In “Kung Fu Panda,” my favourite animated feature, the old turtle says, “The past is history, the future is mystery, the present is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.” What follows is the past, a history of exact feeling as many of my friends and I faced politics and life/death/life in the years 2000 to 2004, from just before the tainted election of George W. Bush to the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq.
In October 2000, I sent an e-mail to friends, inviting them to subscribe and contribute to a new free publication. Its title would be She Is Still Burning: An Expanding Reader To Encourage Life Lovers, and I wrote the essay below to give them a sense of its founding vision:
THE FIRE THIS TIME
A Brief Assessment of Situation, and a Declaration of Intent
Here we are—Terminal Patriarchy. I personally didn’t think I’d make it this far, and I keep expecting the whole shebang to blow sky-high or grind to an ignominious halt. But it continues.
Never underestimate the strength, tenacity, and tactical brilliance of evil. That much I’ve learned.
Adult experience and reflection on that experience have reinforced my childhood impression that it is madmen who are running the world. Over the years, I participated in successive movements to end oppression, but those movements seem to me, in retrospect, to have incompletely comprehended the source of the problem (which may explain why they were defused and diverted—“Give them a little bit of what they think they want, but keep control,” say men-in-power, aided and abetted by industrious female accomplices).
Patriarchy is not what it appears on the surface: a rational if mean-spirited system of exploitation and control. At its core, patriarchy is an accelerating drive toward extinction. And extinction does not carry the same meaning or consequence as death—death being individual, natural, necessary, the soil out of which new life springs. Extinction means unnecessarily and unnaturally extinguishing the life of a whole (a whole species, a whole tribe, a whole ecosystem, a whole culture, a whole nation, a whole race, a whole sex, a whole planet), with no possibility of renewal. Extinction is not, to my way of thinking, the consciously or unconsciously conceived project of sane persons.
Extinction is where we have been, where we are, where we’re headed, and it’s madmen who are driving the train. At an ever-increasing speed. I know this with my mind and in my bones, but unfortunately I don’t know how to derail the train. Even more unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone else who knows how either. The nuclear physicist who presented the petition signed by fifty Nobel Prize winners (a petition asking the U.S. government not to continue with its new anti-missile defense system, on grounds that it made inevitable a second cold war), after being met with polite obliviousness, put it this way: “For mad people, there is no cure.”
And still I want to live—even though there is no uncontaminated water to drink, no uncontaminated air to breathe, no uncontaminated food to eat, no uncontaminated thought to think, no uncontaminated feeling to feel. Everyone else I know wants, most of the time, to keep on living too—as long as they can. And they want the children and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live.
If we don’t yet know how to stop the extinction-train, we need to find a way, imagine a way, invent a way. Otherwise, despair hardens into resignation and the soul departs, leaving the body to bumble on direction-less.
She Is Still Burning was created to encourage this finding, imagining, inventing. She, along with her editor, is devoted to clear-seeing in a confusing and deadly time, and to fanning the flames of our desire to live.
She says: Guard the fire within yourself. Tend it; keep it burning. Do not allow it to be extinguished.
–Harriet Ann Ellenberger, written August 2000
[The instalments of She Is Still Burning will follow in succeeding posts.]