Planet of Lost Souls

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

— Matthew 16:26

I wasn’t supposed to be born. After my mother gave birth to my sister, the doctors told her she’d never have another child. They couldn’t say exactly why (later, she was diagnosed with endometriosis) but they were pretty damn certain…the way doctors tend to be pretty damn certain. Wisely, my mother ignored such white coat condescension and less than two years later, yours truly arrived on the scene. Mom called me her “miracle baby,” and I think this played a role in the amazingly close relationship we always had.

In the U2 song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” Bono warbles: “That’s all right, we’re the same soul.” This simple line have given me the poetic license to imagine that my mother defied the medical odds by choosing to “share her soul” (so to speak) with me. This selfless act is what made it possible for me to be born and for us to have been such good friends.

We’re the same soul…

When my mother passed away last year, I found another quote to help me deal with the devastating loss of my soul mate. This one from the Tom Joad character in Grapes of Wrath.

Tom sez: “Maybe we’re not all individual souls, but maybe we’re all part of one big soul.”

Again, so incredibly basic but within that simplicity lies the secret: If we were to look upon all living things as part—along with ourselves—of one collective soul, it becomes impossible to live in denial about war, global poverty and disease, oppression, the destruction of our eco-system, etc. It becomes unbearable to visualize animals in a slaughterhouse, a laboratory, a circus, or a zoo. For anyone dwelling anywhere near the realm of reality, it is downright excruciating to contemplate 80% of the world’s forest and 90% of the large fish in the ocean being gone. If we are indeed “all part of one big soul,” as Tom Joad wonders, how can we not weep uncontrollably when—on this planet of abundant resources—a human being starves to death every two seconds?

Yet this is precisely the type of brutal culture we have helped create and, as a result, we are now haunted by billions and billions of lost souls. The souls of the victims of war, of greed, of our callous indifference and denial. Human and animal souls…and souls with roots, too. We are haunted by the souls of 100 animal and plant species going extinct each and every day. Souls like those of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow.

Once found mainly on Florida’s Merritt Island, the dusky seaside sparrow had its salt marsh habitat sprayed with DDT and cleared so it could be taken over by the space program. The last Dusky died in 1987.

We could all live more easily in a world without NASA but instead we’re stuck on a planet devoid of dusky seaside sparrows (and soon devoid of polar bears, California condors, Woodland caribou, whooping cranes, wolverines, etc.).

Our irrational behavior has corrupted Tom Joad’s hypothetical “one big soul” but perhaps—as I like to visualize my Mom doing—we can offer new life to the myriad lost souls by sharing and giving more of ourselves. We can do this by waking up, by remembering, by speaking out, by no longer playing the role of silent partnership as everything is consumed or poisoned or destroyed.

Do it for yourself. Do it for the planet. Do it for the future. Do it for the tortured souls, the victims of human progress (sic).

To give a voice and a new life to all those lost souls is to see ourselves, as Subcommandante Marcos once suggested:

“Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysidro, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a gang member in Neza, a rocker in the National University, a Jew in Germany, an ombudsman in the Defense Ministry, a communist in the post-Cold War era, an artist without gallery or portfolio. A pacifist in Bosnia, a housewife alone on Saturday night in any neighborhood in any city in Mexico, a striker in the CTM, a reporter writing filler stories for the back pages, a single woman on the subway at 10 pm, a peasant without land, an unemployed worker, an unhappy student, a dissident amid free market economics, a writer without books or readers, and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains of southeast Mexico. So Marcos is a human being, any human being, in this world. Marcos is all the exploited, marginalized, and oppressed minorities, resisting and saying, ‘Enough’!”

He could’ve added: “Marcos is a dusky seaside sparrow in Florida.”

Or perhaps Eugene V. Debs said it best: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

I’ll see you on the front lines, comrades. Don’t forget to bring your soul…

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.

19 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ramsefall said on January 19th, 2009 at 8:06am #

    Mickey Z,

    tragic, revolutionary, direct and concise…the oneness of which we are a part has been sideswiped by reckless individualism — the division which has caused our species and those of the planet so much conflict.

    Again, the whole is only as strong as the parts which make it up. Fragmented and divided individuals = fragmented and divided society; the math ain’t so complex.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Best to you.

