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Friday, May 25, 2012

The Transcendent Paradox of Self-Awareness: How Cognitive Dissonance Prevents Most of Us From Understanding Cognitive Dissonance


The Transcendent Paradox of Self-Awareness:  How Cognitive Dissonance Prevents Most of Us From Understanding Cognitive Dissonance. 
 
It’s not a matter of kindness or hard work or even spiritual awareness.  Human stupidity will inevitably catch up with us, and all the more quickly when we believe that we are intelligent, rational and disciplined.  We are drawn to complexity like a blade of grass is drawn to sunlight.  However, we are not equipped to discern reality within complex systems if some other aspect of our lives disposes us to an inconsistent world view.  If we are profiting (financially, socially or ideologically) from doing things in a certain way, most people literally cannot recognize when that social system comes into conflict with legal, moral or ethical standards and values.  There’s an almost impenetrable veil, called cognitive dissonance, that falls over us.  There may be some awareness of the conflict, but it is distorted in ways that allow us to misperceive reality and remain on our current course.   When there is a conflict in our perceptions, we tend to block out all that is not in our existing world view.

In a way, spirituality is the path of self-awareness and many teachers and traditions (especially Buddhist thinkers and original peoples around the world) had human nature nailed.  This is why they did not favor changes that created the illusion of greatness, power and intelligence among humans.  They favored long-term thinking rather than short-term gain.  This is why they sought limitations to the power of rulers and elites, who would always tend to ignore the needs of regular people and concoct systems, businesses and governments to run roughshod over them until the systems would break down.

In the long term, these teachers and traditions understood that after any major change, the next generations would accommodate to the new reality and continue to push technology and social engineering further and further, invariably to one or another breaking point, causing conflict, confusion and the accumulation of wealth among a very small class of people.  Because the lesson of humility must be learned repeatedly by each generation, and our social and technological structures are constantly changing, we never get to the point of understanding our limitations – only our possibilities.  We are doomed, therefore, to progress technologically in ways that distort reality and distract us from our problems, rather than to actually solve them.

Cognitive dissonance is a characteristic of how humans perceive reality.  It holds that we become terribly uncomfortable when the reality we expect is different from the reality that exists, so uncomfortable that we will rationalize them away, ignore them, reinterpret them or otherwise entirely misperceive them.  We may ridicule or even attack those who insist on an alternative view of reality, regardless of whether they are correct or not.  Racists and sexists will defend bigotry if it protects their social order or their economic interests.  They will even defend and nurture a civil or international war, which is virtually always irrational and self-destructive.  We just can’t help ourselves.

And now for the transcendental paradox of human thought:  Most people are unable to comprehend cognitive dissonance because the theory conflicts with their perception of human perfectibility.  The myth of human perfectibility is a powerful force in our lives, and it distorts our perceptions in ways that set us up for self-deception and self-destruction.  The recognition of Cognitive dissonance is an insight that propels a competing human drive towards simplicity and rationality.  However, it is no match for our desire to see the world as orderly and ourselves as rational and perfectible.  

If you have a large tolerance for dissonance, you may see truth in this little article.  If you are made incredibly uncomfortable by this entire topic, you will likely not perceive cognitive dissonance as important at all.   You may be quite annoyed that I have written this, or you may think it is nonsense, a conspiracy, or just plain mean-spirited.  This is determined not by whether you believe me to be intelligent or decent, but by whether you are comfortable with the realizations that humans are not perfectible and that our over-arching social problems are ultimately not solvable until our larger culture becomes comfortably aware of cognitive dissonance and learns to view itself more objectively.  If we wait for battling ideologies to lead us to a rational and effective path, we're likely in for a difficult century.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Divine Primate: A Journey Towards Sustainable Cultures

by Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, NCTMB 

I have been thinking about how to call upon our ancient wisdom traditions to encourage our cultures to be more sustainable.  Most of these traditions seek balance between body, mind and spirit in order to create inner harmony and outer peace.  Very often, these traditions focused on the individual, on bringing mind, body and spirit into awareness and connection in order to create inner peace and wellness.  Indeed, this is something that we have the power to do in our lives, while focusing on other people often brings us conflict and turmoil.

Yet, we do not withdraw from our families, communities and nations in order to focus just on ourselves.  We are inextricably inter-twined with the world around us, so with our in-breath we focus on inner peace and with our outbreath, we focus on bringing peace to the rest of the world.
All to often, we fail to see the full breath of spirituality.  It is important to find tranquility when the world is in danger and turmoil, but with the in-breath there must be an out-breath.

So it is that sustainability requires self-care that maintains a healthy balance between individual and community, between humans and the natural world.  We can not achieve this simply by cultivating our own tranquility any more than we can by satisfying our own greed.  Integrating body, mind, spirit, emotion, community and nature is the larger goal.  We must not accept the current sense of human beings as a population of individuals disconnected from each other and from the natural world.   This simply does not work.
 
"Divine Primates," my book project, is a call for the global re-integration of body, mind, spirit, emotion and community.  Our current cultures divide the world up in ways that prevent us from relating to our fellow humans and to nature in ways that are sustainable.  Mind has been elevated at the expense of body, spirit, emotion and community.  Instead, our cultures need to make a large shift from honing the skills to manipulate and exploit nature and mankind to focusing more on the skills to live within the constraints of economy, nature and geopolitics.  These can all be gradually accomplished, but not without new cultural images and values that celebrate humanity and human nature as part of the natural world rather than as perfectable beings destined to live as gods.  Nature does not allow for the survival of any species that refuses to adapt to change, us included.

