Respecting the World-Soul

When the gates of the death camps were opened in Germany at the end of WWII, the world reeled in silent shock. As the images slowly penetrated the fog of disbelief, spreading across the various cultures of the globe’s many nations, people everywhere, young and old, rich and poor, were confronted with the horror of industrialized mass murder. I know of no other way to begin to address what happened than to say a change had come over the world-soul. The relationship between the consciousness of human beings and the material, molecular earth was changed, not just the relationship between human beings.

The nature of the assault was assisted at every turn by tools: physical, chemical and clerical. The interplay of Homo Habilis and the earth consists of the consciousness of the tool maker and the molecular structures of our materials. Traditionally the soul or psyche of a person was understood as that realm between the body and the spirit. In the same way, the human built environment is the space in-between spirit and matter, between the inspiring thought guiding the tool’s formation and use on the one hand, and the stone, feathers, minerals and whatnot our ingenuity places in our hands on the other. Through this relationship with the rest of the planet we define ourselves as a species, creating our own ecological niche, exploring our extended phenotype. Because this built environment is larger than any individual it is related to what has been called the world-soul. The Eastern concern with the karma of nations is a related conception.

There is a question always present in this world-soul. The actions, the actual deeds of living things, are its answer. This question and answer in the depths of the moment, as the inner secret of time’s expression of will, cannot be captured in words though words can point to it. Life is beautiful but it is also true that its gift is only held in mortal hands. All things are impermanent so there is a degree of in-escapable suffering in the path of every sentient being. How then will you, in the mysterious depths of your own subjectivity, respond to the depths of subjectivity you witness in others?

A thought experiment might best illustrate how the concept of the world-soul is a necessary one. Here is a what-if scenario. What if the depletion rates of fracking are bringing a quick demise to U.S. oil abundance sooner rather than later? Add that Saudi Arabia has fudged its reserve numbers a bit and the peak of Ghawar, the largest oil field on the planet, has come and gone. Russia would have its own vast reserves of oil, the US would not. In this thought experiment the decision is made that it would be necessary to procure the supply in the Middle East. How exactly the necessary military moves are executed are not relevant to the thought experiment. Suffice it to say we are imagining the U.S. takes the oil it absolutely needs to keeps its infrastructure functional and its consumer economy growing. That its commitment to economic growth, suburbia and consumerism remains strong right up to the bitter end of overwhelming ecological blowback and societal collapse. This is one way things might work out. The proposed budget cuts to education and health care recently in the news can provide further clarity to the mental image we are trying to outline. It is telling that they are coupled with increases in the military budget.  If, in this what-if, the “we should have kept the oil” becomes the means of making America great again we would want to ask, whose America is this and whose definition of greatness? Might I suggest it is the one where those who believe ‘America’s business is business’ and ‘the American lifestyle (aka corporate consumerism) is non-negotiable’ have made any values other than those enshrined by neo-liberal hyper-capitalism verboten, wholly forbidden.

Is this what shows up as the culminating act of this 240 year old experiment in democracy when push comes to shove over earth’s shrinking resource pie? In this what-if, how many nuclear bombs were used, how many millions of people “removed” as collateral damage? How much more chaos added to that which has already been created in Iraq and Libya? Does the rest of the world succeed in stopping the takeover attempt? Does anyone think China and Russia would just sit back and watch? As WWIII rolls its darkness over humankind’s nobility we can also expect general ruthlessness at all levels of society to increase, exacerbated by population over-crowding and climate change churning out Katrina and Sandy like events all over the planet even as the bombs drop. That is the what-if scenario.

Now the question I want to ask is what would this event do to the world-soul? What might it come to think about itself? In other words I’m not asking what individual opinion might be here and there but what impact it might have on the general attitude of human beings towards what they are and the world they live in. Today our children are exposed to the images of the Holocaust around fifth grade. We can be sure it has a profound effect on how they come to view the previous generations and the world of adults. To what end such knowledge? Will it nudge us towards becoming more kind or more unkind?

While the deluded among us would try to convince the entire world that only deception, competition and survival of the strongest and cruelest is built into the foundations of the natural world – they lie. Yes, life eats life but it also contains cooperation, beauty, compassion, even Schopenhauer’s metaphysical giving of one’s own life for the sake of another. It is a false picture of the natural world that does not include these things too. Not all cultures choose competition as the basic social relationship and winner take all as the basic embodiment of fairness. Many have traditions that strive to build up and encourage one another and share whatever good fortune comes their way. They recognize there is no need to add to the suffering in human life but there is a great need to become more skillful as we confront one another. What this alternative approach towards social relations finds, surprisingly enough, is that learning to feast well is the art through which the noblest features of our potentials are encouraged. By celebrating the bounty of the earth together, instead of in isolated ownership, they find happiness along the way. Not the happiness of the thrill such as consumerism offers during the hit of a purchase but the happiness that grows around a central element of contentment and the satisfactions found in freely sharing or the satisfactions of ownership of that which is well crafted.

A society programmed to be ceaselessly dis-content, who is facing the end of the supply of the single energy resource it requires to function, armed with a super-power arsenal… Well, it’s not hard to see how that restlessness could lead to all sorts of misadventures.

If anything like this what-if comes to pass, what will that do to the world-soul?

When things are their darkest, light is born; when things are their brightest, darkness is born. Perhaps we are about to learn a lesson about the true value of compassion in the school of hard knocks? Perhaps on the other side of the existing un-sustainability we will find a more realistic appraisal of ourselves and our position in the grand scheme of things. Or perhaps not.

