Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wars, animals and climate change

I have added my work-in-progress to a FB album titled, "Other kinds of death and life."

8. 7. 14
Addendum to the earlier post below: After a horrendous  month of murder, mayhem, public relations and carnage, we seem to be in a detente. I am so utterly sick of hatred, blaming, terror and grief. What has been happening in the Middle East, as I tried to address in the post below, is a microcosm of a world struggling and failing to negotiate between impossible realities with intractable rhetorics. During this period I have worked in my studio on a series of small encaustic paintings, just calculating a visual formula between lost species and soil making grasses as I think about what qualities might save the human race from itself. I considered editing my original post, based on thinking that has emerged this month, but we are really just at the beginning of understanding, so I leave what I wrote as my snapshot of a moment in time.

7. 9. 14
Is it always darkest before the dawn?

Maine dawn

Since the last time I posted here, I came up from New York City to spend a couple months in Maine. Before I left, I completed revisions for my PhD dissertation text, "Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism," and since I've been here, a video as a trailer for that research and written but not yet published  an article reflecting on what resistance to environmental wars might look like. The trajectory of my thinking during this period has been all about what is the most effective response, as an artist, to escalating stressors? My last post was part of a thread of thinking since that I've published on FB and with colleagues in response to developments I've watched carefully in the world: complex patterns of continued weather extremes, migrations and conflict zones related to global warming.

How do we unravel complexity?

Drift Nets detail

What I want to know is, when does human logic become irrelevant? Where do I find the healing trigger point? This post is an exercise in exploring the edges of those questions.

Re: events in Palestine/ Israel. I can hardly bear to look. I cannot look away. Another reason to be heart sick. 

And then to try for understanding, I start with questions.

How much of recent military conflicts we see globally, but particularly in the Middle East now, have to do with biological imperatives- closer to lizard brain neurological conditioning and animal reflex in which human "logic" is irrelevant rather than strategic thinking about a common future- or is it simply that some people's fundamentalist strategic thinking is my anathema?

When war broke out again between the Palestinians and Israel this week (And it IS already war)  I was immediately in touch with friends & family in Israel. I imagine few people I know, also know many people in Palestine, and that knowing is even less likely in the even more ghastly situations in Syria or Iraq or even Egypt. So, for those of us outside those fields, it's hard to know the whole truth except that it's very, very bad. Of course, it is a terrifying situation for almost everyone and I'm concerned, as I'm sure almost anyone is, for everyone's safety and the regional stability. 

I do however, want answers to two questions I've been thinking about a great deal.

Since 2007, Dr. Jim White & I have been speculating about the geopolitical impacts of climate change, specifically how migrations of species, climates and peoples are contributing to global conflagrations. I anticipate that the Middle East is the tip of the melting iceberg of conflicts we can expect to see at the nexus between climate change, resource depletion, etc. All the thunder about religion, ideologies, etc just mask, in my opinion, lizard brain responses to stress. It's no accident that the most virulent Tea Partiests live in the hotter states. So here are my questions:

1. What is the research about animal behavioralism on exactly how animal self-destruction emerges under heat/ drought stress?
2. How can artists contribute towards quantifying (modeling) impacts of relatively small initiatives such as ecological art is capable of, on such complex situations? 
These are of course, somewhat rhetorical questions that others are working on as well as myself.

Yes there are crazies- on both sides in Israel-Palestine and so many other places. But as the parent of one of the murdered Israeli boys said, "I see no diff between the blood of a Palestinian boy or an Israeli boy." And yet, humans can still surprise us with compassion;

However, one can't dismiss patterns: Hamas's vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or the calls to kill Jews internationally or the rise of anti-semitism. If you don't call that collective, lizard-brain retribution, I don't know what is. This conflict is a monstrous situation with horrendous implications not just for the peoples that can't share this land but for many way beyond the borders of this hopeless conflict. Blaming either side at this point, except for the extremists, is just shallow, simplistic and counter-productive, adding fuel to an already raging fire. However, how much of that fire is being deliberately set and how much is grounded in inevitable animal responses to stress? How much is the deliberate manipulation of the inevitable? Where are the larger patterns?

