In the young years that I lived in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I’d return again and again to the end of a dock to stare up, or take a hillpath to a lookout, my listening point. The main thing I wanted was to be free of others and to look out… I was meditating toward the north and west, where I would see the night sky arrayed out there endlessly above the icy sweeps. I didn’t even want to call it the Rockies or the Arctic - I felt strangely nourished by that mystery.
I loved my listening point in the winter when the north wind made the evergreens give off that soft whistling sound. I could imagine the big forest cats, the wolves and their full moons and the great white owls. They were my fabulous gatekeepers to another world. I knew that if I traveled far enough into this vast space that the thousands of rules that were being assembled for my young life would disappear. The measurements, like “millions of miles” would become useless. All human shouts died on the edge of the crushing silent music that swept up to space.
I believe my listening points offered me an invitation to work free of the culture being forced on me. I could glance in that northerly direction while sitting with my workbook in school. At twelve years old that was Mellette School in Watertown, South Dakota. The schoolyard was turned away from the prairie that disappeared into the ice and stars, but I could sense its presence and feel better ….and be better prepared to cast a cold eye on the education I was getting. The story of history taught in school was like a loud shirt with a missing sleeve; my beloved unknown land became the Northwest Passage, or the last scene in Dr. Strangelove, or - constantly – sentimental versions of the natives. But I was confident of my escape. I knew that I could point myself northwest after school and I would hear an incoming counter-story.
Now as an older person I watch the arctic melting. The unknowable top of the world has been meddled with. As a life-long hunter of new culture, I’ve had to move my listening point to increasingly unprecedented scenic views. Now I must find my howling wind in a cubic inch of soil, or a rare bird a thousand miles off its range, or an orgasmic flash of nature in our bed. The northern lights show up in my life on the sly, a gift of intuition, a surprise from an unknown artist, like catching Charley Parker or Jackson Pollock before they got famous. I still believe that my cultural night sky is hiding somewhere, but the escape to freedom is through a shell-game of dazzling space junk.
The unknowable beasts who once saw human beings as wandering loners in the far distance, tramping through the snow with their guns on their backs – these animals are in flight now like we all are. A few weeks ago, in early May, a roaming female wolf was shot by a farmer in Iowa. The newspapers marveled that the lone wolf got so far south. I wondered if she was searching for her listening point.
The RoboBee inventors are taking the part of the bee that they understand, the non-inertial flight, the 70 wing beats a second, etc. to create their frankenbee. What they don't and cannot understand is how a scout bee returns to the hive and begins her dance, wiggling and waggling, beating her wings 70 times a second, shooting the hive full of pheromone gasses and building a mysterious-to-us map, a three dimensional map created from triangulating the sun, the hive and the foraging flower in the distance... This dance of erotic communication is the Honey Bee being miraculous. In the dark ball of the hive something happens we can't explain. We only see the results: the Honey Bees travel miles to precisely the flower in the scout bee his directed them to.
The scientists at the RoboBee lab are only taking the dumbest part of the smartest animal. They mimic with their little robot the wing-beats and the non-inertial flight, the mechanical stuff. The mysterious dances in the hive they jettison. Could this because they are financed by the Pentagon, and are actually not building a bee at all, but rather a new tiny drone for futuristic warfare? Yes, the head researcher has received millions from DARPA.
As Earth activists we know that we can only stop these people by discovering the mysterious dance in ourselves. These violent people need some precise dark magic from you and me.
Got my "Community Service" today for my conviction for preaching in the JP Morgan Chase lobby last September, surrounded by singing extinct Golden Toads. Connecting bank investments to climate change and the extinction wave - that was our novel idea. So I got my gloves and my ID and my paper form and I'm off to the subway with the sleepy commuters. I thought as an act of defiance I would leave you my faithful this picture of preaching in the lobby of the Boston Monsanto headquarters a couple weeks ago. I think their interior decoration resembles their vision of the interior of a corn plant. No biological shapes, no stinking smells, no humor or mystery or sex. Also no evolution, no intruders or "wildness" of any kind and so no nutrition. And the inscrutable architecture reminds me of reflecto-sunglasses that mask any desire. It makes us want to break that "sea of identical details" with singing and shouting and sheer information. This is a cover-up! We know what you are doing! You are sweeping our best souls from their traditional homes into shantytowns. You are chemicalizing eco-systems. You are leaving the bee without a flower. So come down out of your offices, don't such Selfie us. Come out and touch us and laugh with us instead of arresting us. We know that you want to join the resistance to Godsanto's Hell.
