Notes from the Field

Community leaders, institutions, and even entire communities can inspire us to do great work ourselves. They can serve as role models, spark new ideas in us, or provide us with a place to place our energy. There are a great deal of community members and places left unsung or only recognized by a narrow population and while we can never show all of the people that deeply affect and serve their communities, we hope to shine a light on and share the stories of some of those people and places and what they mean to their community.

Bones and Rocks

April 28, 2018
Submitted by: James Riley

They are the bones of primordial creatures. Any fool can see that, any fool can feel it. What we call the Rocky Mountains is nothing more than the graveyard of eldritch beings, ancient giants, the kind with skulls that jealous gods carved the sky out of.

There is a story I once heard about a man fixing a satellite. The satellite was moving very quickly around the earth and though the man felt stationary when he looked at only the area he was working on, he quickly became disoriented if he looked anywhere else. So he had to focus on what was in front of him. Even still, the rapid orbit of the satellite caused a fascinating phenomenon. Every 45 minutes or so, there would be a brilliant sunrise followed by a extremely truncated day and then a total sunset. Then there would be a 45 minute night of pure blackness. And so it went in the vault of space, dancing between the total heat and light of a brilliant day and the cold, encompassing, deep and profound darkness of night until his work was finished.

There is something similar that happens driving through the mountains. The road curves in three dimensional space, up and down and left and right. That much seems obvious. It is the driving through time that is surprising. Driving through the mountain’s waves of light and shadow create a less extreme version of the astronaut’s 45 minute days. Time, and the experience of moving through it, feels different. Even the towns seem untouched by time, or at least time unevenly touches the objects and people there. Trucks from forty years ago parked next to cars of 2018. The nonchalant and puerile faces of Boulder are mixed in with the hard-living lines and creases in the smaller towns. It gives off a feeling of the unreal and uncanny to everything. Life seems like an illusion. A movie set. This feeling is only compounded when you look around. From each mountain town, you see in the background massive Truman Show-esque matte paintings to dome the populous.

There are mythological truths and there are practical truths. People who live at the mercy of nature every day and that are aware that they do, must by necessity adopt mythological truths to fortify them and stabilize their world. And we all are at the mercy of all kinds of natures. There is, and must be, a divine law or something even greater to provide an order to the world, or so we believe. The everywhen of Dreamtime, the space outside the universe into which it expands, the chaotic waters from which the material world was born. There is something outside of what may be seen and measured and recorded. These things, in mythological truth, must be of the eternal now, which is how it has always been and always will be no matter how it changes. A mythological truth is that which is patently untrue and yet ultimately truth.

Yet there is no society on earth that succeeds by denying the practical truths of the world. No matter what is going on around you, you cannot ignore what is right in front of you. Indeed, when you do it is disorienting and frequently dangerous. Even the most mythologically minded tribes of human beings know which herbs heal what, how to make things, and the history of their people. Everyone must deal with the facts of the world that surrounds us.

In a place called No Name, I hear men and women talk about denial of practical truth on an episode of TED Radio Hour. They talk about how people deny the benefits of vaccines, basic science, and even the Holocaust. These denials, like the mountains, are monsters from before the time of man. Hatred and ignorance do not come from inside but are caught like infectious diseases. What these parasitic things fed on before humans, I do not know. And though these things find modern humans more than suitable hosts, they belong in the pantheon of beings that predate us.

All humanity has imperfect knowledge. We each invent a system whole cloth to describe the unfathomable to make the daily struggle more bearable. There is simply not enough bandwidth in the human mind to worry over the rudderlessness of the universe and how we are going to make rent. It is through mythological truths that we interpret the practical truths around us. But there's the rub: those that deny the practical truths are not trading in mythological truths. They are acting in bad faith. They are pretending to be dealing in the mythological, in the stories of unseen forces, races, and destinies. But like the petty kings of old, they are only interested in fear.

They put on the hat of skeptics. They must see it, they claim, in person or it doesn’t exist. The Holocaust, the most well-documented genocide ever and quite possibly the most well-documented event in human history, is nevertheless invisible to the naked eye. It, like all history, is not provable to the individual non-witness. Proof can be faked, eyes can be tricked, they claim. A person who does not wished to be hypnotized, will not be hypnotized. The same is true of education. People choose not to believe in this event because it is useful to cause disbelief in practical truths and therefore of mythological truth. They seek to instill the idea that Jews are liars that control the media by trying to incept you with the idea that you’ve been tricked. To some people the Earth will remain flat forever.

