Was versteht man unter Psychohygiene?

Ein Mensch sagt, und ist stolz darauf
ich geh in meinen Pflichten auf.
Doch bald darauf, nicht mehr so munter
geht er in seinen Pflichten unter.
Eugen Roth

Psychohygiene gilt als die Wissenschaft und Praxis von der Erhaltung der seelischen Gesundheit (siehe auch ‚Hygiene‘). Sie beschäftigt sich mit Lebensumständen, die sich begünstigend oder schädigend auf den menschlichen Organismus auswirken (siehe dazu auch den Beitrag ‚Psyche, was ist das?‘)

Ziel ist die Frühentdeckung der Beeinträchtigung psychischer Gesundheit, Aufklärung und Prävention. Die Psychohygiene als ein Teilbereich der Hygiene und Gesundheitsvorsorge beeinflusst alle Aktivitäten des täglichen Lebens, sowohl die physiologischen, als auch die psychologischen und geistigen (siehe dazu die Beiträge ‚Burnout – tiefer geblickt und ‚Burnout – Mensch und Arbeit am Scheideweg‚) .

Ziel der Psychohygiene ist es, im Rahmen der Gesundheitsvorsorge und gesunden Lebensführung, psychische Belastungen zu reduzieren bzw. nach Möglichkeit auszuschalten. Belastungen lassen sich in Leistungsdruck, beruflicher Beanspruchung, starke Emotionen, Aufregung, Spannung und Angst differenzieren, wobei diese Auswirkungen auf die psychische, physische und soziale Integrität des Menschen haben und als Stressfaktoren bezeichnet werden.

Wie wird  ’seelische Gesundheit‘ definiert?

Was einem sowohl assoziativ als auch im Internet sofort begegnet ist der Gegenbegriff zu ’seelisch gesund‘, nämlich ’seelisch erkrankt‘. Dazu liest man ‚: „Menschen mit psychischen Erkrankungen haben nach wie vor mit Stigmatisierung zu kämpfen. Für die Betroffenen sind Zurückweisung und Ausgrenzung eine enorme Belastung.“

Psychohygiene, so lässt sich also schlussfolgern, hat  zur Aufgabe, psychischer Erkrankung vorzubeugen. Ergebnis guter Psychohygiene ist ‚Resilienz‘.

„Resilienz“ stammt aus dem Englischen (resilience) und kann mit Widerstandsfähigkeit (Elastizität oder Spannkraft) übersetzt werden. Der Begriff meint die Fähigkeit, mit belastenden Situationen gut umgehen zu können.

Wesentliche Faktoren, die Resilienz beeinflussen, sind die Familie des Betroffenen, seine Kultur, seine schulische Umgebung, seine Intelligenz, insbesondere seine emotionale Intelligenz, d. h., seine Fähigkeit, Emotionen und Handlungen zu kontrollieren und seine mehr oder weniger ‚pro-aktive‘ Einstellung zu Problemen (Neigung zum Verharren in Problemtrance / Problemfixierung oder aber Problemlösungsorientierung).

Einige Gruppen von Menschen erweisen sich als besonders resilient. Das sind in der Regel solche, die einen starken Zusammenhalt haben, eher kollektivistisch als individuell orientiert sind und sich durch starke Werte auszeichnen, die von den meisten Leuten aus der entsprechenden Gruppe geteilt werden (in der Resilienzforschung als „shared values“ bezeichnet).

Siehe Wikipedia Artikel: Resilienz

Wie kann aber Psychohygiene in einer hochindividualisierten Leistungsgesellschaft möglich gemacht werden? In einer Gesellschaft, in welcher der soziale Zusammenhang immer zufälliger wird und damit die Stabilität und Tragfähikgeit von Beziehungen abnimmt?

hochseilakt_2

Nik Wallenda (34)  auf einem Hochseil über den Grand Canyon

Antwort: Indem man ‚balancieren‘ lernt, auf auf dem ’schmalen Grat‘ zwischen gegensätzlichen Anforderungen zu gehen lernt, d.h. indem ‚geistig und mental höchst beweglich wird.‘ Das setzt die ‚Fähigkeit voraus, alle Überzeugungen ‚einklammern‘ zu können  und ‚ganz da zu sein‘, d.h. alles was überhaupt wert ist getan zu werden, auch mit ‚ganzer Aufmerksamkteit zu tun‘ (Stichwort: Flow).

„Volle Aufmerksamkeit besteht darin, das Denken auszusetzen, den Geist verfügbar, leer und für den Gegenstand offen zu halten, die verschiedenen bereits erworbenen Kenntnisse, die man zu benutzen genötigt ist, in sich dem Geist zwar nahe und erreichbar, doch auf einer tieferen Stufe zu erhalten, ohne dass sie ihn berührten. Der Geist soll hinsichtlich aller besonderen und schon ausgeformten Gedanken einem Menschen auf einem Berge gleichen, der vor sich hinblickt und gleichzeitig unter sich, doch ohne hinzublicken, viele Wälder und Ebenen bemerkt. Und vor allem soll der Geist leer sein, wartend, nichts suchend, aber bereit, den Gegenstand, der in ihn eingehen wird, in seiner nackten Wahrheit aufzunehmen.“ – Simone Weil

Der Dichter Franz Kafka hat dazu folgendes angemerkt: „Die Wahrheit ist das, was jeder Mensch zum Leben braucht und doch von niemand bekommen oder erstehen kann. Jeder Mensch muss sie aus dem eigenen Innern immer wieder produzieren, sonst vergeht er. Leben ohne Wahrheit ist unmöglich. Die Wahrheit ist vielleicht das Leben selbst.“

Siehe dazu auch: Psychoneuroimmunologie,  ‚Widerstandskraft entwickeln – aber wie?‚, ‚Output ohne Input, das geht auf Dauer nicht‘ und ‚Wohlwollend neutrales Beobachten‘ und Entspannungsmusik

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Grassroots movements…..

