The killing of the world begins with an assault on the imagination. Across the planet the invaders from England, France, Holland, Spain spread, bearing guns and crucifixes, germs and fires, figurative and literal. New techniques of organization to regularize ‘things’, one way to order the numinous imposed on multitudes, one grand story of one sacrificed god, whose revelation had happened long ago, and the channels were not open for more. Missions, burnings of books—think the burning of the Aztec and Maya codices, erasures of ancient ways, and back at home, the reformations and the counter reformation to do the same to those who’d remained somewhat outside the bounds, outside the pale (the ‘pale’ being the area of Ireland under direct English control).
Today it’s carried out by Hollywood, by game designers, by the manufactures of America’s heavily processed landscapes, its simulations of nature, and of course the digitalization of everything. The steamrolling of mythologies into franchises, the proliferation of non-spaces like those of resorts, airports, malls, parking lots, convention hotels, business parks and tech ‘campuses’ and all the other ‘de-placed’ spaces. People would rather play Candy Krush on their phones than look at each other or their actual environment. Likely that the ugliness of so much of the man made environment creates its own feedback loop.
Recently a family reunion brought me into one of those non-places. A rich cousin whom I hadn’t seen since I was a little kid put us up in what was an obviously expensive but generic resort in Hawaii. I’ve long decried the massive development on what once were lava beds in a desert microclimate; golf courses and hotels and expensive condos distributed in a sprawl creep like mold over this one pristine coast. The first night I sat outside my room, opening myself up to the land, and I felt a terrible sadness, the intense suffering of the spirits of this place that had been essentially de-placed. Instead of vitality there was a listlessness. The next day my partner and I walked for quite a ways along the coast, walls and keep off signs in abundance; there, I felt the anger of the local spirits. I stopped and offered prayer, not knowing what else to do. The powerful ocean lapped against the shore of this tourist sacrifice zone.
The next morning we walked out of this enclosure and into a tangled wood of tough kiawe trees (a wickedly spiny mesquite, Prosopis pallida, originally brought from the desert coast of South America, nearly 200 years ago, which have claimed the arid coast to a degree where they seem native). Another world still prevails here, tough and shrouded, and elemental. The sky was wet, and soft droplets of rain fell. Out here are petroglyphs, an ancient ‘script’, a writing on the land by a people who saw themselves as part of it. Rough lava rocks and thorny branches clawed at our shoes. And then an opening, a flow of lava that seemed also an enclosure, but another sort, a sacred set aside—inscribed with this language that I cannot read but opens me up to awe. My own skin absorbed something mysterious from this field of inscribed black rock, as I breathed in the warm air, air moistened with the rain drops of Pele’s island, literally enchanted.
The Imagination is a resource that humans cannot really live without, not as free beings worthy of the gods, at any rate. The Imagination connects us with that which is beyond, and with deeper relationships with the rest of life. Finally, I would say a democratic society cannot live without its citizens’ imagination. Late capitalism replaces everything with an ersatz inauthentic way of life. And we will require the unfettered imagination to get out of its erasures.