And how does that make you feel?
This is a question you will not often hear in public discourse. It is easier to proceed with the type of social relations we have chosen to reward when we pretend that the people involved are little more than automatons. We do recognize it hurts to be hungry, or scared, or shamed. There is no attempt to deny we are emotionally driven creatures, quite the opposite, in fact, when we take account of how we actually spend our money to influence one another. A person needs to hunt far and wide to find a rational argument laid out with evidence and a well reasoned conclusion among all the noise in the mass media. It is so much easier to use snarl words and poke the inner beast with a stick than it is to talk with the inner angel.
There is talk in the United States of rebuilding the long neglected infrastructure. It means more roads, bridges…. What future is this preparing for? Certainly not the one the ecologists are telling us to prepare for. In that future the role of carbon dioxide producing long distance travel is likely to be greatly constrained. Ask yourself if the solution to the problems of our built-out infrastructure are going to be best addressed by creating more of the same and repairing what exists? The number of cars on the road is expected to double by 2030, think its crowded out there on the highways today? Do you really think 20, 50, or 100 years from now, that the dollars spent on automobile infrastructure will still seem to have been the best use of our limited public funds?
Take a moment to check in with what you feel about these facts. First sit still and take a few deep breaths to calm the mind down from running in circles, and then slowly allow your own answer to come to you. Slowly bring to mind a picture or your own felt intuition of just what the world of the day after tomorrow is going to be like if, in fact, a huge national investment is made again into the ecologically destructive technology of fossil fuel transportation. Remember the tonnage of earth killing cement and pavement it will require, the pipelines, fracking. Remember the output of our tailpipes, how it lags for a decade or more. How does it make you feel?
Tell me, does it matter to you how other people feel?
Fear leaves the mind unable to reason well. It is very difficult to cultivate the angels of our better nature when our imaginations are fed on hellish images of anger, pain, suffering, injustice, abuse, killing, rape, torture, and war; in other words, all the types of images that seem to be ever increasing among our mass media communications and “entertainments.” Do we consider the impact all of this is having on the minds of the youngest among us? Do we care?
Normally these kinds of concerns are dismissed as naive, unrealistic for the world of a gray dawning Monday morning. I disagree. The integrity in a moment of consciousness is related to how integrated the whole person is at that moment. The most abstract thoughts continue to have emotion at their core, and the most extreme emotions constitute thoughts of sorts. What is reasoning to the mind, compassion is to our emotional make up.
Choosing a lifestyle of non-violence and low consumption comes directly from this insight. When you see the beating of the sacred hearts all around you, well you just need to see it for yourself: this is a sacred world. I greet you with anjali. I recognize the divine dwells within you: I recognize you have real subjectivity. In doing anjali we affirm that the universal spiritual teaching applies between us, that the Golden Rule between I and Thou applies. It is found in every major religion and philosophy, it is the gold standard of proper human relations. Why? Because it is our reality.
At the heart of my own consciousness is a profound mystery. I am grateful for the awareness I call my own, it is immeasurably precious to me. The logic of the Golden Rule is then impeccable. I will grant that you too have this same mystery at the core of your experience. This makes us kin. Mindful Ecology invites us to extended our anjali greeting to all the animals on earth as well, for they too bear the mark of subjectivity.
Consciousness is relationship. More specifically, consciousness is our relationship with the “things” it contains. These things, we should recall, are reflections in our awareness of real objects, however weird those objects might be in themselves. “Things” are the molecular world’s emergent states which happen to be happening at our human scale. Consciousness is consciousness of these things.
These things are always and everywhere in relationships among themselves. This is the reality of interdependence. This matters a great deal when we turn our attention to the different ways in which we treat those things we consider fully alive and those we do not. It is a slippery slope, this dividing dead and alive. The Cartesian split soon justifies splitting the more worthy, the more alive, from the lesser. Our Faustian investigation of machinery has lead us to suspect we ourselves might be little more than robots. We fear our body is more real than the mind, that we might be nothing but bodies, that mind is an accident, meaningless. It supports prejudice since some among us might look like they are alive and worthy of anjali, but really be little more than automatons. Throughout the western history of ideas animals, children, women and slaves have all had their integrity of consciousness questioned.
It is not hard to see that the Cartesian inheritance carries with it a pride in rational thought defined as being free of all emotion. What characterizes all those that had been placed in the category of not-quite-as-really-alive-as-ourselves? Animals, children, women, the uneducated and the slave were all understood as living lives lead by emotion instead of thought. Their crime was to allow feeling to rule their actions instead of cool reasoning. We have already looked at Descartes Error in this regard, how neuroscience contradicts any clear separation of thought and emotion. The Age of Reason was followed by the Age of the Romantics precisely because it seemed no reconciliation between thought and feeling would ever be found. That such a reconciliation has been found, and backed up by all the proof of modern neuroscience, is a really big deal. The Cartesian gulf begins to look like little more than a crude rationalization meant to justify cruelty. How is it, exactly, that one being with subjectivity could lay judgment on another being with subjectivity, such that the later is not extended an equivalent basic right to their existence which one unquestionably grants oneself?
For in the depth of feeling, are we not then most real?
It is not in the heights of thought that we come to sense the greatest depths of being. The experience is much more directly accessible than that. What we are is not the contents of our thoughts, it is our reaction to that which we contemplate.