Emily Spence: Rising From the Phoenix’s Flames

By Emily Spence

Governments come and go. Whole civilizations disappear into the sands of time and new ones rise up to take their place. In this sense, they’re all like an image of the Phoenix, a dramatic archetypal creature consumed in flames and rising out of its own ashes only to be burned once more. Universal and spanning all cultures, its mythic bird-like visage is found again and again, while symbolizing the regenerative properties in healing, the cyclical nature of seasons and an awareness that each generation disappears and, out of its demise, each subsequent one is born. Particularly as a sign of triumph over hardship when cities are destroyed and rebuilt (i.e., San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and Atlanta after major fires in 1864 and 1917), the Phoenix well serves as a reminder that recurring adversity can be overcome with effort.

Yes, individual lives and history, as a whole, have a way of repeating themselves over and over with the same themes and circumstances surfacing yet another time. Nonetheless the Phoenix, in a sense, is less apt a model than would be an evolutionary one. This is because individuals, species and whole empires verify, more often than not, the paradoxical truism, "the only constant is change."

Indeed, advancement requires it. As such, evolutionary principles, despite whatever some Creationists allege to the contrary, are the driving force behind everything in both its current and ever new configurations. The reorganizing principles are present whether on the cellular level or, analogously, in more complex social systems wherein, for example, each section of a community provides a function and, indirectly, shapes the overall drift of the commonwealth in its entirety. In this sense, those elements that serve to damage the whole organization are in constant need of being checked and, if extremely detrimental, eliminated.

Thus, the latest efforts to remove R. Cheney and G. Bush from office through impeachment are exemplary. A growing number of Americans have simply had enough of the increasing death toll in the Middle East, budget deficit, indifference to problems at home (such as the huge population still displaced from Hurricane Katrina) and other signs that the current administration represents a deep pathology needing, like a cancer, to be routed out of the body politic. In short, they are becoming increasingly aware that the op US leaders are dangerous to both America and the world at large.

At the same time, the act of eradicating whatever is needed to be ended to serve our furtherance comprises one of the underlying shaping factors in evolution. It is the reason for some extinction, vaccines, pesticides and wars. It is the reason that oceans are over-fished, and other groups (whether member of different species or our own) are slaughtered when competing against ours for resources. Likewise, it is the reason that overall biodiversity is vanishing at an alarming rate [1].

Instead, there will be ever more Burger King, Pizza Hut, CVS, WalMart, Radio Shack, Staples, Best Buy, Starbucks, Target, BJ’s, Duncan Donuts and other franchises littering the landscape. This is because these, not biodiversity, are what the masses covet. Moreover, their wants (not whatever is necessarily best for people) drive the economy.

With our burgeoning population and the push for increasing wealth on the parts of entrepreneurs — desires, cravings and yearnings for all sorts of goods provide more than ample incentive for business owners to expand the market for monopolizing chains. In such a way, our world is gradually being transformed while uniformity in vistas and provisions, whether in Shanghai or Boston, is all but assured.

Besides the annihilation of whatever or whomever gets in the way of the collective desires for the dominant group, a second dynamic comes into play from an evolutionary angle. This is that we do not kill off whatever is serviceable to us as long as it is of use. For this reason, herds of wooly sheep are maintained and deliberately made to reproduce, as are milk cows. Slaves (for which there are 27 million worldwide) and indentured servants are kept alive [2], and wage earners are given a living wage AS LONG AS they are not easily replaced at less cost [3].

In addition, a third variable propelling life onward is that we tend to, in a descending order of propinquity, foster those people and other entities with which we most closely identify while dismissing entirely those who seem radically different. In this sense, we support our own children over those of others, people of our own religious backgrounds more readily than those who are not, individuals with our own cultural (and ideological) understandings and, of course, groups who are ethnically similar. This is the reason that it seems, for many, more easy to love a dog or a cat than a leech or a beetle. They, simply, seem more like us.

Meanwhile, this same sort of affinity predisposes many citizens to be more concerned about deaths amongst their own kind (i.e., the 3,600 + US troops killed to date in Iraq) than the injustice carried out against innocent foreign civilians (i.e., the 655,000 + murdered Iraqis) since it is just too hard to not view the latter as "the other" [4] — as some sort of subhuman aliens not worthy of much concern on our parts, nor having anywhere near comparable value as our own soldiers. In other words, we are more moved by our militia despite that the latter serve as aggressors criminally trespassing onto Iraq soil based on fabricated information concerning WMDs.

In this sense, Edward Said’s understandings in Orientalism were right on the mark [5]. Westerners tend to hold derogatory, imperialist views towards Easterners. Then again, hegemony and xenophobia have always driven hatred and a sense of anomy toward whomever is chosen as the target of plunder. No one group –whether the Conquistadors, Nazi, Mussolini’s crowd or the American government with its vast military-industrial complex girding the globe — is exclusive in this regard.