With a wide scope and penetrating lens, Bioneers Co-Founder Kenny Ausubel grapples with the existential crisis now facing human civilization. He shares both his deep faith in the power of human creativity and grassroots movements and honest appraisals of the enormous challenges we face and the short time we have to address them. With his usual inimitable style that seamlessly juxtaposes heartfelt passion, scathing humor and moments of ecstatic inspiration, Kenny tackles climate, inequality, the imperative of the Green New Deal, and Mayan wisdom, to mention only a few topics, ultimately exhorting us to rise to the occasion and trust that we have the capacity and vision to birth a new world.

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Im Kellerstöckl

2

Südburgenland………

„Some events help purify the mind and some stain it, adding more confusion.”

In einem ‚Kellerstöckl‘ ist beides möglich……..

„What is a viable alternative to ‘I can do it’?  How can you see into what is really meaningful?  What is really worthwhile?

Most people do not know that there can be an end to pain.  Does that mean an absence of pain? Awakening is the end of that sense that I am something and that something is pain. There is nothing to do, just be. The condition of timeless perfection, to which nothing can be added and nothing taken away, is your state right now.“

Unter Kellerstöckl versteht man in Österreich ein landwirtschaftlich genutztes Gebäude, vornehmlich in Weinbaugebieten.

Kellerstöckl wurden in sehr schräger Hanglage errichtet, dabei sind die Keller selbst oft weit in den dahinterliegenden Hang vorgetrieben. Der Name leitet sich vom Keller, dem wesentlichen Teil des Gebäudes her, auf dem ein einfaches, meist nur einräumiges Stockwerk errichtet wurde, das als Aufenthalts- und Schlafraum für die Arbeiter im Weinberg diente. Die Kellerstöckl wurden traditionell als massive Blockholzbauten mit Lehmverputz ausgeführt, um die für die Lagerung des Weines notwendigen Temperaturen zu gewährleisten. Der Raum unter dem spitzgiebeligen Dach, der Boden, diente als Lager- und Trocknungsraum für verschiedene Lebensmittel.

Die Keller selbst waren meist zweigeteilt: Der vordere Kellerteil wurde als Arbeits- und Pressraum verwendet, während der hintere, oft auch noch um einige Stufen tiefergelegte Teil des Kellers der eigentlich Gär- und Lagerkeller war.

Heute werden die meisten Kellerstöckl als Ferienwohnungen adaptiert.

Sommerlager

Uhudler – der Wein

Die Meinungen über das von zahlreichen Weinliebhabern mit Kultstatus geadelte, jedenfalls erfrischende, „Getränk“, gehen quer durch die Weingärten und Weinkeller. Während die einen die Nase wegen seiner geradlinigenden, oftmals nach Waldbeeren duftenden „Blume“ rümpfen, brechen andere nahezu in Begeisterungsstürme gerade deshalb und wegen des fruchtigen und nicht selten mit einer kräftigen Portion Säure ausgestatteten Rebensaftes aus.

Ins Blickfeld der Öffentlichkeit ist der Uhudler in jüngster Zeit wegen der Debatte und der darauf basierender Entscheidung des Agrarausschusses des Europäischen Parlaments gerückt, den Anbau des Uhudlers in der EU zu untersagen. Ausgenommen davon sind das Burgenland und Teile der Steiermark, dort wird er übrigens als „Heckenklescher“ bezeichnet. Seit über hundert Jahren werden Uhudler-Weine aber auch -Frizzante aus Direkträgern produziert – und finden immer mehr Absatz. In Österreich ist die Existenz des Uhudlers seit der Klassifizierung durch ein burgenländisches Landesgesetz gesichert. Der Siegeszug des Uhudlers aus dem Burgenland und des Heckenkleschers aus der Steiermark kann damit ungebremst weitergehen.

Resistent gegen Reblaus & Co.

Die Selbstträger waren um die Wende vom 19. zum 20. Jahrhundert die Antwort auf die nahezu flächendeckende Vernichtung der Weinkulturen in Europa durch die Reblaus. Und gerade gegen diese erwiesen sich die aus den USA importierten, wurzelechten Weinstöcke als Rettung des Weinbaus. Durch das Pfropfen auf ausreichend reblausresistenten Unterlagsreben war es letztlich möglich, die europäischen Sorten zu erhalten. Die Fans der Direktträger betonen zudem, dass diese nicht nur gegen die Reblaus, sondern auch andere Schädlinge und Krankheiten gut gewappnet wären.

