Sustainability and Evolution

Sustainability – in the sense of the continuation and preservation of what is – is not a realistic long-term option…

Thomas Lombardo in Future Consciousness

It’s a bit of a shock to realise that Lombardo is probably right.

Psychologically, evolution is the key to understanding this. We seek not to go back to some previous situation, but to evolve and grow to a new, transformed level, where we have learned from the past to address the challenges of the present new situation.

Evolution does not demand that we abandon technology and go back to feudal times, that we abandon large scale farming for rotation farming of small plots, that we stop travelling around the world, that we become Luddites and reject all new technologies, and retreat into our localities. Life does not, cannot, go backwards.

Evolution does demand that we, and the system of which we are a part, evolve and grow. We must transcend and overcome the problems that have emerged from previous stages of our development, from the over-development of the little ego, from the corresponding misapprehension of the role of the egoistic ‘sovereign’ nation state, from the lack of recognition that the economy is part of the ecology rather than a competing and overwhelming competitor, from the lack of real empathy with others and the natural world. This is what climate breakdown, pollution of land, sea and air, species extinctions, gross economic inequality and associated problems are teaching us.

The longer we take to respond, the more extreme the provocations caused by ourselves become. We have so-called ‘leaders’ acting like spoilt children, trying to inspire populations with supposed earlier glories and visions of becoming ‘great again’, trying to win some great power game against each other. This is all illusion and regression.

It is time for humanity to grow up and flourish through addressing these problems, rather than retreating to supposed former glories while they overwhelm us.

This is the evolutionary meaning of sustainability.

The Inner Life of Animals

“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”

inner life animalsIn a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.

The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:

  • ravens have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are very intelligent, using their beaks much as we do our hands.They and other species that live in social groups can match, and in some cases even exceed, the mental prowess of primates.
  • wild boar know exactly which other boar they are related to, even if the connection is a distant one. Indeed, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. They teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life. They and other animals understand their own names, and thus have some degree of self-consciousness.
  • crows are known for recognising people and for having strong emotional reactions to those they don’t like.
  • horses know just by how tense their rider’s body is and enjoy being directed and exercised.
  • doe’s grieve for their dead offspring.
  • shame and embarrassment are evident in dogs, and function as a kind of act of contrition – they are mechanisms for asking for forgiveness.
  • animals are capable of empathy, and experience fear and pain.
  • it’s quite clear to foresters and hunters alike that wild animals learn from experience. Wild boar hunt at night when they themselves are hunted, but not otherwise.

As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?

For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.

In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.

Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.

Our scientific society  denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.

Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.

We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:

“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”

See also Wohlleben’s superb and even more gripping book The Hidden Life of Trees.

What’s Living?

It seems the indoctrination starts early. At six-and-a-half years old, granddaughter brought home from school some beautifully drawn pictures marked with whether the objects shown are living or non-living. Trees, bushes and people are living; necklaces, houses, chairs and flags are non-living. We all recognise this because this is how we were brought up. It’s so obvious to us it even feels intuitively ‘right’. Yet does it bear scrutiny? Or is it part of the materialistic backdrop to our culture that has no basis in reality?

Consider the well-accepted theory of evolution, and the story of coalescing of planets around our solar system, the combination of atoms into molecules, molecules into bigger molecules, into viruses, bacteria, fungi and other primitive life forms, gradually increasing in complexity to plants, fishes, birds, animals and eventually human beings. At precisely what point in this process did the ‘living’ start? How can there be an answer to this question?

This is related to my post on materialism – if we accept that everything has an inner and an outer, then there is no artificial boundary between the living and the non-living. Obviously there are qualities of ‘livingness’ in those interiors that we recognise with immediate perception. There are other qualities that we have maybe become desensitised to, compared to earlier cultures that were more embedded in the stream of being, or perhaps the imaginal world in the terms of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book reviewed in another post. (Maybe some of them were called gods?)

Let’s just consider the example of a river. Rivers are clearly coherent wholes that exhibit apparently intelligent activity, changing flow, changing channel, increasing or decreasing width according to circumstances. We even personify them, eg ‘old man river’. But the interior of a river is something we cannot logically comprehend. It does not mean it is not there, but it is well beyond petty human concerns. Just sit by the river for a few hours and you might begin to comprehend.

Then there is the earth and the solar system itself. How can we say these are not living beings, which has always been well understood in the ageless wisdom?

And then there’s the question of death, and what happens to the inner livingness…

The mystery is always greater than our verbal comprehension of it.

Featured image shows bonnet mold on feces, with dew
by Andrea massagli via Wikimedia Commons

 

Disasters

I wrote this post a while ago, but didn’t publish it because it seemed too negative. But then again it is facing the truth, they are coming thick and fast…

Disasters are in the nature of things. Life is evolution and change. Galaxies collide, solar systems merge, orbiting objects crash into each other, storms and subterranean events cause cataclysmic events on planets. So however stable things might seem, it is inevitable that disasters will occur.

california wildfire
Wildfire, Ventura, California, December 2017, NY Times

So is it any surprise that disasters are also caused by human beings. However, we do seem to be particularly good at creating the conditions for them, e.g. we:

  • invest in new sources of fossil fuels that we know are not sustainable, thereby exacerbating the global warming we know is happening – and continue to prevaricate on taking effective action to minimise and mitigate its effects.
  • degrade our soil and food with chemical-based farming, when biological and organic methods are the only sustainable way.
  • base our economic system solely on growth, regardless of the quality of that growth and its ecological non-sustainability.
  • propagate increasing inequalities that history tells us are not sustainable and result in conflict, yet refuse to contemplate alleviatory measures, such as taxes on financial transactions, wealth and land.
  • elect those who base their campaigns around separation and collective illusions, such as making countries ‘great again’, standing above others.
  • fill our seas with plastic, to the extent that our food coming from the oceans includes increasing residues of it.
  • cut down forests to create more land to feed animals for food or grow more oil, thereby removing the planet’s lungs (analogy).
  • globalise everything such that (with climate change) diversity of species is drastically reduced.
  • invest in escalation of arms including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that no sane person would wish to see ever used.

