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Blog item: Life Out Of Balance

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8 comments, last: Nov-21-2009   Add a comment   Author:  chefurka (Nov-2-2009)
Categories: Philosophical & Quality of Life, Wildlife and Nature

Living in balance with our surroundings is a challengeHuman activity is deeply wounding our planet in many ways. The insults we are heaping on Mother Earth include the deaths of ocean species, the pollution of land, air and water, as well as the destruction of uncountable natural habitats.

Our changing climate is shifting the ranges of many species and altering rainfall patterns around the world. As we go about our business, the creatures who preceded us into this garden of plenty, and who have shared it with us throughout our history, are – like the victims of the Snark in the famous Lewis Carroll poem – "softly and silently vanishing away".

Once we recognize and accept that uncomfortable fact, we have to ask what we might do about it. The conventional answers to that question (and even some less conventional answers) reveal something profound about the way we understand the world and our place in it. Our first, reflexive reaction is to try and make our activities less damaging. The usual suggestion is that we need to develop better, greener technology.

Unfortunately, those who seek solutions to our current predicament in technology have misunderstood the nature of problem. Of course technology is an inseparable dimension of the human experience, but to treat it as the primary determinant of humanity is to fundamentally misapprehend what it takes to be fully human.

The problem of modern industrial society is one of imbalance: koyaanisqatsi. We do not suffer from a shortage of good technology, we have plenty of that. What we lack are the balancing forces of the human spirit: wisdom, compassion, recognition of oneness and interdependence. This situation cannot be rectified by developing ever more technology. Doing that will inevitably force us further and further out of balance.

Thinking of "human rewilding" or other dreams of returning to a more primitive past as a solution reveals a similarly mistaken understanding of the problem. While there might be a greater possibility of encountering humane spiritual values in a less technologically complex society, attempting to create that situation by truncating our technology will not work. Doing so would inevitably make humanity less rather than more. It would reduce the possibilities available to our creative natures, and would prevent our situation from resolving properly.

If the problem is one of imbalance, it seems sensible to me that we try to redress the balance by building up the side that is too light rather than lightening the side that is too heavy. While we may not lack for the technology to produce wind turbines, solar cells and more efficient cars, we do lack the "technologies" of wisdom, compassion, universal justice and respect for all life. This is the side of the equation we need to solve if we are to re-balance the role of humanity in the world.

Fortunately these technologies exist, though they are not widely known or valued in our industrial world. They have strong roots in Buddhist culture, in the burgeoning ecological movement, in the growing ranks of deep spiritual thinkers and among those who help create communities based on those values. It is up to each of us to seek out and join this movement as it spreads through our world, adding our individual sparks of awareness and compassion to the tide as it moves past.

Of course, anyone who sees humanity and our contextual reality in materialistic terms will not see the problem as I do, and will have a different sense of what the solution ought to be. That's a good thing: the broader our probability envelope remains, the more chances we will have for a harmonious actuality when the wave breaks and one of those possible futures becomes our living present.

With great love,



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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Nov-21-2009)   
Yep. That's why Douglas Adams joked 30 years ago in the Hitchhiker's Guide that aliens would think cars are the dominant species on our planet. We do everything to serve and worship them.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Nov-21-2009)   Web site

I take your point entirely AG. Here a lot of people drive to the park or gym to do exercise that they wouldn't need if only they would walk or cycle to work or the shops. Having said that, the infrastructure is designed to make car travel easy and any other form dangerous and uncomfortable.

There's a good recent article about designing our way out of our current predicament here.
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Nov-21-2009)   

Wavehunter: yes, the most basic bike is efficient. My point was that we don't hear about muscle power unless it is being used by some PhD grad student to build an airplane to cross the English Channel or in an advertisement in an expensive brochure for an aluminum ergo-bike that is really solidified electricity.
The basic bikes get a little play in the organic communities with 'share a bike' programs, etc.
I helped develop the standard for bicycle disc brakes. Nobody could afford them except corporate sponsored teams or rich kids (500 bucks per wheel). Those are the people that burn up calories, not on the bike itself, but in their Jaguars and Humvees driving to their Insurance and Marketing day jobs, encouraging waste and consumption during the week and then posing as 'bike enthusiasts' on fly-away trips to the mountain races on weekends.
THAT's what my comment was meant to disparage, not the poor slobs like us that use a bike for transportation (I admit I rarely do, but it's hard to do farm business with a bicycle until the rural areas are reinvigorated by the coming Collapse. The energy I'm using now is in preparation for not using it in the future.)
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Nov-21-2009)   Web site

