Thursday, November 6, 2008
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
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.
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.
Friday, March 14, 2008
by Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H., L.C.M.T.Copyright 2007-8 Earon S. Davis
fallen angel, but as a risen ape.
-- Desmond Morris, Author,The Naked Ape-------------------------------------------------------------------
I love the human race.
Over the past 57 years, I have had a lot of different experiences. I've faced serious challenges and I've had my successes and my losses. I've witnessed the process of birth and I've witnessed the process of death. I've lived through some turbulent times and times of peace. I've served in many roles, having degrees in sociology, law and public health, having been a stay-at-home Dad, environmental advocate, writer, and consultant and now massage therapist and student of traditional wisdom, spiritual and healing practices.
Out of all of my experiences, I think that being a parent changed my life the most. It was quite a transition going from being a working class Chicago kid to becoming a lawyer. But becoming a parent eventually led me to see life in an entirely different way. I grew to love my children more than I'd thought possible, so much so, that I was able to allow them room to grow and to find their own paths.
After experiencing that process, I did not want to return to the complex, conflict-driven world of advocacy and law. I was drawn, instead, to the healing arts. I needed to become more familiar with the human race. And, in the field of bodywork, one does get to know people, on a level that is anything but superficial.
I'm not sure how this book became mine to write, but there was a gradual process through which I came to claim it, and nobody objected, so I eventually let it emerge, with the support and encouragement of my wise partner, Martha. But I know that it is an accumulation of all of my life experiences, that it is not about being an "expert" in any given area, and that it comes predominantly from a place of love and concern.
Writing about one's own species is a complex responsibility. Since I am an independent person, not entrenched in any of our human institutions, and able to say what I want without fear of offending people, I am also free to see what I see. I have always been that way. In a class or a meeting, I would be the one who asked the "good questions" that were difficult to answer. I always looked for the key to understanding any particular issue or concern, while others wrestled with getting things done.
And what I see in our society, after years of trying to resolve environmental and other issues, is a culture that has lost its grounding and is too full of itself to understand when it is moving in disastrous directions. Even when those directions become difficult to deny, as with global warming, we seem incapable of developing consensus and implementing solutions. I see a culture that is massively stressed, self-involved and distracted from the basic priorities of life.
While I might define myself as politically "progressive," I perceive much the same problems as do "conservatives." Like the vast majority of Americans, I am troubled by drug use and addiction, by violence and entitlement, by the concept of rights without responsibilities. I am troubled by child abuse, sexual promiscuity and by aspects of abortion. I am concerned about the sexualization of our media and popular culture.
What I do not share is the view that our problems can be solved by a "free market" economy, nor by privatizing military and civil justice functions, nor by authoritarian censorship and "zero tolerance" policies that expel students for taking an aspirin or for hugging each other, nor by laws that eliminate our basic freedoms, nor by policies that facilitate people's earning great sums of money without working for it, nor to shifting more burdens onto the poor and disadvantaged in our country or in other nations.
My thesis, in this book, is that we, the human race, have become increasingly distracted by our accomplishments, our technologies, our power, and even our shame and fears. We need to acknowledge our human primate nature and begin the process of rebalancing and prioritizing our lives and our culture so that we can be proper stewards of our own species and our own planet.
This book is not about scholarship. Although I have acquired a great deal of information in my life, what is most important to me is the experience of living. I have been a lawyer, with a masters degree in public health; a consultant and project manager; government employee; advocate; writer; newsletter editor and a nonprofit organization executive. I've had a book and many articles published and have testified before Congress. I have raised three children as a stay-at-home Dad. I am currently working as a massage therapist and integrative bodywork specialist, and I have studied a number of wisdom, faith and healing traditions.
To most people, this combination of skills and professions may seem a bit odd. And I admit that I've always thought in ways that were a little "different." Growing up, I would often hear from my Dad, "Earon, you think too much. Why do you always try to figure things out? I just know what I have to do and I do it."
