earthweal weekly challenge: ALREADY DEAD


After the second failed impeachment trial of Donald Trump, it is impossible not to see the Senate Republicans who refused to convict an inciteful, lying and corrupt party leader as anything other than already dead. Resolute in their denial of reality (that includes climate change and the pandemic), they are committed to maintaining an ever-shrinking power base by every means possible.

Together they are like a foot mashed to the gas pedal of a car that has already crashed into smithereens against a wall and like a ghost doesn’t know it yet. Not guilty resounds with the iron echo of already dead.

Those senators (two of whom represent my flooding Florida) are the day’s most evident and eloquent metaphor of humanity’s collusion in the extinction of life on this planet. Three and a half billion years of living evolution and much if not most of it is now endangered by the actions of just one species over an infinitesimal 10 thousand years, the most grievous toll of that in the past microscopic 250 years and the lion’s share of that in the present generational nanotide we occupy as game-ending berserkers bawling Not Guilty while hitting the gas pedal.

The bottle of Budweiser I threw out the window of my Datsun careening home one night 20 years ago will take a million years to biodegrade; the Styrofoam cup I drank coffee from at an AA meeting 10 years ago will last almost forever, far longer than it will take the Himalayas to grind down to nothing. Who says recovery is happy, joyous and free? The casual waste of my one big human life has joined a gyre in the Pacific so thick and poisonous that foraging albatrosses of our generation will probably be the last to feed on the ocean after 30 million years of continuous gliding loops across the main. That cup will be the only record of life after some tiny geologic blip to come, because there will no more life to become fossil record. Just Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and glass shards—the human eternity.  The Ancient Mariner has a long ways to go.

And we’re already dead. If you don’t know that yet after counting up the Nay votes in the US Senate, crank up the air conditioning (here in Florida the other day it hit 85 degrees F) or tally how much garbage WAS sent from your house to the landfill in the past year. Now multiply such woebegone self-interest by ten billion repeat offenders, and you’ll wonder just how far back it was that we smithereened the wall.

Hagakuri (meaning “hidden leaves”) is a guide for the samurai warrior drawn from commentaries by the clerk Yamamoto Tsunetomo, former retainer to Nabeshima Mitsushige (July 10, 1632 – July 2, 1700), the third ruler of what is now Saga Prefecture in Japan. It states that the warrior’s code of bushido is really the Way of Dying: “If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.” By living in constant awareness of one’s death, it is possible to attain a transcendent state of freedom. It is by being already dead that one finds true life.

While already dead is a handy motto for the Anthropocene, it does not permit us to do nothing. There is much we can do to reduce and save and sustain our world, alleviating somewhat the suffering of those not caught on the edges of change. It is our responsibility as the species who gets to decide the fate of the world. And yet we must never forget that we are already dead and vastly chained to the millions of animal, plant and sea life we have ended as casually as crumpling a Styrofoam cup and tossing it into the trash.

A paradox of this human moment is that for all our destruction, our species has never been more aware of its responsibility as a sentient species to care for all of life. One of the tiniest blooms in our onrushing Ragnarok is that whales have been saved, old-growth forests protected and attempts made to slow, perchance to one day cease, fossil fuel production. A tenderness which allows us to understand the enormity of the tragedy.

We are living in the Anthropocene, the crown of human ruin. But while doom is the easy word for it, and we destroyers may not wax too poetic in that penumbra. We are also living on in the Cenozoic Era as well, part of a 66 million year life experiment. As seers and sayers, we have to hold up the complex web of life we have entangled in fishing line and Senate denial and digital disruption of the mind and weigh the enormity of it, for both the tribe’s entire right to existence and the Cenozoic achievement of all life since that last great extinction event. We may be already dead, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have purpose.

Something in us has to die in order to link the organum Thom van Dooren describes in Flight Ways:

… Synchrony asks us to be attentive to the way in which the multiple and diverse flight ways that constitute Earth’s diversity are also delicately interwoven with one another. The Black-footed Albatross, like any other species, is not a flight way through an empty void, but an entangled way of life, bound up in and becoming as part of a specific multispecies community. In Rose’s (2012b) terms: sequence “involves flows from one generation to the next. Synchrony intersects with sequential time, and involves flows amongst individuals, often members of different species, as they seek to sustain their individual lives” (129). And so there is an important sense in which, in addition to being carried through time by the efforts of their own generations, species also carry one another, nourishing and being co-shaped as members of a particular entangled community of life.— (Critical Perspectives on Animals: Theory, Culture, Science, and Law) (p. 42). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.

Without the colossal burden and waste of self “we” can go back to our only real role as fleeting exempla of life. Already dead frees us from clutching at something that was never more than the mirage of modern comfort. Clutching for the suburban dreamscape we place the wall down the road just out of sight (at least we’ll be dead by then) instead of where it must be, already in tatters behind or above, while we, the silt of time, sink into the abyss.

For this challenge, write about Already Dead. What does Already Dead look and feel like, what echoes do you hear in the registers of extinction, what gifts and/or freedoms does it bestow?

You can, of course, go ronin and write whatever you please.

If all this sounds strange and off-key my apologies, I’m on new medication and it turns my thoughts strange. Better challenges surely to come.