Life is paradox between appearance and structure, meaning that what something appears to be is usually the reverse of what it is as an active part in the process of life.
In other words, what causes a situation to come about is far removed from the point at which you observe that situation. The earthquake that just destroyed your house was not caused by an earthquake, but by shifting magma plates, and if you’d known to check geothermal sources nearby, you could have seen it. But you were too busy looking for signs of an earthquake, not tectonic motion.
Humans make this more complex because they hide their motivations: the person who appears most helpful is probably trying to sell you something; the person who appears most calm is the one having to remind himself to avoid violence; the person most convinced they must minimized their ego are in fact inflating themselves with their ego-denying puritanism.
Structure, or the world of causes for effects, reflects the true nature of impetus, or what starts an action. With humans, this is biological need: food, shelter, reproduction, social recognition. Knowing these base demands look bad to others, we conceal our motivations. “I’m just here to help” and “I’m just doing my job” are the two biggest cons in the world, right after “I just want to be friends,” which either means flight or reproduction.
In this world of false appearances, we often associate environmental awareness with The Kumbaya Mentality. TKM is a nice impulse… really. It’s the hope that we can all accept each other, get along, sing a happy song and be one in spiritual unity. We are all children of God. Except that, of course, some of God’s children are sociopathic anal rapists. Ruh roh! Do we want them in our Kumbaya circle? Do we really trust that singing Kumbaya will stop their tendency for rectal raiding, at least enough to fall asleep in the same tent with them?
Hell no we don’t.
The well-meaning people who introduced the singing of Kumbaya as yet another miserable ritual for children subjected to adult fears, despite knowing better on some level, hoped to give us a symbol for hope and change. Instead, they gave us a symbol for cynical manipulation of others using sops of an impossible promise, and now Kumbaya — a title given to an American folk song by well-meaning delusional missionaries who sang it in Africa — is a symbol of cynicism, bitterness and hatred for how we cannot retaliate against such a positive symbol.
In our society, the ones who don’t want to sing Kumbaya are the problem. In reality, the people trying to get us to sing Kumbaya are the cynical predators, parasites and manipulators who make life worse for everyone. But thanks to the social censure of others, we can’t strike back, or we’re seen as the aggressor. That’s how Kumbaya becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: instead of dealing with conflict, wish it away and snow everyone over with a simplistic song.
I propose we redefine kumbaya as a noun and a verb. The noun form refers to a psychology: “the desire that everyone will avoid conflict so we can continue shopping.” The verb form is to project that noun kumbaya onto someone to paralyze them, because if they react, all the other dummies in the room will then attack them. Like wounding a shark during a feeding frenzy, passive aggression is the simian way of getting indirect revenge with less risk to yourself.
After all, anyone who claims to spot the passive aggression must be putting themselves on a pedestal and claiming they’re smarter than the rest of us. Kill that king. It’s 1789 all over again, and We The People want a Pontius Pilate to crucify anyone trying to do the right — but difficult! — thing.
We want convenience. We want shopping. We want the illusion that we are supreme, Earth will never be hit by asteroids, our climate will be Just Fine, and dinner will always be on time. We just want to deny the parts of reality that threaten us, which are generally the parts between a cause and its unknown and only semi-predictable effect. “Will he love me if I drive a Hyundai? Note to self: make all cars equal, so he will ALWAYS AND FOREVER love me and I can be free of doubt, which reminds me of DEATH.”
This thought process, which we could call kumbayafication, confuses us between social tokens (“Of course that doesn’t make you look fat!”) and reality (“Stripes make anyone look fat, and you are kinda fat, so…”).
How does our hypocrisy manifest itself in the political process?
when students had a choice between a bacon cheeseburger, a chicken sandwich, and a veggie burger, they went straight for the bacon cheeseburger. And they did so more often than when the choice was just between the burger or the chicken.
The scholars determined these were examples of “vicarious goal fulfillment.” Your goal in eating a salad is to eat better. But once you’ve thought to yourself, “I will have a salad,” psychologically, you don’t actually need to eat the salad. Because your brain considers the mere act of thinking about the salad as having moved toward a better diet. Thus, you’ve already met your goal of improving your nutrition. Having cognitively checked the goal off the mental to-do list, you can now eat the worst possible alternative, guilt-free.
In the study’s conclusion, the scholars wondered if this plays out the same way in other contexts. They write: “. . . does merely considering your options for retirement-investing fulfill your goal to be economically responsible and license you to a day of frivolous shopping? Does considering a Sunday catching up on work fulfill your work-related goal and give you license to play a round of golf?”
Ah. There it is: we think of a socially positive token, assert it as the goal, and then charge ahead and do what’s convenient.
Someone’s singing, My Lord… Kum Ba Yah
Listen to the pleasant music as we drift away. It’s not that the monkey is still within us — a semi-smart creature, so smart enough to know he’s screwed in the grand game, and still dumb enough to try to compensate in the short term by lying, cheating, stealing, raping, conniving, and so forth.
Conflict makes us think of possibly losing. A conflict could make us a loser, but sitting here in the pleasant music, eating the hot dog which doesn’t even resemble meat and so doesn’t remind us of death, using chemicals and air conditioning to keep the bugs away, this makes us feel isolated from the world. We are rarified, pure, abstract and removed.
Since we are so above it all, we can sing this pleasant song and think about what our positive intentions are.
Except that, when we’re done thinking, we will just space out and eat another hot dog. That’s most convenient. Never leave our own minds, even when the words solipsism and narcissism get bandied about by surly academics.
Here we see the failing of the traditional left-right axis. If we intend to do something really nice, and then go do what’s convenient, what we intended doesn’t matter much. Instead, we can see a new axis in our behavior: the division between modifying our behavior, and pleasantly pretending singing Kumbaya is a substitute for paying attention to problems and fixing it.
In fact, it seems the more we get into good intentions, the less we deal with reality, with horrific consequences:
The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest body of fresh water, covering an area the size of Ireland. But then the nations around it became part of the Soviet Union. With their passion for planned economics and giant, nature-reversing projects, the communists diverted the rivers that fed the inland sea and used them to irrigate vast cotton fields. The result: The Aral shrank by 90 percent to a string of isolated stretches of water.
The catastrophe “is unprecedented in modern times,” says Philip Micklin, a geography professor at Western Michigan University who has studied the Aral Sea for years.
From this you can see the dilemma of politics: trying to be “green” is just silly, because all of politics is interconnected — and politics is not just far-removed bureaucracies, governments and ideas, but how you behave every day and even more, how you condition your psychology.
Condition yourself toward fond intentions and singing kumbaya, and you’ll ignore reality and make vast wastelands.
Condition yourself toward self-discipline, accepting death and the interconnection of all being, and you’ll be able to deal with reality and shape nature in ways that both (a) don’t destroy it and (b) benefit you.
Our newest kumbaya mentality is the idea that we can buy green products, vote for green candidates, trade in the SUV for a hybrid and take three-minute showers and the problem will magically Just Go Away.
The only other alternative is to engage ourselves fully with the situation, not rely on some distant political body to do it for us — correctly, we hope and wish and never verify. That would in turn require we remove this imaginary divide between ourselves and the reality that seems paradoxical to us, learn about it, and accept things (death, mortality, poop, aging, bad consequences) that come with the whole of reality.
Either that, or we can just sit back and listen to the song, and hope we’ve fallen asleep by the time the bad consequences of our inaction come home to roost.