In public school in Chicago, I wasn't a very good student, but I didn't get into any real trouble. I was usually one of the first to understand a new concept that a teacher would introduce. The teacher would briefly explain something to the confused faces around the class, and I would listen and easily make sense out of it. Then I'd be ready for more, but we'd soon be back to the routine lessons that bored me to death.
I wasn't a particularly bright child, in the estimation of my parents and most of my teachers, and I was tall and left-handed. Nobody could figure out why I was left-handed, nor why anyone would want to be, but they all knew that my Dad was six foot four. My grades were mediocre and I was identified as an "underachiever." Today, I would be diagnosed with learning disabilities, but we couldn't afford learning disabilities in my working class Chicago neighborhood back in the 1950's. We all did the best we could, with whatever we had.
My Dad was a construction electrician, who had served in the Army in WWII, and my Mom was a housewife who had dropped out of high school. My grandparents immigrated to the US with their parents (one came on his own), when they were children, and my two grandfathers became a cab driver (for more than 50 years) and an independent painting contractor (who never learned to read or write). None of my immediate relatives was among the most successful or educated people in their respective families, but they worked hard and did their best.
I continue to be baffled by the fact that I, and my three brothers, each graduated from college and graduate school, without major financial help from our family. We each seemed driven by traditional values and a desire to learn, rather than an obsession with becoming wealthy. Among us, my brothers and I earned two law degrees, Masters degrees in Sociology, Biology and Public Health and an MBA from Dartmouth.
So began my journey. I later came to realize that my family pet, a border collie named Ginger, had played a major role in my upbringing. That amazing dog kept us kids out of trouble and herded us to where we were supposed to be. Ginger was my introduction to our animal kingdom, to the partnerships we have with other species. That experience taught me that wisdom and instinct are not necessarily different. In fact, perhaps wisdom is merely instinct that works.
It didn't matter whether Ginger protected us because it was her instinct, or some high level cognitive ability, because the result was the same. The fact that parents care for their children is not because humans have high order intelligence. I have learned in life that most of what we do and value in life has more to do with our nature than with our cognitive abilities to think things through; that our technologies and intellectual lives, no matter how much they impress us, are window dressing for our basic human nature.
This book is not directed at the debate between "nature" and "nurture," which I believe to be a misleading question, driven more by alliteration than by common sense. To be sure, the way we are treated in life has a great deal to do with how our nature manifests. We can be peaceful and loving when our life experiences are peaceful and loving, and we can be violent and hateful when our life experiences are violent and hateful. My basic point is that over 90% of "who we are" as human beings is deeply influenced by our nature (and by nurture) and less influenced by the intellectual constructs of our conscious minds.
An important part of our nature is to get carried away with ourselves and our accomplishments. We are so impressed with the tall buildings and intricate technologies we create that we increasingly act as if we were all-knowing and all-powerful. We create more and more complex social, philosophical, technological, economic and political systems.
It is a shame that few people seem to read all of the bible these days, including "fundamentalists". The tower of Babel is the perfect cautionary tale for our culture. Arrogance and technology combined to build a ridiculously tall structure for no reason other than to prove that humans were all-knowing. As a result, people became specialized to such an extent that they could no longer communicate with each other. The result was collapse and dispersion. Duh? And, by the way, religion, science and politicians didn't prevent this collapse.
Just as much as it is our human nature to care for our families, it is in our nature to tinker with our world, whether to attain wealth and power, or just to see what we can do. When we struggle for survival, we can create brilliant solutions to resource problems and food storage. At such times, we do not have the luxury of building irrelevant, or marginally useful, technologies. However, when we have time on our hands, and there are vast accumulations of wealth and power, we can easily get carried away, often by building huge things (e.g., palaces, pyramids and very tall buildings) and technologies (e.g., cell phones with digital cameras, remote controls, high definition TV, ad infinitum) that we don't really need.
