Humanity has never been able to go beyond its cultural division and the memory-based isolation of the individual, because exclusive attachments and claims have never stopped defining each social aggregate and determining the thought and behavior of each personal unit. The process of self-centered thinking at the core of every human organism (and thereby, of every family, clan, institution, and tribe) remains generally unwilling or unable to see itself as the central cause for the species’ permanent state of division, conflict, and sorrow.
We do not know with any precision how humanity came to be this way, let alone why, but it is safe to assume that the evolution of life on Earth saw fit to create an organism with, as far as we know, unique and unprecedented mental potential. Is licit to refer to this potential with the word freedom, and add that the granting of this level of freedom necessarily involved the risk that the human mind would turn against its own source in life —which is exactly what seems to have happened. This betrayal was not a conscious and immoral act, as certain religious traditions have portrayed it. It was rather an inadvertent and tragic misunderstanding of its own perceptual and cognitive nature and capacity that gradually hardened into a multitude of different, multiplying, and self-projective forms of the same alienation from life. After a certain point the tribalism, sectarianism, and egotism that became permanent traits of the species as a whole routinely, and tragically transgressed essential natural laws, and at every step of its historical journey it found the means to distress, hurt, and murder countless particular human beings.
Gifted with a growing capacity to isolate and symbolically represent aspects of reality external to its own organismic being and to then use this knowledge to procure whatever was needed to satisfy its needs for nourishment and protection from environmental threats, the human mind entered increasingly dangerous mental territory, quite possibly a dead end. Knowledge had become self-reflective, self-protective, and self-projective, and with that a division occurred within the human psyche itself. A peripheral sector of the mind accumulated images and ideas (the known) and another, a dominant one claimed to be the agent of thought and action according to what it knew and desired.
Once this split was firmly in place, began to grow. At first, self-consciousness based on differential identification was mostly tribal, that is, practically indistinguishable from the experience codified, accumulated, and projected by the group to which the primitive individual belonged. But with time, relatively greater security, and more diverse experience and acquired expertise, the tribal identity of the human organism was overlaid by a very powerful layer of what we now commonly refer to as “me,” the person. The tribal “us” was no longer the sole ruler of the human mind.
From that point on, the self-centered human psyche became increasingly dedicated to the satisfaction of its exclusive material needs and, especially, to the protection and expansion of its psychological aspirations, this last, often to the detriment of its own physical and mental well-being, let alone the basic security of other members of the same the tribal community, let alone that of members of other human groups and other animal species. With its perception, thought, and behavior greatly determined and made contradictory by highly exclusive forms of the same tribalism and egotism, the human mind as a whole moved further and further away from its source in life.
Mental differentiation based on individual experience and formal accumulation of particular knowledge served well the expertise and labor specialization that was necessary for the technical and social development of groups and institutions, but it also worsened what were already highly conflicted inter-tribal relations by adding a whole new level of isolation, contradiction, and antagonism at the personal and interpersonal level.
Since the beginning of recorded history, much has changed in the world as the result of the conditioning of the human mind by different forms of cultural (tribal), and personal experience, however, the fact of mental conditioning itself has remained unchanged. Most of the virtues and ills of the species can be readily traced to the emergence of the self-conscious personal mind deeply identified with its own biography, its formally acquired knowledge, and the particular ideology of its particular clan/tribe/sect.
For thousands of years the mental isolation of the memory-based mind from its actual source in life has produced a reality permanently fractured along the lines of culture and individuality. Every person living within this highly artificial reality experiences, and reacts to fundamentally the same physical and mental pains and pleasures, albeit not in the exact same way and measure. In our own day, a culturally and psychologically divided humanity afflicted by explosive demographic growth and addicted to highly damaging distractive, extractive, and military technology is putting in jeopardy, not just the usual mixture of pain and pleasure to which it has become accustomed, but its very presence on planet Earth.
The history of our species is essentially one of crisis after crisis, but the multiple challenges we are facing today are far more globally interconnected, complex, and dangerous than previous ones. What is worse, because we remain separate and conditioned to seek comfort and protection in whatever seems more familiar culturally and psychologically, we exacerbate, rather than treat the insensitivity and irrationality responsible for creating these difficult circumstances in the first place. Provincial and self-centered minds can hardly come together in open dialogue to find what is the nature of the problem, and through that discovery find the best way to find and implement a solution. Thus, we keep doing what we have always done, which is to point fingers at one another and engage in all forms and levels of interpersonal, social, and military violence. After millennia of "civilization," we have not learned to ensure even the most basic physical security for every human being alive, and yet we make every conceivable effort to protect and expand life styles and social structures and relations that are increasingly unsustainable. Bottomless material, psychological, and “spiritual” appetites connected to different and opposed secular and religious ideologies are worsening, in turn, our disruptive impact on the ecological equilibrium on which our life depends.
