A Crisis in Values

The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

That world is at once tantalizingly close and impossibly distant. On the one hand, we don’t need any new technology to reach it; if we could only change our perceptions and social agreements, if only billions of us had a change of heart, we could be living right now in paradise. As I like to point out, half the world wastes enough food to feed the other half. On the other hand, such a shift – which would have to encompass the money system, politics, law, and the way we see each other and the world – is so huge as to seem impossible. Consider: how close is it to political reality to disband all armies, cease all weapons production, abolish all borders, cancel most debt, and adopt already-existing upcycling and permaculture technologies on a mass scale? That is the degree of change we need to save our world. None of these things (armies, borders, money, etc.) are written into material reality. They are products of our agreements.

Today, whereever we are,  life seems especially difficult and full of uncertainty. Unhappiness is like a persistent weed, planted within us by forces beyond our control and difficult to uproot. The story told to us by modern prophets is that economic scarcity is real, when in fact,  nothing is further from the truth. Economic scarcity is a deception manufactured for the purpose of maintaining a system of inequity that favors a very small minority of powerful people who control the planet, its resources and our lives.

While there is a demonized evil responsible for our current state of affairs which is perceived to be “out there”, the system of inequity and scarcity could not exist were it not for innate destructive tendencies that are  intrinsic to human nature itself. Hence, we all carry these same destructive tendencies “in here” and when coupled with social systems,inequality naturally evolves as a system property. While we fight only the battle outside of us, we are only fighting half the battle and subsequently, we will never achieve the goal of a permanent victory of lasting harmony within society and within nature.

Abundance and joy is actually our natural state but until we recognize this, dig it up and uproot it, we ourselves will propagate the mythology to future generations. Until we become aware, we remain a part of the problem and our personal crisis of value will continue to feed the crisis of our civilization.

Listen to Jon Jandai, a farmer from northeastern Thailand tell his compelling story of his personal discovery that scarcity is an illusion.

It is time to follow Jon Jandai and return to the original and simple values of humanity. We need genuine sustenance that feeds the human soul, not the empty calories of an unending diet of iphones, automobiles, digital downloads, fast food and the latest model of the consumer razzle-dazzle.

At the heart of the perfect storm of Environmental, Economic and Resource crisis lay a fundamental crisis of human values…

We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual ‘autism.

- Thomas Berry

As a culture, we have evolved to a place where our priorities are upside down…social workers who work with vulnerable lives every day receive a pittance and can barely subsist while financial managers on Wall Street are making millions of dollars essentially gambling and adding little real value to society. We have created a topsy turvy, upside down set of priorities which has become our accepted social norm. Nature has made us into social creatures. Neuroscience is now revealing that our neurocircuits are not just wired for self-preservation, but also for caring for others. In the emerging field of neuroeconomics, Dual Motive Theory and the hormone oxytocin  show us how our brains and bodies are designed to be social.  When our Reptilian complex is allowed to dominate our lives, however, then our  one-sided focus on self-cherishing will naturally lead us to a life out of balance.

The  millennium scale transition that brought us from tool maker and agriculture to a modern, industrial technocracy has been but a drop in geological time. While nature evolves systems over millions of years, the human experiment is a mere tick on the clock. And while nature has had so much time to determine best designs, human beings, accelerated by minds and toolmaking hands compress the rate of change from millions of years to just years. The imperfection of mind is that we cannot know and map out all the possibilities of a change to our environment and the rapid rate of change always brings unavoidable and undesirable side effects. Today, we are living in the greatest progress trap ever built, modern human civilization.

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Our democracies are turning into plutocracies and the continuous trend towards inequality can only lead us to cannibalize our own life support system. Our  lack of direction, lack of compassion and general apathy points to a  profound crisis that lay buried deeply in our unexamined subconscious mind.  Unless we trace our unhappiness back to these hidden roots, we have no chance of making lasting social change.

