By Freddy Fjellheim
Awaken us with unease, impatience and demands!
This is probably a helpless attempt. I am admittedly no spring chicken, and I neither speak nor write in the language of youth. My children claim that I would choose to speak latin if I could (the truth is that I couldn’t if I wanted to). I like to speak to young people, but preferably to those who speak up against me, who can handle being listened to and who ask the open-hearted questions.
Big things are happening. In the next four, five years the world and our homesteads will be in need of ingenuity, deep seeded humbleness and poignant courage. We who use the freedom of speech have to think new thoughts and bring more warmth into our languages.
I believe that open minded and sentient people need to bridge the gap between man and nature, theory and practice, by way of elucidation. As we approach the abyss, we need to collect deeper experience within ourselves, based on tradition and human knowledge handed down to us from former generations. My claim in this essay is that we are in need of a human perspective on all the fossil abuse against Mother Earth committed by the coal and oil industries.
As Norwegian individuals we are daily torn between consumption and an incipient eco-consciousness, between thought and action. This split has become «natural» to us. In this Mecca of abundance we gorge in the gifts of nature, on beautiful beaches and during luxurious dinners, while at the same time seeing the world shatter to pieces.
THE COMPETITIVE MAN
The increasing dualism between human and nature dates back to the homo economicus of the 18th century – economic man. With targeting reason and directionless lust the economic man widens the gap between body and mind, intention and action.
What are the characteristics of the ambiguous character that modernity and capitalism has designed and subjugated all the way up to our heartless individualism?
I call it the competitive man, a mutant of masculine cunning and feminine craftiness, with floating roots in the shallow Narcissus pond of the middle class. This creature’s fleeting presence and hidden intentions calls upon the skewering form of the fragment:
1. The competitive man will always argue for solidarity and wants to come out as a compassionate and caring fellow human, but will always firstly have his attention pointed towards his own well being: «If everybody else only think of themselves, why should I care?»
2. The competitive man speaks in clichés and thinks instinctively, always with the individualist creed at stand by: «I am what I am, I will do as I please.» A proverb from the field of biology has become the foundation of this faith: «It´s only natural.»
3. The competitive man has been indoctrinated by random commercial impulses, cheap leader philosophy and a common lust for position and profit, whether he is left and right winged.
4. The competitive man is strategically honest about his intentions, and strategically dishonest about his real intentions. Telling a lie is not a moral issue for the competitive man, it is simply a condition for competition. The CM is the compulsive gambler of social life.
5. The competitive man keeps his endeavors secret. He never fights with shiny weapons, and couldn’t care less about goodness, but is full of smugness.
6. The competitive man expresses positivity in situations where ordinary people would express politeness, flattery where ordinary people express curiosity, he is manipulative where ordinary people want to uncover truths and he is sly where ordinary people are straight forward.
7. The competitive man will therefore deny the existence of the category «ordinary people», saying that it is an idealization and insist on his parrot argument: «This is a simplification». In the same spirit he will regard the characterizations of himself as a caricature, without noticing the truth-value in such a suspicion.
8. The competitive man assumes being tricky means being intelligent, and regards wisdom as an extenuating form of dumbness. If the CM does you a small favor, you will be forever in debt. If the CM gets a present, he will thank you for the wrapping. If you give the CM good advice, he will emphasize the least significant.
9. The competitive man sees it as his biological right to exploit another human being and thus he does not have the ability to distinguish between man and goal, caught in the Kantian trap. For the CM, «another human being» simply constitutes a convenient response to his own needs, like a predator smelling its pray.
10. The competitive man is a sweet talker and a butt licker in the same yawn. He is the prophet of self-fulfillment who’s more than happy to declare to the world: «This is just the way people are».
11. The competitive man is talented in games, sports and speculation. It is the gains from Faustian forces that manipulate this type of human into self-deceit: the nature-hazardous journalism of the media where the climate crisis is being covered in the same way as a traffic jam story. The media is the mother of all stupidity. Put differently: The competitive man systematized. For the CM, freedom of speech is primarily about the freedom to express private interests.
12. The competitive man can rarely or never make a deal or enter into cooperation without creating intrigues, hidden allegiances and calumnies. Deep inside, the CM is so unsure of himself that he regularly has to parasite his colleagues, friends and family. Therefore, in need of camouflage, the attitude of the CM signals: «I am more important than you».
