Evolutionary Crossroads: Four Vital Questions For a Sustainable Future
“There is another world but it is inside this one.” –Paul Eluard
Burnt-out husk or balanced-out biome? Progressive technologies or outdated technologies? Unsustainable comfort or sustainable discomfort? Spiritual ecocentrism or dogmatic egocentrism? Slapped with the truth or kissed with a lie?
Tough questions all, but excruciatingly important questions to ask. Unfortunately most people want to be kissed with a lie. They eat it up. They eagerly accept their spoon-feeding like a too-trusting baby in a too-high chair. They question too little and rely too much on so-called answers. They put the cart before the horse, and then wonder why the horse isn’t moving. Gee, I wonder?
Here’s the thing: every single species on this planet is not only built to survive, but built to flourish as well. All species seek to make more of themselves. Give a rabbit colony infinite resources and it will reproduce infinitely, even at the detriment of its environment. Species are built to flourish, knowing nothing of de-flourishing, or holding back, or putting on the evolutionary breaks. And human beings are no exception. We are simply going through the motions of maximizing ourselves. We are exhausting the limits of our environment. We are mindlessly muscling the world into a conquerable thing. Like Charles Mann said, “Growth will continue at delirious speeds until the second inflection point, when we have exhausted the global Petri dish.”
It’s a problem of psychology. It’s a problem of imagination. We’re the only creature on the planet capable of advanced thought, of understanding a past present and future, and yet we quibble at the thought of being more imaginative, of breaking our all-too-precious cultural paradigms. We all talk about thinking outside the box, but we do very little of it. In other words: we can talk the talk but we are extraordinarily incapable of walking the walk. But in order to survive as a species on this planet we must get to the point to where we are capable of walking the walk. Otherwise we are most certainly doomed, and at our own hands no less. There are forgivable extinctions, but death by sheer stupidity isn’t one of them. And yet here we are.
1. Burnt-out husk or balanced biome?
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” –Arundhati Roy
Overburden our environment through overindulgence and lack of holistic foresight, or reign in our excess through self-control and balance so that we’re able to adapt and overcome?
On our current course of destruction we will most definitely be leaving Earth (if we’re able to leave at all) a burnt-out husk of a planet. It will go on without us, mind you, but it will no longer be able to sustain advanced life. It will have become a literal wasteland: plastic-saturated oceans, carbon dioxide-ridden skies, ozone-depleted atmospheres, poisoned waters, and mass animal extinctions. The future is indeed wide open, but in the wake of the Anthropocene, an epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems, it is more open to the probability of becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland than anything else.
But, as Aristotle wrote in Rhetoric, “It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech or reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.” And so, in the face of global catastrophe at our own hands (limbs), at our own overreach, it behooves us to defend ourselves with reason and rationality, in order to be and become more human. This requires rationally balancing ourselves with the immediate environment. This requires recognizing that everything is connected to everything else. Let’s go beyond our animal “limbs.” Let’s transcend our creature comforts. Let’s embrace higher reasoning, greater imagination, and holistic rationality, lest we leave a burnt-out husk of monumental failure in our wake.
2. Progressive technologies or outdated technologies?
“Tending the wild and leaving the wild alone are not contradictory strategies. They both work fine, and they blend well. In any project it’s a good idea to try some of both, in different areas, so that each is a scientific control for the other.” –Stewart Brand
Technology is useful only insofar as we recognize its limitations. We are creatures married to our technologies, without which we would perish. From clothing to computers, shoes to cars, our technology is an aspect of who we are as a whole being attempting to live in accord with a challenging cosmos. Technology is a knife that cuts, but it can also heal. As it stands, we need technology to reintroduce ourselves to nature. We need the power of science and philosophy, both of which are human technologies, to build bridges that lead us back to an eco-centric moderation and a balance with the greater cosmos that we are fundamentally connected to. The knife (technology) can continue its cutting, until we bleed out as a species and finally die. Or the knife can become a mechanism for healing that can bring us back into a healthy accord with nature. The choice is ours. Like Alan Watts said, “Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who don’t realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”
We must discover a balance between technology and nature. Technology without nature consumes and eventually destroys itself. Nature without technology is inhuman and is not survivable for human beings. Like Louis G. Herman said, “We need the technology associated with our alienation from nature to help us relearn the amazing reality of our condition: that we all wake up within a single story telling us into being. We are fundamentally connected, dependent on a larger order not of our making; yet we are free and creative.” So we must maintain a balance between environmental and technological knowledge, so that we can have a space for being free and creative.
