We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open — I was kind of surprised when they said so quickly the people could go back home.
—Sil Caggiano. A hazardous material expert and retired Youngstown, OH Fire Battalion Chief.
One of the more interesting facts about living in the Information Age is that with all the 24-hour news channels, blogs, news sites, podcasts (and yes, even substacks) it has become difficult, if not impossible, to actually know what’s going on. That despite the overwhelming number of choices with which to supposedly become informed about the world, it is nearly impossible to know who you can trust. Frankly, at this point, I don’t trust most news sources at all anymore. Please pardon my French, but they all seem to be purveyors of pristine bullshit, differing only by what particular agenda they are pushing. Worse yet, the more “official” and supposedly authoritative the source the more full of shit they actually are.The disconnect we are experiencing is profound. I am unable to shake the sensation that the whole thing is a profound lie.
Like many others, however, I was horrified when I learned about the train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, OH. This is a dreadful situation, and the best I can tell its potential for destroying lives and the health of the surrounding ecosystem, etc., seems inordinately high. The story is significant to me for many different reasons. It is why I feel I need to say something about it, despite opining within the standard news fog as everybody else. I make no claim to have any deeper knowledge about the situation.
But what is unavoidable is the complete and utter system-wide failure by all concerned parties and authorities. This is no common failure, i.e., the kind that many of us have become quite accustomed to and even expect as the megasystem totters around us. It’s difficult to discern in an environment such as this where blunt incompetence ends and deliberately malevolent indifference begins. Obviously, I can’t speak to what went on in the minds of those who chose to detonate noxious chemicals such as vinyl chlorideinto the atmosphere. For the record, I dropped out of high school chemistry (I was a musician!) so I am not going to pretend I understand the scientific ramifications of what has happened. But I don’t think one needs to be a chemist to question whether this was, perhaps, not the best choice. I certainly don’t think it was done with the well-being of those within the toxic blast radius in mind.
So far, there is no one who comes out of this disaster looking good or even all that human. Not the politicians; nor the administrators of Norfolk and Southern who apparently decided to blow it all up; nor the regulatory agencies who are supposed to protect us from these kinds of disasters; and certainly not the corporate news media who refused to report on it for a week or more. The chemicals on that train are apparently fairly basic to how we now live our lives. So in that sense, we are all implicated in this. Is it worth it?
My guess is that these types of incidents will become increasingly standard. As will the incompetence/indifference/malevolence of those who nominally run the megasystem. These two will surely grow together. The human and ecological costs of the current iteration of postmodern life will, I think, only increase as the system falls apart and those running it simultaneously tighten its grip on us. Maybe it is the cumulative effect of living through such a poisonously ideological and propagandistic age, but I have lost all trust whatsoever in those who putatively run things. This fundamental distrust is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore, and for some of us, the effects of their rule over us will be deadly. I don’t doubt that even as I write this, the PR flaks are hard at work massaging how we see this disaster. How long before it is simply pushed out of our awareness, perhaps with news of UFOs or wayward Royalty?
So how do we respond? This is not only a good question, it is the one I have thought about for a long time. Is there a road out from this unfolding disaster? I sure do hope so, but to be honest I am not entirely sure. But what is clear to me is that the problem we face goes much deeper than mere “mismanagement” or even, alas, depraved indifference. It is, rather, part and parcel of the core assumptions on which our materialist civilization is based. As I see it, this cannot end well
Recently Paul Kingsnorth publish an article in First Things magazine entitled, Wild Christianity. It is well worth reading. What Paul proposes is entirely congruent with what I have called the Arsenios Option. I hope to have a response to Paul’s article before too long.
In the meantime, let me know what you think about the disaster in Ohio and the state of things in general. Am I overreacting? Is this the new normal? Does this current failure constitute a fundamental change in how you see our predicament or is it simply the cost of doing business, even perhaps in a faltering system? Is there a point where the cost of our way of life will outweigh the supposed benefits? What does your gut—your deep intuition—tell you when you consider how everything is going? Is there a way out?
I think this discussion is worth having. Avoiding it for much longer may not be viable, let alone a wise option.
What say you?
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I make it a policy in my personal life not to use profanity. UNLESS, profanity is the only way to convey the proper intensity commensurate with the situation. I believe that this is one of those times. Forgive me.
Also, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl. Will someone tell me what the effects of these chemicals draining into the water, the land and breathed in by people and animals? Will I even trust any official if they did? Do I think they will tell us the truth? No, I don’t. Not even a little.