Consumerism Provides us with False Calories; it move us Further and Further Away from the Authentic Source of Happiness we Crave

Consumerism is the new deity but it is a false god, making empty promises of happiness which it can never live up, alluring though they may seem. Human intelligence is not the same as human wisdom and in the lucrative marketing industry, intelligence is used to take advantage of the brains inherent attraction towards novelty to create such harmful strategies such as Design-for-the-Dump –  the consequence of human intelligence, but not human wisdom. Technology has gone from solving problems of basic needs to becoming a tool for overindulgence.

In a few short years (geologically speaking), the gift of our human brain, coordinated with hands that allow us to fashion tools has elevates humanity far above our cousins in nature, propelling ourselves to become the dominant species of the planet (or so we think). Indeed, the egotism of our species has even given this age a name,  the anthropocene:

There are now so many of us, using so many resources, that we’re disrupting the grand cycles of biology, chemistry and geology by which elements like carbon and nitrogen circulate between land, sea and atmosphere. We’re changing the way water moves around the globe as never before. Almost all the planet’s ecosystems bear the marks of our presence.

Our species’ whole recorded history has taken place in the geological period called the Holocene – the brief interval stretching back 10,000 years. But our collective actions have brought us into uncharted territory. A growing number of scientists think we’ve entered a new geological epoch that needs a new name – the Anthropocene.

The signs of overindulgence are all around. From preventing starvation, technology has created environments in which diseases of the rich thrive – obesity, heart attack, anorexia, diabetes and many forms of cancers. An economic system which is based upon the false premises of consumerism drives manufacturing which deplete resources and creates pollution.  The consumerist cycle begins with marketing hype to create demand for things we don’t need. That is followed by spending and consumption which gives us temporary satisfaction but which eventually gives way tol restlessness & boredom – just in time to create a yearning for the next dangled consumer carrot. The consumer is promised happiness but,  like the elusive carrot dangled in front of us it is always just out of reach. Yet this is no harmless dance, but one with disturbing consequences – the increasing and continual degradation of our planetary life support system.

This lack of grounding also creates a great deal of polarization. Global economic inequity is at an all-time high in many countries. Greed is just another manifestation of the same fundamental problem of values and it is blindly celebrated in its position at the heart of economics. In our technocracy, money is an abstract symbol, detached from any grounding reality. Hence this piece of paper, with little intrinsic worth of it’s own, becomes such a powerful symbol of greed that people are willing to kill and die for it. They are willing to hoard it for themselves and deny it to others, on an individual as well as societal level. Finance becomes gambling with billions or even trillions of dollars at stake. It becomes an abstract game for whom the consequences of failure to citizens around the world are not even a fleeting thought that crosses the mind.

Our perfect storm of crisis is no accident

All these problems are inter-related and have all arisen together from the same common root.  And like a persistent weed, unless we get to that root of our unhappiness, a sense of lack which leads us to blindly consume throwaway objects that can never truly satisfy our cravings, we will continue merrily and blindly going around in a circle, creating our own source of dissatisfaction and destroying our ecosystem at the very same time.

In our march towards technological superiority, we have inadvertently thrown away the baby with the bathwater. Indigenous cultures did not have the “advanced technology” that we do but they had something much more important…they had what we desperately want…a framework from which life is experienced as sacred. Because of that, they naturally lived their lives in harmony with the land, sea and sky. The reverence for the sacred translated into stewardship of the environment. Our forefathers knew the land intimately.  The reasons was obvious, their lives directly depended on it. It provided them everything…food, fuel, water and materials for building their homes, clothing and handtools.

Our technological, industrial man-made environment has alienated us from our natural environment. We don’t hunt or gather, instead we go to an artificial building called a supermarket to receive food. We don’t build our own tools, homes or clothing either. Instead, we go to hardware stores where tools are manufactured for us, we buy prefabricated homes from realtors and we buy clothing from clothing stores. A centralized system of mass production may be efficient from an engineering and economic perspective, but it also creates dependency on the artificial system of manufacturing, obsoletes our own autonomy to survive and alienates us from the natural environment. Everything about our modern society creates a barrier between ourselves and our ecosystem. It is therefore natural that we have lost our sensitivity towards it and are unable to tell whether it is healthy or not – or sadly, even care.

