What it comes down to is that the only way forward is alone or in small, like-minded, groups. If the Great Many remain lost in the confusions and denials delivered by those who are seeming to gain from the destruction of the world, then there still is a way, not the way we might wish, not the way that clearly sustains our present ecosystems and the hard-won balances of land, air and sea, but there is a way that can result in a salutary life lived.
What we will desperately need is a new way of thinking – not really a ‘new’ way of thinking, but new things to think! Here are some of the new things that may help bring the madness of our present way of living in the real biophysical world into a bit more sanity.
1) All of life is important: Buddhism is nice and all, and if that is your path to this idea, fine enough, but I like the ecological understanding: all life is integrated into ecosystems that supply ‘free environmental services’ so long as the living things receiving the free services compensate the ecosystems in some way that matters. You say this doesn’t sound free? How right you are. The energy, material and service exchanges are more complex than the wiring of the space shuttle: the tit for tat is four billion years old, continuous in time and space; there would be no life on earth without the organizing function of evolved mutual compensations: All life is important.
Humans are one of more than 10 million other species of living things that are all the result of the same 4 billion years of unbroken DNA replication. The assumption that we humans are special as living things is a complete misuse of what actually makes us special. Using our remarkable capacities to overpopulate, dominate and make unlivable our living space is ultimately unremarkable, a behavior common to bacteria, but using our Consciousness System of Order to imagine and implement ways to both use and limit our powers, to live within the compensation requirements of sustaining ecosystems would be to demonstrate the full capacity of this incredible new adaptation.
2) The value of a life is in the daily living of it, not in the tallying up of duration – like adding up the value of a savings account, that, when at its most abundant, is foreclosed. A life lived fully every day can end any day without regret. A life lived every day in regret for the absence of a life fully lived must be clung to in the hope of someday actually living in the fullest experience. There is in this way no living the life of another, but rather the discovery of the self in the fullest relationship with community and nature. Though the opportunities of our present time limit to some considerable extent, it is still possible and rewarding to make the greatest effort.
We will have to accept not living long. The very notion that a long life is somehow a measure of a successful life is ludicrous. The only value that is positively spoken to by long life expectancy is general health and nutrition – both are quite positive but not because one lives long, but because each day can be lived with some adventure and accomplishment.
3) No one is to live from the fruits of another’s labor; everyone must do the work of meeting the most basic living needs: growing and gathering food, cleaning and carrying water, preparing place for human comfort and safety. And everyone must do the work of the mind as well as the body, to strengthen the mind and grow and share its base of knowledge.
If this sounds unreasonable, consider these two facts: 1) people lived and prospered by these ‘rules’ and values for over 150 thousand years; and, 2) the divisions of responsibilities and specializations on which our present societies depend also have led to economic inequities that result in the greatest pain and suffering in the history of life: 3 billion of our fellow human beings are living with malnutrition, inadequate and dangerous water supplies and often with low and high tech military actions taking their children and otherwise dominating their lives. And at the same time these same actions have led us all, including ‘innocent other species’ to the brink of domino-like ecological collapses.
4) We must not make the assumption that the ‘life style’ (really level of consumption) that is average for the highest consuming population is the one we should adopt as our standard. I have suggested a beginning value for consumption should be an ecological footprint of 5 hectares per capita and that this not be made up of an average with most people struggling at the very margins of possibility on 1 or 1 ½ hectares and a privileged elite “suffering” along with 50 hectares per capita. The societal expectation for all should be simplicity, frugality and life in its living not in objects. Finding social devices that encourage or even enforce these expectations with socially learned sanctions is a tool we need to rediscover.
5) We must finally come to a socially and intellectually mature relationship to religion. The basis for religious systems – in their functional origin as the motivating devices for adapting social behaviors to the ecological community in which the human community lived – was strongly reality driven; that was essential to guide behavior in its interactions with the environment. Since these adaptations were taking place before a consistent and organized science, the “facts” were accumulated by adaptive functionality; i.e., trial and error, the successful actions stored and empowered by religious stories.
Today there is only one generally available tool to support religious behaviors and that is science. We cannot all learn all that is science and have no need to, but we do have need to be informed and guided to actions that are the most suitable for our sustaining relationship to our world. Religions are motivating systems and short cuts for those actions. Today’s major religions are still telling the stories that were functional thousands of years ago; it is no wonder that they are, not to put too fine a point on it, batshit crazy.
But there is no point in trying to reject the whole idea of religion because, should we do that, we will just replace the exact same needs and designs with a new name that will then need to be rejected soon again. Better to understand the thing itself.
6) In this understanding, the money economy is to be in the service of all human beings and All Living Things, not in the service of an elite few; it is utter madness for life to be in the service of money. But it is a madness that has come to dominate the world’s societies, and a madness that will not easily be cured.
Once a money economy comes into place, and socially established norms are no longer defined by direct or indirect relationships with the biophysical space, then we should not be surprised by social norms coming to be defined by the most powerful valuing device around.
Conclusion: These are many of the things that we need to think and incorporate into how we live our lives if we are to either live in, and through, the coming changes or, in the best case, give such hope and guidance to enough others that the thing begins to snowball. It is a small chance, but it is the only way. If enough people begin to feel the heat of the coming conflagration, its most damaging potential may be avoided. But that cannot be the reason to live in respect of life itself. So living has to be, and is, its own reward.
This is the third part of a three part essay. Parts one and two can be found on my website.