“Because we have created our own processed environment of roads, cars, industry, buildings, malls, homes; because we live in a world designed by capitalism, a world of incessant advertising, sales and the desperate, frantic pursuit of material things; we rarely, if ever, experience an intimate connection with the natural world we are hoping to save.”
It’s both funny and sad that as soon as people leave their familiar comfort zone, when they are alone, say at a coffee shop or waiting in line for a bus, they automatically, almost reactively, reach for the cell phone to call or text someone who will reconnect them with the safe and familiar world from which they have momentarily wandered away. The average persons’ lack of ability, or willingness, to encounter an unknown situation or territory reveals their lack of tolerance for being alone, as well as their lack of curiosity or propensity to simply notice and appreciate their surroundings – as if their bodily senses had been nullified into a potential danger zone in which their very stability of self would quickly fragment should they let go a little, observe and potentially interact with the unfolding world around them. Yes, we’ve learned to live in little bubbles of safety which cut us off from our fellow-humans – we no longer live in the actual world, but in our own self-created worlds, via the latest form of technology.
I suspect that our modern sense of security has been entrained to operate in collusion with these technological devices that have slyly entrapped our minds even as they have offered us incredible new possibilities. Our reliance on new and ever-advancing technologies, such as the mobile phone – which in a few short years has also become a mobile photo album, mobile internet, camera, video machine and multi-media entertainment center – has developed into quite a habit, an unconscious addiction that is shaping the very nature of our personalities, both personal and collective, and even, God forbid, our souls. What need have we, the general public, for an imagination when so many limitlessly stimulating devices are available in our world? Who needs an inner world at all when the outer world of our own creations has become so evocative, so seducing, so ever-demanding, evasive and totalitarian? We are continually inundated with advertisements and societal pressures to acquire new technological distractions and modes of external stimulus. Living under such conditions, how is it possible for us to maintain or cultivate much of an inner world, or a soul, whatsoever?
The underlying message of our media is commercial; in enforcing the demands of commerce upon us, we are defined primarily as consumers, persuaded not to think for ourselves, but to join in the latest collective frenzy of technological adventures that continually reinterpret the purpose of our lives. This never ending flood of media proclamations, while appearing as a material liberation, serves as a psychological oppression of the individual soul. Capitalism sells new versions of reality that may have nothing to do with one’s own true needs or sensibilities. However, it is the advertisers’ job to convince us otherwise. So far they are doing a pretty good job!
The natural world, the earth itself; the air, the trees, the vast realms of animals, plants, oceans, deserts and mountains are increasingly losing meaning and value in the self-hypnotized, narcissistic lives of mechanized human beings. Although it is certainly an abomination of our essential heritage, we are ever-entrained to focus less and less on the natural world in which we live, and of which we are but one aspect – lest we forget – and more and more to focus on the world as fashioned through the minds and hands of men. It’s sad indeed when we ignore what is right before our eyes, i.e. our actual surrounding environment, and instead remain culled to a collective techno-vision of the ideal man-made life. It’s also sad when we ignore those human beings who are standing right in front of us because we’d prefer to text or talk with someone miles away, when we must remain overly-attached to those we know because we’ve lost our human capacity for interrelationship with our expanded world of fellow citizens who we now dismiss as strangers. Our advance in technology has engendered a compensating inversion in our capacity for compassion and community – which is to say, the further we develop our technology, the less we appear to maintain the qualities of a loving, caring and attentive human society.
Being aware in the mystery of the present moment, tolerating the unknown, and tolerating states of non-stimulation is the first phase in moving towards a more attuned state of openness and potential interaction with the actual, non-virtual, world around us. However, we have been so conditioned by a perpetual bombardment of electronic stimuli – radio, television, computers, video games, mobile phones/entertainment centers, etc – that it has become difficult, albeit unappealing, for us to re-focus our attention on our actual physical, natural environment. A parallel outcome of our desensitization to the physical, natural world in which we live, is the subsequent degradation of our ecology, which entails our lack of emphasis or awareness on its living/breathing/fragile/organic nature. The danger of this, as many of us recognize, is potentially catastrophic; as we create and live in an increasingly human-made and virtual reality – wherein we believe we are safer, happier, more satisfied, etc – we also increasingly ignore the actual and natural reality in which we are encompassed, and risk the extinction of the environment through the excessive pollution, raiding and deforestation of the planet that we have witnessed since the rise of the industrial-technological age.
