Sunday, July 30, 2017


I am in Phoenix - in the Valley of the Sun - in a hotel room with the air conditioning blasting full out. It is so different here from my usual environment, I hardly know what to think, I hardly know who I am. The “American way” seems overwhelming - the buildings so massive, the machines so pervasive, the wastefulness so ingrained. There doesn’t seem to be any alternative.  Do your job. Don’t ask questions. Try to keep up. Keep the wheels turning. Drive faster.

It is a kind of artificial paradise, a dream world. I believe in it and disown it at the same time. I believe in it practice. I rent a car and drive it through the tangle of freeways, air-conditioner blowing hard because the heat outside feels deadly. I take a long shower in water that has been pumped up from a depleting water-table.

I disown it in theory - in a kind of future tense. It can’t go on like this, right? This city keep growing and growing: more people, more houses, more cars, more water consumption, more air-conditioning. Perhaps it can, into infinity. Perhaps I don’t have a big enough imagination.

I see a headline in a newspaper: Arizona is growing faster than the national average.


I meet Bella, a white woman who is married to a Native American chief. She says to me: “We need a way out of this nightmare that we live in.”

I agree: what we need more than anything is a way out. A viable direction that does not lead to destruction. We have a direction - what we call civilization or The Way Things Are. But civilization is what drives us to destroy the very environment which we need to survive and thrive. Civilization makes us keep on driving and flying and buying and building. Civilization - at least the current version - is based on compulsive competition between humans.

Our plan is non-viable because it is partial, incomplete, and increasingly dysfunctional. It, perhaps inherently, lacks the ability to see the entire picture of human existence within our physical and biological environment.

It is a strangely disembodied approach to life. We have been captured - enslaved even - by the words, images, and sign systems that we ourselves created. We are polluting our own habitat, the actual world, in the pursuit of symbols and phantasms (money, profit, fame.) We are destroying the physical world - and harming our own bodies - in the name of fragile, transparent virtual worlds.


The plan we call civilization worked for a while, when there were not so many of us humans and an abundance of natural resources to discover, but that time is past and our plan is outdated.

The old plan was about individually and collectively figuring out how to discover, extract and process natural resources for human consumption and prosperity. The old plan only sees human needs. It is blind to the necessity of maintaining a non-human environment. It is all about taking - about being better at taking from the environment than everyone else.

The new plan has to come to terms with the concept that we are on a finite planet and that we need to share it with other forms of life. The old alternate theories of communism and socialism and even libertarian anarchism did not go back far enough: they all still assume that natural resources are dead material to be disposed in the sole interest of humankind. None of them question the foundations of civilization. None of them question human self-interest. None of them ask us to share our world with non-humans

Why do we need to share it? For the selfish reason that we probably won’t survive otherwise, but also because a living, flourishing world is better than a dead, destroyed one, and all other forms of life have an inherent value. We cannot value our own life without valuing it in other living beings.

What is the difference between the old plan and the new plan that we need to formulate? It is the difference between extraction and regeneration, the difference between exploiting and nurturing, between taking and giving. A viable plan will actively nurture Life on this planet: Life in all its variety and resplendence of species and natural systems.
The new plan, quite simply, is to nurture life. Starting exactly where you are. The new plan will call each of us to turn all of our human powers of strategizing, organizing, competing, and innovating from exploiting life to nurturing Life.
It starts with letting go. Letting go of the old idea of what it means to be a successful human. Letting go of the idea that you have to be better than anybody else in the terms of the old game. Letting go of the fear of death, weakness, and vulnerability. Letting go of the idea that only human selves matter. It starts with letting go in order to get bigger.

To be human means to be more than human, or at least it should be. Our challenge is to expand beyond the boundaries of our skins and the enclosures of human culture. We cannot be simply human, simply our species. Our humanity does not exist without the non-human. We are both dependent upon and enmeshed with the environment that we live in. We are our environment. That is the bigger self that we could strive for.
In becoming bigger, we can see more broadly and therefore more truly. Bigger, wiser, more engaged. In becoming bigger we can see farther and find a direction, a way out.

No comments: