On eagles and oil spills


A bald eagle was perched on a boulder a few feet in front of me as I drove along the shore. The thing was massive, maybe as tall as a five-year-old child. Another hovered just overhead, dropped and snagged a fish out of the water. Life can be a struggle, but on this sunny day the eagles seemed to be doing just fine, thanks.

Most of us are pretty detached from the real biological world. Our lives seem a lot more complicated. We live by the three “Rs”: rules, regulations and responsibilities, and have evolved an unwieldy administration—both corporate and governmental—to look after things. But people leak out in weird ways, especially young people.

For example, one darkening evening last week I watched a car turn the corner in St. Andrews. Something about it caught my eye. It was a late model Volvo station wagon done up as a low rider with purple under-glow lights—you know, the kind that make the car look like a Latino spaceship. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of statement the car was making. The best I can do is “East-Coast-affluence-meets-teenage-kid-meets-yuppie-mom-meets-salsa-meets-hip-hop.”

It kind of got me thinking about our culture jamming society, particularly youth culture. A few days after seeing the salsa Volvo, I was talking to our gardener’s son. He’d just got a haircut, and he mentioned something about “emo.” I’d never heard of it, so I asked, kind of, trying not to embarrass myself about how far out of touch I was.

Apparently, an emo haircut is long in the front and flopped over one eye, peek-a-boo style. I just had to Google it, which I did when I got home. Turns out that emo started out in Washington, DC with a couple of bands that were kind of post-punk, post-grunge. According to Wikipedia, it was “emotional hardcore” music, and the two bands were Rites of Spring and Embrace. By the early 2000s emo went mainstream with the platinum record success of the band, Jimmy Eat World. This spawned a subgenre called “screamo.”

None of this, of course, meant anything at all to me. But just to finish up the thought, the Wikipedia entry informed me that,

“In recent years the term “emo” has been applied by critics and journalists to a variety of artists, including multiplatinum acts and groups with disparate styles and sounds. In addition to music, "emo" is often used more generally to signify a particular relationship between fans and artists, and to describe related aspects of fashion, culture, and behavior.”

Even though emo relates directly to the word emotion, it seems to me that it’s pretty far removed from the outdoor world, at least as a hiker or farmer or biologist might see it. But maybe not as far removed as I think.

The more complicated the corporate-controlled world gets, the more we need ways to escape its crushing control. And every generation launches a counter-culture movement to “retribalize” its culture. In the 1950s it was the beats, in the 60s the hippies, and by the 80s the emos or whatever else is going on.

In response, the older generation usually reacts in one of three ways: becomes threatened, ignores the new trend altogether, or tries to bend it to its own commercial purposes. The last approach seems the most successful in generating cash, famous new stars and killing that particular counter-culture movement. That is, if cohesive counter-culture movements are still actually possible.

The reason for this is, we live in a state of ever-increasing diffusion. With so much going on in the media and everywhere else, it’s hard to keep up with what’s actually going on. The addition of new media such as mobile technology and the Internet has diluted the influence of mainstream media. We live in a world that communicates in an evermore granular, personalized fashion.

In other words, communications has become nothing more than trendy noise. Even significant major events, such as the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, become trivialized, simply by their evening news proximity to all the other noise in the media.

For example, on Yahoo today, we find photos of the worst market crisis since WW2, six Chinese women hurt in “terrifying” cleaver attack, pizza in Naples may be baked with coffin wood, and electronic makers face shortage of LCD panels.

The gulf oil spill doesn’t show up there at all. For that you’d have to tune in to today’s NPR radio broadcasts to find out that the oil is still leaking, despite failed efforts to cap the well, and now to insert pipes into the well head to siphon off the oil before it oozes into the sea.

With this kind of media-in-a-blender communication, it’s as if we’re trying to reduce our actual caring and empathy to sociopathic lows, and I wonder how it affects me and what I write.

I started this column several years ago as a forum for development, that is, economic development. But the more I write, the more I realize I’m writing about spiritual development. And today the closest I got was watching the eagles on the shore.


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