I would like to share with you an important essay recently published by David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine.
He warns us not to take anything for granted given the active and highly interrelated presence of different vectors of global climate disruption, namely: rising temperatures; increase in the incidence of old and new diseases; polluted air and poisoned oceans; steady increase in all forms of interpersonal violence, and permanent war between different human groups with a growing possibility of nuclear annihilation; food scarcity, worsening economic inequality, and outright economic collapse in many regions of the world leading to great waves of migration extending the social disarray to the rest of the world; and as a result of all this, and for better or for worse, the transformation of human consciousness. It is painful to absorb all this, but absolutely necessary. Here is the link.
Wallace-Wells article describes with great clarity the general challenge confronting our species, and gives account of its early historical roots in the Industrial Age and of its exacerbation the last three decades of insanely excessive development, and closes his argument with an understandably tepid recommendation for not losing hope altogether. For those who care to see, things look very bad at this point. However, it is impossible to tell with exactitude what the reaction of humanity (and of life itself, I would add) will be as more and more significant segments of the population begin to suffer and die as a direct consequence of the damage we have collectively inflicted to our environment.
I would like to suggest that the most adequate way to approach this existential crisis, and the challenge it presents to every human being alive today, is to see it as the logical (though highly unnatural) outcome of the general mindset that has determined human thought, and consequently human affairs, for last six thousand years (the invention of writing and the beginning of history). The odds of human survival seem relatively few, but if one stands ready to act in favor of this odds, it ought to be on behalf of somehow overcoming the longstanding idiocy responsible for this crisis, this for the simple reason that the mere deployment of the technological means necessary to send a few million human beings to another planet (while all the rest perish horribly) would, in the end, only ensure that the exact same dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns that have plagued us on Earth will eventually create another hell from which this second planetary version of our species will have to seek escape, once again.
In the days and weeks to come, I would like to address the deep psycho-social roots of our current circumstances through a series of brief essays. In these last few paragraphs, I will attempt to outline this effort and establish its sole purpose, which is to strengthen the possibility that a critical number of individuals (particular personal instances of the general human mind) may overcome their ingrained divisive and destructive tendencies so that the species as a whole will, not just survive this seemingly insurmountable trial, but be henceforth fully integrated with itself, and one with the indivisible flow of life from which it has become alienated.
Our present plight is global because each one of us (each member of the human species) is still embodying and acting out the mental traits and behavioral habits that have brought it about. The degree of direct responsibility for specific threats varies, of course. For example, not all human beings have the same ecological footprint or propensity to violence, nor do all belong to the nations with the worse records of pollution, injustice, colonization, and war. However, the intent here is to establish a much deeper level of responsibility, one that if clearly seen and adequately acted upon is likely to produce the only solution that is truly commensurate with this unprecedented problem. The traditional means of progressive development —psychological, political, religious, economic, and technological — that multiple cultural groups (permanently at odds with themselves and others) propose, are greatly responsible for this general mess, so they can hardly be expected to be the agents that will clean it up. We are confronted with a life-threatening exacerbation of a collective and chronic mental illness, a destructive insanity that will never yield to further half-measures of mostly false medicine prescribed by physicians identified with contradictory, and also mostly false ideologies and methods. Something entirely different is necessary, and this means that it is not predetermined either by cultural or personal experience.
The human mind is one and, fundamentally, a product of life, not of culture. However we are conditioned (by our respective cultures) to see ourselves, our minds, as separate and unique personal entities, each associated with some others through common cultural and psychological traits and values (and disassociated, often fiercely, from most others who identify with different traits and values).
The brain that sits between the ears of every individual is the human brain, not "your" brain or "mine". We detest seeing it this way, but the functions of sensing, thinking, feeling, fearing, and desiring characteristic of this common brain of ours are fundamentally the same in every one of us. Who amongst us does not bear and display the pre-historical, instinctual record of human experience? Who is free of the heavy mental imprint of a particular culture, and who does not harbor, in some way or another, the antagonism with which such exclusive imprint regards people who express, in their thought and action, the mark of a superficially different cultural conditioning? Who amongst us is free of the limits and biases imposed by a hyper-exclusive memory of personal experience and its attendant geyser of projected hopes, fears, and desires? The experience-based conditioning is relatively different in every person, but the limiting and dysfunctional fact of conditioning is common.
This crisis is forcing us to confront two fundamental facts that we have managed to avoid for eons. The first is that underneath superficial cultural and personal differences, we are not different from one another. We have the same physical constitution and planetary/cosmic location, the same life cycle, and the same mind conditioned, fragmented, conflicted, and tortured by endemic tribalism and egotism. The second fact we need to confront is that the dire mental, social, economic, and ecological circumstances in which we find ourselves are the net outcome of an absurd sense of separate existence based on personal distinction. This sense of separate identity and presumed sovereignty we treasure so uniformly has systematically obscured the commonality of our roots and destiny, and this has in turn made us incapable of truly efficient, collaborative action. This general folly, that we each express so particularly, is what has brought us to the edge of a collective suicide, and this is why we must come to see the insanity of our particular instance of tribal and psychological isolation. To know oneself is to see the necessity of a fundamental mutation in consciousness.
The next post will begin to explore the fantasy of separate existence and the reasons why we are so reluctant to see the nature and consequences of our thought and action. The only action commensurate with the existential crisis we face is one that dissolves the illusion of separation responsible for it.