Contemplating ecology’s deep time and deep space lets us position humankind’s 5,000 years or so of written history squarely within our 200,000 year old physiological frames, placing recorded history in its larger context. If we have another 5,000 years or more of cultural evolution it seems to me the odds are good we will come to relationships with each other and with the earth that are a bit wiser than where we are today. Why? A belief in progress smuggled into some kind of evolutionary inevitability? No, it is because try as we might we cannot escape the truth about compassion’s role in human life. It is inside us. While it is true that we can become monsters and run away from any sense of dignity or worth being inherent in nature (fallen, fallen fallen!), it does not change the facts. Wherever we go, there we are.

The ultimate teaching the image of the world-soul is trying to convey is that each of us contributes to this process by which molecular planet and sentient consciousness together shape history. It is what the Alchemists called our Great Work – the contribution that you and you alone can make to the world-soul. This is what we are in our snowflake-like individuality: buds on the vine of Christ or carriers of the DNA as you will, for in this science and religion agree. None alive is more valuable than another before the inner altar of the human psyche. This is what the uninitiated alpha males deny, this equality. In this they are mistaken and so the seeds of tragedy are sewn.

Through the meandering branches of the biosphere’s ways and byways the tinkering that is forever ratcheting emergent phenomenon applies to cultural evolution as much as it does to the more familiar microbiological kind. The amino acids of cultural evolution are the ideas and images which accompany us along the way. Shifts in insight and understanding are happening all the time. Some of these shifts are small, everyday alterations of a society’s mores. The large ones, however, call into question what had previously been unquestionable. To speak plainly, when the mistake made in history is large enough, such as the firestorms, death camps, and nuclear weapons of WWII, the collective psyche recognizes the excess and seeks a middle way less infected by such extremes. (The model supposes that the species stays sane by the same cybernetic means the individual does.) These war events represent part of the cognitive side of the rupture in humanity’s relationship with the earth which we recognize as the root cause of the ecological crisis. Mindful ecology recognizes interdependence makes it highly unlikely that while we remain at war with one another we will not also remain at war with the other living things on the earth.

Today the choice facing the world is whether or not WWII will prove to have been a foreshadowing. Will we learn from it or fall again into the same traps but this time for real, this time with population culls and naked resource grabs under banners of Holy Wars so nightmarishly horrendous as to bring about centuries of illiteracy and rule by the strong, a reset into a new Dark Age where might makes right and intelligence is suspect. Compassion, you see, is not the effervescent nice-to-have we have been taught it is by those in the corporate boardrooms whose dog-eat-dog philosophy is currently calling all the shots.

I’ve called this sketch of a possible future scenario a thought experiment, a what-if. It is not at all clear to me this is what is going to happen or if it did that the citizens of the United States would accept it once it became clear their democracy had fallen at the hands of oligarchy, following the path well-trod by the ancient democracies of Greece and Rome that was such a concern of the nation’s founding fathers. There are generations of values other than consumerism running in the blood of many families living here and undoubtedly a sincere concern about the future fate of the Republic fires much of the populous uproar of late. Perhaps such sentiments have only been temporarily high-jacked by the billionaire’s agenda. My family and friends, we want to remind our leaders on this week we celebrate the homeland that our soldier’s lives are precious. Full stop. Spend them with care.

Each of us contributes directly to the mind’s relationships with, and experiences of, the world-soul.  You cannot escape being aware of the larger issues in the world, nor would you want to if you could, not really. This is what we are; buds on the vine, participants in the stream, carriers of the seed of life from one generation to another. Recognizing this we recognize both the equality and the nobility inherent within everyone. The nobility of sentient beings is inherent in the facts of the molecular world – which is as much psyche as quantum.

This nobility, the value and worth of the individual, is not something a state or a religion can grant to those it chooses and deny to the rest. Your subjectivity matters. It matters a great deal. It is only from within that the images and ideas come which guide us through our history’s wisdom and folly. May you have good dreams, dreams that are of benefit to all sentient beings. May your waking consciousness guide you to a meaningful life. Remembering gratitude, may you find contentment and bring an end to the war of all against all.

Respecting Facts

We humans have a funny way of dismissing that which we do not like. We decide that it is not real, or does not apply to us, or perhaps, whatever it is that is troubling us is transformed through the magic of language into a battle of wits and words, leaving the real world issue far, far behind. Some facts from the real world, just to remind us:

World population has tripled since 1950
40% depletion in ozone above the Arctic in 2011
Waste is created at the rate of 13.3 million tons a day
1/3 of all land is at risk of turning into desert

These are taken from a colorful DK publication now available in the states, What’s Really Happening to our Planet: The Facts Simply Explained by Tony Juniper. The book hosts page after page of infographic descriptions of the numerous pressures coming to bear on us as we reach the end of the fossil fueled industrialized age. It is a very handy source for those who might be looking for a single book to provide a summary of ecological data and trends. There are a number of criticisms I could make, such as leaving out the concept of tipping points and including a bit too much of the green gee-whiz factor, but they are mostly minor. There is plenty of material here to provide the seed facts for ecological contemplations, particularly if supplemented with additional study.

This book is a good example of the type of information that lead me to think about what a mindful ecology might mean. After reading a book like this – then what? Am I supposed to just go back to business as usual? That was not an option for me, so I asked, what is an individual to do? For people like me, changing a few light bulbs and hoping ‘they’ will think of something, when the last few decades show ‘they’ most certainly will not, is just not enough of a response. Mindful Ecology tries to be proportionate to the crisis. It is a serious and big change to alter one’s life around a contemplative practice. Undertaken with the intention of healing the fractured relationship between our lives and our planet, we learn to embrace the limitations of our own lives – as they really are – and do what we can.

