This is the last post of my Watson year. It comes as the first drop in a river of reflection that will only grow and meander from here forward. Before we dive in, I want to thank you for reading my work; writing for me is solitary only in action, but in larger scope, it is shared and made possible by all who inspire and all who read and pass it forward.
Today as I sit, a year of experiences abroad is set upon my table, and I have to prepare a meal. To begin, a question:
In what ground does life grow? From what river is it watered?
I am recently enthralled by the ideas of Israeli writer and historian Yuval Noah Harari. In his book Sapiens, Harari questions how a species of big headed, relatively weak apes could take over as the dominant species on the planet in a fairly short period of time. Harari credits our immense success to our ability to organize ourselves in masses around particular intersubjective fictions – money, myth, and law to name a few. Homo sapiens means “wise humans” in latin, and I am humored to think that maybe we should call ourselves Homo fictas, “humans of fiction.”
As a writer, storyteller, and student of language, I am concerned with words, their purpose and manipulation to form interpretations of the world, to compel action and incite emotion, to unify, to uplift, and to protest, to tear down. Language and writing are the fertile ground on which the great narratives of humanity are built and stratified, fortified with time and power.
Part of the work for survival is to compete, to make it in a harsh world, and there is only so much room for one species before others begin to disappear; we are seeing extinction on a major scale, a global scale, and at a rate unprecedented by any other blossoming of a single species ever. While the examples of extinctions caused by humans are staggering, I want to lead you and myself on the road to despair only so far as to find ourselves honestly weighing the components of life.
Because of our ability to tell stories, we are not only prone to biological evolution, but to the evolution of consciousness. Just think about technology for a moment; in 20 years, the global paradigm has shifted, the internet became a global wildfire and is bursting culture at the seams. Can we cocreate a story about the environment as compelling as that of technology? As common vocabulary moves from nature into digital reality, is it possible to entwine strands of our ancient reliance on land, water, flora, and fauna into the sphere of binary code and complex computation?
One metaphor of the river has to do with the movement of time: a child growing up along a certain stretch of river cannot perceive the full scale of the river, but a pilgrim who has walked the river’s length many times will have a longview, a longerview at least. We must look for those with the longview for guidance, and I, in the estuary of adulthood, am looking for those Sapiens who truly have wisdom. Is evolution necessarily competitive? Where do empathy and stewardship fit into the narrative of biology?
At this moment in my life I feel it is necessary to assign myself a task. I will think of this in the shadow of Buckminster Fuller, a human of extraordinary courage who worked during World War II as a naval engineer. Post-war, depressed and losing capacity to live well, Fuller decided to take his own life. Standing on the shore of Lake Michigan pointing a gun at his own head, he had a revelation. He thought, why take my own life and deliver suffering to all the world around me when I could similarly sacrifice myself but for the good of others? From that moment on, Fuller dedicated himself to a 50 year experiment – how much good can one person do for the rest of humanity and the earth? His experiment lasted 56 years until he passed away and left us the foundation of nanotech, the language of synergetics, a plea to prevent buildup of greenhouse gases in the 1970s, and an inspiring legacy as ripe fruit for the world to pick and revitalize.
I hereby dedicate myself as a writer, ardent student of nature, and dedicated member of society to such an experiment – to live as a positive actor in pursuit of what promotes good life. How much can I do for and with the world around me? I must not take knowledge or ignorance for granted and need to bear in mind that money, fame, and power are fictions, tools for certain ends and at times too alluring. Above all, I must always remember that life is the essence of existence, beyond comprehension and at the heart of every moment – there is always room to grow.
With so much work to be done, I must be patient to settle into my place in the wonderful puzzle of chaos. I mean that literally, for chaos theory outlines how the smallest differences in initial conditions in a dynamical system create vastly different and unpredictable outcomes. Each of us has in our power the capacity to create initial conditions in a reaction of life to transform the world around us. This could be planting a seed, writing an essay, passing a law, preparing a meal. Now I am working as a farmer, working with soil, water, and plants. Perhaps next year I will be a student of law, exploring one of the great fictions that shapes our vision of the world. Angela Davis, a woman at the core of the civil rights movement says that “Radical simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” It is powerful to be discerning about what is fiction and what is objective reality, and ironically it is radical to speak truth to power, to see beyond the fictional river, and swim in the real one as polluted, dammed, lively, or clean as it may be.
Jumbled as all of this may sound, it is a document of my life view from the age of 22 as I land on homeground with the richness of a year in the world fertil on my mind. The urgency and difficulty of so many situations we face on earth, while affecting and at times despairing, give me a deep jolt of motivation to continue downstream into the unknown.
Thank you for this year.