Ending Empire: An Initiation Speech for the Class of 2012
Thank you, graduates, for giving me this opportunity to address you here in the hallowed halls of my imagination. I’m honored.
Given that commencement is synonymous with beginning, start, and initiation, I would ordinarily be expected to tell you about some glorious future that awaits you. But these times are hardly ordinary. In fact, it makes more sense to talk about things that are ending, terminating, and ceasing.
Let’s start with the fact that we’re currently witnessing—and causing—the most significant geologic shift in 65 million years. The era that began with the extinction of the dinosaurs is now closing with the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. Our only known living companions in the universe are rapidly disappearing forever. This is simply too overwhelming to process.
Yet if we don’t start processing it, in our institutions and hearts, we might see the extinction of our own species, miraculously capable of reflecting on its own existence and mortality, and caring for other living and dying creatures. This is to say nothing about language, music, art, Facebook, and other uniquely human forms of expression.
As you probably know, 2012 is also the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which has a cycle of about 5,125 years. Whether or not this winter solstice will be the actual end of the world depends you, not Jesus in a spaceship.
Interestingly, the period of the Mayan calendar corresponds roughly to the period of recorded history, which has indeed been his story: an account of patriarchs, warriors, rulers, and founding fathers. Basically, it’s all been about Empire—the quest for domination and control. Thankfully, this immature phase of our existence is also ending as its phallocentric assumptions crumble beneath its heavy armor.
The end of history itself was proclaimed in 1989 by Frances Fukuyama, who saw globalization as humanity’s crowning achievement. Unfortunately, Fukuyama was one of those economic fundamentalists who worship the “invisible hand” while ignoring the all-too-visible fist that smashes real democracy by making debtor nations perpetually servile to the World Bank and IMF.
A similar process is now happening in the USA, the last and largest national empire. The downfall of our country can be seen in the deepening crises we face in almost every sphere, from economics to education. With the explosion our prison system and the introduction of spy drones, warrantless wiretaps, and other measures, we are steadily becoming one nation under surveillance. So ends the greatest experiment in human freedom, with a muffled whimper.
The American Empire has been fueled largely by cheap oil, the disappearance of which signifies the end of another era. In a desperate effort to keep our economic engines running on long-dead organisms, we are now fracking the planet to death. Comparisons to a junkie searching for a fix are not merely metaphorical; they are the only explanation for our profoundly irrational and self-destructive behavior.
Our disconnection from Nature, from history, from sanity, makes us susceptible to becoming mere automatons running on unconscious, destructive programs fed to us by the Military-Corporate-Media Complex, which understands only one directive: more. This Empire Machine, although created by people and granted the rights of persons, does not speak any human language. Nor does it speak the language of life. In fact, its mission is to destroy life.
By now, we know better than to heed the politicians and banksters who serve The Empire Machine. They feed it life energy, and it feeds their collective addiction to power, prestige, and money. These spoils of Empire are dangled in front of your eyes, too, at every waking moment, through the relentless efforts of media and advertising.
I beseech you: resist the allure of power and money. They are counterfeit forms of wealth. Not only will they fail to make you happy, they will make you incapable of happiness. At best, they will provide illusory pleasure, just like any drug, and at worst they will turn you into a deceitful addict. Let the pusher know you’re not a pushover.
Don’t buy into the myth of progress. Things are not improving, and they won’t, unless you can put an end to Empire. This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. It will not be easy, but it will be richly rewarding. You will get to apply your creative talents while engaging your deep capacity for caring. You will experience true intimacy, most importantly with yourself. Instead of feeling hollow inside, you will feel holy inside, and thus see sacredness everywhere.
To stop The Machine, we must also unplug the machine within ourselves: those unconscious impulses and voices of deficiency. Know that you are enough. You are talented, smart, capable, and complete. Additionally, you are a member of the largest, most ecologically conscious, politically aware, technically savvy, and interconnected generation in history. The success of your mission is practically guaranteed, should enough of you embrace it.
One of the keys to happiness is having a sense of purpose. Because of how much is at stake, we who are alive today have the opportunity to live the most meaningful lives ever. Either that, or the best and brightest minds, with all their unique gifts, will be squandered, along with the infinitely precious gift of life itself.
May the force be with you.