The deniers could very well push the belief that the Holocaust happened and that it was good because the Jews deserved it. Neo-Nazis obviously believe this. It is a mythological truth for them and they want others to believe it too. Without the force and pressure of an ideological hateful society, the Holocaust denier cannot simply tell you that Jews are evil. If that is all it took, you would believe it already. Instead, they have to chip away at your grounding on the Holocaust as a factual historical event. Perhaps, it was not as bad as they make it seem. We’re just asking questions, why don’t they want you to know the answers? Who are they anyway? What do they have to gain from keeping you in the dark about this?

Soon, if you are not grounded in practical facts these pernicious seeds of doubt may sprout and you may find yourself believing in bullshit. All misinformation works this way. GMOs are universally bad for you, the earth is flat, evolution isn’t real, global warming isn’t real, lizard people and the illuminati are in a secret cabal with Broderbund Inc. It becomes complicated at some point though. Some denials of practical truths seem harmless or at least sympathetic. Vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause autism because it is easier to place blame on something than to deal with the fact that communication is going to be extremely frustrating for their child and for them.

But the problem is that these lies are risky to all and deadly to some. If we do not believe in the facts of the world, we doom ourselves and others. We can interpret facts differently, weigh them differently, but to discount them altogether is to cast in our lot with fear and hate. The most cunning tyrant to come along will use these to harm us. To be sure someone benefits from each of these lies, while many more suffer. Quite usually, these lies are told to increase a small minority’s finances or power. The irony that this is the exact story that Holocaust deniers tell about the Jews is not lost on me.

Without GMOs, there can be no Golden Rice. Without an understanding of this earth and the life on it, we will kill ourselves. Without a firm understanding that the people we see are in charge really are in charge (a group that includes both politicians and the wealthy), we cede all of our rights and abilities to shape our world. Without vaccines, diseases spread unchecked. It is important that we all know the practical truths of this world, less misinformation spread and with it hatred and ignorance.

And on the other hand, nonsense is what sustains us. Fancy and Fantasy are the things that hold us together as a people and as people. The idea that the universe is or has in it potent forces, perhaps even omnipotent ones, that idea seems to be true even if not literal. The Mandate of Heaven, The Myth of Sisyphus, American Exceptionalism, the idea that people are basically good, are all made up stories. Not one is provable by any metric. And yet how beautiful they can be. The only thing they couldn’t take away from Anne Frank was her belief that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, people were really good at heart.

These are not just comforts to the weak minded. These metaphors are the maps and guides to navigating the terror of existence. They our values made manifest. They are strictly speaking, our feelings distilled. And these feelings filter down into how we interpret the concrete physical world of facts.

Nonsense is what we use to make sense of our world.

Looking at this country is and has been an exploration of constructed spaces. And even these mountains are constructed space, because we all bring with us an impossible large tarp to cast over the landscape. We impose our own meaning onto the bones of giants. We inscribe on each landmark the deeds of heroes or glory of gods or the stories of nature, and we do this whether or not we are aware of it. It is okay to do this, I think, to inorganic things. But we do it to living things too and I think that is a problem. And though I am not impressed with my countrymen, neither do I have the right to damn them with my judgements. Still, I wish they knew what side they were on: mine or the bones.

We think of facts as small things because they can be solved in short declarative sentences. But really they are all much to big to really understand. All these small things, axioms and formula and facts are windows into the other kind of truth. And the other way around. Just as night and day compliment each other, so does reality and fancy.

The practical truth is what I saw when I stopped my car and looked at mountains for one of the few times in my life that I have actually done that. The practical truth is the rock formations, the way the earth moves, the stresses of forces that I do not know and can not describe. What I am able to tell you is the mythological truth. The story of driving through the Rocky Mountains. I can tell you what it felt like and quite possibly you can understand that. I can tell you that my mind went to a place of prehistoric and indifferent beings. I can tell you that I day dreamed in the face of the rock, faces of monsters so old that they were as time itself. I can tell you the feeling of driving through those unbelievable rocks. It felt unearthly.

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