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Excerpt from A Language Older Than Words

The Real Gods of Our Culture (p. 215)

From chapter "The Parable of the Box"

It is 5:30 in the morning. A few moments ago I awoke with a start. This time I am not confused. I have never been more clear. I know the nightmare can have only one conclusion, and I know also that the nightmare cannot be defeated on its own terms.

It is not possible to fix this culture, to halt or even significantly slow its destructiveness. Nightmarish shape shifter, as I hope by now I’ve made clear, this culture’s destructive urges can yoke all circumstances to its advantage. A parable of this adaptability begins with a single person. He or she wakes up from the nightmare to reject the behavior modifications of our culture. He or she becomes the catalyst of a popular movement advocating cooperation, sharing, and love. Call this person Jesus, or Spartacus, or Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, and this movement the Zapatistas, or the Anabaptists, or any number of names. The response by authorities, those atop the box and the soldiers who also dream the nightmare, is swift and certain. First, the authorities eliminate the offending person or group, “to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy.” This elimination has been the fate of all who effectively oppose the perceived divine right of the wealthy to control the lives of those they impoverish or enslave: Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., the Anabaptists, the Arawaks, the Khoikhoi, the San, and tens of millions of other individuals and groups; if we go back far enough, it happened to the ancient indigenous Europeans and Middle Easterners.

The next and most important step in the nightmare’s process of adaptation must be to co-opt and subvert the message, as Christians have done with the story of Jesus, as corporations and mainstream environmental groups do with peoples’ desire to live on a healthy planet, as the New Age movement does with Indian symbology.

Here is the real lesson of the story of Jesus, the main myth of our Christian culture: oppose us and we will kill you, speak to us of love and we will nail you to a cross. We will deify your image and ignore your words. Within the span of three generations, your precious people will be killing each other in your name.


The real gods of our culture—those who are esteemed, granted great social power—are not those who try to implement egalitarianism, who try to put in place a “siphon system,” who try to make ours into a “good” culture; the real gods are those who gain and wield control through the use of force. The real gods are the emperors, the kings, the presidents, the wealthy—the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Bushes, Kennedys, Weyerhaeusers—those who enrich themselves by despoiling land, people, everything and everyone within their reach. The nightmare cannot be defeated on its own terms.

This does not mean that Jesus, Spartacus, and the Arawaks lived and died in vain. They merely came too soon for their words and actions to alter the destructive course of this culture: they intersected this cannibal culture before it had sufficiently destroyed its ecosystemic base, and entered its endgame. Although I cannot predict the future, I do know that any culture that consumes its natural environment base will eventually collapse under the weight of its own strengths. Until then, what we each need to do is awaken to our own personal role in this nightmare, to loosen the delusion’s hold. Once we have awakened, once we know that the man does not sit atop the box through divine right, once we recognize that cultural convention is merely cultural invention, once we know that it does not have to be this way, that not all cultures have as their trajectory centralized control and ultimate annihilation, it is time to start the real work, time to devote our lives to saving what few fish remain, time to make sure that no one ever again sits atop the box.