It is one thing to bring back functioning spiritual systems into our lives.  But, at the same time, we must reconnect our minds and bodies with our emotions and create a new sense of belonging to this planet and to the larger community of humanity.  Science and technology have changed us.  Global economics have changed us.  The world has shrunk and old cultural patterns have changed, but the human race is still adjusting to our growing interdependence and need for cooperation in economics, science, culture, politics and spirituality.  Without evolution in these directions, we can not create sustainable, peaceful relationships with each other and with our planet.

On a personal level, many of us are familiar with the quest to integrate the various aspects of our lives and consciousness - body, mind, spirit, emotion and community.  This process allows us to live in more tranquil and productive ways and makes us more effective as people.  This integrated awareness is inherent in our ancient spiritual traditions, whether they are Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, American Indian, Shamanic, etc., but our dominant cultures have become imbalanced.  In addition, the same universal principles that apply to individuals also apply to national and global relationships.  Their application to our collective global awareness can help us to repair our short-circuited and distorted cultures focused on narrow-minded greed and manipulation.  With the integration of body, mind, spirit, emotion and community, we can create new cultural tools for sustainable human living.

"Divine Primates" is a journey, not a blueprint.  We need to avoid our tendency to settle on quick-fixes and "perfect solutions."  The journey is for our long-term survival and we will need all of our intelligence and discerning to avoid painting ourselves into more corners.  Culture is the most powerful tool we have in this process, and yet it is diffuse and anarchic, tending towards fads and fancies rather than wisdom.  If culture remains in the hands of Madison Avenue or Wall Street, we are in terrible trouble.  

Culture that promotes the common good is both the genius and the challenge of democracy.  Will we continue to pay tribute to the gods of consumerism, ideology and technology?  Or, will the "Divine Primate" emerge with the wisdom to control our excesses and cultivate nature rather than be obsessed with dominating it?  We have the tools for both individual and global balance and self-care, but they need to be thoughtfully considered and creatively implemented in ways that create common purpose and trust rather than competition and paranoia.

Please join me in discussion these concepts and sharing your own thoughts!  For more information on Divine Primates, please go to my website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Making "Difficult" Decisions in the Future, Starting Today!

Making "Difficult" Decisions in the Future, Starting Today!

by Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH


I've been working for years to find the commonality between progressive and libertarian values, a daunting project.  But this is where our nation needs to go if we want to avoid hostility and gridlock that undermine our ability to adapt and evolve as a sustainable nation.  Comments are welcome!
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Anyone interested in social policy, and for whom "planning" is not a cardinal sin, can point to numerous "difficult" decisions we all know we need to make - but which encounter endless ideological whining, special interests and the knowledge that the short-sighted, poorly informed public will find them unpopular and unacceptable.  As humans, we hope that intractable problems will somehow just go away - without our having to make the difficult choices we know are necessary.  So, the problems continue to fester and we feel shame and failure because we can not effectively address them.

But there is a way.  Why not simply make the decisions, but postpone their effective dates?  We know that we can't immediately stop big coal and big oil from raping our planet and turning our global resources into huge sums of money and world-threatening pollutants.  But we could muster the courage to give them 7 year's notice to drastically scale back their wanton destruction while we move forward with clean alternatives.

We can't tackle our obscene overpopulation today, but we can give fertility cults 10 years to realize that their policies of encouraging irresponsible overpopulation of developed, as well as developing nations, will end.  Tax deductions that provide government encouragement to produce more than 2 or 3 children could be phased out over time, and larger incentives to adopt existing children could be greatly expanded immediately.  

We can't do away with consumerism, our addiction to stuff, immediately, but we can tax energy consumption and waste streams to provide funds for the creation and implementation of non-fossil fuel renewable energy alternatives and conservation.  We can phase in a one-dollar per gallon tax on gasoline over the next 5 years, using the funds to enhance mass transit and the development and production of non-fossil fuel vehicles.  We can start with a 20 cent per gallon tax on gasoline - in two years, building up to one dollar.

Same with our obscenely greedy financial industries.  Put them on a low-greed budget over a period of 10 years, making them justify each dollar they take from our pockets to put into theirs.  Of course, we will put Congress on a similar budget, again, over a 10 year period.  And we must never again allow a President to go to war to help bring billions to their oil-rich allies.  Such wars are simply not acceptable to taxpayers who pay for those wars with incredible sums of tax money as well as the blood of their children.  Government accountability, too, can be phased in over 5 years.  

Government can do evil things.  Government can create entitlement and dependence, whether for wealthy corporations and contributors or poor people.  But, Americans must take responsibility for the massive wealth and power that has systematically been shifted towards a minority of elite individuals and businesses.  These have taken over government and control the lives of ordinary citizens in ways that would make our founders turn over in their graves.  Corporations have become the new "Government".

It is not "government" that is evil, but we citizens who have become incompetent and unwilling to demand basic responsibility and accountability for our corporate and private citizens and multinationals.  Government can not function when all power is held by the wealthy and corporate entities who see the world only in terms of their interests, rather than the interests of the diverse and pluralistic society at large.  While the solutions are not simple, nor amenable to simpleminded demagoguery, we are floundering at present and hamstrung by competing ideologies and populist paranoia.  Enforcing the anti-trust laws fashioned by both Democrat and Republican values will go a long way towards evening the playing field that has been so heavily tilted by current monopolies.  No corporation can be allowed to grow so large as to be "too big to fail."

America can work together to solve our big problems.  What we can't change today, can be changed tomorrow, if we will all pitch in to help fix what is broken - without ideological litmus tests.  Ideology will continue to immobilize us and cause us to abdicate even more time and power to the special interests and corrupt-minded politicians and "infotainers" who feed off of our frustration and broken-hearted looks at where our nation is heading.  These people and institutions benefit from every second of our gridlock and indecision and will thwart our every effort to turn off their money spigots.  

