Sometimes it feels that the universe conspires to deliver a message, like an omen disclosed by a flight of birds, a tintinnabulation resonating in conspiratory ripples, with lingering doubt and cogitation in its wake.

During this past week three different sources, two books and a song, within their labyrinth of ink and notes, revealed, with unsuspected insistence, a simple thought which had the obstinacy of a savoury aftertaste.

How did we sever our primeval bond with Nature? How and when was our perception altered? When did we accommodate our senses for a world of machines, of predictable artificiality and cold, lifeless stimuli?

Daniel Everett, in his remarkable anthropological and linguistic tour-de-force Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, explored the culture of the Pirahas, an indigenous tribe who call the Amazon rainforest their home.

Without discussing the remarkable linguistic characteristics of the Piraha language, which I urge you to explore in the aforementioned book, I was impressed by Everett’s statements on the emotional and psychological well-being of this remote and dwindling tribe:

The Pirahas show no evidence of depression, chronic fatigue, extreme anxiety, panic attacks, or other psychological ailments common in many industrialized societies. But the psychological well-being is not due, as some might think, to a lack of pressure. It is ethnocentric to suppose that only industrialized societies can produce psychological pressure, or that psychological difficulties are found only in such societies.

I would go as far as to suggest that the Pirahas are happier, fitter, and better adjusted to their environment than any Christian or other religious person I have ever known.

Pp.278-279 (2008 Vintage Paperback)

Now, it would be absurd to state that their lives are easy. The death rate is almost certainly high, the dangers that lurk in the rainforest counterbalance the richness of its resources and food availability at times can potentially be a matter of concern.

Yet the Pirahas face all of their troubles and tragedies with a smile on their face and this is no dolphin smile, neither are they putting a brave face on their problems; quite simply, they live in harmony with their surroundings, they know what to expect and know their ways around difficulties. Also, among the Pirahas, children aren’t raised with the zealous protectiveness that we witness in our own societies, but with a Rousseau-like “you’ve got to learn your lessons” pedagogic approach.

In another remarkable book, The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram, the author introduces our detachment from Nature, prior to his own thoughts on linguistics and our connection to the Planet, and our current state:

Sadly, our culture’s relation to the earthly biosphere can in no way be considered a reciprocal or balanced one: with thousands of acres of nonregenerating forest disappearing every hour, and hundreds of our fellow species becoming extinct each month as a result of our civilization’s excesses, we can hardly be surprised by the amount of epidemic illness in our culture, from increasingly severe immune dysfunctions and cancers, to widespread psychological distress, depression, and even more frequent suicides, to the accelerating number of household killings and mass murders committed for no apparent reason by otherwise coherent individuals.

From an animistic perspective, the clearest source of all this distress, both physical and psychological, lies in the aforementioned violence needlessly perpetrated by our civilization on the ecology of the planet; only by alleviating the latter will we be able to heal the former.

p.22 (Vintage Paperback 1996)

Yet who is the culprit? What has drawn our perception into such an unnatural state of things?

To be sure, our obliviousness to nonhuman nature is today held in place by ways of speaking that simply deny intelligence to other species and to nature in general, as well as by the very structures of our civilized existence – by the incessant drone of motors that shut out the voices of birds and of the winds; by electric lights that eclipse not only the stars but the night itself; by air “conditioners” that hide the seasons; by offices, automobiles, and shopping malls that finally obviate any need to step outside the purely human world at all. We consciously encounter nonhuman nature only as it has been circumscribed by our civilization and its technologies: through our domesticated pets, on the television, or at the zoo (or, at best, in carefully managed “nature preserves”).

p. 28

Abram pinpoints the source of our distress and I cannot disagree with him. It would suffice to mention how our perception and senses are brutally raped and drawn, like light-hungry moths on a lamp-post, to the violent and hysterical visual and acoustic advertisements that stalk us hundreds of times everyday. How can our comatose senses distinguish the changing winds, the chittering of birds and all the signs that our ancestors revered and deemed to be Nature’s wisdom? How can we, connected to devices which are becoming extensions of ourselves, ironically like this platform I am employing while I communicate with virtual readers, free ourselves from the tangled mesh of technology’s tentacles?

At this point you may think that I am either going delusional or joining Anarcho-primivists but technology is certainly a driving force in our society, yet how are we to keep it at bay before it ultimately takes over all of our senses? Will we be writing odes to the grinding and clattering of machines? To the smell of tarpaulin and the air currents unleashed by the subway train? Will we forsake the sounds, the smells and sights that have accompanied our story on this planet, moulded our language, our thoughts and allowed us to become members of a universal commonwealth of sentient beings?

The third time this thought penetrated my brain, it occurred in the rather more accessible form of song lyrics from the new Nightwish album, Imaginaerum.

Now, as some of you may know, metal is among the few musical genres that attempts to go beyond the simple tune, catchiness and marketability of a track.

Here are the utterly splendid lyrics, drawing the album to a close, that stand out from the track, Song of Myself:

I want to travel where life travels,
Following its permanent lead
Where the air tastes like snow music
Where grass smells like fresh-born Eden
I would pass no man, no stranger, no tragedy or rapture
I would bathe in a world of sensation
Love, goodness and simplicity
(While violated and imprisoned by technology)

“I would bathe in a world of sensation”. It seems to me that one can truly bathe in unbounded sensation in a world where Nature and Man are not so violently dissected from each other.

Unless we initiate a major change, we will simply, as a civilisation, endure the imprisonment and violence of reckless technology, as well as the apathy of the senses and brutal, gratuitous violence.

While I complete this post, a television in the distance dryly reports a bloody shooting in the streets of Liège, Belgium.

Are we genuinely content with our lifestyles? Do the Ipods, cars and dancing clubs provide us with genuine happiness? Or do a campfire under a starry sky, the ocean breezes dancing on silver cliffs and a wolf pack running freely on a landscape of wonder offer us with the blueprints of pristine well-being?

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