In My Veins I’ve Felt the Mystery
Willa: One of the things I love most about the community that has developed here at the website is the wide range of perspectives different readers bring to the discussion – fans, artists, academics, and professionals from many different fields and many different cultural backgrounds, all sharing a love of Michael Jackson’s work as well as your insights into what made him and his work so important and so compelling. I love that fascinating mosaic of different perspectives, and I’ve learned so much over the past 18 months from the comments you all have shared.
This week Joie and I wanted to talk about Michael Jackson’s spirituality and how that’s reflected in his work. We’ve touched on this before – for example, in posts about “Don’t Stop til You Get Enough” and Dancing the Dream last spring. However, this week we wanted to explore this idea in a more in-depth way. And fortunately, someone in our community has a lot of ideas to share about that!
Unfortunately, Joie wasn’t able to join us this week – she’s working on an exciting personal project. But I’m thrilled that Eleanor Bowman, a regular contributor to the site, has agreed to step in. Eleanor worked with Costa Rica’s National Institute for Biodiversity in the early 1990s and, in her words, became “more and more concerned about the negative impact of our way of life on the rest of nature, and more and more puzzled as to why these concerns were not more widely shared when it was so obvious we were hurtling toward disaster.” She began to wonder if our religious beliefs played a role in shaping our attitudes toward nature, and she entered divinity school to explore that question. She received a Master’s degree in Theological Studies, and her graduate research focused on how notions of spiritual transcendence have shaped western culture’s relationship to nature. She is currently working on a book that addresses these issues – Beyond Transcendence: Seeking a Sustainable Relationship with Nature.
Importantly, Eleanor sees Michael Jackson as embodying a very different spiritual model – one of immanence rather than transcendence – that might lead us to see our relationship with nature in a different way. I am so intrigued by that! Thank you so much for joining us, Eleanor!
Eleanor: Hi Willa. Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in your ongoing discussions about Michael Jackson, his life and his art. In addition to providing your visitors with interesting insights and information, your blog has created a warm and caring community, an expression of MJ’s L.O.V.E. – which I am grateful to be a part of.
Willa: I’m very grateful for that community also, and think it’s a real testament to the power of Michael Jackson’s work – especially that his work is meaningful to people from such diverse backgrounds. For example, your appreciation of Michael Jackson seems to be strongly influenced by your knowledge of theology, which I know very little about. That’s one reason I’m especially eager to hear your ideas!
So before we talk about how you situate Michael Jackson’s spirituality in terms of these two models, I was wondering if we could start by clarifying what exactly you mean by transcendence and immanence. How would you describe these two models? How are they different, and why is that difference important?
Eleanor: Before I address your question concerning immanence and transcendence, I have to say that I have a little trouble talking about Michael Jackson’s spirituality as the term “spirituality” is becoming a foreign concept to me, and MJ is the last person in the world I would describe as spiritual – much less as having a “spirituality.”
Willa: Really? Wow, I’m surprised! Why do you say that, Eleanor? I’m wondering if maybe I didn’t express myself well, or didn’t ask the question the right way.
Eleanor: No, no. It’s not that. My reaction relates to my own idiosyncratic problems with the concept of transcendence and how it relates to the idea of spirituality. But, in no way am I “dissing” MJ. As anyone who has been reading my comments knows, I am one of MJ’s biggest admirers.
Willa: Yes, I know – that’s one reason I’m so confused right now.
Eleanor: Understandably. Because most people associate being a spiritual person with being a good person and MJ was demonstrably a very good person as well as a great artist. That being said, I admire MJ because of his “embodiment” – his materiality – rather than his spirituality. And, I think, by addressing your question and clarifying what I mean by transcendence (another word with very positive cultural associations) and contrasting it to immanence, I can also explain my problems with associating spirituality with Michael Jackson.
When I use the terms “transcendent” and “immanent,” I use them as descriptors for a worldview and value system. A transcendent worldview and value system divides spirit from matter and locates the sacred or ultimate value outside the material world, in spirit, draining nature and the earth of value, which is why, with my environmental concerns, I have come to view transcendence as sinister and the term “spirit” with suspicion.
Analyzing western culture in terms of transcendence provides an explanation as to why we, as a culture, have adopted such an exploitative attitude toward nature and the material world. And, “transcendent exploitation” doesn’t stop with nature. Along the same lines, we also think of mind as properly separate from the body, and we assign value to the mind, rather than the body.
Willa: That’s true, Eleanor. It reminds me of something Thomas Edison once said. He was a notorious workaholic who spent long hours every day in the lab, and a reporter once asked him what he did for exercise. Edison replied that the only thing he used his body for was to carry his mind from place to place.
Eleanor: Exactly! I’ve never heard that, but it fits perfectly.
Willa: It really highlights the mind/body split, doesn’t it? And I think a lot of people share that idea – not only that the mind and body are separate, but that the mind is what’s important, and the body is just an imperfect vessel for holding and transporting the mind.
Eleanor: Right. With an emphasis on imperfect! And they privilege those things and people associated with the mind over those associated with the body and nature. For example, they/we view reason as separate from and superior to emotion, and humanity (homo sapiens, the wise species) as separate from and superior to (a mindless) nature. By extension, any association with physicality, with the body, with nature – with matter – results in the devaluation of specific types of people and specific types of work.
Willa: I agree, which is one reason women, racial minorities, and lower class workers have historically been devalued, to use your term – because historically they’ve been associated with physical labor, especially labor that involves daily care for the body, things like cooking and feeding the body, making clothes and keeping the body warm and clean, nursing the body and tending to its wounds and disabilities, changing diapers and caring for the bodies of children or the elderly or the infirm. Those people in a more privileged position – generally meaning upper class, white, and male – have historically been associated with the life of the mind, and with work that is as far removed as possible from actual human bodies.
Eleanor: I know. So frustrating and so unfair. Because when you really think about it, this work is some of the most valuable on the planet; it is critical to survival. So, from my point of view transcendence is hazardous to the health of the planet and all its inhabitants. Which is why I am wary of using the term “spirit,” as it seems to reinforce the idea of a binary reality in which nature and those associated with nature and the body are devoid of value.
Willa: That’s interesting, Eleanor. And I’m starting to see the problem with my question, and why you said Michael Jackson was “the last person in the world I would describe as spiritual,” though that still kind of shocks me.
Eleanor: Well, naturally, it is shocking. It goes against the grain of everything we have been taught to believe in and value. But I think MJ in his life and art, epitomizes and personifies and promotes the immanent worldview – which is why his work is so shocking, so electrifying! He is truly radical. He radically changes our perception of reality. As an artist and as a person, he embodies a new worldview and value system: he, himself, is the materialization of a sacred energy. He is “the Avatar of Immanence.” He is “His Immanence” Michael Jackson.
Willa: As opposed to His Eminence, the Cardinal of New York or Chicago, where “eminence” emphasizes that these figures are separate from us and above us. That’s a wonderful title, Eleanor, and I love this view of Michael Jackson as integrating mind and body, and restoring value to the material, natural, physical world.
Eleanor: Well, I am pretty attached to it myself. And, as was pointed out in the discussion of MJ’s crotch grabs in “That Ain’t What It’s All About,” we can also add the integration of sexuality into what it means to be fully human, as opposed to looking on sexuality as an indicator of some sort of human failing. It is this perfect integration, his immanence, that gives his work so much authenticity, which gives his art its incredible emotional power, which distinguishes him from all other dancers on a stage.
In contrast to transcendence, immanence refers to a worldview which finds the sacred and value within matter. In an immanent reality, the term “spirit” has no meaning, because value and the sacred are now understood as being part and parcel of matter, specifically of nature and the body. There is no line dividing mind from body, reason from emotion, humanity from nature, no value system that automatically assigns value to humans over nature or whites over blacks or men over women or mental professions over physical labor. Immanence knocks the legs out from under racism and sexism – and the assumption that humans have the right to exploit nature.
To me, in everything he was and did, MJ represents this worldview, this new truth. And, it is the truth of his work which gives it so much beauty. For the first time in my life, watching Michael Jackson, I understood what Keats meant when he said,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Willa: Or when Emily Dickinson wrote, “I died for beauty,” and the person in the adjoining tomb responds,
“And I for truth – the two are one; We brethren are,” he said.
Eleanor: Yes. Exactly. And, his beautiful truth, his true beauty, is an expression of deep and true emotions, bravely revealed in his music, his dance, his art. He gives a true assessment of the world we live in and its imbalance and shows us the way to restore the balance which our world – and worldview – has lost: he puts value back in matter and nature and the body and women and people of color and everything and everybody our culture has stripped of value. And, as has been noted on this blog, he paid a high price for his steadfastness.
Willa: Yes, he did.
Eleanor: For me, Earth Song says it all. It is so amazing. The night after he died, as I you-tubed one MJ video after another, I discovered Earth Song. I was stunned. In this one work, he expressed what I had been trying to say for years …. and much more. For me, it is the most radical of all his works for it is nothing less than an indictment of the transcendent worldview and value system.
In a few deft phrases, he sketches the outlines of our global tragedy, expressing deep sorrow for the damage we ourselves are doing to the earth – a sorrow mixed with a compassion for a people who have only recently become conscious of the consequences of their own self-destructive actions, actions which somehow seem to be beyond their control to do anything about. And, as in so much of his work, there is the mixture of heart-broken sadness and anguished anger. In the complexity of its lyrics and music, it conveys a deep sense of betrayal that is very personal.
In Earth Song, MJ addresses none other than the conventional Judea-Christian God – transcendent spirit itself – the “you” who betrayed his only son, who (almost) betrayed Abraham, and whose worldview/ value system is betraying us. He calls on the transcendent god to acknowledge the mess the world is in – the mess a transcendent worldview and value system are largely responsible for.
What about sunrise? What about rain? What about all the things That you said we were to gain? What about killing fields? Is there a time? What about all the things That you said was yours and mine? Did you ever stop to notice All the blood we’ve shed before? Did you ever stop to notice The crying Earth the weeping shores? What have we done to the world? Look what we’ve done. What about all the peace That you pledged your only son? What about flowering fields? Is there a time? What about all the dreams That you said was yours and mine? Did you ever stop to notice All the children dead from war? Did you ever stop to notice The crying Earth the weeping shores?
Willa: That’s so interesting, Eleanor. I’ve always interpreted these lines rather differently – not as questions directed toward God, the Christian God, but as questions directed toward us and our ancestors. After all, our ancestors are the ones who developed and passed on the worldview that nature is simply something to be exploited to satisfy our own wants. They created the industrial revolution. They clear-cut forests. They hunted animals to extinction. In other words, they gave us the very destructive legacy that we are fulfilling today.
But listening to those lyrics you just cited with your ideas in mind, one line really jumped out at me: “What about all the peace / That you pledged your only son?” That really does suggest that he is addressing God – specifically, God the Father – doesn’t it?
Eleanor: Well, the first time I heard it, it did to me (and still does). And really knocked me out. At last, someone else, Michael Jackson, no less, seemed to “get it.” And seemed to understand and express all the complex emotions I felt. IN ONE SONG. For so many years, I believed in transcendence … and then suddenly one day I didn’t. And my overwhelming feeling was one of betrayal. I saw that in trying to be a good person and do the right thing, I was actually acting against the best interests of the planet and of myself as a woman – and society at large. And, at that moment I also lost whatever faith I had left in the JC God, because to me, as a symbol and a character in a book, the JC God represented that which no longer worked for the well-being of all. It was both a terrible and a liberating moment. I went to divinity school, in part, to see if I was correct in my assessment or, if not, if I could salvage some vestiges of my Christian faith, but, no one ever was able “to reconcile the ways of God” to nature or woman – or me. And, I came out more convinced than ever that I was on the right track (but I went to a very liberal divinity school).
To me, Earth Song is both a lament and an accusation. Michael Jackson’s lament is not only for what we are inflicting on nature, but for what we are doing to each other and what those in power are doing to the less empowered.
Hey, what about yesterday? (What about us?) What about the seas? (What about us?) The heavens are falling down (What about us?) I can’t even breathe (What about us?) What about apathy? (What about us?) I need you (What about us?) What about nature’s worth? It’s our planet’s womb (What about us?) What about animals? (What about it?) We’ve turned kingdoms to dust (What about us?) What about elephants? (What about us?) Have we lost their trust? (What about us?) What about crying whales? (What about us?) We’re ravaging the seas (What about us?) What about forest trails Burnt despite our pleas? (What about us?) What about the holy land (What about it?) Torn apart by creed? (What about us?) What about the common man? (What about us?) Can’t we set him free?….
By so tightly weaving his concerns for earth, nature, and humanity into a single thread – the themes of environmental degradation and man’s inhumanity to man, our wars on nature and each other – he is saying that these two tragedies are related, that they arise from a single source – the transcendent god of the Judeo-Christian tradition, whose worldview and value system led his only son to the cross, whose worldview and value system brought Abraham to the brink of disaster, and whose worldview and value system are destroying the planet and leading us toward self-destruction. Earth Song is both an acknowledgement of the dire situation we find ourselves in and a recognition that we have all been betrayed.
And, when he cries out “What about us?” he identifies not only himself, but all of us, his listeners, with the disempowered and dispossessed.
Willa: I agree – he’s forcing us to acknowledge their concerns and asking us to care about those concerns. In other words, he’s giving voice to the voiceless – “the disempowered and dispossessed,” to borrow your words – including animals as well as oppressed people. And again I’m struck by the references to Abraham (“What about Abraham?”) and “the holy land / Torn apart by creed,” which support your interpretation.
The reference to Abraham is especially interesting since, as I remember the story, God comes to Abraham and asks him to sacrifice his son, Isaac – in other words, he asks him to choose between his physical, material, embodied son and a spiritual, disembodied God. Abraham chooses the spiritual over the physical and builds an altar for killing his son, though God stays his hand at the last minute. Abraham has proven himself – he made the right choice – so God allows his son to live. I can see how the story of Abraham would be very troubling to Michael Jackson on many different levels, and it ties in very closely with your interpretation of “Earth Song.”
Eleanor: Yes. I think the story of Abraham is difficult for many people to live with – especially MJ.
Although there is so much anger and pain in Earth Song, there is also hope, but this hope really is only revealed in the film, which shows Michael singing the earth and nature back to life. I love watching this, because, truly, I believe his music, his art, his very being reveal and express a new way of looking at things – a new worldview and value system – that can accomplish just that. If we let nature speak to us, if we can open our hearts, I think she will show us the way, for I believe, deep within every human, nature has planted a drive which drives us toward collective survival, and when a way of life is operating against our survival, we will instinctively react and seek to right our course.
Willa: I love that section of Earth Song also, and that’s a wonderful way to describe it, Eleanor – he truly is “singing the earth and nature back to life.” I think it’s especially important that this section undoes the destruction we witnessed in the first half of the video – the cut tree rights itself and once again becomes part of the forest canopy, the elephant regrows her tusks and comes back to life, the dead civilian opens his eyes. And something very specific seems to bring about the shift between the destruction we witness in the first half and the healing and reawakening we see in the second half – it’s all the people pushing their hands down into the dirt, reconnecting themselves with the physicality of the earth.
Eleanor: I had forgotten that bit. So perfect. So significant. No doubt about it, he was a genius.
This new way of seeing things is clearly set forth in “Planet Earth,” which comes from a different emotional place altogether, but addresses the same issues. Michael Jackson references the traditional western philosophical view of matter (a view of nature refined and espoused by Enlightenment thinkers) when he asks if the earth, the material world is
a cloud of dust A minor globe, about to bust A piece of metal bound to rust A speck of matter in a mindless void A lonely spaceship, a large asteroid
Cold as a rock without a hue
Held together with a bit of glue
and simply and directly refutes it: “Something tells me this isn’t true.”
In “Planet Earth,” MJ celebrates earth’s innate value and claims his own, deep connection and oneness with the earth, and his debt to nature. Contrary to traditional belief, the human race Michael Jackson belongs to is not separate from and superior to nature, but an integral part of nature. I really love the following lines:
In my veins I’ve felt the mystery Of corridors of time, books of history Life songs of ages throbbing in my blood Have danced the rhythm of the tide and flood Your misty clouds, your electric storm Were turbulent tempests in my own form …
And, he establishes and models a new relationship to nature – that of the lover to the beloved, rather than the owner to the owned or the master to the slave. In “Planet Earth,” Michael Jackson loves and cherishes the earth.
Do you care, have you a part In the deepest emotions of my own heart Tender with breezes caressing and whole Alive with music, haunting my soul. Planet Earth, gentle and blue With all my heart, I love you.
Willa: I love those lines also, and you’re right – he entirely reframes our relationship with nature and the material world. I see that throughout Dancing the Dream, where he repeatedly locates the spiritual within the material, and finds a sense of wonder and enlightenment within the physical world, not above it. (And I’m sorry about that word “spiritual” – I can’t seem to avoid it!) Even the preface suggests this idea:
Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I’m dancing, I’ve felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I’ve felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists. I become the stars and the moon. I become the lover and the beloved. I become the victor and the vanquished, I become the master and the slave. I become the singer and the song. I become the knower and the known. I keep on dancing and then, it is the eternal dance of creation. The creator and creation merge in one wholeness of joy.
I keep on dancing and dancing … and dancing, until there is only … the dance.
I’m especially struck by the line, “On many an occasion when I’m dancing, I’ve felt touched by something sacred.” Reading those lines in terms of what you’ve been saying, Eleanor, it seems significant that he connects a heightened spirituality, the “sacred,” with a heightened physicality, with “dancing.” The sacred isn’t something that transcends the physical body, but something he accesses through the physical body.
Eleanor: Yes, that is a theme he comes back to a lot. And, thanks for bringing this quote to my attention. As a relatively new fan of MJ’s, I’m afraid I still have a way to go in my Michael Jackson studies – but again, it fits so perfectly and reinforces my belief that he was very “consciously” trying to create a radically new way of looking at the world. … I love his saying that consciousness is within creation, in other words that matter has mind. Every time I look out my window or go for a walk, I wonder how anyone could ever doubt it – with each leaf knowing exactly how to position itself to get the most sun, with the roots of trees heading directly for my septic system for water, with my geese – not so silly – carefully teaching the goslings to swim and walking in a protective phalanx around them, my mare knowing so perfectly how to mother (how I wish my own mother had known as much) watching over her foal, high-tailing it and kicking up her heels in the sunlight. I don’t know about you, but I want to feel part of all this life – this energy – this consciousness within nature – not separate from the “one wholeness of joy.”
Willa: I agree. He creates a longing in his work to participate in “the eternal dance of creation” that we can see all around us, once we look at nature with deep appreciation for what it is and not just for how we can use it – for example, to appreciate a meadow or a forest for the wonder that they are and not just as a potential homesite or lumber to be exploited.
I’m also struck by the lines in the preface where he once again subverts all these hierarchical relationships – “the victor and the vanquished,” “the master and the slave,” “the knower and the known” – and connects the sacred with the lower sphere as well as the upper.
Eleanor: Yes, I guess it’s more surprising to me that he includes the “upper.” (Note how even our mental imagery is affected by the transcendent worldview.) In writing about Earth Song, I was reminded again that he seems not to blame those “on top” for the problems the world faces, but the system itself. We are all caught up in this system. And transcendence drives us all to rise to the top and seize control. By its very “nature,” it creates hierarchical relationships, so it is MJ’s goal to subvert them. And, he is not just subverting relationships, but the energy that drives us to create these relationships – the drive that energizes our culture. He wants to align the energy that drives human societies with the energy that drives nature. And, he himself is an example of someone really connected, really plugged in. I think it is this energy that he calls L.O.V.E. In the new global village, we can no longer afford to work against each other; survival depends on working for the well-being of all. And ALL means all life, not just human life (excluding mosquitoes and fire ants, of course).
Willa: Though I have a feeling he would include mosquitoes and fire ants as well! He sang a beautiful song about a rat, after all – it’s one of my favorite songs.
Thank you again for joining me, Eleanor. It’s been so interesting! You’ve really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about these ideas of body, mind, and spirit (that problematic word again, “spirit”). Now I’m wanting to watch Earth Song and read Dancing the Dream again with these thoughts in mind, and I love that. I love it when someone gives me a new path for entering into a work and seeing it in a different way. Thank you, Eleanor.
Posted on March 20, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged Dancing the Dream, Earth Song, Eleanor Bowman, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Michael Jackson, Planet Earth, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 170 Comments.
Thanks Willa and Eleanor. I really enjoyed the post and look forward to the discussion.
Me, too. And I am glad you enjoyed it.
I just wanted to say thank you very much for this post, it has been very enlightening to me, for a particular reason:
I’ve never been able to understand this disassociation between mind and body, humans and nature and have generally always felt that environmental concern, human rights (including women’s rights, gay rights etc.), animal welfare and so on, are not separate issues but rather one big issue that has to do with us not acknowledging that we are all one and the same. That we’re all part of the same thing called life, and that all we should care about is to protect and nourish life, whether that be other human beings, animals, plants or the planet as a whole.
What I didn’t understand though, was how this separatist belief came to be, where we get this feeling of superiority from. I come from a very non-religious background, and thus didn’t fully understand how much some types of religious beliefs, especially the division of mind and body, naturally plays a big part in this disassociation.
Thank you so much for giving me some new pieces to the puzzle!
(This is my first comment, have been reading for a while. Amazing blog!)
Thanks for your comment and welcome to the discussion. You said —
“I come from a very non-religious background, and thus didn’t fully understand how much some types of religious beliefs, especially the division of mind and body, naturally plays a big part in this disassociation.”
I think this is a very important point , because although the transcendent values I cite arise from a religious tradition, they have been so completely absorbed in our culture, that we take them for reality and are not even aware of them, for the most part…which makes much of what we do and how we feel about it… puzzling.
Which is one of the keys to Michael’s profound impact on people — through his art and his person (part of his art) — he was challenging these very deeply held cultural beliefs On the one hand, people responded wildly enthusiastically, because he was telling a truth that they recognized and were hungry for. Other people wanted to destroy him because he was undermining their perception of reality — of what was right and wrong, of what had value and what didn’t.
You know, I think this “immanence” was one of the many reasons I was first drawn to Michael Jackson as a child (other reasons being amazing music, dancing and his obvious challenging of gender expectations), as I from early childhood instinctively shared this feeling that separating the spirit or the soul from everything else was just plain wrong.
I think all children know this. Children don’t see the body as dirty for example, and many children feel connected to nature in a much more direct way than adults tend to do. They cry if they see a hurt animal and so on.
Maybe that plays into the way Michael shared a special connection with children, and they with him?