The degradation of the natural world is problematic in many ways. Firstly, it appears to be morally and ethically wrong – at least to those of us whose ethics and morals outweigh our imperialistic drives – to destructively impact the earth, its ecosystems, i.e. rivers, oceans and forests, as well as animals, plants, trees, etc. One might ask, “What right have we humans to destroy the earth, simply for our own benefit? Is this not selfish and unnecessary?” Many of us have asked this question, though it seems that the overall progress of our technologically based capitalism remains unwilling to curtail its invasions and usurpations of nature, or to halt its path of destruction for the sake of morals or ethics. Where the dollar bill is concerned, questions of right and wrong become thin and ineffectual, nearly meaningless.
Secondly, the degradation of the natural environment is increasingly affecting the balance of the planet itself, which in turn contaminates our own quality of life. For a thorough overview of how human technology is damaging the planet, one has only to search through a plethora of books, TV specials, or movies on this topic (i.e. “An Inconvenient Truth”, by Al Gore). I will here mention only a few ways in which planetary degradation affects human life. In a recent trip to Lima, Peru I learned that Peruvians predominantly drive older used cars, from the 80s or 70s, which emit high levels of visible exhaust fumes making the air both toxic and putrid to breathe. Driving around town there is often no escape from these fumes which pour out of the car just in front of you. The situation is just as bad in many other developing “third world” countries around the globe. Even here in the United States, where we have increasingly stricter emissions controls on our vehicles, the air quality in some cities is very poor, and on certain days people are advised to avoid going “out of doors,” or allowing their children to play outside at all. In many countries, air pollution is severe and debilitating, and only getting worse. In addition to increasing the risk of respiratory disease, the eroding of the ozone layer has also increased the risk of skin cancer, and it’s become customary to slather on gobs of sunscreen lotion before going outside on a sunny day for any length of time. Industrial pollution has made our water supplies dirty, so they are zapped with chlorine, making our water not really enjoyable, or many would say, healthy to drink. As for our food, as genetic engineering takes hold, what we eat becomes increasingly tasteless and less nutritious. Although these are only a very few examples of the many problems made by technology, there is no denying that the degradation of the natural world leads to our own degradation.
The third major impact of the degradation of nature is spiritual. As we become less attuned to the world of nature, which is gradually breaking down, our inherent connection to the earth dissipates. We become less the “caretakers of the earth,” or participants in Her splendor of glory, and moreover the survivors of a man-made holocaust inflicted upon nature. We rationalize our disconnect from nature – those of us who are aware of it – with the heralding of a new age of technological transcendence. In comparison with all our own amazing discoveries, inventions and developments, we cannot believe that the earth is all that important. How can a handful of dirt compare to the glory of an I-phone? Our attitudes reveal a consensual belief that we are superior to and above the earth – as also evidenced by our scientific investigations into creating hospitable conditions on other planets, as well as expanded, city-size space stations in which we could begin to populate the greater universe, where we would, even more so, live in human-made, virtual reality realms. The bigger question is whether our spirits can survive – or thrive – in states of stark disconnection from the earth, our origin and planetary source of being…
This sort of fantastic and futuristic evolution is in line with our reigning religion of Christianity, in which our sinful earthbound lives are to be potentially transformed through belief in Christ, when, upon the moment of our death, we are to ascend high into the heavens, into a cloud-like dimension above and beyond all the messy entanglements of this planet earth. With such a cosmo-vision, such a context of the goal of life, it’s no wonder the sanctity of the earth has lost its power to impel our actions. It seems only the portended threat of our own extinction will suffice to encourage us to behave differently. For if we are only to inhabit this earth for such a brief span of time – until our transcendence into a perfect eternity in another dimension – then what’s the big deal if we just abuse Her until we’re gone, because in the grand scheme of things She doesn’t matter much anyways. Christianity also teaches that, of all the creatures and life-forms upon this planet, only human beings have souls “that can be saved,” and thus make the transmigration beyond a mortal death into an immortal and eternal after-life. Since, in the Christian view, nothing else upon this planet has a soul, or is capable of redemption, we justify our own paramount importance, and it becomes completely plausible to view all things as merely our own resources. In this way, we lose a perspective of value and veneration for the natural world around us while worshipping our own agendas.
