| This essay is in response to requests for a précis and update of my much longer essay How to Save the World.
Thirty millennia ago, a new and unique human culture evolved1 amidst all the others. It differed radically from any culture seen before on Earth. It emerged as a Darwinian response to two2 major developments in human activity, which were in turn the result of a sudden scarcity of food3:
Previous to this, human and non-human animal cultures had always reacted to food shortages by reducing their population naturally, painlessly 4, and instinctively.
As a consequence of these two radical developments, this acquisitive culture became:
This cultural and technological evolution has perpetuated itself ever since, and has been hugely successful (in much the same way, some would say, as cancer is successful, by mutating beyond the reach of natural balancing mechanisms). It has displaced or eliminated most other human cultures, consumed Earth’s natural resources, and degraded the natural ecosystem and biodiversity at an unprecedented and unsustainable pace.
The moral and rational guidelines we created to help us cope with our new lives are essentially apologies and justifications for our culture’s separation from the natural ecosystem and the damages it has created. Our instinctive knowledge is utterly inconsistent and irreconcilable with such moral and rational knowledge, and the resulting schism and anxiety has made our entire culture mentally ill.
This mental illness has been exacerbated by massive over-crowding and the additional stress that over-crowding naturally creates. The consequences of this are these new ‘acquisitive-culture’ artefacts:
Attempts to solve or at least mitigate these problems by resorting to moral or rational solutions have been abject failures:
We must stop looking at inherently flawed moral (religious, political) and rational (legal, scientific, ‘logical’) solutions to our problems, and instead look to primeval, proven, balanced, sustainable intuitive solutions. In short, we must (re-)learn to get in touch with, and trust, our instincts. They served us extraordinarily well for 99% of humanity’s time on Earth: Contrary to myth, this 99% of our history was not a desperate and constant struggle for survival, but was likely a time of great ease, abundance, peace and equilibrium3.
Re-connecting with our instincts does not mean naively trying to go back to a ‘noble savage’ culture. Life does not and cannot evolve backwards. Rapid change can only occur when, as occurred at the dawn of the industrial revolution or the turning point of popular sentiment against the Vietnam War, people realize that a different course of action is intuitively the way to go. Neither moral nor immoral, neither logical nor illogical, but instead instinctive behaviour, the kind that causes people to love and care for their children, and the kind that causes monarch butterflies to traverse a continent over three generations between its nesting and wintering grounds. It’s not the right way to live or the rational way to live, it is, in Darwinian terms, the only way to live, and the code that makes us know what ‘it’ is, has been imprinted in our genes for three million years, and was only forgotten a mere thirty millennia ago. Other species that know this have survived and thrived on Earth far longer than homo sapiens, and it is only the new upstart culture, acquisitive man, that now threatens these instinctively wise and happy creatures.
In his book A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen says:
The fifteen million people that recently and spontaneously took to the streets to protest Bush’s religious (‘moral’) and economic (‘rational’ ) war against Iraq were doing just that: listening to their instincts. Avoidance of war except in the face of imminent and overwhelming threat is intuitively the best way for us to survive as a species. We are protesting the war and trying to oust the madmen on both sides that crave it because we know keeping the peace is ‘exactly what to do.’ It is not a moral conclusion, or a rational conclusion, it is an intuitive certainty. We know it in our bones.
As a species, we have marvellous instincts. It is these instincts, the innate voices speaking to us in a language older than words, a language untouched by the artifice of morality or rationalization, that have given us:
Our emotions defy moral or rational explanation and are present, perhaps more strongly5 than in humans, in creatures that have neither the need nor the ability to moralize or rationalize about them. Creatures that by many standards live ‘better’ than man.
It is undeniably human to despair at the possibility of getting enough people to understand and, having understood, to act on this innate knowledge. It is tempting to give up and moralize or rationalize the hopelessness of our situation and the futility of trying to solve it, and pray for salvation or a second coming or an superior alien intervention or some other deus ex machina or technological panacea brilliantly imposed on us that will make everything ‘right’. But such despair is a product of the strictures of moral and rational thought. Intuitively we cannot despair. We must strive to survive, to evolve beyond, to listen and heed the voices inside us that tell us we must go on, fare forward, find the answers in the echoes of three million years of connectedness to the Earth, our home. That is our true human nature, shared with the ‘nature’ of all other creatures, and it is simply and utterly instinctive. The ‘meaning of life’ is, ultimately, tautological.
From listening, and studying the history and cultures of our and other species, here are some of things that I ‘know’ instinctively we must do, by whatever means necessary. If your instincts tell you something different, that does not matter: It is the combined instinct of our entire culture that will, if we listen to it, take us in the right direction.
We all must listen, and trust our instincts, and do what they tell us. If we listen carefully, watch those that are most connected to the primeval planetary drumbeat, feel with the calcium in our bones and our hearts aching with love for all life on Earth, we will know the answers. Not faith, not reason, just instinct, telling us what we must do.
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Chris Hedges (US)
Dahr Jamail (US)
David Petraitis (US)
David Wallace-Wells (US)
Dean Spillane-Walker (US)*
Derrick Jensen (US)
Doing It Ourselves (AU)
Dougald & Paul (UK)*
Gail Tverberg (US)
Guy McPherson (US)
Jan Wyllie (UK)
Janaia & Robin (US)*
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Keith Farnish (UK)
NTHE Love (UK)
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Richard Heinberg (US)
Robert Jensen (US)
Roy Scranton (US)
Sam Mitchell (US)
Sam Rose (US)*
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Umair Haque (US)
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My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 100 Posts --
Preparing for Civilization's End:
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
The Boiling Frog
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self:
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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