Over the last 200 years the greatest danger to our global well-being and long-term survival has come from the decoupling of our psychological, spiritual and emotional feedback system from the physical, material world that we affect – resulting in us…
Over the last 200 years the greatest danger to our global well-being and long-term survival has come from the decoupling of our psychological, spiritual and emotional feedback system from the physical, material world that we affect – resulting in us rarely seeing the end results of any of our choices; and rarely feeling the effects we have on others.
Today we can consume oil without seeing the burning tar pits of the Ecuadorian Amazon and the damage they do to the entire web of life; we can sit in armchairs bemoaning the blacks or the hispanics and their propensity to crime, without ever having to bare witness to the terrifying realities of being a teenager in juvenile detention (or being wetbacks crossing the border under the dominating gaze of unscrupulous traffickers); and we can pop into H&M for a new party frock without having to hear the sobs of the young Bangladeshi girls as they walk back to the slums after a 12 hour day. This decoupling process has been aided and abetted by technology – which has created vast distances of time and space between our eyes and ears… and the faces and utterances of those we impact in a globalized world.
The evolutionary system invented by Nature – unfettered by technology – works very well. At the individual, psychological level, children learn by experimenting, by play – things that don’t feel good (like burnt fingers from hobs, kicking friends and being kicked back etc) they stop doing pretty quickly. The same happens at the tribal level: most groups soon realise that if they if they don’t leave land fallow, the harvest is less abundant; if they literally ‘sh*t in their own back yard’ it causes disease and death pretty quickly; and if they over-hunt an area they will soon have to move their village or die.
Our minds were built to learn from the feedback loops of direct experience, including that of personal spiritual revelation, not that mitigated by priests and other power-brokers. Human beings thrive through presence.
But when we are distanced from ‘real’ reality (as opposed to reality television) – mediated by and large through telephones, faxes, TVs, 4-stroke engines and more – we lose the ability to fully witness the suffering of other people and the planet. This alone has been catastrophic for many. Just think of the immense number of living, breathing, thinking, loving, laughing individuals who have been murdered in the Gulags and Genocides of the last 100 years – because they ticked (or failed to tick) boxes on a page – and you start to see how dangerous abstraction is.
It is little wonder that Jean-Paul Sartre, when discussing the nature of evil stated that it is “the product of the ability of humans to make abstract that which is concrete.”
But technology has led us down an even more dangerous path. During the Enlightenment, the scientists modeled the world using the predictive powers of psychics – borrowing techniques so valuable for studying electromagnetism or light waves (that is until quantum mechanics was discovered of course) and bringing them to bare on the entire living universe. This subjected all of life to the alienation and abstraction brought about when a thinking, living being is made into the object of study by an economist, psychologist or anthropologist who has grandiose dreams of truly mirroring (read: controlling) nature. As it rose to prominence, science also became fetishized as a replacement for the spurious dictates of the popes and priests with their hierarchical religious instructions. Yet as they lost credence, so too did the time-honored, local, folk – and often Shamanic – techniques for healing suffering souls and sick communities that the spiritual traditions kept alive. Now so many of us have impoverished access to relevant and responsive ‘wisdom’ tools, that – free from dogma – have been designed over millennia to teach us compassion, empathy, morality and the like.
Science, and its offspring technology, create – when not balanced by the enchanted, the emotional, the mystical – the materialism, nationalism, fascism, atheism and consumerism that have scarred our world.
Today, in an abstracted globalized economy where numbers are substituted for feelings, emotions, expressions (think GDP, NASDAQ, unemployment figures, GPA, SATS, consumer confidence, and the almost blind pursuit of outcomes by government agencies and not-for-profits) the human, the real, the raw disappears. Then our hearts no longer feel the pain of the planet as it suffers; and then we can no longer hear the cries of the starving children whose parents were cast into poverty through our choice of chocolate bar.
The only way to get past this impasse is – as ever – with our hearts and minds expanding to become more conscious compassionate; and not with either angry social activism nor optimistic capitalist innovation. Doing stuff ‘out there’ never solves the root causes of our problems. That’s why a trillion dollars of aid to Africa has not disappeared the content’s problems (and many believe it has made them worse).
