OF BUTTERFLIES AND MEN
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE...except when they’re threatened with extinction.
|"Flight," Adriane Grimadi|
And you can’t take the sixties out of the girl ~ especially, I’ve discovered, in her sixties.
More than four decades ago - in a time, like our own, full of terrible evil and a luminous new consciousness - I organized a Teach-in against the Vietnam War and marched against racial injustice and in support of striking farmworkers (Viva la Huelga!). I was hardly alone. For college kids of my generation political protest was as ubiquitous as pot and patchouli. But getting high is a heck of a lot easier than getting down to the demo, and dope smoking seems to have had a longer shelf life for subsequent generations of college kids than political activism.
That’s why I was particularly heartened to see so many young people, generous with their time and bright of spirit, at the March Against Monsanto in downtown L.A. this past May. The march wound its way to Spring Street at the City of Angels' historic core, and it culminated in speakers urging us to protect our families and our planet by insisting on accurate food-labeling, working to ban GMOs, and (encouraged by Ed Begley, Jr.) growing our own organic gardens. Which is how this novice ended up tending to a glorious little array of squash, chard, fennel, kale, cucumber, sage, oregano, tarragon, and thyme - but who’s counting? – in my urban patio.
It was a multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd that gathered on Spring Street that day, which felt particularly fitting since Monsanto is like the Galactic Empire of mega-corporations, seeking dominion everywhere.
BUZZ KILL ALERT
Now, I feel obliged to warn you that the next two paragraphs are something of a downer. You can skip over them and go straight to the edgy videos by AshEl “Seasunz” Edridge of Earth Amplified and stic.man of Dead Prez, or you can hang in here to learn just a little more about the ill wind blowin’ around these days.
FIRST, THE BAD NEWS...
Back in the sixties, Monsanto and its co-disgusting partner Dow Chemical manufactured Agent Orange, an herbicidal defoliant responsible for the death and maiming of somewhere around half a million Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and a like number of children born with birth defects caused by its use. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Agent Orange has afflicted Vietnam vets and their kids with a horrifying array of cancers, type II diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, Parkinson’s, and ischemic heart disease.
|Photo by Phillip Jones Griffiths|
BLECCH! THIS IS HEARTLESS!
But these days Monsanto is an equal opportunity destroyer. The corporation is currently raking in billions with a chemical arsenal whose effects are blanketing the globe. Monsanto is the top banana in the manufacture of genetically engineered seeds, cooking up the Roundup brand of the toxic herbicide glyphosate to zap the Roundup-ready genetically modified seeds concocted in its chemical kitchens. In a gross perversion of the truth, Monsanto claims that its motivation is to help increase the world’s food supply, but there’s virtually no evidence that its seeds increase the yield of farmers’ crops. Instead, spread by the wind, they pose a profound danger to our shared ecosystem, cross-pollinating with non-GMO crops the world over. The hazards associated with GMOs include (but are hardly limited to) organ and immune system damage to us humans, increased use of toxic herbicides, and environmental damage to our land, water and species as divergent as dogs and Monarch butterflies.
WHAT? NOT THE BUTTERFLIES, TOO!
I take the threat to the Monarchs personally. No matter what my mood, I shift into sheer delight when I see one winging through my little neighborhood. It’s no accident there’s a Monarch pictured hovering above Fleur’s hand on the cover of my novel The History of My Body, since the story is one long riff on the butterfly effect. So an insult to Monarchs is an insult to me...and to Fleur, too!
Rather than drive you nuts with statistics, I’m going to include some links below to reports and films that go into these issues at greater length, including one by my gifted writer pal Smoky Zeidel, who went on the march with me. But the bottom line is that Monsanto and corporations like it are not at all interested in what my friend, esteemed environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensperger, has dubbed the Precautionary Principle, a kind of Hippocratic oath for the scientific community that proposes that, in coming up with new technology, we first preclude any potentially harmful impact on future generations.
