"Oops," said Texas governor Rick Perry during the Republican primary. He couldn't remember which vital branch of our government he would flippantly trash. Now, such…
We are born of, ride along with, and can slightly veer a vast momentum. From the cosmos to consciousness, we are in momentums we might veer.
There’s a cosmic momentum that launched atoms and galaxies billions of years ago; they hum and spin still and will continue. The rocks on Mt. Ashland seem solid and lasting, but peer inside closely enough and you’ll see the momentum of elemental particles coming into and out of existence repeatedly. The electrons vibrate or spin reliably. Given enough time, those rocks will tumble down hill and be ground down, but for now, they’re stable rocks carrying that rock mountain momentum.
There’s a planetary momentum of spin and orbit carrying our earth in reliable patterns that will last for thousands and millions of years. On earth various gasses, liquids, and solids mix and morph, giving rise over billions of years to cellular life. This cellular life replicates mostly, but mutates occasionally, some of which survive to replicate. The survivors go on; many go extinct. From this process we inherit our own magnificent bodies complete with strong feet, keen eyeballs, and intelligent, creative brains.
We humans used these brains to find food, work tools, make music and develop cultures. Similar to the genes involved in selection process, our ideas (called “idenes” or “memes”) mix, morph, and last. Languages transcend generations and political or social arrangements tend to persist. So do our technologies of getting food, housing, transport, etc. All these create a momentum which persists and can change.
Religious myths, meanings, moralities, and rituals go on for generations, but their momentum can be veered. Witness religious sanction for slavery and religious condemnation of it. Similarly, sociopolitical arrangements persist but can perish. Again, the history of slavery makes this clear.
What’s the point? Historian of religions Huston Smith helped orient us to the two ongoing eternities we take part in during our limited lives: environment and culture. We live temporarily in these two eternities. (Many religions posit spiritual eternities such as reincarnation or heaven, but these are speculative, whereas I am interested in the actual realities that we must live in.) Both came before us and both will persist beyond us, but for our time we take part in them. We are born of, are built of, and take part in these vast momentums.
But can we veer them? Yes. Consider the complaint of climate change deniers that only God can geo-engineer the planet despite the obvious and tenacious problem that we have geo-engineered the planet by suddenly burning fossil fuels that took millions of years to accumulate. The slow action of photosynthesis is unbalanced by the sudden release of carbon back into the sky at 2.4 million pounds per second, warming us. So we have veered formerly reliable weather patterns into a global weirding that will effect us for generations to come.
Can we veer the vast momentum of our technological, political and economic habits to slow and reverse our few hundred years of glut, now that we know it is a glut? Yes. Suddenly, we have new tools, new, clean, renewable sources of energy. But do we have the will? Maybe not. Energy companies and Republicans try to trick us, denying the urgent need. Only if we have the will we will find the ways.
But even having the will requires a sort of veering of momentum. The very thoughts we use have a momentum. J. Krishnamurti long ago cautioned something like, “Who are you to think you know what would be better? You’re thinking with the thoughts that create the problem.” Some of our neurons are myelinated, sheathed in protective covers that stabilize and speed the impulses but don’t change easily. We get stuck in ruts even when we know we must change.
If our thoughts can change, visions can emerge to devise a society that treats the twin eternities of environment and culture as our eternal home and friend. We believe we’re alienated from nature, and we are. We can also believe we are in and of nature in such a creatively beneficial way we will rescue and revive Eden to flourish as it has never done before. If we have the will, we will find the way.
One way or the other, our home planet will spin and revolve reliably for far longer than our brief recent rise as civilization. But will we still ride on it? And if we’re still here, will we have veered it towards paradise or hell? All generations have their challenges and opportunities. Global warming is just one of the big ones we must address. We are the incarnate ones for now. What will you do with your life to veer the vast momentum?