The art of contemplating a fact consists of turning it over and turning it around, giving it a slow and respectful examination in one’s mind. We look at the fact from many points of view, trying to sus out its relationships with other things we already understand in a search for the fact’s implications. This introduces us to the larger interdependent features which are often easily missed unless we are very careful in how we think about things. Facts never exist in isolation, nor do we ever bring an empty mind to our contemplations. System science insists that when we query our facts we ask ‘and then what?’ Have we accounted for all the inputs and outputs? For the side effects? Have we clearly separated the one way path of whatever energy is involved from the recycling of materials? Have we accounted for thermodynamics along the way, what we often encounter as the phenomenon of diminishing returns? These are means by which seemingly isolated ecological factoids, such as one finds scattered throughout works like this one from DK, are knitted into the larger understanding of the real world one’s mind has constructed.

It is important to recognize this model of the real world each of us has constructed within our psyches, it is part of recognizing that the psyche is real. The meaning of the world that we experience is a product of the unique understanding each of us has developed over a lifetime of experience. In the Bayesian model of inference this is captured in the prior. Parts of that understanding will have been constructed with right thinking about real things and other parts will not. We can all be quite sure that much of what we are quite sure about, is not so. There will be cases of right thinking being applied to unreal things or wrong thinking applied to real things, or even wrong thinking applied to unreal things. One role of the ego, among many, is to guide this gathering of information by which our understanding increases. Through an interplay of the gift of curiosity and the curse of needing to find an answer to relieve oneself of confusion and pain, we are each lead to learn more about that which our soul’s need, what our psyche’s need to fully integrate their experiences. Contemplation increases understanding but not if one spends all one’s careful thinking time thinking about BS. The horns of a rabbit visualized in exquisite detail, or documented in libraries full of scholarly volumes, or even delivered by the special effects department to every television in the land, do not gain one whit of real existence thereby.

Shadows remain shadows of that which is casting them, fantasy remains fantasy and confusion sews more confusion unless these things are transmuted in the alchemical vessel of imagination. In our fantasy enthralled culture the role of imagination is very poorly understood. The image making ability of the human mind is in service to the real human life one is able to lead out here in the environment of the earth’s molecular world, out under the blue sky and stars. The imagination concerns the heart’s deepest dreams – and wounds. It takes a strong imagination to perceive the possibility of happiness in the future, not as an abstract goal but as something you can actually strive for in your own life. We prefer fantasies about how our lives might be because our real ones are defined by limitations. Your actual life, the one that is really even now unfolding its precious few moments, is defined by the limitations your character will encounter along its path of fate and fortune. This real life you have can only be seen as valuable when it is clearly understood that you are living the life of a finite mortal who will one day die having had only a very, very small taste of all that human life has to offer. To take our seat as adults and claim our equality with other sentient beings requires seeing this clearly, recognizing it is the same for everyone else, and saying to these very limitations ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’

Limits chafe the fevered dreams of ego’s ignorant beginnings. When we first set out on the long road of psychological development we are on our hero quest. We learn to build our ego to be strong enough to serve as a vessel for the raging winds of the life force animating our bodies. This is how the mind first grounds consciousness and gives us our sense of being our own point of view, our own self. The heroic ego dreams of becoming a god; it is foolish enough to believe it wants to be a god instead of love a god. This is what the hero learns in the Grail Castle, when the quest is completed and the happily ever after takes over. Not everyone has made it to the castle yet. Many still dream of being god-like instead of human. Many of those who dream of becoming gods cloak their hubris in a type of twisted faith; they claim simply to be serving gods of limitless power. They are but the humble true believers. The give away is in how, inevitably, a human voice somewhere along the line of authority assumes the mantle of that limitless power that rightly only belongs to god alone. Doing so, for a human being, is a suicidal act of self denial.

Limitless righteousness brings nightmares of cleansing fires and sacrificial lambs slaughtered by the hundreds of millions. ‘Great alpha male in the sky, god of thunder and war, have we not become equal? Was there ever a priest more holy than I, more important than I who push the red button?’ Some such bewitchment awaits anyone who ventures so far from home. It is one thing to be on a hero’s quest, quite another to be way-laid by Dracula.

Limitless money, limitless shopping, limitless sex, limitless knowledge, limitless war and conquest, limitless fame, limitless power, limitless holiness, limitless depravity, limitless ecstasy, limitless fresh water, limitless fresh air, limitless crop land, limitless time to address our problems, limitless oil, limitless ego – drinking saltwater, the hungry ghosts trying to slake their insatiable thirsts never find the satisfactions they so desperately seek. Ungrounded, they are torn apart by the star gods, becoming little more than limitlessness twinkling darkly in shells of human beings devoid of compassion, little more than mouths shouting ‘more.’ Why are the hungry ghosts taught to be ghosts? Because they have not become real by recognizing they have been given, in fact, what they need. And that that is enough. Are you breathing? That is the evidence. These false infinites are the dangers that haunt the mind untrained in the disciplines of yes and thank you which arise from the heart. These are what tempt and tease our minds, attempting to strong arm their way into how we perceive the world, draining it of all human sense. Soon the simple pleasures of sex, romance, love and children, shared food and drink, the songs we sing together while dancing in our colorful costumes, somehow all this and more is just not enough. The Buddha’s graveyard vision of the young maidens as disgusting as corpses and the world but one of sorrow, this is what haunts the minds of those traumatized by the modern world. These minds have yet to ride the rafts and visit the isle of non-duality, the nirvana of our nature. They are stuck in the Buddha’s ascetic extreme. They have yet to soften in acceptance of a grain of rice from the hand of a maiden, in acceptance of loving kindness from others.

The husks of understanding these mind parasites leave their victims to feed on make it seem that the best way out of our current ecological predicament is through an all out nuclear holy war. Out in these extremes, where exponential curves never encounter limits, are the howling winds of hell on earth. They can trap us in a prison of madness if we let them.

