Wolf begins by stating, "I wish people would stop breaking into tears when they talk to me these days." This statement left be breathless and gasping for air. However, I continued reading because I already had a sense of where Wolf was going. As I had correctly intuited, her premise is that we should not be debilitated by our grief, but rather rise to the occasion and fight for the constitutional democracy that is being stolen from us.
What I found so appalling about Wolf's essay was not her premise with which I agree in part, but the vacuousness of her one-sided perspective. Yes, we must resist the fascist empire that has declared unspoken war on every nation on earth and on its own citizens, but I must disagree with why and how Wolf admonishes us to resist.
Before any further analysis of Naomi Wolf's perspective, let's pause to consider what is at stake. Scientists are telling us that nearly 200 species per day on earth are going extinct; virtually every resource on earth, including energy, water, and food is being perilously depleted and privatized; the capacity of the planet to carry its current number of inhabitants is already stretched to the breaking point and cannot sustain the rate at which human population continues to grow; our food, water, and air are nearly unfit to take into our bodies; numerous, endless resource wars around the globe could potentially erupt into nuclear holocausts; the future of our children and grandchildren has been mortgaged into abject poverty; educational institutions are producing graduates who are incapable of thinking critically; the world economy is entering economic meltdown; and ghastly global pandemics are waiting to eliminate breathtaking numbers of human beings. I could continue the litany, but if you've read thus far and feel nothing in your body, please check your vital signs. If you do feel something, it's important to notice what that is. In fact, our not noticing, our not feeling, is exactly what has brought about the horrors I have just enumerated.
The heroic, cerebral, non-visceral perspective embraced by Wolf is unequivocally part of the problem. But what do I mean by heroic?
Western civilization is the product of the heroic attitude depicted in countless myths and fairytales of the past five thousand years. Greek and Roman mythology were replete with tales of the hero's journey-the overcoming of ordeals in order to prove one's faithfulness to the gods and goddesses and one's sense of integrity to the community. The Judeo-Christian tradition further perpetuates heroism in protagonists like Moses, David, Daniel, Jesus, St. Paul, Augustine, the crusaders, and the panoply of saints. The apotheosis of heroics in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the savior who brings salvation. Despite the Enlightenment and the rejection of the mythological, Western civilization has been profoundly and permanently characterized by a heroic attitude. In this country, our Puritan ancestors declared that their fledgling colony was a "city set on a hill", "a light unto the world", "a new Jerusalem"-hence the birth of the American notion of exceptionalism. Like it or not, their work-and-win ethic has permeated our culture, subtly instilling in us the belief that we must survive, conquer, and prevail. "Good" human beings, "morally responsible" Americans want to conquer adversity and win. In fact, to do otherwise implies a deficiency in character.
Heroism, a traditionally masculine, problem-solving perspective, abhors the emotional. "What good are tears?" it arrogantly asserts; "Stop sniveling and start fighting!"
I hasten to add that I am not excluding the need for problem-solving and resistance in the face of the plethora of adversities that threaten the earth and its inhabitants. What I am arguing is that the heroic approach is ineffectual given the fact that it is fragmented and incomplete because the natural human response to the death of the planet is nothing less than gut-wrenching grief.
Dr. Glen Barry, founder of Ecological Internet, states:
The Earth is dying and it makes me feel sad. Not just a bit tense or melancholy; but deeply and profoundly anguished, depressed, and angry. Humanity had so much potential that has been wasted. Our self consciousness, opposable thumbs, upright walking and ability for limited rationality has lead to great triumphs in philosophy, art, sport and leisure. But alas other aspects of our animalistic nature; libido, insatiable appetite, and desire to dominate, have won out.
Barry is mourning the loss of feeling and the triumph of heroics, and until any of us is able to feel our grief and consciously, viscerally mourn the loss of our planet, our civil liberties, and our humanity, we are ill-equipped to resist or make the changes in our own lives that will influence either microcosm or macrocosm. Certainly, it is possible to "get stuck" in grief, but from my perspective, that is hardly the most ominous pitfall in front of us. If anything, our inculcation with American heroics has facilitated ungrounded political organizing detached from our bodies and emotions which, like civilization, disconnects us from the totality of our humanity.
I'm well aware that the great labor organizer, Joe Hill, is famous for his adage, "Don't mourn, organize", but Joe's late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century world was quite different from ours. He and his comrades in struggle were not facing the death of the planet and the possible extinction of the human race.