Some media thinkers have remarked that with the advent of satellite imagery that we inhabitants of Earth would become more continentally conscious because we would cease to see the political boundaries of maps and begin to see ourselves living on islands. The creation of regional markets and trade zones buttresses this observation. I certainly had a shift in awareness when I first used Google maps and tilted my view from looking straight down on Earth to one that showed the horizon and the planet’s curve. It was a revelation, not on the scale of a religious ah-ha, but there was something strangely profound as I shifted and altered my perspective of the composited desert landscape with my mouse. It was as if I had full control of the planet. It felt like my computer had become a spaceship’s portal.
For the past few weeks I’ve been traversing continents (hence the dearth of posts) and I’m getting a better sense of the difference between those who are harnessing the island mentality to expand consciousness with those who are increasingly imprisoned by it. In particular two locales represent extreme spectrums: Bavaria and Oklahoma.
Traveling through Europe is an eye-opener. If you want to collect passport stamps as souvenirs, forget it. Flying between countries is as seamless as going between states. Somehow the countries of Europe are managing to harmonize their differences to facilitate business and cultural exchange. This is not to gloss over the very real differences and conflicts within the European Union, but one gets a sense of a wariness of war and empire building so pervasive in the US. There it is an archaic artifact of the industrial world. So it’s strangely ironic that in the US, which has always prided itself as being the “new” world, it is now embalming itself as it engages a nihilistic path of self-destruction.
Certainly there are things about Europe that are not desirable, especially the lack of professional and academic freedom enjoyed in the US, but it is impressive how the Germans are taking recycling and energy consumption incredibly seriously. In one building I walked through, the lights only went on when I passed sensors. At the Munich airport the escalator only runs when people are on it. On Lufthansa Airlines they recycle every bit of waste, including bottle caps. My brother’s Munich apartment has four different bins for recycling. It is strange, though, that Germans remain staunch holdouts on the smoking ban. It’s hard to grok seeing such heightened environmental consciousness while smoking is still permitted in restaurants and bars.
I realize it is not fair to hold up Bavaria as foil for examining US consumption patterns, especially given its reputation that it is so sanitary that it is “licked clean,” but we have to take seriously the fact that what was once the center of one the most heinous regimes in world history is now a curious example of civic responsibility and forward thinking about ecology. In a contrast (and clash) of cultures, I happened to be at the US Consulate in Munich for its Independence Day celebration and found myself in a weirdly surreal environment in which McDonalds catored food (along with Holiday Inn and other corporate sponsors). It was the first time in my life that I ate a McDonalds cheeseburger and downed a pint of German beer simultaneously. It didn’t make the burger taste any better, and furthered my theory that the problem with the US business and government culture is a lack of aesthetics. But then again, aesthetics didn’t serve the Germans too well in the past.
Having been gone from the US for over five months (the longest spell away from my homeland), I was treated to major culture shock as I reentered the country. From being harassed by homeland security and being treated like a criminal by my own government to the chill of air conditioning, I’m finding it difficult to have faith in the future of our land. There is a strangely ironic twist to the refrigerated state that Americans so enjoy, as if a symbolic transfer of artic cold is being made in the form of electrically powered environmental conditioners whose energetic output is warming the glaciers and polar caps. You can see all that evaporated moisture in Oklahoma where it has been raining nonstop for a month and the state has been flooded endlessly from torrential downpours. I wonder if the ranch of Sen. Jim Inhofe, the man whose mission it has been to declare global warming a hoax and to serve as Al Gore’s nemesis, has been affected by all this rain.
With the amount of preservatives, sugar and grease people are eating, one gets the sense that when combined with such frigid air there is an unconscious process of embalming that people are going through as if to deny that the world is changing. For these obese humans—and believe me it is SHOCKING how fat Americans are becoming—fat serves as barrier against the world. I want to qualify this statement to say that I know some people are genetically predisposed to obesity and that I am not judging large people, but there is clearly a problem with our food and eating habits when you see heaviness so pervasively in contrast to other countries. When you eat at restaurants across the middle US you are constantly served not one, but two plates of food. At one point I had to ask a waitress when I ordered dinner how many plates the food would be coming on, and when she delivered the predicted response I asked if it was strange that people were stuffing themselves to death. The teen waitress responded with a question: “Didn’t you see Super Size Me?” Ah, there is hope after all. Still, it is no wonder the US can’t win wars any more. There is little able-bodied cannon fodder left.
I was working at a lake resort running a youth media program for the Creek Nation. During the week’s storms the lake swelled to the point that the children’s playground was half underwater and trees were drowning fifty feet out into the lake. I kept thinking about all the little short films I saw during Live Earth and the one common image of rising waters and floods. Meanwhile, inside the icebox cold resort, soda was served instead of water and cans were tossed into the garbage instead of recycling bins. Pounds upon pounds of greasy meat and dead vegetables were courses for the day. Down the road at a “nature” center animals and plants are caged and domesticated. I strained to see Al Gore’s vision applied here, and felt as far away from Bavarian ecological activism as one could feel in a planet that should be shrinking with cross-fertilization. Instead, in heartland America I get the sense of increasing isolation and a lashing out against the world because of fear of change. This is especially evidenced by the pervasiveness of evangelical TV channels permeating the broadcast spectrum. In America, we threaten to imprison ourselves in our own outmoded, dying paradigm of power, symbolized the by the growing girth of our bodies. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing image of a continent.