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Learning To Shine Through The Ruins

By Vincent Di Stefano

30 October, 2011

While living in London during the 1970s, I had an opportunity to return to the place of my birth in Sicily and to walk the narrow streets of Ragusa , drink coffee and wine with the old and young men in the piazzas and climb the wide stone steps leading to the Baroque magnificence of la Chiesa di San Giorgio . It did not take long before I was moved to venture westward through the barren and sulphurous heart of the island towards the ancient town of Agrigento . Two and a half thousand years ago, this had been the site of the Greek colony of Akragas, home of the polymath philosopher Empedocles. Akragas had been described by Pindar as "the most beautiful city of the mortals."

I arrived late in the afternoon and found myself unexpectedly traversing La Valle dei Templi , the Valley of Temples . I was drawn to the remains of il Tempio di Giove Olimpico , the Temple of Zeus . There were no gates, no fences, no tour guides, no visitors apart from myself. I wandered slowly through the mass of abandoned ruins, fingering pieces of broken vessels and scattered pottery that had been shaped by ancient hands. Most of the supporting columns had long since collapsed and the perimeter of the massive central stone floor of the temple was littered with immense blocks and cylinders of weathered stone.

I felt a profound sadness in the face of the forgotten and untold stories that surrounded me. I sat in stillness for some time and then, near instinctively, reached for the well-travelled copy of the I Ching in my back-pack. I drew Hexagram 55, Feng, Abundance [Fullness]. The Judgement read:

"Abundance has success. . . .

Be not sad.

Be like the sun at midday ."

The commentary on the Judgement continued:

"It is not given to every mortal to bring about a time of outstanding greatness and abundance. . . . Such a time of abundance is usually brief. Therefore a sage might well feel sad in view of the decline that must follow. But such sadness does not befit him. Only a man who is inwardly free of sorrow and care can lead in a time of abundance. He must be like the sun at midday ."

This reading carries the essence of the Taoist understanding of the cyclical nature of time, of the movement of all things through cycles of birth, growth, florescence, fruition, dissolution and eventual breakdown. The ruins within which I had cast the oracle were as a living manifestation of that reality.

I spent the next couple of hours reflecting on the fate of the civilisations of both Greece and Rome , and wondered what lay in wait for the mighty edifice of Western civilisation that had, over the previous five centuries, completely transformed the earth and our ways of living upon it. The cultural awakening of the 1960s had made many aware of the presence of deepening flaws within industrial civilisation: Of the rampant militarism that had unleashed two unspeakably destructive World Wars; of the atomic slaying of the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; of the slash and burn methods of US imperialism that disgorged blistering gifts of napalm and poisonous defoliants into the wasted landscapes of Indo-China; of the destruction of hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil throughout the world by the corrosively productive methods of industrial agriculture; of the progressive and relentless razing of the forests in the Amazon Basin; of the rampant consumerism that spawned an endless stream of useless and often dangerous waste; of an ever-widening social and cultural alienation.

As the first stars began to appear, I laid out my sleeping bag on the stone platform in the ruins of the old temple and prepared for a long night.

Lengthening Shadows, Deepening Wounds

The forty years since have seen an intensification of all the signs of dissolution that were then evident and the emergence of many more portents of decline and impending collapse. All the while, we in the Western world have continued to fill our already-full larders and feast on the fruits of an unprecedented time of abundance and prosperity. As Australian author and activist Clive Hamilton recently observed:

"The dominant characteristic of contemporary society is not deprivation but abundance. By any standard, the countries of Western Europe and North America , plus Japan and Australasia , are enormously wealthy. Most of their citizens want for nothing. Average real incomes have risen at least threefold since the end of the Second World War. Most people are prosperous beyond the dreams of their parents and grandparents."

Yet this abundance and the freedoms it has bestowed appear to have benumbed rather than sharpened our capacity to perceive and to interpret the divided reality that underlies our illusions of comfort and prosperity.

Despite the fact that the Chernobyl melt-down 25 years ago has already cost nearly a million lives , and despite the fact that hot Strontium from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant has been detected on the rooftops of houses in Yokohama 250 kilometers away, the nuclear industry, together with its marketing arm, the International Atomic Energy Commission continues to aggressively pursue their deadly interests.

On October 10th 2011 , both the Australian Federal Government and the South Australian Government obligingly rubber-stamped a massive industrial development at the Olympic Dam mine complex at Roxby Downs in South Australia that will, over the next 10 years, see an additional 19,000 tons of uranium oxide (yellow cake) produced annually for export every year. Australia already exports over 10,000 tons of yellow cake every year.

This mammoth project will result in the creation of the world's largest open-pit mining operation. It is projected that immense quantities of copper, silver, gold and uranium will be extracted using energy-intensive methods for the next seventy years . South Australian Mineral Resources Minister Tom Koutsantonis has described the project as "the largest undertaking in mining in human history."

The expansion of the Olympic Dam mine will require massive infrastructure changes that include the construction of a new town to house the additional 10,000 workers needed for the project, a new gas-fired power-plant and additional electricity transmission lines from Port Augusta 270 kms away to power the project, a new airport, and a new 105 km long rail line to link the complex to the national rail network. Also slated is the construction of a new desalination plant in the Spencer Gulf and 320 kilometres of pipeline through which desalinated water will be pumped to the new mining complex.