And I can’t help but believe that growing with Michael Jackson as my idol helped me retain this sense of connection into adulthood, maybe combined with my non-religious upbringing.
But all in all I just feel really stupid for not realizing the connection to religion. I never thought of that, because as you say, these beliefs are so absorbed in our culture. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, I guess.
Thank you. I feel like studying religion now, to understand more.
Wow girls, it’s a great post, very important!
I want to congratulate you! When you say:
“By so tightly weaving his Concerns for earth, nature, and humanity into a single thread – the themes of environmental degradation and man’s inhumanity to man, our wars on nature and each other – he is saying That These two tragedies are related, That they arise from a single source – the transcendent god of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Whose worldview and value system led his only son to the cross, Whose worldview and value system Abraham Brought to the Brink of disaster, and Whose worldview and value system are destroying the planet and leading us toward self-destruction. Both Earth Song is an acknowledgment of the situation we find ourselves in mean and a recognition That we have all been betrayed. ”
You focused a focal point of what in philosophy is called anti anthropocentrism and that you know so well analyzed in the work of MJ.
The term comes from the idea of man’s environment, that is impregnated with a very strong anthropocentrism of Western culture. Man is the only point of reference. Basically you use to call ‘environment’ a Total Body living-sentient, as if it were an ‘outline’ of some of its cells (our species).
The Earth is not “our environment” or “our home”, but it is the body to which we belong, we are one of its tissue, are like a type of integrated cells in a biological organism, and that depends on their total from his chances of homeostasis, ie the ability of the planet to correct itself by keeping in steady state conditions.
Carried by the Catholic version of the Bible published by Edward Arnold in 1970:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the beasts of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” ( Genesis, 1/26).
… And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the animals that crawl on the ground.” (Genesis, 1/28).
God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and all the animals and all the birds of the sky. Regarding that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea, they are put in your power. ” (Genesis, 9/1-2).
Here there is the idea of ’custody’ entrusted to the good administrator, which would be a strongly anthropocentric, there’s much worse.
But there was something different idea in some human cultures, as demonstrated by these thoughts taken from ancient Indian texts: “Every soul must be respected and soul means any order, any vitality that the substance could take the wind is a soul is imprinted in the air, the river takes a soul that water, torch soul into the fire, all of this should not be disturbed. ”
In one of the sutras we praise those who went wrong in the wind because it shows you know the pain of living things, and you add that to harm the earth is to attack and mutilate a living.
And it is true, Michael in his vein had felt the Mystery…
Hi, Nicoletta–Thanks for your great reply to this wonderful blog discussion. I appreciate your citing the passages from the bible that grant these custodial powers, and also appreciate your citing the sutras.
“I used to dream, I used to glance beyond the stars
Now I don’t know where we are–although I know–we’ve drifted far!!!!!”
These lines mean so much to me, and I would like to share with the community here that I have actually written a short ebook called “Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth” and it’s available on Amazon–you can go to the website and put the title in the search bar and you will see the ebook. I have been shy about this b/c I don’t want to sound like this is about me–no, it is out of love for Michael and for the planet he loved so much and was so concerned about. Joe Vogel was kind enough to read my work and I very much appreciated that in his busy schedule. I hope it’s ok if I share this with you. I agree so much with Eleanor’s comments about Michael’s heartbrokenness and anguish, yet his unshakeable commitment is so empowering.
thank you for your kind appreciation! I want to tell you that I’ll gladly your short ebook called “Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth” and read it with great joy and curiosity.
Please do not be shy because everything good and positive about Michael should be disseminated and shared as much as possible, especially if text on by people sensitive and intelligent as you.
Thrilled to know about your ebook Aldebaranredstar! Thanks so much for letting us in on it. I just downloaded it from Amazon and can’t wait to read it. Always love hearing what you have to say, so I know I’m in for a big treat.
Thanks for letting us know, aldebaranredstar! I just downloaded your book, and am looking forward to reading it.
Fascinating discussion as always, everyone! I’ll savor all the conversation at my leisure (when I have it!).
Dear Nina, ultravioletrae, and Nicoletta–you guys are the best!! the very very best!! I love you and feel very heartened by your comments. I am very touched and feel so happy about your kind kind comments!!! I agree that we need to work together and share “everything good and positive about Michael,” as Nicoletta said. That’s why I love this blog and have learned so much in many ways!!
Nothing to be shy about, aldebaranredstar. Your book is wonderful. I highly recommend it. Don’t hide your light….
You really capture and share his passion.
Thanks for writing it.
Just bought your book Aldebaran and read about half of it already.
it is just great, very informative and well written. Well done, and please don’t be shy about writing such a book, and that goes for any other blogger out there who is also hiding your light under that bushel.
Michael is no longer physically here to advocate for these things, and so it is up to all of us to speak his message whenever and whereever we can. We owe it to him and we owe it to our “sweetheart” Planet Earth.
Thanks so much, Caro!! I agree it’s up to us to advocate for his messages and especially his message to honor and respect his beloved ‘sweetheart’ Planet Earth!!
Now read the whole book and it is just great. Well done you. Anyone who promotes Michael’s message so well, deserves to have it read as widely as possible, so please publisize it as much as you can. Keep up the good work.
Not sure where Nina is – haven’t seen her respond to this blog yet – but I have just received 7 discs of the articles she offered to anyone who wanted them, and there is so much good stuff there. I especially appreciated her generosity as there is no way I could have accessed all this wonderful stuff, which is going to take me a long as a book to read, and give me as much joy. I do hope she also writes a book one day from all this info.
Thanks, Caro!! I so appreciate your support. I have tried to promote it in various ways but what I find is many people are too busy–that’s why the fact that Joe Vogel read it was remarkable and impressive.
I am including here a poem by Wordworth, written 1806, re nature and how our world has lost touch–he refers to paganism (the indigenous peoples you also referred to):
“THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US; LATE AND SOON”
THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Hi Nicoletta. I agree – those Biblical passages granting man dominion over the Earth, the plants and animals, are very troubling, especially when we see the devastation that “dominion” has caused. Like Aldebaranredstar, I appreciate your citing those. They strongly support Eleanor’s assertion that many of our destructive ideas about nature can be traced back to Judeo-Christian teachings – teachings that continue to shape our legal system, our worldview, our beliefs.
It’s interesting to contrast that view with the Gaia notion that the earth and everything in it is one organism. As you wrote, “The Earth is not ‘our environment’ or ‘our home’, but it is the body to which we belong….” If we adopt that view instead of the “dominion” model, then suddenly we see our destruction of the planet as a type of suicidal madness. For example, we can no longer justify the extinction of a species as the unavoidable price of progress, or proof that we are indeed the masters of nature and our destiny, but a sign that the global organism to which we all belong is dying.
It’s also interesting to think of how this Gaia model ties in with Eleanor’s ideas about immanence. It seems to me that what you’re saying, Nicoletta, about homeostasis, meaning “the ability of the planet to correct itself by keeping in steady state conditions,” connects in interesting ways with Eleanor’s ideas about “consciousness within nature.” I’m thinking specifically of something Eleanor said:
“…. about homeostasis, meaning “the ability of the planet to correct itself by keeping in steady state conditions,” connects in interesting ways with Eleanor’s ideas about “consciousness Within nature.”
Willa, this must be our hope, we must strongly believe this, we must for children.
Although everything points to a train in race to the “collective suicide” ,as if men were suffering from a blindness foolish that does not seem to allow you to see very clearly.
Willa, I take this opportunity to tell you that I wrote a short email a few days ago.
Thank you all, thank you for your intelligence and your sensitivity, thanks for thanks for the hope that you gift, because in this blog there are people so rare and precious to make us think for the better and positively!
“The Earth is not “our environment” or “our home”, but it is the body to which we belong, we are one of its tissue, are like a type of integrated cells in a biological organism…..”
Hi Nicoletta — I really like this idea — and I think it really describes the ideas Michael was expressing in Planet Earth.
I just want to say that I am completely blown away by this post. To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite composers, “This Is It”! I have been circling around this idea of MJ and a newly emerging world view/value system for some time, and I’ll chime in more later when I’ve had some time to really absorb what you’ve written and respond more in depth. For now, I’ll just say that I think you’ve cracked the code wide open on how Michael Jackson represents the leading edge of human development. Absolutely brilliant post. Congratulations!
Hi ultravioletrae —
Thank you so much for your kind words. I love mystery stories — and to me MJ is a miracle and a mystery that I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to understand and explain.
I look forward to your more in-depth response.
Don’t stop til you get enough!
Congratulations on yet another insightful blog.
Willa, I am another long-time fan, first time writer. A thousand blessings for this delightfully provocative forum of yours and Joie’s, and for your gem of a book, ‘M Poetica’.
And yes, for this community, and today, especially, for Eleanor’s contribution.
I had been a possibly unusually devout Roman Catholic until the age of thirteen. That summer, I read Iriving Stone’s ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’, his fictionalized novel about Michaelangelo. What struck me profoundly was the disconnect between the thorough dismissal of all sensual feelings (outside of marriage) as evil, and the recognition all those years ago that God and things divine would be most aptly reflected by having possibly the most sensual artist alive render them in art.
The more I learned about Michael’s history with religion, with the world, with evil, and with his own sublime gifts, the more I appreciated how he clearly experienced the sensual as sacred, and the greater my gratitude that he did so in a way that so undeniably thrilled and resonated with… everyone, almost.
So, a different route to a frustration similar to Eleanor’s. In his book ‘Life, Sex and Ideas’, the philosopher A.C. Grayling addresses this rather nicely:
“What is the source of the moralists’ strange idea that sex is wrong, bad, dirty, and in need of control? One answer is: the consequences of just such control – for if you dam a river it will flood elsewhere in awkward and unexpected ways. A major source of hostility to sex is religion. ‘Christianity gave Eros poison to drink,’ Nietzsche observed, ‘but he did not die of it, he degenerated – into vice.’ The belief that soul is heavenly and body earthly, and that everything earthly interferes with the soul’s aspiration to heaven, is the fountainhead of negative evaluations of bodily things. Yet as Mark Twain said, ‘Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”
He goes on to distinguish between the Abrahaminic religions, that is the Judeo-Chrisitian ones and Islam as well, calling them ‘religions of the book’, and others such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and other more indigenous religions and cultures. Ultimately, he espouses the distinction that Eleanor named as between transcendence and immanence. I am so pleased to have those terms now, and it will be a pleasure to develop the habit of replacing spirituality with immanence in reference to genuine holiness.
Viewing ‘Earth Song’ more closely, through this new lens, was edifying and gratifying – thank you.
Aldeberanredstar, I too will find your book on Amazon – always enjoy your commentary.
Nicolleta, as I read your words and quotes, I kept thinking how familiar they would have been to Michael.
What a gift to the world Michael Jackson continues to be…
Hi Monica —
Thanks so much for your comment. I especially like
” the more I appreciated how he clearly experienced the sensual as sacred, and the greater my gratitude that he did so in a way that so undeniably thrilled and resonated with… everyone, almost.”
I read “The Agony and the Ecstasy” at just about the same age as you. Although I don’t remember consciously reacting the way you did…. Who knows? Maybe — at an unconscious level — the disconnect you mentioned influenced me as well.
Thanks for bringing up Grayling. Very interesting.
‘Christianity gave Eros poison to drink,’ Nietzsche observed, ‘but he did not die of it, he degenerated – into vice.’ The belief that soul is heavenly and body earthly, and that everything earthly interferes with the soul’s aspiration to heaven, is the fountainhead of negative evaluations of bodily things. Yet as Mark Twain said, ‘Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.’
Hi Monica. Like Eleanor, I love your comment that Michael Jackson “experienced the sensual as sacred,” and I’m intrigued by the A.C. Grayling quote (which also quotes Nietzsche and Mark Twain – a rather unexpected combination).
As we talked about last week, American popular culture, especially, seems to be both over-sexed and overly repressed, and I wonder if that is part of what Grayling is addressing – for example, when he says “if you dam a river it will flood elsewhere in awkward and unexpected ways.” We deny our true sexuality – the natural expression of our sexual being (something we see in Michael Jackson’s dancing and throughout his work) – and instead focus on titillation (such as the media hysteria surrounding Michael Jackson’s sexuality).
I’m just blown away by these comments. They are fascinating. You all are the most wonderful people. And I am so grateful to Willa and Joie for inviting me to share my thoughts — and to Michael Jackson who continues to inspire and create community! As Monica says, “What a gift…”
Thank you Willa and Eleanor. At last a blog about what is for me Michael’s most important and inspiring attribute – his spirituality. I have taken 24 hours to reply cos I needed to get so many thoughts into a coherent response, so here goes.
Eleanor, although I agree with everything you have said, I am not yet ready to throw out the ‘spirituality’ baby with the bath water. I know Michael to be a deeply deeply spiritual being, and Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra have said so publically, so I am in good company ha ha. To be honest, I put him almost on a level with Buddha and Christ, though heaven forbid that anyone should make him the centre of a religion!!!
For me there is a vast, vast difference between religion and spirituality, and you have brought up both aspects in this blog. Religion is for the most part, a group journey filled with a God being emminent, transcendent, “up there on a cloud” kind of dogma. Spirituality on the other hand is a sole/soul journey, free of dogma in which God/The Divine/The Source/All That Is – whatever label you want to give it – is a very personal imminent journey into ones spirit. The only ‘religious’ group that I think from my journey and experience that comes close to any kind of spirituality, is the Quakers (and I know Eleanor like me you were once part of that group), in that they are conspicuously free of dogma, but if that had one, it would be, that they “see that of God in everyone”. Ken Wilber takes it a step further when he writes about spirituality being part of what he terms the ‘Kosmos’ , not just the cosmos of physical reality of stars etc, “but also the realms of mind, soul, society, art, Spirit – in other words, everything”.
That is what Michael represents for me. I long ago turned away from any form of organised religion (apart from Quakers, who although basically Christocentric, have a grouping known as Universalist Quakers) to consciously develop a spiritual approach to life, and I think Michael did the same. We know he left the Jehovah Witnesses partly because of their open disapproval of his career choices, but I believe that he outgrew the religious approach to life and got more in touch rather with his spiritual side and its subsequent development. He didn’t abandon God – far from it, I remember how at the beginning of so many acceptance speeches he went on thanking “God who makes all things possible”, but he had come to the point where God was now imminent for him and he was able to express that in his music, songs, dance and poems. ‘God’ from Dancing The Dream springs to mind of course as the most obvious, but there are many many more instances – “For me the form God takes is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the essence. My songs and dances are outlines for Him to come in and fill, I hold out the form, She puts in the sweetness”. Notice how he takes out gender from God, long before it was fashionable, as he did with some many things – goodness how far ahead of his time he was!
Teillhard de Chardin wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience”, and I feel that Michael knew that deep within himself and lived accordingly, and that for me is a huge inspiration to continue on my ‘spiritual’ journey, and follow his wonderful example.
This is my initial response, but I am sure there will be more. Oh boy, how I am looking forward to this discussion. Thank you once again.
“Eleanor, although I agree with everything you have said, I am not yet ready to throw out the ‘spirituality’ baby with the bath water.”
Hi Caro. This made me laugh, but I know what you mean. I agree with Eleanor whole-heartedly that rejecting the body in favor of the spirit or mind, and rejecting the Earth and the material world in favor of an afterlife, have proven to be extremely destructive in so many ways – environmental destruction, misogyny, homophobia, racial prejudice, religious intolerance, and on and on. I think her ideas are fascinating, and I feel that she’s given me a powerful new way to look at things. I’m especially intrigued by this idea of immanence, and I want to learn more about what that means exactly.
But at the same time, I instinctively feel that I – whatever it is that I call “I” – is something more than a body. What is that something? consciousness? mind? spirit? soul? And I think of my grandmother, who lived to be 98 but used to tell me that, inside, she didn’t feel any different than when she was a little girl. She’d laugh and say she knew she was older – all she had to do was look at her hands, and they told her she was old – but inside she felt the same as she always had. What was that part of my grandmother that lived to be 98 but never felt any older?
I guess what I’m saying is that I agree it is extremely destructive to reject the body in favor of an ethereal disembodied spirit – Eleanor makes a very compelling case for that, and I agree with her absolutely about that. But at the same time, I’m not ready to make “spirituality” a taboo word, or to deny the existence of the mind/spirit. It does feel to me that we are more than bodies, and I wonder if instead of rejecting the body in favor of the mind or spirit, or conversely rejecting the mind/spirit in favor of the body, if there is a way to see body and mind/spirit as integrated somehow.
And maybe that’s what immanence is – the integration of body and mind/spirit. My sense is that Eleanor isn’t saying the spirit doesn’t exist, so much as saying that it’s so intertwined with the body and the natural world that we can’t isolate it out as a separate thing. I think this is what Eleanor means when she says that “matter has mind,” as she describes so beautifully:
I’m very intrigued by this idea of “consciousness within nature” and want to learn more about that.
you said – And maybe that’s what immanence is – the integration of body and mind/spirit. My sense is that Eleanor isn’t saying the spirit doesn’t exist, so much as saying that it’s so intertwined with the body and the natural world that we can’t isolate it out as a separate thing.
For me absolutely immanence is integration of body, mind and spirit, and yes while it is so intertwinded, I believe that we do need to understand it as part of us, so that we are aware of it. I feel that most people are not that aware of Spirit , and that is where abuse of each other and planet comes in. If we really understood that all is one, then we would behave very differently.
I loved it when someone called Michael ‘His Immanence’ cos for me that is exactly what he is. He found, or rather I think was born with the awareness of all three, which I think is what a spiritual journey is all about – to ‘unfold and enfold’ as Ken Wilber says.
I feel the trouble is that people have combined mind and spirit as the same thing, and I think they are very different aspects of us. Spirit or Divinity or The Sacred is both Immanent and Eminent – something from outside that we contain and feel inside also, like everything on our planet. The trick is to feel that Spirit in both aspects within ourselves so that we become sensitive to it in everthing else as well, and act accordingly with love and respect. As Michael said “When all life is seen as divine, everyone grows wings”.
“My sense is that Eleanor isn’t saying the spirit doesn’t exist, so much as saying that it’s so intertwined with the body and the natural world that we can’t isolate it out as a separate thing.”
Willa –What I am trying to get across is that the word “spirit” — in western culture — has powerful associations with the JC spirit god, which has traditionally been the center of value. Within the context of Christianity, the word “spirit” refers to the nature of God as well as “that of god within humans.” Spirit is that aspect of humanity that is made in god’s image, that aspect of humanity that enables us to know the JC god; that aspect of humanity that sets us apart from and transcends the rest of nature, the quality which gives human life value, and whose lack makes all other life and the natural world less valuable or of no intrinsic value whatsoever.
(For a brilliant essay on the relationship between transcendence and the destruction of nature, see The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis, published by Lynn White, Jr. in Science in 1967.)
Click to access Lynn-White.pdf
Many people use the word “spirit” without reference to Christian spirituality, but the associations are there and are very powerful, so I prefer to use another word, like “life” or “energy” or “power” — words which do not carry these underlying and unconscious anti-nature messages.
Religions provide cultures with their perceptions of reality — they provide the lens through which we view and experience the world. The JC worldview and value system gave us a binary worldview and value system which is carried by the JC god, who as the center of value in a binary system, both confers and withdraws value —
A god that exists outside creation and is separate from, superior to, and in control of his creation confers value on transcendence; a god whose essence is spirit rather than matter, confers value on spirit rather than nature and the material world — and by extension on mind rather than body, reason rather than emotion; a god who is male confers value on maleness rather than femaleness; a god who makes (male) humanity in his image confers ultimate — or penultimate — value on humanity and associates his qualities with humanity.
This religio/cultural perception of reality has been so powerful that western culture and philosophy came to accept as a given the preposterous idea that nature was inert and mechanistic and dead. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” And everyone thought — “How brilliant!” “How true!”
Bringing this back to MJ… I am reminded of the corrupted perception of reality which the media provided concerning MJ and which derived its power from many of these deep-seated, but unconscious attitudes. It was so powerful that most people never questioned its distorted lens.
a continuation —
However, MJ was so powerful, that he drew — and continues to draw — attention to the distortion, and magnified its flaws so much that he threatened to blow it to bits — in fact he is blowing it to bits — he is exploding our cultural myth.
Hence, his incredible appeal to all of us who are suffering from cognitive dissonance, whose experience/ perception of reality has evolved to the point that it is in direct conflict with what we are told our experience should be. (We are all supposed to celebrate when the Dow goes up, but, I know it means that more resources are being consumed and that the more successful our economy is, the closer it is taking us toward species extinction. )
But, no good deed goes unpunished.
Hence, the intensely hateful and negative reactions from those who have too much ego, social status, money, power, etc., invested in the old worldview and value system and who want to keep the wool pulled over our eyes.
Hi Caro, I was looking forward to your comment — and thanks for such a long and thoughtful one. Like you, I always made the distinction between spirituality and religion — that spirituality had to do with a recognition of that of god in every man (woman and child) as the Quakers say or the law written on the heart mentioned in the gospels and religion was the dogma — the external rules and regulations. etc.
As to Michael’s “spiritual” journey, I think his idea of God slowly evolved from the traditional one to something better expressed by the term “the universe” or nature, itself. Of course, I can’t prove it. But that seems to be the idea expressed in Planet Earth. But, you are certainly right, he does use the term God a lot.
The problem I have with the term spirit is that it is usually thought of as something that humans have, but is lacking in other animals or the rest of nature. It is what sets humans apart and makes human life valuable, and its lack makes non-human life and nature less valuable, exploitable, expendable.
If we feel connected to the rest of life and nature, rather than separate from it; if we see human life as sharing the same power that energizes the rest of life and nature, then it seems we will be able to identify with it and be less interested in destroying it.
To me, MJ exemplified this power. It is this power that for me energized MJ’s art. It is this idea of connectedness that I think Michael Jackson so perfectly expressed in Planet Earth, and why I love that poem so much.
I love Planet Earth also, and Wings Without Me comes a close second.
I totally agree that the majority of people see the spirit as being something that humans have, but not any other life form on earth, and that is where Michael comes in for me, because he saw that spirit in everything, immanent in everything, but then he was a more enlightened soul than most!! My dream is that everyone comes to the place of balance where body, mind and spirit are truly one in ourselves and therefore in everything else, then perhaps Planet Earth can be saved.
When I talk about Michael these days I find more and more that I discuss his philosphy mostly due to this blog which has shown me so much more of him, and how his message was given in everything he did one way or another.
Hi Caro —
I was writing my long-winded reply to Willa at the same time you were posting this reply to me. I know that you use “spirit” in a different way — as do many. In my reply to Willa, I was explaining my own, personal objections to a word — and the connotations it has for me.