So, if we can't all resolve to pull the nipple from the mouth of Wall Street, Big Oil and Coal, Government Contractors and demagogues, let's put some 5-year and 10-year plans into place that will give the corrupt, greedy bastards more time to skim their profits from the people - knowing that the feeding frenzy will soon end.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Human Nature, Superiority and Leadership

"Man is a rational animal.
He can think up a reason for anything he wants to believe."
-- Anatole France(1844-1924)

Humans are primates, close cousins to apes and chimpanzees. While we can put up with a lot more lecturing, double-talk and posturing than the average chimp, we have our limits. The more humans are moralized, corporatized and sanitized, the more we seem driven to seek release and balance through fantasies (e.g., daydreams), addictions and outright rebellion. This is why our leaders can only maintain their power for so long before corruption creeps past their principles and altruism. We expect leaders to remain permanently brilliant and disciplined and this is not possible without feeding our need to be in control of our lives - which virtually requires a tightly controlled over-achiever to mess up in some way, often a very colorful way - just to be able to feel human again. You can force an ape to wear a suit and tie, or a priest's robes, but once a primate - always a primate.

Humans are apes, controlled by a rational brain/computer, or so we think. In reality, the ape is in control of the computer. The rational is servant to the irrational. Let darkness fall, or boredom set in, and the apes comes out to play. Abuse and dominate the ape and it will eventually turn on you. Humans are not tame-able. And our ability to reason, the intricacy of which is possibly a signature of our species, is no more a proof of superiority than the intricate construction of an ant colony is proof that the ant is superior to the crow.

This is not bad news for us! Indeed, our understanding of our nature opens possibilities of removing some of the cultural factors that trap us in our cycles of greatness - inevitable failure - shame - neurotic overcompensation - greatness - and unsustainable failure.
See http://www.divineprimates or find me on facebook or linkedin http://www.linkedin.com/in/earon for more.

Sustainability's New Underpinnings

According to noted primatologist Robert Sapolsky, supported by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal, the past two decades have seen a complete revolution in our understanding of human nature. Yes, I said "human nature," not just apes, baboons and chimpanzees. What we have learned is still sinking in, and we know that new knowledge can take generations to become integrated into human cultures.

To put it briefly, by studying other primates we have learned that humans are not nearly as unique as we had believed. Non-human primates have been shown to transmit culture to their children and future generations, and to have that culture perpetuated and possibly expand to other tribes. Non-human primates are aware that other individuals in their tribe have their own thought processes and identities. Non-human primates have empathy and the potential for great kindness. Non-human primates are capable of incredible visual-spatial memory, complex negotiations, and the performance of intricate tasks, even the acquisition of sign language. And, we have learned that non-human primates are capable of enormous viciousness and even orchestrated warfare. As we have looked into the eyes of our primate cousins, we have seen ourselves.

The most powerful lesson in these similarities between humans and apes is that much of our human intellectual world is window-dressing for our primate drives and needs. Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs may acknowledge the importance of basic needs such as food, shelter and water, and mating, but may have grossly exaggerated the importance of "self-actualization." Indeed, most of what we call our career, social status and self-identity may be more based upon the social orders and rivalries we see in other primates than in any unique dimension of human-ness. To be sure, there are orders of magnitude greater complexity in our communications, technologies and social structures, but not any major differences in kind.

What does this teach us about sustainability? What could our "ape-ness" possibly show that we didn't already know? First, our current understanding of non-human primates shows us that humans are a species are not terribly unique. Second, non-human primates show us that we are not nearly as altruistic and democratic as we like to think. Individual gain and power are always present in human motivation regardless of the spirituality and altruism we want others to see in our actions. We still want to be seen as dominant over others and as attractive to the gender we are attracted to. We still will do almost anything to be accepted by our peers. We still crave a family and/or tribe and will do anything to help it survive and prosper.

Motivation to live sustainably is there, in our primate genes. The problem is that without understanding our primate nature, we have created cultures and expectations that undermine our sustainability while seeming to support it. While humans crave simplicity, we also are drawn to complexity in all imaginable forms. We create vast complexities in social structure, technology, ideology and religion that keep us entertained and occupied - but can easily lead us to extremes, competition and conflict. It is in our nature to monkey with everything at our disposal. In the process, we invent and create. Our egos convince us that we know everything we need to know, so we are constantly reinventing ourselves and our realities, barely aware of the constant human-created gauntlet of unintended consequences we face in our individual and collective lives.

Sustainability, at some point, requires observing reality rather than constantly inventing new realities and mobilizing exciting solutions stimulating our imaginations and our fantasies of fame, power and wealth. At some point, there are ecological limits to our growth and to our predilections for complexity and consuming stuff. With global climate change and the increasing domestication of humans in cities and corporate workplaces, we long ago passed the thresh hold of non-sustainability. Overpopulation has resulted in increased exploitation of precious resources and cheap labor at the same time that literacy and education have created cultures ever more adept at creating more and more complexity and distraction. Human urge to have children has declined in educated cultures, and depression has manifested in huge proportions.

Overcomplexity has propelled addictions, including over-consumption of consumer goods. We have tinkered with our environment and our foods in ways that cause illness and obesity. Our lives become more and more technologically driven and sedentary, while we exercise compulsively in order to feel human. Of course, there are simple things that we can all do to reverse many of these threats. The good news is that we have everything we need to live more fulfilled and stimulating lives. And it is time to return to our living ecosystems here on this wonderful planet. It is time to recognize our primate nature and work on developing cultures that support and sustain us rather than overstimulating and overstressing us.