The entrenched status quo appears to be manipulated by the main beneficiaries (the rich and powerful) such that any rapid change of direction is not possible.Read More »

Astrology and Religion

OK, so there’s no conflict between astrology and science. Is there one between astrology and religion?

Let’s trace it forward from the origins.

Evolutionary theory tells us that we emerged from a state of immersion into the world, as are the animals. The world was alive and meaningful, and every night we witnessed the full glory of the cosmos in the night sky. It was all one. We made sense of patterns of meaning, calling them what became known as gods. The sun was clearly the most important.

As we developed language and began to be more self aware, religions emerged based around these gods, pantheistic. Astrology was part of seeing patterns of meaning in the cosmos, and very much a part of this. I believe that the Hindu religions today are similarly pantheistic, and astrology flourishes in India.

From the so-called axial age onward, a series of monotheistic religions emerged from the austere Middle Eastern deserts, in turn Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and spread worldwide. From here on, I’ll stick to Christianity, the one I know most about.

When Christianity became a political project, in the time of Constantine, it became necessary to absorb the symbols of pantheism into that Christianity – politicians know they need to carry the people forward with them.

So you will find pantheistic and astrological symbols in most of the Christian churches – most notably in those wonderful Romanesque churches on the routes of the great European pilgrimages, such as that to Santiago de Compostella in Spain – and also notably in that great flowering of the Gothic cathedrals from the 12th century. See the stone signs of the zodiac, stained glass windows, the four elements of the fixed cross (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the wise men following the star, the green men, and so on.

amiens zodiac 2So, certainly at this time, the church was happy to incorporate aspects of pantheism and astrology into its very fabric, their great archetypes enriching the religious experience. Look for it when you next visit one of those amazing religious buildings.

Of course this is all just circumstantial evidence and not a proper analysis. I’d be interested in any evidence that contradicts the suggestion that there’s no conflict between astrology and religion.

Images show the signs of the zodiac and tasks of the year on the cathedral in Amiens.

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Restoring the Soul of the World

restoring_soul_of_worldReview of the book by David Fideler, subtitled:
‘Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence’.

This is a story that cannot be told too often – our story from the beginnings to now, in the tradition of such a magnificent telling as Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind first published in 1991.

David Fideler’s great breadth of knowledge and understanding is on show in this tour de force, as he traces human development and our relationship with the natural world over millennia.Read More »

The Presence of the Infinite

presence-of-the-infiniteReview of the book by Steve McIntosh, subtitled ‘The Spiritual Experience of Beauty, Truth and Goodness’.

This is in some ways a very theoretical and philosophical book about spirituality, a bit dry. In other ways it is frustratingly vague, in setting future directions for the evolution of spirituality but not being very specific.

Yet in other ways it is very practical, pointing a clear direction for the development of human consciousness, exploiting the fundamental attractors of truth, beauty and goodness (see Goodness, Truth and Beauty) as a direction, a sort of ‘gravitational attraction’ for consciousness. It is worth reading just for this, building on the work already published in Steve’s earlier book Evolution’s Purpose, reviewed here.Read More »

Evolution’s Purpose

What if there was a book that

  • provides a model of evolution that applies to outer and inner – objective and subjective
  • thus reconciles science and religion/spirituality, showing how their historical differences came about, and how primitive materialism can be transcended
  • gives a context for the ‘culture wars’ in the US and elsewhere, and outlines how they can be transcended
  • explains why areas such as the middle east present such an intransigent problem
  • gives a story of development of human societies that is convincing and explains why such things as democracy are so difficult to transplant to other parts of the world
  • gives a philosophy of hope, with a vision of an emerging spirituality and a realistic approach to getting there
  • shows how the good, the beautiful and the true provide the attractive direction of human development
  • explains why the so-called, traditional, modern and postmodern elements of society find it so hard to get on, and what is the transcending evolutionary process that can pioneer the way forward
  • shows how the dialectic is a fundamental part of the evolutionary process
  • puts evolution at the centre of the story of life, the natural world, the universe and everything
  • gives the hope that we are on the threshold of a New Enlightenment.

evolutions_purposeWell there is such a book. It’s all laid out, and more, in Steve McIntosh‘s Evolution’s Purpose.

If you’re familiar with the work of Ken Wilber and Steve’s other books on ‘Integral Philosophy’ you may not need to read it. But this is really great philosophical stuff.

This sort of approach is a fundamental part of the New Renaissance, as I prefer to call it. This book gives an idea of how it could just come about through the conscious development and gradual transcendence of each person from their own starting point – despite those who are just not interested.

[A great subject for my 100th post.]