There is much wisdom (and also satisfying foolishness) in the country lexicon: “If you can’t get there from here, then you better get started early.” Another that I saw on the counter of a little country store in West Virginia summed up much of my life experience: “If you need a helping hand, look to the end of your arm.” We, all the things that require a stable biosphere, are needing a helping hand to get to a place that we can’t get to from here.
There are enough details in our political, economic and social world to keep us entertained forever; just as there are enough species of composite flowers or ants or bacteria that they can be swum in for a lifetime without ever getting out of the taxonomic waters. Yet, it is seeing the whole image, the details in motion, that lets them be made sense of. The concepts of evolution organize taxonomic thinking and allow the millions of details to be subsumed into comprehendible process. Evolution and social adaptation, as general principles, can bring the details of human complexities into perspective.
Humans have become, over the last 10 thousand years, a dominating biophysical force on the earth. Our numbers, our energy consumption, our conversions of one chemical species to another, our digging and our redistribution of soil, rock and water are all changing the stability of the biosphere. (note: biosphere is not a ‘new age’ term; it only refers to the thin layer of the earth’s surface were life is possible.) We are now competing with the great physical and biophysical forces of volcanism, earthquake, ocean currents and climate forces as change agents. And like these forces, it appears that we cannot stop.
If tectonic plates collide in such a way that forces uplift mountains and generate bands of volcanic activity, the actions go on until the pressures are spent. If a species evolves a new, powerful and uninhibited adaptation, it will expand into all niches and regions of possible influence until the species can no longer sustain itself.
The human adaptation is the Consciousness System of Order, with the properties of imagination and belief, and with the essential cross-generational tool of ‘story.’ And unlike almost every other powerful adaptation in the history of life, ours came upon our species so rapidly and without sufficient forewarning of its power that there evolved no complimentary inhibitions. For example, the long evolving teeth, claws and body form of the big cats are the most powerful close contact killing designs in the biological world. The big cats evolved instinctual inhibitions right along with full expression of their power. If they had not, everything near them would be in constant mortal danger.
Humans have controlled the power of the Consciousness System of Order with a variety of ad hoc devices based in belief (belief is a function of the consciousness order and thus allows self-referencing), but never for very long. It is important to note that I am not using the term “consciousness” as equal to awareness, but as a new system of order in the universe creating its own region of possibilities. This system of order can create, and clearly has created, arrangements of matter and energy that would not exist without it. (For a more complete discussion of consciousness order see my blog.)
This has to be the beginning of our understanding of our species, our con-species relations and our relations with the biosphere. The more typical details of our experience, how we act, who we do what to and the immediate consequences are absolutely important, but they all occur in the context of a species acting out its behaviors. We understand the need for species context without question when studying a mouse, a dolphin or a baboon, but, because we are what we are, we see our actions as right or wrong, sanctioned or denied. We tend not to see our behaviors for what they are: (1) part of the sustaining actions of a species or (2) behaviors forming from self-referencing designs of an adaptation that can and has escaped the direct arbitration of The Real.
There is a long list of human activities in our present world, literally tens of thousands of major actions, upon which the continued existence of our present cultures depend; what we have come to call “our way of life” (as though those very words justify how we live!). A growing number of observers have been pointing to specific behaviors from these many thousands as damaging to the biosphere. It is at this point that a maddening cacophony begins. There is no other description more useful than to say that many if not most of the contributors to the noise are guided by Madness – which can be defined as the failure to act and reflect in response to Reality.
A short list of some of the things that we do (and create) that are contained in the bubble of Madness based designs, behaviors that we see as normal and essential to our way of life, actions that are ultimately destructive of the biosphere: Fossil fuel based agriculture, all forms of monetized investment, mining, all fossil fuel based activities, cities, chemical industry, geometric expansions of all sorts (e.g., population, consumption, wealth and more), most of our entertainments and the majority of our beliefs that value and support the foregoing.
I know. If these are the things that the human species has to give up or drastically change to survive, then “we can’t get there from here.” A quick look at the ‘important issues of the day’ includes little or nothing from this list. We are concerned with an anthrax killer (and what a joke the Feds are making of that “investigation”), the politics of Iraq, the human rights record of China, the price of oil: in other words, the messy top layer of the Madness that we call “our way of life.” Deep down underneath the headlines and the challenges that we recognize is the listing in the foregoing paragraph.
Huge, politically impossible fixes don’t even reach the level of band-aids for the wounds our actions are inflicting on biophysical stability. “Returning to 1990 levels of pollution by 2020” may sound like some grand plan, but it is like a 450 pound person returning to 425 pounds and claiming some gain in health.
The human species, in the largest context, needs two things that are synergistically related. Individuals need to live in greater communion with primary biophysical Realities including the work required to maintain and sustain living and health. Societies need to be the functional units of environmental interaction, interactions that support and protect the biosphere from direct destructive action and excessive perturbation.
We have used our Consciousness System of Order adaptation to create the Reality-free self-referenced Madness of our present world by confusing our imaginings with Reality; “It is time to pay the Piper.” comes to mind. If we can imagine the designs of Madness and implement them, then we can rediscover and imagine the designs of a sanity based in Reality. We truly can’t get there from here as a society, but if we start early enough we can get there as individuals in communities. And perhaps we will have to begin with the hand at the end of our arms, but soon enough there could be more hands to help out.