Find me on Facebook, LinkedIn or at www.divineprimates.com if you would like to learn more about my work.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cultural Solutions for Sustainable Living


by Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H.



When we view our consumerism as an addiction, rather than a harmless excess, we start a challenging process, but one that empowers us to accept responsibility for our behavior. Following this different path, we can regain some control over our future.


Addicts try to pass off their behavior as private, personal conduct that they can’t help and that is, frankly, none of anyone else’s business. They reject the notion that it is a problem at all. However, none of the mind-numbing denial and excuses of the addict are important until they “hit bottom” and are somehow willing to accept responsibility for their behavior. At that point, they need community support and encouragement. We may see consumerism as “just” a side-effect of prosperity, freedom, democracy and capitalism, but addressing consumerism as the addiction it is offers the solution that technology can never provide.


In our growing awareness of global climate change, terrorism and other ecological and geopolitical crises, we are confronted with the fact that our consumerist culture is not changing rapidly enough to avert major disasters in the next few decades. We know that it is necessary to adapt to our changing circumstances or face unimaginable consequences for our future generations. But, even more importantly, our excesses are making us miserable rather than happy. We see the enormous growth of Business and Government and wonder where our country is headed. Can we change our culture without waiting for edicts from an authoritarian government responding to a horrendous crisis? Are the vested interests who are actively sabotaging our future on this planet ever going to loosen their grip and join those who recognize the imperative of personal responsibility?


Over the past decade, we have heard an abundance of technological solutions to global climate change, few of which will actually make a real dent in our carbon footprint or other measures of ecological sustainability. The truth is that we can not consume our way out of the mess we are in. Science will help, but the technology we require first is social and cultural technology to address our compulsive acquisitiveness and addiction to "stuff." To the less developed world, Americans are, through our corporations, stealing vast amounts of this planet and converting these natural resources into stuff we don't need. One of the best descriptions of this process is presented in Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff." at www.storyofstuff.com.

So, we've become compulsive consumers and exploiters - not what we'd ever set out to become. Corporate interests, supported by government, are reaping huge rewards, enough to blind them to the harm they are doing, and enough to influence our lawmakers not to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs. But someone's got to act like an adult here. Liberal and conservative, believer and atheist, rich and poor, young and old, we all have a stake in the future of the human race and planet earth.


There is a social/cultural technology that has worked remarkably well with addictions, creating cultural support for facing up to alcoholism and many other forms of addictive behavior. This began as the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and it has been used successfully throughout the world for decades and is recognized, even in our scientific and medical communities, as a vital part of addiction treatment and recovery.

So, here we are, a nation of addicts. We may continue to beg, borrow and steal in our quest for new products and processes to allow us to keep our addictions, but for the sake of future generations, we can not let this charade continue. It is natural for addicts to behave this way, but we can no longer accept this behavior as appropriate. We have an off-the-shelf cultural technology to offer, with only minor adaptations. Here it is:

12 Steps To Creating a Sustainable Culture


1. Admit that we are powerless over consumerism and that our lives and culture have become unsustainable.


2. Accept that our awareness of, and dedication to, the long-term common good of the human race and our planet can leave us happier, healthier and protective of our future generations.


3. Make the decision to restrict our unthinking, guilt-inducing self-indulgences for the long-term benefit of life on this planet.


4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, our behavior and our priorities.


5. Admit to ourselves and others the exact nature of our destructive self-indulgences and meaningless consumption.


6. Realizing that we are neither perfect nor perfectible beings, seek social and cultural support structures to remind us, and encourage us, on the steps necessary for human sustainability.


7. Humbly ask our community and world to understand our shortcomings and offer forgiveness and understanding for our past wrongs.


8. Make a list of those we have harmed and be willing to make amends to them.


9. Make direct amends to people we have harmed, except to the extent that could injure them or others.


10. Continue to take moral inventory and promptly admit whenever we are wrong.


11. Seek, through quiet reflection and meditation, to improve our conscious contact with the natural world in which we live and to enjoy the gifts of this world in sustainable moderation.


12. Having had a moral and intellectual awakening as a result of these steps, we will try to spread this awareness to others and to practice reasoned, non-ideological sustainability in all of our affairs.


So, there it is. Are you ready to commit to a process of recovering from the bizarre consumerism that has infected our culture? If so, please start talking with your friends, colleagues and neighbors. Talk to your religious congregation, your humanist group, your civic organizations, ethnic and neighborhood groups. Talk to your local voluntary simplicity and conscious living groups. See if other people are interested in taking real, immediate steps to reversing our patterns of excessive consumption, waste, pollution and indirect exploitation of other peoples around the world.

Each group will work in its own directions. There is no one "right way" to do this. Create your own list of steps towards sustainable living. Don't wait for big business or government to do this for you. As we gain experience, our wisdom and insight will lead us to increase our effectiveness. Our creativity will allow us to unleash the love of life and humanity that has been so badly battered and put to shame thoughout these times of unadulterated greed and selfishness.


This is it,
America! We have a chance to take our destiny, our future, back into our hands. We have the chance for conservatives and libertarians and liberals and progressives to make our culture and government more effective and efficient. We have the chance to work together on a cause of the highest moral nature and value - the survival of our country, our species and our planet.

This can happen, but it must begin in humility and service, rather than hype and profiteering. Leave your marketing materials and revolutionary "green products" at home. Leave your ideologies, politics and religious beliefs at home. This is not about selling anything. It is about acknowledging our excesses and following a proven process of self-examination and recovery. It is about reclaiming our souls, reconnecting as Americans, and saving our country.