13. The competitive man often feels sorry for himself, as he feels doomed to be a competitive man. This self-compassion is due to a common mental confusion. In his eagerness to get a hold of material and cultural riches the poor competitive man has ignored the elementary difference in competing with a fellow human and competing over the best results. Man and thing gets equated=eco-breakdown.
14. The competitive man will steal a good idea for any moral price, and regard it as a private right. The drive to exploit other people’s work and ideas proves as the competitive man’s attempt to appear original. All the while he is enough by himself.
15. The competitive man longs to become human (again). He longs to trust his fellows. He longs to rest, even while honoring himself for being restlessly productive. He longs to be disconnected, while always being connected by SMS, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter.
16. The competitive man wants to crowd the world with his prototype and seldom dears to trust in community. He becomes speculative in his heart and calculates his environment with a false selfhood. This is one of the reasons why the turnover of drugs and painkillers increases. The dopamine high of the career game also needs mentioning in this context.
17. The competitive man fears and despises weakness, sickness and the sick, but behind a facade imposing compassion. In this sense the CM is the ultimate creation of the society of spectacle, before the ecological breakdown.
18. The competitive man is sensing that the climate threat can destroy both nature and economy for future generations. But the CM is so tied up in opportunism that his knowledge is confide to dispersed individual measures – measures that will never really threaten the injustice that conditions the environmental destructions of man and nature.
19. The competitive man is basing his view on society on the Stoltenbergian maxim: The oil must be recovered while the natural resource can still be exploited within the technological and economical systems of today.
20. The competitive man loves all forms of power and wants to be a lonely wolf in the middle of the pack, dressed up as the brand new fairytale character little Blue Riding Hood.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
The great dilemma of the environmentalist movement is that it hasn’t been able to echo in people’s hearts. The highly qualified army of environmentalist agents masters its field, but is also mastered by it. Nowhere else in society have I met so many competitive men and careerists. These environmentalists don’t care to read texts like this, because they have lost their minds to CO2 emission quotas, baseline scenarios and scattered campaigns. The coalition «The Bridge to the Future: A Grass Root Climate Solution» on the 27th of February in Oslo was an honorable exception.
To identify an all-encompassing crisis of the environment the environmentalist movement and farsighted politicians must evolve a new responsiveness. They will do this by listening while they are speaking. Responsiveness such as this might invite to a larger fellowship and mobilize people to take action. It might respond to the sensibility of a poem, such as the Norwegian poet Liv Lundberg in her cycle «The Earth Seen From the Skies»:
shallow ice mountains with tattered cracks
broken by arctic masses of ice
floats in northern lights on a black
glossy sea surface
humans have accession to 0,01 %
of the earths fresh water supplies
existing in frozen form
at the north and the south pole
the global warming
melts and extracts the freshwater
out in to the salty seven seas
The salt of the earth is threatened! And people who only seek the sweet life are washing the differences between true and false away. And life in the ocean dies when we stuff it with more CO2 than it can absorb. The ocean is sacred. It is the cradle of life. It is the earth’s lungs, and it suffocates when the competitive man gets to rule and bully the oil companies and governments.
As he is threatened with the extinction of the nature that is our livelihood, the homo reciprocans – the receptive man – will soon have a saying both in speech and action. Its receptiveness is both sensibility and intelligence simultaneously. «Let no form of property freeze your heart and hands, pay it forward!» This character of action will appear in the midst of the people, outside the iron curtain of politics and competitiveness. Because on the day children, youth and elders together discover what horrors are on the way (400,2 ppm), the political weakness of the civil society can become a great moral strength.
The question «What can we do?» needs to be connected with the question «Who are we doing this for?»
It can happen when adults put the welfare of their offspring above all other concerns. More time for children, increased child benefits for poor families, better legal protection of children during divorces, development of neighborhood communities and alternative communities of families, courses in self sufficiency, practical education in natural surroundings such as woods, mountains and fields, better poetry education, more physical activities, competitions and games, mandatory conflict management courses, respectful demands for children’s participation at home, in the neighborhood, at school. You name it. Everything that binds us together, that make us dependent on each other, that is the message the climate crisis brings to us. In other words, it is something qualitatively different than the mentality of the competitive man.
The question «What can we do?» needs to be connected with the question «Who are we doing this for?». That connective force is the civil society’s linguistic and political force of nature.
