Are we reptiles or mammals?
“Civilization is the flower of humanity; its roots are not planted in societies of equal human beings. All our greatest cultural glories are growths out of hierarchy. Those who make our culture brilliant – our arts, architecture, sciences, in short, all beauty and creativity we humans have to show – have done it on the backs of tens of thousands of humans whose lives are chained to tedious labour and meaningless miseries. How could it be otherwise?”
— Prince Vil, in Wahladesshla: an other-worldly fable
“In the condition of absolute human freedom, where there is no alienation nor exploitation of men and women, an individual will build bridges and roads in the morning, perform music at mid-day, climb mountains in the afternoon, and write literature in the evening.”
— Karl Marx (paraphrased), in The Grundrisse
Equality and Creativity
In the two opinions in the epigraphs above, which vision of human reality seems to you the most true to our history, and to your notion of human being?
Is it truer to say all humans can and will create wonderful things when they are liberated from the burden of a social hierarchy to which they must submit – as Marx believed?
Or is it truer to find human nature as it is in recorded history – we cannot produce the fantastic array of human creativity seen in the past, from ancient Egypt and China to this present day, unless some humans serve others?
Perhaps your answer reveals more about you than about the truth of the human condition. But the question is intriguing, is it not?
We may dream of a world of justice where all humans are treated as having equal value and no person dominates another with superior power and wealth. It is a lovely vision. Would that world still have the pyramids, music, dance, cathedrals, sciences, paintings, sculpture and literature we know we have created as a species under conditions of unfair shares of power and wealth?
I have always desired social justice and equality in the human world. But I have assumed Marx is correct. If he were wrong, maybe I’d lose that desire.
Let’s not talk about the weather
Hard to miss this topic in the last two weeks.
More extremes, more volatility, more human suffering, due to bizarre and harmful climate phenomena we have never seen arriving so close together.
Scientists have told us that human actions were making a deep difference to the earth and making the probability of these events much greater. Many of our political rulers and capitalist masters fought against this view, denying that our economic activity could cause climate change. Here it is, the change predicted.
Why could we do nothing to alter our behavior and our systems so as to avoid this eventuality? Two basic answers seem to present themselves to me:
One, our masters have successfully prevented any alteration of human economies that would hurt their power and privileges, they misled us and stopped us making better choices, so it is ultimately their fault, not ours, making us impotent to change. I do not accept this explanation.
Two, the masters did what they could for their own interests, but they did not make us act against our own best wisdom. We lack the intelligence or capacity to change, and we choose the destructive course because that is in the nature of our humanity. This seems to me more supported by the evidence in the record of human history. We love wise people. They do not lead us.
Joseph Chilton Pearce
If this is a name you have not heard, an author you have not read, he is one of the wise who does not lead. Another is William Irwin Thompson. Add more names if you will. The Dalai Lama? Eckhart Tolle? Albert Einstein? Charles Eisenstein? Sure, why not.
Pearce explains why we do not follow wisdom. He has written extensively about what a human is — in our biology, in our culture, in our nature/nurture so to speak. Some of his titles: Magical Child; Evolution’s End; The Heart-Mind Matrix; The End of Religion and Rise of Spirituality.
He applies neuroscientific discoveries about humans – for example, that much of a human heart is composed of neurons (cells like brain cells) – and allows himself a freedom to conjecture the meaning of that. “Pure” scientists cannot do what Pearce or W. I. Thompson do with the discoveries made in laboratories or by research into behavior; they attempt to use facts in philosophy — and the scientists are not “allowed” to do that by the rules for being scientific.
Pearce and Thompson are not optimists about the human condition. They do not see us doing well in future. My regular readers will intuit that is why I am drawn to these authors.
Bottom line for Pearce: the oldest parts of our evolved brain, the reptile brain, is “in charge”. This is an inversion. Our highest, newest brain (neo-cortex) was not meant to serve the lower drives. But reptilian humans rule us.
Our human cultures now empower the least-evolved part of us to lead. Charles Eisenstein, the eternal optimist, is upset by Pearce. In an interview (you can easily find it by googling), the former tries to convince the latter it is not dark ahead. Pearce is a kind man, and lets Eisenstein have his sunny outlook.
Mainstream Canadian Economy
Speaking of reptilian-minded leadership, I saw our Prime Minister tell an audience that pipeline projects like the Northern Gateway, which will cross First Nations’ lands, can bring prosperity to the Natives. They have, he said, an opportunity to “join the mainstream of Canada’s economy”… Has this man, whom we made our leader, really not been paying attention to changing public opinion? Not everyone wants the mainstream he refers to.
Many of us admire that Natives do not enslave themselves to materialism. We respect their wisdom about preserving natural environments for the greater good. We even depend on them to fight exploitation of resources by capitalism, using their legal rights as aboriginals. We prefer fighting in the courts to fighting on barricades. But the latter style of conflict is not out of the question for Natives or their sympathizers.
To sum up my gloomy ramblings today, I offer this observation from my own experience of Facebook where I count only 49 friends: It is a place where we urge one another to better lives and wiser actions and more love, with constant postings of profound sayings. Accompanied by gorgeous photos and art there are many words of improvement I would never find on my own, I am sure.
I wish such earnest urgings were all it took to transform us. The sheer volume of this encouragement, this chorus of cheers for our better natures, would have to drown out the negativity which I find also on my pages in the news bulletins.
But it takes more than well-crafted sentences, profound imagery, poetry and spiritual articulation, to move a human to be something higher than a human.
“The better angels of our natures” do not seem to be winning out, just now.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc Of The Cognizant can be found here.