It becomes evident that many areas of our lives – our economy, our technology and industry, our religion, and our general philosophy of living – depict our own implicit superiority complex over the natural world of creation. And yet, by and by, we get glimpses of the truth that it is impossible for humanity to become superior to nature, because we are really an intrinsic part of the earth which we seek to dominate and control. In actuality, the world of nature is indeed superior to humankind, as we are merely one aspect of its grand panorama. However, we continue to ignore our interconnectedness with nature, our true identity as an outgrowth or expression of nature, and behave as if we have the right and ability to continue dominating the earth without eventually destroying ourselves. But “what goes around comes around,” and sooner or later you get what you give, or to put it in technological terms: you “input” what you “output.”
Why have we continued on in this, less than intelligent, manner? You could say that we modern-day humans are simply dumb and indifferent, which is partially true from a holistic perspective. But beneath that we are really out of control, so fascinated by our own invented civilization that we fail to recognize the greater organic and historical context in which we live. Over the past 500 years or so, the peoples of Europe have invaded, conquered, colonized and converted virtually every other continent, people and culture upon the planet – we’re currently working steadfast on the Middle East – with our imperialistic inquisitions, our Christianity and our capitalism. In the words of Martin Prechtel, author of Secrets Of The Talking Jaguar, and an initiate of the Mayan shamanic mysteries:
Over the last two or three centuries, a heartless culture-crushing mentality has incremented its progress on the earth, devouring all peoples, nature, imagination, and spiritual knowledge. Like a big mechanized slug, it has left behind a flat, homogenized steak of civilization wherever it passed. Every human on this earth – African, Asian, European, Islanders, or from the Americas – has ancestors who at some point in their history had their stories, rituals, ingenuity, language and lifeways taken away, enslaved, banned, exploited, twisted or destroyed by this force.
Our modern technological way of life is a vast and dramatic change from the vastly more earth-friendly modes of human existence that preceded this rapid “global development” for thousands of years. It is a sad and unpopular fact that, as Western civilization has progressed, countless other civilizations have regressed, have indeed been ravaged and undone by the coercion of our own ideas and powers upon them. To this day, we either disregard their suffering and continue on our own path to global domination, or we view them through the eyes of sympathetic charity, regarding ourselves, our own culture, as the superior and dominant people who will now help, aide and assist these less fortunate people – whom we devastated in the first place – to acquire the modes of our own elevated survival and sustenance.
The deceptive hypocrisy of our impact upon, and subsequent response to, “third world” countries is confounded by our own apparent lack of responsibility for our actions, both past and present, that debilitate these people. For instance, in the countries of Central & South America, our oil production facilities lead to massive destruction of both the land and the lives of the indigenous peoples. In the mid 1990’s, author Joe Kane documented the horrific impacts of corporate oil companies upon native cultures and the pristine Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador in his superbly written book, Savages. In the book, Kane describes the struggle of one of the last remaining indigenous tribes – the Huaorani – who consider themselves to have not been conquered by modern Western culture, against the impending invasion of corporate oil. Referencing his colleague Judith Kimerling from her book Amazon Crude, Kane states: “In 1967 Texaco discovered commercial oil in the Oriente [the Ecuadorian rainforest]. In 1972 it completed a 312-mile pipeline from the Oriente to Ecuador’s Pacific coast.” From its inception until just 1989, “the Texaco pipeline had ruptured at least twenty seven times, spilling 16.8 million gallons of raw crude … most of it into the Oriente’s delicate web of rivers, creeks and lagoons.” As a witness himself to a colossal oil spill into the native Ecuadorian rainforest, Kane writes, “While I was in Tonampare a valve in an oil well near the Napo broke, or was left open, and for two days and a night raw crude streamed into the river – at least 21,000 gallons and perhaps as many as 80,000, creating a slick that stretched from bank to bank for forty miles.” Due to this oil spill, a state of emergency was declared downstream in both Peru and Brazil, although, according to Kane, the oil company responsible for the spill disregarded the incident and did nothing to improve the situation. While in Ecuador, Kane visited various Huaorani communities and received further firsthand reports of extensive and extreme contamination, via oil spills, of their water supplies resulting in unruly health epidemics, severe illnesses and deaths.