Wealthy Western societies can become a humane environmental example by setting strict goals for the reduction of CO2 emissions, because the climate crisis is leading to greater human suffering and a worsening of social imbalance. Youth of wealthy Norway even have The Constitution on their side, because in the environment paragraph 110b, the authorities guarantee generations of the future the right to «an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained». The youth of Norway have a constitutional right to natural diversity. Read it for yourself and see. Use The Constitution for what it’s worth!
THE RECEPTIVE MAN
Homo reciprocans suffer with those who suffer injustice. The receptive man therefore gives money to beggars, and shares with friends and neighbors in need. He swallows his pride and shares humbly, not head on as in giving a gift, but discretely and side by side – as if he himself was persecuted and a fugitive. // We are in contact with our bow of life the moment we stand in solidarity with people who are suffering injustice.
The receptive man is disposed to be a reader, and as a reader you learn that you can become a better person by asking good questions, be curious, ask vividly: How do you live? What can I do for you? What can we share?
The receptive man responds to criticism with a necessary uncertainty.
The receptive man is the manifestation of the humane. You become human by giving of yourself, share knowledge and material goods, and by venerating truth.
The receptive man endures the boredom and pain that is inflicted upon healthy people when living with sick people. He knows that everybody carries disease genes. Me today, you tomorrow. A person with a disease should not be shunned, because if you do, you ostracize your own humanity, your own future.
As poor the receptive man express solidarity out of necessity; as rich he voluntarily turns his back on wealth. Both actions demand weakness and strength. As part of the middle-class the receptive man discovers that receptiveness is to forward goods and being in the lively circulation of reciprocity.
The receptive man doesn’t cling onto things or people, but is in constant change, giving out, at the mercy of the uncertainty of creation.
The receptive man will face true resistance and will therefore experience inner growth.
The receptive man listens while speaking and receives when giving.
Children and young are often of the receptive kind. With adults it is more rare.
It could be that the absence of rioting youth is a sign of maturity, but only as long as the young indignation and despair over the collapse of nature are expressed in other radical ways; be it rebellious questioning, lasting discussions in close communities and circles of friends, protest letters and articles in newspapers and social media, social involvement, attaining knowledge about the environment, attending in demonstrations and campaigns. The mass movement will come when the collective maturity sets free impatience!
SLOW READING, READ NATURE
I believe we must relearn the art of slow reading in the age of the climate crisis, and offer more of ourselves in the process. Reading, too, is to receive in order to pay forward, open up for dialogue, community. This means: Look closer each time you come to the conclusion that change for the better is unrealistic. Is it your reading or your thought that is not realistic? Why should it not be possible to change the world for the better? Can’t people correct their errors? How much is unrealistic for those reading in solitude? How to read as a multitude? As an individual in a community, as a community in the individual?
The reader is really a writer writing his own book in invisible writing. The quietness of reading may sharpen our senses, if we read with both heart and brain. Perhaps the people of the West once more can learn to read nature, if we at first have learned to read each other as well as literature:
To read is to sense the currents of reality beneath the shiny water surface of written language. To sense the currents of reality is to read the signs of nature as language.
Great things are stirring.
We who have no power constitute the deepest base of democracy. At first we try what is good. Then we try what is good. And then we try what is good again. If we are still not being heard, all hell breaks loose.
For the first time in 4 million years the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than 400,2 ppm (parts per million). This is a measure that shows how high the concentration of CO2 is in the atmosphere.
I think and name both «the competitive man» and «the receptive man» with a literary term, namely a character of action. These are in other words not humans of flesh and blood, perhaps not even social characters, nor are they moral categories. They are definitively distinctive features of certain people, but they are first and foremost literary terms, or literary characters which emerges out of certain action characteristics, certain patterns of action, etc..
«We are in every moment of life a synthesis of everything that happens to us between the moment of birth and the moment of death, and as potentiality we are the summary of our achievements in lessening and alleviating suffering. This is the span of form I call the bow of life…» Freddy Fjellheim: Community Arts. Oslo: Cappelen Damm, 2010. Translated by Martin Fjeld, 2014.
This essay was first published in the Norwegian periodical Vinduet No. 1/2014 and later in English at eco-poetry.org.
Translation: Copyright © 2014 Martin Fjeld. All rights, including electronic, reserved by the author and the translator.» (C) 2014 Freddy Fjellheim. All rights, including electronic, are reserved by the author.