What we think of as ‘us’, headquartered in our minds, is merely a complicity of our bodies’ invention, a figment of reality. In reality our minds are the battleground between our bodies’ organs, which invented and co-evolved our minds as their problem detection system, and our society, which seeks to co-opt our minds to (as ee cummings put it) “make us everybody else” as part of a collective army to fight that society’s imagined enemies. In the sense we have come to conceive of ourselves, there is no ‘us’.
I am coming to believe that our bodies’ organs co-evolved our minds for a purpose other than their immediate and selfish self-protection. The second purpose of our minds, I think, is self-restraint. Why? Because self-restraint of creatures with exceptional capacity to influence their ecosystem is essential to the health of that ecosystem, and hence to the health of all creatures within it. Most creatures do not need self-restraint because, at their worst, they can do little to perturb the balance of life. But larger, fiercer, smarter creatures can wreak havoc, so their minds (in the collective interest of all-life-on-Earth) should inevitably have evolved self-restraint as a critical characteristic and determinant of decision-making.
Most of who ‘we’ are continues to be the autonomous processes of our bodies’ organs, and the subconscious realizations that we call ‘instinct’. Our conscious thoughts comprise a tiny proportion of our information activities. So what happened to us that we now equate ourselves with our conscious thoughts, and even believe we have an identity, a consciousness, that transcends our body entirely, and even defines reality? Some would have us believe it is our abstract consciousness, our ability to conceive, that ‘makes’ the world — that there is no reality without consciousness. (This belief reminds me of the equally arrogant belief of religious fanatics that the world was created six thousand years ago by a superhuman. It defies all credibility. But whatever gets you through the night, I guess.)
Most creatures exercise self-restraint, a manifestation of a humility that appreciates and realizes that the delicate balance of nature that has evolved over billions of years is the best model of sustainability, the best way to live. They ‘voluntarily’ reduce their birth numbers to keep them in balance with the rest of their ecosystem. This remarkable phenomenon seems to arise as a result of hormonal changes that respond to overcrowding and other stresses, changes that indicate a collective awareness. Only if that fails do nature’s other remedies kick in — increases in other predators, disease, and, as a last resort, aggression and violence leading to rising death rates.
I believe we had this same self-restraint, until, as an unexpected consequence of our sophisticated brains, we invented civilization, and its artifacts, including the suppression of our ‘natural’ self-restraint. “To be nobody else” is indeed, as cummings said, “the hardest battle”, and it requires that we rediscover our instinctive self-restraint, become truly natural creatures again, each one of us, alone, and free ourselves from the slavery and propaganda that our society, with the best of intentions, has imposed on us. We have lost that humility, that self-restraint. We have become disconnected from all-life-on-Earth so that we no longer sense that we are devastating the planet, that our way of living is unsustainable. Why?
My theory is that it began with either the ice ages, or with the rapid extinction of large mammals that followed our invention of spears and arrowheads. Suddenly, what had been a life of astonishing and continuous abundance became a world of great scarcity. That scarcity bred fear. That fear (in an autonomous process that Hall has shown occurs precisely the same way in mice) produces murderous violence, which in turn precipitates mental illness, trauma, shutdown, suicide, and vulnerability.
At about the time of this collective mental breakdown, we also invented, perhaps as a means of trying to manage social disorder, abstract human language, a tool that enabled the invention and dissemination of propaganda: Once we learned to communicate accurately, we quickly learned the advantage of lying.
The combination of emotional illness and psychological vulnerability, and propaganda exploiting this weakness produced, I would theorize, four phenomena that exemplify our modern society: groupthink (“becoming everybody else”). frenetic behaviour (inability to pay attention), disconnection, and dependence (on others higher in a hierarchy). A very sad, unhealthy, destructive and unnatural way to live.
If this is the case, what would we need to do to become our natural selves again? To stop being “everybody else”? To regain that humility and self-restraint?
It would be difficult, even more difficult than cummings suggested. We would have to deny all the conventional wisdom that we are taught from birth. We would have to live simpler, in order to re-become self-sufficient. We’d have to shut off the noise and propaganda that bombards our every waking moment. We’d have to refocus on the simple joys of life: eating, sleeping, loving, playing, and spend less time doing things that rely on others, people we don’t know. We’d have to talk less, and talk about what’s important. In place of the inane chatter we’d spend time reconnecting with our senses, our bodies, our instincts, and the natural world. We’d have to stop living the dread-ful life inside our heads and start living as part of all-life-on-Earth, in the astonishing, joyful, real world. We’d have to stop living in clock time and start living in Now Time.
We’d have to re-become simply who we are: A collection of organs amazingly complicit in realizing their collective success and happiness, inventing and reinventing and succeeding ourselves, connecting with love and without restraint, instinctively, under the spell of the sensuous.
Could we even do this? I think it’s possible. I think artists are, by nature, closer to this simple, open, vulnerable, natural, truthful way of living. We have a billion models — the wild creatures all around us, and the children, not yet disconnected and damaged and beaten into submission. They are showing us the way.
Painting above by painter and environmentalist Sophie Sheppard, auctioned in1999 at the Authors Unite in Defense of Mother Earth festival.
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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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