Das Anbaugebiet des Uhudlers ist auf das Südburgenland konzentriert. Er wird in einem relativ kleinen Gebiet – vor allem in den Bezirken Jennersdorf und Güssing – angebaut. Zentren sind die Gemeinden Heiligenbrunn (Bezirk Güssing) und Eltendorf (Bezirk Jennersdorf) sowie Moschendorf (Bezirk Güssing). Das Anbaugebiet umfasst nur rund 100 Hektar. Zum Vergleich: Wiens Rebflächen weisen 620 Hektar auf. Neben Weinen und Schaumweinen werden aus den Uhudlertrauben fruchtige Säfte, milde Essige, Schokoladen, Marmeladen und sogar aus den Traubenkernen Pflegecremen hergestellt.

Uhudler

Wer mit dem Uhudler nähere Bekanntschaft machen will, ist gut beraten, nicht zuletzt seinem Anbaugebiet einen Besuch abzustatten. In der lieblichen Landschaft des Südburgenlands gilt die Gemeinde Heiligenbrunn  als DIE Uhudler-Destination. Wegen der jahrhundertealten, zum Großteil erhaltenen und oftmals sorgfältig restaurierten so genannten Kellertöckln, in denen die Trauben gepresst und der Wein aufbewahrt wurden und teilweise auch heute noch werden, ist das Ensemble äußerst sehenswert. Die etwa 150 Presshäuser und Kellerstöckeln präsentieren sich ein einzigartiges Ensemble. Die meisten von ihnen sind Holzblockbauten und stehen auf gestampftem Lehmboden. Sie sind mit Lehm-Strohhäcksel-Gemisch verputzt und mit Kalkmilch geweißt.

Quellen:

https://kulturfuechsin.com/at/uhudler/
https://albertlow.wordpress.com/2020/06/25/just-be/

 

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Just be — Thoughts Along the Way

teisho 1286 (2012) Nisargadatta says: „All experience is transient, but the ground of all experience is immovable.“ Any experience, no matter how sublime, how profound, how revealing, is still an experience, and as such it is not the ground of experience. We cannot experience reality. Reality is not a quality, like a colour, a shape, […]

über Just be — Thoughts Along the Way

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America Explodes – Adam Shatz on Trump’s domestic war

White nationalism has found expression not merely in Trump’s defence of the Charlottesville white nationalists as ‘very fine’ people, or in the building of the wall against migrants from Mexico and Central America, but in his attack on ‘shithole countries’ and his decision to remove the US from the World Health Organisation in the middle of the pandemic – ‘white flight’ translated into foreign policy.

And then there’s the pandemic itself. Floyd’s murder came just as the US death toll exceeded a hundred thousand. An alarming number of those who have died have been people of colour, especially black people, many of whom suffer from pre-existing health conditions and don’t have access to adequate healthcare. Covid-19 has made clear how little black lives matter in the US, even as it has underscored the country’s dependence on black and brown ‘essential’ workers, who provide care, deliver packages and prepare food – all lines of work that have exposed them to the virus. The growing awareness that Covid-19 is a ‘black plague’, as the Princeton academic Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has called it, has inspired a call to action among civil rights activists. But many whites, especially in red states, have responded with demands to end the shutdown. Trump cheered on the armed and unmasked white protesters in Michigan who seized the state capitol and advocated ‘liberation’ from the shelter-in-place order issued to limit the spread of the virus. When Georgia (whose governor, Brian Kemp, a right-wing Republican, won the election from the Democrat Stacey Abrams through brazen voter suppression) reopened, the New York Times ran a front-page photograph of a black woman in a white mask, serving coffee to a white man without a mask at a lunch counter, a reminder that Jim Crow hasn’t so much died as been reconfigured. The message of such scenes was that whites had no reason to concern themselves with a ‘black plague’, except to make sure the help was taking precautions.

The method of Floyd’s killing is no less significant. It almost doesn’t matter whether Chauvin intended to kill him; he didn’t care whether he lived or died. Trump did not kill Floyd, but he has fanned the politics of white supremacy and sanctioned the humiliation of black Americans. It is this assault, on Floyd’s dignity as well as his person, that has provoked the most serious challenge yet to Trump’s presidency.

……

Trump couldn’t care less about the international outcry. He wants to divorce the rest of the world and retreat to his fantasy of an armed white America as conjured on Fox Television. But the United States now faces a serious challenge to its international legitimacy – as serious as the one it faced during the Jim Crow era. The demonstrators have put not just the police but the nation on trial. As much as structural change, they’re fighting for what Martin Luther King, in his 1967 Riverside Church speech against the Vietnam War, called a ‘revolution in values’. They may not look on each other as ‘lovers’, as Baldwin urged the ‘relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks’ to do in The Fire Next Time, but they are trying, in their own fashion, and in their own language, to ‘achieve our country and change the history of the world’. For the moment, they are all that stands between us and the ghosts of our ugly past.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n12/adam-shatz/america-explodes

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Make The Ordinary Come Alive

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Formen von Lernen

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Leben im Anthropozän : Die Pandemie ist kein Überfall von Außerirdischen

Anthropozän

Von Bernd Scherer

Aktualisiert am 03.05.2020-19:46

Die weltweite Verbreitung von Covid-19 führt uns die Konsequenzen unserer Lebensweise vor Augen. Im Virus begegnen wir unserem Selbst und unserer Beziehung zur Natur. Aus den Fehlern sollten wir lernen.

