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!

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.