Protecting Mauna Kea: Stopping Murder-Suicide

By Will Falk / Deep Green Resistance

When people have asked me why I am going to Hawai’i to help protect Mauna Kea and my answer involves words like “sacredness” or “spiritual,” I am surprised whenever I see the grimaces.

I often get an explanation like this, “I support indigenous people, of course, but the telescope is for science. Isn’t it a little…superstitious to block an astronomy project for a mountain?” I said I was surprised, but I shouldn’t be. Spirituality, I forgot, is anathema in many leftist circles.

It shouldn’t be.

I understand that many in this culture have been wounded by their experiences with religion. Some religions have, on the whole, been disasters for the living world. But, to write off all spirituality because of the actions of a few religions, is not just intellectually lazy and historically inaccurate, it erases the majority of human cultures that lived as true members acting in mutual relationship with their natural communities.

I am writing this article from occupied Ohlone territory in what is now called San Ramon, CA (in the Bay Area). According to the first European explorers who arrived here, this place was a paradise.

A French sea captain, la Perouse, wrote, for example, “There is not any country in the world which more abounds in fish and game of every description.” Flocks of geese, ducks, and other seabirds were so numerous that a gun shot would cause the birds to rise, “in a dense cloud with noise like that of a hurricane.”

In 250 years, with the arrival of Europeans and their spiritualities, we have gone from flocks of birds making noises like a hurricane to the concrete jungles many of us call “home.”

What was it about the Ohlone people that caused them to live in such balance with their natural community? Why didn’t the Ohlone people exhaust their land bases, over shoot the carrying capacity of their home, and colonize other lands like the Europeans who came with their crosses held high forcing the Ohlone to work and to die in the Missions? Only a racist could say, “Because they weren’t smart enough.”

Let me suggest that it was the Ohlone spirituality, the Ohlone way of relating to the world, that caused them to live the way they did. Of course, the Ohlone are just one of thousands of indigenous examples.

Right now, with the world on the verge of total collapse, wouldn’t we do well to respect the wisdoms developed by indigenous peoples who lived in balance with their land bases for thousands of years?

***

Those attempting to force the TMT project on Mauna Kea are products of a culture that has committed spiritual suicide. The dominant culture committed spiritual suicide when it adopted the belief that the land – as the physical source of all life – is not sacred.

Now, it attempts real suicide. I know because I did it, too. Twice.

The path to suicide begins with lies – lies like the notion that a mountain like Mauna Kea does not and cannot speak. As Derrick Jensen points out in A Language Older Than Words, the first thing they do in vivisection labs is cut the vocal cords of the animals they’re going to torture so they don’t have to hear the animals’ screams.

Now the dominant culture is cutting the vocal cords of the entire planet. Women are objectified so they may be raped, indigenous peoples are called savages so they may be massacred, and mountains are described as piles of matter so their tops may be chopped off, their guts ripped out in open pit mines, and massive telescopes built on their peaks.

The Sioux lawyer and author, Vine Deloria Jr., in his work God is Red, diagnosed our current environmental disaster as essentially a spiritual failure.

For Deloria, the Western notion that spirituality can be transported across space, time, and cultural context is a lie and leads to the spiritual emptiness that European settlers on this continent display.

Even worse, though, dominant Western spiritualities like Christianity demand that believers place their faith in a God existing somehow above and beyond the real, physical world. Instead of a belief in the land as the source of all life, an abstract, jealous, invisible, and largely incomprehensible male deity becomes the source of all life.

A hierarchy of beings is established with God on top, followed by angels, humans, animals comparable to humans evolutionarily, all the way down to plants, insect, and microbes. Mountains like Mauna Kea, in this view, are simple heaps of dirt. They may be pretty to look at, but nothing more.

My personal path to suicide reflects the cultural path to suicide Jensen and Deloria describe.

My family is devoutly Catholic. Before I turned 18 and left home, I can count the number of times I missed Mass on one hand. One of my grandmother’s favorite Christmas gifts was handmade, specially blessed rosaries. She says the rosary every morning. Scapulars hang from the rearview mirrors of cars family members drive. Of course, every doorway contains artistic renditions of Christ’s crucifixion.

I remember sometime in my early teens standing beneath a particularly brutal crucifix when I recognized the spiritual emptiness surrounding me. I looked at the crown of thorns piercing Christ’s forehead. I watched the blood running into his eyes. I winced at the spikes driven through his hands and feet. I knew that Christ’s femurs were broken by soldiers – mercifully, perhaps – so he could not use his legs to push up, open his lungs, and draw breath. I grew nauseous imagining Doubtful Thomas digging his hands into the lance wound under Christ’s rib cage.