Sars-CoV-2 dringt immer tiefer in unsere Welt ein. Es verändert tiefgreifend unseren Alltag, unser Leben. Es ist eine Situation, die wir so in Mitteleuropa bisher nicht erlebt haben und für die wir keine eigene Sprache ausgebildet haben. Nicht selten wird vom Krieg gegen die Viren gesprochen. Aber wer ist eigentlich der Gegner, gegen den dieser Krieg zu führen ist? In der Wissenschaft ist es umstritten, ob Viren überhaupt Lebewesen sind. Die Tatsache, dass sie sich vermehren können, deutet zwar darauf hin, allerdings sind sie dabei auf einen Wirt angewiesen. Der Wirt bietet das Milieu, in dem sie sich teilen, in dem sie aber auch mutieren. Sie selbst verfügen vor allem über das Programm, das die Teilung und damit Vermehrung steuert, nicht aber über eigene Stoffwechselprozesse. Insofern sind sie nicht selbständig und nicht als Lebewesen zu betrachten. Man kann Viren auch nicht im Sinne eines Krieges töten, sondern nur ihre Vermehrung stoppen.

Menschliche Zellen werden zu Wirten des Coronavirus. In diesem Zuge wurden menschliche Lebensweisen, ökonomische Austauschprozesse sowie politische Strukturen zu den eigentlichen Medien der Vermittlung des Virus. Das Virus selbst erhält sich erst durch seinen Träger, ohne den es nicht existieren kann.

Vor dem Hintergrund seiner biologischen Funktionsweise wird nun die kulturelle und soziale Rolle des Coronavirus klar. Es nistet sich in einen Träger ein, nämlich die Menschen, die seit geraumer Zeit den Planeten umgestalten. Diese Transformation des Planeten durch den Menschen wird heute als Anthropozän bezeichnet. Das neue Coronavirus interveniert nun in die Logiken der anthropozänen Welt. Dies ist kein von Menschen intendierter Prozess. In ihm tritt der Mensch zunächst als natürliche Spezies auf, als Träger und Übermittler von Viren. Diese greifen die durch Menschen geschaffene Welt an. Durch die rasante Vermehrung des Virus und seine Weitergabe werden Strukturen und Defizite dieser anthropozänen Welt wie unter einem Brennglas ausgeleuchtet und auf die Probe gestellt.

Das Merkmal des Anthropozäns besteht darin, dass der Mensch durch die selbst geschaffenen Technologien und Infrastrukturen so tief in das Erdsystem eingreift, dass er nicht nur den Planeten als Ganzes transformiert, sondern auch das bisherige Gleichgewicht aus der Balance bringt. Dies zeigt sich daran, dass wesentliche Erdparameter vom Anstieg des Kohlendioxid-Gehalts bis zur Versauerung der Meere, vom Wasserverbrauch bis zur Herstellung von Plastik exponentiell ansteigen, ein Phänomen, das die Wissenschaft als „Great Acceleration“ – als große Beschleunigung – bezeichnet. Der Klimawandel, von dem wir in den letzten Jahren zunehmend betroffen sind, ist eine Konsequenz dieser Entwicklung.

Ein grundlegendes Problem vieler dieser anthropozänen Prozesse besteht darin, dass sie nicht unmittelbar erfahrbar sind und deshalb auch keine Strategien entwickelt wurden, um mit ihnen umzugehen. Das hat wesentlich mit den Skalierungseffekten zu tun. Wir erleben zwar Trockenheit und Regen, aber nicht die Klimaveränderungen über längere Zeiträume. Wir unternehmen zwar Fernreisen, können aber nicht fassen, was es für den Planeten bedeutet, wenn täglich mehr als zweihunderttausend Flugzeuge Millionen von Menschen um die Erde transportieren. Das Virus führt uns nun die Konsequenzen einer im Rahmen der großen Beschleunigung exponentiell angestiegenen Mobilität vor Augen, in der Flüge über den Atlantik oder Reisen nach Fernost Teil der beschleunigten ökonomischen Austauschprozesse sind. Es sind genau diese Mobilitätsstrukturen, die zum Transportmittel des Virus werden.

Es gibt keinen Ort, an den wir uns zurückziehen können

Die anthropozäne Welt ist eine Welt, in der es außer dem Weltraum kein Außen mehr gibt. Da menschliches Wissen und Technologie den Planeten als Ganzes transformieren, sind wir als Akteure immer auch Teil des Geschehens. Wir stellen permanent die Welt her, der wir dann auch ausgesetzt sind. Das Coronavirus verbreitet sich dank der Mobilität seines Wirtes auf dem gesamten Planeten aus. Deshalb gibt es keinen Ort, an den wir uns zurückziehen können, um von dort aus, geschützt vor dem Virus, auf die Erde zu blicken. Wir müssen unser Handeln und Denken als immanenten Teil dieser Prozesse begreifen. Die Idee, dass wir mit unserem Wissen die Welt beherrschen könnten, erweist sich somit als Illusion.