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Earon Davis is a sustainability advocate with degrees in sociology, law and public health. He teaches college level health sciences and practices in an integrative medicine program in the Chicago area.






Creative Commons License
Cultural Technology for Sustainable Living by Earon S. Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.divineprimates.blogspot.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.divineprimates.com.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Role of Overpopulation in Global Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day, with a focus on Global Climate Change. There is so much to write about regarding Global Climate Change, which is already resulting in massive destruction to the ecosystems upon which we depend for food, water and other necessities. This time, however, I want to focus on the role of human overpopulation as a key factor in the human contribution to this global crisis.

A few days ago, I attended a panel discussion on Global Climate Change at the Society of Environmental Journalists (http://www.sej.org) conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I also attended a talk by Al Gore on the same topic, updating us about the fact that Global Climate Change is here, and having devastating impacts already. The panel on overpopulation included Prof. Paul Ehrlich, who has been writing about population for decades. It is unfortunate that so little attention is being paid to population issues in the media, apparently because it is such a sensitive topic - and virtually taboo because of the dogmas of particular religions.

Yet, human overpopulation is one of the key causes of the stresses we are placing upon our planetary resources that are leading to global climate change. We will not likely be able to control our destructive consumption and cycles of famine and war until overpopulation eases its constant pressure on planetary resources. To encourage population increases in this era is obviously irrational and in abrogation of the common sense any divine being would have conferred upon our species.

However, through lack of support for family planning and individual control over family size, many organizations around the world are actively sabotaging human efforts to live in balance with our natural world. Through direct social incentives and mandates to produce more children, these organizations promote cultural values found in ancient texts as if we are living thousands of years ago, when, indeed, the planet could easily absorb millions of additional humans. As a result, our species and our planet are further endangered and sound efforts to address global climate change and other global ecological crises such as mass extinctions are thwarted.

It does not matter why people and organizations choose to sabotage efforts to allow the human race to live in peace and prosperity on this planet. Some religious leaders look at today's situation and adapt to the world we live in today, honoring the wisdom of our ancient texts and choosing not to repeat the tragedies of which they repeatedly warn. Yet, others hold onto and re-create the ancient biblical conflicts and disasters, seemingly doomed to repeat the past rather than create a better future. I, for one, fail to see the morality in dooming our species to untold suffering. For the sake of our species, these actions and the attitudes that support them must change.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do Ideologies Make Sustainability Impossible?

I wanted to share some thoughts about why we humans need to let go of our ideologies and theologies in order to live sustainably on this planet. I don't mean that we should ban political parties and religions, but that we should have cultural norms that teach the need for people to avoid getting stuck in extreme thought loops that lead to obsession, and even paranoia, with narrow concepts that distract us from our most important challenges as a species.

For example, there are many news stories, pundits and celebrities that attract our attention. However, while we can believe what we want, we don't need to re-enact a given story or historical account over and over and over so much that we lose perspective in our real lives. We don't need to stalk celebrities. We don't need to inflict our religious or political dogmas upon other people. Even if we see it to be "common sense" or "absolutely obvious," there is more than one acceptable way to think.

In times when different people and groups were relatively isolated from each other and were not in constant contact, there was less harm in engaging in rants and obsessional thinking. Yet, as humans, we rely upon our cultures and social relationships to contain our collective understanding of our relationship to each other and to the world around us. As one country or culture comes into contact with another, there is a clash of cultures and attempts to accommodate or synthesize cultural adjustments to allow mutual peace and productivity. Where cultures get stuck in rigid thinking patterns, conflicts become more inevitable and more severe.

As our world has shrunk and the contact points between very different cultures have become seemingly infinite, there need to evolve new patterns and rules so that everyone has opportunity to participate peacefully and no one group demands the power to control what everyone else thinks. Today, our cultures are hamstrung, rather than being liberated or empowered, by layers and layers of cultural ideologies and expectations that were created hundreds or thousands of years ago to reflect very different circumstances that are no longer present today. In that tribal past, tolerance was not expected and occasional violence and wars were.

Because global cooperation is now required for our very survival, a new global culture must form that respects diverse local cultures rather than barely tolerating them. Taking a systems approach, rather than continuing in our post-colonialist approaches to less technologically advanced countries and cultures, we see that our quest for common ground is obscured by theological and ideological concepts and cultures. Beneath these things that separate human groups and pit us against each other, there is a common ground, indeed.

We are all primates, human animals with physical, cultural and emotional needs in common. By returning to these basics, we empower negotiations and cooperation instead of bullying and brinksmanship. By getting stuck in ideological and theological concepts that were meant to explain and comfort, rather than radicalize and destroy our sense of boundaries and cooperation, we undermine our very survival. Little is more irrational and self-destructive than war and hatred, but these have been a regular feature of human existence for thousands of years.

"Divine Primates," as a concept, as a book project and as an educational tool, is a look at the human animal. We humans are found throughout the planet, in groupings that have distinct histories and cultures. Let's look at what we all have in common, not just with other humans, but even with many other species with whom we share this complex, inter-related set of ecosystems we call "earth." It is fear and envy that cause us to forget our human compassion and lose all sense of proportion in relating to other groups, nations, religions and cultures. With immense ecological and geopolitical crises threatening to erupt into war, famine and ecological collapse, we must eventually get back to basics and learn to live peacefully with others and yet defend ourselves when that is not an option.

To the extent that ideologies and theologies tend to spread like thought viruses and infect human populations, we need to lessen their impact and inoculate young people with knowledge of their dangers. Infected individuals lose their sense of proportion and easily become rigid, paranoid and radicalized, replacing their rational values with obsession and a need to control other people. Convinced that the end of the world is approaching unless competing ideas are obliterated, humans have repeatedly brought immense tragedy upon themselves for no real reason - other than our primate nature.

