Monday, February 9, 2015


[Approximate Reading Time: 15 minutes]

I have been spending quite some time over on Nature Bats Last (NBL) going over the comments made by the community of people who make up the regular readers on that blog. The comment forum at NBL is an interesting place. Whether you believe in abrupt climate change or not, near-term human extinction or not, whether you wonder if we are even going extinct at all, the NBL comment forum provides a rich source of thought-provoking material to chew on and ponder over. Not to mention plenty of infotainment and gallows humor!

One of the central themes I have been exploring on this blog is the question of the human condition in the context of multiple existential crises. Climate change is but one of them. We have other problems to contend with: habitat loss, soil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, species loss, etc. The planet's problems are all related to each other. And they are related to the dominant culture that we like to call Civilization. Civilization is a certain way of life, as all cultures, past and present, are. And it brings with it not just the above mentioned nature-related problems, but a real possibility of self-destruction. There are those who say humans might not end up waiting for climate change to do them in but instead might exterminate themselves through nuclear war:

Be that as it may, the question remains how and why we ended up in this situation. This is the human condition I spend a lot of time thinking about these days.

If you look at the comment forum at NBL, you'll see a diversity of opinion. Presumably, a number of the people who comment there are more or less convinced that humans are bound for extinction sometime in the next few decades. I tend to agree. With that consensus in place, there are multiple issues to grapple with, which in turn brings multiple diverse viewpoints to the fore. Consider the following questions:

1. How did we, the smartest of all the animals, end up destroying ourselves and the rest of the planet?
2. Is there a fundamental deficiency in us? Are we inherently flawed?
3. Did we choose to go down this path? Or did we simply go along a pre-ordained fateful path?
4. Is there such a thing called free-will? Do we have agency, either individually or collectively?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Here, I simply present one way to look at these issues. Let's start with the question of responsibility. When a murder is committed, society invokes methods to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. But when the crime is the murder of Mother Earth, how do we go about finding the perpetrators? At one level, it suffices to say it's just us, humans. All of us. We're all to be blamed. We're fundamentally flawed. We're too smart for our own good. We lost our way. All of us. All 7.2 Billion of us. We just can't help it. It's in our nature. That's what some of the commenters appear to posit. And the response to it? Consider this comment by Wester (NTE stands for Near-term Extinction):

Wester seems to prefer to sub-classify the mass of humanity into subsets and groupings and assign responsibility to some but not all 7.2 Billion human beings. Let's explore this approach further because it stands to reason that if we can say it's us humans, and not the polar bear or the Monarch butterfly that destroyed the living planet, we might as well dig in further and see who among us humans played a major role and who the minor, if at all. Some of us find this level of probing unnecessary, and even distasteful. It's uncomfortable, to say the least, for it calls into question our own complicity. Chances are if you're an Internet user, which you are, you are part of a group of humans that shares responsibility. Despite the feelings of unease and guilt, for some, spending time at this level of consciousness is extremely important. Before I go any further, let me admit that I personally include myself among those who shoulder the most blame. I will explore this more below and in future blog posts.

Now, we can classify the 7.2 Billion humans currently inhabiting the planet in any number of ways. Here are a few that are common in the dominant paradigm:

1. Geographical/Ethnic/Racial (Westerners and the rest, Global North and Global South)
2. Technological (First World and Third World, developed countries and developing countries)
3. Cultural (Civilized people and indigenous/tribal people)
4. Generational (Older generations and younger generations, the living and the yet to be born)
5. Education (Educated professionals and the rest)
6. Class (1% and 99%, the wealthy elites and the rest)

At this level of consciousness (which is not to say that it is a better level than other levels of consciousness), we tend to dwell on the sub-groupings within the mass of humanity that have been the most involved with the primary trends of the last several hundred (or thousand) years that have culminated in the current moment of crisis. In this blog, I explore this particular level of consciousness when I write about tribal cultures, Technology, class issues, etc.

