Sunday, March 26, 2006

Conscious purpose and the environment

Most people who enjoy natural history series such as Planet Earth will appreciate the incredible balance that is found in nature between different species that depend on each other for survival. This balance has evolved through thousands of years. Yet this balance is not conscious; blackbirds don't think 'It's going to be a poor summer so we'll lay fewer eggs'. Gregory Bateson, the English anthropologist appreciated that this balance reflected an inherent wisdom. Mind, he suggested, was an integral apsect of this interrelationship. A multitude of diverse creatures have survived, as part of the environment, for millenia. This graceful and unconscious balancing act between the parts of the larger system comprised of species and the environment has been incredibly successful.

But now we are threatened by our own conscious purpose. As a species, we don't live in unconscious harmony wth the environment, in fact, we tend to think of ourselves as separate from the environment; having 'dominion' over the whole of creation. Perhaps this has worked for a few thousand years. However, I doubt anyone affected by the effects of global warming would agree that we still have dominion over the earth.

As a species we are dependant on exploiting the resources of the planet to maintain the lifestyles we have become accustomed to. In a sense, we are addicted to these finite resources, resources that when used create carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are contributing to global warming. To be blunt, most of the things that governments are doing to address this problem are inadequate. Whilst I have railed against speeding fines that seem inconsistent, I would not object to speed limits being imposed to reduce emissions. But changing a society through taxes is hardly adequate considering the potentially disastrous global effects of climate change.

What is required is something more drastic than carbon taxes. We urgently need to think about how we think. One of the first things we can do is begin to appreciate that we are part of the environment, not separate from it.

We need to begin to appreciate that perhaps there is a wisdom inherent in nature that is greater than ours. Some might even wonder if some kind of deity may be discerned in this ecological wisdom.

We can begin to think more systemically. Bateson called this a cybernetic epistemology. "The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in the pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by 'God,' but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology."

Bateson saw the problems we were heading for overy 40 years ago. In his words (From Brockman) "Perhaps all exploration of the world of ideas is only a searching for a rediscovery, and perhaps it is such rediscovery of the latent that defines us as "human," "conscious," and "twice born." But if this be so, then we all must sometimes hear St. Paul's "voice" echoing down the ages: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."

I am suggesting to you that all the multiple insults, the double binds and invasions that we all experience in life, the impact (to use an inappropriate physical word) whereby experience corrupts our epistemology, challenging the core of our existence, and thereby seducing us into a false cult of the ego—what I am suggesting is that the process whereby double binds and other traumas teach us a false epistemology is already well advanced in most occidentals and perhaps most orientals, and that those whom we call "schizophrenics" are those in whom the endless kicking against the pricks has become intolerable."

Is it too late to change our ways of thinking? Perhaps the technological advances charactaristic of our 'false epistemology' may help to forestall climate change, but will they buy our species enough time to ensure our survival?

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