Better and better, worse and worse. Simultaneously. And ever faster.
“…the new religion of material science … rules our mind, and this religion has a very, very bad god behind it. Certain patterns of thinking are now being induced electronically over the whole earth. …I don’t think, as we are turning our forces now, that we’re doing ourselves any good whatsoever. I feel rough times ahead.”
Joseph C. Pearce
The new distributed communication revolution not only organizes distributed renewable energies, but also changes human consciousness. … [This] is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathyto flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history. …For the Internet generation, “quality of life” becomes as important as individual opportunity. The transition to biosphere consciousness has already begun… beginning to realize that one’s daily consumption of energy and other resources ultimately affects the lives of every other human being and every other creature… The Empathic Civilization is emerging… extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” — prayer, based on Stoicism
Where are you on the spectrum of despair and exaltation?
My opening epigraphs, in keeping with my pattern last week, are intended to define a field of conversation. Some people are in despair over the prospects of our species and our planet. Others see the good. Each of us who live in the privileged circumstance of a middle-class Canadian with education and leisure to think and feel about world issues, face the fork in the road. Which way are you tending – toward pessimism, as I am, or toward faith in future resolution of the crises we confront, sustained by human gifts of faith, hope and genius?
Two views of Canada
Two articulate views of Canada, in a few words voiced by observers who live outside our nation, came to my attention in a random way as I watched TV last week. Neil Young had this to say: “I always thought Canada was different. We cared about the natural surroundings we live in… [But now] Canada is trading integrity for money.” Meanwhile in Palestine an Arab leader told CBC, “We know Canada has a right-wing government that supports Israel and whatever Israel is doing. Everyone knows this.” The latter critic obviously aims at Canada’s government, not Canadians; the comment says nothing about our economy or our ecology. Still, quotable.
Is Canada more compassionate and caring about the planetary habit and other species, or do Canadians agree with a right-wing government that daily shows us it cares little for those things and a lot for economic development? Which Canadian mind represents the “real us”?
Income Gap: 85 vs. 3.5 billion
Here’s a statistic to provoke one’s thoughts on humanity’s love of humanity. A study of income in the world published last week tells us what we suspected; the 86 richest people on the planet possess more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion humans. Only you can say what this fact means to you and your feelings. Kevin O’Leary greeted the fact as very good news.
China’s rulers — having just celebrated the greatness of Mao Zedong on his 100th anniversary by ignoring Mao’s communist legacy, because they now sanction capitalist economics — are amassing personal fortunes. An expert opinion of China concludes: “Now the income gap between the elite and the masses is huge…. You have hundreds of millions of people that are still living on very low income and they will be outraged.”
I, having just watched the American historical film, “12 Years a Slave,” am in the mood to hear negative facts, to demonstrate “man’s inhumanity to man.” I keep repeating to myself, “poor, benighted, suffering humanity”. Such a spectacle, this species — so wonderful, so awful, so incomprehensible. I am human, and incapable of a perspective beyond my species’ gifts.
Change yourself, and everything else changes
I subscribe thoroughly to the view that what my mind/heart tells to my “core” (Self/soul/ atman/eternal spark of Light?) is definitive of the reality I inhabit. Thus, I make “my world.”
I can surrender completely to materialism. Only my senses, my intelligence, and the extensions of these faculties supplied to me by technology and science, will give me Truth. That is one perspective. There’s no room in this worldview for mysteries, only the scientific method for establishing the real. For scientists, clergy in the religion of materialism, fact elicits no feelings.
The other worldview is far less simple to summarize. I cite Chris Hadfield in his interview with CBC: “The only meaning of life is what a person decides it is. It will always be a personal meaning.” I agree completely; it is within each human to determine what is ultimately of value, what is true and what is real. Your attitude toward the material realities of climate change, economic and political powers beyond your control, collapse of eco-systems etc. is of great significance. You must act according to what such facts mean to you.
I am convinced by my long and fairly deep reading in history, that humans have a natural quality called spirit equal to all the drives, appetites, and mental peculiarities that materialist science posits in our psychology. Consciousness is not a “disease of matter” as one scientist has said; rather, it is our best feature. Mind, not brain, connects humanity to immateriality.
Humans have proven throughout history that we seek more than material life. We seek meaning. And we have found it in religion, ideas, emotion, and a host of phenomena that materialist science can’t quantify, to the evident rage of militant atheists such as Sir Richard Dawkins who has “disproved” God. Why do atheists have such a hole in their understanding?
Your actions matter as much as you are convinced they matter. It is your life, and your death. Life in despair, believing humanity is doomed to catastrophic decline, is not a life I’d choose. I give meaning to my life in defiance of materialism. What “matters” besides matter? Love and other key human qualities: so say all traditions of philosophy, religion, and spirituality.
Material science informs my intelligence that we have damaged our planet; some say science will solve the challenges. If I believe science will save us, that hope is no more rational than a faith that our spiritual transformation will save us. Hope and faith aren’t material.
My editor, Adrian Barnes, told me he has faith in humanity. On a good day so do I. I seem more inclined to pessimism when I write than in my way of living. I’ll end on a high note.
Can we think about doom without feeling lost in gloom?
My own personal journey toward some kind of “keeping peace in my soul” as the Desiderata phrases it, is still ongoing. At the moment, I am aware that ranting against injustice — my cry “It should have been different” shouted in anger against history and the place it has brought us — are capable of being transcended. I mean, if I stop having an emotive reaction to the fact of human death in millions, resulting from the wrong choices humans have made over millennia, I might experience equanimity toward the future. If I rise to some Olympian perspective where the mass dying of humans — caused by evil actions taken when other, better courses were available — does not make me feel angry or sad, then I will achieve some peace. Not so easy.
I ask myself, would I be “human” in such a detached state of mind, not reacting to tragedy? Just what is the optimal, wise, humane, and compassionate attitude toward certain future human catastrophe, is not yet clear to me. I am told that all wisdom traditions agree that human compassion is a necessity, and action to relieve suffering is an absolute good. What is not so clear is how to know one’s right action in conditions of systematic wrong, wrong in social and political, economic and ecological realms of being; I feel I’m a cog in those machines.
I am uncertain whether detachment of the sort taught by spiritual masters of India or China intends human beings to detach themselves from their reaction to events. I think not. I think the intention of those teachings is to allow us to feel our feelings but not drown in the feelings every time we remember the event, every time we contemplate sad facts. Serenity toward the things we cannot change is considered the best course, and courage to change what we can.
Everyone seems agreed that we must love our children, our families, and our communities – love and act within the small stage on which we live, not the global stage which our intelligence tells us contains us all and where crisis after crisis succeed one another in dismal procession. Intelligence comprehends materiality, heart grasps the intangibles. The trick, if so I may call it, is knowledge without misery, and action without emotional reaction when all is not as I desire.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. Previous editions of the Arc Of The Cognizant can be found here.