Let’s flip the tables on our understanding of technology and challenge ourselves with a bit of Ecological Aikido: where biology is primary and technology is secondary; where we first ask ourselves if it can work biologically, second through ecology, and third through low tech and renewable technologies. Through the marriage of progressively sustainable technologies and human ingenuity, we just might be capable of surviving the outdated and wasteful technologies of the present, while discovering a balance between nature and human nature.
3. Unsustainable comfort or sustainable discomfort?
“This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky — that’s called liberation.” –Pema Chödrön
This question could just as well have been worded: independent immoderation or interdependent moderation. As it stands, we live in a world of seven-billion independent (unsustainably comfortable) people run amok with cartoons for brains, hearts full of indoctrinated urges, and eyes bulging overindulgently with dollar-signs for pupils, hands clinched with existential anxiety, and a species-wide insecurity, hell-bent upon becoming impossibly secure. Not realizing that our existential liberation as well as our healthy security as a species, lies within the understanding of how everything is connected and breathtakingly interdependent. In order to achieve healthy comfort, we’ll first need to dispel unhealthy comfort. In other words, we need to begin focusing less on what we want (unsustainable comfort) and more on what we need (sustainable discomfort).
When it comes down to it our problems as a species regarding its environment is a psychological one. It’s a matter of perception and disposition. Do we perceive ourselves as rulers of the world, with a conquer-control-consume-destroy-repeat mindset, or as liberators of holistic truth, with an adapt-balance-moderate-renew-repeat mindset? Do we overpower and submit, or adapt and overcome? Stagnate or change? Like Paulo Coelho said, “When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back” We must have the courage to change from our current unsustainably comfortable lifestyle to a sustainably uncomfortable lifestyle in order to survive as a species on this planet. Our disposition regarding our place in the world, whether immoderate or moderate, will determine the course of the world.
4. Spiritual ecocentrism or dogmatic egocentrism?
“Sometimes it takes a good fall to know where we stand.” –Hayley Williams
So in regards to sustainability, we’ve screwed up as a species. We’ve fallen flat on our face. Not even our overreaching hands could catch our fall. So what!? We have from this moment on to do the right thing. To do the healthy thing. To do the moral thing. But what is that exactly? Spiritual ecocentrism, rather than dogmatic egocentrism, is a possible answer.
As I wrote in Cracking the Cosmic Egg: Getting authentic spiritual power over religious pseudo-power, “The main culprit of our confusion seems to be our inability to separate religion from spirituality. What’s needed is a breach of our certainty, a tearing apart of the flag of our blind faith, an existential stretching of our all-too-parochial comfort zone, a way of untangling spiritual liberty from the tyranny of religion.” In a world full of overreaching individuals hell-bent on spreading their rigid faiths (politics), the greater interdependent cosmos crumbles under the weight of ignorance. When Ego is allowed to run rampant over Eco, environmental un-sustainability becomes the rule. Likewise, when dogma is allowed to run rampant over the spiritual, psychological un-sustainability becomes the rule. We get a world of crumbling ecology and disintegrating spirituality, which is precisely what we have now.
Spiritual ecocentrism is the holistic understanding that all things are connected, that Nature and human nature are inescapably interrelated, that we are both independent and interdependent creatures living in an interconnected cosmos. Indeed, in order to once again realign Nature and the human soul, we must go from being victims of the world to realizing that we are the world. Like Aldo Leopold said, “think like a mountain.” We do this in order to harmonize ourselves with Gaia. To become eco-conscious, that is psycho-physiologically aware of our connection and interconnection to both the micro and the macro cosmos. We must bring our creativity to bear upon our egos and then imagine ourselves as mountains: greater eco-centric beings connected to all things, with the power to turn the tables on tyranny, whether egotistical, dogmatic, or both. The future of humankind will more than likely depend upon how well we balance Ego with Eco, and human spirituality with cosmic universality.
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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