The rage of paranoid minds, manipulated by greedy, power-hungry sociopaths and fools, is a powerful destructive tool in primate cultures. Yet, we human primates also have the power to step back and look at situations from a distance, with a larger perspective. Where obsession would otherwise govern, causing escalating cycles of mistrust, hatred and violence, we have the power to insert wisdom. Currently, our culture has become almost devoid of meaning as we obsess about power, posessions and prestige. It is not coincidental that there is a rise in anti-intellectualism and fundamentalism, which threaten to cause increased conflict and contention. Will enough people choose the path of reflection and wisdom, or will our chattering monkey minds demand revenge and purification? What do you think?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Is "Ishmael" a "Divine Primate"?

Daniel Quinn's wonderful books, including "Ishmael" have contributed greatly to my understanding of what humans need to change about our culture. I have also been influenced by contemporary writers like Thom Hartmann, Riane Eisler, Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal. Each has their own particular points of view and their own particular styles for presenting them.

My own peculiar "take" on human culture, which I refer to as "Divine Primates," does differ from Daniel Quinn's in that I strongly believe that we need to focus directly on human nature rather than blame our excesses solely on our cultural systems, or on the fact that humans shifted from being tribal nomads to farmers. I believe that our nature, as primates, will always challenge our cultural institutions and that our collective consciousness, like everything in nature, is cyclic. We come up with new cultural forms and they seem to work for a while, maybe even for generations. They may spread rapidly and seem permanent. Eventually, the institutions that evolve to protect those cultural forms become rigid as other forms compete with them and the status and power they bring to their leaders and insiders. Change happens. We mourn the "good old days" and eventually move on to a different mindset.

We can not blame human nature for anything because that only begs the question. But we absolutely need to recognize that we are imperfect beings, that we are largely irrational and that our egos wreak havoc on us and everything around us. The more we think we know - the less open we are to other perspectives and to adapting to change around us.

While I believe that human nature is the source of the problem, I also find it to be the solution. As we create cultures that serve us well (just as Daniel Quinn proposes), we will learn to live more sustainably and rationally. Yet, I also feel that we will not build sustainable cultures until we realize at a deep level that humans are not divine beings, nor vulcans nor computer-beings. We are quirky, stubborn, creative and inspired primates. As Desmond Morris, author of "The Naked Ape" wrote, he sees humans not fallen angels, but rather as risen apes. Indeed, we are, but please also consider the words of American Author and Actress Cornelia Otis Skinner,

"It is disturbing to discover in oneself these curious revelations
of the validity of the Darwinian theory.
If it is true that we have sprung
from the ape,
there are occasions when my own spring
appears not to have been very far."

I honor Daniel Quinn and his remarkable insights, persistence and cultural awareness. He is one of my heroes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Racist Code Words and Images Must Be Discussed

There are those who claim that the recent New York Post cartoon depicting the author of the "stimulus bill" as a chimpanzee is not racist. Drawing that cartoon may not have been an act of racism, but publishing it could not be seen otherwise. On the same day that our Attorney General complains that Americans are cowards in their refusal to deal with racism, there could not be a better example to prove him right.

Racist code words and images are powerful tools for resisting rational thought processes and clinging to old patterns of racism and bigotry. It is high time that these derogatory cultural obscenities be addressed directly and effectively. We can not afford to ignore the enculturation of racism through these primitive devices.

However, besides the obvious racism in the use of these code words (e.g., monkey or ape) and images, there is a more subtle problem. In allowing these words and images to remain associated with racism effectively removes important words and concepts from acceptable discourse. As long as we harbor racism in the association of black people with monkeys, we will be uncomfortable talking about primates in polite company - and certainly around black people.

It is entirely possible that the primate images associated with racism have been one of the reasons Darwin's theory of evolution has remained unpopular among large segments of the white populations. Think about it! White people who think that humans were created by God may have trouble associating themselves as primates, but they apparently don't have trouble associating black people as primates! Is this racism? You betcha!

Further, perhaps the notion of humans being created as divine beings is responsible for the bloated egos our species exhibits in dealing with our destruction of earth's climate and resources. If so, then we need to be able to talk about our primate nature in order to increase awareness that we are just another species on this planet - as special species, but nevertheless one of several species of primates that call this planet home.

This blog and blogger are not insensitive to the historic use of primate imagery by delusional racists. However, the path to sustainable living may require us to get this "monkey" off of our backs because it contributes to our reluctance to acknowledge our basic human primate nature. I apologize for being blunt, but any rational assessment of the situation would find that "Black" people are no closer to non-human primates than are "White" people. It is ridiculous that we have accepted racist imagery and code words into our culture.

In fact, many apes and monkeys far more closely resemble "White" people than "Black" people. In general, the hair of nonhuman primates (which is sometimes even reddish) is far closer to that of "White" people than it is to that of "Black" people, for example. So, we all need to get beyond the perception of monkey and ape as racist code words. We need those words and concepts in our language because they help us to understand our common origins and human nature.

The delusional racist imagery of African people somehow being closer to apes or monkeys may have entered our culture, but it is false, pernicious and must be exposed and replaced by rational imagery. While it may thus be uncomfortable at first, for some people of various ancestries to work with the Divine Primates imagery, it may be vital to our survival. This may be a necessary step in the process of reclaiming human nature from the history of ignorance and ego that has led us to believe that humans are divided into races, and that any humans could be so superior to other humans or other species that they no longer need to respect the planet we live on, and to work to live sustainably within the ecosystem constraints of planet earth.

