I have been asked to write a note to update the Rhodes community on recent developments in the United States….
I am reminded of Alistair Cooke's tradition of writing a "Letter From America," over a period of fifty-eight years – in which he made America intelligible to the Brits -- but, alas, I despair.
By now the same attempt seems futile not only because the economy and wit of Cooke's literary style can never be matched but also because America is no longer intelligible to any rational citizen of the world at large and perhaps, quite tragically these days, not even to literate Americans themselves.
Briefly put, we in America have been going through what the Brits might call "a bad patch." With the combination of a traumatic election cycle, the flowering of White racism as a major component of a national political party and the record-setting impact of a deadly global pandemic whose per capita death rates in America soar above all other countries on this fragile and beleaguered Earth, we have been, in effect, reeling from the impact of the self-inflicted wounds of late capitalism.
I "came up" to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar more than a half-century ago and completed degrees in Social Anthropology and Modern History, focusing on the political ecology of colonialism. It has taken all that I learned in seven years at Oxford and all that I have learned from my students in over four decades of university appointments since that time for me simply to make sense of the daily papers and nightly news. Despite my best efforts I remain dumbfounded and often at loss for words. Daily events in America now baffle the mind and strain the credulity of all those who treasure the Earth and embrace humanity across the world.
I retired from "classroom teaching" a few years back, but after making the transition to "online streaming" about twenty years ago, I continue a version of the Oxford tutorial and pub tradition of "each-one-reach-one / each-one-teach-one" through Zoom sessions and the online internet portals, Transition-Studies.Net and Transition-Studies.TV. In this time of global lockdown and enforced “social distancing,” I feel it is all the more important to keep all remaining channels of communication open and vibrantly alive.
As we are learning about the evolution of “variants” of viruses, we are beginning to realize that there may be no “post-COVID” world. In fact, it is hoped that this “COVID moment” in our contemporary world may well be a “chapter” that could usher in new forms of communication and deep sharing that humanity so desperately needs.
The reason for this is simple. As I see it, we need collectively to make some major transitions in our habits of heart, mind and behavior if we wish to survive as a species. In Western societies -- and perhaps in industrial cultures more generally -- we are now suffering under the grip of a set of dangerously outdated, misplaced metaphors. We must now work to free ourselves from these cultural constraints on our imagination. Whatever differences -- real or imagined -- that we may think are important at the moment, we must learn now -- as a species -- to shelter in place and live renewably on the only blue, life-supporting planet in the known universe. There is no “Planet B.” We only have one Earth. We only get one chance.
You are invited to join in, fellow travelers, and give voice to the multiple transitions that you sense will be required for our collective survival. Please do keep in touch....
(Balliol, New Hampshire, 1969)