Why is there Inaction Amidst an Emergency?

by Michael Thomas (reprinted from Nature Bats Last)

If environmental problems are so serious, if we are really threatened by global ecological collapse, why is no one doing anything about it?

Before I explain why, it is important to state that (1) ecosystems do not react linearly to change, but abruptly switch states (Schaeffer 2001), (2) that the global biosphere, or global network of ecosystems, is threatening to shift states (read: collapse) if just 7% more ecosystems shift states (collapse at 50% and we are currently at 43%) (Barnosky 2012), (3) managers, planners, and politicians are not coordinating with scientists or experts (Staudinger 2012), and (4) evolution is far less likely than extinction (Schwartz 2006).

So, why is no one doing anything about the very real issues threatening long term human survival? I think it is safe to qualify the situation as an emergency, and thus we should look at research into how people react in emergencies, or why they do not.

A 5-step process for helping during an emergency was first characterized by Darley and Latané in 1968.

The 1st step is to notice the emergency itself, which can be hindered by distractions or preoccupation. The 2nd step is to classify it as an emergency, meaning to recognize what is really going on, and this can be hindered by pluralistic ignorance — when a group of people do not notice an emergency because those around them are simultaneously not noticing or reacting to the emergency: it is thus assumed there is no emergency.

The 3rd step is to take responsibility in the emergency. Studies show that the more people present at an emergency, the lower the chance is that someone will help. This is known as the bystander effect and creates a diffusion of responsibility, which leads the individuals to feeling less responsible for what is going on: “not my problem.” This means that a lone individual is far more likely to help you than that same person within a group.

The 4th step is to know what to do, and the 5th step is to do it. But, even after taking responsibility and knowing what to do, it is possible someone will not help due to social inhibition. This is where the social context, or social norms, prevent or dissuade helping in the situation.

Most people are busy: they do not have time to think about world problems, let alone world problems which have yet to manifest. Most people do not realize how serious environmental problems are: they think the only problem facing us is global warming, and picture this as it becoming a little warmer in the summers. Most people feel like a faceless member of humanity with no reason to help solve these problems, and refrain from taking responsibility, even if they know what is going on.

Many people who know what is going on and have taken responsibility for helping, do not know what to do. They do not realize that even communicating with others about these problems, helping making others aware, taking the time to discuss this with people experiencing dissonance (will be explained in a different text) makes quite a difference.

When just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, then it quickly spreads to almost everyone (Szymanski 2011). If people understood what was going on then there would be more people taking responsibility, more people brainstorming over solutions, and more work being done to avoid global ecological collapse.

The only step left is to do it. So talk to others about these issues, to learn about them, and start taking steps towards solving problems. Taking steps towards preventing our own demise, taking steps towards pulling our collective head out of the sand.

Sources

(1) Schaeffer, Marten. 2001. “Catastrophic shift in ecosystem states” Nature Publishing Group. http://bio.classes.ucsc.edu/bioe107/Scheffer%202001%20Nature.pdf

(2) Barnosky et al. 2012. “Approaching a state shift in Earth´s biosphere.” Nature Publishing Group http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/06/06/scientists-uncover-evidence-of-impending-tipping-point-for-earth/

(3) Schwartz. 2006. “Sudden Origins: A General Mechanism of Evolution Based on Stress Protein Concentration and Rapid Environmental Change” http://www.pitt.edu/~jhs/articles/Maresca_Schwartz_sudden_origins.pdf

(4) Staudinger, Michelle D et al. 2012. “Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services: Technical Input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. Cooperative Report to the 2013 National Climate Assessment.” http://downloads.usgcrp.gov/NCA/Activities/Biodiversity-Ecosystems-and-Ecosystem-Services-Technical-Input.pdf

(5) Darley, J.M., Latané, B. 1968. “Group Inhibition of Bystander Intervention in Emergencies.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(3), 215-221.