Das Virus und damit die Pandemie breitet sich aufgrund der anthropozänen Lebensformen mit einer bisher ungekannten Schnelligkeit aus. Die lokalen medizinischen Infrastrukturen kollabieren an vielen Stellen. Aus diesem Grund erkaufen wir uns jetzt mit Milliardenbeträgen Zeit, die es uns erlaubt, die adäquaten Lösungen für die existentielle Bedrohung zu entwickeln. Es sind Geldsummen notwendig, die jede menschliche Vorstellung übersteigen, um kompensatorisch auf die von uns selbst verursachte Problemlage zu reagieren. Diese ist eng verbunden mit der Logik der Beschleunigung, bei der die Wissensprozesse der letzten Jahrzehnte vor allem im Hinblick auf ihre technologische Anwendbarkeit und Profitabilität, aber nicht im Hinblick auf den gesellschaftlichen Nutzen und Sinn hin entwickelt wurden. Dabei haben wir in der Vergangenheit Strukturen geschaffen, die unsere Zukunft verbauen.

Die anthropozäne Welt beruht auf gigantischen technologischen Infrastrukturen, die sich über den ganzen Planeten erstrecken, von Staudämmen über Raffinerien, Flughäfen, Straßen- und Eisenbahnnetzen bis zu Ölpipelines, Lieferketten zwischen verschiedenen Produktionsstandorten und digitalen Infrastrukturen mit ihren weltumspannenden Kabelnetzwerken und Serversystemen. Diese Infrastrukturen werden mehr und mehr digital miteinander vernetzt und entwickeln sich zu einer eigenen Sphäre, der Technosphäre. Die Technosphäre ist äußerst kapitalintensiv und führt zur Akkumulation von ökonomischer Macht.

Dies hat zwei Konsequenzen, die durch die Corona-Krise aufgedeckt werden. Die Herstellung der Infrastrukturen, die für die Beschleunigungsphänomene des Anthropozäns verantwortlich sind, hat Gelder aus Bereichen abgezogen, die nicht im engeren Sinne produktiv für diese Entwicklung waren. Dies gilt insbesondere für das Gesundheitswesen, das in fast allen Ländern nicht auf diese Form der Pandemie vorbereitet war.Hinzu kommt, dass die ursprünglichen Verbreiter der Pandemie Akteure der globalisierten Welt sind, Menschen, die aus wirtschaftlichen oder touristischen Gründen Grenzen und Kontinente überqueren. Betroffen von der Pandemie sind aber auch sehr viele Menschen des globalen Südens, die von diesen Prozessen nicht profitieren, aber ihnen ausgesetzt sind. Ihnen stehen fast keine Mittel zur Verfügung, sich gegen die Ausbreitung des Virus zu wehren. Viele verlieren ihre Jobs aufgrund der Wirtschaftskrise, Tagelöhner können sich nicht mehr frei bewegen, ihnen fehlt der tägliche Lohn für ihre Arbeitskraft. Wer trotz der schlechten Versorgung nicht krank wird, gerät aufgrund der kollabierenden Ökonomien in eine existentielle Bedrohungslage. Die Politik erobert das Primat gegenüber der Ökonomie zurück, jedoch ohne die eigene globale Verantwortung zu akzeptieren.

Es lauert die Gefahr des Überwachungsstaates, der seine Bürger nicht nur schützt

Statt neue Formen der Solidarität mit den vom Virus am härtesten Betroffenen im globalen oder auch nur Europas Süden zu suchen, schottet sich der Norden systematisch ab. Und die neuen Nationalisten nutzen unter völliger Verkehrung der wirklichen Ursachen die Wohlstandsängste aus, indem sie die alten Metaphoriken von Infektionskrankheiten neu beleben. Alte Rassismen aber dienen der Befeuerung einer martialischen Rhetorik, die darauf dringt, die Grenzen dichtzumachen. Hier zeigt sich erneut die Gerechtigkeitslücke, die auch bei anderen anthropozänen Phänomenen wie dem Klimawandel eine grundlegende Rolle spielt. Die am stärksten Betroffenen sind nicht die Verursacher der Prozesse.

National, aber auch global bedarf es Strategien, die diese Gerechtigkeitslücke schließen. Im nationalstaatlichen Rahmen erfolgt nicht nur in Deutschland zur Zeit angesichts der Pandemie eine solche politische Neubewertung, aber nur für die eigene Bevölkerung. Milliarden werden eingesetzt, um die am meisten Gefährdeten, ältere und kranke Menschen, im Innern zu schützen. So richtig dieser Schritt ist, löst er nicht das globale Gerechtigkeitsproblem.

Die Infrastrukturen der Technosphäre haben mittlerweile eine solche Komplexität erreicht, dass sie sich der Kontrolle entziehen und unsere Freiheitsräume und damit unsere Zukunft zubauen. Die Bekämpfung der Pandemie in China, die zunächst nur die Speerspitze dieser Entwicklung deutlich macht, führt besonders eindrücklich vor Augen, was alle Gesellschaften vor enorme Herausforderungen stellt: Die Mobilität und technische Durchdringung aller Lebensbereiche erzeugt zunehmend Phänomene, die scheinbar die totale Überwachung und Kontrolle aller sozialen Abläufe notwendig macht.

