“Once I thought that to be human was the highest aim a man could have, but I see now that it was meant to destroy me. To-day I am proud to say that I am inhuman, that I belong not to men and governments, that I have nothing to do with creeds and principles. I have nothing to do with the creaking machinery of humanity – I belong to the earth!” ~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
Welcome to the Anthropocene: an epoch that began when human activities had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. We live in precisely such an epoch. The Holocene is staggered. We live in a world of aggrandized egos and unsustainable technologies.
Our hyper-masculinized, overreaching culture is systematically destroying great swathes of the biosphere. Our heightened sense of individuality is haphazardly creating excessive divisiveness between nature and the human soul. It walls us off from nature, fooling us into falsely believing that we are above it, while disguising the fact that we are nature, and nature is us. The majority of us are simply incapable of understanding that we are interdependent beings within an interconnected cosmos.
As Firmin DeBrabander said, writing about Spinoza, “To be human, according to Spinoza, is to be party to a confounding existential illusion — that human individuals are independent agents — which exacts a heavy emotional and political toll on us. It is the source of anxiety, envy, anger — all the passions that torment our psyche — and the violence that ensues. If we should come to see our nature as it truly is, if we should see that no “individuals” properly speaking exist at all, Spinoza maintained, it would greatly benefit humankind. There is no such thing as a discrete individual, Spinoza points out. This is a fiction. The boundaries of ‘me’ are fluid and blurred. We are all profoundly linked in countless ways we can hardly perceive.”
Our tendency toward ecocide is a psychosocial schism of hyperreal proportions compounded by a psychological cognitive dissonance that keeps us clinging to our unhealthy preconditioning. We all intuitively sense that there is something fundamentally unhealthy and unsustainable with the way our human cultures pollute and destroy the planet, but most of us do not have the moral courage to admit that we’re part of the problem. Cognitive dissonance too easily slips in and pacifies us against the discomfort. And so the vicious cycle continues.
This dissonance is so powerful that it compels people to remain ignorant to a great many things. The majority of us think we know the way the world works, when really we have forgotten that everything is connected. This can be extremely dangerous.
It leads to personal complacency, intellectual laziness, and existential ennui; a disrespect of the sacredness of the interconnectedness of cosmos; a gross imbalance between nature and the human soul; and corruption at all levels of human governance. In short: it leads to a plague of fact-resistant anti-intellectuals.
Unfortunately, these fact-resistant humans have become the majority. They resist facts because they are scared that the truth will reveal the lie at the heart of their unhealthy lifestyles. They cling to the outdated, parochial views of their forefathers, unable to accept that “time makes ancient good uncouth.” They are anti-intellectuals because they fear change and the personal responsibility and accountability that comes along with changing for the better.
But above all else, they fear the peer-pressure of the all-encompassing status quo. In a fundamentally unhealthy and unsustainable society, those who stand outside the norms of society, who are embracing a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, are ridiculed most of all. Like Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
But there is a solution: champion new, healthier, more sustainable avenues of human development. Lifestyle is a personal choice, and there is nothing saying our lifestyles must be the same as everybody else’s, especially in a “profoundly sick society.” Teach interdependence and how it can exemplify and heroically incarnate independence. Understanding the interrelated nature of everyone and everything is the key to diminishing the passions and the havoc they wreak. Like John Muir suggested, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Cure your own nature deprivation. Converse more with nature. Relearn a “language older than words.” Do as Louis Agassiz suggested and “go to nature; take the facts into your own hands; look, and see for yourself.” Take into deep consideration what you learn there, dare to give into the transformative crucible of meditation and solitude, and then bring that sacred fire back to the tribe and teach others how to use it. Like the Bard said, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
Discover a moral question. Attempt to answer that question as best you can every single day. Rekindle the lost link between Nature and your own soul. Discover a sacred place in nature where you are free to converse with the Cosmos. As Henry David Thoreau suggested, “You must converse much with the field and the woods if you would imbibe such health into your mind and spirit as you covet for your body.”
Reconnect the disconnect by shedding fearful invulnerability and revealing courageous vulnerability. Realize that you are nature, and nature is you, and neither can be commoditized, no matter how much our cultural conditioning says otherwise. Like Aldo Leopold said, “The land is not a commodity that belongs to us; it’s a community to which we belong.” It’s high time we rediscovered the sacredness of community.
Above all: recondition the precondition. You, and you alone, have the ability to un-become an ecocidal maniac. The noose dangling around your neck is tied with a Gordian Knot that only you know how to untie. It will require Herculean courage and Nietzschean overcoming, and a shedding of multiple layers of unhealthy cultural conditioning, but no ask is more important, as it stands.
Here on the precipice, between Holocene and Anthropocene, between self-destruction and survival, between healthy evolution and unhealthy devolution, we have the potential for creation or destruction. We are both parasitic and symbiotic; both bee and locust.
Like John Sawhill said, “A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.” Will we choose the healthy, sustainable, progressive evolution of the harmonious honey bee, or the unhealthy, unsustainable, regressive devolution of the destructive locust? Ecocidal maniac or eco-centric hero? It’s our choice which.
“And hark! How blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let nature be your teacher…
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the ages can.”
~ William Wordsworth