Indeed, racism may be one of the major reasons our culture has spun out of control. The discomfort with our primate nature, from the days of Darwin to the present time, may have caused human culture to deny evolution, justify racism, and to collude in attitudes indicating that humans are not really even animals. As comforting as these attitudes may be for some, we are seeing their disastrous impacts in our culture today. The advertising and marketing industries are well aware of how to entice us into desiring, and spending money on, things we don't need. This is why many advertising jobs go to people with degrees in psychology and even anthropology!

It is time to reclaim our species from those who would make monkeys out of us, whether that means politicians who get us worked up about meaningless ideologies, religious leaders that convince us that ours is the only "right" way to live, media outlets that thrive on keeping old bigotries alive, and folks who make tons of money manipulating us into lifestyles that support their own greed, but which do not support the sustainability of our planet.

Black people are not apes or monkeys -- any more than white people or red people or yellow people. The entire rainbow of humans are primates, and not nearly as divine as we'd like to believe.

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Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H. is a writer, teacher, policy analyst and media advisor located in Evanston, IL. He was not one of those considered by ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich for appointment to the US Senate and has never offered to raise money for the politician he now affectionately refers to as "Ex-Rod". Earon is working on a project to create awareness that humans are a species of primates -- http://www.divineprimates.com

Monday, February 16, 2009

Long Journey on the Internet's "Series of Tubes"

For those unfamiliar with the "series of tubes" quote, this phrase arose from Senator Ted Stevens' rather inarticulate explanation of how the Internet works. In my own case, the "series of tubes" has worked rather well. In fact, I found myself, living in Evanston, Illinois USA, being quoted as far away as New Zealand.

Some of the places my Internet quotes have traveled:

- A popular Maori politician in New Zealand
- A brochure for an abuse prevention nonprofit in Duluth, MN
- The Times of India, online version
- Numerous blogs in the US, Canada and other countries
- A Bangladeshi performing arts group in the U.K.
- The "Signals" gift catalog supporting public television

Each has quoted me on the Internet, using aphorisms I posted at gaia.com -- http://tinyurl.com/cbuyzk Gaia.com is an Internet community focusing on positive change and progressive spirituality. Apparently, they are successful at getting good placement on the search engines! For those of us who write short statements of observation or philosophy (most of which are of twitterable length), it is amazing to see these quotes travel around the world, like seeds dispersed by the wind.

Some of my quotes that have turned up far away include, "Life is a Strange School," "It takes community to maintain a human" and "The three glues that hold humankind together are the courage of women, the compassion of men and the laughter of children."

Here's where some of them went:

(The brochure of a nonprofit in Duluth, MN fighting domestic abuse)
http://www.pavsa.org/Resources/documents/DisabilitiesSideOnecopy.pdf

India (An editorial on peace and tolerance in the Times of India)
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/3927095.cms?

New Zealand (Final paragraph of a Maori Party leader's speech)
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0809/S00681.htm

(Earon is writing a book on human nature and sustainability - http://www.divineprimates.com. He can also be found on www.LinkedIn.com/in/earon, where he is happy to network with others.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Black Man's Burden

How long has it taken to finally let African Americans feel that they are a vital part of this nation which they helped build? What a terrible burden to have to carry! Will it now be lifted?
This is an amazing journey for all of us.

As a white male, I could "pass" for being an "American" in ways that people of color could not, in ways that people with visible disabilities can not, in ways that women still can not.
And when will their burdens be lifted?

How long has it taken for the United States to finally figure out that racism and sexism are mental disorders?
Does sanity require a majority vote? Apparently, it does.
Does it simply emerge from our souls and slowly grow until one day we know something
that our ancestors may not have been able to see?

Barack Obama isn't President because America came to its senses.
He was elected because America turned greedy and stupid,
and had nowhere else to turn
than to a people who had kept the faith,
who had witnessed the truth,
and, like the oppressed before them,
became a reservoir of strength and grace, chosing compassion over violence, love over hate.

But this mixed-race scholar and organizer, this brilliant and compassionate man,
has stepped up to carry an enormous burden
for all of us. He can not carry this burden alone,
nor is it right to ask him and his family to do so.

My ancestors never owned slaves,
and they were oppressed, themselves, as many minority groups around the world.
But I can see as clearly as the noon sun
that Barack is my brother and Michelle is my sister.
They have come to help put our nation in order,
to serve us all, to carry a burden that belongs to all of us.

So, let us rededicate ourselves,
Let us inaugurate ourselves,
in this great vision and mission,
to once and for all lift the black man's burden
and the burdens of all those burdened by exclusion,
not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of all,
that they might have the strength to help carry ours.

Black men and women, and girls and boys,
and those who are brown, yellow and red,
and those who may have different abilities,
it is time to bind our partnership in this great land
with a very simple knowledge,
that prejudice and ignorance are self-defeating
mental defects - and that no one deserves to
carry the burdens of racism or sexism or other prejudices.

On this Inauguration Day, we find ourselves in the company of
greatness, not just the Obama's, but all of us.
Let's all pledge to be part of the solution to our many challenges,
and to rid this nation of prejudices - not just because they
can diminish others - but because they diminish all of us.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night at Grant Park in Chicago







My partner, Martha, and I were there at Grant Park last night. It was an amazing experience to be with so many people, like us, who had felt that we were alone for many years in this country. It was a crowd of immense size, but immense diversity, solidarity and compassion. Young and old, all economic backgrounds, and all of the different hues of the human race. We had been marginalized because of our mature, nuanced love for the ideals of America, beyond the shallow self-proclaimed "values" that glossed over the old standards of racism, exclusivity, intolerance, sexism and greed. The wheels had come off of America for us. And now, they are being restored.