Let's consider for a moment the honey bee and its anticipated replacement, the RoboBee. Let's pay a visit to the frankenbee's parents, Monsanto and DARPA.
The RoboBee is a mechanical bee in the design stage at the Microrobotics Lab, housed in a well-appointed building at Harvard University. The RoboBee project's Intelligence Office declares that the robotic inventors are inspired by the bee. The RoboBee project's website and press releases use the imagery of the golden bees that we remember from our love of the cuddly buzzy honey-maker.
"What makes me feel like NPR is stalling, Ted Talks is stalling, Burning Man is stalling, Harvard University is stalling. Democrats, Move On, the Sierra Club and yoga class are stalling. Rihanna, Jay Z, Eminem, and Game of Thrones are stalling. What makes me feel like all celebrities after Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman and Bill Hicks are stalling, slowing down out of paralyzing fear. Turning to face the past, to love it, to read it for clues like our life is a big nostalgic teleprompter. The NSA and FBI and the Velvet Underground fan club - all stalling to suck hard on that lost past.
Wars: the biggest stalling tactic, slowing us down, dim-witting us so that we never ask the only question that will save us. Up close it’s the stall of shootings in schools, post offices, movie theaters. Farther away its North Korea, Syria, Ukraine. But are we obligated to hold hands in a circle and improve MSNBC's ratings if we can't breath? We are drowning.
Oh 200 mile an hour Yolanda winds – hear our desperate prayer. Make us leap like there is a big cat weightless above us. Launch us into fight or flight, into evolution, into desparation to survive. Living on purpose. It seems almost quaint. Earthalujah!
Thanks to Abstrakt Goldsmith for this nugget of history that most of us never learned in school.
18 MILLION HONEY BEES PULL TRUCK OFF 1-95, swarms blocking window displays in London, creating hieroglyphic shapes over 50% off sales. Insects with coordinated strategic attack. The wings beat 80 times a second, non-inertial flight. Drone engineers worship this. But they are turning on us. Unclear who is in charge. How do swarms make decisions? Where is the queen? Monsanto killing the hives as fast as possible. GMO crops with neonicotinoid pesticides squeezed up from the roots, poison in the seedlings, poison out to the tips of the leaves. Honey Bees seem to know this. They are swarming creatively, making crazy figure eights in the sky. What are they doing? In quiet laboratories, micro-robotic scientists are saying: We can make a replacement bee. A RoboBee. The Pentagon paying. Monsanto waiting, wants a pesticide-proof pollinator. But is there still time to make a fake life? The men with their algorithms glowing on screens glance nervously at the windows. Did you hear a buzzing sound?
Robobee scientists at the Micro Robotics Lab say "We're INSPIRED by the Honey Bee." And they are spending millions to make a bee, a robot bee.
Dear Dr. Frankenbee. "Inspired" is exactly what you are not. "In-spirited," is letting in what we can never know about a thing, letting the mystery of it invigorate us, make us sing and shout and make funky sculptures in our kitchens. We want to capture the essence, but not capturing it completely is the point. Copying what is known, making a robot, and letting that kill the living thing? - not very inspiring.
The spirit of a thing is the mystery that surrounds it. I thought Lena created a horse of great power. By running parallel to the horse with her magic reality, she is more apt to not be cruel to the living animal. But Frankenbee - your nano-technological imitation of what is obvious about the Honey Bee - the non-inertial flight, the surveillance of the landscape - this gives DARPA at the Pentagon the insect-drone it has craved for decades. It gives Monsanto its pesticide-proof pollinator, so the real bees can be poisoned as a pest.
The spirit of the animal calls out to us. Let our genius have reverence for miraculous life. We can never make life, but we are given the privilege of being alive in the world of living things. The mysteries inside us might save us, if we can live with the unknown. Do you feel INSPIRED? Then love the Honey Bee that is unknowably alive.
The Queen Bee - this time played by soprano Susannah Pryce - instructed us to take the fruits & vegetables pollinated by Honey Bees to the lab that wants to replace the bees with robots. The scientists of the Micro-Robotics lab were polite as 15 people covered with 5 inch bee dolls and bee-hive like wrappings on their heads, and of course accompanied by a televangelist shouting about extinction and sin, entered their quiet building. The beautiful pollinated watermelons and almonds and apples were arranged around the display case where the would-be bee replacements stood in the light, penny-size sticks with wings. The choir sang, the preacher prayed, and conversations ensued with the inquiring scientists and researchers who came out of the labs wondering what all the commotion was about. The radical bee-lovers left after about a half-hour. There were no arrests. (Rev Billy's sermon is posted elsewhere on this page.)
