That Cancer, Humankind!

On May 27, 2017, I spent some time with my copy of the late (1927-2015) Eli Sagan’s At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression, and the State (1985), and this morning (perhaps because of having done so) felt a need to spend some time with my copy of the late (1929-2007) David Maybury-Lewis’s Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World (1992)—and did so.  After spending about an hour with Millennium, I turned to CBS Sunday Morning, and quickly perceived the accuracy of the “BS” in “CBS”!

For what I was seeing, and listening to, this morning was pure BS—in the sense that it was utterly “out of touch” with what is currently occurring, of  utterly huge1 importance, in our world: global warming (or, as some prefer, “climate change”).  The facts that (a) some Arctic climate scientists predict that our species could be extinct by 2026 (!), and that (b) the Arctic is today’s “canary in the coal mine,” mean that few other issues today are as important as the warming now occurring!

Ignoring this problem—as our media are doing (under pressure from advertisers, I assume)—is a “head in the sand” approach (obviously!), which accomplishes nothing!  It amounts, in fact, to “action” of a negative nature, for warming (and its corollaries, such as severe storms, flooding, drought and consequent wildfires) continues apace—and is now even  accelerating—while our heads remain in the sand!

Not only is ignorance about global warming widespread today (largely because of “media silence”—i.e., the media’s failure in its “mission” to inform); most of us have been taught a version of human history that insists that human history is a story of virtually continual “progress.”  What’s believable about this story is that we observe continual “advance” in technology and, therefore, find it easy to conclude that that “advance” proves that the human story is one of continual “progress.”

We have deceived ourselves, however; and that fact—in conjunction with the activities that we have been engaging in that have been causing “anthropogenic” global warming—are the two fundamental reasons why our current situation is so perilous—i.e., why some scientists believe that our species will “soon” join the many other species now going extinct, during this period of “the sixth extinction”!

I first came to perceive the fallacy of the “history as progress” in the early 1980s, as a result of reading Eugene Linden’s brilliant Affluence and Discontent:  The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979).  In that book he presented a “contrarian” perspective on human history,2 identified and discussed a number of problems that had developed in consequence, and ended his book with this prediction (p. 179):

We will continue on our present course, and … the probability of one or another proposed [earlier in the book] disasters will rapidly increase until some small event triggers the apocalypse of the consumer society.

Ironically, shortly after I read Linden’s book, I read a book by sociobiologist David P. Barash, and learned of the “discrepancy” concept (briefly, the idea that during the Neolithic a “discrepancy” began to develop between the way for which we had become “designed” prior to the Neolithic, and the new ways of that were developing).3 What this concept helped me perceive is that since the Neolithic, there have been two basic “strands” constituting human history—which might be conceived as a “battle” between the forces of darkness and those of light (á la Zoroastrianism!).

I came to see (a) the bulk of human history, as presented by Linden, in “forces of darkness” terms, and (b) a Tradition,4 beginning with the Hebrew prophets, of “light” being “in battle” with the forces of darkness throughout human history, since the Neolithic—with the forces of darkness being the ultimate victor, however!

This morning, however, I came to perceive a “flaw” in the “forces of light” strand of human history that began with the ancient Hebrew prophets—as I remembered something that I had read yesterday in the Eli Sagan book:

The gods were of little concern to most primitive societies, priests hardly existed, and there was no organized priesthood.  The characteristic functionary in the sacred world was the shaman, who was essentially a worker of magic.  Witchcraft, not a moralistic religion, made the world go round.

This point by Sagan helped me recognize that there have long been two basic concepts of “god”—as (a) on the one hand, a transcendent Being (or beings) and (b) as an ineffable “something” imminent in the surround—with certain implications being associated with each concept.

In the ancient Israel of the Bible, at least, gods were perceived as transcendent beings, and the god concept evolved over time (as Mark S. Smith has pointed out) into monotheism.  Such a God exists apart from Earth System, and is conceived as a human-like Being.  A Being, then, who has done things (and perhaps still does).  Such a conception of God promotes:

  1. The idea that Earth System is not something to regard as sacred.  The “light” Tradition that I perceive in human history valued people, but not Earth System!
  2. A control mentality, rather than an adaptational one—because of how God was/is perceived.  That control mentality not only manifested itself in the “darkness” strand of human history (via the exploitation of some by others), but in the “thingification”—and, hence, exploitation—of Earth System.

We humans—we USans,5 in particular—still have such a mentality, and that fact helps explain why we humans are now “on the road” to extinction!  That is, it is a factor that is “behind” the more direct causes of the global warming now occurring—the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation activities, and reproduction (giving us a current world population of over 7.5 billion).

Had, rather, the sort of mentality associated with indigenous peoples been common over the centuries, the human situation today would undoubtedly be rather different (in a positive sense)!  Such a mentality was expressed beautifully in Chief Seattle’s 1854 speech.6 Here are some excerpts from Version 1 of that speech:

Your God is not our God!  Your God loves your people and hates mine!  He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son.  But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His.  Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us.  Your God makes your people wax stronger every day.

If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children.  We never saw Him.  He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament.  No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies.  There is little in common between us.

Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors—the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars.  They are soon forgotten and never return.  Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being.  They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people.  Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished.  Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.  Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits.

Thus, Chief Seattle and his people—perhaps because they had a way of life that was definitely within Earth System—perceived Earth System as not only sacred, but beautiful (suggesting that these two concepts are related!).  Associated with their perceptions of Earth System was an adaptational mentality, one  foreign to that possessed by “civilized” peoples, such as USans.

We USans must continue to live with a control mentality that recognizes nothing as sacred—because our way of life requires such a mentality!  We won’t have to live with it long, though, for Earth System will “soon” respond to the mistreatment that it has been suffering at our “hands” by “getting rid” of us!

Oglala Sioux Ed McGaa (“Eagle Man”) stated in his 2004 Nature’s Way:  Native Wisdom for Living in Balance With the Earth (p. 269):

Will Nature eventually be forced to rid itself of Human, as antibodies attack a spreading, life-threatening infection?

My answer:  Since the Neolithic, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, humans have become a cancer on Earth System, and Earth System—with its self-healing properties—will “soon” destroy that cancer!

  1. No allusion to Donald Trump intended here! []
  2. My brief world history, on pp. 7 – 14 of my Explanations:  Useless and Otherwise, draws heavily upon Linden’s presentation. []
  3. For further information, see my The Discrepancy:  Concept and Consequences. []
  4. See my Explanations, as well as my Continuing the Tradition by Further Developing It. []
  5. Maybury-Lewis noted on p. xv of Millennium that “the citizens of the United States so often use ‘America’ and ‘American’ to refer exclusively to themselves, as if Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, and so on were not Americans, too.”  He then added that “I know of no other adjective to refer to United States-ers” than “Americans”—but I suggest “USan”! []
  6. Maybury-Lewis quotes from the more famous Version 3 of this speech on p. 59. []

Al Thompson retired three years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.