Educated in Catholic grade schools, I knew the various explanations for Christ’s terrible death. He died to fulfill Old Testament prophesies. He died to redeem humanity. He died because he brought a revolutionary message of humility, poverty, and love. He died because he challenged the power of his Roman and Jewish rulers. He died, simply, to save the world.

I began to think about the spiritual practices in the Catholics I knew. I didn’t know anyone who was giving up much more than a percentage of their income to the Church much less putting their lives in danger to save the world.

When I asked myself how so many people could insist that Catholicism was the one, true faith while no one was willing to walk the same paths as Christ, the first cracks appeared in the wall of denial I called “faith.” Simply put, I looked around and couldn’t find any Christs.

As I grew up, the wall crumbled. The first time I masturbated I was convinced the Virgin Mary would appear to haunt me. The day after I lost my virginity, I went to Mass expecting to feel God biting me with guilt. All I could feel was joy that I could share such a wonderful feeling with a lover. I finally allowed myself to accept my disbelief and started asking questions. How could people professing love for the world propagate a message rooted in guilt, self-denial, and shame?

I became angry. I felt completely betrayed. I saw a world filled with spiritually dead people. The only people I knew speaking about spirituality were liars. So, I took my anger too far and decided that spirituality itself must be dead.

Giving up on spirituality, the world became a dead zone filled simply with material. Yes, I worked to ease human suffering. But, I only did this out of a strange sense of duty, out of the remnants of Catholic guilt that seeped so thoroughly into my soul that I knew no other way to function.

I hung on to this perspective for a few years, denying the voices singing around me, and essentially strangling my own spirituality to death. The dominant culture is cutting vocal cords and I stuffed my ears with despair. Perhaps, it was only logical – committing spiritual suicide as I did – that physical suicide came next.

***

The TMT project on Mauna Kea and others like it around the world are expressions of a culture determined to commit suicide. And I’m not talking about a metaphoric, cultural suicide. I’m talking real, physical suicide. I’m talking about the destruction of the planet’s life support systems.

How else do you explain storing a 5,000 gallon hazardous chemical waste container above the largest freshwater aquifer on Hawai’i Island like the TMT builders want to do?

To stop the TMT project, to stop the genocide of indigenous peoples, and to save the world, I believe we need to empower spiritualities that learned how to live in balance with their land bases. We need to empower indigenous spiritualities around the world.

Our predicament today is even more dire than in 1973 when Deloria wrote in God Is Red, “Ecologists project a world crisis of severe intensity within our lifetime…It is becoming increasingly apparent that we shall not have the benefits of this world for much longer. The imminent and expected destruction of the life cycle of world ecology can be prevented by a radical shift in outlook from our present naive conception of this world as a testing ground of abstract morality to a more mature view of the universe as a comprehensive matrix of life forms. Making this shift in viewpoint is essentially religious, not economic or political.”

I need to be absolutely clear before I write on: Personal spiritual transformation is not going to save us from anything, but our own personal despair. What we need are spiritual transformations on the cultural scale, but we’re not going to achieve these transformations when too many insist that spirituality is worthless.

Just like we will not recycle our way to the revolution, successfully petition Shell to stop murdering the Niger River Delta, or write a persuasive enough essay to convince those in power to stop the TMT project, personal spiritual transformation is too often a distraction from the need for physical action in the physical world.

I’ve written that no emotion – including despair – can kill you. You can kill you. You can put a gun to your temple, snort up a bottle of pills, or run the exhaust into your sealed-off car, and kill yourself. But, in each instance it will not be an emotional or a spiritual state that will kill you. It will be a physical action that kills you. This also means that it will take physical actions to bring you out of despair. This is as true on the cultural level as it is on the personal.

The dominant culture suffers from a profound sense of despair. It says that destruction is human nature. It says that greed is universal. It says that we already live in the best possible world and this world is violent, evil, and hateful. It would be one thing if the dominant culture was content to hold this despair in its heart, content to stay in bed all day with the paralyzing despair that many of us have felt.

The problem for life on this planet – the problem at Mauna Kea – is the dominant culture manifests its despair physically. Once the dominant culture isolated itself from the rest of life, it grew resentful. It became angry. And now it seeks a murder suicide. Left unchecked, it will kill everything and then turn the gun on itself.

In order to turn the spiritual tide we must protect places like Mauna Kea. If we lose the sacred, we won’t be far behind.

