“Nature has neither core nor skin: she’s both at once outside and in.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Wild nature and human nature are both becoming endangered species. As other species die all around us, lost forever in the biological ether, we seem to be quite fit in our survival. Indeed, we even seem to be prospering. But it is now becoming apparent that there’s a glaring sickness at the heart of the human condition: we’ve confused the survival of the fittest with those that kill. And so everything dies around us while we prosper.
While we plunder and horde, the world becomes more and more depleted. While we go through the culturally prescribed motions of conquer, control, consume, destroy, repeat; the world goes through the motions of dying. The irony of this is that eventually we too will become depleted, and we too will die, as nature is a finite resource (although gargantuan in its capacity) that needs time to replenish.
Because of this we are approaching a bottleneck of cataclysmic proportions. On the one side is the man machine, fueled and ruthlessly efficient at taking. On the other side is nature (to include human nature), fuel itself, and exhaustibly giving. Daniel Quinn created the concepts “takers” and “leavers” in his novel Ishmael that reflects this dynamic quite well.
The man machine takes, stockpiles, and then takes some more. Nature gives, renews, and then gives some more. But nature is not an infinite resource. It takes time to renew itself. And the man machine is consuming faster than nature has time to replenish its resources.
The concepts “nature” and “human nature” are interchangeable here. The man machine is made up of aspects of human nature, but is not itself human nature. The man machine is a cultural accumulation of old bad habits passed down and spoon-fed into new bad habits, decorated with a plethora of unhealthy ideologies and mental paradigms rooted in parochial ignorance. It uses stopgap dogmatic rigidness and fear-tactic ruthlessness to keep itself entrenched.
It has become a “machine” because it has become heartless and inhumane. The irony is that it is held-up by billions of people (takers) who have hearts, who have human nature, who love and hunger and hurt. But this is also the beauty of it: that it IS held up by people with hearts who can, at any moment, shrug away the outdated, unhealthy world view of the man machine, and adopt a new healthier, more holistic way of being and becoming (leavers); a mature way that strives for equilibrium between nature and the human soul; a way that teaches us to, as Gandhi once said, “live simply so that others can simply live.”
The tragedy of our times is that we (society) live and die for the man-machine. Instead of the machine being a tool for us to use, we have become a tool for the man-machine to manipulate. The tragedy of this is that life itself has become bureaucratic, which brings about absolute decay and crushes the independence of the individual. No less vividly, is its effect on all order of things – from the ecological and economic, to the psychological and spiritual.
When it comes down to it, we are made of the earth. We are the earth’s highly evolved conscious organs. Our eyes and brains are extensions of her miraculous biology. Our knowledge is her knowledge, and we have a duty to her. Why are we burdened with this duty?
Because, as the most powerful animal to have ever been born from her, we have the capacity to know that we know, and therefore the power to destroy. This power can knock us out of balance with nature and alienate us from each other, or it can bring us back into balance with each other and the biosphere.
This power gives us a responsibility to maintain a balance between nature and the human soul. Her soul is our soul. We must become caretakers of that soul instead of destroyers of it. That is why disassembling the man-machine – the heartless, exploitative, and deeply violent monster that we, as a culture, have created – is so important.