I just subscribed to the digital edition of the Orion Magazine, and opening the November/December issue, I felt quite touched by this part the editors’ foreword, reflecting on our alienation from nature and especially our perception of what is real and true.
In 2004, an unnamed Bush administration aide famously derided New York Times writer Ron Suskind for languishing “in what we call the reality based community”. “We’re an empire now,” the aide went on to declare, “and when we act, we create our own reality.”
The world has suffered the consequences of that hubris for the past eight years, and the social and economic accounting of the damage and missed opportunities will go on for years to come. But soon – not long after this issue of Orion is published – the television networks will declare the winner of the U.S. presidential election and then, with great portent, their commentators will begin to decree what the new reality, defined by the election and their interpretation of it, means.
Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of Olympic National Park, rain will fall onto the lichen-covered trees of that teeming ecosystem. A beaver will reinforce its lodge on Lake Umbagog in northern New England in preparation for the oncoming winter. And uncounted Americans will gaze into the star-filled skies and reflect upon the order of the cosmos.
Which of these realities is more real? The voices coming from the television? Or the trees and beavers and stars, and the rhythms that have carried them through history? Which matters more?
It this neither newsworthy nor particularly insightful to observe that Americans live in an Orwellian world where language is twisted, culture is co-opted, and many of us, to put it bluntly are duped – duped in part by the unremitting Potemkin world of television and radio, newspapers and magazines, blogs and websites. But the reality of the natural world and the intelligence manifest in it – the world that lies behind the falsefront constructions thrown up by political posturing, greed-driven economics, and self-centered gratification – is a profound truth. Beyond being the source of our sustenance and a wellspring of inspiration, the natural world today serves a new function: it is a baseline of honesty at a time when we desperately need honesty.