Did indigenous people, living before the Agricultural Revolution, face the same existential alienation from the earth that we do in the scientific-computer age?
The question goes to the heart of the human crisis in the present, since understanding the roots of our sense of separateness from nature is essential to ending it and living in imperfect harmony with the earth, and ourselves.
Man is bringing about the Sixth Extinction, and will wipe out half the animal and plant species on earth by the end of the century if we don’t change our basic course now. It’s crucial that we see what went wrong, and how it has grown into the overwhelming darkness that rules human consciousness at present.
A good working definition of sentience is a species with the capacity to be aware that it is aware. As such, humans are almost certainly the only sentient species on earth. The very fact that the only sentient species is bringing about a mass extinction poses the deepest questions about our place on this planet, and evolution itself.
Does man’s seeming separateness mean, as technophiles who worship thought and its creations believe, that only random, purposeless evolution is happening on earth and in the universe, and that man is indeed the measure of all things?
Or does it mean that something far subtler is going on with the evolution of so-called higher thought? Since thought defines us as a species, and humans are destroying the earth, it is up to us to understand thought within ourselves and thereby keep it in its rightful place.
The outrage in America and around the world over the killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe, Cecil, indicates that people are beginning to value the magnificent animals of Africa that are left, even as poaching continues to decimate populations.
Whether that translates into self-examination in enough of us as individuals, given that each person is a microcosm of the human race, or just more scapegoating of grinning fools like the dentist in Minnesota who shot Cecil, remains to be seen.
Our relationship to nature determines our relationship to everyone and everything. What remains of the wild earth, and the peoples who lived and still live close to untrammeled nature, must be preserved if humanity is to save itself. That will require a much deeper change than any political accord in Paris at the climate conference in December.
Nor will it come from pundits who have no insight, jaded hacks who put down giving primary attention to the inward source of human disorder as ‘navel gazing.’ Unable to look within themselves, they can do nothing but externalize, and thereby add to the fragmentation of the earth and destruction of the human spirit.
Aficionados of the digital age believe man’s divorce from nature is nearly complete, and that humans will engineer our own evolution and merge with our machines. They describe and prescribe hell, and try to sell it as heaven.
All peoples were once indigenous peoples. Every nation and group that exists grew out of a background of tens of thousands of years of unrecorded hunting-gathering history.
Indigenous people lived embedded in nature. Those that retain their lands and cultures more or less intact still do. They were and are reminded every day that humans are not actually separate from nature, but arose from and depend on the earth, as all creatures do.
Coherent and cohesive myths, rituals, ceremonies and traditions not only anchored indigenous people; they placed geographically distinct peoples in the context of their lands and taught each generation how to live in harmony with it.
That is not to romanticize indigenous people and times. Conflict, like alienation, was and is a fact of human life, both within the clan and with other clans. Whatever rough accord we humans had with nature is now gone however, and there is no way back.
So what is the way ahead? We have left the clan and tribe far behind physically, but remain psychologically tribal. ‘Searching for my tribe’ has become a sad refrain of many disconnected individuals in the West.
The inherent tendency of thought toward alienation and fragmentation is growing exponentially. The solution is inward, not outward, despite the idiotic charge of navel gazing by empty idealists on the left, and their brain-dead counterparts on the right.
Psychological separation is not a given. It does not need to suffocate the spirit. But one has to learn how to observe and delete the detritus of tribalism that’s choking the human spirit, destroying the mind and heart as certainly as man is decimating the earth.
At the end of his remarks today on tougher carbon regulations to avert climate catastrophe, President Obama said, “We only have one planet. There is no plan B.”
Then, as he left the podium, he uttered the obligatory, “God bless the United States of America,” thereby contradicting and undercutting himself.
Nations are glorified tribes. The United States of America no longer psychologically exists. The failing European Union no longer psychologically exists, nor any nation or federation.
Only humanity remains now. We have to face it, feel it, and act accordingly.