The Question: So, how can the human race find a balance that allows us to live in a more sustainable manner? This book attempts to answer that very important question, but not by pointing out specific solutions. The key to understanding our problems is to understand ourselves, both individually and collectively. Albert Einstein once said that we can not solve our problems by thinking in the same way that created them. Thus, if our problems were caused by false assumptions, we won't be able to solve them until we uncover, examine and correct those assumptions. The challenge, then, is to identify the patterns of thought that set the stage for our problems, and the behavior patterns that bring them to fruition, and to do so while we are still able to make changes that will solve or ameliorate the problem.
I do not claim that any of the ideas expressed in this book are unique, but will limit the use of footnotes and chapter references because each source carries its own baggage and preconceptions. I would like these assembled ideas to be weighed on their own merits, in a common sense manner, as a story about the human race, rather than as any sort of political, ethical or intellectual "movement," dissertation or thread, not that I would mind being associated with the likes of Charles Darwin, Margaret Mead, Samuel Clemens, Daniel Quinn, Frans de Waal or Desmond Morris.
I am an American and I do not mean to imply that my observations and ideas are equally applicable to other cultures and other peoples around the world. I would like Americans to accept responsibility for the leadership role we have in our own country, as well as this world, and of the mess we are making of things. At times in this book, I do attempt to apportion responsibility for some of the problems in American institutions and belief systems. However, I recognize that we have all participated in the development of these problems and I see the analysis herein as serving to guide us in creating new solutions rather than focusing on blame and recrimination.
This book, and its author, are influenced by all of the very same aspects of human nature we all face. For this reason, I want to clearly state that I do not pretend to have all of the answers to our national and global problems and that I am not offering specific solutions. Instead, I am offering a different way to think about these problems, especially in observing that our problems are problems of human beings, not machines. Thus, our solutions must be consistent with our nature, and cognizant of the competing physiological, cultural and psychological traits and values we must deal with.
Today, we often think that our problems stem from the differences between men and women, the differences between religions and the differences between the various cultures and nations. To be sure, these have historically been the flash points of conflict. However, what I am offering is that all of these differences are merely symptoms of an overarching problem.
The problem is that we are attempting to abandon human nature in favor of intellectual constructs (e.g., a rational, corporate, technological society). As a result, we appear to be assuming that a free market economy, or some other "invisible hand" can result in collective decisions that are in the best long term interests of the survival of our nation and of the human race. This assumption is preposterous. It assumes that we will always have sufficient time and information to collectively change our behavior before we do anything that would cause permanent damage to our biosphere. And yet, we appear incapable of stopping the global warming processes that are already causing catastrophic climate change.
Designing an engineering solution to an engineering problem is one thing. However, designing a solution to a human, cultural problem will always require far more than science and engineering. We humans are a peculiar lot, indeed. We have traits, abilities and consciousness that give us incredible creativity and adaptability. Yet, we don't consistently follow logic and we are capable of doing things that are clearly opposed to our self interest, and even threaten the sustainability of our culture and planet.
Many of our individual and collective choices are governed by our unconscious minds, which may have more in common with apes out on a limb than with any omniscient beings of pure light and reason. We choose flawed leaders and insist on following them. We get into pathological patterns of behavior and can't stop. And yet we have the ability to show amazing courage and faith, acknowledging our mistakes and moving forward with incredible skill and persistence to create and implement solutions. What is the source of this genius? It comes from our awareness as humans, from our nature as what I call "Divine Primates."
Parts I and II of this book explore human nature. The parallels between human nature and primate nature are so obvious that they speak for themselves. They reveal much of who we are, as a species, and why we are often unable to find collective solutions to problems on a small scale, let alone a global scale. There is consideration of the roles of the institutions in our culture in perpetuating or triggering the unpredictable over-reactions and excesses that undermine internal, societal and intercultural peace and cooperation. Part III focuses on how we can fully engage the process of finding solutions.
In Part IV, the focus shifts internally, towards practices that nurture humans and help us to find balance and harmony within, and to thus be more compassionate and cooperative with others. Among these, meditation, contemplation, and healthy touch are important parts of any potential solution to our national and global challenges. We have ways to help people slow down and encounter some very positive aspects of human nature, and we should use them. We should teach them in our schools.