A second activist church, the 1st Parish UU Church of Bedford, with Rev John Gibbons, joined the Church of Stop Shopping at Harvard & at the next stop, Monsanto. The office building with the devilish pesticide & suicide seed company inside was exorcised from a food court area, with workers looking down, cellphone-photographing, from their office windows. Our visit there was cut short by security and police, but the soul-saving effort was made.
We returned to New York by midnight, and now turn to final preparations for our Sunday "Honeybeelujah" service at Joes Pub at the Public.
Earth scientists are trying to get our attention. Well, that's an understatement – they are apoplectic, waving their arms in the windows of the super mall that our culture has become. Yes, we don't notice them because we're shopping, with iPhones glowing in our faces and white wires in our ears.
The King of the Slow Motion Shoppers is Barack Obama. He's doing the tai chi of total hesitation. He puts off the pipeline. He puts it off until after the apocalypse. In so doing, he encourages all citizens to enter the gradualism of shopping where basic change, structural way-of-life change, is impossible. Shoppers are morphed into Obama-like ditherers, lost in a cloud of alternatives, the product, the packaging, competing prices, warranties, credit, resale value, prestige value, sex life value, status value. Shopping forces upon us its false complexity.
In the last year study after study has been published by a world of natural scientists. The IPCC report from the United Nations is the most famous, but there are many others. These groups of conservation biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, – across the spectrum of disciplines within the natural sciences, add up to an unprecedented gathering of scientists around a single issue, which you might call "Life on Earth."
Each of these learned researchers is reporting the mass death on the island of life that they are studying. Each professor's specialty is dying before her eyes. Thousands of scientists are shouting to us from their coral reefs, wetlands, glaciers, cloud forests and mountain streams, from every conceivable eco-system. They all conclude their reports with the same thundering pronouncements, like a secularized Book of Revelation. "Super storms that will overwhelm economies..." "Migrations from the coastal cities and global south..." "Methane levels like the Permia Extinction of 250 million years ago..."
Our response? As the fires, droughts, floods and storms increase, we are less and less interested. At least in the United States, this is what the pollsters tell us. The climate catastrophe isn't a product that is meeting sales projections. Consumers seem to suffer an attention deficit when it comes to self-induced mortality. It doesn't get the best placement in Walmart's aisle.
And yet, it's strange how in this era of the Sixth Great Extinction, the most popular movie is in the saving-the-world genre. Now it's Captain America. All those Marvel films. A super-hero with fantastic powers saves us from a super villain, the film's stand-in for climate change. Maybe this is the problem.
The apocalypse with the five stars on Amazon isn't the real one. The End-Times with 600 special effects engineers catches our eye, and the actual one with the oceans crushing cities – that's just another disaster in the tabloids.
We shop for our super heroes, but we don't believe that we can be that hero ourselves. Heroes don't suffer from gradualism. We do.
Even the threat of a world that will cut short our childrens' lives isn't enough to motivate us. Something about how we are living has taken our fight or flight mechanism and disabled it.
How do we put the move in the movement? There is no Earth Movement without millions of us moving. How can we possibly estimate what it will take? Let's just say: Millions of heroes will have to be pretty damn heroic. We must move to change how we personally live, and simultaneously challenge institutional power. We'll have to help each other repair those fight or flight evolutionary tools. To get our instruction manuals and repair kits, we'll have to leave our computers and malls and walk back toward the eco-systems where the naturalists are stranded. We'll need to learn some old things from scratch.
Each of us will be called upon to be radical in our own way. A fossil fuel extraction site appears in your kitchen window and you up and chain yourself to a bulldozer. People are doing such things, every day, around the world. Local eco-warriors are being murdered at the rate of two a week. The movement is beginning.
Our leader is the Earth itself. You know how not-gradual a tornado can be when it goes shopping in a big box store full of sweatshop-made CO2-emitting tchotchkes? The Earth is our teacher. The Earth will train us to shout like Typhoon Haiyan. We need to move the ground and make people jump. We must to keep the pressure on with the thoroughness of Lake Cameron in Somerset or implacability of the tourist-killing Tasmanian heat.
Where are the super-heroes for the Earth? That's a trick question. They aren't in the past, or on the silver screen. The heroes aren't "over there." They are here. They are you and I. We're here and are we ready? Of course we are, because we want to live. We're ready to launch an Arctic 30 in every ocean, a Chelsea Manning in every regiment, a Sea Shepherd in every whale hunt, a Wangari Maathi in every clear-cut, a Pussy Riot in every church, a Vandana Shiva on every farm.
I can hear Sam Cooke singing "A Change Is Gonna Come!"