Stroking my Sugui – Thoughts around Aluna the Movie
I am fascinated by what is happening on this earth at the moment with indigenous peoples. Possibly they are the only civilised races living on the planet but are being hounded out of their sustainable relationships with the Earth by people with a vested interest in exploiting it for money. This has now been going on for thousands of years, since before invaders crushed their opposition in North America with smallpox infested blankets as gifts.
I read of the Lakota Indians of North America, driven from their ancestral lands so that people can build things there. My favourite indigenous tribe are the Kayapo, who have interested me ever since reading Sting’s book about them over 30 years ago. Like other tribes in the Amazon they are driven from their forests by loggers, their lands raped and ruined by developers in order to build dams to power cities or extract oil. The Masai Tribe, beautiful people living in tune with the harshest of environments, legislated off their ancestral land, the Masai Mara, so that it can be exploited for tourism and Land Rover adverts. The aboriginal people of Australia, alive with incredible stories of nature, driven from sustainable lifestyles in tune with their lands by a culture of greed and consumerism which is divorced from nature.
It seems to me that the way we treat our indigenous peoples on this earth is a metaphor for the way we treat nature itself.
So when the Kogi Indians came down from their High Sierra retreat in the mountains of Colombia to make a movie about how ‘little brother’ is destroying the Earth, I wanted to watch it. This is an excerpt of how the movie is described on the Aluna website:
“ALUNA is made by and with the KOGI, a genuine lost civilization hidden on an isolated triangular pyramid mountain in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, nearly five miles high, on the Colombian-Caribbean coast. The Kogi say that without thought, nothing could exist. This is a problem, because we are not just plundering the world, we are dumbing it down, destroying both the physical structure and the thought underpinning existence. The Kogi believe that they live in order to care for the world and keep its natural order functioning, but they recognized some years ago that this task was being made impossible by our mining and deforestation. In 1990 they emerged to work with Alan Ereira, making a 90-minute film for BBC1 in which they dramatically warned of our need to change course. Then they withdrew again…”
Ostensibly Aluna is a story of a few members of the tribe collecting 400 km of gold thread from England, and then returning to Colombia to walk across their ruined lands, showing the devastation to the camera whilst also connecting places with the thread in an attempt to demonstrate to ‘little brother’ that all things are connected.
For example, in the foothills of the high Sierra, where the land meets the sea the people who have taken the ancestral lands from the Kogis have built roads, cutting off lagoons from the sea and stopping the natural flow. To these people there is no link between what happens at the top of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the lagoons far below. The Kogi Indians assert that if the land were a human being, what has happened is the equivalent of cutting off its ability to cycle its wastes. As one of them says in a moment of blinding lucidity: “How would you like it if I stuck a cork up your arse.” Ecology scientists agree that the Kogi are right – their ecosytems at the top of the mountains are being seriously damaged.
Of course from my point of view, the Kogi people are right on the button with their accusations that ‘little brother’ is destroying the planet. There are many people out here in the First World who feel the same way they do. Its just that we don’t know how to stop the people responsible.
It is completely unfair to compare a movie like Aluna with the highest grossing eco-movie ever, Avatar, which has an improbably large budget, but there is a world of difference in the approach (see my review of Avatar here). Some people criticise Avatar on the basis that it is ecology reduced to spectacle, drama and conflict and that people don’t even realise that it is a movie about our own planet and culture, hence it is ineffective in changing people’s motivations away from ‘Unobtanium’ – the movie’s metaphor for eco-damaging self-interest and profit.
Aluna has more in common with the movie ‘Age of Stupid’ (see my review of Age of Stupid here). As such it is a movie of ‘finger pointing greenyism’ which is mostly preaching to the converted like myself, and making people feel guilty for something they do not believe that they have much power over – the irreversible damaging of the present ecosystems on earth for the pursuit of money.
In the context of the ‘culture of lies’ inhabited by ‘little brother’, unfortunately the movie Aluna is an innocent whose voice will not be much heeded. The problem is not so much that people do not realise that their actions have damaging consequences to our planet. I think they know this but choose to deny it. They are trapped and driven as hungry ghosts, wanting all sorts of things without which they can never be complete. I think that ‘little brother’ and its society has a fatal flaw. We simply choose not to see things that we don’t want to. We edit reality to suit ourselves. As the horror of what humans are doing to their planet becomes more evident – the denial becomes stronger. We are at the stage now where many people simply ignore all information that does not validate their existing ideology. Stupid indeed.
Hence, I wrote to the Black Line Initiative, central to getting the message of the Kogi people out to the world: “Given that so many people are in denial about what their actions are doing to the earth, what do you think artists, writers, musicians can ‘show them’ so that they can see.” This started a dialogue with the co-ordinator that becomes increasingly interesting and is helping me to find answers to my own questions.
Essentially the ‘work that reconnects’ (source Joanna Macy) is to help people transform denial, despair and grief in the face of the social and ecological challenges of our time. If we can accept that the problem is that people are in denial, rather than ‘not knowing what they’re doing’ then it is the job of eco-story makers, filmmakers, artists, writers, comedians and so on, to help people overcome their denial. There seem to be several stages to this in that we need to change the stories, the mythology that underlies our planet wrecking culture.
The main such myth is called ‘Economic Growth’. It is presently the dominant myth in our culture. It assumes that there is little need to change the way we live. ‘Economic Growth’ is regarded as essential for our prosperity as individuals but in reality serves only a few. The richest eighty people in the world now own as much as half of the world’s population. The central tenet in this myth is that in order to grow as individuals, as a society, even as a race, we have to focus on making money.