We can not effectively manage our economic and environmental systems simply by setting forth somewhat "greener" alternatives in a highly competitive free market place. We can not expect fearful, overstressed, insecure humans (or any other primates) to behave rationally and in their own long term self-interest. Thus, reducing our stress levels and increasing the perception of belonging, support and safety are critical parts of any solution to our growing health, emotional, ecological and addiction problems.
Nor can we expect children in impoverished, gang-dominated neighborhoods to consistently develop strong respect for education, science, hard work and being law-abiding. These children are not safe from violence, abuse and intimidation. Without that safety, and without the kinds of help, support and encouragement experienced by children in other neighborhoods, too small a percentage will be able to overcome the violence, fear and distorted values that are part of their chaotic world.
By nurturing humans in a healthy and effective way, we cultivate both wisdom and altruism. It is time that our culture refocused more of its attention from the acquisition of "shiny" objects to the nurturing of our young and everyone else. Then, we will be more able to and to extend that compassion to all of the creatures and ecosystems of the earth, and to recognize and act upon the larger challenges we face nationally and globally.
Our contemporary culture is incredibly complex and confusing. By serving as a meeting place for all the cultures of the world, America is also host to virtually every value and tradition, every historical thought and dogma from antiquity forward. The marketplace of ideas is thus rich beyond belief, but also far more than we, or our children can comprehend. Each discipline, each dogma, each history, each aspect of art and science seemingly demands our attention. Prejudice and denial often arise as social forces to help humans limit the stimulation of our infinite world. They can be especially powerful for people who are financially or emotionally overwhelmed and/or uneducated.
As Margaret Mead commented, in Coming of Age in Samoa, "A society which is clamoring for choice, which is filled with many articulate groups, each urging its own brand of salvation, its own variety of economic philosophy, will give each new generation no peace until all have chosen or gone under, unable to bear the conditions of choice. The stress is in our civilization." Through the perspectives offered in this book, I feel that we can form umbrella approaches that don't require us to choose. One of my favorite concepts was derived from the tendency of people to describe situations where "there are two types of people" - those who are mean and those who are kind - those who are prejudiced and those who aren't. My approach is to go one step further; that there are two types of people - those who think there are two types of people and those who don't. Of course, I'm not sure which category that would place me in.
However, the point is that we do not have to choose, and that those who force us to choose may not be acting with wisdom. We don't need to adopt one or another philosophy or political ideology. We don't need to adopt one religion. In the "Tools" section of this book, we will look at ways to open our minds without becoming overwhelmed. This is a key to sound decision making, both personally and as citizens.
I would also l like to be clear about what this book is not about. This book is not intended as a scientific study. I am not saying that genetic similarities between chimpanzees and humans actually prove that we both evolved from a particular common ancestor, although it is difficult to image any other conclusion. My assertions about the similarities between human and nonhuman primates are observational and serve as a means to help us better understand human nature, rather than answers to complex scientific, political and theological questions. My thesis works whether humans evolved from common ancestors with chimpanzees, whether humans were created instantly by a divine presence, or whether we were brought here by unidentified flying objects.
This book is not intended to determine whether chimpanzees and gorillas are self-aware, sentient beings, but rather the extent to which humans are. Rather than uncovering deeply hidden secrets that will change our lives forever, this book is about telling a story about the human experience, a story that may help us to step out of some of the dysfunctional, self-destructive patterns in which we humans have become entrenched. It is my hope that this story will help us to move on to a more sustainable "next step" in our continuing quest for meaning.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Basically, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and other major figures of the time were very much influenced by a world view that focused on rational inquiry and rejected belief in revealed truths and miracles of the bible and other religious texts. They may have been nominally "Christian" to avoid accusations of being atheist, but religious dogma is not a significant feature of these founding fathers. It was explicitly left out of the American Constitution, Bill of Rights and entire governmental system.
