On Mayday I went for a brief bike ride with my daughter through the nature park behind my house. A stream runs through this park, making it an island of green in the sea of concrete that is Athens. My neighbourhood is fiercely protective of our little preserve, actively opposing efforts at deforestation and construction, and even, in the past, forcibly arresting the lackeys of developers who tried to set it ablaze.
On May 1st we went to gather flowers, as is the custom in our country, and briefly entered the Zone.
Roughly ten years ago, on return from Dubai, I started marketing the CIS countries as a territory. The firm I worked for was bidding on tax systems in the Ukraine at the time. Looking for local partners, I stumbled onto a small company called GSC, which was developing videogames for the international market. In the end, nothing materialized from this particular project, but I kept the company in mind.
Some years later, in 2008 or 2009, when I was once again marketing the Ukraine, I attended a live show hosted by GSC featuring their videogame “Stalker,” which had become an international success.
The game is set in an alternative reality, where a second nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone in the near future and causes strange changes in the area around it. The background and some terminology of the game are borrowed from the popular science fiction novella Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film “Stalker” that was based on it. As a result of the film, the word “Stalker” was later used for the scientists and engineers who explored the interior of Chernobyl’s sarcophagus after its hasty construction in 1986, and that probably inspired the videogame.
The key feature of the Zone in both the movie and the videogame was that “nothing remains the same.” You cannot retrace your steps. Dangers that were mapped one morning were no longer there the next, or had moved to a different proximate location. The key directive for survival in the Zone was that everything constantly changed, and you had to keep your awareness focused in the here-and-now in order to remain alive.
So, on Mayday I began introducing my daughter to the Zone.
As we biked through the nature park’s one and only trail, we found that four large trees had fallen across the path, torn up from the roots by strong winds. We were forced to dismount and carry our bikes over the obstacles. The uprooted trees confirmed the presence of environmental degradation close to my own home (four uprooted trees within a single square mile is not a coincidence); at the same time, the disaster provided an opportunity to explain to my daughter that Nature was forever changing, inconsistent, fickle, unpredictable, and dangerous. Nature is, in short, the core principle upon which the fictional Zone is based.
Tarkovsky understood the simile provided by the science fiction novella and used it in his movie. Stalker relies on long takes with slow, subtle camera movement, rejecting the use of rapid montage. Almost all of the scenes not set in the Zone are in a high-contrast brown monochrome, emphasising the monotony of Soviet existence. In contrast, he used bright colours when filming the Zone and portrayed it as filled with verdant nature.
As a follow-up to Mayday’s experiment, I took my daughter into the real Zone over Orthodox Easter: a trip into the wilds near my ancestral home. We visited a small chapel roughly two-hours uphill from our village. But many of the paths were no longer in use, and were overgrown. As a result, my daughter and I made many false starts and had to retrace our steps again and again, an exhausting foray for a ten-year old. What should have taken two hours wound up taking three; it was psychologically daunting to have your goal in sight, and not being able to find any clear way to get there, lost among the trees.
My daughter was exhilarated. It was all the confirmation I needed that what was missing from our lives was, in fact, the Zone.
“Kosta Danaos” still receives quite a few e-mails each week (damn youtube). Most are from Clark Kents who are convinced that, with just the right push, they could spread their wings and transform into Kal-Els (and then they´ll show all the dorks who were making fun of them!). But many e-mails are from people who are just looking for a meaning in their lives beyond their daily routine, a life less ordinary to quote John Hodge.
Here´s an example from a man named Marc:
I read both of your books, they are very interesting. I am struggling with my spirituality along with the rest of mankind, there are so many pitfalls. I am interested in mind training, any books or works you can recommend would be appreciated. My emotions are far from being mastered, as much as I would love to say I am ready to go for the higher teachings, I am choking on the mundane. Hopefully, one day our paths will cross.
To the way,
When I wrote the Magus of Java, I made it very clear in the final chapter that what I personally was looking for were solutions to problems that we as humanity were facing. Most of these problems centre on the loss of Nature´s vitality. Intuitively, I understood back then that what humanity was missing, was staring us in the face all along.
In his 2012 book “2052-A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years,” Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of the Limits of Growth, counsels us that change was inevitable, and that what we should do is “mourn our loss and get on with our lives.” Over the next forty years, efforts to limit the human ecological footprint will continue. Future growth in global population and GDP will be constrained in surprising ways, by rapid fertility decline as a result of urbanization, productivity decline as a result of social unrest, and continuing poverty among the poorest 2 billion world citizens. At the same time there will be impressive advances in resource efficiency and climate-friendly solutions. There will also be an increased focus on human well-being rather than on per capita income growth.
Professor Randers closes by affirming that, based on the extensive database underpinning the model developed for 2052, it appears that the human response will be too slow. The most critical factor will be greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These emissions will remain so high that our grandchildren most likely will have to live with self-reinforcing, and hence runaway, global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.
A summary of Randers model can be found here: http://www.2052.info/o121013%20The%202052%20Forecast%20(Pestel%20Institut)Slides.pdf
The hell I say. I can mourn when I´m in the grave.
Why should my daughter and her children have to live in fear of endless natural decline due to the short-sightedness and selfish greed of every Kardashian prancing around the world in designer thongs as we speak? Give me a break. And what Professor Randers model does not take into account is the decay of the human psyche that such events will inevitably bring into being.
The Zone is very much a part of our minds, you see. We were built for it. We have not evolved beyond it. The Zone is what we are missing in our lives, why so many of us have psycho-social problems, and why people are yearning for a life less ordinary. Living in a controlled, electronically-networked society and relying on others for our sustenance, we have lost the need to focus completely on the present moment because we are not faced with ever-changing dangers.
But since our brains are wired for the Zone, a good place to start solving our problems is by introducing people to the mental state required to survive in the Zone on a daily basis; this corresponds to Level Three in Pammachon, and I know how to take students who follow my method to this state. It is important that we reclaim our hearts and minds. The popularity of videogames and survivalism are both due to the desire of people to see themselves as heroes, defeating the rigours of a particular Zone; perhaps if we could teach a larger portion of the populace to know their own minds, they would go beyond dreaming to actually contributing towards making the world a better place. Who knows?