From San Diego Free Press

Find an index of Will Falk’s “Protecting Mauna Kea” essays, plus other resources, at:
Deep Green Resistance Hawai’i: Protect Mauna Kea from the Thirty Meter Telescope

10 thoughts on “Protecting Mauna Kea: Stopping Murder-Suicide”

  1. A good piece on a too-neglected topic. Nicely tied in with what’s going on out there in the Pacific.

    I do have a question for you, Will. It relates to the practice of referring to geographic locations using the name of the indigenous people who were displaced by European settlers.

    To claim that an area is “occupied” implies that justice (and the planet) would best be served if it were to become “unoccupied.” Certainly, in the instance of Mauna Kea, I am in complete agreement: The telescope should not be built.

    For example, San Ramon is home to more than 72,000 people. In order to “end the occupation” in a literal sense, that means 72,000 people (including you) would need to leave. Where would you have them go? I assume they shouldn’t go anywhere where they’d be displacing someone else, so as not to continue the cycle of occupation. Where on the planet might that be? Where would you go?

    Or is there some other means by which the “occupiers” would do right and/or be held to account by the original inhabitants? (How many would be left, by the way? I mean, of the 72,000, how many are indigenous?)

    In other words, when you use the word “occupied,” I assume you mean it in a literal sense. If that’s the case, it begs a question: Is “unoccupied” intended to also be taken literally? Or is the implied “unoccupied” intended more in a metaphoric sense?

  2. Noah: When Will says “occupied” he means it in the sense that Israel “occupies” Palestinian territory. There isn’t anything wrong with people living on the land, the trouble is that the people who ought to be on that land due to having developed a culture and a spirituality based upon that land are being crowded out or outright removed by foreigners who never learned how to live there with respect. So the goal here isn’t to make the land “unoccupied” but rather to turn it back over to its rightful inhabitants and develop a better relationship between humans and land there. If that means some people have to leave, well, honestly, there are too many people living in California and they’re draining the aquifers and rivers and lakes all around them. Would you rather just see the drought continue? I wouldn’t.

    Various landbases in North America can actually support quite a few people. There were millions and millions of Natives here before colonial settlement began in earnest. Many of them died suddenly of communicable diseases right before that settlement effort began–my pet hypothesis about that is that the early explorers brought germs the locals couldn’t contend with, though you won’t hear most folks mention that when they discuss the “plagues” that took all those Natives off. But there were large communities here and there was even the occasional city. But the Natives had enough sense to abandon city life when it became clear they couldn’t support everyone adequately with it. That’s what happened to the city near what is now St. Louis and it’s what happened with the Maya (who still exist, but their cities are empty). It seems to me that if settler-children really want to stay in this land and not, say, be sent back to Europe, we need to do what Will’s suggesting and develop a better spiritual connection with this place. We don’t even have to steal practices from the Natives. We have enough from our own pre-Christian histories that would help us get started here, if we dared to begin learning from our ancestors again.

  3. Dana, thanks for a thoughtful response. It’s a difficult subject, obviously. Simple in some ways, and yet less so in the details.

    My eyes certainly have been opened by studying the history of indigenous peoples over the last few years. Israel-Palestine is a good analogy to some extent, but there the occupation can be traced back just a few decades, which means demands that Israel return to earlier borders are not entirely unreasonable. But when we’re talking about actions that occurred literally centuries ago, it becomes more difficult: I am “native” to this land, as my parents were, and their parents. None were the architects of the genocide that took place in North America, nor would they have been able (if asked) to even trace their lineage back to anyone who played an actively aggressive role — a Phil Sheridan, for instance. So what does it mean for someone of my generation to “turn it back over” to the original inhabitants? Or rather, their descendants? Obviously, these things need to be the part of a larger conversation.

    I’m surprised at your comment on the drought. I’ve read quite a bit of Derrick Jensen’s stuff, and I would have thought that those in political solidarity with a deep green perspective would actually welcome it. Could there possibly be a more powerful lever in accelerating the demise of industrial civilization than effectively shutting the water off?

  4. Dana & Noah,

    Thank you for a thoughtful discussion. I think the article is very well-articulated and contains much truth.

    However, the drought in California is not caused by the people that live there; it’s caused by the industrial agricultural industry, the beef industry, and fracking, among other things. One thing Derrick also writes about is that we should not feel guilty about the actions of our ancestors, nor should we feel guilty about living in the culture which most of us are unable to escape. Recycling is a good thing, but until grocery stores all stop using plastic bags, the things we do as individuals will have little purchase.

    I don’t think is practical or effective to think of the U.S. as now being occupied; however, I fully agree that Native Americans should be given special consideration, more good land to live on, and that we should be held to the treaties we made as much as possible so very long after the fact. If we are to learn how to live peacefully and sustainably on our land bases, we need indigenous people to help us learn how to do that.