Were these beliefs the reason for the separation of church and state? Deism was a world view that made it easy to accept all religions as equals with a right to co-exist but not dominate America by becoming "established" as state religions. It is universalist in nature and rejects the notion that there is any "one true way" to god.
Deism is part of the Genius of American Democracy. And yet, many Americans do not know about it. Many of us just assume that America was founded as a "Christian Nation." Just one more example of the ability of an obsessed contingent in an undiscerning majority to obscure history and human nature. The truth is there, but is hidden in plain view, where the majority can't see it. The minorities often see the truth, but until the majority takes responsibility for curbing zealots, the juggernaut continues on and minorities feel disrespected and vulnerable.
Monday, January 21, 2008
By Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H., L.C.M.T.
We generally don't think about the public health implications of how we view humanity. Yet, if we view human nature as constantly struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world, we are encouraging those around us into exteme competition, and probable tolerance of war and violence. If we are seen primarily as consumers, in a "produce or die" world, then we focus on generating products, exploiting people, resulting in massive environmental crises. If we are viewed only as divinely moral beings, we embrace the extrme in religions and may neglect or distort practical health issues, focusing far too much attention on moralizing health issues related to sexuality, fertility and reproduction, as well as idealizing our religion as "the one true way" to live.
Through experience, we are thus learning that extreme beliefs in fundamentalist religions or economic and political ideologies serve to redefine human nature in a profound manner, and carry major implications for the public's health. Our pluralistic, free society seeks a compassionate balance so that war, extreme consumerism and intolerance might ultimately be relegated to history, and yet we live in a shrinking, complex world struggling to live sustainably and in peace.
Perhaps we need to spend more time and effort on developing a mindful definition of human nature that will help bring us together, rather than relying upon the myths of the past, whether those are carried by religious theologies, economic theories, political ideologies or even the scientific method. As Albert Einstein said, we can not solve our problems by thinking in the same ways that created them. So, let us step back from the intense debates of the past and consider the world we would like to inhabit, and how we can get there.
There is no better starting point than looking at a newborn child, born with no beliefs, ready to be programmed and nurtured, and vulnerable to all manner of disease, injury, emotional trauma and stress. When a human child is born, what do we know about the life they will have? What are their burdens and opportunities? Is their health simply a function of how injuries and diseases are expressed through contact with the world, mediated by their own genetic endowment? What about the role of family, culture, community and global sustainability?
Human babies face an immense program of training and discipline which seems to be growing and changing every year. What they are expected to learn varies greatly from culture to culture, from one economic and social class to another. In the United States and the "Western" world, children are programmed with an ever growing array and intensity of information. They emerge as a defenseless primate and are "enhanced" with a multitude of learning experiences and stimuli, both real and virtual (e.g., television, Internet). The goal is to produce productive adults, but we do not know the long term implications of this training period, nor precisely why many children fail to engage in the educational systems, or drop out at various stages.
We do not know whether we may be inculcating life-long emotional and social difficulties through our educational training expectations and experiences. By increasingly emphasizing economic success, what are we doing to our children and to our future? The greatest predictor of "success" in education is the wealth of one's parents. What about happiness? Is happiness simply a function of social and economic successes?
What about the cultural beliefs that are passed on to our children? Many children are taught to believe in one of numerous variations of "God." They are taught that humans have an infinite destiny, having been created by the Divine force. Many are taught that life is a battle between good and evil. If we are divinely created, then what are our obligations to other animals and to our planet in general? Stewardship is presented as a value, but our clearly "non-divine" popular cultures and personal motivations inevitably lead us to place human comfort and passions ahead of the needs of ecosystems or global sustainability. If we are not divinely created, and are merely another species inhabiting this planet, perhaps we would behave differently.
Human divinity, indeed, presents a host of public health challenges. First and foremost is overpopulation, which, itself, is draining the life out of our planet in many ways. Billions of humans use renewable and nonrenewable resources on this planet and generate unfathomable quantities of contamination and pollution, as well as the toxic and radioactive products and wastes from our industrial processes. Decreased populations would help reduce this growing pressure, but fertility cults continue to promote the opposite.