A life of moderation, without attachment to excessive consumption nor to starving or harming oneself, is a 2,500 year old teaching, and it seems to be more needed now than ever.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Nov-20-2009)   Web site

Agree 100% with you, Auntie Grav, and George Monbiot too. Though on the issue of bicycles, I understand that even the most basic bike is so efficient on a calories-per-mile basis it knocks even the most high-tech green car into the long grass.
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Nov-20-2009)   

Whether spiritual or not, the fundamental concept is that we have to live with respect to our origins and whatever resources make our lives possible, or our lives won't BE possible.
If one has respect for God, and believes God is in everything, then they should be careful and respectful of the soil and the earth. If one is a naturalist, and understands evolutionary origins, then they should care for and respect the natural world that spawned them. Unfortunately, humans don't live according to their beliefs or their plans: they are no smarter than yeast, and they consume according to triggers in their lizard brains. Only scarcity reduces human consumption. It's the only thing that has and it's the only thing that will. Too bad that we have already started the triggers toward a climate-based self destruct mechanism before we were forced to reduce our impact through starvation.
To quote George Monbiot, "People who claim that population growth is the big environmental issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor."
I will go one step further and say that the consumption level of a human being is only half the story: it is the ratio between what a person usefully creates and what they consume that is important. The standard industrial scheme is to get people to believe they are 'producing' useful things when they are really just making consumptive things via petroleum and other resources. We not only are not naturally useful as muscle and brains anymore, but we have been convinced to compete with our muscle and brains toward ever higher levels of waste.
In all of the energy source discussions, it is very rarely ever mentioned that we could use our muscles (except to power a fancy recumbent bike or a hang glider) as a source of power.
I hated when my father made me use a pitchfork instead of a tractor. Now, I can see things other people are afraid of: the power of a human body to do real things that money (and oil) just isn't necessary for. The 'excess population' needs to be looked at as a resource other than as 'customers'.
Comment by:  chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) (Nov-9-2009)   Web site


I don't think you need to be especially spiritual to view these issues through a holistic eye. It does help to have a philosophical bent, though -- I had my first holistic epiphany when I encountered Arne Naess' philosophy of Deep Ecology. Is the notion that other life has intrinsic value a spiritual position? It makes sense to me from both a spiritual and a secular perspective.

Regarding responsibility, I run into objections from those who see personal responsibilities as competing with the ecological ones. For instance, people in all cultures feel a responsibility to make sure their children end up better off than they are. People with that view seem quite impervious to the idea that there might be a larger responsibility to to the planet that could get in the way.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Nov-9-2009)   Web site

I agree with what's written here. I don't see myself as a spiritual person and so don't share the mode of analysis, but the suggested actions - thinking and living differently - I believe are right. Unfortunately, powerful forces are at work trying to stop us from making the changes required. If enough of us started living in balance with our environment, the political and economic system would collapse. Of course, the politicians, bankers and industrialists don't want this.

I also believe the crisis is partly one of responsibility. We want government to invest in wind farms and solar panels to generate electricity - but wouldn't it be even better if we reduced our own energy consumption? We want people in the Third World to have less children - but are we prepared to limit the size of our own families, or reduce our own consumption? Perhaps when we see ourselves as elements of a greater whole we will be more ready to play our part in preparing for the difficult days to come.

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About author/contributor Member: chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka)
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Member: chefurka (Bodhisantra (Paul) Chefurka) I am a Canadian ecologist with a passionate interest in outside the box responses to the converging crisis of industrial civilization.

The crisis of civilization is not simply a convergence of technical, environmental and organizational problems.  These are symptoms that are themselves being driven by a philosophical and perceptual disconnection so deep that it is best understood as a spiritual breakdown.  The disconnection goes by the name of Separation.

Our sense of separation is what allows us to see ourselves as different from and superior to the rest of the apparently non-rational universe we live in.  In this worldview the complex mutual interdependence of all the elements of the universe is replaced by a simple dualistic categorization:  there are human beings, and everything else in the universe—without exception—is a resource for us to use.

The only way to keep this planet, our one and only home in the universe, from being ultimately ravaged and devastated is to change our worldview and heal our sense of separateness.  Unless we can manage that breathtaking feat all the careful application of technology, all the well-intentioned regulations, all the unbridled cleverness of which we are so proud will do little to delay the final outcome, and nothing whatever to prevent it.

My desire is to find ways to heal that sense of separation, with the goal of helping us prepare for ecological adulthood.

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