Yet, at the same time, more and more people are, finally, beginning to realize that the Iraqi citizens are not easily going to give up the prize — the oil — for which the US government invaded in the first place. So it is becoming increasingly hard for them to justify additional deliberate loss of life in this unconscionable crusade.

Further, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” as George Santayana remarked. In this vein, Bush and Cheney should have realized from the US Revolution, Vietnam tragedy and a host of other, comparable events that nationalists, generally, resist having their countries ransacked and their population butchered by unwelcome "outsiders." As such, the US-Iraq war will drag on until the US stands down and the Iraq fighters weary of their ensuing factional rivalry.

In the end, the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — like all of us — have to learn better how to share resources and be more inclusive of others, who come from disparate religious, cultural, ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Indeed, this must be done as we’re collectively running out of time in terms of addressing the multitudinous pressing calamities that face humanity and the planet in general of which there are a wide variety requiring immediate attention. Moreover, any one of these, alone, is enough for grave concern whether involving global warming, depletion of forests worldwide, provision of sufficient alternative energy, the spread of pandemic diseases and so on.

As Noam Chomsky suggests, "Regrettably, there are all too many candidates that qualify as imminent and very serious crises. Several should be high on everyone’s agenda of concern, because they pose literal threats to human survival."

Moreover, there will no more safe havens to which to move when life gets too rough where one’s currently located if the looming threats worsen. It will not be like "the good old days" when Australia, New Zealand and the Americas were lands of plenty (ample resources). There won’t exist only a (relatively) small number of indigenous peoples, who the rapacious invaders can easily quell by guns, deliberately introduced Small Pox, legally sanctioned slavery, forced marches to reservations (concentration camps) and sheer force of their numbers in a ceaseless flood of ever more raiders pouring into some "new world." (The ease with which such processes were carried out is well documented in Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel. [6]) This is because we’ve simply run out of "new worlds" to overrun.

All considered, we have to, post haste, turn ourselves around and learn better to fix our homelands instead of screwing up territories belonging to others. Likewise, we have to learn better to cooperate, be supportive and mutually enabling. This is because there’s a whole new set of variables in play worldwide with dwindling oil and coal, increasing nuclear arms capacity, shrinking agricultural yield due to changing weather patterns, spreading regions of droughts and floods related to global warming, burgeoning population and other perilous factors — ones on a dangerous scale never before experienced by our entire Earth.

So, somehow we have to learn better to resist our tendency to put whatever is unfamiliar and, seemingly, different from ourselves into the first two classifications (i.e., worthy of extermination or to be abused and oppressed as a source of economic gain). We must learn to better follow "the golden rule," that prevails as an underlying central tenet in all of the major world religions. Indeed, we must learn to stop putting our individual advancement and greed above collaboration and provision of mutual benefit since few of us are completely self-sufficient. In other words, our collective fates are inexorably linked and we do need each other for survival. Consequently, it’s high time that we started to act accordingly.

If we do not, the far-reaching disaster that will come to pass will be beyond our wildest nightmares. As such, we must rise up like the Phoenix, but, this subsequent time, in a new pattern. So, we, also, need a new paradigm to proceed, a fresh world view to envision, as well as a novel way of going our business and our lives in general. In this vein, it will have to be a design that’s broadly life supportive rather than primarily self-serving.

All considered, we will have to become more aware that whatever everyone does (or doesn’t do) can effect the social whole in monumental ways. Therefore, we can no longer afford to take advantage of others to fill our own coffers. We can no longer be caviler about the widespread demise of other species. We can no longer tolerate escalating consumption of resources as if there is no end of them in sight. More importantly, we can no longer maintain a path guaranteed to destroy other people and the Earth while, glibly, thinking that there can always exist infinitely more since everything will always renew itself. In short, there will come a point wherein it can’t and won’t.

With the many diverse, monumental and urgent calamities facing the world today, the need for massive sweeping change on the part of humankind is undeniably clear. Without further delay, it’s imperative that the necessary adjustments start here and now!

-Emily Spence lives in Massachusetts and deeply cares about the future of our world.


[1] Please refer to: Mass Extinction Underway | Biodiversity Crisis | Global Species Los… www.well.com/~davidu/extinction.html.
[2] To see the extend of slavery worldwide (including in the US), please see: 07 Trafficking Report Recognizes FTS | Free the Slaves (www.freetheslaves.net/).
[3] Excellent critiques concerning the distribution of wealth and exploitation of workers are at: Charles Reitz:"Teaching About Oppression and Exploitation …
(http://clogic.eserver.org/2004/reitz.html) and Imperialism 101: Chapter 1 of Against Empire by Michael Parenti (www.williambowles.info/guests/2005/imp_101.html).
[4] "Other" and the associated alienation are well defined at: Other – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other) and http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~ulrich/rww03/othering.htm.
[5] Overview of Said’s position are at: Orientalism (www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Orientalism.html) and Edward Said – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_).
[6]An overview can be found at: Jared Diamond – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jared_Diamond).

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