Erscheint inmitten der Krise die entschlossene staatliche Intervention als Gebot der Stunde, so lauert doch gleichzeitig die Gefahr des Überwachungsstaates, der seine Bürger nicht nur schützt, sondern auch kontrolliert. Dieser Ausnahmezustand könnte zur Regel werden.

Die Herausforderungen der anthropozänen Welt haben ihre Wurzeln in der Entwicklungsgeschichte der westlichen Moderne. Für lange Zeit bestand das Versprechen der westlichen Moderne darin, die Freiheit und Autonomie jedes Menschen zu garantieren. Dieses Autonomieversprechen wurde aber damit erkauft, dass die Natur zur ausbeutbaren Ressource erklärt wurde. Voraussetzung dafür war über Jahrhunderte, dass viele nichtwestliche Gesellschaften von der Reichtumsakkumulation ausgeschlossen wurden, indem sie nicht der Zivilisation, sondern der auszubeutenden Natur zugerechnet wurden.

In der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts entwickelten sich Konsumgesellschaften, in denen das ursprüngliche Freiheitsversprechen der Moderne mehr und mehr als Recht auf uneingeschränkten Konsum ausgelegt wurde: Die Möglichkeit für jeden Einzelnen, zu jeder Jahreszeit alle erdenklichen Produkte kaufen und überall hin reisen zu können, wurde zu einer grundlegenden Antriebskraft der Great Acceleration und damit des Anthropozäns. Die Logiken der Konsumgesellschaft plünderten die Ressourcen des Planeten und brachten ihn an den Rand des Kollapses.

Das Autonomie-Projekt der Moderne entwickelte sich damit mehr und mehr zu einem Angriff sowohl auf den Planeten als auch das Leben. Das Schutzprojekt, nämlich der Schutz der Freiheit des Einzelnen, entpuppte sich zunehmend als ein Expansionsprojekt, das unsere ganze Lebenswelt transformierte.

Die evolutionäre Rolle der Viren blenden wir einfach aus

Auch die Viren sind Teil dieser Lebenswelt. Erhebliche Teile unseres Erbgutes bestehen aus verstümmelten Viren. Die Geschichte des Lebens und der Evolution ist also auch eine Geschichte der Viren. Obwohl wir also ein naturwissenschaftliches Wissen über die Langzeitrolle der Viren in unserer Welt haben, blenden wir sie aus unserem Weltverständnis aus. Sie werden von unserem konsumptiven Weltmodell an den Rand gedrückt, passen in dessen Logik nicht hinein. Wir entwickelten kein Sensorium dafür, dass da eine Welt existiert, die konstitutiv für die unsere ist. Deshalb wird die Ausbreitung des Coronavirus wie ein Überfall von Außerirdischen empfunden und auch so beschrieben. Da wir keine Umgangsweisen für die sogenannten Randbedingungen unserer individuell-konsumptiven Lebensform entwickelt haben, sind wir gezwungen, egal was es kostet, Geld einzusetzen. Dieses Whatever it takes ist die Kompensation für ein Lebensmodell ungebremsten, auf Individuen abgestimmten Wachstums. Die Folgen des Klimawandels, die bisher auch als Kollateralschäden des dominanten Weltmodells verbucht wurden, könnten die nächsten Krisen auslösen.

Da dieses kostspielige Krisenmanagement nicht unbegrenzt angewandt werden kann, besteht die Herausforderung der Corona-Pandemie darin, neue Lebensmodelle zu entwickeln. Es muss darum gehen, Praktiken und Denkformen, ja ein neues Alphabet des Lebens und Zusammenlebens zu entwickeln, das die Einzelnen nicht als abgeschottete Monaden versteht, sondern sie als in eine komplexe Welt von Beziehungen eingebettet begreift. Um diese Austauschbeziehungen mit der materiellen und sozialen Welt im Sinne eines dynamischen Gleichgewichts zu erhalten, kann es nicht nur um die Durchsetzung der eigenen Interessen gehen; gleichzeitig muss ein Sensorium für die anderen und die Welt entwickelt werden. Dieses muss in einem Geben und Nehmen bestehen, in einem Einwirken auf, aber auch Sorge um die Welt, um eine persönliche Entfaltung, die aber die Solidarität mit den anderen miteinbezieht.

Zur Entwicklung dieser Praktiken ist auch eine neue Raumpolitik nötig: Es braucht kleine, dezentrale lokale und regionale Einheiten, die für alle Akteure einen gemeinsamen Erfahrungsraum darstellen. Auf dieser Grundlage gilt es, Mikroökonomien und -politiken zu entwerfen. Diese Erfahrungsräume könnten dank digitaler Kommunikationsstrukturen weltweit miteinander vernetzt sein. Allerdings sollte diese Vernetzung nicht durch Plattformen erfolgen, sondern durch Strukturen, die Nutzer unmittelbar in Kontakt bringt, um den dezentralen Charakter der Kommunikation aufrechtzuerhalten. Diese ökonomischen und politischen Strukturen würden dann auf einer Logik der Relationen und nicht auf einer Logik der Skalierung aufbauen, bei der es nur um möglichst große Stückzahlen, um immer größeren Profit geht – mit planetarischen Konsequenzen. In der Relationenlogik treten gleichwertige Einheiten, die jeweils lokale Strategien verfolgen, miteinander in einen Austausch.

