Martin LeFevre: Hellish Fires Threaten Paradise
Hellish Fires Threaten Paradise
A pall of thick gray smoke continues to hang over northern California. Hundreds of wildfires are burning in this region, and nearly half a million acres have burned. The air quality is as bad as it’s ever been, and the fire season is just getting going.
For the first time in the 15 years I’ve lived here, you cannot see the foothills from the edge of town, only a few miles away. Smoke and haze have reduced the visibility to a mile or less in many places, and the air smells like some monstrous concoction of campfires and smog.
A few days ago dry lightning ignited dozens of new fires in the foothills and mountains, and two of the highways out of town into the mountains have been closed. Last week, a fire that started a few miles from Chico was whipped into a conflagration that threatened the nearby mountain community of Paradise.
Many of its residents fled to down here to purgatory, and though thankfully no deaths and few injuries were reported, hellish stories abound. A dozen or so houses were lost, but the buzz around town after containment of the fire was about a spate of looting.
Some cretins took advantage of the situation to break into people’s empty homes, and make off with whatever they could carry. One homeowner had security cameras, so a couple of the low-lifes were videotaped in the act, and quickly apprehended.
For days an unearthly orange orb has hung in the sky, especially late afternoon and early evening. Not only does it mock the fabled California sunshine, but the seemingly motionless Venetian sun also seems to defy time itself. People move around with an appearance of normalcy, but everything feels like it has stopped, as if the earth itself is waiting.
But the creek still runs with clear, cool water, and four new redheaded woodpeckers sit on a low hanging oak branch beside the quiet park road. The magnificent oaks overhang the fields, paths, and roads of the parkland with even greater grace, almost offsetting the ugliness in the atmosphere.
The ugliness is not just physical. The pungent smoke feels like the pall of human consciousness—a thick layer of human separation and sorrow that both oozes from and oozes into people’s pores. Even the most well adapted multi-taskers have been heard to say, “There’s something strange in the air, and it isn’t just the smoke.”
You hear a lot lately about pessimism vs. optimism, and hope vs. despair. In America, we have a presidential candidate, in Barack Obama, who is either eliciting or exploiting (or both) people’s hunger for a hopeful future. But there is something far beyond American politics going on.
To begin to understand what is happening, one has to move beyond the pessimism vs. optimism/hope vs. despair duality. They are actually two sides of the same coin.
It’s a true paradox, but the implicit social commandment in America—“thou shalt not be negative”—has been exponentially increasing the negative content in consciousness. And then, befitting all fine vicious circles, the need and demand is even stronger to avoid even the appearance of being negative.
But there is nothing more negative than positive thinking. Following the American dictum to “think positive,” and “be optimistic,” the darkness below the surface in all people is willfully ignored, and collectively grows. Ultimately, people end up denying the existence of evil altogether, both at home and abroad. That’s how we got George Bush and Dick Cheney. They aren’t, as popularly portrayed of late, freaks of American political culture, but the logical expressions of it.
Congress just rubber stamped a half billion dollars to ramp up covert operations into Iran. Bush and Cheney aim to provoke another war before they leave office.
Barack Obama will not free the American people from the grip of evil the way he’s going, in his unprincipled ‘rush to the middle.’ Hell, he may not even get elected. Will the real Barack Obama please stand up?
Of course, since the United States is purportedly a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the people have to first free themselves from the rule of darkness. It remains to be seen whether they will do so, but the signs aren’t propitious.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.