However to live this myth we are spending five planets when we only have one, and using the limited resources of our little planet as if it were an infinite income. We are damaging the land, air and oceans and even wiping out the very cultures, like the Kogi, who could help to show us how to live within limits.
There are different forms of denial that stop people recognising the negative effects of the myth of ‘Economic Growth’. Some of these are:
- I don’t think that these effects are really dangerous
- It just isn’t my business to sort out these problems
- I don’t want to be seen as a non-conformist
- This information is a threat to my interests
- This evidence is just being made up
In this way, people manage to avoid looking at the problems at all.
Of course, once they do look, it all gets pretty horrific. The second layer of denial, which I sometimes call ‘We’re Doomed Captain Mannering’ (from a UK TV programme called Dad’s Army) draws attention to the disasters increasingly created by Economic Growth. It is an evidence based account, ignored by many, about the collapse of ecological and social systems, climate changes, the effect of the depletion of global and local resources such as ‘peak oil’ and the mass extinction of species.
This is the standpoint of ‘Woe is me’, finger-wagging greenies who seem to want everyone to stop having fun and look after the planet because ‘just look at what we are doing’ – face of horror. This mythology seems to be the one that non-greenies presume is held by people who claim to be ‘green’, (although ‘being green’ often seems to be just another face of consumerism).
Denial barriers to people entering wholeheartedly into actually looking at the problems include:
- It’s so upsetting I prefer not to think about it
- As soon as I start to think about the dangers I freeze up and feel panic. I feel paralysed
- There’s no point in trying to do anything since it won’t change a thing or make any difference
- Human beings are a cancer on the earth and deserve to be wiped out anyway
- Superman or God or aliens or Bill Gates or Richard Branson will save us all at the last minute
Once you can accept that the earth is badly polluted and in for a period of unpredictable change, you might be lucky enough to find ‘Positive Hope’ rather than ‘Despair’. This position is held by people who overcome denial and are able to face the coming changes as already underway – as already past ‘the tipping point’. Projects such as ‘Dark Mountain’ are inhabited by such people who are busy finding new myths and stories for a sad culture that is wrecking its own home.
This position of hope may involve creative responses to new and existent problems. It means thinking in new ways. As Einstein said; “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” Also Buckminster Fuller; “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Positive Hope means transformation at a personal level and the use of creative energy to change the poisons of the poisonous myth of Economic Growth into the nectar of a life sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. It is deeply challenging and exciting. It means being closely in touch with your values and choosing to live an ethical life filled with meaning. There are more and more people looking for and finding this.
“We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement: that… the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human.
From here on, the primary judgment of all human institutions, professions, programs and activities will be determined by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually-enhancing human/Earth relationship.”
– Thomas Berry
I am sometimes racked with fury and sadness at what people are doing to this beautiful planet, without even seeing what it is. I swing between finding beauty and solace in the place and moment and despair for a culture of idiots. I live in a particularly beautiful place, the least inhabited area of Cornwall UK, where the lanes are alive with wildflowers and all sorts of wildlife. When I see people driving their cars through these lanes and just chucking their rubbish out of the windows – I find it hard to believe that I am the same species as these wreckers. I attempt to live in a relationship with the nature around me, sharing a yield from my garden with nature, living lightly on the earth. The farmer on the dairy farm next to us likes to shoot the rooks out of our trees because they ‘make a noise’! The indigenous peoples of this earth also live in tune with the earth around them. James Lovelock explains this sense of linked ‘awareness’ in his Gaia Hypothesis:
“The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.” Wikipedia
The Gaia Hypothesis is at least an entry level into eco-theology in the First World. It attributes complexity and interactiveness to our planet – with the people who inhabit it as part of that system.
Lovelock interestingly demonstrates that the Earth has been completely polluted before by its inhabitants. In a mass-extinction event, the chlorine-breathing inhabitants of earth – at that time anaerobic bacteria – gave out so much waste-product oxygen into the environment that they smothered themselves and died out. That is, apart from a group of them who converted a murderous intruder, the pollution effect of oxygen, into a powerful friend – air to breathe. This offshoot of anaerobic bacteria went on to become the basis of life we see today on planet earth.
The Holocene Extinction, sometimes called the Sixth Extinction, is a name proposed to describe the currently ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch (since around 10,000 BCE) mainly due to human activity. Apparently life on Earth occasionally wipes itself out and a small group adapt and evolve to create a new species. It appears that the occasional desolation of the planet by its occupants may be part of an evolutionary process.
In order to transcend my sadness about what people are doing to my planet, one of the things I have recently taken to telling myself that ‘Everything is as it should be’. Maybe this too is a form of denial? As long as I make my own personal choices to live on this planet lightly, without uneccessarily destroying life or damaging eco-systems, I cannot accept responsibility for all the dumbed-down idiots out there who choose not to look at the consequences of their actions.
But if all of the people’s of this earth are part of a mass, ‘Gaian’ consciousness, then perhaps this fatal flaw – denial – is an important element our own evolution as a species. That is, of course, if you believe that humankind has a purpose. Perhaps this fatal flaw and the resulting pollution of our world will create the next phase in evolution – beings with an evolved consciousness, who are able to consciously adapt their DNA to the pollution and changing situations brought about by the desecration of the environment.
Find out more about Aluna the Movie