Your life, what is it in fact? Whatever you are actually able to experience, achieve, accomplish, perceive, absorb, understand, partake of, participate in, share with others, receive from others, and generally the way you carry your body, speech and mind throughout your life span. That is your life. Something larger than our day to day selves makes its appearance across the span of a life considered as a whole. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he talked about the archetype of the, capital S, Self. The Self is a way of approaching discussion about a psychological fact, namely, that the unconscious mind or larger psyche contains an imago dei, an image of god. This archetype is a psychological feature of the inner world the ego must learn to relate to. As an image of how an individual encounters god, Jung found it played a central role in the healing or disintegration of the psyche which he observed in his patients. He taught that the Self is related to wholeness and integration, individuation and meaning or, when inverted, shows its flip side as dark authoritarianism, a possessing spirit, a numinous complex capable of over powering and bewitching the ego. This inversion is the psychological reality of the demonic as it is projected into totalitarian social movements and the mass sacrifices of life, dignity, and compassion involved in the brutalities of indiscriminant war. But if it was the image of god in man’s psyche that Jung wanted to draw our attention to, why did he name this archetype the Self?

Things that might seem the right things to do or think or feel today, may not seem to have been so wise from the perspective of tomorrow. We learn this as we age. In learning it we are to gain a more critical appreciation of the understanding we have at any given moment. We learn that our conscience, that still small voice, that it too grows wiser. In every moment of our lives we have been operating from the best understanding of ourselves and our world of which we have been capable of. Yet not one of us knows where the inevitable confusions still lurk. If we knew that, we would not still be confused. This teaches us to appreciate the real nature of the prior understanding of the world and our place in it which we bring to any new study we might undertake. Honest humility is the result. Ours is a limited understanding, one shot through with mistakes but not without worth because of that. The mistakes are, more often than not, motivated and not simply random errors. Psychological factors are at play when we deliberately or ignorantly misunderstand that which is real and allow fantasy to usurp imagination. Those threads of confusion lead our understanding further. This is hopeful but errors remain errors none-the-less, sins in western parlance. Knowing even our best understanding is bound to have errors, we would be wise to bring our very best to bear on our problems of critical importance. It does not help matters to deliberately introduce falsehoods, obscurations, distractions and stubborn denial of facts, all backed up by violence, when the real state of our prior understanding of ourselves and the world we live in does not jive with what we want it to be. Isn’t that, more or less, what we are doing today in our public discourse about ecological matters?

This is not academic. This is what is keeping our society from starting a sane discussion about our un-sustainability and what we might choose to do differently. Our understanding has changed, our prior in the Bayesian equation, yet we are not able to bring it to bear when we are called on to interpret the ongoing data stream of evidence from the ecological sciences.

Our understanding of the earth’s climate has evolved over the last century into one of the most impressive scientific studies ever undertaken by mankind. Today we know so much more about its defining characteristics then we did when we first started burning fossil fuels that it is a cognitive lie to pretend our understanding, because it necessarily includes mistakes, is insufficiently developed to support the alarming and terrifying conclusions of the ecologists studying these matters. The same could be said for so many other areas of our crisis from over fishing to drawing down aquifers and all the rest.

I think every important public discussion should start within the full acknowledgement that the facts are facts. That the ecological facts are, at least roughly, as laid out in summary form in works like What’s Really Happening to the Planet? As it states on the back of the book, “Now is the time to understand this heart-stopping subject.” Our way of life needs adjusting, it is un-sustainable and this is what that means. It seems the only question is whether or not the public is going to have any chance to weigh in on this at all, or not. So far the real discussion we need to be having has not even begun. Families throughout the earth’s many nations and our interests, when they conflict with those of corporations about what we should be doing right here and right now, are nowhere to be seen or heard.

We have got to grow the economy. Really? We need to shrink the economy, nothing less will begin to reduce the oversized ecological footprint that is our un-sustainability. We need to drive our cars less, worse, we need fewer cars on the road. The average car is contributing 5 tons to global warming gases annually. 5 Tons! We should start talking about how to pay people to stay home and how to stop making any more of these things. We need to decentralize our power generation, reduce the peak requirements it needs to meet and thoroughly re-create the daily life of those living in the overdeveloped world to use less electricity and transportation fuels in the process of acquiring what they need to sustain their daily life. These are just a few of the obvious conclusions ecological study suggests. That they are impossible to talk about seriously in the public square is a measure of our collective psychopathology.

Drawing logical inferences from limited data sets, reasoning, is not a free for all. To reason is to update what we believe in light of new evidence. The book we have been discussing summarizes, in about 200 pages, a boat load of serious evidence demanding our collective attention. Today we live in denial of the true implications of that evidence. We fear drawing the correct inferences. If we continue to refuse to use our reason in planning for the future, what will we use in its place when the shocks of ecological and societal collapse continue to grow in strength and frequency and things become, shall we say, more desperate? Blood and soil?

Blame Ecology or Ecologists?

“A mother gives life and this one gives death, and we call this device a mother. What is going on?” he asked.
Pope Francis angered by America’s ‘mother of all bombs’ name, BBC News

“What is the basis for intolerance? This book addresses that question by developing a universal theory about what causes intolerance of difference in general, which includes racism, political intolerance (e.g. restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g. homophobia, supporting censorship, opposing abortion) and punitiveness. It demonstrates that all these seemingly disparate attitudes are principally caused by just two factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (‘authoritarianism’) interacting with changing conditions of societal threat. The threatening conditions, resonant particularly in the present political climate, that exacerbate authoritarian attitudes include national economic downturn, rapidly rising crime rates, civil dissent and unrest, loss of confidence in social institutions, presidential unpopularity, divisive presidential campaigns, and internal or external crises that undermine national pride or confidence.”
The Authoritarian Dynamic, Cambridge Studies in Public Opinion and Political Psychology

 

I believe that if we learn to use our words, we can avoid using our fists. Is ecology the problem or is it the ecologists? That pretty much sums up what is lurking in the background of most public conversation and policy making in America these days.