Now, let me spend some time talking about the other levels of consciousness before coming back to this one! I briefly mentioned the level that is right above this one: all humans, as a species, are responsible for the planetary crises collectively. Our era has been termed the Anthropocene to highlight the outsize influence humans have had and continue to have on the environment and the planet. We all have similar needs and given the opportunity, we might as well behave in similar ways. We don't choose to be born much less choose the family, culture, country, race or any other grouping we're born into. In the absence of real agency, we are all the same. We would do the same things. I can see it this way and I spend plenty of time in this level of consciousness. If I were born into and brought up by an indigenous tribe, I would believe in my tribe's creation story and take care of my land as if my life depended on it. Because in fact, my life indeed depends on my land if I am a tribal person. On the other hand, if I were born into and brought up by the Vanderbilts, and encountered the same exact circumstances in life as one of their heirs would, I would probably treat the planet like a resource ripe for the picking and monetizing. I would be none the wiser that the Earth is a living being because my stories don't let me see it that way. There are many who prefer to dwell in this level of consciousness and never bother entering the one below, the one that seeks to sub-classify humanity further. I try to be respectful but I find every opportunity to drag these folks into the level below, the level I spend most of my time in. I try and choose my battles carefully but I often find myself in the thick of an argument or debate.

There are two more levels of consciousness above the one that posits "all humans are to be blamed collectively". Consider this comment that illustrates the level right above it.

Why blame humans alone? Why blame humans at all? Where do all these misanthropes come from anyway? Aren't we all part of nature? We're just like any other animal out there in the wild. We're natural and everything we do is natural. We come from the Mother and we return to the Mother. Everything we're made of comes from the Mother. Even the cancer that we have turned into today is a natural phenomenon. Perhaps, something is off-balance on planet Earth. We know little about it. And this whole distinction between artificial and natural, too, is, well, artificial, which is ultimately natural! If we didn't destroy the planet, another descendant of the ape might have, eventually. This is just how nature works. The planet goes through its cycles of creation and destruction and we just happen to be the destructive force today. Out of this will come a new world which when its time comes will be destroyed again... so goes the story of those who dwell in this level of consciousness. I spend time in this level often, wondering about the mysterious workings of nature and the lack of insight into it that we have in our current human condition. When I call it a story, I don't mean to belittle its significance and separate it from "reality". In my worldview, what we call "reality" is made up of stories. And stories are extremely powerful, powerful enough to affect what we think is real. So that's the third level of consciousness: humans as an integral part and parcel of nature, no separable from it than a heirloom tomato is.

Finally, there is yet one more level that we could call the Universal level. If humans are part of nature (and of Mother Earth even if they have turned against the living Mother), why stop there? The planet is not an isolated sphere in an empty Universe. It's acted upon by gravitational forces from the Sun and other planets. It's constantly being bombarded by all manner of electromagnetic radiation from outer space. Astrology seeks to forecast and interpret earthly events by determining the paths of other planets and their possible effects on Earth. Some would even say we're visited by aliens. There are many who dwell in this level of consciousness, thinking about UFOs, reptilian humanoids, etc. Who knows what's going on. But it's clear that the planet is part of a larger Universe whose workings we hardly understand. The higher the level of consciousness, the less we seem to understand about how things work. Even the best that modern Science has to offer ends up being mostly theory, hypothesis and conjecture. Perhaps there's something to String Theory. Perhaps there's something about a multi-dimensional reality. It would appear that the ascetic monk seeks to gain an understanding of such an elaborate and intricate Universe through stillness. Personally, I'd like to spend more time in this level of consciousness than I currently do. The work of Dean Radin into the frontiers of consciousness come to mind. Psi phenomena are intriguing. There's something attractive about the concept of non-duality. It somehow offers a picture of a just Universe, after all is said and done.

There's more in this level of consciousness that we don't know than we do know. Ultimately, we don't really know for sure what we know and what we don't know. But again, maybe that monk knows a thing or two that just can't be explained through language. In this context, what's happening to the planet today might make sense from a wholly different perspective. Certain Eastern mythologies talk of cycles of creation and destruction that happen every hundreds of thousands of years. There are many who dwell in this level of consciousness who refuse to visit the lower levels. This level is more fascinating and attractive to certain people. I wish them the best.

