To some, perhaps many, the question that titles this essay may appear senseless or outright false. It will sound right and proper, however, to those who have both, a growing awareness of the set of variables presently threatening the very endurance of life on Earth, and the integrity necessary to see their personal participation in their sustenance. These life-threatening variables are enormous, complex, and deeply interconnected. Many cultural traditions and institutions are actively involved in their maintaining them, but their primary residence and vehicle is the brain/mind of the individual human organism. For it is us 一you and I, and everyone else一 that harbor and act out the chronic tribal and egoic irrationality that, with its on-going inequality and injustice, its thermo-nuclear weapons, and cancer-like assault on the Earth’s biosphere is life’s worst enemy. We are, indeed, betraying, not just our own mysterious participation in being, but that of all life forms on Earth.
Nationalism, militarism, classism, racism, sexism, religious and political bigotry, consumerism, pollution, interpersonal violence, and insensitivity to the plight of others are not abstractions, or other people’s foibles, but a permanent blight on life for which we are all responsible. Although perhaps unwittingly, each one of us is deeply identified with an idiosyncratic combination of these destructive cultural and psychological traits that will never dissolve unless we own up to our personal contribution for the general mess in which humanity finds itself. Sanity, maturity, and a keen interest in life begin with the realization that the conflictive division and general disorder of humanity is one with the insensitivity and confusion of the tribal and self-centered mind; they interminably generate one another.
The very cultural fragmentation and self-isolation that is our fundamental problem determines that it is incorrect to approach it from any moral stand point. No newborn has ever had the freedom to opt-out of the brain-washing to which their parents, teachers, and friends 一themselves encased in their respective cultural traditions and personal experiences一subject them. Morality is, in fact, a salient manifestation of our general propensity to take cultural and psychological distance from one another and then aggressively defend our presumed ethic righteousness which, of course, worsens and maintains our differences. There are as many different claims to moral superiority and exceptional virtue as there are different groups and individuals, thus we are all equally unwilling to recognize the dysfunction and danger inherent in the dogmatic and behavioral segmentation in which we live.
The same antagonistic division is also true of the other cultural forms (language, religion, politics, education, economics, social reform, philosophy, the arts and sciences, channels of communication, entertainment, etc.) that condition, regulate, police, and guide the individual minds that seek status, security, and continuity within their preset boundaries. In other words, our fundamental problem lies in the countless forms of knowledge and thought that, altogether, constitute the general mindset of the species and, particularly, the identity of every of us. Again, this statement will sound preposterous to some, but their multiple objections will inevitably come from the deep imprint left in the brain by the tribal traditions and personal experiences that limit the definition of our humanity to the sum total of what we each know, think fear, and want. We think we are who we each affirm we are because thought is what we know and what we know determines how we think; also because this same mindset determines that cognition is what most distinguishes us from other life forms. At its deepest level, this definition of our humanity goes far beyond mere mental similarities and distinction and takes on the existential character most famously expressed by the Cartesian dictum: “I think; therefore, I am.”
Yes, it is evident that our capacity to learn, think, and act on the basis of what we know and think about, need, and desire characterizes our humanity, but why stop there, especially if we bother to take into consideration the extraordinarily destructive forms this cognitive capacity has displayed throughout our history. The full expression of the insensitivity and divisive irrationality imposed on the mind by the relatively fixed imprint of tribal and personal experience may sound like this: “I think; therefore I am what I think and do under the rigid and more-often-than-not wrongheaded commands of personal experience, habit, fear, and desire.”
In this general context, the word “experience” is meant to encompass the entire pre-personal evolutionary transit of the species; the trans-personal traditions, values, and aversions developed by every cultural group; and the peculiar experience and formal learning cumulatively recorded by the individual brain/mind. Thought can be rational in certain areas and particular circumstances, and this is extremely important because when this is the case, the well-being of the human being is well-served, and its survival assured. However, thinking becomes irrational and unnatural (and outright against nature) when it becomes the locus and identifier of the fallacious private existence that every group and every person claims, defends, and extends into the future through its particular though and action.
When the irrationality and cruelty of this general mindset is fully and accurately perceived, the mind naturally turns its attention to the possibility of a mode of human existence that would necessarily be beyond the reach of self-centered knowledge and thought. Could the organism utilize specialized knowledge and thought when appropriate (mostly in the solution of practical problems), but not as an imaginary existential prop that, while giving identity and a sense of continuity to a particular individual, restricts the mind to the limitations and aberrations of the bodily and representational record of experience.
Anyone who cares enough about her own life and the well-being and endurance of humanity, must be aware of the danger posed by cultural fragmentation and the ever-growing excesses of the individualism it (humanity) has come to favor. This quality and level of affection is, by necessity, impersonal and, hence, the expression of a new mind, a mind free of the forms of knowledge/thought/desire that flesh out a divisive and destructive identity.
To put it differently, an accurate and complete perception of oneself as a particular manifestation of a general phenomenon of psychological programming by specific forms of cultural and psychological experience unburdens the mind, and therefore humanity, of whatever is unnecessary, illusory, or false.
It is only reasonable to ask whether the human organism is able to withstand the emptying of the self-identifying and self-projecting contents of consciousness as we know it. This and other related issues will be addressed in a second post under the same title.