The End Of The Beginning?
In the nineteen sixties and seventies the western world was in the throes of a cultural and psychological revolution of awareness that at times threatened to bring down the governments and destroy the societies of some of the most powerful countries on earth, and terrified many who were unable to step outside of the structure and limitations of the worldviews they had constructed for themselves in the course of their lives.
Questioning cultural norms and prejudices and searching for alternatives that better respected and valued human beings and their relationship with the larger society and with the natural world as the basis and reason for societies actions and existence rather than society and the state and the status quo as the determining factors of how people should interact with each other, were the drivers behind this revolution.
The insecurity of many in the face of insistent and deep questioning that in a religious context would have been labeled blasphemy and heresy caused knee-jerk fear reactions that in many arenas turned into violent confrontations, particularly but not only race riots and countless smaller horrors of the racial Civil Rights Movement, and in the struggle for equality under law and social systems of more than half the population in the Gay and the Women's Liberation Movements, and what was often termed a Sexual Revolution, all of which had been percolating and growing for many years and all of which naturally contributed to making up the more encompassing psychological or awareness heightening Cultural Revolution of the times.
Noted philosopher Alan Watts in the nineteen sixties in "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are" described our situation, our human condition, this way:
It is said that humanity has evolved one-sidedly, growing in technical power without any comparable growth in moral integrity, or, as some would prefer to say, without comparable progress in education and rational thinking. Yet the problem is more basic. The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms- Most of us have the sensation that "I myself" is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body--a center which "confronts an "external" world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. "I came into this world." "You must face reality." "The conquest of nature."
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of skin.
The first result of this illusion is that our attitude to the world "outside" us is largely hostile. We are forever "conquering" nature, space, mountains, deserts, bacteria, and insects instead of learning to cooperate with them in a harmonious order. In America the great symbols of this conquest are the bulldozer and the rocket--the instrument that batters the hills into flat tracts for little boxes made of ticky-tacky and the great phallic projectile that blasts the sky. (Nonetheless, we have fine architects who know how to fit houses into hills without ruining the landscape, and astronomers who know that the earth is already way out in space, and that our first need for exploring other worlds is sensitive electronic instruments which, like our eyes, will bring the most distant objects into our own brains.)
The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events--that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies--and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.
It was during these years of the social turmoil pressure cooker that forced reevaluation of so many previous considered immutable social strictures and standards that the modern Environmental Movement was conceived and born of a spreading awareness of something we already knew in our bones, in fact in every cell of our bodies, and even in our very DNA that the world and the universe we inhabit is a single interconnected organism that we do not come into at birth, but rather spring from and are intimately connected to and part of, as intimately as darkness and light are connected aspects comprising days, or as north and south poles make up a magnet that cannot exist without either.
Watts continued with:
It might seem, then, that our need is for some genius to invent a new religion, a philosophy of life and a view of the world, that is plausible and generally acceptable for the late twentieth century, and through which every individual can feel that the world as a whole and his own life in particular have meaning. This, as history has shown repeatedly, is not enough. Religions are divisive and quarrelsome. They are a form of one-upmanship because they depend upon separating the "saved" from the "damned," the true believers from the heretics, the in-group from the out-group. Even religious liberals play the game of "we-re-more-tolerant-than-you."
Furthermore, as systems of doctrine, symbolism, and behavior, religions harden into institutions that must command loyalty, be defended and kept "pure,--and-because all belief is fervent hope, and thus a cover-up for doubt and uncertainty-religions must make converts.
The more people who agree with us, the less nagging insecurity about our position. In the end one is committed to being a Christian or a Buddhist come what may in the form of new knowledge. New and indigestible ideas have to be wangled into the religious tradition, however inconsistent with its original doctrines, so that the believer can still take his stand and assert, "I am first and foremost a follower of Christ/Mohammed/Buddha, or whomever."
Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness --an act of trust in the unknown.
We as human beings are the natural world, as much as is the biosphere that we are a fundamental part of rather than simply living in, and whatever we do to it we do to ourselves.
Christianity, the major religion in the western world, says "As ye sow, so shall ye reap".
Karma can be reduced to "You get what you give".
The Beatles said "And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make". It is the last lyric on the last album they recorded.
Watts also suggested that:
"We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience--a new feeling of what it is to be 'I'."
All of our countries and political systems, and all of our differences and conflicts, including our wars are, in this context, social constructs within the larger world, and do not and cannot exist in isolation from it. It is the base medium in which all else grows and lives. Or dies. It is our back yard, and if we poison it we poison ourselves.
Billmon at Whiskey Bar in September of  posted a story about:
British scientist James Lovelock and his warning that catastrophic global climate change is both imminent and unstoppable:
Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.
"There's no realization of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock says. "Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover."
It would be easy to view this as just another kooky end-of-the-world theory, if it weren't for the history of some of Lovelock's other kooky theories -- like the time in the late '70s when he hypothesized that chlorofluorocarbons wafted high into the stratosphere would eat great big holes in the ozone layer, exposing first the polar regions and then the rest of the earth's surface to increasingly harmful ultraviolet radiation. What a nut.
As far as I can tell, Lovelock's latest crackpot (or should I say "crockpot"?) idea is still the minority opinion among climatologists, most of whom seem to believe we have perhaps 70-100 years before the seriously disastrous greenhouse effects kick in -- although Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist, has suggested that unless major cuts in Co2 emissions are made within the next decade, the process will become every bit as irreversible as Lovelock claims it already is.
If we break it, if we disrupt its integrity, we die. We die. It is as simple as that.
It now appears that we are on the verge of breaking it, if we have not already done so. It is my hope that we haven't yet, but also my opinion that we are dangerously close to doing so. So close in fact that there is no more time to waste. The next year or two may very well be the turning point, if we have not already passed it.
Many say that security of the nation is most important because without it nothing else can happen.
Our environment, our entire world, is immeasurably larger, and the problems we face are immeasurably larger than national security in the context of the arguments about it over the past few years.
Nations cannot and will not exist if the planet is killed.
Our backs are to the wall this time. We are painted into the proverbial corner. There is no escaping it. There is only life, or death, for all of us. We have only ourselves to fault, and only ourselves to rely on. No invisible being is going to come down from the sky and save us from ourselves.
Are we at the beginning of the end? Or are we at the end of the beginning?
If we want it to be the latter, what do we want that `latter' to be?
Where do we go from here?
An Associated Press article June 16 noted that:
Dolphins and sharks are showing up in surprisingly shallow water just off the Florida coast. Mullets, crabs, rays and small fish congregate by the thousands off an Alabama pier. Birds covered in oil are crawling deep into marshes, never to be seen again.
Marine scientists studying the effects of the BP disaster are seeing some strange - and troubling - phenomena.
Fish and other wildlife are fleeing the oil out in the Gulf and clustering in cleaner waters along the coast. But that is not the hopeful sign it might appear to be, researchers say.
The animals' presence close to shore means their usual habitat is badly polluted, and the crowding could result in mass die-offs as fish run out of oxygen. Also, the animals could easily get devoured by predators.
"A parallel would be: Why are the wildlife running to the edge of a forest on fire? There will be a lot of fish, sharks, turtles trying to get out of this water they detect is not suitable," said Larry Crowder, a Duke University marine biologist.
There is a prophecy attributed to the Cree People:
"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money."
A version of this article originally appeared at Antemedius | Liberally Critical Thinking.
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Vancouver, B.C., Canada