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

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.


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
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

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 ( 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.


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 --

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 -- 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)

India (An editorial on peace and tolerance in the Times of India)

New Zealand (Final paragraph of a Maori Party leader's speech)

(Earon is writing a book on human nature and sustainability - He can also be found on, 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.