What, then, do we call a society that provides incredible masses of information, little of which can be translated into behaviour? The “sourious society”? A genuine culture, wrote Edward Sapir, is the “expression of a…consistent attitude toward life, an attitude which sees the significance of any one element of civilization in its relation to all other. It is, ideally speaking, a culture in which nothing is spiritually meaningless.”
— Edmund Carpenter —Oh what a blow that phntom gave me!
I shall not easily forget an “environmental” presentation staged by the New York Museum of Natural History in the seventies in which the public was exposed to a long series of exhibits, each depicting examples of pollution and ecological disruption . The exhibit which closed the presentation carried a startling sign, “The Most Dangerous Animal on Earth,” and it consisted simply of a huge mirror which reflected back the human viewer who stood before it. I clearly recall a black child standing before the mirror while a white school teacher tried to explain the message which this arrogant exhibit tried to convey. There were no exhibits of corporate boards or directors planning to deforest a mountainside or government officials acting in collusion with them. The exhibit primarily conveyed one, basically misanthropic, message: people as such, not a rapacious society and its wealthy beneficiaries, are responsible for environmental dislocations — the poor no less than the personally wealthy, people of colour no less than privileged whites, women no less than men, the oppressed no less than the oppressor. A mythical human “species” had replaced classes; individuals had replaced hierarchies; personal tastes (many of which are shaped by a predatory media) had replaced social relationships; and the disempowered who live meagre, isolated lives had replaced giant corporations, self-serving bureaucracies, and the violent paraphernalia of the State.
Our eyebeams lock with those of strangers at some timeless, spaceless point. Those eyes stare back at us with an intensity we seldom encounter today in the portraits of our smiling leaders & graduating seniors.
— Edmund Carpenter “Oh, What a Blow the Phantom Gave me!”