The project was vigorously opposed from the start by both the local Arabunna and Kokatha peoples for whom the area has long been revered as a sacred site, and by environmental groups concerned about the destructive consequences of the project. In addition to the water pumped from the proposed new desalination plant, the project will require a further 42 million litres of ground water to be drawn daily from the Great Artesian Basin . The mining operations are expected to produce 8 million litres of radioactive tailings every day - which will eventually leach into local aquifers - and will create 9 billion tons of radioactive waste that will need to be monitored for the next 10,000 years, And like the monstrous Alberta tar sands project, huge amounts of greenhouse gases will continue to be produced through the coming decades .

On October 12th 2011 , two days after the decision to approve expansion of the Olympic Dam mine, environmental commentators around the world applauded the triumphal passage in the Australian Parliament of the highly disputed Clean Energy Bill or "carbon tax." This bill has the ambitious aim of reducing carbon emissions in Australia by a miserable 5% by 2020.

Virtually every adult Australian citizen was aware of the "carbon tax" due to the rancorous opposition to its passage by the Liberal Party and its leader, Tony Abbott. Very few, however, were aware that at much the same time, a project had been set into motion that made a complete mockery of any pretensions to act in a an environmentally responsible manner. Like Canada and the US , Australia has enthusiastically embraced the suicidal ethos of industrial development at all costs and joined the horde of lemmings rushing towards the abyss.

Slow Awakenings

Those who seek to awaken their fellow citizens to the counterfeit values projected by large corporations now find themselves demonised and reviled by the dominant media and by "law and order" politicians. In both Melbourne and Sydney, supporters of the Occupy Movement were recently forcibly removed from public spaces where they had gathered to address issues related to corporate manipulation of public discussion and political process.

The constant refrain voiced by media commentators and parroted by many within the general community was that the protesters "appear to have no clear aims." What is reflected in such comments is a failure to grasp the inchoate nature of this global uprising that has seen hundreds of thousands of people protesting in 900 cities throughout North America , Europe , Asia , Australia and New Zealand in recent weeks.

These gatherings, which were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest that began in Zuccotti Park in New York on September 17th 2011 carry strong resonances with the forms that originally gave rise to democracy in ancient Greece, where the Agora, or city square served as a public space where citizens could freely gather to discuss issues that influenced their lives and livelihoods. One of the formal structures that emerged from the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York was the creation of a General Assembly wherein the concerns of participants could be discussed and debated in order that some consensus could be reached.

Three and a half weeks after the Occupy Wall Street protest began, the General Assembly issued a Declaration that began with the following statement: "The future of the human race requires the co-operation of its members." Much of the rest of the Declaration detailed the specific conclusions that were drawn during the discussions. The Declaration generated at Zuccotti Park provides a compact, coherent and holistic statement of principles from which action can emanate. It draws particular attention to the role and influence of large corporations and financial institutions:

•  They have poisoned the food supply through negligence and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

•  They determine economic policy despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

•  They have directed large sums of money to politicians who are responsible for regulating them.

•  They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

•  They have purposefully kept people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

•  They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

The General Assembly Statement presents a holistic view of the interconnected causes of global inequality, political somnambulism and planetary destruction. It calls attention to the damaging effects of the methods of industrial agriculture on top soils, insect ecology and human and animal metabolism; the wrecking of the economies of developing nations; the creation of 6 million homeless families in the US because of foreclosures and property repossessions; the emptying of pension funds throughout the world as a result of usurious banking practices; the manipulation of political process by corporate lobby groups; the trashing of Copenhagen and Cancun by the mining and energy corporations; the degradation of public consciousness through media control and propaganda; and the insidious promotion of an unyielding militarism by the miltary-industrial-congressional complex.

The Declaration ends with the following call to all of like mind:

•  Exercise your right to peaceably assemble, occupy public space, create a process to address the problems we face and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

The Next Turning

We are here witnessing a harnessing of the highest aspirations of a humanity that seeks to restore the principles of fairness, sensitivity, balance and co-operation in a world that is riven by the pathologies that corporate and industrial greed have spawned over the course of the past century.

The abundance enjoyed by many within the Western world has come at a great cost. One of those costs is a moral dereliction that ignores the inequality of living standards around the world. Film Director Philippe Diaz has graphically documented the fact that over a billion people live in slums in the developing world and that 16,000 children die daily from hunger and from hunger-related diseases. While the economies of Western nations have been steadily growing over the past four decades, the number of people suffering from malnutrition has grown from 434 million in 1970 to 854 million in 2008.

A similar moral dereliction is evidenced in the intensification of such activities as the extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada, the expansion of the Olympic Dam mine in Australia, and the preparations for large-scale exploitation of oil, gas and mineral reserves in the Arctic region as the ice cover progressively recedes.

The Occupy Movement reflects a growing realisation that the processes of democracy that nominally serve to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals have been usurped by a corporate Behemoth that holds the invisible reins of governments everywhere. It also reflects the growth of an integral consciousness that is mindful of the need for freedom and autonomy for oneself and others, that acknowledges the need to interact sensitively with the cycles of the natural world, and understands that our planet can no longer withstand the assaults of an increasingly destructive industrial civilisation.

Only by becoming more conscious of these realities can we begin to release the active forces necessary for restoration and renewal, contribute towards the creation of new ways of being on the earth, and learn to shine through the ruins.

Vincent Di Stefano is a retired osteopath and author of “Holism and Complementary Medicine. History and Principles” published by Allen and Unwin in 2006. His blog “Integral Reflections” can be viewed at http://thehealingprojectweblog.blogspot.com/





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