  2. Jodda Mitchell said on January 19th, 2009 at 8:25am #

    Mickey Z.! This is a wonderful piece, although I love everything you write! The idea of interconnectedness first dawned on my around 25 years ago, but it is something I think about more and more each day. I honestly think this realization is what truly matters most in this world, as, like you so eloquently stated, once you grasp it, you can no longer ignore war, poverty, the rape of the environment, as it is happening to all of us as it happens to any one of us. Thank you so much for putting this out there, and may we continue to look for the Divine Spark in every soul we encounter!

    Much Love,

    Your biggest fan in Rural Arkansas!

  3. john andrews said on January 19th, 2009 at 8:52am #

    Human overpopulation is the root cause of all the planet’s problems. Once this fact is properly appreciated the solution becomes clear: we must de-populate – not through wars or laws, but simply through education, through teaching that big families are morally indefensible – not existing big families (it’s not a blame thing) but big families in the future must be opposed.

    There’s nothing new about this. I went to a lecture forty years ago on the subject – but still nothing happens, still activists fail to grasp this essential nettle. CO2 emissions, peak oil…none of it is as important to the future of the planet as human overpopulation. Our own growth rate must be reversed.

  4. Don Hawkins said on January 19th, 2009 at 9:06am #

    Mickey I just heard on the tube that solar stocks have fallen apart and people can’t afford to put them in anyway and I am sure that is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. To bring back or try to bring it back this present system is not going to work out well. Major changes need to be made kind of like World War Two total focus. It will be harder than What was done in WW2 but can be done.

    A rise in sea levels isn’t the only impact global warming is having on the world’s oceans. A growing body of evidence suggests that climate change is also affecting ocean currents and the chemistry of the seas, with potentially catastrophic results.
    This week, NOW travels deep into the oceans with scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) with help from other researchers for a firsthand look at this stunning sea change, and what we can do about it.

    “We’ve been aware of global warming for several decades now. We haven’t taken any substantive action, and we’re now what many scientists would call at tipping points,” said Ruth Curry, an ocean scientist at the WHOI.

    (1) There must be a tax at the mine or port of entry, the first sale of oil, gas and coal, so every direct and indirect
    use of the fuel is affected. Anything less means that the reduction of demand for the fuel will make it cheaper
    for some uses; e.g., people will start burning coal in their stoves. Peter Barnes’ idea to push the cap upstream to
    the extent possible is not adequate nor is a ‘gas tax’ suggested by NY Times and others. A comprehensive
    approach is needed.
    (2) “Cap & trade & dividend” creates Wall Street millionaires and complex bureaucracy. The public is fed up
    with that – rightly so. A single carbon tax rate can be adjusted upward affecting all activities appropriately.
    With 100% dividend the public will allow a carbon price adequate to the job, i.e., helping us move to the postfossil-
    fuel world.
    (3) Supply ‘caps’ cannot yield a really big reduction because of the weapon: ‘shortages’. All a utility has to say
    is ‘blackout coming’ and politicians and public have to cave in – we are not going to have the lights turned out.
    Will the public allow a high enough tax rate? Yes, dividends will exceed tax for most people concerned about
    their bills.
    (4) A tax is not sufficient. All other measures, such as building codes, are needed. But with millions of
    buildings, all construction codes and operations cannot be enforced. A rising carbon price provides effective
    (5) Wouldn’t it be cheaper to let people burn the dirtiest fuel? No. The clean future that we aim for, including
    more efficient energy use, is not more expensive. For example, you may have read about passively heated
    homes that require little energy and increase construction costs only several percent. Such possibilities remain
    the oddball (with high price tag), not the standard construction, unless the government adopts policies that make
    things happen. James Hansen

    Summary: The Southern Oscillation and increasing GHGs continue to be, respectively, the dominant factors affecting interannual and decadal temperature change. Solar irradiance has a non-negligible effect on global temperature [see, e.g., ref. 7, which empirically estimates a somewhat larger solar cycle effect than that estimated by others who have teased a solar effect out of data with different methods]. Given our expectation of the next El Niño beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance. NASA James Hansen’s last post.

    What Hansen wrote and the way’s it could work what are the chances to get this moving not good it’s that stupidity factor. We will know more in a few months and it still looks like two million to start in front of the head office calm at peace will help. Can that happen I don’t know.