And, I, too, find that when I talk about Michael, I discuss what he means to me as a guide and, really, as a revelation.
I am just loving this conversation – hope you are too.
I totally agree with you that JC religion has fostered the current self-centred patriarchal attitude towards the way a lot of the people in the world view our planet, i.e. dominion rather than stewardship. I don’t in any way mean this as a criticism of you, but you come from a powerful Western country, which although it is in many ways cosmopolitan, it is still probably mostly JC centered, and that has to affect your point of view. There are billions of people in the world who come from other faiths and cultures who have a different take on spirit, and I would like to bring that into the discussion.
Michael travelled all over the world and met many people of different faiths, traditions and culture, from Hindu to Buddhist to indigenous people (who by the way I feel are the only ones to have got it right in terms of the spirit and our planet – nothing wrong, in fact everything right, with a God spirit living under the earth, or in the sun or moon, who affects our planet by the seasons and movement of the planets etc!!) He also studied Hinduism in depth as we know from its influence on his poetry and dance moves, and Islam from brother Jermaine, and I am sure he didn’t stop there. Remember how he sang in Going Places way back about traveling and learning about other countries and their traditions? I know he didn’t write that song, but it was certainly how he felt, even then I am sure.
I am very happy that Western and Eastern traditions are meeting now that the world has become a global village, and feel that it can only lead to more understanding of each other, and the fact that “the blood inside of me is the blood inside of you”, and that we all share the same spirit, even if we give it different labels and worship it in different ways. I feel the Eastern faiths have a lot of offer in terms of their understanding of spirit and how it moves in the world. For me this is where the balance lies in getting people away from the sole Western view of an Eminent God to the more Eastern belief of a more Immanent God or Spirit – of course Buddhists do not believe in a God figure anyway. There are many modern philosophers working on this and I think they are definitely on the right track, with a synergy of East and West in terms of spirit.
So you see, I am still not willing to throw that spirit baby out with the bathwater!!! I feel we need a full understanding of what spirit is, that everything on this planet is one, as Michael saw it. Then we can truly become body/mind/spirit, and with that understanding do much more to save our Planet Earth, because we are Planet Earth as well, made up of the same stardust as She is.
@ Caro said — “I don’t in any way mean this as a criticism of you, but you come from a powerful Western country, which although it is in many ways cosmopolitan, it is still probably mostly JC centered, and that has to affect your point of view. There are billions of people in the world who come from other faiths and cultures who have a different take on spirit, and I would like to bring that into the discussion.”
I haven’t taken your comments as a criticism. And, I am so glad you have been enjoying the discussion. I have, too. But, I confess that I have been frustrated at my inability to express myself clearly. So, here goes another attempt:
You are exactly right. The fact that the US is still JC centered affects my point of view. In fact, it has everything to do with my point of view. Because, the fact that the US is still JC centered affects the point of view of our policy makers — and the point of view of the general public — in that, as members of this culture, their/our destructive attitudes toward nature can be traced back to the JC worldview and value system. Which helps explain why we can’t seem to free ourselves from our way of life, a way of life that per capita, last time I looked, is using more energy and consuming more resources than any society on the planet.
And, as you point out, we are very powerful: we are so rich and our way of life is so seductive that we are succeeding in exporting it, our science, our technology and our spending habits all over the world. And just as western technology is all about the control and exploitation of nature, the western economy is all about the consumption of resources — at a greater and greater rate. And, if every person on this planet lived the way westerners do, it would take 3 earths to support us all.
I really get that other peoples and other cultures use “spirit” in a different way, but, in terms of this discussion, because of its power and ubiquity, it is the western worldview and value system and its understanding of spirit– that has traditionally seen nature as bereft of spirit (and valued spirit as it is manifested in humanity and human mind only) and merely something for humans to use (up!) and has figured out such effective ways of doing it — that is the problem.
I think MJ understood this problem at a very deep level. I think that is why he blames the JC god in “Earth Song” for what we are doing to the world. I also think that is why, he, having been brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, felt betrayed. What he had been taught was good, turned out to be bad, and what was bad was good (“Bad”).
I also think that he believed that the way to heal the world was through art, that to change behaviors, you had to first change the attitudes that motivated the behaviors, and to change attitudes required a deeply felt and powerful emotional appeal that would cut through all the garbage and get to the things that really matter-ed. And, so, he touched our hearts.
@ Caro: “I feel we need a full understanding of what spirit is, that everything on this planet is one, as Michael saw it. Then we can truly become body/mind/spirit, and with that understanding do much more to save our Planet Earth.”
Caro — How can we have a “full understanding” of something that is ultimately unknowable? Something that means not only different things to different societies, but to different people within those societies? And then, add in language differences. Does the word translated as spirit from a tribal language that doesn’t even have a written language mean what you mean by spirit? I read somewhere that the term that whites translated as “Great Spirit” from Native American languages had everything to do with the white man’s spirit and nothing to do with whatever the original term meant, which remains a mystery.
I think it is much more productive to focus on bodies — which are starving, being blown apart, riddled with diseases that can be cured — and species that are going extinct, as humans will soon if we don’t change our ways — in fact on all those things that Michael sings about and grieves over in “Earth Song.”
It is not the planet that is going to be destroyed, it is us — and maybe we deserve it. But I love my children and grandchildren deeply. And, I really believe in the goodness of human beings, but I also think we “know not what we do.” And so, I think an understanding of what and why we are doing the things we do — a diagnosis of our disease is really necessary before we can bring about a cure or heal the world. I think it is because we know not what we do, that Michael expresses a compassion for us all in “Earth Song.” I think he feels compassion because he knows we all have been betrayed — by this idea of a spirit world.
Spirit is an English word and English has become the dominant language of the west — if not the world. And, according to Wikipedia, “The English word spirit (from Latin spiritus “breath”) has many differing meanings and connotations, most of them relating to a non-corporeal substance contrasted with the material body.” Therefore, the word spirit, as traditionally and commonly understood in the English-speaking west has deeply rooted associations with Christianity which are hostile and detrimental to nature and the material world. Therefore, I think it would be advisable to throw this baby out — bath water and all — even if you are using it to mean something different. But, then, you know that. And, I don’t for a minute believe that I am going to change your mind about these things. The attachment to the idea of spirit is very deep. But, at least, perhaps, I have provoked some thought.
I think it would be a good idea to find another way of looking at what binds us all together. Our true common denominator is nature — the source of the mystery Michael felt in his veins. As he points out —
Corridors of time, books of history, Life songs of ages (the history of the species) are encoded in our DNA. The rhythms of the tides and flood are reflected in the beating of our hearts and the flow of our blood — our bodies respond to the moon just as the tides do. The forces of nature — her misty clouds, her electric storm/ are reflected in the power and shape of human emotions and the electrical impulses which can cause storms in our own brains.
I can’t think of a more powerful or beautiful way of expressing our deep connection to nature. What a genius Michael Jackson was! And, even if we disagree on the use of the word spirit, at least we can agree on that.
Hello to all of you,
This is one of the best chapters in this blog, congratulations to all of you, and thank you so much Eleanor for the very enlightening entries. they provide a totally new perspective on how to define spirituality versus immanence. Plenty of topics for thought.
I just have a few comments to add. Michael does indeed have a highly developed relaitonship with the divine, and is a real spiritualist and in fact perceived the spirit in our beloved Planet Earth. This last reminds me of Dr. Lin Yutang’s statement that mind and body complement each other, and cannot be mutually exclusive. If only we could slightly begin to appreciate how important all forms of life are to Earth. The other aspect that I would like to do research on is Michael’s relationship with the Transcendentalists whose works he extensively read and whose philosophy he ardently subscribed to. A very interesting chapter on this topic would be just as welcome, I believe his library has plenty of such works, and this would shed light on a lot of his beliefs. If I correctly remember, Emerson was his favourite.
Aldebaranredstar, on behalf of all Michael’s fans, thanks for what you’re doing for Michael, you state ultimate facts about his work. Recently another drawing of mine has been added to MJWN, my 2009 Tribute to his birthday, the first in the Art section of this perfectly well organized fan club.
Hi, Gihan, I just went to mjwn and saw your drawing–it’s wonderful!! Thanks for letting us know about it.
@aldabaranredstar, I purchased your ebook for my Kindle and have read the first few chapters. I gravitate towards books conveying Michael’s concerns for the earth and find much peace in knowing there was such a man advocating through his music for this sorely neglected cause. It is so correct that in Michael’s absence we must each use our gifts to carry forward his messages of peace, unity, love, social consciousness and awareness; you possess such a gift and it has been a lovely and comforting read thus far. Thank you.
Hi, Juney07, Thank you so very much for your beautiful and heartening words–I feel greatly comforted by them, and I agree so much with the gratitude you express for Michael standing up so powerfully as he did for our Planet Earth and its treasures of lifeforms, as you said so well–“a sorely neglected cause.” I feel deeply his pain and concern and love for our planet and its beings–its incredible ‘beauty and truth,’– which, as Eleanor aptly reminded us, Keats and Dickinson (and Plato too) saw as united, interlinked.
Gihan, Thank you so much for your kind words and your wisdom. I look forward to seeing your drawing and thanks for letting us know about it. I agree so much that work needs to be done to study the links between the Transcendentalists (or American Romantics, as they can be called) of the 19th century, and Emerson especially. That would be so valuable to help us understand Michael’s thought and to recognize a strong line that runs through American thought and literature, particularly as it relates to nature and the natural world.
I really appreciate the support and encouragement I have received–it brings tears to my eyes with gratitude and a feeling that Michael would be happy, so happy that we are focusing on his message and giving each other the L.O.V.E.!!!!
Here is a wonderful poem by Emerson that I am sure Michael read and that is related to Eleanor and Willa’s thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion, as well as the quote from Dancing the Dream that Willa cited.
Ralph Waldo Emerson – Brahma
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near,
Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
This is an enigmatic poem (!) and shows Emerson’s study of Vedic texts and the Bhagavadgita, which had been translated into English and were available at that time. Here is a comment that is helpful:
“the doubter and the doubt being one is the basis for all the Indian text. The
actor and the act is one, the dancer and the dance is one..When that
happens there is true union ..( that is the actual meaning of yoga, union)
If you are into any art form, you will realise at some point, there is a
space where you become one with music, that is when you are in touch with
the cosmos or the brahma” (sharika)
‘Brahma” can mean the single absolute being pervading the universe and found within the individual–the atman.
Aldebaranredstar, thanks for the quoted poem, there is so much beauty in these verses. I’m looking forward to building my own collection of Transcendentalist literature as it also relates to the Hudson River School of painters whom I so much admire. It would also be a wonderful example of how American culture can be stand for immanence,as Eleanor points out, and great beauty of output. So much has yet to be published.
Another point, your quoting of Brahman texts proves that there is no real “wall” between cultures, all have borrowed from each other and often with great results, proving what Michael believed can be done without resort to violence.
Hi, Gihan, Thanks for your reference to the Hudson River School of painters–yes, they are so wonderful. The Hudson is an amazing river–it is actually a fjord, and was called by the American Indians the river that flows both ways (as it is an estuary). I have taken a boat ride down the river and there are estates along the way, including the estate of FDR, the US President mentioned by MJ in TDCAU (“If Roosevelt were living, he wouldn’t let this be”). So many connections, and yes, I agree that all cultures, as you say, have borrowed from each other. We tend to think of them as separate, but not so. Alexander the Great went to India with his army. So there is a confluence of different cultures for sure all over the place and no ‘wall.’ Of course, the other idea is that there are shared human archetypes that manifest independently of direct contact (as in C.G. Jung, etc).
Great! But i saw the man who is coming to life in the video ,was Jesus.
Great post! Make me want to see and listening to Earth Song again to check it out.
It is a complex discussion. I had never understood the references to Abraham ’till now. MJ is questioning God? Wow, this is serious.
Well, I believe there is a God. But I don’t believe the god described in the bible. To me, the JC god is a vain tyrant, who need prove of love all time and that doesn’t love all his children equally. He chooses some from them. And the thing I hate more about JC God is his need for blood, sacrifice, pain, from de beginning to the end.
Let’s see to Cain and Abel. Both of them gave gifts to God. They gave to him their better.
As a hunter, Abel offered a hunt. Cain gave fruits, because it was he was what he did: he picked fruits. God liked Abel’s gift, but looked with disgust to Cain’s gift. Why? Shouldn’t he love both? Didn’t they both do their best? But God seems likes just meat and sacrificed animals.
Throughout the Bible, God ask for sacrifices: a lamb is killed for him all time; he asks Isaac death ( What a vanity, ask a father to kill his loved son just to prove how much he love him, God, more) he end to ask the death of his own son; death with a lot of pain. In this night on the garden, Jesus begs to his father do not do it to him. He cries; he refers to him, how you can see in originals tests in Aramaic, as “abbá”, that means daddy. He begs, as a child, to not be sacrificed to satisfy his father desire for pain. I can’t believe in such god.
I think MJ could not understand that neither.
He turned himself to the nature, to the god there is in each tree, animal, flower, in the beautiful of a waterfall, even in mosquitoes and fire ant. A god there is inside us, as part of all universe, as part of the nature.
A person who believes in this God is who put the spirit above the material, the mind above the body, when they are just one thing. But other religions say different things. Some religions, called pagans, say we reached out the divinity through our body, through sex. The sex opens the channel. Maybe because of that, Michael do not like the idea of sex being used as a weapon, a way to manipulate someone, because it is the channel for our body to connect to our divinity, the nature we all are part.
The God of the Bible ask us a lot of sacrifices. The nature just asks us to enjoy the beautiful of the life with her. Be part of her.
Hi Daniela – you wrote
The God of the Bible ask us a lot of sacrifices. The nature just asks us to enjoy the beautiful of the life with her. Be part of her.
That is so right. Trees, flowers, insects ask no questions, they don’t stress or worry, they just are, and we can learn so much from that I think. Nature has an infinitely abundant spirit- it is us who mess it all up – but when we come into contact with nature, as Eleanor described earlier, then we do understand, if only for a while!!!!
Could we please have an English translation of your conversation with Aldebaran below – I am sure I am missing something important.
I’m so sorry, sometime, I become so excited that I forget I need write in english, LOL.
what I said was : In Genesis it said that God breathed life into the man He created from clay. The breath of God is life. Breathing can be interpreted as the spirit, I think. Thus, the spirit is the energy that comes from God and that gave life to man. When blowing, God would give the man a sentelha of himself, of his power.
Aldeabaran responded in spanish, and I don’t understand spanish, I need translate it.
About the nature just asks us to be part o her, to enjoy her wonder… Mike said this, in his words, of course, in his poems in Dancing the Dream. 🙂
I translated Aldebaran’s words and it said this (more or less) “‘… It just needed breath to love.’ The letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives the life (because the spirit is the breath?). I agree with you. The breath means take inside you, something is there, outside – the air – the air is universal and common to all forms of life. Each creature need breath.”
Thank you Daniela. I understand your excitement and writing in your mother tongue, but you see, those of us who only speak English would have missed something very important in what you wrote and Aldebaran replied. The breath of God (and that can be seen in a non-religious way as well) is, for me, the Spirit giving life. Thanks for the reminder.
The point of Genesis’ second creation story — and Daniela’s comment, I think (given her previous comment) — is to show that the JC god only breathed his spirit — the breath of eternal transcendent life — into man, specifically a human male, Adam. He did not breathe his sacred spirit into any other non-human animal life — or into woman.
Genesis’ second creation story ( which actually is older than the first) clarifies exactly who is special, who is made in the JC god’s image, who partakes of God’s transcendence: male humans. The JC god’s breath signifies not the breath of biological life (no other biological life gets it, although they all have life and breathe ordinary air) but the spirit of eternal life. This story makes clear that non-human animal life (including female life?) is not sacred.
In the first story, Genesis makes this same point by depicting the JC god issuing commands to earth to bring forth plant and non-human animal life, yet man is created directly by god without using nature or earth as a vehicle to “birth” man into being. The JC god creates man, himself, in his own image. And, since the JC god is spirit rather than matter, creating man in his image means creating man’s mind and spirit — not his body. But, we have bodies.
So, in the second story, the JC god rectifies the situation by giving Adam a body made from clay, but, just so there will be no misunderstanding about man’s special position, the JC god then breathes his sacred spirit into Adam.
This story also clarifies not only the human/non-human animal relationship, but also the male/female relationship (woman subordinate to man), but, in the process, really muddies up woman’s position. She is in some kind of ontological limbo. Although, Genesis reports that woman was crreated alongside man in the first story (male and female, created he them), the second story makes clear that woman, who is not a direct recipient of god’s sacred breath/spirit, is not fully human.
The cultural messages and implications of this story have been devastating for nature, non-human animal life and women.
It has been clear from the comments on this post that the term spirit still has a lot of juice for many. But, for me, there is no joy in it, It is a toxic concept, traditionally used in opposition to matter and as a way of devaluing nature, and all non-human biological life — and woman — as is done in this story. But, that is just me…..
I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Michael Jackson went through the same evolution in religious thought that I have, but he seems like a kindred spirit — LOL.
The real point of the post was to find/tprovide an explanation for the positive and negative poles of people’s reactions to Michael Jackson. If at some very deep archetypal level, people intuited that through his art and his life he was threatening to destabilize an entire cultural worldview and value system, that would explain why those who benefit from the system hated him and those who are victims of the system or who identify with the victims of the system, or who realize the ultimate consequences of the system love him so.
A contnuation — I always have second and third thoughts… and so on, but I have been devoting my life to thinking about and studying these things for a very long time…
Although, western culture is living with the unfortunate consequences of the Christian worldview and value system, certainly some were unintended — and it did not come into being for no reason at all or for insidious reasons, but to serve a very important purpose — the survival of the urban way of life.
The Christian worldview and value system evolved from previous worldviews and value systems in the Ancient Near East, and it supported the urban imperial market-based way of life just as pagan religions supported the agricultural way of life and animism supported the hunter-gatherer way of life.
Over millennia, human beings imaged themselves vis a vis nature as a child of nature (hunter-gatherers), a partner of nature (agriculturalists), and finally (in the Ancient Near East), as nature’s owner and conqueror. To survive, hunter-gatherers had to value nature highly as the source of life, as their Mother. To survive, farmers had to interact and cherish and husband a domesticated nature as a man does a wife; and to survive, urban societies had to conquer or own or in some way control surrounding lands and peoples in order to provision themselves; thus they became empires. Christianity has provided the wv and vs for successive empires, including Rome, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the Holy Roman Empire), the Spanish Empire, the British Empire and now the American Empire.
I think we have ridden this horse as far as it is going to go. We need something radically different. During his life, Michael Jackson was demonized. After his death, he is being mythologized. He is more than a person or an artist; he is a symbol. And it is my belief that he symbolizes a whole new way of being in the world.
Well, as I said, I don’t believe in the God described in the bible (a spirit who gives a lot of commands), I mean, the bible was wrote by persons who want the other persons believe in something, and, of course, gave the age, they were very masculinist, and the idea of the woman being inferior to the man was perfect to them. But it is just a way to count the story, one of many – a bad way.
I believe there is a God, as I said, but my idea of God is that He is the energy, the LIFE… I mean, God didn’t do all things, God IS all things, and we are part of this all.
So, I think the men who wrote the Bible misrepresented the truth. The Bible isn’t the first or the only book to talk about creation, about God. So, who can say God did not breathe on the woman and on the animals? Of course He did. (I mean, the authors of the Bible took a good idea and messed it up.) And by breathing on all of us He made us part of this all, the LIFE, the energy, the universe; part of Him and He is not a spirit, He is the life, the power of creation of the nature, THE ALL.
I agree with Nicoletta, “the earth isn’t ‘our environment’ or ‘our home’, but it is the body to which we belong”. Shure! We are part of the universe; we are part of the all. We are part of the nature, not its owner. God is in us, not outside us or above us.
I cited Genesis to illustrate because everyone know it, but, of course, the men who wrote it used it to dominate above women and another animals, as the man was a chosen being to reign above all other things.
“The real point of the post was to find/tprovide an explanation for the positive and negative poles of people’s reactions to Michael Jackson. If at some very deep archetypal level, people intuited that through his art and his life he was threatening to destabilize an entire cultural worldview and value system, that would explain why those who benefit from the system hated him and those who are victims of the system or who identify with the victims of the system, or who realize the ultimate consequences of the system love him so.”
“He is more than a person or an artist; he is a symbol. And it is my belief that he symbolizes a whole new way of being in the world.”
Very interesting. I always had this feeling that the hate towards him is so irrational that on a subconscious level there must be more to it than what first meets the eye. I agree with you that he poses a challenge – simply with his being – to an old value system. Even though it probably was not conscious on his part. I also agree that ultimately he might become a symbol of something bigger than just being a pop star of an era.
Interestingly, the etymology of the word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin ‘spirare’–meaning to breathe. It is related to the Indo-European root (speis) ‘to blow.’ Other words, such as the Greek word ‘psyche’ also meant the breath (also butterfly or moth). And the word ‘prana’ from India also means breath. Breathing, of course, is the act of a living body. The meaning of ‘spirit’ as something separate from the body is not the original meaning.
I was thinking about the sexuality of the Greek gods–they were always incarnating in some animal form to seduce a human. The Greek god of Arcadia–Pan–is the son of Hermes, and also a player on the pipes, a musician. It is interesting to me that Michael was attracted to Pan or the satyr. There is a wooden carving near one of the inside gates of Neverland depicting a boy who is bending down to listen to a small satyr or pan figure in the grass. They are communicating. I sent Willa a copy of this at one point, so maybe she still has it (?). I don’t know how to post a photo here. I also have a drawing of Michael made by his costumer designers Michael Bush and Dennis Tomkins where Michael himself is depicted as Pan–with goat legs, flowers in his hair, and horns. I do love this drawing but do not know why Michael is depicted this way.
Thanks for the reminder of the etymology of the word spirit, meaning also breath. There are some Zulu words in our South African national anthem “Yisa Moya” meaning “come breath, Spirit or wind”. I so loved that that I named my black Siamese cat Moya!!!
I also love the drawing of Michael as Pan, and there are some more where his head has been placed on Michelangelo’s statue of David with cherubs floating around his head, and a strategically placed drape around his lower body!! Anyone who thinks that Michael had body dismorphic disorder just needs to see the many many images of him that there are in all sorts of guises!! He just loved to experiment with all sorts of things including Greek mythology, and here was another way to do it.
Hi, Caro–what drawing of Michael as Pan did you see?? The one I have I bought at auction as part of Michael Bush’s private collection and it has not been seen publicly, so you must have seen a different one. I love the paining of Michael with the cherubs!!