My friend and colleague, the artist, Alyce Santoro shared a few links on topic:

can climate change cause conflict? recent history suggests so:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
Climate change is world’s ‘gravest security threat’ – report - See more at:
climate change is world's greatest security threat:
So, let me deconstruct some specific manipulating of the inevitable, beginning with marketing  The Palestinians and the Arab world in general have been far more clever in their marketing & the Israelis far more naive, isolated and isolationists. 

But that doesn't define the issues. I persist in arguing that the real issues reflect far deeper, broader problems that are not regional, may not even be conscious and do presage terribly worrisome implications for what is coming in the next decades as more & more humans continue to compete for fewer & fewer resources with greater & great weapons of destruction in every sense of those words- psychologically as much as by missile strikes- under ever greater stressors. What is needed now is wise leadership from an eloquent and compelling voice and that is sorely missing The closest we have might be the current Pope but alas for the Middle East, his audience is neither Jewish nor Muslim.

The geopolitical marketing issue came up decades ago and has been an incomprehensibly disastrous lapse in judgement for the Israeli state. My hunch is that there's an odd combination of fatalism and self-righteous entitlement that has sabotaged any effective PR. The Muslim fundamentalist movement, on the other hand, completely grasped an opportunity to frame the arguments from the very beginning and have played them as skillfully as the American far Right leveraged & conflated religion, racism, right-to-life, individualism and guns to sell a corporate culture based on fossil fuels. Both the far Right in the West and OPEC/ Muslim Fundamentalism have had access to unlimited funds for think tanks to advance their cause from the sale of fossil fuels as the covert centerpiece of their respective agendas. That would explain the costly marketing campaign success. 

In terms of recent human history, how do I think we got here? In the sixties, Israel was an extension of St. Tropez. People still remembered WWII and so anti-Semitism and tolerance for it declined. The beaches were beautiful. There was no apparent conflict between Arabs & Jews. I was born in NYC but routinely spent time in Israel almost every year from childhood. My father had many Arab friends. In fact, that is the origin of my name. My real family name was changed because Stalin had sent my uncle to Siberia and my father tried to protect him by changing our name from Gabin to something more common in the Middle East. Then things changed.

In 1982, after the war with Lebanon I went back to Israel by myself and spoke to some of the Arabs I met casually and asked them what had happened. I will never forget a conversation with one taxi driver. He said one day, the Iranians started going door to door and telling people that if they didn't join the Intifada, they would be killed. Simultaneously, many ultra-Orthodox Jews were settling in the Israeli occupied territories who had no experience of or interest in living side by side with Arabs. The right wing began to rise again in Europe (it never really went away- I went to school in Europe and knew many Germans who would say in an argument, "Hitler was right.") and deliberate campaigns of anti-Semitism were financed out of Iran, etc. Of course, many settlers acted with arrogance & entitlement and the Israeli govt backed them to stay in power. A past of peaceful co-extence is now forgotten. The rest is sad, tragic history.

What I think began as a very smart (if, arguably evil) campaign coalition between OPEC & Muslim Fundamentalists in which Israel was led into a proxy war with the West & Western oil interests, has become something entirely different and not what anyone bargained for. I don't think most Arab muslims are entirely happy with ISIS's Sharia Law for example. The disaffected army of the long disenfranchised began to lead the clever generals. But I still think that the drivers aren't just human greed for power.

Which brings me back to the animals and climate change and complex relationships between war, animals, and climate change. Humans are animals. Most animals respond in similar ways to environmental stress. We know that from E. O. Wilson's island biogeographic theory: they move, start competing harder for resources, become more stressed, anxious, fretful and default to flight or fight: migration or war or both. That is exactly what we're seeing and unless cooler heads prevail, will continue to see much more of. The conflagrations in the Middle East are tips of icebergs floating and melting into our seas.

So where is the trigger point in this snarled net? Where might an artist intervene? I'm not sure yet but I'm dancing as fast as I can at the party.