Shred the EPA, bully on through protests around pipelines, discard rules around dealing with corruption in dictatorships to allow the last big oil deals, and seal it all with a Judas kiss to the people who worked and protested for decades to bring ecology to the attention of policy makers. Give corporations a huge tax break, strengthen prisons and arrest protestors; it is rather clear which side of the authoritarian divide is calling the shots these days. It will be interesting to see how the seeds sown over the last few months look come harvest time.

I, personally, am wondering how long it will be before we start seeing the roll out of the new patriotism propaganda. That is the worst. I love my country enough to want to see it deal realistically with its actual problems. The propaganda version of patriotism though, well that is little more than using the flag the way a magician uses a handkerchief to misdirect where you are watching, so they can pick your pockets dry and spill the blood of your loved ones on their fields of profits..

Pretending there is a future for our hyper-consumerism is becoming more difficult of late. The justifications are wearing thin and the blowback is becoming embarrassingly difficult to hide. Though the misdirection of the mass spectacle has been perfected, here and there some folks still look away from the screen and out the window. Those folks see a world very much unlike the one being peddled in the public square.

The petroleum industry assures us we can power past impossible. Their latest marketing campaign, unveiled during the 2017 superbowl, gives away the whole show. The engineers working for the oil companies know more than anyone how the investments in new discovery have not kept up with the needs of projected demand. They know more than anyone that the reserves remaining are not large enough to keep international trade and industrial infrastructure powered as we are accustomed to for much longer. They also know better than anyone that the carbon that remains in those oil reserves should not be burned anyway, if there is going to be a crying chance for our children to have a climate conductive to regular crop harvests. I think it was the engineering side of the house that told the marketing side of the house, “impossible.” It is impossible, from an engineering point to view, to continue powering Homo Colossus with oil. Marketing, as marketing will do, called the engineers sad sacks and immediately came up with their own solutions. The guys over on the sales side of the house knew they could sell the last drops to fools if they could only get enough momentum to jump over the facts, and viola, the new marketing phrase for the petroleum industry was born: Power Past Impossible (.org).

Would you like some twinkle dust with that?

We are doubling down on religious wars and faith in the magic of capitalism. That magic, borrowing money from tomorrow to fund productivity today, has long ago lost its luster. Financial shenanigans are more common than production for bringing investors their required returns, and when production is occurring it is likely to be of poorly made yet overpriced gizmos that serve no human need, but do supply their owner with some token status they are denied in every other aspect of their lives under the big dogs of petro-dollar capitalism.

It turns out big oil and big capitalism were not the kind social guides their spokesmen had made them out to be. It is hard to imagine any course of events that could have shown the world their true colors more clearly than those of the last few years. The ecological evidence in that time has become solid enough to be damning to the faux innocence and naivety by which our overdeveloped countries are conducting their business – the business of big oil and big capitalism.

While we warm up the nukes and double count the ammo, this might be a good time to take a moment or two to reflect on just what it is that is happening to us. We have lost the ability to see a bright future at the end of the consumer rainbow. Those of us who have studied ecology seriously have also lost any easy transitions to an alternative tech future, it is far too late. So we keep smiling and faking it, as if we did not know our way of life has become a disaster for the planet. Meanwhile the anger grows day by day. It is being driven by our survival imperative: you cannot take the species’ future away from it.

Who is in charge here? Certainly not the puppets of history, they are just dangling on the ends of strings more powerful then they could begin to comprehend. Certainly not the ideologues and demagogues who claim to know what these nightmare-level social breakdowns are really about but prove themselves time and again to be clueless. Certainly not some invisible supernatural fallen angels, demons, ghosts or ghouls. No, what ails us is all too visible since oil is in, or involved in, just about every object we touch. The only invisible factors are those of our human psychology.

This is not about preaching to the choir, this is about sketching a picture accurate enough to be of some use. Courage uncovers phobias and airs out the claustrophobic fears by daring to talk about them. Traumatization makes absolutes out of relative facts, so talk is able to puncture their false infinities. Besides, knowing where our temptations are, perhaps we can steel ourselves against their seductions. One of our greatest temptations just now seems to be a willingness to entertain ourselves to death, literally. We want our world leaders and world events to be big and flashy, we want our world to be as exciting as a summer blockbuster.

Goodness lacks the flash of evil. It’s appeal is closer to intimate sex than to violent rape. The quite of contentment and contemplation may seem to lack the drama we have become addicted to. There are no sub-machine guns to mow down a classroom full of children with kindness. There are no love knives we can use to slit the throats of pregnant woman. There are no electrodes to hook up to vulnerable body parts to shock people into caring about what happens to their fellow man. There is just the power of kindness in the honest love between people. Is it going to be enough?

That is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

You should know that there are some who have decided, evidently, that it is not going to be enough. Love is not as sweet as power for these folks. They are itching for a fight, itching to take back what they feel they are entitled to but have lost. Learning to get by with less holds no appeal for them, at all.

Welcome to the war between two world views. Times are getting hard and people are looking for the cause. One world view recognizes the role ecology plays. This view understands that the expansion of giant industrialization is running into the limits of what is possible. Ecological limits to growth is what is ultimately behind the hard times and what we should be adapting to. The other world view denies that and finds the cause of the hard times to be the ecologists – it is an over regulation of business that has driven manufacturing offshore and placed unfair burdens on corporations competing in a global market.

Times are hard and getting harder. Loss is in the air. How will you react? That too is for you to decide. Today. While we warm up the war machine.

I would like to suggest that as you decide between these conflicting world views, that you make your decision using the most careful reasoning and critical thinking you are capable of. Then you will understand why you take the position you do. You will be able to articulate it when necessary, and not be easily persuaded this way or that as the crowd sways first one direction and then the other. That transparency of reason, built carefully using both logic and values, will serve you well – whatever the fates may have in store.

