So far, for me, 2021 has been a surreal extreme of facing an increasingly despairing reality with sobering awareness and an exquisite delight in watching the nightly starling murmuration at a local cemetery with my fellow birdwatchers. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to listen to this bummer of a talk by Pulitzer prizewinning journalist and Presbyterian minister Chris Hedges while driving to the cemetery and watching the ecstatic emergence of the starlings creating art in the sunset sky before descending to their nightly roost. The Chris Hedges talk is a lot to take in, but what I find hopeful about it is twofold- 1) After four years of utter nonsense, it sounds refreshingly true 2) He proposes a theory of understanding reality that is potentially unifying. What I found so heartening is that he is neither a MAGA flag-waving Trump fan conspiracy theorist nor is he mired in an idealistic “Yeah, Biden won so all our problems are over!” delusion.
According to Hedges, the idea that a cabal of global elites is ruling the world may be true, but it’s not some sinister plan organized in secret by blood-drinking, child-eating pedophiles. It’s the natural end game of unrestrained capitalism, a glitch in the system, if you will, that is unpreventable, even for good-hearted capitalists. A change in presidency will not halt the runaway profit motive. A Biden/Harris win only restores more civility and decorum to the corporate theft of American prosperity, health, and justice; it doesn’t arrest it, as it must.
Unlike the agenda-driven Q theorists or the “wool over their eyes” Democrats who are reveling in a Biden/Harris victory, Hedges comes across as a neutral, truth-telling journalist, not a wild-eyed narcissist spinning tales so he can get what he wants. I suspect that what he’s saying would, in a strangely unifying way, appeal to both mainstream Trump voters and “down the rabbit hole” QAnon supporters, as well as #Occupy, #BlackLivesMatters, and #MeToo liberals. Nobody can disagree that a small number of privileged elites is destroying this country for everyone else- and neither Trump nor Biden are prepared to put an end to the wreckage, given that both are part of that privileged elite and both are at the mercy of it, given the way our political system works.
Hedges proposes that politicians in our modern US system will never solve our real problem- because they’re rooted in the destructive end game of capitalism itself, and since capitalists rule the elections, we will never be able to elect a real revolutionary leader who will overturn the capitalist system and set up something closer to utopian Marxism- not dictatorial “communism,” which isn’t communism at all, but a true “for the people” system that provides things like health care for all, protection from abject poverty, and regulation of the 1%.
Right now our country is pretty much equally divided between conspiracy theory-touting Trump cult members and neo-liberal Biden/Harris fans who are totally out of touch with the reality that Biden is really just more “business as usual” that allows the corrupt corporate capitalist state to run amok at the expense of increasing despair of the average American. Hedges cow tows to neither camp, proposing, instead, real revolution.
Frankly, I agree with Hedges. I am thrilled Biden/Harris won, because the alternative sickens me and slows down the steal of American liberties. But 2020 has made it obvious that the whole system needs to be reformed- and it has to start with a grassroots uprising, something the #Occupy movement began, but which fizzled out. Now, with #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement rising in tandem with the sentiments of #Occupy, maybe 2021 will see the beginnings of real change, but I suspect this will not happen without more disheartening despair. It’s hard to watch your own country’s global empire implode, but that’s what’s happening, and unless we undergo radical and revolutionary levels of reform, American collapse is probably what we deserve.
I won’t try to offer any sort of false hope. I will only repeat, as I’ve been feeling in my heart every day, that if humans could cooperate like starlings, what might be possible? The starlings have no leader. Like schools of fish, they organize by the principles of what scientists call “emergence.” Each starling is an individual, but alone they are vulnerable prey; together, there is safety in numbers. They roost together to keep each other warm. When they gather at sunset before roosting, they come from far and wide, small clusters that separated during the day to feed but gather again for one last hurrah party every night before bedtime. At first, this gathering is a vast, disorganized cloud of bird individuals, but something clicks, and the unified field organizes. Then the artistry begins. They dip and dive. They form hearts and butterflies and spinning 3D forms that morph into something no computer could model with equal magnificence. The peregrine falcons swoop in to grab dinner, but the whole murmuration of starlings fights them off- sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Unlike humans in 2020, in formation, no one starling is any more vulnerable than the others. There is no capitalist starling that gets to shelter in a mansion and hide from the threats of 2020 while amassing more wealth at the expense of those getting eaten by the birds of prey. For the starlings, beauty may not be the goal, but it’s a glorious side effect of collective cooperation. Then, once the nightly ecstatic dance is complete, slowly, they fall like leaves into the trees at the cemetery, making a racket of chatter- the original Twitter.
Yes, starlings are an invasive species- part of the problem of our growing ecocide. But then again, we are the most invasive species on the planet. According to this article, the non-native starlings are wiping out our local woodpecker population. Still, white colonizing homo sapiens have been responsible for wiping out far more native species than the starlings.
I keep thinking the reappearance of these murmurations (the first time happened at the same cemetery in 2007) is no mere coincidence. What message lies in this nightly display, ironically happening in a movie theater parking lot shuttered by the pandemic? I don’t have an answer, but I feel like it’s no accident these starlings are coming to a cemetery in the Bay Area every night for three weeks for the first time since 2007. Perhaps they have come to a human cemetery as a harbinger of our impending doom while also mesmerizing us with a beautiful distraction from our despair. Whatever the meaning behind this phenomenon, I am listening…
Regardless, nature is showing us how to do this. COOPERATION and EMERGENCE are lynchpins for us humans. Please listen to Chris Hedges discuss the problem. Listen slowly if need be, because it’s strong medicine and hard to swallow. But unless we get out of our delusions and face the harsh nature of our national and global reality, we are helpless to do anything but destroy ourselves and each other.
If you need a pick me up after watching Hedges’s bummer of a talk, you can watch the whole 8-minute video of the starling murmuration roosting that I took here.
As my BFF Diane says, we must be like whales, diving into the depths of the harsh realities we must face, then we must coming to the surface and to breach with delight and flap our tails, playing and feeding and nourishing us so we are capable of diving back down when we must. Nature has so much to teach us, if only we’ll listen. If you need help breaching and delighting while also diving deep, the ongoing Healing With The Muse gathers next on January 11. Learn more and join us here.
May 2021 be filled with as much ease and grace as reality allows,