  5. bozh said on January 19th, 2009 at 9:54am #

    yes, i can’t add a thing to the formula. and thus, ten priests or pols can control thousands individuals.
    i cld add that we are also divided in many classes, cults, etc.

    we have army echelons, sacerdotal class, fbi, cia, police, political class, medical/entertainment classes, media class, (mis)educators, small/large business, and at the bottom an obedient and totally disinformed/miseducated serf class.
    none of these higher classes hobnob with the lowest class. thnx

    john andrews, with respect,
    we need more info about why we need to reduce the pop. we need to know by how much and when/where we shld reduce world pop.

    e.g., a child in nepal or bhutan does not use as much energy or material as does a child in canada or germany.
    the all important part to me is to have progress without regress; provided it is possible to obtain progress without even one person on this planet be harmed by it.

    but above all else, unless we do away or significantly reduce the previous ‘progress’ (it didn’t happen without enorm damage) we shldn’t be reducing the pop.
    we do not know that the earth cannot support even 100bn people. thnx

  6. anthony innes said on January 19th, 2009 at 8:17pm #

    Bozh it starts and ends with human choice .Its about educating children to think and learn for themselves.Its about not lying to kids and telling faery stories or turning kids over to religous child mollesters and a other fear mongers who prattle on about the sanctity of the book. Infotainment and commercially motivated diversion to a virtual world view compound the damage.
    I am 62 have cancer ,no kids ( a decision I took after spending time in Nepal as a young man funnily enough) and no regrets.Its always been the planet first for me : if you do not see that overpopulation is fueling ecocollapse thats ok ,you will.

  7. john andrews said on January 20th, 2009 at 1:17am #


    I’m sure the planet could sustain 100 billion people, maybe more. But at what price? Feeding that number, supplying them with water and energy could, I’m sure, be achieved by our thrusting captains of industry and their tame scientists and politicians; but surely it would mean that every available inch of the planet’s surface is converted into some sort of farm, mine or power plant.

    I don’t believe we need any of the studies you propose. Just how many times do we need to see areas of rainforest or other natural wilderness destroyed in order that humans can spread out? How many times do we need to see ‘primitive’ tribes being exterminated in the name of ‘progress’?

    The moderately interesting question is not are we overpopulated now; but at what point in our history did we become overpopulated?

  8. Hue Longer said on January 20th, 2009 at 2:26am #

    I could be off with what bozh is saying but I don’t think he’s advocating 100 billion people, but more that if living within our means (population aside for the argument) we could be at the same point we are now with 100 billion. Being oil swilling lazy drunkards perhaps the limit is 1 billion? The point seems to be that lifestyle and purpose can not be subtracted from the equation and advocating population control without first addressing lifestyle and purpose is a nod to the fat cats maintaining their spot in the sun at all costs

  9. Don Hawkins said on January 20th, 2009 at 6:50am #

    the fat cats maintaining their spot in the sun at all costs. Good one and very true. The next few summers let’s see how those spots in the Sun look.

  10. bozh said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:01am #

    i said,we do not know whether the planet cld support even 100bn people.
    using, of course, only what is needed. cars, airplanes, gadgets, 20 shorts, professional sport probably must go.
    if one wants to take a vacation on maui, i suggest that one take a row boat.
    i agree about need of parents to enlighten their children. i say, they’d love it. but our children have been for millennia their children.
    no enlightened person wld sell wars. but then nmber of such people may amount to just 2-5% in any country; mostly due to ‘schooling’ children receive.

    my point is- by using an ?exaggeration- that we don’t know how many animals and humans we can have without any adverse effects.
    we can conclude firmly, a limit wld be reached and we’d know about it and put breaks on growth.
    provided we ever obtain a democracy.

    john andrews,
    i am quite happy to reduce wesetern population. i do not need more info about it.
    it seems you haven’t read my post correctly. as you once again skip the how, when, where, by how much to restrict increase/decrease of pop.
    elsewhere i pointed out that we cannot call any innovation as progressive if even one person gets harmed by it.
    indigenous people are people as well.
    of course, as long present structure of governance remains as is or even worsens,we can expect only hellish outcomes and especially for oppressed people even in western world let alone in eastern. thnx

  11. Don Hawkins said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:56am #

    President Barack Obama that was a very good speech great speech and you are tuffer than I first thought. Good luck as if you can’t get what you talked about in your speech started it probably will not happen. No pressure. Is Bush really gone thank you, thank you and don’t forget to change the locks all the locks in the White House.

