People who have taken the time to learn the facts about the ecological situation of earth are typically shocked by the bleak starkness of the scientific message. Those who take this knowledge to heart and attempt to feel it are immediately struck by an inability to fully grasp the reality of the whole cursed thing. Some of our philosophers agree. Timothy Morton claims circumstances like climate change are Hyperobjects in a book by the same name – they have a dimension that remains out of our reach. His analysis is that the modern mind is incapable of appropriate comprehension; it grows numb before the immensity of what he calls ‘A Quake in Being.’ He writes, “hyperobjects are futural… they scoop out the objectified now of the present moment into a shifting uncertainty.” (pg. 122) In other words if climate change, bottleneck, overshoot and all the rest of the ecological blowback is really real, everything about the way we live our lives today is subject to an uncertain future.
One aspect of that uncertain future remains highly probable, namely, that if any of those ecological scenarios truly describe it there is going to be a lot more suffering on this planet. Already we suffer from powerlessness as it is not at all clear there is anything individuals can do that is going to be nearly effective enough to make much difference.
We are polluting our nest and tearing down our home because we have lost touch with our human nobility. Last week touched on the role of our intention to act without harming the earth or bringing additional suffering to sentient beings: ‘Our intention could be said to be the simple desire to see the end of unnecessary suffering for ourselves, our species and the whole of the living earth.’ The point was made that however mixed our motives might be, we should recognize that which is inspiring our better aspirations is a factor of our being that is clear, even pure – something steady we can rely on to guide us. Here we come to the loadstone of the path, the magnetic radiance that gives our questions of purpose and meaning a bearing of true north. Compassion is large enough to include a land ethic. This ethic carries universal appeal.
Of course it is also said the road to Mephistopheles backyard is paved with good intentions. Once someone has become familiar with this material they face a serious choice. We can put it all down the memory hole and forget about it as much as possible. Not that hard while getting through the busy day. If we choose not to forget about it the question then becomes rather basic, focused, and simple; what can I do? How shall I live?
The point of this blog project is to share the idea that learning to work with our minds is one of the wiser things we can do. We cannot solve our problems with the same mind that created them. There is profundity and depth easily accessible through contemplating these ecological subjects. They concern each and every one of us and our loved ones and our hopes for the future and thoughts about what it is to be a human being. It is not surprising that this crisis brings forth visceral reactions in us.
I am suggesting that those of us who prepare ourselves now for the fallout stand a better chance of being of benefit to others in the days to come. I am also suggesting that those who are suffering from the knowledge of our precarious situation can find comfort and strength in the contemplative sciences. In adopting the contemplative traditions I do not suggest we hijack another culture’s traditions wholesale but instead work hard to find the way our own understanding can be put into its service. This entails, in part, looking at our scientific accomplishments.
Starting next week our discussion will take up a model of the human mind rooted in evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. It provides a context to understand the contemplative practices we are exploring and the reason why compassion is at the heart of all our efforts. Understanding the nature of our body, speech and brain as the results of the evolutionary process provides a ground for a self compassionate acceptance of our shared humanity with all its follies and wisdoms. As we will see, self compassion tends to be a tricky beast for most of us.
An argument could be made that we are polluting our nest and tearing down our home exactly because we are lacking in sufficient self compassion. If we truly were motivated by a desire to nurture ourselves, wouldn’t we insist on shifting our societies towards more sustainable practices? Wouldn’t we insist on taking better care of ourselves and loved ones than working in the grinding rat race that could very well be destroying our home?
There seems to be a lack of appreciation of the noble dignity we humans embody. In the history of ideas some scholars have traced this to the discovery of evolutionary theory. By this way of thinking we lost our nobility when we were seen to be descendants of animals. The presentation of evolution as a theory of competition instead of cooperation and as a mechanical process instead of one everywhere displaying an embodiment of mind, has removed the traditional supporting justifications for considering the human state precious. It is rather interesting that this presentation of evolutionary thought is just what is needed to justify the social relations found in capitalist societies.
We will begin looking at this next week.