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Thursday, 21 August 2014

A look behind the thick façade of civilization

Capt. Ray Jason
Club Orlov

This is a guest post by Capt. Ray Jason. To read more of his essays, please visit his blog. (And to read more of mine, please buy the book I just published.)] 

Most of the sky was clear and starry, but ten miles out to sea there was a cluster of clouds filled with lightning. I was anchored peacefully behind a low island that afforded me a perfect view of this dramatic spectacle. Sitting on the foredeck with my back against the mast, I sipped some hot sake and marveled at this exquisite display. Each burst of sky fire was contained within an individual cloud. Some would erupt in amber-colored brightness and others would shimmer in soft silver or lavender. The almost Japanese lantern quality of the clouds sparked a memory within me that I struggled to recall. A second cup of sake unlocked the remembrance vault, and the incident drifted back. It was a good one.

About a year earlier AVENTURA was nestled in a pristine cove with a few Indio houses scattered on the shore. One afternoon I heard the nearby children chattering enthusiastically about something. I took my binoculars topside and aimed them towards the commotion. The father was draping a fresh snakeskin over the low branch of a tree. My guess was that the kids were so excited because they would have fresh snake for dinner that evening. But my guess was delightfully wrong.

When nightfall arrived, the clearing around their little house filled with lightning bugs. That was a normal occurrence, but soon the little fireflies discovered the snakeskin, and slipped inside. Their pale neon green illumination created an eerie but magnificent tubular lantern. The children laughed with almost feral joy as they danced around this strange, blinking totem.


Watching this lightning now - and recalling those children then - was the catalyst for a slow, gentle, rice-wine contemplation of those qualities of human existence that are enduring and elemental as opposed to those that are temporary and superficial. I wondered how many generations ago that Indio family had discovered that lightning bugs were attracted to snake skins. And I pondered how many generations into the future that folk wisdom would endure. But the more profound question that I considered was whether these self-reliant indigenous people would remain long after the hyper-dependent gringos had vanished. If so, it seemed like poetic and ethical justice.

As the modern world careens from one catastrophe to another, a rarely-questioned phrase keeps appearing in print and in conversation. Here is an example of it in common usage: "If the gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps deepening, the thin veneer of civilization could easily be torn apart." Allow me to question the foundation of this aphorism that we accept so readily. The implication is that if certain societal conditions deteriorate, then huge numbers of people will revert to their natural, uncivilized state which is immoral savagery. I don't just beg to differ, I insist on differing. 

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