Respecting Limitations

“Nuclear weapons are simply the destructive edge of our technology gone wild in its distorted blend with science – what Lewis Mumford calls the final apotheosis of the contemporary megamachine…
I am suggesting that everyone on earth is now in some measure subject to the logic of the hostage and the aura of nuclear terror…
One can only cease to feel oneself a passive guinea-pig victim by rejecting the global experimental death-trap of the nuclear weapons system. One is again an active human being, a creature of worth who rejects deadly experiment, however uncertain the outcome of one’s antinuclear efforts.”
Robert Jay Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism

 

Our task is to imagine the real. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

This is what mindful ecology is asking us to do. It asks us to use the informed rational mind as the firm foundation on which the imagination can ponder implications of what has been learned. When we apply this to ecological information we begin to develop a feel for the value of what is threatened, which is another way of saying we develop a sense for just how cruel and wrong the way we treat the earth and its inhabitants, as well as each other, really is.

Now that we have taken a look at the role of fear and violence in thought reform, aka brainwashing, perhaps we are ready to begin understanding how nuclear weapons have been shaping our collective psyche for the last half century or so. We are all in the kidnapper’s closet and suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome. If the bankers and manufacturers of war material decide they need their politicians to start world war three, there does not seem to be a darn thing you and I can do about it. But that is ok. We hold those who hold the thermonuclear gun to our head in great respect. It has been this way now for about half a century.

It has had a profound effect on our minds. All of us.

It is hard enough to know how Homo Colossus is killing so much of what is beautiful and precious on this earth. When we add to our knowledge the types of hurt our nuclear weapons can inflict on her as well… Don’t do that. Don’t go that far. I guess this is what we are going to need to communicate to those who have the ability to push those buttons: don’t hurt her this way. I fear that if they do, the response might be to create a wholly unmanageable populous. There is a threat to the whole species wrapped up in these weapons. No one knows what happens to a self-conscious species threatened with the destruction of everything it holds dear.

There is a serious disconnect between the tens of thousands of years radiation can remain deadly and the passing diplomatic arguments of our headlines, any one of which might spiral out of control and lead to an exchange of nuclear weapons. Even the most dense among us senses something is profoundly wrong about solving a second grade schoolyard fight by murdering your schoolmates. That same sense teaches us no argument about stocks and bonds, refugees and race, or any other issue-of-the-month will ever be sufficient, in retrospect, to justify a nuclear weapon driven world war.

Yet we are pretending this is not the case. Just exactly as we are pretending it is not the driving of our cars and the manufacturing of our mostly useless crap that is eating the earth alive. If you are not mad, you are not paying attention. If you are not scared, you are not feeling the implications of your thoughts. If you are sure these things do not involve you, well, good luck. Sometimes ignorance and denial are blessed with the highly improbable outcomes. Our existing global policy of enforced make-believe just might lead us through the rest of this century just fine. Honestly though, the odds are against it. The alternative is to courageously examine the evidence. Those who do learn that they become changed by it. We are changed when we allow our hearts to feel what our rational minds conclude about the most probable outcome of our current trajectories.

Evolution provides a vibrant dissensus around the single task given to all living things: to find a means of maintaining an ongoing continuity between the generations of the past and those of the future. This is exactly what is threatened by the ecological crisis. To be clear, the ecological crisis is an emergency level disruption in the relationship of mankind’s overgrown technological footprint, Homo Colossus, and the environment in which it exists, planet earth. When Homo Colossus strides across the earth, ecosystems die. Nowhere is this truth more undeniable than in the potential harm our thermonuclear warheads contain. To unleash even a small proportion of our arsenals would tear the earth’s biosphere-skin in a way unimaginably horrifying. It is a sacred obligation to see that this does not happen. Our job, as Robert Lifton never tiered of teaching, is to imagine the real. Here, too, in the unimaginably horrifying, we must take the ecology our heads understand and contemplatively allow it into our bodies. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

What is the ecological crisis? In most of its details this crisis is one brought about due to missing the need to respect limitations. We have looked at trauma and abuse as the subjective cause for our outward behavior. Perpetrators of abuse refuse to recognize the limitations on their own desires imposed by a rational recognition of their own subjectivity within others. The same lack of respect for limits we display among our interpersonal lives also dominates our relationship with the non-human world.

Our greed, lust and violence each have a hot, physiological aspect which tends to burn itself out, and a cold, intellectual aspect which bears a type of uncanny eternity in our minds. This uncanny eternity tempts us to ignore limitations. In the mind: economic growth can continue forever, how great and powerful an empire can become knows no bounds, and the ongoing elevation of living standards through the globalization of the shopping mall can carry on for the rest of the century; we will double the number of cars on the planet by 2035 or so and double again by 2050, well on our way to happy motoring for all. Outside of the isolated mind, however, out where engineers and scientists interface with the reality of our molecular world, all these things and more immediately run up against stubborn resistance, if not outright impossibilities. It is highly improbable that business as usual will be able to make these things come to pass.

The people know it, the people’s leaders know it, but no one is talking about it with seriousness proportionate to the importance of the subject. This too, I believe, is un-sustainable.

What I want to do with this series of posts about nuclear issues is provide a human tone to the public conversation. I am not looking to persuade readers to my political views. I am hoping to dig deeper than such things, to come from the position where one human being talks with another human being as whole people, not embodiments of ideology. The Atomic Scientists recently moved the Doomsday Clock (pdf) forward an unprecedented half a minute. That resonated with me. My informed intuiting is ringing the alarm bell again; it is telling me we are in very, very dangerous times. Part of what is making them uniquely dangerous is that we do not have any space in which to have serious conversations among ourselves about these things. The time when the news media were being run to inform instead of make a profit is far behind us. In a time of post-truth, when every message in the public square is carrying a secondary agenda to increase the profits or power of those authoring them, we might very well lose our ability to discern what is real from what is not.