  12. RG the LG said on January 20th, 2009 at 2:57pm #

    I am amazed and amused by the blatant lack of science exhibited in many of the comments above.

    We passed the earth’s carrying capacity a long time ago … if you base that capacity on American Greed-Heads (not just the so-called captains of industry) … and have more than likely passed any reasonable level of population overload based on societies that are much less greedy than we are.

    The whole issue is NOT what should be done. We won’t do it anyway … it is rather WHAT we have already done. Wars and famines are an inevitable result of way too many people. Gaza, Darfur, Rwanda, Iraq, et al, are the direct results of too many rats in the box.

    When ‘do no harm’ was transmogrified into ‘ allow no deaths’ we took a step in the wrong direction. Righting that wrong step will take far more brutality than most of us can stomach. At some point what we need to do is stop innoculating and let nature take her course. We need to stop the medical heroics by keeping every bit of zygotic material viable in the face of natural systems. In other words, many of us should do the whole planet a favor and just allow ourselves to die … allow our loved ones to die … in the exact same way that we turn away from the deaths of others … Gazans, Darfurians, Rwandans, Iraqis, et al. We seem to have the ability to let THEM die … so when we will we allow ourselves to do the planet the same favor we demand of them.

    RG the LG

  13. Tree said on January 20th, 2009 at 4:17pm #

    You first, RG.

  14. George Thompson said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:19pm #

    The Earth is not overpopulated with regular people. It’s overpopulated with rich people, despite their small and dwindling numbers. Rankism abounds. Sweet dreams lost planet.

  15. The Angry Peasant said on January 20th, 2009 at 10:37pm #

    RG the LG,

    You’ve given this spiel before. I agree that the biggest problem with humans (well, second biggest after our insatiable avarice), is our irresponsible overbreeding. But seriously. Come on. Like you’re going to hand a knife to your best friend and say, “Frank, please stab me in the throat several times. The world is too populated.” Or watch your mother clutching her chest with a heart attack and tell the paramedics, “Fools! Don’t you dare administer CPR! One less mouth to feed in this wretched world!” For crying out loud, get real.

    If you have a death wish, man, a couple boxes of Unisom and a bottle of Scotch will take care of your problem.

  16. Don Hawkins said on January 21st, 2009 at 2:48am #

    It is clear, then, that wisdom is knowledge having to do with certain principles and causes. But now, since it is this knowledge that we are seeking, we must consider the following point: of what kind of principles and of what kind of causes is wisdom the knowledge?
    The life of theoretical philosophy is the best and happiest a man can lead. Few men are capable of it (and then only intermittently). For the rest there is a second-best way of life, that of moral virtue and practical wisdom. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 340BC)

    I loved to write when I was a child. I wrote, but I always thought it was something that you did as a child, then you put away childish things.
    Rita Dove

    We have a bit of a conundrum here a puzzling question. Oh the wonder of it all. The answer to this wisdom, knowledge and truth hopefully will be answered in time but for right now we solve some very serious problems that if not solved the others are academic. A little secret to go ahead with the same thinking that got us here will probably not work out well for most life forms on planet Earth.

  17. Don Hawkins said on January 21st, 2009 at 3:22am #

    Has anybody ever thought of working together as an answer oops of what kind of principles and of what kind of causes is wisdom the knowledge and probably much to simple it must be much more complex than that has to be. A new way of thinking, think of this as kind of a war, simple, complex, reason, instinct, have and have more eat until you can’t walk of what kind of principles and of what kind of causes is wisdom?

  18. Don Hawkins said on January 21st, 2009 at 3:47am #

    Did you have time to think about that stuff well try this one out. Where in the Book Of Knowledge does it say we can’t work together where does it say we can’t build new energy and fast where does it say just a few control most of the wealth is a good thing where does it say we can’t have a new way of thinking? Oh that’s right there is no such thing as the book of knowledge wrong it’s right there in the book first chapter titled Introduction to knowledge no way, way.

  19. Don Hawkins said on January 21st, 2009 at 8:17am #

    Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn:

    The golf links lie so near the mill
    That almost every day
    The laboring children can look out
    And see the men at play.
    [from “Through the Needle’s Eye,” 1916]