However, the problems of oil drilling extend beyond the awful impacts upon Huaorani and Indian health in general, as the settlements made by the oil companies result in drastic disruption, deviation and desecration of traditional Indian culture. It is a complicated process, because the imperialistic thrust of big oil coincides with all sorts of modern Western byproducts including colonization, conversion to Christianity, and ‘re-education’ of native Indians – in which “no element of Huaorani culture was allowed to enter the curriculum.” This enforced process of acculturation to Western ways results in the obliteration of the value, the history, and the very existence of traditional culture for all Indians affected. During the months that Kane spent roaming through Ecuador, mainly with the Huaorani tribe, he experienced the traditional self-sufficient way of life that the Huaorani – as well as many other indigenous South American tribes – have lived for millennia. After visiting colonized areas as well, he reports that Indians who have succumbed to a conversion to Western ways appear much worse off than those who have held to their traditional ways. Of these colonized Huaorani, Kane writes “the people were dependent on goods brought in from outside, and many of them had become wage slaves to a culture they could never hope to be truly a part of – to a culture that, in fact, considered them little more than animals.” The convergence of the diverse aspects of capitalism, colonization and conversion to Western ways and Christianity upon the various Indian tribes who are impacted all amount to ethnocide. The fact that such corruption – initiated by Western imperialistic drives based on capitalistic gains – is still going on, only reveals that we have not progressed very far, at least globally speaking, in our path to becoming a more humane society.
But the typical modern world citizen doesn’t care about any of this and has very little knowledge of the historical European conquests that have transformed spiritually and functionally intact cultures into materially indigent, chaotic and violent third world countries. Most of us are more or less plodding along our own enlightened paths of self-serving materialism. When we do give any consideration to cultures of a lesser material status, we judge and compare their “shabby” way of life to ours, in which running water, electricity, cars, central heating, air conditioning and 24 hour grocery stores are essential. We devalue their modes of living through our own ignorance and ingrained sense of superiority, as we seek to save them, not by helping them to regain their own valued way of life, but by converting them to ours – which only reinforces our own paradigm of economic, technological and religious superiority.
We frequently fail to realize that not every human being on this planet wants or needs to be hooked into the wave of technological progress with which we are so completely mesmerized. Not only does our enchantment with technology threaten our humanity, our society, and our planet, it also – through our continued pressures upon non-Western, non-technologically-based cultures to convert to the ways of the modern Western world – threatens to destroy the few remaining earth-based, indigenous peoples on this planet who would rather not be bothered by us or our materialistic ways. Do we really need to continue to conquer the earth with our capitalism until there is a 7-11 and McDonalds in every corner of the world? Until there are freeways chomping through every area of pristine land? Until all the forests have been chopped down and transformed into urban and industrial sprawl? Can’t we contain ourselves with a little respect for the rest of the world? There are still people on this planet who enjoy living in the organic environment of nature, where electricity, motor vehicles, cells phones and I-pods aren’t a necessary aspect of life. They are able to survive, and thrive, quite well without all the modern accoutrements of modern life that we so desire, and many of them would like to remain as they are. And yet our attitude reveals an inner conviction that we have discovered “the way of the future” and must deliver this message in force to the rest of the world.