It is only when we feel every drop of waste that is not being recycled on our own street weigh heavy on our shoulders; when every budget chicken breast we pains our stomach as we experience the trauma it felt; when every cheap Wal-Mart T-shirt feels like it is flailing our backs; and every child’s cry for help generates anguish in our soul… that we will start to make decisions about politics, the environment, our children’s education, and even our holidays that will work for the majority of the population and species; and not the very small minority.
The problem is it may be too late by then. Feedback loops give us information – by definition – after the event. If we as a race haven’t yet cottoned on to rampant social inequality, the enslavement of the developing world and climate change by then it will probably only be direct experience – not just wet Julys but death, disease and disaster – that will stop us guzzling oil and gushing out carbon.
But there is a powerful glimmer of hope. In a definitive moment of irony it may well be technology – that has contributed so much to our atomized, materialistic and abstracted lives – that will be coming to our rescue. As we use the net, mobile phones, iphones and Blackberrys to connect with more people, in more places, we start to feel and know their lives; we start to regain direct experience of others… but this time on a scale never seen before.
So the question arises: Has the Nature – in all her wisdom – evolved a solution to our woes that is part of the very system that has so effectively enslaved us? Has she caused the luscious fruit of global connectivity to blossom from the wizened tree of industrial – and military – technology? As Emerson reminded us: “Nature conspires with spirit to emancipate us.” Perhaps the collaborative age, driven by social media and the web, was an inevitable reaction of nature to the damage done by a disenchanted, de-humanized technology – just as the dock leaf always grows near the nettles.
But our experience of life is a co-creation between us and Nature. There is a role that we must play to harness the emerging age of networks; a role that demands we develop our capacities to empathize, connect and collaborate like never before.
For centuries the Shamens of the world have been using botanical sacraments to ‘dialogue’ with Nature in this way – to create a local network with the natural world. Through opening the doors of perception by using Nature herself, we can truly connect with Her. It seems logical. After all, we have started to take more and more seriously the design strategies found in Nature, most recently in the much-lauded world of ‘biomimicry’ (right now hundreds of companies, from BigPharma to BigSneaker, are developing innovations based on nature’s designs). Evolution has been a thorough ‘wind-tunnel’ for the species that have made it to this moment, providing designs that are eminently fit-for-purpose.
However the Shamanic root to wisdom has been suppressed for thousands of years – still seen today as the refuge of psychedelic scoundrels and lost-generation hippies – rather than a path to psychological wellbeing and ecological harmony. This reactionary angst has been traced, by some Gnostic groups, to the opinion of the Old Testament that the snake that gave us ‘the apple’ [read: mushrooms, cacti, iboga etc.] was evil incarnate for giving us direct experience of our reality as an intrinsic (and much loved) part of the Oneness or God – something that the priests – whether scientist or theologian – like to mediate for us on our behalf.
Abstraction through numbers or direct shamanic experience – which is the true cause of suffering?
Irrespective of your Shamanic predilections, we can all do something today to bring about a planet-ready consciousness. Through deep contemplation or mindfulness meditation we can expand the circle of things we think of as ‘friends’ – and therefore the things we want to protect.
Love – for ourselves and our family… then our tribe, our race, our species, all species, rivers and oceans, rocks and mountains, stars and comets – is the only thing that can change the world into the one so many of us are aching to see, touch and feel. And the Net can help us cultivate this form of Love by connecting us in new and profound ways with others and the Other.
As we know, the feeling (emotional, spiritual) as well as the thinking (rational, scientific) capacities of the human being must be in balance for a fully realized potential. All that emotion, drama and pathos is not an obstacle to rational thought – but the perfect foil for it. Likewise, the net is not a threat to the ‘efficiency’ of the massively institutionalized, capitalistic, hierarchical economy – but perhaps the perfect antidote to it.
So love of other people, other species and our lived environment – whether mediated through servers and wifi connections or felt face-to-face – is the only way to create lasting political or ecological transformation. And it always will be.