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Dendrites, Fractals and Alternatives to Democracy

Life in the ‘Shed

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

The American unconscious is structured like a watershed.

Mainstream politics regenerates itself with the fluid dynamics not merely of suppression (the overt physical disciplining of the individual into a docile body—soldier, prisoner, or barefoot airplane passenger standing in line for “security”), but of repression. The downward trickle towards the oubliette, towards the deep pressure chambers of forgetting. This dream of state, this dreamstate, gives the nod to the big sleep.

The temptation we feel to pretend to ourselves that we don’t know where mainstream politics is headed can be overcome by a brief appeal to the lexicon of images we appear to have in common, where there lurks an ustube image of the Mississippi ripping itself a new delta in the buttside of downtown New Orleans. We miss a wonderful opportunity to awaken if we fall back onto our old pattern of blaming this or that politician for the direction of the main stream.

Streams flow. Feel this.

Western parliamentary democracies in willing coalition with assorted similarly barbarous states—what we have referred to elsewhere, for the sake of brevity, as “empire”—are characterized by their eagerness to dream that the environment is an “issue,” some kind of discrete entity, like a topic.

But the environment is everything there is or could be. Hoping against hope that the environment is an issue is like stuffing the universe into a hat. It can be done. It makes for an excellent heuristic, thought experiment, koan, or fantasy. Its real-world applications—not so good.

Streams flow. The small-crafted human, the venturer by bark or birch out over her head on a sea of misgivings, embarked, committed to a river just a little too fast or strong, she it is who has felt this surrender of the self to some larger, implacable force, like a consciousness, only inscrutable. No turning back now.

In the beginning, a flood. Saturation. Particles of organic matter in a tumult of suspension. Disbelief. Gradually the protocols of a certain specific gravity assert themselves. Particle bows to particle. Deference, difference. And on a certain day, which is to say, all days from this moment on, the waters are separated from the dry land. Creation as rejection. A spurning of the self, a me and a not-me. Articulation. An algorithm of branching rehearses to infinity this initial gesture of separation, of dialectic. Let us name this true fable of creation, keeping in mind that we use “fable” and “myth” to name not the superficially false but the profoundly true: the myth of the dendrite. From Greek, dendron, tree.

Watersheds are trees, sideways. Also, not sideways, but all the way down to the homeflood, the water table, set for two on the bed rock.

When people find out that we don’t believe in democracy, they often ask us what else we should try. What else should we try besides seven-hundred Battlestar Galactica-sized American military bases within spitting distance of every human on the planet, anarchy shaped up and shipped out as product and process to every watershed. Shock, awe, fire from the heavens. What should we try besides that?

How ’bout , we say, trying nothing for a while. See how that goes.

Or how ’bout trying this thing, which you can do from the back of your head. Notice how you’re already in a watershed. In a watershed of watersheds. A watershed of watersheds of watersheds. You are a watershed of watersheds, an effigy of the body politic, an echo, ecopoetic illustration of the dendritic nature of the world, a freehand sketch of the meaning of dialectic, a dandy capillary doodle to swallow up the yankee doodle.

We advise walking upstream.

Exploring the specific gravity of whole cities as they sit foursquare on their underground streams. Exploring the fractals of branching, how the pattern of dialectic goes all the way down to deep structure, perhaps to infinity.

Are we being too cryptic? Poetic? Well if that’s a monkeywrench sticking out of your yankee doodle we’re not going to tell you if it’s ours. The streams will flow free and clear again one day. As to whether there’ll be mammals around to notice, we have no opinion. Our life is today. There’s a cryptogram etched into this road right here underfoot, as concrete as you could ask for. Dendrite freehand of a tree fallen in the forest of human consciousness. The rivers will run free. The return of the repressed. Branch upon branch. The rivers will run free.

I think this crack is bigger than it was yesterday.

DAVID Ker THOMSON teaches in the Bard Language and Thinking Program in Annandale-on-the-Hudson, at the Dragon Academy in Toronto, and at the University of Toronto. He can be reached at: dave.thomson@utoronto.ca