I’m not asking you to demonstrate, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to investigate Monsanto and its sticky-fingered bedfellows in Congress (who managed to sneak a Monsanto-protecting rider into the 2013 Continuing Resolution that funds the government through September, stripping federal courts of the power to restrict the planting and sale of genetically modified seeds - even if they find they should not be planted!)
BUT NOW THE GOOD NEWS!
On the other hand, it’s incredibly heartening to see that young people are in the forefront of the effort to ban toxic herbicides. And it’s definitely an E-ticket ride to hear young artists like AshEl “Seasunz” Edridge and stic.man of Dead Prez preaching beyond the choir about banning junk food and GMO toxins from what people of color, the poor, all of us consume, advocating consciously feeding our bodies while feeding our souls. From the beginning of human civilization, music and poetry have been such powerful seeds of cultural transformation!
In the science world, the butterfly effect is a term that Edward Lorenz used to describe the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, in which a small action in one place can, like a cosmic domino effect, cause a big change elsewhere. Poetically put, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in, say, the Amazon forest can lead to an earthquake (or a sweet summer rain) in L.A.
But science doesn’t hold a patent on the butterfly as symbol. Throughout the ages, the butterfly’s awesome transit from lowly caterpillar-hood to glorious-grace-in flight has been a symbol of the human psyche and its extraordinary capacity for transformation. That doesn’t mean that the process of change is easy. The caterpillar has to undergo the death of everything it’s known to become what it was born to be. Likewise, for us to grow from bumbling idiot-hood to bumbling (and beautiful) wisdom, nature requires us to endure a fair amount of pain and misery – of both the universally archetypal variety and stuff that is so intensely personal we can barely speak of it.
Which is where my pals the poets come in. They speak the unspoken. They articulate just about anything we can humans can experience – light, dark, and darker - and, armed with curiosity, craft, patience and love they help us find the transcendent in the terrible and the larger truths embedded in the trivial.
There are three poets I want to give props to today, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to get your hands on their brilliant books and feed your souls with the cosmic antidote they offer to toxic chemicals and genetically modified seeds. Unsurprisingly, each of them is an advocate of this continuously creative earth of ours that billions of other species also call home.
In her new book The Faust Woman Poems, prolific writer and Jungian Analyst Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, in a kind of literary tonglen, breathes in our terrible separation from our instinctual natures and breathes out from her blood-red poet-lips the gorgeous wildness of who we actually are. Here’s a taste from the book’s signature poem Faust Woman: “You didn’t know the taste of your own honey/didn’t know willow thighs/delta song/until that cast out She materialized in your kitchen/a dazzle of dust ridden light/a voice/a hand/offering you the world...”
And then there’s Queen of Courage Frances Hatfield ~ also a Jungian Analyst, describing the agonized shattering of a too-limited way of knowing ourselves in the poem Nude Descending a Staircase in her book Rudiments of Flight: “and there are two worlds you try to keep apart with this invention of yourself/and who are you fooling that you are made of something solid when you are really only liquid light…”
It is no accident to me that my sister Jungian Analysts are able to bear witness to the truth that the brightest light resides within places of torment, terror, and despair, waiting to be discovered and redeemed. This is what we see every day in our consulting rooms, but it takes great art to express its many manifestations in exquisitely brief and compact form.
Each of these poets writes about being shattered, split, conflicted, estranged, wrecked until the earth within begins to gather the shards together, the power of words numinously weaving together what is most instinctually ancient and what is brand spanking new.
In just such a fashion, if we acknowledge what havoc we are wreaking within ourselves and upon our planet, if we march, write, dance, sing, probe the toxic places in our own psyches, love big, push for large-scale change, and grow gardens in the most improbable places, who knows how many butterflies will take flight from our efforts?
Who knows how many butterflies will be born in our hearts?
Monsanto has been removed or banned by Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland. But it is still protected by big Monsanto money in politicians' pockets here in the U.S.A. We’re living in the Belly of the Beast when it comes to this one; isn't it time for us to side with the dogs and the butterflies and ban it, too?
Thanks to Malcolm R. Campbell for his lovely review of The History of My Body.