Having beef feels strangely satisfying. Being asked to write about it is even better. Not only do I get to spend time re-convincing myself of my own opinions, but I get to expose people to them in a one-way conversation where nobody else can comment, critique, or expose any fallacies in my thinking. In “Beefs” previous, I expounded on truths that to me feel self-evident and felt the glowing righteousness of my perceived moral victories. People who agreed gave me props via text. It was great.
I have so much beef right now. I want to launch into rants. But what I’m realizing is that following beef’s fiery urge to froth-mouthed expression is boring. It’s an old trick and the great weapon of systemic power structures. We are so easily manipulated when we fearfully fight the “other side.” So rather than plant my flag in the unfertile soil of current social discourse, I want to take another approach. I want to inquire into my beef, to study it like an under-caffeinated FDA inspector, to get subjectively scientific and see what might be lurking beneath and within the sludgy psychic energy of everything I judge about the world.
Strongly Held Belief: We are in a climate and extinction emergency and the continuation of business-as-usual is a garish, ironic nightmare worthy of an HBO hit series that I would enjoy if it weren’t for the fact that we really are living through the collapse of industrial civilization while countless species of life’s tapestry leave us here alone, in a mess of our own making.
Outer Layer of Beef: Because I have flown in an airplane and survived, I have a reasonable assurance I can trust science. And so as I consider the science of the climate emergency, I want to scream at people (including myself, that’s part of the frustration) in the middle of the streets as they wander about shopping and consuming as if that’s the pinnacle of what humans evolved to do.
I’m so angry and I have very specific ideas of who to blame for it and what I see as unfathomable apathy. Even writing this, I feel my shoulders inching up, my jaw clenching, my chest squeezing shut.
Now, let’s inspect: On the surface this rage seems true and justified. The enemy is clear. It’s the story I live in. I feel the anger in my body - my chest and gut specifically - and I feel my survival system come online. When I start thinking about all this, I’m no longer relaxed but am in fight mode and I’m looking to blame someone (anyone) for the lava ball in my heart.
Let’s go to the next layer: Sitting here in Townshend’s Teahouse, as I focus on this feeling and breathe into it, I notice a deep squeezing in my heart. Dropping below that, through layers of denial and naivety, down below the place that says “we’ll figure it out,” I finally encounter the grief that’s always here. At the bottom of all that blame is heartbreak. Being in a public place and being a man in this culture, a lead straightjacket lives over my heart. In my mind’s eye I see my inner child crying, but on the surface I look fine, staring at my computer screen like most everyone else.
But now my chest is aching. Throbbing even. My whole body is slumping into my chair. Deep down, I’m broken by the unacknowledged destruction of the world. But in this story, in this culture, there’s nowhere for that heartbreak to go. There’s no village waiting to see and meet me in the pain. There’s no processes in place to handle the deep emotions that humans feel when they are confronted with vast endings. So I hold it in.
And this brings me back to anger. I’m struggling to comprehend that the life I imagined as a child won’t be possible; that the future I see is one of vast ecological breakdown and unimaginable consequences. And because I can’t feel all of that depth alone, the only option for keeping my sanity intact is compartmentalizing or externalizing the pain. Shutting down or blaming someone. Writing articles, inflating my opinions, and seeking alliances with people who think similarly.
This is the way the struggle moves in me, but everyone is living with some version of this. In the inner beef factory we are all mired in the incomprehensible strife of not knowing what to do with our fear and heartbreak, even if we see totally different causes for them.
The truth is that we all feel something wrong with what’s happening now. Some blame the right, some blame the left. Some blame science, others religion. But really, all that anger and frustration and hatred we launch at “people over there” is actually a fear and heartbreak so vast that we don’t know how to feel it.
So. Beef. Blame. Righteousness. Identity. We live in a map that no longer fits the territory of reality. We don’t have protocols for the world we can rely on anymore. We need another way of seeing. Maybe in the burly bigness of our opinions we can notice the soft ouch beneath the armor. Looking carefully, we can recognize that there’s not actually anyone “over there,” no true enemy. There’s just beings trying to live their lives and realize their dreams in a broken system, like us.
What if we decided to make space for all of ourselves and all of each other? We could use our imaginations to recognize that other people feel the same pain we do. And that they experience the same human yearning for a security that runs so deep we’d destroy anything to achieve it. And maybe - maybe - through that imagining, that empathy, perhaps even that compassion, we can open to new possibilities for how to live on this planet.
And if not, I know a local magazine that’s looking for some beef.