Overpopulation is endangering our planetary ecosystems, our global climate and threatening famine and warfare. Yet, some organizations in charge of our "moral" lives paint birth control and abortion as mortal sins? If this is what divinity means, perhaps we should find smarter gods if we want to survive as a species. Divinity means that killing animals by the billions is okay even if we don't need to eat them in order to be healthy, and even if it is a horribly inefficient way to produce food, a major factor in global warming and pollution.
Divinity must mean that elitism is okay. As long as we allow a few underprivileged people to attain wealth, then it is okay for the masses of people to constitute an underclass of hopelessness while we each discard more of the earth's materials than it would take to sustain thousands of people elsewhere.
Drugs and violence are severe problems, for those with success as well as those who do not find opportunity through our educational systems. In poverty, basic safety issues and lack of productive social structures fuel hopelessness and lawlessness. In wealth, an endless array of opportunities to get oneself into trouble are presented, and privilege can also lead to hopelessness and lawlessness. Are we asking too much of our children? Are we overstimilating them from birth? Are we behaving as if we are divine beings when we inculcate childhood fantasies of becoming sports stars, television, film and music celebrities or corporate CEO's?
"Underachievement" is a huge reality among the young adults of privilege in the "West." Many have formed adaptations to protect from the rampant "stressed for success" aspects of our culture. They have diminished expectations and their fantasies are of living independent, well-rounded lives, with modest jobs and living arrangements, raising children or not. But they hope to avoid the epidemics of stress-related diseases such as anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, digestive problems and chronic pain from musculoskeletal problems exacerbated by sedentary jobs and overcompensated workouts.
These young people tend to not favor organized religions. And they do not believe that humans are divine beings. They represent a new wave of hope for sustainability and for improved public health in the human species. Talk with them. They are in your family and your community. They may not be able to articulate their role in changing the face of the "West," but that is what they are doing. Whether the rest of our culture continues its bizarre obsession with wealth, and marginalizing those who don't make the "cut" of "success," it is important to know that there are other ways to live.
Global warming, terrorism, famine and war, will eventually provide the smelling salts to wake up our culture to the irresponsibility of what it has wrought. In the meantime, public health issues abound, and radical religious organizations appear to be protected and empowered as role models despite their institutional debaucheries of fundamentalism, magical thinking and cultism; the pedophilic culture of priesthood and the hypocritical extravagance and promiscuity of televangelism.
At some point, we will wake up, drop the fantasy of our divinity, and get to work at building a sustainable culture that respects all life and honors as success the simple living of a good life. From my own point of view, "We, and our world, are sacred, and that has nothing to do with whether we were created or dropped off on earth by a flying saucer or some other extra-terrestrial entity."
Monday, January 14, 2008
By Earon S. Davis, J.D., M.P.H., L.C.M.T.
[Delivered at the World Future Society annual meeting in Minneapolis, July 30, 2007]
Everyone is talking about the weather, but it may be time to look more closely into why we are doing little more than complaining - particularly about pending disasters related to global climate change. We have been talking about paradigm shifts and systems thinking, but global crises are increasing each year. Is it politics? Is it economics? Is it religion? I believe that the problem rests largely with our own human culture, especially in America. Moving into a rational environmental paradigm will require a new awareness, a new story, of human nature, itself.
Systems thinking is a powerful tool for transformative thinking, but in the case of global environmental issues, it must also include as part of the "system" the collective human behaviors that have placed our global ecosystems in jeopardy. We can study global climate issues forever, but if we do not factor in the strange, dysfunctional behavior of the human primate species on this planet, we are not likely to develop effective solutions. We need to understand the sources of the obvious human resistance towards protecting our planet.
Humans are a species of primates. We are the dominant species on this planet, perhaps, but we are definitely part of the problem, along with the cows we breed, the poisons we spread, the fuels we feverishly burn and the frenetic pace of our caffeine fueled culture. We calculate the contribution of other species of animals and plants and other natural systems to global warming, but we seem to ignore the fact that we are a species of primates. Does this matter? Yes.