Angesichts des Coronavirus hat sich in unseren Gesellschaften ein kleines Fenster geöffnet, um Handlungsspielräume zu gewinnen. Dieses Fenster gilt es ein Stück weit offen zu halten. Satelliten haben in den letzten Tagen Bilder aus Industrieregionen gesandt, deren Luft in der Vergangenheit völlig verschmutzt war. Jetzt wird die Atmosphäre klarer. Die Erde scheint an einigen Stellen durchzuatmen. Wir sollten ihrem Beispiel folgen und die Zeit nutzen, um die Frage zu beantworten, welche Welt wir wollen.

Quelle und © – F.A.Z.

 

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Coronavirus Reveals What Really Makes the World Go Round, and It’s Not Money

The bluff of neo-liberalism must be called out

By  Eva Illouz

Apr 04, 2020

In Lars von Trier’s movie “Melancholia,” the viewer comes to grasp, slowly, with a mix of terror and powerlessness, that the world is about to come to an end, colliding with the planet Melancholia. At the film’s end, the audience indeed watches, mesmerized and paralyzed, as that planet travels on a course to crash into Earth. Initially just a faraway point in the sky, it becomes an expanding disc, ultimately filling the screen, as it collides with our planet.

Today, as we are all engulfed in a world event whose full magnitude we have not yet grasped, and as I reached for appropriate analogies, I remembered the closing scene of von Trier’s movie.

I first read about a strange virus appearing in China in the American press during the second week of January, and it caught my attention because my son was due to travel to that country. The virus was still far away, like the distant disc of a dangerous planet. My son canceled his trip, but the disc continued on its inexorable course, slowly crashing into us in Europe and the Middle East.

We now all watch, transfixed, as the world as we knew it has shut down and the pandemic continues to unfold.

The coronavirus is an event of a magnitude that we struggle to grasp, not only because of its planetary scale, not only because of the speed of the contamination, but also because institutions whose titanic power we never previously questioned have been brought to their knees in a matter of few weeks. The primitive world of deadly plagues erupted into the sanitized and advanced world of nuclear energy, laser surgery and digital technology. Even in wartime, cinemas and bars have continued to function, but the normally bustling cities of Europe have now become eerie ghost towns, with their residents all in hiding. As Albert Camus put it, in “The Plague,” “all these changes were, in one sense, so fantastic and had been made so precipitately that it wasn’t easy to regard them as likely to have any permanence.”

From air travel to museums, the pulsating heart of our civilization has been shut down. Freedom, the modern value that trumps all others, has been suspended, and not because of a new tyrant, but because of fear, the emotion that overrides all others. The world has become, overnight, unheimlich – uncanny, emptied of its familiarity. Its most comforting gestures – shaking of hands, kissing, hugging, eating with others – have turned into sources of anxiety and danger.

In a matter of days, new categories used to make sense of a new reality emerged: We all became specialists in different types of masks and their filtering power (N95, FPP2, FPP3, etc.), in the amount of alcohol deemed necessary to sanitize hands, about the difference between “suppression” and “mitigation,” about the different fatality rates suffered by St. Louis and Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and of course, we became familiar with the odd rules and rituals of social distancing.

Crises foreground existing mental and political structures, and at the same time they challenge them. A structure, whether economic or mental), is usually hidden from view, but crises have their own ways of exposing their patterns to the naked eye.

Health, according to Michel Foucault, is the epicenter of modern governance (he called it bio-power). Through medical and mental health services, he claimed, the state manages, watches and controls its population. Although Foucault would not have put it this way, we may say that there is an implicit contract between modern states and their citizens, based on the capacity of the former to ensure the physical security and health of the latter.

The crisis highlights two opposite things: that this contract, in many places in the world, has been gradually breached by the state, which has seen its mission instead as enlarging the volume of economic activity, lowering the costs of labor and facilitating the transfer offshore of production (among other things, of such key medical products as masks and respirators), deregulating banks and other financial institutions, and generally responding to the needs of corporations. The result has been, whether by design or by default, an extraordinary erosion of the public sector.

The second obvious thing, visible to all, is that only the state can manage and overcome a crisis of such scale. Even the mammoth Amazon can do little more than ship parcels, and even that only with great difficulty in times like these.

According to Dennis Carroll, a leading world expert in infectious diseases, who for 15 years led the pandemic department at the U.S. Agency for International Development, this epidemic is not the first of its kind, but it is something we can expect with greater frequency in the future. The reason is what epidemiologist refer to as “zoonotic spillover” – the increasing transfer of animal pathogens to humans – itself caused by the increasing penetration of humans into ecozones formerly inaccessible. These incursions are driven by overpopulation and by intensive exploitation of the land (in Africa, for example, there is more oil or mineral extraction in areas that typically had few human populations).