Honestly, at this point, along with similar industrial disasters, I don’t rule out a volley or two of tactical nukes in the near future. I am hardly an expert, and I certainly hope I am wrong. Either way, we are certainly flirting with disaster.
Personally speaking, when I used to focus on the “news” I noticed it was far worse than a distraction. It was a turning away from God in that I could not be focused on both God and worldly distractions. I could not flip from this piece of news to that on the internet or with an tv and maintain the tension needed for a prayerful life. Almost always, when I put the iPad down and went to pray the iPad things of the day rushed into the prayer. I started asking myself, “if I can’t focus on God here, what am I focusing on?” The answer to that is explained in almost all of the Church Fathers. I have a friend who is very much involved in the church, yet every conversation is about the news of the day. I asked him once why he was so focused on what the devil was doing while God was waiting for him. I’m certainly not suggesting I’ve succeeded in completely turning it off, but the more these kinds of questions come to me, the easier it becomes to continue on the “no mas” trajectory. This is a big question for me lately: At the end of the day we’re struggling for salvation. What do we think that will consist of? News, fancy cars, careers, fat 401k balances, steak dinners out? No, likely not. Then why do we spend so much time on these things now instead of spending all of our time here trying to achieve a small piece of what heaven will truly be if we truly want to spend eternity doing that? God is here every second of our lives waiting for us to make the turn…
Dear, in Christ, Jack…and others:
I wrote the following tract over 20 years ago, and is a bit long to qualify as a comment; forgive me. I post it because it occurs to me that it may point to the problem. Not the particular catastrophe that you address in this essay, but the more basic one that is its cause, and that you speak of in your other work. It also suggests the only ‘solution’ that in my 75 yrs I have found that makes any sense. It is certainly not new, let alone ‘original;’ it has been around since the Desert: The only way ‘Out’ is the way ‘In.’ May we all find it…in a hurry…I’m afraid time is not on our side.
Love in XC,
St. Benedict Orthodox Church (Western Rite)
Wichita Falls, Texas
A Case of Mistaken Identity… or,
We don’t know who we really are…
“… ascetics found that metanoia represented not the loss of ... freedom, but the exploitation of its highest promise. Far from repression of the personality, remembrance of God precipitated its transcendent refinement, as freedom from fear replaced subservience to sin.”
What is the precise relationship between fear and sin? Fear is the natural state of the self/I, understood as the autonomous self. I is a wanting thing; it wants forever because it is forever insufficient. This insufficiency is held for the most part, unconsciously, so is not often recognized as the crippling deficit it is. It does, however, carry with it an explicit experience: a species of fear – a general disposition of unease and discontentment…experienced along a continuum from vague to acute - for it intuitively recognizes that it is not up to the task of satisfying the want that echoes within.
It fears because it is essentially empty. In that sense it could be said to be vain, the root meaning of vanity being emptiness; it can generate nothing from within itself. It necessarily must direct its attention outward, to the world around it…an attention consciously experienced as want…to yield the outcome it desires. In the sense that it must take what it needs from something external to itself, it is parasitic. The fear that is already a fundamental aspect of the autonomous self is exacerbated by the uncertainty of the world upon which it must place its demand: “Will it come through?” “Can I find what I need?” “Do I have what it takes to get it?” Such considerations constantly plague the insufficient self and fuel the intensity of the search.
To say that the autonomous self is empty, while true enough, does not do justice to the perniciousness of the condition. Empty implies the possibility of being filled. Self cannot be filled because it is ultimately not anything that has a limit that can be reached. It cannot even properly be called it, for the word itself implies an eventual boundary. The emptiness of self is infinite, its anti-existence total, which is why it is experienced as insatiable by the one trying to fill it by the wants it demands. It is the emptiness of a lie and has no more reality. The autonomous self is, in fact, THE LIE (Genesis 3:4-5…’…ye shall not surly die…ye shall be as gods…’) that gives birth to all other lies; therein is its direct relationship to evil.
Of all the words associated or synonymous with Empty (vain; futile; worthless; vacant; valueless, etc.) all of which shed some light on it, perhaps the most powerful description is more colloquial in nature, as when we say empty to mean hungry. In such a sense, it then becomes more of what the actual experience of it suggests: that it is beyond simply a neutral, passive emptiness waiting to be filled. Experienced as hunger, it takes on an organic and active quality, parasitic and bestial in nature, that demands vitality from its host. Unless it is interrupted…the case of mistaken identity uncovered and cast off, and true identity recovered … it will lead to eventual and inevitable spiritual death. A recurring line from the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete speaks to it:
“… may I not become the food and possession of the enemy.” (Song 4: 23,25,26,27)