Hi can’t remember where. i have done so much ‘surfing’ of the web it could have been anywhere, or perhaps no where?? Glad you have something so precious for yourself though. I see there is another auction coming up and am always envious of the people who can afford to buy something that belonged to Michael.
Hi, Caro–well, there is “afford” and just “ignoring the bank balance, going with the gut, and keeping one’s fingers crossed that somehow it will all work out.” LOL!! In terms of Michael and Pan, I looked online to see if I could find anything, but I could only find Peter PAN. It is interesting how Pan and Peter Pan are linked in Michael’s worldview.
About ‘spirit’ and its original meaning from Latin to breathe (spirare)–there are other words in English from this source, such as ‘re-SPIRA-tion (to breathe, respiration), and in-SPIRA-tion (inspiration, to be inspired, maybe by the breath of creativity or even from ‘the mystery’ that’s ‘in our veins’?).
Em Gênesis se diz que Deus soprou vida para o homem que criou do barro. O sopro de Deus é vida. A respiração pode ser interpretado como o espírito, eu acho. Assim, o espírito é a energia que vem de Deus e que deu vida ao homem. Ao soprar, Deus daria ao homem um sentelha de si mesmo, de sua energia.
Daniela, “solo necesita poder respirar para amarte.” La letra de la ley, mata, pero el espiritu dar la vida (porque el espiritu es la respiracion?). Estoy de acuerda contigo. La respiracion significa tomar adentro lo que es afuera–el aire–el aire es universal y comun de todas las formas de vida. Cada creatur tiene que respirar.
Sorry I have wrote in Portuguese. And thanks for what you said. I have learned a lot from all of yours here.
Thanks for this post. It’s truly mindblowing!
I just wanted to add something about the word ”spirit”.
I agree with Eleanor that the word has been charged with the ”transcendent” meaning.
However, like Willa and Caro I’m not ready to abandon it…
There is a different way of seeing spirit, as found in so-called animistic religions:
That _everything_ is spirited!
Plants, animals, even stones have spirits according to such a viewpoint.
To me, this aligns very well with MJ’s worldview.
Another way at looking at ”spirit” or ”god” is as an eternal energy or presence that pervades everything that exists. (Like ”brahman” in Hinduism, or even ”the force” in ”Starwarsism”.)
I agree with Eleanor (and with MJ!) that this world would be a much better place if we as a culture could value the nature and our bodies just as much as we value our minds.
But I also feel very strongly that some kind of ”spirit” does exist – within us, not ”out there”.
That’s the difference between a blank stare and an lively interested stare, and, most notably, between a living human or animal being and a dead corpse.
Hi Bjorn – you wrote
I agree with Eleanor (and with MJ!) that this world would be a much better place if we as a culture could value the nature and our bodies just as much as we value our minds.
But I also feel very strongly that some kind of ”spirit” does exist – within us, not ”out there”.
We can have such a culture if we all work towards it. Michael said “it’s up to us” in This Is It, and he charged us at the end of a couple of songs to “change the world” – it is entirely up to us to heal the world!!
I feel the spirit is both inside and outside. Michael often said that his music and lyrics were dropped into his lap. In other words they came from outside of him, but through him. I feel we are all channels of and for the spirit – it is a balance of both.
good point about us being responsible for changing the world ourselves!
And yes – you might be right that there is also a spirit ”outside” us…
Where else would the songs come from?
Music is in every place (the music of the spheres), in the wind, in the noise of running water, in the birds singing and even in the ruffle of their wings, in the beauty of a sunset, in a flower blossoming, in the strength of the stately trees, in the smile of a child. He just needed to feel, he just needed to be opened so he would be impregnated by it; he just needed to be focused to feel the connection, as he was part of all this, himself. He also was part of this “symphony” and the wonder is that he had the ability to transform this music of life (of which we are part, but that we cannot always hear) in chords and lyrics that we can understand.
“I’m committed to my art. I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine. And I believe that that is the very reason for the existence of art and what I do. And I feel fortunate in being that instrument through which music flows… Deep inside I feel that this world we live in is really a big, huge, monumental symphonic orchestra. I believe that in its primordial form all of creation is sound and that it’s not just random sound, that its music. You’ve heard the expression, music of the spheres? Well, that’s a very literal phrase. In the Gospels, we read, ‘And the Lord God made man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.’ That breath of life to me is the music of life and it permeates every fiber of creation…”
“In one of the pieces of the Dangerous album, I say: ‘Life songs of ages, throbbing in my blood, have danced the rhythm of the tide and flood.’ This is a very literal statement, because the same new miracle intervals and biological rhythms that sound out the architecture of my DNA also governs the movement of the stars. The same music governs the rhythm of the seasons, the pulse of our heartbeats, the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of ocean tides, the cycles of growth, evolution and dissolution. It’s music, it’s rhythm. And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance. It’s like, my purpose, it’s what I’m here for.”
This is so beautiful —
I love where you say that “He just needed to feel, he just needed to be opened so he would be impregnated by it; he just needed to be focused to feel the connection…” because, you know, his music opened us and made us feel the connection — we have been impregnated by it – with a new vision. And, for me, it is a sexual feeling.
And, I love the quote — it is one of my favorites — it says it all. And honestly, I had forgotten the DNA reference and thought I had brilliantly come up with it myself in a comment I made earlier today. When it was his brilliance all along.
This union of the material and spiritual (life force/energy) characterizes both art and nature and is exactly what immanence means to me (even tho’ he uses the word spirit, he uses it in a non-traditional way, in the way you and Caro and aldebaran do.) And, I love that he defines the breath of life as the music of life that permeates every fiber of creation. What a wonderful definition.
I love it when he says —
“And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance. It’s like, my purpose, it’s what I’m here for.”
And, he did just that — he gave us that ecstasy.
“Sexual feelings” ? I think I didn’t get the point. But I would like to know better, if you could explain. 🙂
I liked he interpreted the God’s breath not like it is understood by the most people (Christian people) as God giving a “spirit ” (as it is understood) to the man, but connecting him to the “music of life”.
I agree with you, when he said spirit, is not as the most people say it.
When I quoted genesis I did not remembered that he had mentioned it in the interview. In my memory was recorded what he said about the world being a huge symphony orchestra and all being music and rhyth, and I go back to the interview because those words, but I got goose bumps when I realized he had the same interpretation I do about God’s breath (or perhaps it has been in the back of my mind, since I read it the first time, asleep -those subliminal information the subconscious get, but the conscious doesn’t).
I love what he said about his DNA, he felt he was part of the all, and this is it. When we all understand that, we will respect the planet, as a body to which we belong (as Nicoletta said) not as something that pertains to us.
“…biological rhythms that sound out the architecture of my DNA also governs the movement of the stars.” This is not only poetical, it is brilliant. We all are the same and the only thing. We are all conected.
Hi Daniela —
Sorry for the understandable confusion.
Anyway, when you said –” He just needed to feel, he just needed to be opened so he would be impregnated by it,” I felt that your words had a sexual overtone to them. That your choice of words implied that what Michael felt and manifested and communicated included sexuality. And I was reminded of Monica’s comment that MJ —
“clearly experienced the sensual as sacred”.
And I was also reminded of what you said about Michael not using sex as a weapon. I think he thought a lot about that and conveyed that message often in his music. But, I would like to hear more from you about that.
And, maybe I have just been listening to too much Marvin Gaye lately.
Got it. Thank you.
The idea of sex as a sin is a Christian/Jewish construction. To pre-Christian religions the sexual act is a way to reached out the divinity, primarily the religions that worship the Goddess, the sacred feminine. Ii is said the woman generate, so she has divinity (the power of give life) more vivid, more touched on (maybe because women is more sensible, more opened to feel the energy “the music of life, I guess) and by connecting to her, the man reaches out his divinity to, and this connection is made by sexual relationship, sex is (or must be) a union between body, mind and spirit (the energy of life, as I understand it).
I think Michael had a similar idea about sex, so, for him, sex isn’t a sin, but some people used it for bad, unhappiness. I mean, he, of course, wasn’t neither promiscuous nor liked nasty sexual acts, because to him, sex is sacred, a way to reach out the divinity.
I like the idea of a Goddess, rather than a God, it sounds to me more appropriate. The nature, the music of life gave life to us, and, the music of life is a woman (oh, ok, I am kind of feminist).
The Christian God is very masculinist. The Bible put the women in the very unfavorable condition, and I hate it.
I found the following words in a blog about Sacred Feminine, and I remember what you said in this post, Eleanor.
“The main difference between the patriarchal heavenly Father and the telluric and cosmic Mother is the transcendent and distant condition of the (male) Creator and the immanent an eternally present essence of the (female) Creator, in all manifestations of Nature.”
Mike is very masculine and sensual in several occasions, but, he also has a much accentuated female side, lot of sensibility and suavity.
Some religions also say that man and woman are two poles of the force, the union of two sexes get the equilibrium. Michael seems to have both poles on him. And I don’t talking about bisexuality, but just two different energies that there are in man and woman. Like … man is proton and woman is electron, but Mike is positive and negative at the same time… he is a neutron, he has the equilibrium.
Daniela, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful quotation – I’ve been pondering it for several days. Not only is it a wonderful expression of “the union between the material and the spiritual” that we’ve been talking about, it’s also helped me work through some thoughts that have been nudging at the back of my mind throughout this discussion, and for a long time, actually.
Basically, what I’ve been grappling with is that, while Michael Jackson obviously felt a deep connection with the natural world, he was not an environmentalist – at least, not as we generally define that. He did not live gently on the land – just the opposite, actually. He “lived large.” He used a lot of resources. He wanted to have ten children. He loved innovation and technology, spectacle and material culture. I think this is one reason environmentalists have not been more receptive to Earth Song and have even seen it as hypocritical – because he was not an environmentalist in the traditional sense, and because they felt his jet-setter celebrity lifestyle contradicted his environmental message.
In fact, I would go even further and say that, in general, the environmentalist and the artist are motivated by very different impulses and tend to be at cross-purposes. While the environmentalist wants to “leave no trace,” the artist definitely does. Specifically, the artist wants to substantiate the insubstantial – to alter the material world in a way that creates a physical representation of the sacred, of the imagination, of his or her inner vision. In other words, coming upon a fallen log in the woods, the environmentalist would almost certainly want to leave it undisturbed, while the artist may feel compelled to carve a totem that expresses something meaningful to him or her, as well as something meaningful for the community in which he or she lives. And I find myself deeply drawn to both viewpoints. It’s very confusing…
It seems to me that traditional “leave no trace” environmentalism is doomed to failure for two reasons. First, it’s essentially negative, almost to the point of self-loathing. (All humans are bad, even if they are kind, well-intentioned people, simply because of the environmental impacts of their existence. All human activity, by definition, is bad. All human culture, from the Bible to Beethoven to bulldozers and bubblegum, is bad.) And secondly, it demands the impossible – that we have no environmental impact. That’s simply not possible. All species affect their environment. (I’ve been following the restoration of Yellowstone’s wolf populations for several years now, and it’s astonishing the impact they’ve had – from the browsing habits of elk, to the distribution of aspen and willow groves, to water quality and stream temperatures, to improved habitat for beaver, songbirds, and trout. The ripple effects of that one species is amazing.) Humans are a species also, and we will have an environmental impact. The question is what kind of impact should it be?
All of this has me pondering Michael Jackson’s words, “I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine.” I wonder if his ideas about art might provide guidance for a new way of seeing the interface between the natural world and the human world of imagination and culture. Specifically, I wonder if it provides a way out of the either-or trap of the impossible zero-impact ideal of the environmentalist on the one hand, and the destructive exploitation of the industrialist on the other. Specifically, I wonder if art provides a way for mindful interaction with nature – a mindfulness that earlier cultures seem to have possessed (perhaps guided by their visionaries and artists) and that we seem to have lost.
Just have to say quickly that I have a totally different concept of what an environmentalist is than you have expressed here, Willa, and I actually have never heard this definition–that an environmentalist leaves no impact at all or a minimal one. I guess there is no set definition of environmentalist b/c I certainly think Michael was one. I think this concept that an environmentalist never gets on a plane, or other what I consider extreme no-impact ideas, are not valid at all. I have even heard the Dali Lama criticized for getting on a plane to spread the message of peace. Frankly, I think that is not an effective definition.
Hi, Willa, Thanks for your reply, which I am replying to here as we are running put of reply buttons. I feel that we are not speaking the same language here and maybe I should stop trying to communicate. But here’s one more try–you are talking about individual actions–save a penny times a million pennies and you have a lot of $$, etc. On the one hand, this can be valid. On the other hand, we are pressured/forced/pushed into certain directions by the choices that are available and easy by forces ourside our control, such as government and big corporations and the choices that they make. Look at the improvements in the MPG (miles per gallon)efficiency of cars–was this something an individual could have achieved alone? No. It took government and corporation action. Some cities (Mexico City for example) have banned single plastic bags. The amount of plastic garbage that ends up in the oceans is simply staggering–something on the unimaginable scale of 100 billion tons a year, and the great garbage patch in the Pacific is the size of Texas and growing.
There is no reason that every supermarket or every store has to hand out single plastic bags, but they do and we take them. Now is it our individual responsibility to bring our own bags into the store or is it the store’s responsibility to have paper only or it it the government policy-makers responsibility to protect the environment by banning single plastic bags?? You are just looking at the individual and saying–“for shame, you didn’t bring a re-usuable bag when you bought your groceries. The whole problem of plastic pollution is your fault. You are not an environmentalist.” I am saying this is not a valid measure of an environmentalist b/c there is more to it than this.
I am not saying that an environmentalist does not care about individual choices, but to judge Michael on that basis alone, on some choices you are shaking your finger at (and I am not sure what they are either–did he buy too many books??)–I find unjust. Yes, we have to use SOME wood products–that is not the point IMO. Where did the wood come from? Is it from a sustainable source? One thing that really bothers me is buying things made in China or other distant places when you are saving only a few pennies and encouraging all kinds of ills, and actually endorsing them, including shipping all the great distance across the oceans. I avoid buying anything from China. I also do not eat fish or meat. Well–maybe I am going to be labelled as not an environmentalist along with Michael and who knows who else, but I donate to environmental organizations, sign petitions and try to talk to people about the environment. Can you see this larger aspect of environmental activism and not judge Michael, of all people, negatively. Michael is someone who has done so much to awaken environmental consciousness–isn’t that why are we discussing Earth Song???
Willa, you addressed a question that I always disturbed me. Michael loved the planet, I have no doubts; he loved the nature. But his lifestyle certainly was not a healthy lifestyle for the planet. So, I understand why many people see as hypocrisy his words about conservation goals. Kind of like “do as I say, not do as I do.” How to preserve nature with a huge collection of sunglasses, jackets, many cars …
Preserving is not just saying no to forest clearing. Consumerism leads to destruction. This habit of having more than is necessary is what makes humans so harmful to nature.
I hate to criticize Michael, but I confess that I think he, although he wanted to preserve the planet, did not act accordingly.
What is your idea of an environmentalist? A poor person who eats a few grains of rice a day and wears one outfit and walks or rides a bike? I don’t see this as a reasonable definition. There must be a better one IMO. I sometimes come across comments where the attitude is if you drive a car, you can’t express any criticism of an economy centered around the consumption of fossil fuels. I have read Michael criticized as a vegetarian b/c he occasionally ate chicken. Isn’t there a difference between owning some pairs of sunglasses, that were probably given to him by RayBan, or jackets, needed for performances and appearances, and clearcutting forests? dredging the ocean floor with tankers? removing entire species from an ecosystem? Or is it all the same thing to you?
Hi Aldebaran. I agree that Michael Jackson felt a deep concern, a deep love for the planet, as you describe so well in your book. But I also agree with Daniela that environmentalists are defined by their actions as well their words, and I think he felt contradictory impulses about that, as many of us do. He loved the environment, but he also loved art and innovation and human material culture – and that consumer culture is destroying our planet, as Daniela says. Oil companies don’t devastate the environment because they are run by evil people who hate the planet – I don’t believe that at all. They do it to meet consumer demand, and each of us who drives a car is part of that demand. So in that sense it is all the same thing to me, because it’s all connected.
I love walking in the woods, and just feel heartsick when I’m walking and come across a clearcut. But I also love wood furniture, and wood floors, and books made from paper. So how can I criticize a logger for providing me with the things I want? That doesn’t feel right to me. To me, it’s only honest to acknowledge the extent to which I’m part of the problem, and try to change my actions and desires.
Here are some definitions that I found that seem reasonable and accurate to me:
“Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution.
At its crux, environmentalism is an attempt to balance relations between humans and the various natural systems on which they depend in such a way that all the components are accorded a proper degree of sustainability.”
“any person who advocates or works to protect the air, water, animals, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects.”
“The definition of an environmentalist is a person who is concerned with protecting the earth’s environment, solving environmental problems and preserving natural resources.”
“a person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.”
“a person who is concerned with the maintenance of ecological balance and the conservation of the environment.”
I consider that Michael is an environmentalist according to these definitions.
On a personal note, I have a friend for many years who is a wildlife biologist. He studied an endangered mountain deer species in Chilean Andes. He had to fly to Chile to do his work, drive a car around, etc. He also had to have rather expensive equipment. He later studied the jaguar, the grizzly bear, and now works with the Maasai in Africa to try and help them see the benefits of preserving the wildlife that they may instead see as enemies to their lifestyle, which is increasingly involving cattle and other livestock (which compete with wildlife). He lives in USA so he has to fly to Africa. I consider him an environmentalist according to the above definitions and he cannot be judged by his own personal lifestyle as far as what he wears, etc. in any way to negate the fact that he is an environmentalist b/c he has devoted his life to preserving wild species that are endangered. I sent him a link to the film of Earth Song (parts of it shot in Tanzania), which he had never seen, and he was very impressed and said he would show it to the young Maasai that he works with.
I just don’t see how anyone can see Michael as other than an environmentalist–you can’t negate his life work because of sunglasses, etc.
I understand the point you are trying to make, but I think I would describe it as when you know better you will do better – as the saying goes. Everyone in the world is conditioned into a way of thinking that takes learned lessons to reshape. I think Michael was a work in progress on that front. Yes, he consumed many items, but also he left Neverland mostly untouched, only developing 40 acres of the almost 3000. He also liked second hand stores and Goodwill.
I can personally speak on the consumption part and how hard it is to try to be a conscious consumer. Try knowing where everything you buy comes from, how it was made, the working conditions of the people who made it and the working conditions of the people who sell it. Hard, I tell you.
One of the greatest problems of consumerism is over population. Reducing the number of humans on the planet actually just has to be done.
I just don’t buy the argument that I have some wood in my house so I can’t object to a logger clearcutting a national forest, destroying the Amazon, reducing the rain forests to palm oil plantations (labeled deceptively as ‘vegetable oil’ in a million different products). Because there are sustainable ways of getting a wood product in my house, b/c I believe governments need to regulate logging, and I believe some do or try to but more needs to be done for sure. If China would do more to stop importation of ivory, it could save the wild elephant herds, which are being decimated by poachers.
Did individuals know that smoking would lead to lung cancer–who did the tests on that? individuals? Who put the warning labels on packets of cigarettes? When?
One other big problems now involves the ‘high seas,’ areas which have always been regarded as free for all. Right now nations only have jurisdiction over so many miles from their land, so what goes on in the ‘high seas’ is unregulated and extremely damaging. Many marine species are on the verge of collapse.
There are 7 billion people on this planet–was Michael supposed to solve all the environmental problems that this entails–all 7 billion doing varying acts, some harmful? Was he responsible for the poachers killing the elephants in Tanzania? or am I responsible? or you? Or are we each responsible? What is the responsibility of governments, leaders, to take these issues seriously and try and solve them?? Am I responsible for the gestation crates that the sows spend their whole lives in so people can eat bacon?? How can you put all this on the individual? I don’t get it.
No, aledabaranstar, for me an environmentalist do not need be poor or just ride a bike or eat just few grain of rice. Your comment sounds very ironic and I dispense ironies.
I just do not agree that having high consumption is something that is good for the environment. We generate a lot of garbage when we consume more than we need, as well as we generate a necessity of clearing forest when we decide to live in houses much larger than we need. There’s no way to build without destroyed before, is there?
You need to consume a balanced way. It’s no need only ride a bike, but you should not always use cars powered by fuel oil.
It makes no sense to say that one should not throw pollutants in the air, but have several cars and never leave home without one. It is inappropriate to speak in preservation and have a shoe for every day of the year.
There is no place for talk about preservation, but never opt to recycled stuff. Where the paper comes? It comes from trees. So if you use a tremendous amount of paper and never opt to recycled paper, to say that you care about trees being overthrowing in a large scale is incongruous.
I’m not saying that Michael never opted for something that would be best for preservation, but I can’t accept that the lifestyle of a person who consumes too much does help the environment.
Of course, being who he was, it was very difficult do not consume a lot. I thing he probably want do the best for the planet, but it doesn’t mean, to me, his lifestyle is the best example of a lifestyle to preserve the environment.
And mine lifestyle neither. I’m a consumerist. Like Willa said, we are part of the problem.
Mike said about resolve the problem: “It begins with us”. Right! We need change our lifestyle and not only want someone else change his/her.
Or our words will be just words.
If we do not act accordingly, our words are just empty words.
It’s not enough to sign petitions, donate, pressuring the government to do something, if we act in a contrary way in our individual life. So is ok, if I donate to Amazonian communities who live exploiting the land sustainably, and if I participate in parades demanding the end of oil spill at sea or in a river, if I will press the government to edit more protective law, but, then, come home in my very polluting Jip, open my closet and try to choose between my three hundred pairs of shoes, and I give a party producing one ton of plastic waste?
Does it make sense? In my opinion, doesn’t.
Is it enough to attend a world conference on the environment, say advocates environmental causes, holding placards, be sensitive to environment cause and return to his house full of stuff and sleep expendable believing the simple feeling of love for the planet will change reality? It will not.
We cannot preserve the planet by only desiring to do it, with good intentions. Factories pollute, machines destroy, but, as Michael himself said, are people there, behind the machines; people are in charge of the factories. When I consume too much, I encourage increase production. And to produce more, is need to pollute, and deforest, and send garbage to the rivers.
If I want to preserve the Amazon, I should not buy wood that is not harvested sustainably. I must do my part.
I do not think that being an environmentalist’s just say you love the planet, not killing an animal and or signing petitions, etc., is to do something more effective, is acting to preserve the environment. It is necessary to consume less, giving the nature time to heal herself.
How can I push the government to enact laws that protect the Amazon and be so consumerist? Consumerism generates the need for expansion. It is contradictory.