I do not know how someone can think of themselves as an American and yet be racist or sexist, or think that it is appropriate to hate people because they are gay, atheist, Hispanic, Muslim, highly educated or any other demographic category. This is unfathomable to so many of us, but we realize that these threads were once dominant in this nation, despite the ideals of our democracy, despite the herculean efforts of our founders, and we respect the efforts of people to "tolerate" or "respect" others as steps toward embracing all Americans as valuable and equal. All that we ask is that people recognize that there is not just one "right" way to live, and that those who preach hate and intolerance are most certainly not on God's side.

So, hope begins anew. This is a time for celebration, indeed, but what I feel most is that sigh of relief, that sense of peace when we know that we've been lost in a strange land, but we find the right map, and we see where we are, and we know where we need to go. To many of us, for the first time in 8 years, America has refound its bearings.

Congratulations to America!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Moving Beyond Our Consumerist Culture


Sure, we would all like to solve our sustainability problems and live in a world of peace and prosperity. But how do we figure out how to get there? We need to change our culture to emphasize our values for compassion and patience, for long-term benefits over immediate gratification. Can we think beyond our consumerist culture? Beyond the chatter of social and peer pressure? Beyond the needs and expectations of our families and children? Beyond our "needs" for comfort items and status symbols? Beyond our status as people highly privileged to live in the wealthy US? Beyond our need to see ourselves as intelligent and competent? Possibly, but I doubt that we will solve our looming problems by thinking in the same short-term, judgmental, greedy, selfish ways that created our crises in the first place. Are there new ways of thinking?

Warning: this essay will challenge your sense that someone is in control of the human race. Please stop reading if you can not cope with the concept that the human species is brilliant, but entirely clueless about how to live peacefully or sustainably on this planet. Watch a scary movie or go shopping if you need to distract yourself from this reality. . . . . Okay, they're gone now. The adults can talk.

Divine Primates: Hope for Our Stressed-Out Species is a controversial look at who's minding the store - who is guiding and protecting the human species. Many of us would like to think that God is looking out for us. Others believe that our governments are taking care of things, or perhaps the super-rich are managing the human race through some kind of conspiracy or kabal or secret society or trilateral commission. Indeed, even such paranoid fantasies can be immensely reassuring to us, far preferable to the realization that we are a planet full of wonderfully creative, curious primates who have little notion of what we are doing.

And yet, the human species is immensely intelligent, talented, diverse and hopeful. We've just never really cooperated on a global level. We have not yet figured out how to eliminate the ancient patterns of fundamentalism and ideology that divide humans and threaten peace and sustainability in the process. We have principles and rules, like Earth Charter, and the United Nations, but we do not yet trust them. Some religions still oppose population control, stuck in ancient realities that called for expanding our populations to better compete with other religions. Our political and economic ideologies fuel nationalist and consumerist frenzies and resource consumption that threaten our environment with devastation, deforestation, wars, extinctions and famine.

We can do better. We must do better. But we need to step outside of the strange, dysfunctional cultures that have evolved over the centuries to serve short-term theocratic, corporate and political interests and desires. What may have worked in an age of smoke signals and provincialism will not work in an age of globalization, cell phones and the Internet. We need to better understand the nature of human beings and redirect our energies from engaging consumerism and status over to better engaging in humanitarian and long-term efforts to serve and protect humanity and the rest of our natural systems on this planet. In this process, we will evolve further from fundamentalist, exclusive religions over to more open and diverse spiritualities through which all people, including atheists, can find acceptance and community.

A new humanity is evolving. The common goal is partnership and cooperation. This will lead to solutions that allow for equity and sustainability - not just maintaining highly wasteful standards of living for the most wealthy. We will find ways to lead good and free lives. Life is not about "stuff" but about working together towards a sustainable future.

Our Sustainability Problem


I have been working on the sustainability issue for many years and I believe that fundamental changes in the way we see human nature may actually enable us to grasp our predicament regarding sustainability. The concept I use is "Divine Primates." I focus on how our human nature has been manipulated by our cultures, politicians, religions and economic interests so that we crave consumer goods and are judgmental, greedy and self-centered despite the spiritual and common sense values that should lead us towards better caring for our fellow beings and our planet.


I present this idea in more detail in my future book, and its website - www.divineprimates.com. Traditional cultures have used the images of primates to portray human nature's peculiar curiosity and quirky risk-taking. Today, there is a vast body of scientific literature demonstrating how many of the human traits are shared with other primates and other species. If we can begin to see ourselves as primates, perhaps we can bring a good-natured understanding of our role on this planet. We should not monkey around with our environment. We are prone to getting carried away with pointless, self-destructive "needs" and habits.


This is not a new idea, of course. But I do believe that misconceptions about human nature and perfectability are at the core of our irresponsible environmental attitudes and behavior. If we can see ourselves, and our nature, as less god-like and more ape-like we may be better able to keep a sense of humor and not expect ourselves to come up with infinite technological miracles to sustain our unsustainable lifestyles. If we're "just primates" perhaps we can allow our egos to focus more on enjoying our communities and other intangibles and less on hoarding and consuming material goods.


If you believe that we could work together in some way, I'd be happy to hear from you. It is my hope that a concept like "Divine Primates" could help our cultures to understand the impertinence and foolishness of human cultures who behave more like the Chinese "monkey king" or our "curious george" than like the rational beings we falsely believe we are. The human race is wonderful and amazing, but we need to grow up. While disasters will eventually force us to act, I am most concerned that not taking charge of the problems before disasters hit will result in wars, famine and the encouragement of totalitarian states. We need to grow up more quickly.