(6) Syzmanski. 2011. “Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas” http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2902

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Michael Thomas hails from Boston, Massachusetts, but currently lives in Germany, where he studies biology. He is politically active and interested in working with anyone who shares his passion for humanity and truth.

Confronting Extinction

In our own day and age, the prospect of human extinction once again looms over us – this time, due to anthropomorphic climate change and many other factors contributing to global ecocide. And though it is in our genes to do our best to survive, the ending of human civilizations is as inevitable as our own personal death.

This inevitability is what is painful to think about but to authentically live a sacred life requires the awareness of two opposing qualities within each of us:

  1. an innate and instinctive impulse to survive  and
  2. a recognition of the inevitability of our own death

Mass extinction is unbearable to think about because it is a reminder of our own mortality; the two have something fundamental in common. In fact, we can think of our own personal death is a kind of extinction event too – for when we die, all appearances of this life become extinguished. Whether on a personal or societal level, we can only temper our anxiety of extinction through the authentic acceptance of impermanence. Doing so does not diminish, but rather enhances the quality of our lives. Indeed, it is what makes life sacred. Paradoxically, it is because we have been too afraid to live a life of authenticity, in which we confront our own mortality, this has allowed us to accept all the compromises in our lives which contribute to creating the world we now inhabit.

Denial of Death

cover denial of death 
Cultural Anthropologist Ernest Becker sought to find out why human beings do the things they do, why they bring the great harm they do. The human brain/mind system is a unique system with strengths and weaknesses. It’s strength is its ability to learn and then act with that knowledge upon the world, it’s weakness is it’s ability to learn and then act upon the world. Human beings die and in that death, decades of meticulously constructed network of knowledge is lost forever. A new child is born and none of this learned knowledge can be passed down. Rather, that child must learn it anew. Hence all moral and ethical lessons, learned from a lifetime of mistakes and harming others are tossed out the window and the new child must once again trodden down a path of mistakes, harm and suffering before learning what it means to be an authentically ethical human being. Hence history always repeats and we never learn. Every generation, we return to violence as a means to resolve problems and to do harm to others who do not share our views. 

At the root of our behavior, Ernest Becker found the dark, repressed seed of the fear of death. The fear of death leads us directly to the Denial of Death. And so, human beings, living in a state of constant denial of death, express this repression through many unhealthy ways…all the ways we see harm expressed in society.

Social Transformation is Only Possible through Individual Personal Transformation and Ecology is no different than our own spiritual journey as Human Beings

The 10,000 year march from the time our ancestors learned to grow our own food, to today’s highly interdependent technocracy has been one of ever increasing distance between:

  1. Nature on the one side
  2. and human beings on the other

Our great temples of concrete, steel and glass full of straight lines and symmetrical surfaces are in stark contrast to wild nature. Yet we ourselves, no matter how much we try to separate from her, are always of her. From dust to dust. This author and every single reader will return back to that same place from whence we came. But this is not to be feared.

Our entire civilization which celebrates distance from nature, is driven by fear of our own mortality which makes us try to run away from it. Our achievements give us a sense of control because mortality takes control away. The distance with which we separate ourselves from the natural environment and from each other is great indeed and made even greater by this technological, industrialized society which we have created. Now, at the precipice of our human-made world about to explode apart, is the time to look at the root causes of our unhappiness, the root causes of a technocracy gone out of control. Blind technology is not the solution, but is like a great vehicle making our rush towards collective suicide more accelerated. No, we must slow down and take stock of the feelings deep within us which cause the intellect to dominate over the heart and rhetorical, internal chatter to guide our lives.