To have sustainable development, we need to slowdown the development (understood as development the technology production, increased of the consumption, expansion of cities) for which nature has time to recover. And it behooves those who reduce consumption? US !
I cannot sign petitions to preserve the Atlantic Forest (another typical Brazilian biome that was almost totally destroyed) and buy a huge farm in the region of the Atlantic Forest and grow soybeans, because for that, I’ll have to deforest. So, I could say I’m care about it.
Our feelings and desires will not change the reality of the destruction we did. Our attitudes will.
How can I say that I want to preserve the planet, and buy a new Ipod every month?
I think Mike had a lifestyle that was harmful, as the most of us. But I think he tried to change it, such as he could. And I heard he taught his children to not to be so consumerist. I hear that when they went to a toy store, he just bought to them just one thing, and one they really want. And also taught them to share the thing they got as gift from his fans. So, he was trying to act according what he said. It is fine.
He was not responsible for all problem of the world alone; it is not what I mean. We all must to do our part. But I will not say Michael was perfect just because I love him.
I said about sunglasses just an example of an unnecessary consumption of something, ‘cause that, in the end, is one of the major causes of the problem. If we add all our unnecessary overconsumption, we will make a gigantic mountain of trash that does not need exist. All we do wrong in doing it, and he too. Is my opinion, and I am sure he knows he did. And are trying to do his part to change it.
We can’t control what the others do. So we need control what ourselves do. I can’t prevent the girl living in the next door to have ten children, but I can do not have ten myself. Do my part. What I can’t do, really, is say to her do not have ten children, and, then, have ten children myself.
In my opinion, we should accept the fact the planet can’t support the lifestyle of the most of us. So to save the world just words, feelings, good intentions aren’t enough; we need change our habits.
I think if one is only allowed to raise awereness about environmentalist issues if he lives accordinly, then actually it’s not many people who would be allowed to do that. Al Gore won a Nobel Peace Price for his climate change activism, but I’d like to see his carbon footprint. I suspect it’s a lot bigger than mine, since I at least do not have a car, I use public transport. And I very rarely travel by plane and I definitely do not have private jets and big houses like Gore does… But I use the internet, I watch TV, I listen to music, so I consume more electricity than strictly needed etc. So we all could do better in that area and I think actually very few have the right to criticise others in this area. And like you said, Willa, zero-impact living may essentially be impossible and to require people to strive for that may actually be counter-productive, because people will see it as some kind of extrimism that is impossible to achieve (and it is, IMO). Even many environmentalists – they preach and then jump on an plane to travel to the next environmentalist conference, so by the extrimist view they are hypocrites too.
One can say that Michael could have lived a more “modest” lifestyle, being more conscious about the carbon footprint he left, yes – but, similarly to Destiny, I see this whole thing as a process and progress for humanity and for individuals as well. Rarely are people able to change their lifestyles and habits from one day to another. It may actually take generations to change certain habits… Michael’s main role might have been to raise awereness through songs, poems etc. It’s also not completely true that he did not try to do things for his environment. I have read (actually it was in an extract I have read from Dieter Wiesner’s book) that Neverland was full of snakes and scorpions because Michael refused to exterminate them, because his view was that it belongs to them and he tried to leave room for the natural wild life at Neverland as much as he could. Even if it led to some inconveniencies.
It feels to me like you are all shooting the messenger, again.
Willa quoted Michael as saying – “I believe that all art has as its ultimate goal the union between the material and the spiritual, the human and the divine.” I watched part of the Michael/Oprah interview last night where he said this, and for me this is one of his main messages, and there are many many implications in it. He also said during TII Earth Song that it is up to us, not them.
I think as I wrote somewhere else that for me Michael was an epitome for duality, and I think this discussion about him and environmentalism highlights that again. Some of you think he was one thing, and some of you another, because of the need to define an environmentalist. Michaels message was about caring for the planet, not necessarily how to do that. He wanted us to figure that out and do something ourselves in whatever way we could be it individually or as a corporation – not using plastic bags, being a vegetarian, being a professional ecologist, a Greenpeace worker, finding alternatives to oil, finding a cure for cancer or HIV etc etc etc., they are all ways to fulfil his message.
Oprah asked him what was his purpose, and part of his reply was “to serve in the best way i can”, and for my money he did exactly that the best way he could in his given circumstances, and that has become my inspiration to live a better life. I can listen to his message to love our “sweetheart” and to paraphrase another singer of whom Michael was a fan “I do it my way”.
Just another thought to highlight shooting the messenger idea- Jesus preached what became Christianity but he was Jewish!!! Did it make his message any less meaningful?? completely misunderstood in my humble opinion, but not less meaningful to millions of people no matter how they live that message !
Michael just wanted us to love our planet and be aware how we do that – I get it.
Hi Willa — What an interesting discussion has been going on while I was reveling in New Orleans’ sacred sensuality — great food, wonderful music — and SPRING everywhere.
I wanted to comment on this, especially in light of what you said later on in the discussion —
“Specifically, I wonder if it provides a way out of the either-or trap of the impossible zero-impact ideal of the environmentalist on the one hand, and the destructive exploitation of the industrialist on the other. Specifically, I wonder if art provides a way for mindful interaction with nature – a mindfulness that earlier cultures seem to have possessed (perhaps guided by their visionaries and artists) and that we seem to have lost.”
To me an environmentalist is someone who values nature and who understands humanity’s relationship to nature as one of dependence — and who gets that if we continue living the way we do, we will go extinct. I think MJ falls into that category.
I think, as an artist and an environmentalist, he felt it was his number one responsibility to share with us his view of the world through his art by touching our emotions in hopes of changing attitudes. In this way he could do the most good.
To me the either-or trap has to do with sustainability — we can continue to lead and promote the “western way of life” and an economy which depends on an ever increasing consumption of goods, which means the ever-increasing destruction of natural resources in the production of those goods OR we can create a new way of life based on a different economic model — one that does not require ever increasing growth of population and ever increasing consumption and destruction of the very environment we depend on. And, frankly, I can’t see any way out of it; and I don’t believe Michael Jackson did either — which accounts for his feeling of desperation in Earth Song.
As to the role of art —
Providing societies with a common perception of reality — a common worldview and value system — that enables individuals to to cooperate in the pursuit of a way of life and work for the common good is a function of religion. And art has been one of the main avenues a religion takes to get its message across because art interacts with the emotions. And the creation of a worldview and value system requires interacting with our deepest emotions and drives, those that have to do with survival — with working together for the common good. And the two relationships which collective survival depends on are our relationship with nature and the relationships of males and females — so religions focus on both. Of course, within each culture there are wide variations among individual perceptions of reality, but, as we know, those who vary too much are burned as heretics or ostracized (MJ?) — or institutionalized.
Art, like religion, is all about providing or changing perceptions of reality through appeals to emotions. Great artists, like religions, provide us with their own perception or version of reality — whether it be in the form of drama or painting or music or sculpture or… And it seems to me that they fall into two categories — the categories of praise or blame. When a society is flourishing, great art amplifies and affirms the existing perception of reality (think of all the great art that celebrates Christianity, for example — the music, the painting, the architecture.) When a society is headed for disaster, it is the role of the great artist, through her/his art to question the path a society is on. And, MJ falls into this category — and he was punished for it. (MJ was certainly not alone, there have been many great artists in the 20th century who have questioned our values — think Picasso’s Guernica or theater of the absurd, etc.. — but often great art has not been accessible to everyone — therefore, its impact has been felt, but also limited. MJ’s reach was global.)
The perception of reality MJ was questioning views humanity as existing outside of nature and values humanity over nature and sees human survival as a function of science and technology (human mind) and is in denial concerning nature’s indispensable role. MJ’s own perception of reality was that humanity exists within a nature that is supremely valuable — our own lives depend on it.
So, on the one hand, I don’t think MJ’s art provides us with a way out of the either-or trap; I think he is telling us — change or die.
But on the other hand, I think MJ’s art does make us mindful of nature and inspires us to find a new way of interacting with nature — and each other.
So, I don’t think that art per se provides a way for a mindful interaction with nature — that is, I don’t think that art per se inspires us to value nature. I think art inspires people to work together for the common good, but how the common good is achieved varies. For 2,000 years, we have believed that attitudes of transcendence promoting human progress in terms of the control and use of nature to benefit humans did in fact promote the common good. But today, with population growth and diminishing resources, to continue to promote these ideas is suicidal. So, we need a new vision of the common good. I think MJ’s art and its power speaks to those emotions that are going to make that new vision a possibility.
As you and I have both noted, it is really difficult to get complicated ideas across without being misunderstood — so, I hope I have understood you, and I hope I have been able to express myself clearly. And, I hope my response has actually addressed the issues you were raising.
Actually, my point was that I wonder if this idea of art as “the union between the material and the spiritual” might also provide a way to reconceptualize the relationship between Nature and Culture, between the natural world and the world of imagination (and what we’ve created through our imaginations).
Right now, it seems to me that the two are seen as essentially at odds. For example, like Jacksonaktak, “I use the internet, I watch TV, I listen to music, so I consume more electricity than strictly needed” – in other words, every time I participate in popular culture it feels like a tiny blow to the environment. On the other side, it often feels like the best thing for the environment would be if human culture didn’t exist.
(Interesting side note – My son and I recently read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It’s a novel – a comedy, actually – that tells the story of the Apocalypse from the Anti-Christ’s point of view. In this version, the Anti-Christ doesn’t contemplate the end of humankind because he’s evil, but because he’s an environmentally conscious teenager who thinks wiping out humans may be the only way to save the Earth. That’s an extreme position, of course, but I think many environmentalists struggle with the idea that human culture is essentially destructive to the environment.)
My point was that Michael Jackson deeply loved the natural world, but he also deeply loved and participated in the world of culture, and he seemed to see art as the point where the two came together. This makes me think about older cultures that had a much more mindful relationship with nature, and how art seemed to function in those cultures as a point of contact between the natural and spiritual world also, going all the way back to cave paintings, some of our earliest cultural artifacts.
So I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon – specifically about Michael Jackson’s ideas about art and “craftsmanship” (a word he emphasized in the Bashir documentary) – and how that might lead us to a place where we show increased respect for both Nature and Culture.
It seems to me that our economy – an economy based on perpetually increasing productivity (mainly the mass production of cheap plastic products, judging by what’s at the landfills) – doesn’t show respect for either nature or human material culture. But if we could somehow begin to value individual craftsmanship over mass production, that might provide a new model that could help lead us out of the trap we’re now in.
So I’m speaking metaphorically, but imagine that when a child is born, instead of buying a bunch of cheap plastic bowls that are soon thrown away and replaced, instead an artist creates a beautiful bowl for that child that expresses the hopes and dreams his family and community have for him. Imagine her grandfathers and grandmothers spend weeks crafting a beautiful well-made bed and a soft, lovely blanket that expresses the love they feel for her. And imagine that child uses that bowl and bed and blanket every night of his or her entire life, and cherishes them not only for the materials of the earth that are in them, but for the labor and the love that are invested in them.
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful expression of “art as the union between the material and the spiritual”? And wouldn’t that show deep respect for both, for both Nature and Culture? And what if we became more mindful about all material objects? What if instead of constantly purchasing cheap, mass-produced objects, we instead lived with a few well-crafted objects that were meaningful to us? And what if we treated those objects in a way that showed respect for the natural materials that were in them and for the artisans who made them? Wouldn’t that be much more healthy for the planet, and for us?
And instead of feeling like we’re in this no-win trap of constantly having to choose between Nature and Culture – an impossible choice – wouldn’t this idea of craftsmanship allow us to show our deep love and respect for both?
Just some random thoughts I’m having as I work in the garden on a gorgeous Easter …
I very much like this idea of craftsmanship, Willa. I love things made by hand and making things by hand is artistic IMO. I wish more children and people did this instead of looking at their x-boxes, TVs, etc. One person who had a gallery in the local town of Los Olivos, a place Michael visited often, said, “He was an artist and understood the life of an artist.” I see MJ as an artist as very much in tune with nature–I don’t see that an artist necessarily has an oppositional stance to nature, which you seem to suggest earlier with this dichotomy between Nature and Culture.
Here is a quote from a radio interview with Jesse Jackson:
“I’m a person of the arts. I love the arts very, very, very much. And I’m a musician, I’m a director, I’m a writer, I’m a composer, I’m a producer, and I love the medium… I know who I am inside and outside and I know what I want to do. And I will always go with my dreams and my ideals in life. And I’m a very courageous person and I believe in perseverance, determination, and all those wonderful things, and those ideals are very important for a person who is goal-orientated.”
Many people commented on Michael’s “tremendous work ethic” (one is Lamont Dozier) and I think he worked hard for changing the world for the better–working for children and for the planet earth’s ecosystems and lifeforms–and on his own craft. When he said “it’s us or it will never be done” he wanted us to show the same work ethic in making the world a better place and saving the planet from the ‘runaway train’ of environmental destruction. In 2004 in the midst of the trial he went to Washinfgton to meet with Congressional leaders and representatives from African nations to work to fight the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Just one example that he was not just words but also deeds.
Hi Aldebaran. I really like this idea of craftsmanship also, because it addresses the environmental problems of our economy not only from the consumption side, but from the production side as well – and not only do we produce too much and consume too much, but that whole cycle is pretty sterile and unrewarding. I think this is something Michael Jackson addresses as well – the sterility of modern work life in a mass-production, mass-consumption economy – for example, in songs like “Whatever Happens” and “Keep Your Head Up.”
Hello all you wonderful people!
I have read, loved and resonated with this entire post.
As I am not eloquent enough to contribute, I would like to pass on this link which speaks for me:
There is another version updated for 2011 on scribd somewhere, which is free, but I don’t have the link just now.
I think I have become addicted to this blog – just can’t seem to get enough of it ha ha!!
Don’t know how many of you know about the Major Love Prayer site, but today is the 25th when we all link in prayer around the world on a topic that Michael was passionate about. Synchronistically (I don’t believe in coincidence) the topic today is about love to all including continents, oceans, forests and deserts – in fact anywhere on our Planet Earth, sending out love energy to every atom, molecule and beating heart on earth, and we all know that everything is made up of atoms and molecules, so here comes a major boost to our “sweetheart” around 2 pm Los Angeles time – I have to stay up until 11 p.m. to join in but it has become an important part of my month and devotion to Michael. Hope some of you join in also.
Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts about MJ and immanence! It is _very_ interesting.
”To me, in everything he was and did, MJ represents this worldview, this new truth.”
In the light of this, how do you explain ”Heaven Can Wait”?
To me, this song clearly expresses the traditional Christian (Jewish, Muslim) idea of a transcendent paradise:
if the angels took me from this earth
I would tell them bring me back to her
Me sitting up in the clouds and you are all alone
I think MJ’s ideas about these things evolved over his life — just as mine have. I also think he was a child of this culture and frequently used common cultural images to convey emotional messages. And, this is a wonderful and effective image — of a man who prefers being with his love rather than being in heaven. I really like this song.
I still use the terms heaven and god and angels to express traditional cultural ideas, yet they are not really part of my personal worldview and value system.
Thanks. Yes, HCW has a wonderful imagery. (It’s one of my absolute favourites!)
I wonder if MJ kept his belief in an afterlife. Is the idea of a (transcendent) realm after life really incompatible with the idea of an immanent life here on earth?
“Is the idea of a (transcendent) realm after life really incompatible with the idea of an immanent life here on earth?”
Interesting question. Hmmmm. Well, you could believe in immanence, i.e., that the energy that flows through you flows through all life — even through non-living things — and comes from nature, just as you do, thus creating a deep emotional bond (L.O.V.E) with earth and nature and water and soil, and still have an open mind. Because, ultimately, in spite of science and wikipedia, ultimately it is all a mystery.
The important thing tho’ would be to focus on this life on this earth in this universe, to believe deeply that your own well being depended on working for the well being of all.
Ultimately, it seems it would make more sense to focus on what you do know, and not on what you don’t know. And, what we do know, is that if we don’t make that change and heal the world, some really bad things are going to happen — and are happening.
I think that when Noam Chomsky talks about ‘deep structures’ in language that are part of the human ‘wiring’ for language, that it’s possible to extend this concept of ‘wiring’ for other ‘deep structures’ that relate to ideas/concepts/archetypes. This is why often we hear statements that there are certain characteristics of religious beliefs that are constant. For example, the idea/concept/archetype that the breath is related to/identified with the soul/spirit, that we see in so many languages. In my response to Daniela, I was remarking that the breath is both inside our bodies and is an exchange with the outside –the wind, the air, and this is a universal reality of planet earth, namely, air and the creatures that breathe. It is interesting to me to think about other planeets where the atmosphere is not such that it can sustain life. We have the atmosphere that we can breathe–just thinking of this breath/breathing as our constant contact and intimate reliance on the Planet Earth–our sweetheart, soft and blue. Respiration is inspiration?
I can’t respond to your comments today above as we have run out of ‘reply’ buttons, so am going on with it down here.
You said “I also think that he believed that the way to heal the world was through art, that to change behaviors, you had to first change the attitudes that motivated the behaviors, and to change attitudes required a deeply felt and powerful emotional appeal that would cut through all the garbage and get to the things that really matter-ed. And, so, he touched our hearts”.
I agree with you 200% and of course you can only come at it from your perspective, but…………… I believe because of his extensive reading and study, and wide travels and experiences of the world, that Michael was rather a ‘citizen of the world’ and not just an American. He has far more fans around the world than he does in US, and remember that Earth Song wasn’t even released in US while it went to No 1 in many other countries around the world.
He certainly did his bit to heal the world through his art, and yes he touched many many hearts that way, But he didn’t leave it there, he also reached out through public speaking, visiting childrens hospitals and orphanages worldwide, opening up Neverland to kids, donating to all sorts of charities, and generally being well informed about what was happening to the planet.
With our world shrinking because of the internet etc., I feel we are all becoming citizens of the world as we get to know more about other countries and their cultures and their attitudes to our planet – most of us don’t travel the way Michael did – and for me that is where hope lies. I live in a so-called 3rd world country (though South Africa is much more 1st world than probably any other African country), but even here there is a lot happening on the ‘green environment’ front which is very heartening. MIchael wanted us to Keep The Faith, and as an unabashed optimist, I think we must, because he was right, This Is It.
@Caro ” I believe because of his extensive reading and study, and wide travels and experiences of the world, that Michael was rather a ‘citizen of the world’ and not just an American. He has far more fans around the world than he does in US, and remember that Earth Song wasn’t even released in US while it went to No 1 in many other countries around the world.”
No doubt about it. In his religious understandings, Michael had moved far from his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. But having had that upbringing, he would have been very well acquainted with the JC tradition and its beliefs, and he would have known just how powerful the tradition still was. And, having moved away from it might have given him some objectivity about it, allowing him to see how it created certain attitudes. It might have made him critical of it — and it might have motivated him to re-interpret scripture in a more earth-friendly way — as in the passage Daniela quoted above.
“Earth Song” was not released in the US as a single because, I assume, they thought it wouldn’t find an audience here, and they were right. Even now, when I try to get people to listen to it, they seem totally uninterested. Eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. in this post, I have attempted to answer the question, “Why?”
I love your comment —
“MIchael wanted us to Keep The Faith, and as an unabashed optimist, I think we must, because he was right, This Is It.”
I, too, am an optimist. If I didn’t believe we were capable of making that change, then I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to figure things out. And, my discovery of MJ, more than anything gave me hope. Because, he is the only person I know of who has the power — and still has the power — to affect people so deeply — and in ways that will truly change the world.
Wow, fascinating discussion, with so much to ponder on so many fronts. I’m on vacation and having trouble posting comments, but following the discussion and learning so much from it.
Eleanor, like Caro I agree completely with your comment: “I also think that he believed that the way to heal the world was through art, that to change behaviors, you had to first change the attitudes that motivated the behaviors, and to change attitudes required a deeply felt and powerful emotional appeal…. And, so, he touched our hearts.”
Like many people, I see the Bible as an incredible work of art, Western culture’s most powerful and influential work of literature. I think one reason the Bible was/is so powerful – particularly its message of a transcendent, ineffable spirit that is not bound by the limitations of the body – is because it speaks to deep psychological and cultural needs (including the needs of people living in a new urban environment, as you commented earlier – that’s so interesting). Those needs include the deep sense of loss, even dispair, we feel when someone we love dies (the thought that I will never hear my grandparents’ voices again is almost unbearable to me) or the fear of our own mortality. The Bible provides comforting answers to those deep fears and needs.
But as you say so compellingly, Eleanor, the answers it provides have created or at least contributed to other problems – misogyny, prejudice of many kinds, and the dire environmental crisis we now find ourselves in. And so we need a new paradigm, and like you, I believe that new paradigm must be created by art, just as our current paradigm was created by art – primarily the Bible but also artists strongly influenced by the Bible, such as Milton and Shakespeare and the Romantic poets.
In this sense, the tremendous influence the Bible has had on Western thought and culture is itself evidence of the power of art to change atitudes and behaviors, as you say.
@ Willa “Like many people, I see the Bible as an incredible work of art, Western culture’s most powerful and influential work of literature.”
Me, too. I love reading it. I pour over the creation stories and the gospels to find the keys to the mysteries of who and what we are as a culture and why we do the things we do. I love the imagery. And because of its poetic power and powerful imagery, it has filled our collective imagination for 2,000 years. As you say, “the tremendous influence the Bible has had on Western culture is itself evidence of the power of art.”
I am always amazed when people dismiss the Bible as a fairy story or silly superstition (I don’t even dismiss fairy stories or superstitions as silly — they generally point to some pretty deep unconscious stuff). I once had the pleasure — and it really was, because he is so charming — of being seated next to Richard Dawkins on a cruise — for several nights. And we had some good discussions — after I got over my star-struckness. When I told him I had just graduated from divinity school, he said rather foolishly, I thought (although he thought he was being clever) that, since God did not exist, I had been studying nothing — with the implication that –even if it were not nothing, it was nothing of value.
I wondered, “How could a public intellectual, a man of this stature, be so blind to the power of religion to shape cultures” — and the power of Christianity to shape the most powerful culture on the planet? How could he just dismiss the study of religion at a time when we really need bring to consciousness what is driving us –since it appears to be driving us over a cliff.
Anthropologists, as a matter or course, study the religions of indigenous peoples to learn about their societies. Why wouldn’t it be obvious that, if you really wanted to understand Western culture, the place to start would be the Bible?