    It’s way past time to continue dividing people up into racial/ethnic groups and let the people who love the earth, no matter their color or ancestry, come together to resist the dominant culture – which, by the way, is also made up of all colors and ancestries.

  5. Angela, you are much better at expressing the thing I was trying to get at: That it’s not “practical or effective to think of the U.S. as now being occupied.” It’s a strange problem. On the one hand, I think it is absolutely essential, — literally a moral and intellectual imperative — that those who are resisting or want to resist the dominant culture and industrial civilization make a serious and sustained effort to study the history of what the European settlers did to the indigenous societies they found here. “Genocide” IS the correct word, and using it shouldn’t diminish in any way what happened to the Jews in 1930s/1940s. And we should also seek to understand the way in which industrial civilization is sort of a natural progression or result of that genocide and the policies and racism that gave rise to it. BUT: At the same time, like Angela says, I don’t think it’s practical or effective to talk about the U.S. as now being “occupied,” because that’s language that suggests or implies a political solution that is basically impossible: I’m not going to pack my bags and move to Europe (as if that would accomplish anything) and neither is Will or Derrick. We need to fight this fight here, while “occupying” the land where we ALL live — regardless of what our ancestors did five hundred or two hundred or even a hundred years ago. I mean no disrespect, but particularly when it comes from activists who are NOT indigenous themselves, it strikes me as a futile exercise in political correctness. That accomplishes nothing.

  6. The problem with dropping the term “occupied” is the occupation and the genocide are on-going. It is only through great privilege that one can ignore the occupation of this continent. Ignoring the on-going occupation erases indigenous reality.

    “I don’t think its practical or effective to think of the U.S. as now being occupied.”…The problem I have with this is statement is the Ohlone people still exist, still have to live with a legacy of genocide that forced them off their land. I think by dropping the term occupied comes from an impulse to ignore this reality.

    “I don’t think it’s practical or effective to talk about the US as now being “occupied” because that’s language that suggests or implies a political solution that is basically impossible.” I disagree. As resources become more scarce the US will disintegrate. The faster it happens the better. We can, of course, talk about responsible ways to do this, but if we’re going to save the world, the United States as an entity must be undermined. The occupation must end.

    I am not going to insist people always use the term “occupied” – but let’s not forget the truth. I’m more interested in people taking physical actions in support of indigenous people.

    Many indigenous people have said to me that they could care less about my own personal guilt as a settler complicit in this occupation. They don’t want my guilt, they want my tangible support. They are more concerned in undermining the physical forces that colonize them. The United States government is one of these forces. As the world’s foremost imperial power at the moment, the USA will have to be dismantled.

    I’ve heard from some indigenous peoples that they would prefer all settlers leave their lands, and who can blame them? It’s not up to the oppressed to differentiate between members of oppressor classes, it’s up to members of oppressor classes to differentiate themselves.

    Ultimately, I think it’s more important we stop the physical forces destroying the world than worry about our own personal culpability in that destruction. I do not spend too much time worrying about whether I’ll be welcomed by indigenous communities after they are free from colonization. You don’t hesitate to stop someone being beaten in the street because you’re worried they won’t say thank you. You just stop the beating.

  7. Will & Noah,

    Thank you for your replies. I don’t think I’m ignoring reality when I say it isn’t practical or effective to use the word “occupied” for the Ohlone or other indigenous peoples still living in the U. S. I’m not part of the U. S. government. I really don’t have a problem saying the U. S. government is occupying the entire U.S. right now, which would include all of us “non-indigenous” people as well. It may not be as obvious right now as it will be in the not-too-distant future, but I feel occupied. When I just wrote of myself as “non-indigenous” I felt an indignity. I love this land, too. All land – everywhere. Why should I not be a part of helping to save it?

    I do not come from great privilege and am living well below the poverty level due to policies of the past and current governments. I grew up in Georgia, but have lived in Montana for 13 years and I have come to love the land where I live like no other. There is plenty of work to do here to stop the oil trains, keep drilling out of Glacier National Park, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, etc.

    I have developed a spirituality that is based on honoring the earth mother. I grew up Southern Baptist which I think is comparable to Catholicism when it comes to guilt, and yes, I have attempted suicide in the past due to feeling spiritually bereft and empty. I feel much more connection with indigenous people and I really can’t help that I was born “white” and into the dominant culture. My personal life (mental, emotional) has improved greatly since I’ve changed my beliefs and separated myself from the dominant culture as much as possible – which is not easy – especially when one is poor. I never felt like I fit in with that culture anyway, but now I can celebrate that instead of feeling like a failure.

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