Today’s post is by regular contributor, Richard Jurin. Before his retirement, Richard led the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Northern Colorado, where he launched a degree in Sustainability Studies.  His academic interests are environmental worldviews and understanding barriers to sustainability. As ever, with our blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily shared by NAEE.

Richard writes:

A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”

C. S. Lewis.

According to orthodox historical narrative, our modern ‘civilized’ world had its origins with an agricultural revolution around 9-10,000 years ago.  Many modern thinkers, however (e.g., Steven Taylor and Daniel Quinn), place the origins of our modern problems not with this agricultural revolution, but the birth of a worldview that put humanity at odds with the world some 5-6000 years ago.  This infers that humanity lived with agriculture for perhaps 3-4000 years before a new worldview corrupted what was probably a peaceful system of community farming that lived alongside hunter-gatherer systems.  We can infer this because much evidence shows early agricultural centers were not built defensively.  That only started around 5-6000 years ago with the beginning of city empires that needed armies for defense, expansion, control, and subjugation.    

Daniel Quinn refers to humanities problems as one of hierarchy that derived from a mindset of scarcity.  At that time a hierarchical system of dominance and control over the masses began, concurring with an attitude of dominance over the natural world to create a worldview that humanity was separate and above the natural world.  Quinn separated humanity into ‘Leavers’ that lived within the natural world, and ‘Takers’ that exploited the natural world.

From a different perspective, Steve Taylor talks about how ego-mindedness took precedence over spiritual-mindedness, again driven by a mindset of scarcity.  In essence, a belief of human ingenuity to control and dominate took hold to maintain resources as climatic variations waxed and waned.  As the human spiritual connection to all life diminished, it was replaced by an egoic materialism that became more pronounced during the Medieval Renaissance through a scientific mindset that further emphasized separateness from the natural world.  One result of this mindset was a belief that technology could resolve all ecological and social problems, while ignoring the consequences that this mindset was wreaking on the natural world. 

It is far beyond the scope of a 600-word blog to elucidate this deeply.  The solution to a problem begins with recognizing the problem in the first place.  Our solution is not to simply find another form of hierarchy or create yet another religion around nature.  Technology is not our problem.  Indeed, it has been the reason for the highest worldwide ‘Standard of Living’ enjoyed by so many people worldwide in recorded human history. No, our problem is how we think about technology and how ‘Quality of Life’ is divorced from any measures of its benefits and failings.

We must rethink why we have hierarchies at all.  For several millennia we have been ‘ruled’ by Emperors, Monarchs, and now Governments, Corporations, and monied oligarchies.  Throughout recorded history we have had many revolutions to overthrow hierarchical tyrants only to replace them with new hierarchical tyrants.  I recall a MAD magazine cartoon from the 1960s that showed the Russian monarchy and three people – ‘Tzar, peasant, peasant, peasant’ before the revolution, and then ‘Commissar, peasant, peasant, peasant’ after it.  The bloody American and French revolutions of the late 1700s, were attempts to rectify the hierarchy problem, but merely changed the look of it.  We need leaders who inspire us, but we do not need despots in love with power in whatever form they take.    

Much of the control by hierarchies comes from our beliefs in scarcity, driven by the fears and anxieties of egoic thinking.  We cannot go back to romanticized Leaver cultures.  It is not their lifestyle we need to consider, it is their worldview of living more harmoniously with the natural through a mindset of abundance in material and quality of life.  Our ‘civilization minds’ of several millennia must go ‘Beyond Civilization’ and ‘Beyond Egoic’ thinking to a new kind of social structure with a balance of egoic and spiritual thinking. 

If this kind of vision is problematical, how likely is it that we develop some magic environmental management formula by framing rational, realistic sets of environmental management principles and values on which to base crucial judgments on broad ecological, environmental, and socio-cultural issues.  It is possible that out of this flux will come integrated programs and practices consistent with new knowledge in both the natural and social sciences, finding their expression through public policies, private management decisions, actions of business and labor, consumer behavior in the market, and voter behavior at the polls. And all this with a hierarchically framed economic mindset of profit driven systems? 

People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better

Ray Bradbury. 

So, what might a global society that is free from hierarchies and fear of scarcity look like?  Looking through a glass darkly can give us a vision to think about.  


Richard can be contacted at:

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