Continued from Stuck? 4 The technological/ business/ capitalist world
World crisis and its roots
As a result of ‘the system’, as is now widely understood by scientists, the world is in crisis[i] – stressed environments, species loss, global warming, social deprivation and poverty, weapons of mass destruction etc. The result of our selfish materialistic system, and its irrational over-dependence on oil[ii], threatens to destroy our civilisation completely. Recent environmental catastrophes such as oil and chemical spills and widespread floods, and political catastrophes such as wars and terrorism, are but some of many recent warning signs.
The symptoms suggest a collective mental dissociation from the emotional and physical effects of our actions. Just as in my own life-threatening crisis, the battle between material desires and spiritual values rages. It seems a reasonable analogy[iii] to suggest that we need to collectively grow up, beyond the simple certainties of selfish materialism, to integrate our human mind, heart and body (the planet) and build a world based on spiritual values, to the benefit of the common good.
Just as I needed to integrate my own neglected feelings, we need to connect with our hearts. We know that it is things of the heart that really matter, whilst the glamours and illusions of today’s transient desires for consumer goods and money soon pall and fade[iv]. If we will but listen, our hearts are in anguish over the state of our planet and the threat to our children, and to our children’s children and future generations. But, as Al Gore has persuasively argued, we are collectively still in denial[v]!
Only with inspired creativity and wisdom can we solve the many divergent problems of the world crisis. The mind alone acts out of the power-based balancing of interests we see in world politics today, leading eventually to the relative neglect of concerns of body, heart and spirit that we also see. Mind, heart and spirit in concert can harness intuition to act with wisdom, doing what is best for all[vi].
Many commentators have suggested that it was around the time of the emergence of modern science in the 16th/ 17th centuries that the current split in our consciousness occurred[vii]. Simplistically, Descartes split our mind (res cogitans) off from the world (res extensa). The disembodied intellect (cogito ergo sum) controlled the world. Francis Bacon clarified the separation of science and religion, stating that the scientific method has no moral significance. What sounded at first a reasonable separation of concerns and striving for objectivity became a flight from qualities and values. By the 18th century Enlightenment, science “seemed to have dispensed with the need for God as a necessary factor in its explanation of the universe”[viii].
The resulting paradigm of scientific materialism has proved to be inadequate to describe the world we live in. With its fellow, capitalism, it has in some parts of the world created wealth and technology undreamed of. On the other hand, it has destroyed and exploited communities on a grand scale and is instrumental in the world crisis. Humanity would seem to have a choice – to transcend this simplistic paradigm, or to create an environment that is increasingly unsympathetic to the existence of human beings, perhaps to perish.
Our collective human psyche needs to be healed from the ‘Descartian’ split and re-inspired.
2023 perspective: It is difficult to comprehend that things have actually got worse over the last 20 years, despite all the many clarion calls across the years. The modern ‘permacrisis’ now threatens humanity’s very future. We now live in the crisis years when change becomes inevitable.
Featured image is NASA chart showing global CO2 levels since 800,000 years ago.
[i] The world crisis is documented in many places, notably in the annual State of the World reports by Lester R. Brown for the Worldwatch Institute.
[ii] For an inspiring work on the problems of the oil economy and what we need to do, see The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann.
[iii] ‘As above, so below.’ Analogy and correspondence are tools of the traditional wisdom.
[iv] For discussion of glamours and illusions see GLAMOUR, A World Problem, Alice Bailey
[v] A good analysis of the state of denial of our dysfunctional civilisation is given in Earth in the Balance, Al Gore. The failure of the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg to produce coherent action plans illustrates the continuation of this denial.
[vi] In A Guide for the Perplexed, E.F.Schumacher distinguishes between ‘science for understanding’, which he equates to wisdom, as primarily directed towards the True, the Good and the Beautiful, with the modern ‘science for manipulation’ primarily directed towards material power.
[vii] The evolution of Western ideas is brilliantly captured in The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas. There is also a concise summary in Earth in the Balance, Al Gore.
[viii] Quoted from The Enlightenment, Norman Hampson.