This season, I found myself paying the most attention to people whose views of the world were marginal or heightened, people for whom the center of the circle of their consciousness was definitely not the one our culture assumes we have. They’re in the grip of a powerful state of mind and being–evangelism, revolution, fear, childhood–that shapes the way they understand and feel everything that happens to them. They know things in these ways. Even correcting for the fact that what we call “normal” consciousness or awareness is actually a wide and various map in itself, these four people’s variation was extreme.
U.S. culture as it presently exists forces us to view every action and interaction through the lens of money*; by default, it centers money, and by default, it serves the people who are best at getting money out of other people, animals, plants, or things, by every means at their disposal. Money as equivalent to access (to survival, to pleasure, to power) is presumptive; money as equivalent to access is a given. And that’s relevant to ecology and climate anxiety because this vision reduces everything and everyone other than the self to a “resource” for the self to exploit. It creates false scarcities where there could be abundance; it creates a mind of scarcity, and makes real abundance hard to see.
People who vehemently oppose money’s uneven distribution still often find it very hard to imagine a world with a different center. This is not an accident.
That’s one reason I found myself listening to people who for various reasons–some articulated, some inferred, and many invisible to me–saw their world in other ways. For some, it seemed that extreme suffering and violence had wrenched them into their visions; for some, their visions seemed likely to interact with other aspects of their lives and situations to make them more vulnerable; one or two of them hadn’t spent as much time in the normative vision, because they were kids, and were more able to have other kinds of interactions and transactions. I thought maybe they could help me understand other ways of entering, or creating, other worlds, of letting go deliberately of certain aspects of this one.
As a teenager, I encountered and latched onto the platitude, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, do anything else.” That’s helped me a time or two and even influenced the alternate histories, but my interlocutors brought me up against its limits. The evangelist’s world has no place for me in it; the fearful man’s world is helpful as a metaphor but living as though it were factually true would not be an improvement. Still, listening to them reminded me that to some extent, what we think can shape what we say and do. It also reminded me that whatever version of the world we make will need to have room for them in it–some kind of room, some version of them.
Some notes about what made this project possible for me specifically, from the first round, are here. My mom recently commented on my “willingness” (thanks Mom, I love you) as a key component of the booth sessions, and that willingness is a direct result of my being protected in certain ways. It may be those protections, too, that have led me to believe that variety–of life, of stories, of ideas, of terrain–is inherently lovely. I get really frustrated with narratives of purity and people who say there’s one true way to do this or that. But there are places on the map of variety of action that I fear, and that I want an end to. When we say that a world we want to make has “no place” for certain actions, we may be coming from a place of control, or a place of protection; a place of fear, or a place of salvation.
I don’t just want to make the world different; I want to make it better for (more) different living beings, human and nonhuman beings different from the ones it’s mainly good for right now. To do that, I have to imagine my way out of what I’ve often heard–including about myself and what I deserve–and question my new imaginations, to be sure they’re serving more than me.
In the coming weeks and months, you’ll see more alternate histories responding to the climate-related and other anxieties that people shared with me throughout the month of May. Like the first ones, these will be attempts to imagine different centers for our lives, different responses to each others’ needs. In July and August, some people I know will join me in creating alternate histories that I’ll share here and they’ll share elsewhere.
I haven’t forgotten my resolve to help connect people with each other, with nonhuman living beings, and with collective, restorative actions–the latter is one of the hardest things to imagine, as people’s responses to my questions often show. While I seek more concrete ways to do this, I want to expand the process of imagining worlds that we–the biggest, most expansive “we”, which still excludes some actions–would actually want to work towards and could actually stand to live in.
*Doctor’s note: I am oversimplifying this slightly on purpose.