Three little news items caught my eye over this past weekend. They were radically diverse in nature, but they sort of chimed together in my mind around a single theme. The first of the news items tragically concerned Paul Walker, star of the Fast & Furious movies, who was killed near L.A. in a car accident: a fiery, single-vehicle collision with a light pole that had a “45 mph” sign affixed to it. The irony of it all is cautionary, to be sure, although no one knows exactly what happened; but a larger, more sobering metaphor suggests itself, because of the likelihood that what really killed the two men in the car, in the end, was a fantasy – the very one promoted by the Fast & Furiousfranchise. And a moment’s reflection will reveal that it’s a vivid metaphor for our entire culture: on a grand scale, we are seduced by a lethal fantasy, and the couplet “fast and furious” barely does justice to the speed at which it is driving us.
The second news item concerns the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. It has been reported that in the last two years their numbers have plummeted 97%. It is likely they won’t survive. This species reenacts one of nature’s profoundest mysteries every year: an insect with a brain the size of a pinhead flies thousands of miles from Canada to a three-acre site of oyamel fir trees in Mexico it has never seen before – and does so with the accuracy of a GPS. This year, millions and millions perished. Only 3% made it. The culprits behind this catastrophe are familiar enough: foresting that has eliminated 98% of the firs on which the monarch depends; climate change; and genetically modified crops, which enable the widespread use of herbicides that have eliminated 90% of milkweed in the American Midwest. Again, though, the real culprit is the unchecked fantasy that drives our culture.
The third news item comes from TUV Nord, a technical research institute based in Germany. They studied the new gasoline direct injection engines – which are expected to account for almost all new cars sold in Europe by 2020, and were developed by carmakers to dramatically reduce emissions. And they do reduce emissions. But it turns out that because they operate with higher pressure in their cylinders, they release 1000 times more particles deemed “harmful” by the World Health Organization than traditional gasoline engines. Many of those particles are classified as carcinogens. In Europe, air pollution contributes to 406,000 deaths annually. Like the other news items, this new finding also expresses the lethal fantasy that has us in its grip.
So what is this fantasy that expresses itself in so many different ways? It is the fantasy that assures us that things exist in and of themselves, rather than in relationship. Of course it’s patently false – quantum mechanics has shown that not even an electron exists except through its relationships with all else. But once we believe things exist independently, it gives us license to believe that we do, too – and that creates an entire world of fantasies. It tells us that we can be real winners even if it turns someone else into a loser (the fantasy of the privileged 1%). It tells us that our self-interest can be served even if the world takes a hit (the fantasy of the ‘exploitable world’). It tells us that we are entitled to a way of life that turns everything we use into garbage (the fantasy of ‘developed’ nations). It also promotes the fantasy that the world can be controlled – because it’s easy to believe you can impose order on bits and pieces, if you think they are separate from everything else (the fantasy of technocrats, and the begetter of unintended consequences).
We don’t just entertain this fantasy – we live by it. And so it is that we imagine ourselves above the laws of nature, just as Fast & Furious encourages us to imagine being above the laws of society. We can imagine that sterilizing hundreds of thousands of acres is justified by increased crop yields – and how can such marvelous progress be slowed just because of the loss of a few butterfly and bee species? We imagine we can fix our major problems with technology – even though it is not even able to solve the problems its previous ‘fixes’ have unintentionally and unexpectedly created in the first place.
Perhaps the gravest consequence of our fantasy, though, is that it distracts us from our true resources. If we could step back from our illusion of control – which keeps us vigilant, anxious and disconnected from our bodies – we could return to our bottomless capacity for attuning to the harmony that is understood by our hearts. Beyond our fears, beyond our drive for more, more, more, there is in each of us a soul-level recognition of our partnership with the world. Our ability to enter that partnership is the resource that calls our lives into harmony, and calls us into service in a way that will enrich us because it will enrich ‘all our relations’. It is a neglected resource, to be sure; but it is one whose time has surely come.