Great point, Caro, that Earth Song was NOT released as a single in USA–very telling. I think where Eleanor is coming from has to do with USA and the general attitude to nature, which is definitely to subdue and conquer, and exploit, exploit, exploit. This probably has more than one root as far as origin, not only the JC worldview, but also the fact that this country was a huge, unspoiled tract of the natural world and the people who came from Europe had a big ‘pioneering’ task ahead, as they saw it, and in their way were the American Indians as well as the natural world.
I have read the early documents from the first people to see this country as it was when they arrived. One man noted that the fish were so full in the waters as they tried to dock, that the boat could not get through. This was a land bursting with abundant life. To the settlers in New England, the Puritans, this natural world was a world where Satan reigned and they saw the Indians as “Satan’s most devoted and resembling children.” Yes, this was a JC viewpoint BUT there were other versions of the JC viewpoint and the Puritans were extremists to the max IMO. If you have seen the movie The Mission, which deals with the colonialization and genocide wrought by the Spanish in South America, you can see the debates within the Catholic Church about how to treat the indigenous peoples (the priest played by Jeremy Irons vs. the conquisadores).
If you look at Australia, you will see also the exploitation of a country and its indigenous people by settlers from Europe. What I am suggesting is that there is more at play here–in terms of greed, violence, exploitation–than simply the JC viewpoint. The JC viewpoint is multiple depending on who is interpreting that particular text, the Bible. There is also the fact that nonreligious ‘pioneers’ jumped on the chance to make themselves rich by exploiting nature and grabbing a piece of the pie. Basically, it was a free-for-all. There’s gold in them there hills!! California gold rush etc. I think it is hard to argue that exploitation of nature comes from the JC source alone as there are other factors involved IMO.
I do not see Earth Song as a song where “he blames the JC god in “Earth Song” for what we are doing to the world.” I think Michael is asking all of us, whatever our background or culture, to look what we’ve done and are doing and STOP! It is not an intellectual analysis or a criticism of one particular creed. “What about the Holy Land, torn apart by creed.” I think he is rejecting ‘creed’ across the board and asking us to go beyond it. As long as you are blaming another, you are not taking responsibility IMO. We have to each of us take responsibility for what is happening to the earth and to people as well (Earth Song speaks about war–“what about killing fields”).
I see Earth Song as much more visceral and emotional–asking us to see (and the film version is a way to this as well). For example, the shots of the slaughtered elephants early in the film–it is all about taking something beautiful and reducing it to rubble, taking something living and killing it, he is showing us the fruits of our actions all over the world. The poachers who just slaughtered 86 elephants in Chad (in a state forest) for the ivory are coming from this stance of exploitation. I really don’t think it is accurate to argue that their acts come from a JC viewpoint–IMO it is deeper–and I don’t think this act would even necessarily be condoned or justified from a JC position either–the JC viewpoint is not advocating the complete destruction of nature for profit.
Wakan Tanka–the Great Spirit, The Great Mystery. “In my veins I’ve felt the mystery.”
The question, aldebaranredstar, is where does this exploitative attitude toward nature come from, and why, when we see the consequences of our actions all around us, can’t we change our behavior? I have had this discussion with many friends who claim the problem is human nature — whatever that is. But there are many societies, as you point out, that don’t have this attitude, so we can’t really blame human nature. Which is a god thing. If it were our nature, there would be no hope; but if it is our culture, then there is hope, because we can change our culture. And Michael Jackson clearly saw himself as an agent of change.
On the other hand, clearly, there are examples in other countries which show that we in the west are not the only ones to rape and pillage and destroy. But, Christianity has cut a wide swathe and through missionaries and colonialism, its message has been spread to the ends of the earth. That being said, “nobody does it like we do, nobody does it better.” We in the west exploit systematically and we are the best at it because of our technological expertise and our wealth– and a fundamental principle of our way of life is based on the over consumption of resources — of taking more than we need and or/creating needs where there were none.
I feel “Earth Song” viscerally, in my gut — it is truly gut-wrenching. And in my heart — it tears my heart out. How could I not?
And, I agree with you, that —
“As long as you are blaming another, you are not taking responsibility IMO. We have to each of us take responsibility for what is happening to the earth and to people as well…”
But, it also helps to understand that this destruction is not personal. The people involved in it are not terrible people. They are us. These behaviors are cultural and systemic and systematic; they are part and parcel of our way of life, which makes it very difficult to opt out. How many people can say they work at jobs that do not involve any destruction or consumption of resources? How many people know what kind of companies their 401K funds are being invested in and if they are environmentally benign? How many of us really consider that the taxes we are about to pay are paying for the missiles that are blowing kids to bits? How do you put the greater good first, when you are trying to feed your family? What doe the Gulf fisherman do when he is offered a job on an oil rig? It ain’t easy. And, I think Michael was acknowledging that fact — the fact of the terrible consequences of actions we can’t seem to stop — We are trapped. I think that accounts for his mixture of anger and anguish and sadness and desperation. But, he is crying out to us that — no matter what — we have to make that change. And that change is radical.
In a healthy society, working for the good of the individual contributes to the greater good. That is no longer the case. Not only is the earth sick with a fever, our whole society is corrupt. “We’ve drifted far.”
“Why wouldn’t it be obvious that, if you really wanted to understand Western culture, the place to start would be the Bible?”
I honestly think “Western culture” is way more complicated than simply ‘JC tradition” or ‘the Bible.” Western culture–first of all I am not comfortable with these huge, over-arching terms than are basically labels to encapsulate a whole popourri (sp?) of various and complex threads. I like what MJ says when he talks about ‘a tapestry’–there are many threads in the tapestry and not just one thread. The ‘JC tradition” (another huge label covering vast differences in points of view, religious groups, sects, etc) has its roots in the pagan, pre-Christian world. To me, you will never understand Western culture if you think the place to start is the Bible. You will never see the connections in the tapestry with other cultures. I am trying to point out the there was not a tabla rasa blank slate and that the ‘JC tradition” appeared and took over–there was an existing culture that the ” JC tradition’ (and I don’t think this term that is being used has been defined) to some extent dominated by force but to another extent simply blended with by means of significant adaptations. An example is the English language, which has absorbed so many foreign words–this is the absorption, adaptation process that incorporates and changes in the process. Languages are alive and grow.
This new pope Francis–first is coming from Argentina, this is perhaps an example of the South/Central American liberation theology, which is much more sympathetic and activist regarding the poor. Second, his name is of a saint who respected nature and wildlife, and third, Pope Francis hs spoken of the need to protect the environment. This is an example of positive change in the Catholic Church, perhaps as result of pressure from the world outside the church as well as within.
“But, it also helps to understand that this destruction is not personal. The people involved in it are not terrible people. . . . And, I think Michael was acknowledging that fact — the fact of the terrible consequences of actions we can’t seem to stop — We are trapped.”
I don’t think Michel saw it that way. Joe Vogel makes a good point in his discussion of Earth Song that Michael brough the tank on stage in performances and had the soldier come out of the tank pointing his weapon at Michael for a reason–that it was not the machines that were doing the killing, the destroying–but the people inside operating the machines. Michael confronts the soldier and a child offers him a flower and the soldier drops his weapon and weeps. It has to start with us–his words in This Is It. “It’s us or it will never be done.”
“Not only is the earth sick with a fever, our whole society is corrupt.” This is very bleak–I guess I can’t go that far. There are pockets and signs of health and growth.
“Western culture” to my mind has as much or more to do with the Greco-Roman traditions, literature, culture as the Judao-Christian literature, tradition, culture.
Here is a film being made called Wakan Tanka–it has contributions from elders, including Native American elders. Here is a teaser.
Fantastic trailer, thank you! Really want to follow up and see this film, looks like a really good one.
Aldebaranredstar, I just got a chance to read your book and it is wonderful! I loved it and it’s so inspiring to read how deeply you understand and resonate with MJ’s work and all the connections you are able see in it. The book is outstanding and I am just so thrilled that you shared this with us. It left me wanting more! Hope you keep going. We could never have enough thoughtful, intelligent commentary on Michael Jackson, the artist.
Thank you so much, Ultravioletrae!! This makes me very happy to hear. I am close to finishing another project and will let you all know when it is available. I did the Earth Song project first as it is closest to my heart of hearts and I think to Michael’s heart it was one of the most cherished of all, next to his concern and love for children.
BTW, I just love all the wonderful comments here–we are really delving deep into Earth Song and I love Daniela reminding us of Michael’s words that “…biological rhythms that SOUND OUT [my emphasis] the architecture of my DNA also governs the movement of the stars.” In reference to the stars, we are actually created from the elements that came to us from supernovas, or the explosion of dying stars.
As far as this movie–Wakan Tanka–they need funding to complete it, so I hope it does get made. It needs to be made IMO.
Here is a link to the 13 grandmothers, a group of elders from all over the world. They formed in 2004 in response to the need of planet earth. I got an email about a world prayer they sent out during the BP oil volcano in the Gulf of Mexico that lasted 3 months and spewed 5 million gallons of crude into the Gulf. It was a horrible time as no one seemed able to cap the blownout well. I got the prayer written by the grandmothers and repeated it–now you can say this is coincidence, but a few days after getting the prayer, which was sent all around the world, the well was capped.
I thank you all for the attempt at understanding where these deeply ingrained destructive tendencies begin in order to start putting them to a halt. It would be an attempt of titanic proportions, because, as Eleanor so clearly states, “they are part and parcel of our way of life”. People of all ages are unconsciously trained to heavily consume, to brag about possessions, thus losing the greater meaning of life. I subscribe to the school of thought which advocates that art in whatever form can transform human behaviour, the word has infinately greater power than the sword. Developing an aesthetic education can have a huge impact on youngsters and possibly transform their sensitivities. Other than that the development of a geological education is becoming imperative, all should know what a precious but small planet earth is, a little diamond in the solar system. Michael would have deeply loved all this.
Aldebaranredstar, thanks for your appreciative comments on my drawing. Producing Michael’s portraits upon reading a great quantity of good books and articles on him have made me so much closer to him and allowed me appreciate what a marvellous spirit he has.
I hope you are right, that Michael would have enjoyed the discussion. I have been thinking about that — a lot. And, I agree, that an aesthetic education would be really beneficial in developing young people’s sensitivities. As you said — “all should know what a precious but small planet earth is, a little diamond in the solar system.”
And, I agree that making the change necessary to save us will be a task of titanic proportions — but we need to try. And, I think it is important to understand not only what we are up against, but what is at stake.
Sometimes I feel like we are caught in a cat’s cradle trap, where, if you pull the string one way, it tightens in another. We need some really smart people working on these problems, but they seem to be looking the other way.
Would love it if anyone could comment on the teachings of the jehovah witnesses and how that influenced or is represented in Michael’s work. I don’t know much about their teachings.
I agree Destiny. Would love to know more.
Eleanor and Willa, thank you again for an amazing post. This topic is not so easy to put into words, yet you have articulated these ideas so beautifully and clearly.
I remember having an “aha” moment in one of the first times I saw Earth Song in TII that caused me to gasp and then forget I even needed to breathe. It was the lyric “What about all the things / That you said was yours and mine?” (at the 2:20 mark here http://youtu.be/0r2uKCpjz4A) MJ gestures toward himself on the word “yours” and points away from himself towards the audience on the word “mine,” reversing the lyrics with his hand gestures. Caused my whole brain to go into some kind of whirring pattern while I sat in amazement at how he just signaled what he was about to do – connect us all into one single thing. It was such a subtle, simple gesture that spoke volumes, mostly directed toward the unconscious mind. That just blew me out of the water, and I think it expresses exactly what you are saying here about a new world view: one is which everyone and everything is a single planetary biosphere.
Another one of those “aha” moments for me was also “What about all the peace / That you pledge your only son?” My first reaction was the biblical John 3:16 one, but, how could someone thinking from such a universal consciousness write from such an ethnocentric (me and my religion/group) position? I came to interpret it another way, as in “What about killing fields,” or as a parent who has sacrificed their son to war…and for what? The false idea that it was supposed to bring some kind of transcendent peace or purpose? Sacrifice soldiers now for a later promise of peace? How insane are we human beings? When will we wake up and take a look at the bigger picture and stop all this?
In Sanatana Dharma, (the Indian philosophy that comes through so strongly in “Dancing the Dream”), there is no distinction between Creator and Creation, they are one in the same thing. It is only an illusion that we were ever separate from the Creator, from each other, or from the planet. The sacred is the indweller or all beings, even inanimate objects, and even the most cruel people and circumstances (thus the concept of karma). All of life/consciousness is an unbroken stream that changes form at will. Death is not the end, it is not the period at the end of a sentence – to die is to begin writing the next sentence (reincarnation).
So, in this way, could we could think of the transcendent and the immanent as one in the same as well? That which transcends time and space (the part of us that was never born, and can never die) also dwells in time and space? (Spirit and matter = Spatter??? lol. Just kidding but you get the drift!)
Years ago I was traveling in India, and I was shocked to see some ancient symbols of a cross with a snake wrapped around it (very much like the American Medical Association logo). I was told that the symbol of the cross predates Christianity by several thousand years. I also know the native American Indians used the cross as a sacred symbol (the four directions). I’m just wondering if this isn’t a possible symbol of the meeting place of “heaven” and earth, or transcendence and immanence? A higher consciousness that dwells in the meeting place of them both? Eleanor, help straighten me out on this! Am I coming close to the right definition of immanence? Or am I still hanging out in spirituality and transcendence?
Whatever that higher structure is that can see from such an expansive view point, I absolutely see it in Michael Jackson and especially Earth Song. So thrilled about this conversation! And Eleanor, I do hope MJ is at least a small part of your forthcoming book, “Beyond Transcendence.”
Hi ultraviolatrae –I’m so glad you have been enjoying the discussion. I am not sure that the ideas have been articulated clearly enough, but at least it’s a start. And, since I am writing a book about all this — and MJ (the avatar of immanence) gets at least one chapter, if not more, I assure you — clearly there is a lot more to articulate and to say.
In terms of what I am trying to articulate, transcendence and immanence describe two diametrically opposed perceptions of reality. The transcendent view of reality locates humans outside of nature and identifies ultimate value with human life/human consciousness/human mind (symbolized by a spirit god who also is located outside of nature). The immanent view of reality locates humans within nature and identifies ultimate value with nature and ecology — a sacred ecology whose goal is sustainability and balance.
The world today is vastly different from the world the JC or Hebraic/Hellenic tradition arose from and thrived in — a world which had fallen in love with man’s abilities and accomplishments, a world of infinite possibility and infinite resources — a world which worshipped powerful men in the form of an all-powerful spirit god. Believing in these powerful men, we have let them have their way with us and with nature, with the result that today, we are living in a world of depleted and polluted resources — a world where the power of our technologies is working against us instead of for us.
It is interesting that you bring up sacrifice — because sacrifice is essential to the success of transcendence. One group of people or great swathes of land have to be sacrificed for a transcendent society to function, and everyone has to buy into the idea that sacrifice on a grand scale is acceptable. I think the sacrifice of the individual for the greater good is common among all species, but we have taken it to self-destructive lengths.
I think what is very confusing in this discussion is the conflation of perceptions of reality with reality itself. Which is not surprising since it is the goal of religions to convince its adherents that their view of reality is true, that it represents reality itself. The success of any religion is directly related to how the perception of reality they are promoting is confirmed in people’s experience of reality. However, to complicate matters, how we experience reality is directly related to how we perceive it.
I am trying to focus on how we perceive nature — is it the locus of value or not — and how religions affect how we perceive nature. Do they locate value inside or outside of nature.
I, myself, locate value and humanity and myself within nature. I do not see this as reductionist as so many people do (not on this blog) because, to me, nature contains all the magic and the mystery. I do not have to look outside of nature for meaning. The mystery is not in my mind, in my consciousness, but in my body and in my veins.
I think most of us are agreed on this point. But I think your question –the question which is lurking in the heart of this discussion and is causing some confusion has to do with “Where does the power within nature, that flows through our veins, come from?” Does it come from some outside, super-natural source?
Or, as you put it —
“So, in this way, could we could think of the transcendent and the immanent as one in the same as well? That which transcends time and space (the part of us that was never born, and can never die) also dwells in time and space? (Spirit and matter = Spatter??? lol. Just kidding but you get the drift!)
There are belief systems, as you point out, that assume a transcendent spirit that penetrates and becomes one with matter — that is immanent within matter. And symbols, such as the cross (the cross means so many different things) which represent that view of reality. And many people are comfortable with that idea.
But, that is not the perception of reality that I am promoting — because things are so out of balance. The crisis is here and now on this earth in this cosmos. And it seems like we need to work very hard on consciously and deliberately developing a perception of reality that puts value back into a nature that has been tragically devalued — and I think that was MJ’s goal.
Anyway, I hope that clarifies things.
Thanks so much Eleanor, for a beautiful response. Yes, I think I am closer now to understanding. I assure you, if I missed your point it was because I am a slow student, not because you didn’t express it artfully! I am really looking forward to reading your book, you must let us know when it’s ready. Thrilled to know MJ will get a chapter, well done! Many, many thanks for all your comments and for sharing your work. It is truly appreciated.
I like this idea that the transcendent and the immanent are one in the same, Ultravioletrae, kind of like ying and yang, a co-existence of opposites. On the other hand, there is another approach which is experiential rather than intellectual–no mind, no thought, emptiness. We are always trying to fill the emptiness with possessions (as Daniela said), but the Tao (LaoTzu) speaks of emptiness as “the way.”
Here is Ronnia Favors, rehearsal director of Alvin Ailey Dance, speaking about Michael as a dancer:
“It’s not just doing the steps and doing them very well,” says Favors. “It’s a visceral feeling that you get. That’s how you know you’re in the presence of an artist. He just totally inhabited his performances.”
So his dance and music is creating in us an experience, a sensual experience, which is akin to what we get from the natural world–from engaging and using our senses. In fact, I think (here I am using the mind) all thought is the result of our engagement with nature–and when we do not engage with it, our minds go round in circles and end up in fruitless mind-games that end up resembling the medieval argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin–totally divorced from experience. This is why IMO the people close to nature (indigenous peoples) believe nature was animated, alive, and people most divorced from nature see it as deadened, inert. Folklore is a powerful contact with the natural world as well. It scares me that b/c of the retreat of the natural world due to our destruction of it, people will no longer have access to that experiential life. Even the movies now show artificial nature (cartoons, CGI) to kids and adults–this scares me. Our humanity needs contact with narture. This relation can’t be taught, must be experienced.
Hi ultravioletrae — Thanks for your thoughtful response –I was looking forward to it. Like Willa, I am away from my computer and using a handheld device that is difficult to compose long answers on.
I’ll be home in a couple of days. In the meantime, you’ve given me lots to think about.
Whew guys!!! I have also been away for a couple of days, and there have been sooo many comments over that time, that I hardly know where to begin, as in so many ways I agree with all that has been said though so many things have been said!! but it seems that for the most part we are all on the same page, albeit from so many different angles. I believe that after all this wonderful discussion, which I think if far from over, we have opened each others minds to different ways of thinking and being, just as Michael did. It is no longer about trying to convince each other whether we are right or wrong – that is of no importance at all, and perhaps has never been. I think Michael in many ways was the essence of duality and somehow contained it all, and somehow was able to express it though all aspects of his art.
I spent the day yesterday with a 75 year old friend who wants to understand my ‘obsession’ with Michael. I had previously made him a cd of songs that for me most highlite Michaels message (had to leave some out of course), and I took along Vision to show him the short movies that had been made to some of the songs – oh how I wish Michael had made more films to some of the other wonderful songs. I had started the cd with the poem Planet Earth and then Earth Song, so we started our session with the Earth Song short movie and my friend was absolutely blown away by it. After 4 hours, my friend not only understood my ‘obsession’ but understood Michael in a whole new way, and wants to discover more – so my Good Friday was a good Michaeling Friday ha ha.
Michael said “I am an instrument of nature” and yes Eleanor he was in a most wonderful way, and that obviously scared the powers that be. His “Human Nature” was absolutely phenominal, and as I have said before, and someone said above (forgive me whoever it was I can’t remember who said what after so many comments) and I have said before, I believe that somehow Michaels teachings will spawn a new philosphy and an alternative way of looking at life, and I believe that we are its first devotees if you will.
Congratulations on spreading the word, Caro. Just think, being able to open someone’s mind to that much joy.
I don’t know where to work this in, but this seems as good a place as any. Most people associate New Orleans with Mardi Gras, but I was there for Easter — and my grandson’s 2nd birthday and to give my visiting NYC son a send off to LA — just an all round celebration of new beginnings. And the city was filled with life and flowers and oaks spreading branches over the streets, and roots thrusting up through the old side walks — and people everywhere wearing bunny ears and easter basket hats — and an easter pub crawl that evolved into a second line, a funeral for Jesus — sort of a parade lead by musicians and people dancing down the street and other people pouring out of their houses and off porches to join the parade, and it was really joyful — and I could really get into that.
Talk about new wine in old bottles and re-interpretations…
New Orleans after Katrina is truly a resurrection! And every time I go, someone is playing MJ loud and clear.
As Monica said — sacred sensuality!
I am commenting here to comments above: a couple of people referred to the “it’s us–or it will never be done” comment that Michael made at TII rehearsals and seem to be drawing a conclusion that he espoused or advocated an individual as opposed to a group action solution. I disagree. I think what he was saying is not to think to ourselves–“I don’t need to do anything” b/c “they’ll fix it”–he said “they who? It’s us or it will never be done.” He wasn’t saying don’t act politically or environmentally in groups or with organizations and instead ONLY take individual action. That would be an absurd conclusion to his emarks IMO. What he is opposed to is passively waiting for someone else to do the work for you. I referred in earlier posts to individual actions, such as signing petitions, pressuring government leaders, international organizations, and companies, making donations to organizations that act with clout for what you want, etc, etc. If you just recycle and nothing more that’s one thing but there are many, many more actions beyond that.
This topic is very upsetting to me–to hear Michael referred to an not an environmentalist just boggles my mind.
Daniela, I was trying to make a point re what is an environmentalist–this should not be narrowly prescriptive IMO–this is, this isn’t. Look at the definitions I found after googling “definition of an environmentalist”–they speak in board terms of ‘concern’ and also ‘advocating’ and ‘working’ for improvement–MJ did that. Please consider my points I am trying to make as a whole –and not one sentence. Thanks.
you wrote – What he is opposed to is passively waiting for someone else to do the work for you. … If you just recycle and nothing more that’s one thing but there are many, many more actions beyond that……….to hear Michael referred to an not an environmentalist just boggles my mind.
