and even artists themselves. They’re all in love with him and his ideas though as a person, Morton isn’t a riveting speaker, and suffers from migraines, depressions and a tendency to actually weep over the sixth extinction, now underway. He thinks the Anthropocene is a game changer. No argument there; I’m sure I would like him, as a person.

Be that as it may, Morton is an authentic phenom, perhaps the latest iteration of what we used to call Renaissance Men, and alas, they’re always men. I’ve never once heard of a Renaissance Woman, have you? Never mind. This species is characterized by an unusual ability to bestride several disparate intellectual worlds and play convincingly in a number of fields. Okay. The Guardian says that “Morton’s peculiar conceptual vocabulary – “dark ecology”, “the strange stranger”, “the mesh” – has been picked up by writers in a cornucopia of fields, from literature and epistemology to legal theory and religion. Sometimes, they also gore sacred bulls, which Morton does. The most important one is that we’re living in an age of unprecedented challenges to our favourite assumption about Nature, which is that it is something apart from us. He says we’re part of it, and everything is somehow sentient and connected. However, this is not a new idea at all; it’s a very ancient idea that any indigenous person can tell you about. What’s new is that it’s being presented as new.

But the real issue I have with this Wunderkind is that he thinks the human race is uncomfortably shifting its basic assumptions about how to live on this planet because of ‘hyperobjects’, like the Internet and Global Warming, which are too big to wrap our tiny minds around but are nonetheless real things, like your car or your bicycle.

Too big to understand, he says, and so we stumble about in confusion while our planet and our sense of it are in free fall. I actually think that there is some truth in that. We do seem to be in dire straits, and we know it. Yep, couldn’t argue with that. Score one for Morton. But here it comes, my main beef:

It’s not the fault of ‘Objects’ out there; the fault is in ourselves that we are so slow to realize what we’re doing, to paraphrase Shakespeare. As a species, we have always managed to indulge in huge helpings of Denial, and as far as I can tell, it’s only Lady Luck that has saved us from ourselves, time and again. But this time it’s different; Luck is running out and what we’re left with is a daily dose of our worst selves, handed to us via the dark mirror of the Internet and digitized information networks. Nobody can escape the daily torrent of bad and horrible and abysmal events, presented in real time on Twitter, Facebook, and the Main Stream News. In spite of some very prominent politicos  burying not just their heads but their entire selves in the proverbial sands, Denial of our dreadful deeds and the need to actually confront them, is now over. Nowhere to hide.

So. We’re living in very interesting times, and Morton is an interesting guy. But his analysis, by this Renaissance Woman’s reckoning, doesn’t take into account our worst and most damaging trait: our ability and need to believe in our own lies. Deniability, I just remembered, is one of the favourite games spooks and governments indulge in. It’s never anyone’s fault, and humbly taking responsibility for dreadful events doesn’t seem to be popular with anyone. In this case, it’s that we still have time to fix things. I doubt that; time is running out so fast it’s making me crazy. But I haven’t heard environmentalists as a group say that we’re actually done here–the damage to the planet is now irreversible. Forever. Only a few dare to be so dark, and nobody likes them. We prefer Morton because, even knowing better, he is still sort of kind of ‘hopeful’. That’s the problem. It’s only when you lose hope and start facing your own worst self that you are free to act.

It’s all very well to lionize someone like Morton, but from my admittedly cynical perspective, he won’t save us. We must do that for ourselves, where we live, every day. Gurus and Genii are perhaps useful guides; they won’t make a difference if we refuse to act on what we already know in our gut: we must change the way we live; radically and forever. Now.

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