To date, most of our systems thinking about global warming places human beings outside of the natural systems we are looking at. This error inadvertently diverts our attention from the mess that we humans are making. Instead, we focus on measurements of chemical and temperature indicators of our pending disasters. In the meantime, our culture encourages us to behave as if the Earth is all about humans, so we sit on the sidelines and act as some sort of grand analyst or engineer, as a god-like creature charged with running this planet.
If we are aware and afraid, we seem to be paralyzed by that fear rather than motivated by it. There is an archetype or belief system at work, here, rather than science. It is likely an artifact of Cartesian thinking, holding that the world is a complex machine and it is man's mission to understand and control it. But it may be getting in the way of efforts to change human behavior to reduce the risks of catastrophic global climate deterioration.
What if humans are seen as just another species rather than being the center of creation? What if we are seen as more "primate" than "divine?" What if the world is not all about humans, but the task of humans, like all other species, is to find ways to get along with the natural order of things in order to survive and prosper in the long term?
Native peoples around the world have long commented on how the white/european people were crazed and out of touch with reality of the natural world around us. Over time, we have learned that there is much truth in that observation, but we have continued to use and abuse our planet with little regard for the consequences to future generations.
If humans were created by god to have dominion over the world, then the whole world is about the human race, or perhaps the humans who go to a certain type of church. If, instead, humans evolved from other species of primates, then we are simply another species, unique as we are, trying to adapt and survive. Thus, we would always temper our activities with a desire to avoid upsetting the delicate ecological balances around us so that we didn't inadvertently destroy our local, regional or global habitats.
But, here's the kicker. We are not just any old species of animals. Of all things, we are primates! We monkey around with everything and are always getting carried away with things. With all of our incredible intelligence, we spend much of our time watching tv, fantasizing about sex, surfing the internet, playing games, or working at "jobs" to earn money. Is this the divine species put here to keep the Earth in balance? Hardly.
As long as we see ourselves as divine beings of light, we will act as if the planet is here to serve us. In that case, our human nature will generally have us dazzled by short term gain and paying little attention to long term problems we may be creating, whether that is environmental degradation, global warming, rising sea levels or war. However, if we see ourselves as a species of primates, we may be better able to perceive our massive shortcomings as stewards of the Earth.
That awareness provides the key to synthesizing systemic checks and balances on our primate decision making. Does our concept of basic human "freedom" mean we are guaranteed the right to destroy human lives and cultures to have a cool view of the ocean - or interesting packaging for a new product - or food products that have a longer shelf-life - or a new telephone technology that is exciting and fun - or cosmetic surgery that makes us feel sexy? Do we have the right to play with matches at a petrol dump? Do we have the right to produce marginally useful products, with scarce resources, which contribute to global warming, disposal and remediation costs that are born by people who do not buy or produce those products - and by future generations who have had no say in that decision?
Right now, America is enticing the rest of the world along the irresponsible path to global environmental crises. At this time, it seems like we are "king of the hill," but the hill is built of ego, greed and selfishness rather than anything of enduring value. As long as we see ourselves as divine creations, perhaps we are entitled to all that the world can offer, thinking that god and/or science will somehow save us from our own excesses. But if, as almost everyone knows deep down, we are primates who evolved from other species of primates, then we become accountable for our excesses.
It is more fun to see ourselves as divine beings, and religious fundamentalists and "new agers" may want everyone to believe that we are. But, if we are simply a very clever species of primates, there will be a different day of reckoning. On that day, we will be faced by disasters of war, famine and economic collapse resulting in authoritarian governments - all precipitated by our own greed and arrogance, rather than any particular judgments about our religious beliefs. In that case, we'd better get going with the unpopular and difficult task of building a sustainable culture so that our scientific knowledge falls into a context of hope, action and competence, rather than guilt, shame and hand-wringing. If we won't do this for ourselves, let's do it for our grandchildren.