So here's how it looks.

Again, no level is inferior or superior to another. For one reason or another, we're drawn to one or more levels more than the others. It's up to us to determine why we dwell where we dwell, if we care to. Personally, these days anyway (and this might change in the future), I find myself spending a lot more time at the lowest level than in any other level, the level that deals with the daily events, primary historical trends, the pain and suffering of the animals and those that are close to the land, the defilement of the planet, etc., in other words, all the creation that I can see, hear and touch in my daily life.

This isn't even a choice that I make consciously. Sometimes, when it gets too distressing, or in prolonged moments of quiet solitude, I wander into other levels of consciousness. But there's something about what I see going on around me that draws me again and again to this level. I can't help but notice the disparity, the inequality, the injustice, the horror, the apathy, the plunder, the violence, and the web of lies and propaganda that attempt to hide it all away from plain sight.

Let's consider the sub-classifications that are pertinent to this level again:

1. Geographical/Ethnic/Racial (Westerners and the rest, Global North and Global South)
2. Technological (First World and Third World, developed countries and developing countries)
3. Cultural (Civilized people and indigenous/tribal people)
4. Generational (Older generations and younger generations, the living and the yet to be born)
5. Education (Educated professionals and the rest)
6. Class (1% and 99%, the wealthy elites and the rest)

The self-made 1%, many of whom are helplessly sociopathic take the most blame for it's they who construct and maintain the social arrangements for the rest of us to live by. But in their quest for control, they are assisted by the educated professionals (who the elites carefully discipline through years of schooling and college) who serve capital directly and indirectly. I belonged to this sub-group of professionals who unwittingly participate in a system that takes from the people who live close to the land and gives to those who live away from it. I also belong to the Civilized sub-group that benefits materially from the oppression it metes out to the indigenous and tribal peoples of the world, occupying their lands, strip mining them, blasting their mountain tops, "schooling" their children, alienating them from their subsistence cultures, driving them into cities and exploiting them in many other ways, economically, socially and religiously. I also belong to that generation that despite all its Internet savvy, is grossly misinformed and takes its privilege for granted, as if it has nothing to do with the future plight of the generations that are yet to come. I belong to that small sub-grouping of humanity that has made the leap from a third world country to a first world country, expanding my resource and carbon footprint some 20-fold in the process and benefiting from the continuing oppression of my countrymen. I will let you speak for yourself.

And no, I do not consider myself a self-loathing, guilt-ridden deer in the headlights. It behooves me to understand my situation and put it in context in a deliberate manner. It's the first step on my spiritual path. Most of us are simultaneously both the oppressors and the oppressed. We're not individuals as we like to think but porous bits of consciousnesses that are constantly influenced by the dominant culture around us. It is essential for me to understand how I am connected to the rest of the creation that I see around me and to assess how my actions impact and are impacted by it. I will let you speak for yourself.

Wester, over at NBL, has taken it upon himself to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", and I, like many others, find myself in agreement with his stance. Consider this:

And this from another commenter:

"It is my firm opinion that America and the wealthier peoples of the planet have devolved into a state of proto-cannibalism. They prey on the poor and the weak, not eating their flesh directly, but are the cause of their starving and wasting away. To grow fat while causing the death of others is cannibalism, pure and simple!"

Well, that doesn't feel so good, does it? See if this softens it up a bit:

So, whodunnit? Me. Yes, I'm a hypocrite too! I'll let you speak for yourself.

Until I yank myself out of the mainstream, the dominant paradigm, I will try to live with gratitude. Every time I drive, I will try to remember the men who risked their lives extracting the oil and the truck driver who transported it to the gas station. I will also remember the holes we humans have sunk into the living Earth in our thirst for cheap energy. Every time I use my cell phone, I will try to remember the boys in Africa who mined coltan with their bare hands and got it past a warlord to feed my addiction to Technology. Every time I eat, I will remember that I know nothing about how my food is grown and try to be grateful to the underpaid, seasonal "illegal aliens" who work the fields of Central California.

Like Wester, I dwell in this level of consciousness today. I will let you speak for yourself.