Being hear – I love that, except for that it’s not my invention. It’s the title of a documentary by Matthew Mikkelsen and Palmer Morse about sound ecologist Gordon Hempton. Wait, sound ecologist? Yes, that’s right Hempton explores and records the ambient sounds – and the silence of – nature.
He alerts us with his work to the fact how much of our environment is polluted by noise. I can understand exactly what he means. Growing up in Germany I never really noticed how, even during the most silent of moments, outside there was always a constant sough and noise coming from traffic near and far. Travelling to northern Finland, I experienced for the first time utter and complete silence. A silence that lets you hear the rush of the blood in your ears. A silence that turns all sounds in nature, the rustling of a bird or of a tree and the small sighs of the wind, into crisp melodies with distinct pitch and rhythm. It is hard to imagine that this once has been the normal state everywhere in the world. Sound pollution has had a huge impact on our environment but one we hardly notice because we so easily and quickly adapt to it.
Hampton speaks in the documentary about how we should create and protect islands of silence that enable us to again hear the sounds of nature. Hearing is for him, and I agree, a form of presence. A form of presence and attention that is a prerequisite for any kind of relationship. At the end of this clip he then states in a measured voice that the question is: “Will we, or will we not, fall again in love with Planet Earth?”
This question stuck in my mind. It is the question, isn’t it? At least it is a question I have often and with so many words (and photos) tried to ask. I am quite convinced that if we think, as I do, there is a environmental catastrophe in the making, that global warming and the sixth wave of extinction are real, then the point to begin with is our attitude towards nature.
In the conclusions to her book “This changes everything” Naomi Klein writes that there is hope because the looming environmental disaster will motivate human kind to move to a more just economical system. Your cynical photographer instead thinks that if it requires the rich to stop getting richer and greed to be abandoned in order to save the world, extinction of the human species is the more likely outcome. But I do agree with Klein’s analysis that cleaning up our mess and changing our ways will be a gargantuan task; so big a task indeed that abstract fear alone will not be sufficient to motivate us to take action. Fear of being struck by lightning might motivate us to seek shelter. Still, this type of fear seems pretty farfetched and abstract. Fear of losing a loved one motivates us to do almost anything.
So indeed Hempton’s question on whether we will fall again in love with Planet Earth hits the core of the problem. Like Hempton, I doubt we are in love with Planet Earth anymore. Oh yes, many of us love the idea of nature, a sanitised, packaged and commoditised version of it. But less and less we seem to actually enjoy really being there. Not so few find total silence in nature simply frightening. And feeling anxiety in the Finnish forests is a common experience for first-time-visitors from abroad. Then there are the cold, heat, rain, wind, moskitos and other inconveniences that may dampen our enthusiasm of “being there”. Don’t get me wrong, I am not pointing a finger at you. I experience all the same emotions and problems of being in nature. I have not grown up here, I am growing into here. But how does one then fall in love with Planet Earth again?
Maybe it is time to consult Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving”. Fromm writes: “The main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see other people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.”
If you found my statement in the previous post about “being the river” a tad esoteric, that is what I meant. But what Fromm writes here about is a pre-condition for love, not love itself. So what is then love? Fromm says, love is three things: “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision.” Can we do that, make a decision, a judgment and a promise to Planet Earth? I hope we can.
But then, who is talking? I can’t even keep the promise to myself to stay under 600 words per post. This border has passed in this text so long ago, one would need a telescope to find it from here. So that is where this post stops. See you next time.