July 2, 2010

To Hell With Chicken Little!

A while back my ten-year-old kid came home from school and said, “Mom, is the world really going to end in 2012?”

This moment was one I hadn’t even known I had a secret dread of.

I was raised as part of the Back-to-the-Land movement. If you weren’t there, you probably don’t know that a big chunk of the foundation of the Back-to-the-Land movement was apocalyptic. The hippies who went to the hills were not just running from The Man, and not just “to the garden”, many were running into a safe zone – a place where they’d be safe “when the shit comes down”.

I grew up in a world where there was always an immanent threat that the sky was going to fall on our heads at any minute. I grew up in fear of the mushroom cloud, the Big One (the California Quake), the flu, whatever date was the next forecasted end-point. My dad used to joke (half-seriously) about the day we’d have oceanfront property (assuming we survived the quake).

In addition to the threat of natural and man made disaster, there was a strong us/them mentality in the Back-to-the-Land movement. Fear and disdain for The Man was one of the binding agents that drew like-minded souls together. And we were Us, and everyone else was Them.

But even more than the divide between those who had “turned on, tuned in, and dropped out” and the worker bees of the mainstream, there was a pronounced fear, a cultural paranoia, that They (whoever They were) were out to get Us.

This larger They was not the worker bee, but some nefarious entity that controlled the environment that the worker bees lived in.

This terminology is mostly my own, but I don’t know how else to explain the beliefs that formed a bedrock for me – a bedrock of fear and overwhelm. A bedrock that I, to this day, rebel against.

By the time the Y2K scare rolled around I had one kid, and another one on the way. My kids’ dad and I were living on the land where I grew up. Everyone we knew was hoarding water, grains, seeds, fuel, candles, and more. The more radical amongst them were also stockpiling ammo for the hunting rifles and shotguns they owned.

It was a turning point for me. I made my decision to take a stand against the enculturation of fear. We didn’t finish the bomb shelter my parents had started in the ‘70s. We didn’t buy 50 pound bags of rice. We didn’t even get extra candles.

I decided, then and there, that I would not raise my children in a culture of fear.

So, ten years later, here was my kid, looking me in the eye and asking for reassurance. And I told her what I believe to be true; “No, honey. The world is not going to end in 2012.”

Anger surged in me, even though I know I can’t control my kids’ environments fully, even though I know that the culture of fear will grow, fungus-like, into the cracks where fear already lives. The innate, biological fear of death that wraps itself around us, fills the darkened cracks and crevasses, and warps our vision of future possibility.

I asked my daughter who it was that said that the world would end, but the question was irrelevant; just like in the ‘70s, just like in 1500s when the plague was spreading like wildfire, just like in 1000 AD, the end is nigh!

The funny thing is, most Back-to-the-Landers are not even Christian. Yet, the at-once fear-driven and hope-inspired belief that, indeed, the shit WILL come down, strongly mirrors the Christian preoccupation with the apocalypse.

Some wait and pray for the downfall of the Machine, imagining a day when the collapse of The World As We Know It will lead us through a magical doorway, and back into “the garden’; a beautiful place where people live (once again, some would claim) in harmony with the land, sit around campfires, and build egalitarian communities together.

Famine, global warming, war without end. Yes, these are sorry and sad truths. But signs that the end is at hand? I choose to think that they are not.

Moreover, I choose not to raise my children believing that they are.

Peak oil will happen. Maybe sooner, maybe later. But will we rise to the occasion and adapt to renewable energy sources? The answer is yet to be seen, but it’s not out of the question that there will be a positive outcome.

War rages as it has since time immemorial. Will that ever change? What if there was a chance that there are positive effects of the globalization of culture? What if 13-year-old pen-pals who live in America, Israel, and Palestine learn to build a world beyond boundaries?

Some may call me pollyanna, or worse. Some may think I’m living with my head in the sand. Some may think I’m a starry-eyed idealist. I assure you I am not. I’m well aware of the global predicament.

And, that secret dread I mentioned at the opening of this article? The secret dread is that maybe the shit IS coming down. Maybe we won’t make the collective changes that need to be made in time. Maybe, even though it wasn’t Y2K, or any of the other “This is it!” scares that have happened in my life and beyond, maybe this IS it!

When this dread arises, I ask myself a few questions. These are those questions:

Do I want to raise my children to love life, or to fear death? Do I want to raise them to trust their fellow man, or to weave nihilistic, egoist tales of conspiracy? Do I want raise my children to believe that the nameless, faceless “Them” is like a Hydra with innumerable heads and poisonous breath, or do I want my children to think beyond an “us” and a “them” into a place of “we”?

I choose to raise my children grounded strongly in a sense of justice and the possibility of effecting change. I inculcate my children with the idea that this is now, and now is what we make it. I don’t frighten them with the spectre of a post-apocalyptic tomorrow, nor do I promise them the return of the garden, the advent of heaven on earth.

I choose to raise my children with their feet on the ground, and their hands reaching for the stars that glow in a future of their own making.

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