If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, then you will know that my main quest in life, art, and in writing is to observe and respect reality, and to find balance between human life and culture and all of nature. In my search for a simpler life in harmony with natural rhythms in which everyone and everything is inter-connected, I have always come upon at least one snag. That pesky snag is a big one: human culture and behavior. We find ourselves in a strange predicament today, as humans. Either we make some serious changes to the way we live, individually and collectively, or we may not survive very much longer.
I have always felt like a misfit or outsider in this society. While I have long sensed that I am connected to everyone and everything and continuously seek to become wiser in a humble kind of way, I rarely encounter other humans who feel the same way. I know I really don’t know very much, nor will I ever understand the mystery of life itself. I just want to know how to live, how to be human, and how to be in balance with life, in nature. I think that this is a goal that is possible to meet, as long as enough of us asks ourself the important questions and works to change our own minds. Now, for the first time in my life, I think I might really know and understand why I feel so different, and why a critical mass of people have not yet chosen to change the way we think about being human.
Have you observed that humans often feel either inadequate or concerned about being good enough or are, on the contrary, too full of themselves, boasting about their above average self-esteem? Lack of ease or too much ease…both may be symptoms of the same disease. Our cultures, regardless of geographic location or religion, tend to promote “not enough-ness” and pressure us to conform to various traditions, benchmarks of success, or shame us for not having the right physical attributes, birth or class status, or other such nonsense. Shame is the ultimate road to take us away from our natural selves, and our cultures are built upon shame.
If we run away from our natural selves and from the present moment with incessant intensity and action, we are considered successful…This means we have succeeded in following the doctrines of our culture. We have succeeded in divorcing ourselves from our true nature, from our connection to our origins through our dreams and intuition, from the ease of living in and with reality in each moment (taking into account the inevitable difficulties of survival which we share with all living beings). This common trend and paradox (that we are both innately flawed and also somehow special), is a huge misperception that modern human cultures perpetuate (and by modern, I mean cultures having developed over the last ten thousand years).
I am currently reading a very interesting take on the human condition and human mythology, a book published in 1992 by Daniel Quinn, called Ishmael. In this philosophical treatise barely disguised as a novel, the author, through the voice of a lowland gorilla, expresses the dilemma of the modern human’s condition. The gorilla, Ishmael, finds a student in the narrator, and shares with him his view of the evolution of humanity from a majority (herder / hunter / gatherers) of what he calls “Leavers” to the modern humans today, called “Takers”.
Ishmael develops his philosophy throughout the book, exposing our culture’s belief that the status of humans is somehow unique in nature, and that we believe we are the end product of all of evolution. Humans choosing this cultural route (unlike many aboriginal or tribal peoples past and present) place themselves above the rest of natural life and creation. Quinn’s reading of the fables of Cain and Abel and of Adam and Eve are equally intriguing, as he claims that these stories were created by “Leaver” peoples in an attempt to protest the violence against their own lifestyles that they were experiencing at the hands of the “Takers”. While I am not sure that this is the only way to interpret these stories and facts, it is interesting to contemplate this view point.
Before this belief evolved, humans lived much more harmoniously with nature because without needing to consciously understand this fact, they wisely sensed they were an integral part of nature and saw no reason to believe otherwise. Traditional peoples knew they were not gods. Each group independently accumulated knowledge through experience about what worked well for them in their region, and they passed down the information from generation to generation, creating a living link to the past. They knew how to observe nature and her laws and to respect them as well as the limits imposed on human behavior by these laws. They knew how to keep their place within the natural order. They knew when to stop producing food and children and how to respect the limits of their territories and desires.
Modern humans are constantly working to change our environment, to control and exploit it. The information and knowledge we gather during each generation is rarely relevant for the next, and so we must constantly begin anew. This can create a sensation of dissociation and anxiety. Globalization and social media also disperse communities and discourage intimacy. Perhaps this is why we experience an excess of “sharing” on-line. There is rarely anyone with whom to talk in depth face to face…
The laws of nature govern us all, and we cannot escape this reality, although we also maintain the delusion that we must continue on this path of endless greed, growth, expansion. Globalization and the continued expansion of human populations, industrial food production, destruction of natural diversity, pollution of air, soil, and water will eventually (and quite soon) cause the extinction of the human species.
From nature’s perspective, this is not a tragedy. In fact, the only way we can avoid extinction is to change the way we think, the way we produce our food (and how much we produce), as well as the way we live. While it is entirely possible to avert this tragedy from our perspective, knowing how stubborn people can be, I have my doubts. Because I am a parent and I do want more than anything to give my son and his future children the chance to enjoy life, I want to do my utmost to help people to be aware of this need to change this fundamental idea about life and about being human. Ultimately, the primary and most difficult challenge is to convince people to change how they think.
I do feel it will be nearly impossible to convince the majority to see our cultures as based on a false “fact” – that we are different from the rest of nature and somehow special, or chosen by the gods to behave as gods ourselves. We are so used to manipulating our environment in an extreme fashion without consideration of the fact that we do not have the intelligence or ability to control the consequences of these choices. However, the endless expansion we have blindly pursued around the globe for thousands of years is appearing to many a dangerous and limited route. While humans are exceptionally creative, I do believe that there are many ways that we can be playful and exercise our creative powers with some boundaries. Creation and destruction go hand in hand, so this is a problem to be considered!
If, hypothetically, we were able to convince enough people that we are merely part of nature and that this is enough…we would radically change the way we live our lives on this planet. Our cultures, traditions, food growing trends, use of technology, diet, religious habits…everything would change radically, in the direction of a more simple life. Local farms would prosper once again, raising smaller herds raised in pastures and growing organic crops. We would live in small communities, not requiring long distance travel or excessive usage of fuels. We could use technology with wisdom to help preserve our environment, taking only what we need and returning to the earth clean and useful waste. People would experience less stress and more time to enjoy fulfilling work and relationships.
Currently, there are a certain number of concerned individuals living on this planet who are working hard to make some of these changes a reality, and these peoples’ efforts should be widely applauded. I recently watched a great documentary called “Fresh: New Thinking About What We’re Eating” directed by Ana Sofia Joanes. She demonstrates both sides of the current farming paradigm, interviewing conventional industrial farmers, conventional farmers who have turned to sustainable farming, urban farmers, and individuals who promote the sale of locally produced meats, vegetables, and other comestibles.
From this film, I learned not only that it is entirely possible to produce delicious and healthy food on small farms, but that these smaller farms produce no pollution nor do they spread disease. The best news is that these small farms can produce enough food for everyone. The farmers use traditional techniques, rotating crops and pasture lands between various types of herbivores, omnivores, and birds. The chickens eat the fly larvae from the cow manure, and when several days later the cows return to this pasture, they are not in danger of consuming parasites. The film shows how use of antibiotics, feed lots, and other cruel practices in the way chickens, cows, and pigs are raised on industrial farms promotes disease, pollution, unhappy animals, and unhealthy food. In addition to this, people do not want to work on these farms, while they line up for jobs at the organic and sustainable farms. It is immediately obvious to the eye that the sustainably farmed animals are healthy, beautiful, and varied in appearance.
By following the laws of nature, we create sustainability. Herbivores eat grass, and by doing so, create clean waste that can be recycled. Smaller farms and small local businesses create more jobs and support community. People living in these communities have access for affordable and healthy food, without the need for government subsidies (for grain to feed cows that should be eating grass, and causing huge amounts of pollution and greenhouse gases!). By accepting the wisdom of our being a part of nature, a fact of which we should be proud, I feel that we can relax into a more creative way of life, with a more hopeful future for our children.