That is just where I am in this whole situation. I am very proud that the SA Government is fairly environmentally conscious, as are many of our celebrities who do a lot to awaken the rest of the nation. I have always been careful of my carbon footprint, also long before it was fashionable, but am even more inspired by Michaels calling me to be more so, and yes I agree there is a lot one can do and not just be passive waiting for someone else. An environmentalist can be all the definitions you gave, or just some of them. For me, anyone who does their bit to care for, and inspires the rest of us to care for, our planet, is an environmentalist
“For me, anyone who does their bit to care for, and inspires the rest of us to care for, our planet, is an environmentalist.” Amen!!
I also liked what Destiny said about it is not easy to be a conscientious consumer, checking everything as far as the source and the impact. I am not saying MJ couldn’t have been more conscientious, although that is true for EVERYONE OF US, but to say he is not an environmentalist is IMO just going too far.
Interesting discussion! MJ was a spokesperson for the planet, but he also had a huge consumption of material goods. Was he a true environmentalist, or a hypocrite?
I think MJ was very aware of the unique position his extraterrestrial talents gave him. He was a king, and a true king should have a crown and a castle. Because a king inspires us ”mere mortals” to dream glorious dreams and do our very best in our mundane everyday lives. MJ was far too talented to be ”one of many”, so he had to step onto that stage with all the glitz and glimmer the task required. He was torn between his innate humility and us, the gold-craving spectators. He wore the crown so we didn’t have to.
Having socialist roots I hate to say this. But I don’t think MJ _could_ have lived a ”low-consumption” life without Ferris wheels and hot-air balloons. Yes, he was just as happy (if not more) in the Irish countryside as in a Bahraini palace. Nevertheless, he had to travel, redress, taste, see, experience everything.
I don’t think MJ wanted us to copy him. He wanted to be far ahead of us, as the Pied Piper showing us the world anew. There would be no point in having kings and queens (in the fairytale sense) if everyone wanted their own crown (and we would certainly run out of gold). Michael Jackson’s vision was so great that he knew it would not work without sacrifices. To save the forests, so to speak, he had to use an entire forest for a sculpture that would make us see.
I don’t think MJ wanted us to wear a new extravagant dress each and every day (as he did during his trial). I don’t think he wanted us to reshape our noses with surgery. I don’t think he wanted us to become theme park owners. But I do think that he wanted to change our perception of the world, and that he was painfully aware of the price both he and Planet Earth had to pay.
Hi Bjorn – you wrote
Because a king inspires us ”mere mortals” to dream glorious dreams and do our very best in our mundane everyday lives…….. He wore the crown so we didn’t have to.
So well said, and that is what I mean by being a messenger. They usually are not just one of us ‘mere mortals’, nor do they need to be. We just need to listen, and as you so rightly say, “do our very best”. In my opinion that is what is required of us.
Hmmm … I guess I didn’t express myself well, because I feel like my words have been misunderstood.
I said that “he was not an environmentalist in the traditional sense” because environmentalism has traditionally set itself in opposition to human material culture, and I wondered if he was trying to undo or complicate that sort of either/or thinking. In other words, I wonder if he was trying to get us out of the “no-win trap of constantly having to choose between Nature and Culture – an impossible choice.”
Michael Jackson loved the natural world, as he expressed many times, but he was also a joyful participant in human material culture – art, fashion, technology, to name just a few examples – and he had the artist’s ability to make his ideas real and visibly present to us by manifesting his ideas in material ways. So I think solving the riddle of this “impossible choice” was an especially important issue for him.
“I said that “he was not an environmentalist in the traditional sense” because environmentalism has traditionally set itself in opposition to human material culture,”
Willa, I have never read anything like this statement (the opposition) in any environmental literature, and I get bombarded every day with environmental groups’ emails, sio I think I would have come across it if it were there. The key term is sustainable use. That’s what I read.
This debate is getting very unreal to me. How can MJ–who spent almost a decade getting Earth Song the way he wanted it, perfecting the message to ‘awaken people’ as he said in TII, not be called an environmentalist–I can never understand this no matter how many words are said. I mean look at what is being said–reduce your personal footprint, but what if you are a superstar and what if you have to have special performance clothes for your shows? You are suddenly not an environmentalist b/c of your role/job? He had the rides for the kids, the sick and poverty stricken kids, not for himself. Has this become a place to bash MJ–looks like it. Words fail me.
Caro, you got what I was trying to say, thank you. There are many ways to be an environmentalist. To reduce your personal footprint alone IMO is not enough. Daniela, who is buying an ipod every day? Is anyone here advocating that?
Please Aldebaranstar, you have twisted everything I said, leading to the letter, and responding almost hysterical, as if I was on a crusade against Michael and you are the advocate.
What I’m trying to say is that just words cannot solve. They inspire, but this is not enough. Because we won’t preserve the planet with a kind of magic our miracle. Sacrifice is necessary.
I just used the example to illustrate; the exaggeration is intentional, just coloring with bold colors to reinforce the idea. But in the end, is very simple: we all need revise our habits, because just say i want preserve the planet is not enough. I need act to this goal.
And no one would deny that Michael was an environmentalist, or that he cared about it or that his message was very important. But I still think that his lifestyle was not the best for preservation.
Now, you seem to be unable to simply accept that other people have a different point of view.
I understood that to you to be an environmentalist is do anything in favor of the environment, and I respect your opinion. But for me it takes something more to preserve the planet, is necessary change habits. Can you respect mine? If you are unable, I will have to ignore you.
Daniela, I don’t understand why we are having this argument or misunderstanding. When did I ever say words alone are enough? I listed so many actions that can be taken to act for the environment. I am trying to say that whatever personal lifestyle changes that are made to reduce the damage to the earth are very good–excellent–but IMO individual actions or personal lifestyle actions are not enough–more is needed, specifically social, political actions (and I listed some examples of these), and these occur when people act in groups to pressure governments, companies, international organizations. You spoke somewhat dismissively about signing petitions, and I don’t understand that attitude, b/c signing petitions is a way to put pressure. We have this pipeline carrying oil that is projected to go from Canada all the way to the Pacific–XL Pipeline. There have been many petition drives to try and stop this. People fear that the pipes will break and that the environmental damage will be great. In fact, a pipe just broke in Alabama and oil is all over the place and people had to evacuate and a lake was ruined and ducks oiled and killed. Just one example of how petitions can be good to express people’s environmental opposition to a dangerous act of an oil company. We have a basic collaboration between big oil and big government and we have to put pressure to try and stop the environmental abuses that occur as a result. I hope you can understand my point. And I am NOT saying signing petitions is the only way to exert pressure. One can make donations to the many great organizations that are fighting to protect the environment and specific species. For example, to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic ( something which is opposed by Japan and other small countries that Japan bribes to get their votes). There are many acts, both personal in terms of lifestyle, and lareger acts that involve what I see as larger social and political actions. I would appreciate it if you would not use harsh words in your reply to me–such as hysterical, twisting, I can’t accept another person’s position, etc.).
When I said that you said words aren’t enough? I said for ME they aren’t enough. Do not distort what I said.
For you, individual actions are not enough. I totally agree.
And for me, political actions, protests, even in a large, all we can do as a group aren nothing without individual actions because, in my opinion, not work participate in a protest against the creation of another hidelétrica in my country, for example (because it is accurate flood a large area, destroying millions animals’s habitat), if I come home and waste a lot of energy, because is the consumption that generates necessity to increase production.
Thus, an act (political, collective) will be useless without the individual act of each of us.
More than saying the message, you must BE the message. Our life and attitude has to be a reflection of what we think and said, or we will have no credibility. That’s what I believe.
I think Michael Jackson “was not an environmentalist in the traditional sense” because I think he was trying to approach the problem in a new way. That doesn’t mean he didn’t care about the environment. I don’t think that at all. As I have said several times, I think he felt a deep connection to the natural world and wanted to help preserve it. But he also loved art and technology – he reveled in human culture in all its many facets – and that’s part of the “duality” Caro mentioned because, to a large extent, Nature and Culture in the modern age are in conflict.
In fact, I would say that’s the crux of the problem – that in the modern age, Nature and Culture are in conflict. And as an artist, Michael Jackson loved both.
From what I have read, Michael was not a wild, extreme consumerist at all. He lived a modest personal lifestyle from what I have read. He wore black pants and red shirts–that was what he wore when he was at home–he did not have an extravagant personal wardrobe; he wore simple clothing. His diet was simple, vegetarian, and he had days when he fasted. His house was relatively simple–a 5 bedroom house–considering his fame. The house had been built by Bill Bone and MJ also bought the furnishings that were already there. As someone said, he developed 40 acres of the 2,700. He planted special flowers to attract the deer, which came down from the hills (state land). Wild pigs would eat the flowers too and when someone said, why not kill them, he said, no, this is their home. He wrote songs in a tree and climbed it for inspiration. He wrote a wonderful song, which seems to have been forgotten for the moment, called Earth Song, to promote awareness of the plight oif the earth and its ecosystems, lifeforms. So if people here want to conclude he is not an environmentalist, then who is???
Picking on things like, he had more than one car, one pair of sunglasses, etc. just means no one is an environmentalist who is a famous performer. Dismissing people on this basis, as people do Al Gore b/c he flies in a plane sometimes, is just a way to deny the force of their environmental message.
@Aldebaranredstar, you wrote:
”Picking on things like, he had more than one car, one pair of sunglasses, etc. just means no one is an environmentalist who is a famous performer.”
I see your point! Like I wrote above, a performer on the global stage is in a special position. He is a king, and needs a crown.
Of course, MJ could have refused to own more than one car (those were not part of his performances!) But then again, I agree with you that him having cars does not make his message (in ”Earth Song”, ”TII”) less important!
However, if we want everyone to listen to ”Earth Song” and take it seriously, we have to understand that many people around us have a hard time taking MJ seriously. We can’t throw the ”tabloid-crap card” each and every time (or the ”hater card”). People get their impressions from a wide variety of sources, and our job is not to deny that MJ had cars and expensive stage clothing, it is to try to explain why people should care about his message.
Imagine if your only experience of MJ (besides a few songs flittering by in the background) were the Bashir documentary.
Imagine that you didn’t care a lot about the program, and that the only thing you remembered was the part where Bashir and MJ go shopping. (Perhaps because you were a fond shopper yourself, and therefore used to remember such scenes.)
Now, an MJ fan approaches you and tells you to listen to ”Earth Song”, written by someone called ”Michael Jackson”.
”What!” you spontaneously react. ”Michael Jackson? Wasn’t he that rich guy that spent all his money shopping expensive things that he didn’t really need? How could he tell me anything about preserving the environment?”
Again, Alderbaranredstar, this is not my personal opinion. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what we’re up against, and also delineate (albeit in an exaggerated way!) some of the paradoxes that we have to face in our discussions.
Being critical is not the same as MJ bashing! In fact, being uncritical only makes us ridiculous in the eyes of non-fans. Only by being critical, and turning every aspect, even those that sometimes repel us, are we doing MJ’s legacy a real favour.
Remember the blog’s name – Dancing with the Elephant.
rereading my comment to you, it strikes me as being a bit ”bombastic”!
I didn’t mean to talk down to you.
I hereby officially add an ”In my humble opinion”! 🙂
All the best,
Hi, Bjorn–thanks for your comments. I too love the song Heaven Can Wait. I also recall during the This is It rehearsals he often said “God bless you,” so he still believed in God. I just read a passage too from his real estate agent about the purchase of Neverland and she said he asked her to repeat the Lord’s Prayer over every structure on the property (this was during a visit where they spent a few days exploring the place before he bought it).
It’s true the whole “extravagant spender” label has been attached to MJ, and the Bashir shopping trip might play a part. He returned all the items he supposedly “bought” on that trip–I think that trip was to try convince people he didn’t have any money troubles. He was proud and trying to make a comeback with that interview, as we know.
As far as convincing “everyone”–to listen to Earth Song and take it seriously, I would be happy with a smaller number b/c convincing everyone of anything seems impossible to me. Just my take on it: I would rather put forward a strong statement of MJ’s powerful messages and then let people agree or disagree or ignore, as they choose. We all have free will and so many different opinions that trying to debate them all is exhausting. Just my take on it.
Don’t worry about ‘talking down to me”–you didn’t. I just want throw the ball I (meaning advocating for MJ) ahead of the negatives and hope people will follow. In this way, we strike new territory, which I see as one of the best features of Willa and Joie’s blog.
People listen to Imagine and other “peace and love” songs by John Lennon and the Beatles and they do not say: “we won’t listen to it because Lennon was a hypocrite”. And he was. He could sing about love and peace, but he beat his wife and neglected his oldest son. It’s not me saying it, but Julian Lennon:
“Hearing Dad’s peace-loving stance perpetually celebrated got to Julian. “I have to say that, from my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite,” he told the London Telegraph in 1998. “Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces–no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.””
Yet, does that make people and media critics say we should not take his songs seriously? Sometimes I feel Michael is held to higher standards than almost any other pop/rock artist. His smallest mistakes and contradictions are getting magnified, while people give a pass to other stars on their much worse behavior. I feel like he was expected to be perfect and if he wasn’t he was torn apart for it more than anyone else.
Hi, Jacksonaktak, Thanks for your comment and I agree that MJ was held to a much higher standard than any other pop/rock performer–as if he had to be perfect, as you said (and good point about John Lennon and the peace-love songs, which are wonderful, but as you point out, his life was not one of peace and love in important ways).
Someone recently commented on another blog about the whole Jarvis Cocker incident, when Jarvis came on stage and interrupted MJ’s performance by dropping his pants and exposing his rear end to the audience. That meant that his front end was visible to the children on stage. Talk about shocking. But amazingly enough, he was actually congratulated for that! He said he did it b/c he was fed up with MJ acting ‘like Jesus” on stage–this refers to MJ’s posture when he opened his arms wide and lifted his head upwards and also had children close to him. Now if MJ ever did anything like what Jarvis did, he would have been locked up–just another example of the incredible double-standards you mention.
Well this is my first time responding to your blog, which I have read quite often, And I believe that you present new and interesting ways to look at MJs work although I do not always agree with your conclusions, and as it so happens this is one of those times. I do not think that the Judeo-Christian world view has caused all of these problems that you seem to think it has neither do I think that MJ had such problems with it either. Being given dominion over the Earth does not give man the right to destroy it, but to care for it as he did in the garden. And I think that Judeo- Christian world view breeds a love for what God has created, both man and beast. The Old Testament promotes the kindly treatment of animals not abuse. And the Old Testament as well as the new promotes love and the kind treatment of people. All the laws can be summed up in Jesus’ statement love God and love man. If man followed this rule, and the definition given for love in first Corinthians verses 2-13 as well as in other verses. The Earth would not be in such turmoil. Also finding God in everything that He has made is not contrary to the Judeo-Christian worldview, you can find divinity in everything because everything was made by God but everything is not deity. And in the last book of the Bible Revelation chapter 11 verse 18 it is revealed that God will destroy those that destroy the Earth. So it is quite clear that taking care of the earth is part of the Judeo-Christian world view. Nor do I think that MJ was opposed to this world view just because he may have question how things were, nor does it mean he had abandoned the this world view or Jesus. God does not mind if you ask questions He is big enough to handle them. Also MJ may not have quite understood everything he new of the Bible such Jesus talking about peace. Jesus was talking about inner peace and peace in the midst of conflict and trouble when he was teaching. But He will also usher in eternal peace and the absence of war when he returns. As for being betrayed you are correct we have been betrayed but not by the God of the Bible or Jesus Christ but by Satan. In the beginning man and woman were equal and being submissive does not devalue a person. When you work you have a boss that is over you and you are subordinate to him/her, does that make you less than he/she? And as for devaluing women this happens in the eastern world view as well. In the Bible there are many instances where women took control and lead and had good and successful outcomes. I believe that the Earth Song shows that MJ still believed in Jesus Christ esp. in the performances that he did before he had the accident on stage with the bridge. And speaking of the bridge, MJ had it right Jesus is the bridge between God and man. And even though Abraham did not have to give his son for a sacrifice, the very fact that Abraham was willing to do it, and he had faith enough to believe that God would do what was right. God himself said I will give my son for man. And that is another reason for God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, so that we would know how great a sacrifice Jesus was. The answer to all of the questions in the song is that man cannot achieve these lofty ideals without a transcendent God that loves and saves and changes hearts. Loving the earth won’t do it. The Eastern worldview is no better than a Western worldview they also kill, have slavery, have wars (hence the martial arts), have caste systems, don’t value women, destroy etc…
But here again MJ had it right For God so loved that he gave His Son…… It is indeed all for love.
Hi Marsha! Nice to “meet” you here and glad you decided to jump in the conversation. I just wanted to support what you said about “The Eastern worldview is no better than a Western worldview…,” especially since I had brought up Sanatana Dharma in another comment. I really believe your conclusion: “It is indeed all for love.” There are many different levels of understanding in any religion or world view, and destructive, distorted thinking through any of them is a recipe for disaster. Many of us in the West tend to forget that Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion! And don’t all religions, in their purest, highest understanding, have love as the ultimate goal? All of us have so much in common that way, MJ really seemed to understand that on a very deep level. Thanks for your comment!
Thanks for joining in Marsha.
“There are many different levels of understanding in any religion or world view, and destructive, distorted thinking through any of them is a recipe for disaster. ”
This is so true! As a Christian I have a hard time recognizing what is represented as Christianity these days. I, like Marsha, also believe that stewardship of Earth is truly a value of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Yet some how that message does not get represented in the media. We are told we need to just “drill, drill, drill” for oil and we can have whatever we want.
But hey, I don’t get the message of strapping yourself down with guns and 100s of rounds of ammunition and thinking God is ok with that either.
Hi Destiny —
You referred to “stewardship of Earth” as truly a value of Judeo-Christian beliefs. I have thought about this a lot. And, I do not disagree that among liberal Christians, this is a value. In fact, we used to discuss this a lot in div school.
However, I just have one, quick comment: stewardship implies a management role, as if humans actually are managers of the earth. We are creatures of the earth; earth and nature are ultimately in control of us, and we forget this to our peril. If we do not treat nature right, we will die out. We are a species that relatively speaking has not been on this earth for a very long time. For eons, earth got along just fine without us. And, if we go extinct, I think we will not be missed. If you really think about the damage the human species is doing, earth and nature would be much better off without us. (This goes along with an earlier comment from Willa.)
As a mother and a grandmother and a member of the human race, I would like to see us continue — as MJ did. But to survive, we need to re-image ourselves in relationship to the earth. And, I think he was trying to provide us with a new and/or different image.
I think we, as a species, are still in an experimental stage. And, as to our future, the jury is still out.
@Destiny, excellent points!
@Eleanor, “If you really think about the damage the human species is doing, earth and nature would be much better off without us.”
This is really a sobering thought, isn’t it? Without human beings, the earth would gradually heal and restore itself. Everything would return to its original beauty, the air would gradually be purified, the forests would re-grow, the whole ecosystem would go back into balance. Mother nature has been rather patient with us, but I don’t know for how much longer…something we all have to really think about.
It is said that we, human beings, are agent of environment disequilibrium, that we do not know how to live in harmony with nature, we need to extract everything in it and turn it in wealth. And we also waste a lot.
So the more extremist environmentalist theory says we should extinguish our own species so the planet can recover itself. But I digress. We need do not be extinct, just seek for balance. We’re not idiots, we’ll find a way. We just need understand that the blessings of modern life are not the most important thing.
The rare untouched tribes living in the Amazon live in perfect harmony with the forest, extracting it provides without destroying it. They harvest fruit, but not reap to manufacture them and thus generate profit by selling. They kill animals, yes, but to feeding. I see nothing wrong with that. Wrong is killing for sport, is to capture them and sell to decorate someone’s house; is to buy them, because when we buy, we encourage the capture, as was done with parrots and macaws. (You maybe saw the animation named Rio. The specie of macaw showed in Rio, “the small blue macaw”, was extinguished in the nature. Its beauty is its disgrace. A German biologist who lives here and studied our species of butterflies said “Some people aren’t pleased in just see the beauty, they need possess the beauty.” He said that because thousands of butterflies were trafficked and sold in acrylic boxes to collectors at worldwide, principally blue butterflies.)
The Indians live in harmony with nature because they have no desire to accumulate wealth and assets. In Brazilian history books to children is said that when the European forced the natives to help them remove everything of value from the earth, like gold, timber, diamonds, the Indians asked, “What for?” And the Portuguese responded, “to accumulate, Indian “, and again the Indian asked,” What for? ” and the Portuguese responded, “To become rich so we can buy everything we need, “and the Indian said, “But doesn’t Mother-Nature give all we need? And why catch everything today? If She gives us today, She will gives us tomorrow.” Ok, it’s a childish way to explain, but that’s it.
The Indian lives in harmony because he has no desire for wealth, they aren’t greedy. He did not want to take all that nature has today (destroying it), he takes the measure necessary. In their greed, the Portuguese extinguished a typical Brazilian tree, Pau-Brazil, a noble red wood, which was sold for high value in Europe. It was the first thing they took from this land – all Pau-Brazil. And what for? To change it for money, more gold. Now, all existing Pau-Brazil are old furniture in European houses. This got me crazy! It was a very beatiful tree, and I never have the chance to saw it in the nature.I hate Portuguese people, they raped this land.
So, no need to extinguish our species, but extinguish this idea that nature is only a source from which we can take things to become ourselves materially rich.
We can live well without destroying the planet, we’re smart, we’ll find a way. If we want. If we respect the nature. How we have tlakin about for along in this post, we need realize we are part of the nature, not its owner.
“We can live well without destroying the planet, we’re smart, we’ll find a way.” I really believe this Daniela! Through imagination and ingenuity, it’s really possible. I think MJ saw those possibilities.
I have faith that we will. Our very survival depends on it. We must to stop being selfish and think that there will be another generation that deserve find a beautiful planet, full of beautiful things to see.
Willa said something like “the environmentalist say we like our stuff so much.”
I think they meant not we love our individual things and we should give them up. I think they mean we adore modern life: our cities, our powerful cars, technology constantly developing. We love this all. And, damn, it’s really good. Tha’ts why is so hard to give up all this.
But our ingenuity has been used to benefit the preservation too. To capture sunlight and transforms it into energy, instead of use electricity, fuel, etc., is a good example. We need learnd to adapt ou necessity about technology (because we are habituated to it) to the necessity of the Nature.
The big question is take what nature gives us very generously without killing Her, like we’re parasites. I’ve seen an American movie where humans are compared to parasites, because we destroy the environment where we take our sustenance and I felt very bad about it, because we are worst ! We don’t destroyed the nature to feed us, but because we want more than we need.
But we can change it if we start now.