David Loy: Healing Ecology

David Loy:  Individual awakening is crucial to reach social transformation
 

If we are to mobilize a planet of people to drive change, and we must mobilize everyone to solve this crisis, then we can only do so by awakening the sacred within each being. Hence we must develop a strategy that is purely humanistic, transcending all religious, spiritual and cultural traditions, yet embraces the deepest and most pith qualities of each.

It is only through recognizing this deep connection between human beings, other beings and nature that we can form closeness between all of these that will prevent their further abuse. Hence, solving these problems is going to take a Rennaisance approach, a holistic approach that combines all aspects of our humanity. The heart, the mind and the spirit must coalesce into one integrated strategy that addresses every aspect of our humanity, leaving nothing out.

To educate alone, without lighting the spark that unleashes compassion, wisdom, creativity and energy will not suffice. We will not be able to inspire a whole world without awakening the sacred. Only it has the power to unite a planet and only a united planet can solve this problem.

A Return to the Sacred

Both scientists and economists are telling us
that humanity is facing a perfect storm of crisis

Today we see an unprecedented groundswell of concern
coming from the scientific, business and lay community
Movements like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement
testify to the concern of ordinary citizens everywhere
yet after each cycle, everything returns to business-as-usual

What will be needed to avert this perfect storm of multiple crisis
is an entirely new level of engagement from the people of this planet

There are many barriers to reaching this new level of engagement however, including:

  • distraction – people are distracted, either by basic survival issues or in self-indulgence
  • existing power structures – that tend to want to keep things the way they are
  • education – people don’t have the education to truly appreciate the threats, especially scientific education and this leads to manufacturing consent
  • misinformation – false information spread by those wishing to hold onto market shares leads to confusion and apathy
  • apathy – not caring, caused by any of the above
  • survival – people can barely make ends meet, nevermind worrying about complicated things they don’t understand and far off into the future

There are many independent global efforts towards education and mobilization in many different areas
however, many confront the same challenges of authoritarianism, low levels of education and high levels of misinformation and apathy
which lead to distraction, confusion and paralysis

To make the changes required in the world
there needs to be an awakening of consciousness
Voting is impotent if voters are dissuaded to vote for the common good

What is needed is a rapid program that can awaken people
and inspire them to a new level of engagement
Education and media are key enablers to meeting this challenge
but these alone of themselves are insufficient
they are already being used and we are getting the best results we can
results that are insufficient to reach the critical threshold in time

What is needed is a starting point that reaches to the core of each and every human being
that is so deep that it touches every one of us in the deepest way possible

The Age of Empathy

“Never has the world seemed so completely united-in the form of communication, commerce, and culture-and so savagely torn apart-in the form of war, financial meltdown, global warming, and even the migration of diseases.

No matter how much we put our minds to the task of meeting the challenges of a rapidly globalizing world, the human race seems to continually come up short, unable to muster the collective mental resources to truly “think globally and act locally.” In his most ambitious book to date, bestselling social critic Jeremy Rifkin shows that this disconnect between our vision for the world and our ability to realize that vision lies in the current state of human consciousness. The very way our brains are structured disposes us to a way of feeling, thinking, and acting in the world that is no longer entirely relevant to the new environments we have created for ourselves.

The human-made environment is rapidly morphing into a global space, yet our existing modes of consciousness are structured for earlier eras of history, which are just as quickly fading away. Humanity, Rifkin argues, finds itself on the cusp of its greatest experiment to date: refashioning human consciousness so that human beings can mutually live and flourish in the new globalizing society…

As the forces of globalization accelerate, deepen, and become ever more complex, the older faith-based and rational forms of consciousness are likely to become stressed, and even dangerous, as they attempt to navigate a world increasingly beyond their reach and control. Indeed, the emergence of this empathetic consciousness has implications for the future that will likely be as profound and far-reaching as when Enlightenment philosophers upended faith-based consciousness with the canon of reason”

– Jeremy Rifkins, The Empathetic Civilization