Just as it is silence and secrets that keep the victims of an abusive home enslaved to their victimhood, so the threatened family of man needs to learn to speak up about what is wrong if we are to regain our dignity.

Taking Stock

Last week we crossed the threshold. That post discussed the out of body experience as one that is associated with early childhood trauma. In these cases the emotional reactions within the physiology of the victim are so extreme that the evolutionary survival imperative takes over. The result is that the conscious point of view is taken to a safer place, an altered state, where some form of ego continuity can occur. Once the “spirit” leaves the “body” there is nothing more. That’s it. That is as far as we can go, there is nothing further in this direction that human beings can know with certainty.

This does not stop authoritarian true believers from insisting that their particular brand of fanaticism has pierced the veil, mastered the threshold and now offer their followers immortality. There is no end to the cults willing to anchor phobias in people’s bodies to enslave the hearts and minds of the gullible. Though it is hard to even comprehend for many people, the truth of the matter seems to be that these institutional “spirits” just do not care about the individual. What they need is another number to grow their ranks, another replaceable cog to provide them a little more profit be it through tithing, taxes or consumer purchases. Indeed, as so many of our social critics have pointed out, in the age of mass man the most endangered species is the honest, compassionate individual. There is just no edge in that. There is no way to twist that into something that will always put you out on top.

Compassion understands it is not all about me; that I do not always need to be first and come out on top. It has eyes large enough to notice that what is seen out there, beyond my skin, is also real. Further, in looking beyond one’s own needs and desires, we encounter a whole world full of hurt.

There are any number of ways a person might organize their thinking about the hurt that they encounter. I have been suggesting, for a little over two and half years now, that ecology will prove to be the umbrella under which all the lesser abuses can be gathered. And now we have crossed the threshold. The next post is going to talk about things that many readers may not be psychologically prepared for. It is going to talk about nuclear war and what it means when one dares to bring feeling and subjectivity to the subject.

Before going there though, I thought it best to take a moment to take stock of where we are, where we have come from, and a bit about where we are going with this whole mindful ecology project. Since its inception I have had a broad outline of what it was I hoped to share. For a number of my readers who have been with me since the early days it probably did not escape notice that this project was being structured along the lines of a three act play, or an initiation if you prefer. Initiation; now there is a word with all kinds of associations and no clear definition. I use it to refer to any structured teaching modality designed to cause lifestyle changes in those who undertake it. Which is, of course, exactly what mindful ecology is all about. First let’s get right in our hearts, then what we should do as individuals in our own lives about the insanity of our un-sustainability will take care of itself.

The first act, or first degree if you will, was the preparatory material covered in the first year of posts. They covered the basics of the ecological view which is summarized in the concepts of Homo Colossus and die off. The basics of a Buddhist point of view, reasoning, compassion and a contemplative practice were shared as a means for integrating what the mind knows about our ecological predicament into our hearts. In this way we become aware of how our bodies and emotions are also involved. Just as in any good story the main characters were introduced in the first act and the conflict introduced. We had a graduation on the one year anniversary.

Without conflict there can be no good story. The second year took us into an exploration of the forces in play in our society, and in our individual psychologies, which have allowed the manufacture of Homo Colossus to proceed. This was a year of posts dealing with some of the darker aspects of our lives in the over-developed nations. If the first year could be characterized as intellectually information rich, the second was about the emotional richness of our biological being. Understanding the evolutionary role of emotions became the foundation for wide ranging discussions of violence. It started with physical violence as it is studied in killology. It used the news, particularly of school shootings and attacks, to try and remain real to the effect these things are having on people’s lives; particularly on the lives of our children. The discussion of violence then expanded to include not just physical abuse but also mental, emotional, psychological and “spiritual” abuse as well. This of necessity included a whistle stop tour of some of the myths and motifs of western religion, again, with an emphasis on the role the child plays in all this.

Part of that year’s discussion included an introduction to Jungian analysis of symbolism. His conception of the archetypes give us a way to talk about items found in the basement of the mind. It proves useful for individuals but also for a type of psycho-historical analysis. What haunts the modern mind? The apocalyptic end of the world we seem powerless to prevent. Melting ice caps and mushroom clouds haunt our dreams. I suggested we in the over-developed world were writing ourselves into the apocalyptic script as the villain of the story. The idea of Babylonian Capitalism was meant to capture that idea. I wrote:

“Ecologically oriented as I am I cannot help but point out a few details I think are telling. It is my opinion that in general we human beings are not nearly as unconscious as we let on. We understand a lot more about our existential situation than we dare to admit within the very limited confines of our everyday waking consciousness. One of the ways I see this manifesting is in the care with which we have crafted the neoliberal globalization message to fit so well with the apocalyptic symbolism. Here in the basement of the mind… We have turned to the dark side to receive our revelation.”

The image of Babylon trading with all the nations captures the economics of hyper-globalization in our time rather well, don’t you think? Babylon falls in the story. If we learn from our myths we can avoid meeting on the fields of Armageddon, the western cremation ground:

“Here is my two cents about what the story in the Book of Revelation means; it’s like an inside view of the resurrected life, life beyond robots. It is a rather simple message really, involving the mystery of ever-present time: The war is over – the good guys won. The Apocalypse has been cancelled.”

That was not quite the whole truth as I perceive it. There is an element of postponing that day of reckoning by whole heartedly devoting oneself to the cause of life in the fight against all that would enslave it and destroy it. We will be getting to that soon now.

That second year ended with an examination of that which we moderns fear more than anything else in the world; the vulnerability involved in human kindness. Instead of a graduation, its end was marked by the only Wednesday post to go missing. I played hooky but asked my readers to consider the David Bowie song Five Years.