Thanks for your comment, Eleanor. I understand your point and will have to think about ‘stewardship’ and ‘management’ a little more. Maybe that’s not the right term. Yet still I do believe that humans are different than other beings in nature. There is an order to life and plants and animals, but a Christian God has given humans intellect, which makes us different from everything else. We are given free will while everything else is instinctual. We have discernment, which the rest of nature doesn’t have. And therefore I think we have an extra-responsibility.So even though we are the ones over populating, over consuming and using up all the natural resources, I also think we are the ones who can heal a sick animal, even help bring an animal back from extinction. The choice is ours, which the rest of nature doesn’t have.
I agree about our importance here. The earth would get along just fine without us. I remember David Attenborough once saying in effect that if mankind died out, the earth would continue, but if insects die out the earth would die. I see myself as a steward rather than having dominion, as mentioned above, and I know that as an individual I can make a difference, and if every individual felt that, we would indeed make a difference. Yes we need to lobby governments and corporations as well, but we do that as individuals also don’t we? I don’t see it as either or!
What I mean, Caro, is when we do social or political acts we join with others–yes, we are doing this as individuals of course–everything we do, we do as individuals b/c we are individual beings. But as individuals we can join with other like minded individuals and that way we have an increased strength. Am I not making sense here? It seems like a very clear point to me so I am unsure why this point is not (apparently) being understood. I don’t see an either/or–we can do both and IMO we need to do both for the earth.
“I do not think that the Judeo-Christian world view has caused all of these problems.”
Hi Marsha. This is something I’ve been questioning also, and it’s part of what I was trying to get at with the Ernst Fischer quotes below. Fischer sees humankind’s “dominion” over nature (he even uses that word, “dominion”) as occurring much earlier – not with the rise of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but when humans first began using tools and totems and language. He sees this entry into material production and the symbolic as the origins of “art,” which he defines very expansively, and he even makes the startling claim that the end of our dominion over nature will be the end of art. (That isn’t a direct quote, but it’s close – I need to find his exact words.)
Fischer’s book (which was written in the 1950s) sees this dominion over nature in a very positive way, while I (reading his words in the 2010s, and guided in part by Eleanor’s ideas) see this dominion much more negatively. But it makes me wonder – if Fischer’s ideas are true, I wonder if art can help lead us to a new relationship with nature, and with the material things we make from the natural world.
Hi everyone. I just wanted to make a quick comment about our discussions here.
Whenever I sit down to read comments at this site, my starting assumption is that everyone here loves and respects Michael Jackson, and is working toward a deeper understanding of him and his work, and I tend to interpret everyone’s comments that way – even when I strongly disagree with them.
Someone may be working through some complicated issues, or struggling to understand something, and that’s fine. My hope is that this is a safe place to do that, and that we’ll all help each other as we grapple with his work – because frankly, it takes a village (a global village) to understand Michael Jackson’s work. It’s revolutionary, it’s complicated, and it takes on some very controversial issues: racism, misogyny, sex, religion, the environment.
Many times people express a very different view of him than I have, and sometimes it troubles me and sometimes it elates me and opens up a whole new vista for how to see him. Either way, I think that sheer diversity of opinions is wonderful, and I appreciate the thought and time you all put into sharing your different perspectives. So thank you.
And I would like to second that! And thank Willa and Joie, again, for allowing me to discuss my interpretation of “Earth Song” and “Planet Earth” — even tho’, or maybe even because, it was controversial.
And, I really want to thank everyone for your comments — the effort put into them and the sincerity and good will with which they are offered. Our opinions may be diverse, but at least we are focused on the issue — and I think Michael deeply wanted us to think about these things.
If I have not answered or responded to a particular comment, it is because I felt that I had already addressed the issue in the original post or in a subsequent comment. OR, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet — still recovering from my reveling.
@Willa “it takes a village (a global village) to understand Michael Jackson’s work. It’s revolutionary, it’s complicated, and it takes on some very controversial issues: racism, misogyny, sex, religion, the environment.”
This is so true. And, I think the passion people feel about his work and what it means — as is reflected on this blog — shows us just how deeply he affected people — and gives us a clue as to the nature of the passionate and powerful responses, both pro and con, he elicited in the world at large.
Hello to all of you again!
All these topics that have been so lovingly developed bring to my attention another means of trying to understand “immanence” according to Eleanor’s interpretation. A few years ago I came across a statement by the eminent Swiss gemologist Edouard Gubelin who extensively studies gems under a microscope and produced atlases of the results in print. He beleived that whenever he beholds such beautiful spectacles, he “sees the fingerprints of God”. Here we find the earth intertwined with the divine, a notion Michael ardently advocated.
Through the eyes of children —
My two-year-old grandson’s favorite book is about animals and their sounds. This past weekend we took him to the zoo and for the first time he saw a real elephant. A real gorilla –and the look of wonder on his face! Well, it was really something!
All the while I was beset with these conflicting emotions — what a wonderful experience for him; how terrible that these beautiful wonderful beasts were behind bars — imprisoned, yet seeing them in the flesh might motivate people to save them
But the saddest thought of all was that by the time my grandson reaches my age, none of these animals will be left on the planet.
If only we all could experience his wonder!
MJ could and did.
And he understood how important it is to keep a child’s heart.
Hi Eleanor. Thank you so much for your lovely detailed responses throughout this discussion, and for your patience as I struggle to collect my thoughts and try to say what I’m thinking. Your ideas have sparked so many associations for me that it’s taking me quite a while to sort it all out, and I still have much to think about. Your ideas, which you came at through theology, connect in really interesting ways with ideas I’ve been grappling with for a while – ideas I came at through art. And that’s really exciting for me, but also kind of confusing as I try to untangle all these different threads. But here goes …
I agree absolutely that we need “a new way of life based on a different economic model — one that does not require ever increasing growth of population and ever increasing consumption and destruction of the very environment we depend on,” as you said in a comment above. The question is what sort of ideological change can bring about this “new way of life”? You see this change coming about through a philosophical or theological shift from a model of transcendence to one of immanence, and I find that fascinating – mind-blowing, even – and I want to ponder that a lot more.
I’ve been trying to figure out how we can bring about this “new way of life” also, as I talked about a little bit in M Poetica, but I see it coming about through art, which I define much more broadly than you do. As you said above, art can “praise or blame. When a society is flourishing, great art amplifies and affirms the existing perception of reality. … When a society is headed for disaster, it is the role of the great artist, through her/his art to question the path a society is on.” I agree, but I see art as much more than that. It doesn’t just reflect us (in praise or blame), it creates us – our sense of ourselves and who we are as a culture. And it doesn’t just reflect our vision of nature – it epitomizes our relationship with nature.
A couple months ago Julie suggested a wonderful book, The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach by Ernst Fischer. (Thanks, Julie!) Here’s how Fischer describes the origins of art (and I’m struck by how his words about art resonate with yours about the Judeo-Christian tradition):
(This last phrase, “a prophet in art,” is interesting in this context because Fischer frequently equates art with the sacred, the artist with the priest or sorcerer.)
According to Fischer our modern problems began with the Industrial Revolution – not because we suddenly had the means to devastate nature more efficiently, as generally assumed, but because mass production meant we were no longer artists and craftsmen involved in material production, and so we became cut off from the Earth and from ourselves, from the labor of our own hands:
Fischer then traces, in fascinating ways, how most art since the Industrial Revolution has been trying to deal with that alienation in some way. And this is something Michael Jackson wrestled with also – about how alienating modern work can be – from “Working Day and Night” on Off the Wall to “whatever Happens” on Invincible to “Keep Your Head Up” on Michael. (“She’s working two jobs, keeping alive / She works in a restaurant night and day / She waits her life away.” Interestingly, he links this to the environment: “Killing up the life in the birds and the trees / And we’re suckin’ up the air in the Earth from under me.”) And he mentions it in “Earth Song” as well, I think, when he sings, “What about the common man? / Can’t we set him free?” – free from mindless, unfulfilling work, I think.
All of this has me thinking about human material culture (from bowls and beds and chairs to vast networks and libraries and everything we’ve created) and looking at it in a different way – as the interface between humankind and the material world – and it has me wondering how art and craftsmanship might reshape our relationship with both man-made material culture and the natural world.
For example, traditional environmentalism says the problem is that we love our “stuff” too much – the result being that we enjoy our material culture but feel guilty about it. But what if we looked at it the opposite way – that we love our stuff too little? That we buy stuff, enjoy it for a while, grow tired of it, throw it away, and buy new stuff. How would it change things if we truly loved every human artifact as the union of nature and culture?
For example – and this is an exaggeration to prove a point – but what if every object in our homes were hand-crafted and cherished as a precious artifact that unites materials from the Earth with the skill of a craftsman? What if instead of simply doing a repetitious task and receiving a paycheck for his labor, “the common man” spent his time crafting something beautiful – something he could hold in his hands and be proud of when he was done? How would this change our relationship with nature, with material culture, and with ourselves? Finally, I wonder if Michael Jackson had thoughts like this in mind when he talked about craftsmanship, or when he said he envisioned a world where everyone is an artist.
Thank you again, Eleanor. So much to think about …
Well, Willa. There certainly is a lot to untangle and you have introduced some new and interesting ideas — which I have been thinking over. I really agree with you that the culture of disposability means —
“that we love our stuff too little? That we buy stuff, enjoy it for a while, grow tired of it, throw it away, and buy new stuff.”
In fact, the extreme opposite — religious asceticism –also shows a contempt for nature — even tho’ the ascetic lives lightly on the land. There’s a quote from Trollope that I love, “The lovely Thais sits beside you, take the goods the gods provide you.” Enjoy life, value nature’s beauty and generosity, and be soooo grateful for the starry night, the ripe tomatoes, whatever…
I also agree with you that art —
“creates us – our sense of ourselves and who we are as a culture. And it doesn’t just reflect our vision of nature – it epitomizes our relationship with nature.”
Exactly right — art, especially as it is used to communicate religious ideas, shapes our relationship with nature — which varies from culture to culture.
Which means that I don’t see all art or every human culture as essentially destructive of the environment, although both can be.
On the other hand, I do see art/religion/ culture as essential to human survival, precisely because it tells us how to relate to nature and it provides us with a shared perception of reality, without which we could not act collectively, cooperate, or work together for the common good.
In this way, art is the union of nature and culture.
If culture is necessary for human survival, I do not think it could also be, by its very nature, destructive of the environment that is also necessary for survival. Evolution doesn’t work that way. On the contrary, I see culture and art as a communicator of cultural ideas, as having evolved to provide humans with the ability to adapt to a variety of environments — unlike so many non-human animals, who are doomed if they lose their habitat or their environment changes in some significant way. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for error, that a culture couldn’t develop which was destructive. Which, of course, is what I have been arguing ours has turned out to be.
I do agree that mass production really altered the landscape. Also the industrialization of farming and animal husbandry. Mass production also no doubt has spurred population growth — another kind of mass production — as it made food and goods far more widely available. And, it totally changed the nature of work.
And I really agree that mass production has alienated us from ourselves and from nature. It has focussed us on the product rather than the process, and has degraded the product in the process.
You ask — “How would it change things if we truly loved every human artifact as the union of nature and culture?” Obviously a lot. But, how do we get from here to there? Right now, no one can even afford to eat food that is not processed and/or mass produced.
I think Fischer and I are probably on very different wave-lengths — as, based on what you say, he seems to be of the old school of still marvelling at what a piece of work is man, while I think we would be a lot better off if we started thinking of ourselves as animals and being proud of that fact — because animals are really cool and do great things and are loving and caring of each other — and do not destroy the countryside the way we do. In fact, I had pretty much completely lost faith in the human race until I encountered Michael Jackson. The fact that our society? could still produce such a remarkable being…. well, some hope was restored.
And, we are the animal that produces art and artists, like MJ, so we can’t be all bad — Maybe “Bad.”
Hi Eleanor. It’s true that you and Fischer are coming from very different places, so maybe I’m trying to force a connection that doesn’t really exist or isn’t really appropriate. If so, I apologize! But as I was thinking about your ideas, I kept seeing interesting parallels to Fischer.
For example, you both see humankind in a position of “dominion” over nature (a word you both use, though he sees this dominion as something true and proper while you see it as a dangerous delusion we need to correct). But while you see this dominion beginning in the book of Genesis, when the Judeo-Christian God grants man dominion over the plants and animals, Fischer sees it beginning when early humans first began fashioning tools and artifacts and responding in creative ways to their environment. As Fischer says, “a fear of nature together with the ability to control nature, is the very essence of all art.”
Also, you both believe humans see ourselves as separate from other animals – transcendent (though again, you and Fischer view that from very different perspectives, and with very different emotions). But you see this idea originating in Genesis when God breathes a transcendent spirit into Adam, while Fischer places it at the moment when early humans first became artists – a moment when “man himself is transformed from an animal into a man.”
So while I see some very important differences between your ideas and his, I also see some very intriguing parallels…
Here are responses to some specific comments:
“religious asceticism – also shows a contempt for nature — even tho’ the ascetic lives lightly on the land” and “‘The lovely Thais sits beside you, take the goods the gods provide you.’ Enjoy life, value nature’s beauty and generosity, and be soooo grateful for the starry night, the ripe tomatoes, whatever… “
Beautifully stated! I love this, and agree completely. Benefiting from nature’s bounty in a respectful and deeply appreciative way seems more environmentally aware than using nature’s resources grudgingly, with a feeling of guilt or shame. And that’s so interesting about some types of religious asceticism being environmentally friendly in terms of a small carbon footprint, but philosophically showing “contempt for nature.” I hadn’t thought about that.
“I don’t see all art or every human culture as essentially destructive of the environment, although both can be.”
I agree. I think some cultures developed in ways that were much more harmonious with nature. Unfortunately, our modern consumer culture is not one of them….
“You ask — “’How would it change things if we truly loved every human artifact as the union of nature and culture?’ Obviously a lot. But, how do we get from here to there?”
Big question! Obviously, transforming an entire economy, an entire culture, is a far greater task than any of us can even begin to get our minds around. But it does seem like it can start with baby steps – small personal changes in our attitudes and behavior, as Daniela has mentioned several times. And I earnestly believe that art is a powerful force for changing our perceptions, beliefs, and ultimately our behavior.
Thank you again, Eleanor, and everyone who’s participating here. These are really complicated issues, and it’s so interesting to read everyone’s responses.
Exactly. Can’t remember who said it but, ‘love what you have, don’t have what you love’!!!
So just finished The Necessity of Art, and the conclusion was so interesting I have to share it – especially since it ties in in interesting ways with our discussion. Fischer talks once again about “Man, who became man through work, who stepped out of the animal kingdom as transformer of the natural into the artificial, who became therefore the magician, man the creator of social reality …” So again this separation from the natural world that you talk about, Eleanor, though Fischer identifies art rather than the JC God as the cause of that separation.
But Fischer also envisions an idealized future when art will help us gain a “magic unity with the universe,” a term that encompasses both the world of nature and the world of culture we have created. Specifically, he talks about “the creative being’s unity not only with the natural world but also with the rest of mankind.” He describes this as a time of “superabundance” of creativity and says, “Such ‘superabundance’ in society as we have known it until now has been the lot and heavy burden of only very few men and women; but in a truly human society the springs of creative power will gush forth in many, many more.”
In other words, he envisions a time when we are all artists, as Michael Jackson envisioned also.
This has indeed been a full discussion and has raised a lot of issues. Personally, I think we got away from what MJ was communicating in Earth Song, so just to say that what I hear in that song is, as I said in my ebook, a call to action–what I called his “Grito.” In the struggle for Mexican Independence, there is a moment when the movement to overthrow the Spanish colonial government and its abuses occurred (Sept. 16, 1810). The moment came with ‘El Grito”–the cry–that was made by a priest called Benito Hildalgo on his parish steps on behalf of a group of committed men and women who had worked secretly to prepare a rebellion. The Grito is performed every year on the same parish steps and in Mexico City by the President of Mexico. I see MJ’s Earth Song as his cry–his grito–as is an earnest call against all the abuses done to our planet, to its ecosystems, to its life forms, to its beautiful and complex systems, and most of all to its very elements–the rain, the sunrise, the seas, the air. He relates this to the same agression shown by humans against each other–war, killing fields. The final line of the song is “What about death again?” And to me this is key–we are steeped in death, death of species, death of ecosystems, death of children, humans, death of this entire planet–its air, water, earth. This is what we are facing DEATH of this planet and all of the life on it. How long can we continue this death before, as he said in TII, it is “irreversible damage we’ve done.” MJ was very knowledgeable about the environmental damage being done–this is not academic. This is real. He knew and he saw. Earth Song is him trying with all his might to channel the pain of the earth so that we can all hear.
To me, this is a deadly serious issue and it is not a matter of criticizing his personal lifestyle, or myself, or the points I have tried to make about my understanding of what an environmentalist is. When we recycle, etc., these are good acts, but IMO to be an environmentalist means doing that and more–speaking out, advocating, working, and this means taking social and political action. I have never said individual actions are not good, but IMO the damage is so great and the danger so great that more is needed–political and social activism. This is what I think MJ did with Earth Song and with other actions. He had a great platform as an artist and he used it to make a powerful environmental message.
“He had a great platform as an artist and he used it to make a powerful environmental message.”
I agree completely.
Hi, Willa–do you remember our discussion way back about the Bower Birds? If you think back to that discussion we had, you will perhpas understand why I see this division between nature/culture as artificial (or nature/art)–it is a continuum and IMO a big part of human hubris (which knows no bounds) is to think that other species on this planet do not engage in culture or art. We think we alone have language, artistic and cultural ability, we think we alone have sophisticated social groups, that we alone have feelings and brains. WE ARE WRONG.
Hi aldebaranredstar —
I agree wholeheartedly that Earth Song is a call to action. But, I sincerely believe it also addresses the underlying cause of our attacks on the environment and our attacks on each other, which he ties together in this one song.
And the underlying cause he points to is a shared perception of reality that views humans as outside of nature and sacralizes attitudes of dominion and control –whether over nature, lands or people.
In addition to taking action, we need to develop a new perception of reality which will create new attitudes, so the actions we take actually solve the problem instead of making it worse. And, the genius of the song is that the powerful emotions that he expresses and evokes act upon us at such a deep level, that they actually bring about that change. Earth Song, itself, changes how we view and value the world. Art is not didactic, it is itself transformative.
So Earth Song is not only a call to action, his “grito, “the song — the performance, and the performer — acts on our emotions in such a way as to bring about the change necessary to do the right thing.
This blog is about Michael Jackson, his art, and social change. And, I can’t think of a better song than Earth Song to demonstrate how Michael Jackson’s art was directed to bringing about social change — and how his art actually changed people’s hearts.
Personally, Michael Jackson has been a transformative figure in my own life, so what I write is reflective of my own experience. His music, his art, his being completely changed how I see and feel about the world. Even tho’, I had always embraced the standard liberal causes — and was devoting my time to writing a book about the environment, he brought about a much deeper change in me — and I can’t think that I am unique in this experience.
I always look forward enormously to each new blog, but I am almost sad that tomorrow we will have a new one, and this one will come to an end!!! It has been absolutely wonderful, and thank you all for your comments. For me it isn’t important whether we agree or disagree along the way on aspects of this conversation – what is important is that in the end we all agree that MJs Earth Song is a wonderful artistic creation that has got us all thinking, and that in our individual ways we have taken his message on board and are doing something about it. Viva Mother Earth – I believe she and us will survive all this in the long run.
Hi, Caro, Yes, I agree that each of us in our own way “have taken his message on board and are doing something about it.” Whether we are doing enough is another question. Some people that have commented have expressed optimism, as you just did. However, I am not at all optimistic and maybe that’s why I see the need to do more to advocate beyond our own lifestyle changes. What I see is very bleak, and I think MJ saw it too. We are doing enormous damage to the very structures of the earth’s ecosystems, and instead of getting better, it is actually getting worse. There is increased carbon in the atmosphere, not less. We are moving in the wrong direction. I feel sad for the future.
I do agree with you Aldebaran that the situation is indeed dire, but yes I am an optimist and I do think we can save our “sweetheart” – I have to, otherwise I just wouldn’t get up tomorrow morning!! There are many good people out there all over the world who are raising consciousness just like Michael did, like Al Gore continues to do from a US standpoint, but the world is a large place, and there are others in other countries doing their bit also. Yes we can make a difference as individuals, cos as you say that is where we all start, and also in banding together to change corporate view points, and we all really need to do that as vigoursly as possible and at every given opportunity.
I understand your sadness, but I can’t subscribe to it overall, cos life is a beautiful thing and we live on a beautiful planet. I know these things made Michael sad also, but he went out there and did something to make it better – he didn’t sit at home just feeling sad. I am not suggesting that you are in any way doing that either, but please we need to keep positive, and as Wayne Dyer teaches we need to have positive intentions. I have set a positive intention for the part of the planet I live in to be a “better place” and I fully intend to take Michaels hand and “change the world”, and this wonderful blog has just made me more determined to do so!
Nicoletta said we need to have hope “Although everything points to a train in race to the “collective suicide” ,as if men were suffering from a blindness foolish that does not seem to allow you to see very clearly.”
Michael had hope but he also saw this “blind foolishness” that did not see the end result of where we are headed if we continue on the same path to “collective suicide.” He was trying to stop us from going over the cliff to disaster.
When you think that Earth Song was on the HIStory album in 1995–have things gotten better or worse? There is no doubt they have gotten worse.
The main problem I see is that people do not value the earth, the earth’s ecosystems, and any nonhuman life. They don’t care if there are whales, tigers, elephants, dolphins, bears living wild and free in healthy, wild habitats. It is simply not important to them.
I was reading comments by Peter Weir, who directed The Truman Show, which he said was about MJ’s life. This was a movie about a man who lived a life constantly in front of the camera, like an extended reality show, although he didn’t know the people in his life were just actors and that he was always watched.
In an interview Weir made this statement:
“To me, the real center of the film is the loss of reality.”
This is what we are losing with all the simulated realities we live in–the reality of the earth.
Interviewer: Now we come to The Truman Show, another culture clash movie, with the culture of fantasy colliding with that of the culture of reality.
Peter Weir: Yeah, that’s true I guess. To me, the real center of the film is the loss of reality. I think now (in the media) there’s so much acting and re-enacting and dramatized news broadcasts and cops with cameras, and society viewing it all second hand. As Bill Gates recently said “We may soon never need to leave our armchairs,” as if that were a good thing! And that’s what I liked and what I tried to apply to the audience (in the film). They applaud, they laugh, they cry…
There is an irony here that it is a movie that is trying to help us see the loss of reality, just as Earth Song is trying to help us see loss of the earth. Earth Song is a eulogy–“Now I don’t know where we are” and a warning “although I know we’ve drifted far.”
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