Wednesday, March 30, 2016

More Than Sea Change

I want, yet again, to try and situate myself within the context of early 21st century life.  It is a beyond-incredible time, with the environment blighting so fast, technology loping so fast, institutions deforming so fast.  In the center of all this is human activity, such a destructive and in some ways productive force.  It is a reckless, ignorant, hell-bent time, with the possibility that any single day could usher in the ultimate tragedy of nuclear annihilation. North Korea just recently threatened nuclear attack on the United States, and North Korea is an isolated, paranoid place of torture camps and Orwellian doctrine.  And that’s just one source of potential warfare.  The network of global nation-states seethes with tension.  Self-centered saber-rattlers increase the ante against each other.  In my country, the USA, a fascist fire-eater could win the presidential election.  If so, the great empire, with its supreme military, will be controlled by a racist, sexist, querulous, Machiavellian thug.

On another front, the environmental changes.  Global warming, still denied by a large percentage of Americans, is obvious and already devastating.  The scientific evidence, long abused, ignored or deflected, leans toward a much worse future, given the ominous prognostications.  Already the GW-inflicted changes are striking.  Permafrost melts, sea lanes open, creatures of all sizes migrate, coastlines flood, hurricanes worsen, ocean currents destabilize.  Add to this that we live in the midst of Earth’s sixth great mass extinction event, which has been caused by us. 

And on and on.  Without a paradigm-busting change in attitude, one that puts a noose on greenhouse-gas emission, many big coastal cities, in a relatively short time, perhaps a hundred years, will be at least partially underwater.

And on and on.  This is just the tip of the many radical things happening.  There are robots coming, and ever more ‘intelligent’ computers and machines.  Evolution as a natural process has been arrested, because humans now can manipulate DNA at a fine-toothed level.  We have begun the process of interfacing the brain with cyborg limbs.  The more I say here, it seems the more I will leave out.  The astounding technological nucleus snowballs toward even more astounding and unimaginable nuclei.


Perhaps this global mutation, metamorphosis upon metamorphosis, would be manageable if humans weren’t so badly unprepared.  Let me speak with brash concision;  we are acting with suicidal stupidity.

The early 21st planet is a crazy crucible of deep changes in the very nature of things.  It is a time of astounding human ignorance and unbelievable ethical and psychological blindness, a time whose main manifestation, I suppose, is the constant threat of civilization-annihilating war.  This war-tendency is propped by inveterate levels of sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.  Linked to all this is a mindset of fanaticism.  Belief systems entrenched in faith that find reason loathsome.  Belief systems that, through their very design, must escalate tensions.  Anyone who is not a believer, according to a particular fanaticism, is bound for some version of hell, and so presents a dangerous threat.
Critical reasoning and scientific method ought to inform our political and social choices.  This is the level of maturity we desperately need.  Instead, unable to think clearly, we fall into line behind demagogues, sociopaths and narcissists, the most talented of them, those who emanate confidence and excel at manipulation, in large part because they have no qualms when it comes to oppression and deceit.  
Tremendous power alongside a feckless mentality.  That's the key dynamic leading us downward.  We are like violent, impetuous idiots who have stumbled across magical staves, staves that can extinct species, extirpate rainforests, pollute oceans, mutate worlds.

What is evil?  A full manifestation of evil would occur when a sick country, like North Korea, initiates a nuclear launch, and other countries, in paranoid response, counterstrike.  You could call such tragedy an ultimate dysfunction--a total lack of communication and a full failure to perceive with honesty.  I think the utter destruction of civilization, and also, equally, the infliction of radioactive poison on  the entire Earth, deserves an infernal title:  it is a paragon of evil.  

In the end, humans can discern and choose between right and wrong.  The problems we face are not hard to behold.  To be in denial, you have to work really hard not to see.  Intelligence isn't the problem.  We are psychologically pathetic.  We use our intellects, not to raise up the torch of reason, but instead to taint it.  We justify our biases with specious rhetoric, even when the malodor is obvious.  We find freedom where there is slavery (sweatshop workers making goods for the ‘free market’).   We find brightness where there is dark (the USA an agent of Manifest Destiny, not genocide).  We find liberation where there is bigotry (claiming that racism is gone, or that women are now equal, when so much violence-backed discrimination thrives).
Imagine a vegetarian pointing out to someone that factory farms torture tens of millions of innocent animals, showing them graphic pictures, providing the strongest evidence and facts.  And yet the person appealed to does nothing--except to pick up a pork chop, bite into it, and give a sadistic smile.

This is a literal and common response.  And yet also an allegory for so much of what is going on in general.

Behind that sadistic smile is hate.  The demagogues build up hate in their followers.  It binds them to demagoguery, and fuels a firewall against the intrusion of truth.

Our ethical sickness is easy to diagnose.  We use the power of our minds to repress, deflect, and project. And we use reason, in a perverted way, to hide from the correct application of reason.  It’s called “confirmation bias” in the discipline of psychology.  What it is, though, is an ultimate twistedness.  It's like saying that red is green so often that you believe it to be true and defend  that stance with brute fervor and stark fallacy.

It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Embracing as real what isn’t there.

At rock bottom the culprit is fear.  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” was a most wise and prophetic statement.

Humanity isn’t just bumbling along.  It is more like horror after horror.  The “Discovery of America.”  Genocide.  Slavery.  A Civil War that drove the mindset of slavery underground, where it festered and forged new methods of racism.  The Industrial Revolution, which turned a beautiful continent into a snarled mess of trash, fences, and carbon-puking traffic.  Metaphorically, we are still laying down railroad ties. We continue to erected barbed-wire.  We continue to slaughter tens of millions of buffalo, or whatever creature is available to expolit.  Why?  For power.  For profit.  For stock market numbers.  The short-sighted prerogatives of a  soul-stunted people.
The mentality of the Conquistadors--gross, cruel, stupid--is still with us.    

We’ve got to evolve our ethics to catch up to, and even surpass, our technological prowess.  It may seem impossible.  Still, sexism and racism have to go.  Fanaticism, somehow, has to go.  Critical reasoning and scientific method must be incorporated into a new ethos.  We need to open our minds, escape defense mechanisms like repression and projection.  “Mindfulness,” a spiritual practice shown to alter the brain in positive, expansive ways, can help.  Each fresh generation seems to bring greater understanding and ethical bravery. 

The collective human consciousness can and does improve.  The Civil Rights Movement.  The Women’s Movement.  Earth Day.  The UN Declaration of Human Rights.  All of these were seeds that now extend into vibrant plants.  Hopefully they can continue to grow and become tremendous interconnected forests of goodness, sheltering the world.  Younger generations have recently moved LGBT rights forward.  As technology spins us dizzy, it opens up opportunities to crack habitual patterns.  Idealism should never be equated with the impossible or the impractical.  Each new generation advances the collective consciousness.

The ultimate battle comes down to tremendous, primal forces:  love and fear (hate).

Within this primal dichotomy dwell two paths:  one that sinks toward destruction, and yet also another, one that ascends toward a continuous, evolving sprituality.