Rather than continuing on our present course of a global takeover, we need to ask ourselves what we can learn from non-Westernized cultures that still live in ancient and earth-honoring ways, cultures that we tend to brutalize and greedily destroy. We need to learn to interact with these other cultures respectfully and humanely, allowing them their own way of life and sustenance upon this planet without interfering and coercing our interests and values upon them. Not everyone needs to drive a car on a freeway, to work in an office and live in a house in the city – if the 7,000,000,000 human beings now alive on the planet lived like this, our environmental devastation would likely expand exponentially. To expect a global conversion of all peoples in all places into an assimilation of our unique modern, technological way of life is stupid, insane and supremely unreasonable. However, like a big, proud, arrogant peacock strutting itself all over the planet, the United States continues making moves to engulf the globe with the gluttony of our own capitalistic enterprises, all the while disregarding and disrupting the dignity of other countries, cultures and peoples.
Reflecting upon the impact of our very recent civilization upon other, much older, traditional and earth-based civilizations, as well as the planet itself, we should notice and consider the damages we have done, the violences we have perpetrated, and the miseries we have created … We need to move beyond the Christian fantasy that we are a completely good and benign presence on the planet, that we are somehow “God’s chosen people” with a free pass to do whatever we want regardless of the consequences. We should think about how we can be less ego-centric, and seek to balance our technological advances with tending to the well-being of the earth, other cultures and one another. We should consider how to create more harmony in the world, and a little less profit.
Indeed, many individuals and organizations are becoming increasingly devoted to a greater consciousness of how to live in ways that are “earth friendly.” The overall pro-environmental movements are coming to be known as “green” movements, and they provide good and necessary developments toward a future in which humans could be of greater benefit than detriment to the planet. However, very much work and change remains to be done in this area. One problem inherent with these movements is that when we think about “saving the planet,” or “saving the polar bears,” we are still thinking abstractly. In truth, the planet was doing just fine before the advent of modern industry and technological society. “Save the planet!” really means “Stop the humans from destroying the planet!” because we are only saving the planet from ourselves. Living our urban, fast-paced and machine-based lives, very few of us have time, energy or ability to keep gardens, raise livestock, hunt for our sustenance or otherwise live in any kind of experiential symbiosis with the planet. We live in suburban and citified concrete jungles where the animals have become cars, and the trees and forests are now banks, department stores and high rise apartment complexes. Because we have created our own processed environment of roads, cars, industry, buildings, malls, homes: an endless “urban sprawl” that houses an endless supply of manmade things; because we live in a world designed by capitalism, a world of incessant advertising, sales and the desperate, frantic pursuit of material things – of production and products – a world molded and defined by television, radio and the chronic bombardment of salesmen; we rarely, if ever, experience an intimate connection with the natural world, with “the planet” we are hoping to save.
Sure we can learn all about the planet, discovering the marvels of the earth in science magazines or through viewing compelling video footage of nature, we can learn all about the planet in schools, in laboratories or other second hand means, but until we have a sustained, direct encounter with the earth and nature itself, how can we truly know it, and what will it ever really mean to us? And how few of us will ever accomplish this? Indeed, as it now stands our “civilization” is composed of a people, and a culture, that have moved out of nature into man-created worlds based upon the destruction of nature … and they call this evolution.
Ultimately, it’s up to us to change the story, to write a new script, to realize who we are, what we have become, and to simply wake up to the realization of how we want our lives, and the life of our entire planet, to unfold … So think about it, and let your thoughts permeate all that you do, for the existence of yourself and every other being around you may depend upon it.
Salvatore Folisi is a freelance writer and owner of Xander Stone, Ink - a creative writing and editing company which provides services such as ghostwriting, website content, and academic research. His previous publications include Daimon: A Journey of Poems, as well as articles in the genre of philosophy, cultural psychology, and spirituality which have appeared in Adbusters Magazine, Vision Magazine, and various online journals. Salvatore is currently completing his first full-length endeavor, Eros Over Logos: Eruptions in the Fabric of Consensual Reality. Learn more about his love of writing at xanderstone.org and contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.