As an illustrative aside, it is worth mentioning one of the most worrisome developments of the last years, which is emblematic of our chronic indifference to one another and our common alienation from life itself. It entails a significant transfer of financial and intellectual resources to the effort to secure that at least some human beings (for sure the most privileged ones) will be able to escape the obscene outcome of our environmental insensitivity and nuclear-armed stupidity. Naturally, the public attention given to this effort and the “bright” financial and scientific minds leading it, perversely feeds all the psychological and cultural variables actually engaged in the destruction of our planet’s biosphere. The assumption is that Earth will die anyway and we are meant to colonize outer space, so why not just continue our habitual practices of extreme resource exploitation, social injustice, pollution, and war making.
This is, naturally, not meant as an indictment of space exploration and the eventual human colonization of other planets within and outside our galaxy. It is merely intended to point out that this effort ought to be, not an evasion from the first planet our primitive ways manage to exhaust, but rather the natural expansion of a species that, having realized its extraordinarily potential for caring intelligence, has first secured its base on the beautiful planet that gave it birth.
What does one do with the realization that the chaotic world in which we live is but the outward expression of our individual minds? How do we own up to the fact that the chronic cultural fragmentation and self-centeredness of humanity has, in our own day, brought about an extraordinarily dangerous convergence of mental, social, and ecological variables that is presently threatening everyone’s well-being, and that may be putting in jeopardy the very survival of the species? Well, the first thing to do is take all the time and energy that may be necessary to independently assess the personal and the general mental and social situation, and through that assessment determine if the particular patterns of thought and action sponsored by tribal tradition and personal mental habit deserve continuity.
The importance of independence in attempting to take a fresh and thorough look at the world and oneself cannot be over-stressed, because remaining within the predetermined boundaries of particular cultural enclaves implies negating the freedom without which such a perception is impossible. Cultural provincialism and personal thought are intrinsically limited and myopic, their long shadow obscures anything beyond themselves.
Every person alive is the result of a given set cultural norms, values, and projections that are internalized through formal education and particular experience to form what we each know as “me” and "not-me." The distance between this mental conditioning and the psychological entity that claims to own and be in control of it is illusory. Although we each swear by the distinction of a presumably unique existence, the fact is that we only exist, psychologically, as slightly different version of a mind universally programmed by the record of particular cultural and personal experience. This mental conditioning we all embody is responsible for the steady state of insensitivity, irrationality, and suffering we are all, in some way or another, creating and enduring. Which means that, it is the conditioned self, our common and illusory sense of unique personal existence that is utterly unsustainable. The untrammeled continuity of the self that creates the distance and sustains the antagonism between us, only guarantees the steadily worsening mental, social, and ecological conditions that may ultimately destroy the mysterious presence of the human species in the cosmos. the fundamental problem we face is not external, but mental and present in just about every one, and it is the very paradoxical nature of this condition that determines the necessity of a mind somehow free from habitual patterns of thought, emotion, and action that live, multiply, expand, and propel themselves under the guidance and with the protection offered by personal memory and exclusive cultural enclaves.
The central form of disagreement with this view of things —not of things as they actually are, but how this condition may be expressed in words, I may add— is to blame “human nature” for what is going on in our minds and society. If translated in terms not polite from the hidden and the obtuse, this argument may sound something like this: "We are who we (think we) are, and the world must be and remain the broken-up mess our thoughts and appetites have made of it, simply because that is our nature, that is, what god or evolution intended us to be. All we can do is redouble our separate and contradictory efforts to progress, that is, to bring some gradual improvement to particular aspects and sectors of this condition through the usual means: politics, commerce, religious practice, scientific and technological innovation, social reform, international cooperation, and the arts." This is the version of reality in which we have been conditioned to the point of abject conformity, the collective mental and social status-quo of humanity, what is keeping us divided, primitive, and brutal, and our existence, and that of billions of other creatures increasingly unbearable and, ultimately, impossible.
The sole intent of this little essay is to invite you to check if some surely sophisticated and respectable form of this traditional argument is surreptitiously determining how you habitually perceive, think, relate, and act. Were this the case, you can then set aside tradition and personal mental habit, and take a fresh look at yourself and the world. We have all been duped by convention, but there is something deep in the mind that is beyond the predetermined sense of time (the tribal and personal past, present, and future) created and sustained by mental representation.
We need to ask if perhaps the human organism is naturally capable, not just of rational thought, but of innocent, and therefore extraordinarily keen attention? Can we look directly and without prejudice at our conditioned, divided selves and the mad world created by our dysfunctional relations? Closer to the bone yet, let us dare find out if there is a perception of life untouched by the limitations and distortions imposed by psychological identification with gender, race, age, ethnic background, nationality, religion, occupational or professional specialization, sexual preference, relative social and economic position (class), recreational preference, and any other source of predetermined and self-projective personal separation.
if you find that there is nothing that could possibly move you to look and see beyond yourself and what is most familiar to you, then, by all means go on with business as usual. But if you feel, as I do, appalled by the state of the world and secretly dismayed by the smallness and rigidity of your own mind, then let us have the integrity that will stop everything, open our eyes wide, and freely yield with to a force of affectionate truth that beckons beyond the boundaries of experience, knowledge, and desire.
Life in an undivided movement that cannot be reduced to the disparate and contradictory knowledge that we have adopted to be who are and to endlessly struggle to become more and better. Love is not just to see, but be the reality of life, and this implies freedom from the fantasy of a separate existence.