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FORBEARANCE:  'Rage' Against the Anthropocene

By the time FORBEARANCE--Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem urging restraint and civility--appeared in 1847, the Industrial Revolution was well under way.  Beginning roughly around 1760 in Britain, the IR is commonly considered the beginning of the Anthropocene, that term as coined in the year 2000 by Paul Cruzen, Dutch atmospheric chemist and meteorologist to refer to “the human-dominated geological epoch.”  


In 2020, we are all familiar with the ravages and destruction humans have caused in the Anthropocene, mostly through employment of aggressive technologies against Earth’s natural resources, which were originally thought to be boundless and self-replicating.  We now understand that is not true:  what is stolen from Earth by Man for the benefit of Man, must be replaced and/or renewed by Man.


As we have experienced, Anthropocenic technologies have wrought such ugly phenomena as:  water, air and food pollution, propagated by an overabundance of dangerous chemicals/additives designed for both corporate and domestic use and which cause death at the cellular level; climate change and an increase in ‘natural’ climactic disasters directly related to human-effected geological and marine imbalances; rampant disease and drug addiction; islands of floating plastics and debris hundreds of square miles across, clogging our once-pristine oceans; and a general rape of the Earth such that man-made industrial materials now outweigh Earth’s natural matter—the balance has shifted.  Finally, the “Progress”—in the Adornian sense--achieved in the Anthropocene has caused the decimation and extinction of non-human populations, birds being only one of these populations.


In the 19th century, two basic Dissident movements:  Romanticism in Britain and Transcendentalism in America, tried to fight against the Industrial Revolution.  Their weapons were their simple lifestyle—Henry David Thoreau’s Walden served as core example—and their Art:  think William Blake's poem Jerusalem (later a hymn by Hubert Parry) with its foreboding image of “England’s dark Satanic mills”.  Alas, the Dissidents' methods represented “yin” against the raging “yang” of industrial technologies, for which their words and beliefs were no match.


Emerson was a leader in the Transcendentalist movement, which believed above all in the sacredness of Nature.  As a gift from the Divine, Nature is not to be abused in any way.  The “stockpiling” of goods—Heidegger’s observation—was the antithesis of the Transcendentalist belief in Self-Reliance (after Emerson’s famous Essay), in producing/growing/using only what you need.


FORBEARANCE is a poem of Transcendentalist protocols.   Imagine, if the Dissidents had achieved a foothold in the 19th or early 20th century.  We might have gone in a different direction, had we taken the tenets of the poem to heart.  Despite its archaic expressions (“Hast Thou”), the poem maintains its cautionary relevance in the “radical turn” urged by modern scientists.


The human race has now put itself in danger of extinction through Anthropocenic Aggression.  There is talk of moving forward from the Capitalocene or Technocene into the Neganthropocene and the Sustainocene.   Big, sweeping terms aside, Forbearance, the composition teaches the old adage that we can make a difference as individuals, simply by paying mindful attention to the world around us as learners,  and letting it reveal what it has to teach us, rather than destroying its beauty.   We can use sparingly, not accumulate out of greed.  We can lay down our arms and approach one another in nobility and friendship.  It is now critical that we all learn to forbear.  --Tamara Cashour

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