One of my favourite anthropologists, Clifford Geertz, once wrote:
There is an Indian story–at least I heard it as an Indian story –about an Englishman who, having been told that the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle, asked (perhaps he was an ethnographer; it is the way they behave), what did the turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that turtle? “Ah, Sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.”
Right now I can’t help but think that the turtles are getting restless. After all, who could blame them? The load on their backs gets heavier and thornier by the minute. And so I have to wonder: what happens if they decide to pack it in completely and swim off into space. The poor old elephant won’t stand a chance. Neither will we.
I have almost completely stopped watching the news. Like my grandmother Lucy, I am prone to fits of depression over global events I can’t control. These days of natural disasters and nuclear meltdowns, financial crises, wars and fuel prices could easily send me running for the Prozac. I have to ration my intake of news to ten minutes a day, or a bit of radio time driving home from work. But it’s enough.
The thing that strikes me is that we treat all of these events as separate things- but really they’re all part of the same old stack of turtles, each one precariously balanced on the back of the other. Take any single reptile out, the whole caboodle threatens to come crashing down.
So what do we do about these turtles, then? For me, it’s about trying to find the balance in my own life here on this wobbly old pile. It’s about lifestyles. I have more or less rejected the ambition and material aspirations I had when I was much younger, and set my sights on more modest goals: to cook good meals and sit down with my family for tea most nights, to raise happy children, to find time for creativity, to be able to laugh a little- or better, a lot-each day. Last week I planted vegetables and decided to move my savings from a certain bank (much in the news of late for its role in the global financial meltdown) to my credit union. Both things felt good. I heard the turtles give a little sigh of relief.