I’m dreaming about my great-great-great granddaughter. “Shame,” she says, “How could you?” Of course she’s talking about the ruination of the world, and I know that. “What can I tell you,” I say gently, “The unnatural world moves too quickly.” And then I’m awake and thinking.
We jointly inhabit a collective social construct which theoretically accounts for all and everything, which is to say bestows names, assigns values, establishes ownership and designs the structural framework for all that follows. Such constructs are innately human; even Neanderthals of 40,000 years ago established complex social rituals.
For all but the past 2000+ years and particularly the most recent 500, human rituals were land-based, which is say human society was entirely nature dependent. For 38,000 years, technology was hand-crafting tools made from wood, bone, animal parts, meteoric iron, stone – all earth-bound materials. The industrial revolution then changed everything; technology became synonymous with the machine.
Our modern society is still dependent upon the land, but for most of us our connection to it has become indirect. More time is spent online or watching TV than tending crops. We live air-conditioned in the heat and warmed by natural gas in the cold. Money and wealth no longer depend upon possession of physical tokens but exist as digital computer code. The global knowledge of the world is readily available on the Internet, and some futurists seriously talk about the coming benefits of web-connected “chips” implanted in human brains.
Einstein taught that time is relative, but what he missed was that time itself is a social construct. For almost all of us now, certainly in America, time moves at the speed of imagination. As our technology is increasingly used to design and develop new technology, the natural scale of time – the changing of the seasons, the phases of the moon, wind, rain and snow – have been been fully superseded by the increased speed of unnatural time. This feeling of increased speed is not illusory; unnatural time is indeed moving faster than ever and humanity, which emerged within the slower-paced cocoon of natural time, tries but cannot keep up.
Within the sweep of the unnatural world, what we can also call “technological scientism,” the whole of human society is swiftly carried in a vast, global current of cultural change. Unnatural time runs too quickly for durable myth to take hold; scientism eschews creation stories and their moral imperatives. Myth has been supplanted by the engine of entertainment and 24-hour headline news. Swept up in this way, the soulless industrialism of man-made time propels everything; even the earth itself cannot resist the impacts of our speedy technological changes. Earthquakes in Oklahoma caused by deep-well injection of fracking waste; oceans acidified by carbon dioxide; bark beetle infestations killing millions of Rocky Mountain pines due to seasonal climate change – the unnatural now thoroughly permeates the natural.
Separated from myth we’ve become separated from nature and each other. Individualism has replaced collective awareness and renders each of us mostly alone, our lives and souls fragmented and therefore weakened. Moreover we cannot anticipate the future very well, that is except for the old things of nature, to which we pay too little regard.
“We are like machines,” I’d like to tell my great-great-great granddaughter, “I’m so sorry. I hope you can forgive us.”