It’s Earth Day 2015, and leading scientists are urgently proposing keeping 75% of fossil fuels in the ground. There’s a macabre symmetry to that, since other scientists predict that by the end of this century 75% of animal species presently on earth will be extinct at the hand of man.
Not since the Fifth Extinction, when a six-mile wide asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, has the earth been more imperiled. Humankind, a sentient species that gave itself the double misnomer Homo sapiens sapiens (wise wise man), is bringing about the Sixth Extinction.
A learned professor in India wrote and said, “It seems to me that evolution went in the ‘wrong’ direction when man evolved from the ape.”
To my mind, this conclusion, as accurate as it is in describing the overall arc of human history, misses the mark by not asking the profound question that man’s destructiveness raises.
Given that all life on earth evolved in a seamless, interrelated order, unfolding from simple one-celled organisms to creatures with complex brains (the human brain being the most complex of all), how could life suddenly evolve a creature with a brain that works in opposition to the order of nature, and is increasingly destructive of that order?
The very fact that a sentient (that is, conscious that it’s conscious) species has the power to bring about a mass extinction means only one of two things to my mind. The first possibility is that the mechanistic and probabilistic folks are right, and the emergence of so-called intelligent life is a meaningless fluke.
In that view man’s domination and decimation of the earth would have no significance to the evolution of life and the terrestrial order, because there is no natural order, just random activity.
The very fact that a sentient species emerged that operates in contradiction to the processes of life that gave rise to it poses a second possibility, that something deeper is going on with the evolution of symbolic thought, which only creatures possessing it can resolve.
The first view is by far the prevalent one currently, though it’s spiritually and intellectually unsatisfying in the extreme. Anyone who has watched a spectacular sunset, or marveled at the interwoven tapestry of animals and plants in an untrammeled place, has had a direct experience of the awe-inspiring beauty and order of the earth as a whole.
It’s irrational that evolution would produce such a planet, and then produce a creature that would, in a few short centuries, tear it to shreds, without being able to understand and resolve the contradiction. Indeed, there’s a growing evolutionary pressure to resolve the contradiction that the evolution of conscious thought has wrought, so that we stop dividing ourselves and fragmenting nature, and live in minimal harmony with the earth.
Of course there are have been supervolcanoes that have wiped out continents, earthquakes that have killed hundreds of thousands of people, asteroids that have plunged the entire planet into a long dark winter.
These natural catastrophes, however destructive of an ecosystem or of human life, are part of an overall cycle of creation and destruction, intrinsic not only to the earth but also to the universe as a whole.
Only man, as far as we know at present, operates according to a different principle—the conscious separation and manipulation of any and all animals, plants and minerals, which our minds turn into things to be extracted and exploited for the benefit of one species, indeed the wealth of the few in a perverse Darwinian struggle.
Evolution conferred a tremendously powerful adaptive strategy upon us, and a very urgent necessity for humankind to begin to live up to the name it gave itself. Clearly, if we cannot awaken wisdom within ourselves, we will completely plunder this beautiful planet.
What is the root of man’s disorder, which needs to be adequately addressed within every person that still gives a damn? My friend in India puts it this way: “The deadly combination of enhanced memory, language, imagination and thinking when coupled with the instinct of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain generates the ego process in humans, which in turn is the root cause of all disorder.”
That’s true, but if “evolution went in the wrong direction with man” there is nothing we can do.
Evolution does not have inherent meaning, but nature does have inherent order. Man, the most powerful creature ever to evolve on earth, has operated in increasing opposition to that order.
The evolution of the human brain gave us the capability “to remove and make ready for use” (the root meaning of the word separation) to the point of totally fragmenting nature and alienating ourselves from nature. But it also gave us the capacity to perceive beauty, stand in wonder at the mystery of life, and awaken insight and understanding in ourselves.
In other words, the evolution of conscious thought also carried with it a virtually untapped inward, spiritual potential.
Our survival now depends on awakening the latent capacity for self-knowing within each person whose heart still beats with even the faintest sympathy and synchronicity with the earth.