The third year introduced the idea that as a society we have known we were on an un-sustainable trajectory since, at least, the release of MIT’s Limit’s to Growth study in the 1970s. Proceeding then on this assumption, the posts of the last six months or so have been exploring the ramifications. Each essay was written both to process the times through my own body-mind, and to hopefully share some insight into what is happening to us politically and socially so that others might act with a bit more understanding when their own times get tough.

In Vajriana Buddhism there are said to be mother tantras and father tantras. In Western psychotherapy early childhood relationships with one’s parents are said to be the source of our neurosis and psychosis. The role of parents, and specifically parental unkindness, provided our entry way into this third year’s discussions. Child abuse was teased out of the cob-web filled shadowy corner it normally hides in within our cultural conversations. A number of posts have discussed how such abuse affects human beings, and how those human beings in turn carry that abuse forward. By my way of thinking, the most important development in the psychological sciences is the new appreciation of the role trauma plays in our lives. Freud could not believe it when most all the patients coming to him were talking about their sex abuse as children. In his Victorian mindset that just was unthinkable and so his brave explorations of the unconscious were soon couched in terms of Oedipus complexes and a whole host of alternative explanations for what was going on in his patients. Jung, Alder, Fromm, Maslow, and many others, while providing important insights into the psyche, all failed to place the act of traumatizing abuse front and center in their theorizing. It is only in the last decade or two that those who seek to heal the mind have called a spade a spade.

But now, with last week’s post, that avenue of mindful ecological contemplations came to its final point. As mentioned, what more is there to rationally say once someone has been so terrified and hurt that their own “spirit” leaves their “body”? Now we are going to turn our attention to the needs outside of our own. We are going to begin a whole new level of engagement with our times. Not all people should go with us there right now. If you are very new to this site and this work you might want to consider going through the whole process first. All along I have spoke about how we should be training to become skilled at triage. This image is meant to viscerally convey the steely-will coupled with courage lead by the heart which I think we need to deal with the darkness of our times. The image is one of a bloody battlefield in which emergency medical procedures, of both body and mind, are being offered to the wounded. It is triage because not all the wounded are going to be people, or animals, we can save. Hard as that is.

If you are new to this site and this work, now that you see its structure, consider giving yourself a few months, if not years, to just live with your ecological knowledge. Remaining mindful of ecology is the path; it is meant to be the gentle touch of compassion for our frightened hearts. Once that pathway of deep self-acceptance and self-comfort has been established, a person becomes more capable of handling larger fears and terrors; living with ambiguity and the unknown become much more life supporting than life threatening. This gives us the courage to admit to ourselves what we do know clearly, what is not unknown to us. All along we are to be strengthening ourselves by the application of wise compassion. When it comes to this kind of work, going too slow is just right. On the other hand, going is necessary. Going is key. Going On is what we each need to do. We should not be satisfied with anything less than taking our seat, becoming unshakably grounded in our own truth, our own understanding of what is real.

That means we do not permanently run from any irrational fear which our psychological or biological inheritances have left us prone to suffer from. Life should be lived with gusto, with a joy at the preciousness of the opportunity. It does not last forever you know. Never forget that the business of living is living. If self-destructive elements are getting the upper hand in your life STOP. Stop the additional work or self-therapy, stop the ecological studies, stop meditating and contemplating, stop until your feet are on the ground and you are again as clear as you can be that your first and foremost obligation is to your own long term well-being. Care for your most intimate connection with the earth – your own being. So much of this work is doing by not doing. That is, in fact, the hardest lesson of all. It is where the ego meets the Self.

Maturity recognizes that there is nothing I can do today that will solve all my problems or the world’s. What we are dealing with individually are issues which nothing short of a whole lifetime will ever fully address. We need to give ourselves a break about being just exactly where we are today, with our limited ability to do just a little better than yesterday. The path to happiness might seem long but placing ourselves firmly on it requires no more than that today, we are just a touch less ignorant and cruel than we were yesterday. With each choice we learn to build our characters with actions taken in which we can respect ourselves.

We need to learn to welcome tomorrow. It brings us another opportunity to both work and celebrate. Tomorrow, of course, is just what all people alive on earth right now are not sure of. The bomb has been in the basement of our mind for a long time now. The ecological crisis spelling the end of our un-sustainable ways has been there too, not as long perhaps, but all the more devastating when we consider one detail. When Robert Lifton interviewed survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a common thread was how much it hurt knowing that the suffering that had been inflicted on them was man made. They were not suffering an ‘act of god’ as we say, but the deliberate, planned cruelty of other human beings. Today our ecological science has collected sufficient evidence that victims of horrifying circumstances are no longer able to make this ancient distinction. For us, already the ‘act of nature’ and the acts of Exxon are not so clearly distinguishable. What happens to our species when the violent acts of nature might also be violent acts of man against man?

For those who are ready to proceed with the rest of this third year of mindful ecology I have another contemplative exercise to suggest in preparation. Not that it bears directly on the subject of nuclear war, but it bears directly on some of the context I think we need if we are to understand our times and our peers without losing our sense of compassion.

I would like to suggest you watch, or re-watch, a movie from the 1970s; that decade which has proven to be so pivotal in retrospect. I am not saying I approve of everything in this movie. Indeed some part of it should offend the sensibilities of just about anyone watching. Yet adults are meant to visit Disneyland, not to try to live there. We live in an R rated world. Some of the people who want power over us seek to keep us infantilized, insisting we only consume G rated fare. Others seek to become powerful at our expense, and make a buck, by sewing addictions to the X rated, as if that made someone a real adult. I suggest here, as in so many other areas, the wisest course is to seek the middle way. Adult life is R rated.

The movie Network was the winner of four Academy Awards in 1976. It’s a movie about a prophet and a prophetic movie. It has a couple of speeches I think all people should listen to, particularly Americans just now.