Carroll and many others (including philanthropist Bill Gates and epidemiologist Larry Brilliant) have been warning for more than a decade that previously unknown viruses will increasingly threaten human beings. But in the industrialized West, no one paid attention. In fact, in 2018, President Donald Trump closed down the National Security Council department responsible for dealing with pandemics.

Trump also famously derided the danger of the coronavirus, suggesting it was a Democratic hoax, and describing it as a “foreign virus” to bolster his trade war with China. The United States now has the highest number of people sick with the virus worldwide, paying the price for Trump’s criminal lack of attention to the importance of rapid action in combating the epidemic. But Trump was not alone: To some degree or another, both American and European societies lacked imagination, in that they were too busy, pursuing profit and exploiting land and labor whenever and wherever they could.

Haunted by ‘economism’

In a post-corona world, zoonotic spillover and Chinese “wet markets” will have to become the concern of the international community. If Iran’s nuclear arsenal project can be closely monitored, there is no reason why we should not demand international monitoring of the sites and sources of potential zoonotic spillovers. The business community all over the world may finally realize that in order to exploit the world, there will need to be a world.

But what is new about this crisis is how much it is haunted by “economism.” The British model for responding to the medical threat initially embraced (and subsequently abandoned) the least intrusive path of intervention, for the sake of maintaining regular economic activity. It opted to let nature take its course, according to the model of auto-immunization (that is, contamination) of the younger 60 percent of the population, even though that would mean sacrificing an estimated 2 to 4 percent of its population (this model was also adopted by Holland and Sweden).

In the Italian city of Bergamo and its environs, industrialists and governing officials demanded that workers keep working, even when the virus was already present. In Brazil, the courts ruled against President Jair Bolsonaro’s claim that the health of the economy could not be sacrificed for an imaginary threat to the health of the populace.

Germany and France, too, initially responded in a way that was similar to the United Kingdom, ignoring the crisis as long as they could, until they couldn’t anymore. As commentator Giuliano da Empoli put it, even China, which has an appalling human rights record, did not use “economism” as a yardstick for its fight against the virus as overtly as European nations did (at least initially and until it was almost too late).

The choice that has been laid in front of contemporary societies is unprecedented. Which do we choose to risk sacrificing: the lives of the vulnerable or the economic survival of the young? While the moral questions raised by this dilemma are genuine and profound (how many lives is the economy worth?), it also points to the ways in which public health has been neglected and been relegated to a place of lower priority than the health of the economy.

Trust as currency

It is with no small irony that the world of finance, usually arrogant and so often unaccountable, was the first to collapse, showing that the continued and unfathomable circulation of money in the world relies on a resource we all took for granted: the health of citizens. Markets feed on trust as a currency to build the future, and trust, it turns out, rests on the assumption of health.

Modern states have traditionally guaranteed citizens’ health: They built hospitals, trained doctors, subsidized medicine and built welfare systems. This health-care system was the infrastructure that made possible trust in the future, which was in turn a requirement for continued investment and financial speculation. Without health and a healthy public, economic transactions become meaningless.

Health was taken for granted, so much so that, in recent decades, politicians, financial institutions and corporations in the West converged in pushing for policies that severely decreased public budgets for services ranging from education to health care, ironically ignoring the ways in which corporations had been enjoying the fruits of public goods they never paid for. All of these depend on the state and are the indispensable public resources without which economic growth and profits could not occur. Yet, in France, as just one example, 100,000 hospital beds have been eliminated in the last 20 years (at-home care does not compensate for lost hospital beds).

In June 2019, emergency room professionals in France protested budget cuts that they claimed were pushing a world-class health system to the brink of collapse. At the time of this writing, a group of French doctors are suing Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the former minister of health, Agnes Buzyn, for their gross mismanagement of the crisis (as late as March 14, it was business as usual in France).

In the United States, the wealthiest country on the planet, doctors are currently scrambling to obtain face masks to protect themselves (The New York Times has reported that paramedic workers are improvising masks out of coffee filters).

In Israel in 2018, the ratio of hospital beds to population was at its lowest level in three decades, according to a Ministry of Health report: 1.78 per thousand, down from 2.224 in 2000 and 2.68 in 1988 (in Germany it was 8.0).

The successive governments of Benjamin Netanyahu have spectacularly neglected the health system. There are at least two reasons for this: For one, Netanyahu is in his heart and soul a neo-liberal who believes in the redistribution of money from the public sector, via tax cuts and the selling-off of public assets to private interests. At the same time, he has channeled precious public resources to population groups that support him at the polls, contributing to massive shortages in the health care system.

The massive depletion of the public sector budgets are visible for all to see: Israel has the lowest levels of unemployment benefits in the industrial world. Behind the mixture of drastic measures and amateurism with which the corona crisis has been managed in Israel is a health care system that has been sorely neglected.

Netanyahu, and hordes of other politicians worldwide, have treated the health of their own citizens with an unbearable lightness, failing to grasp the obvious: Without health there can be no economy. The relationship between our health and the markets has now become painfully clear. In the Israeli context we may add the obvious: Without health there can be no army either. The security of the country is predicated on the health of its citizens.

The capitalism we have come to know in recent decades – which is deregulated, which penetrates all state considerations, which benefits the rich, which creates abyssal inequalities (among others in the health system itself) – will have to change. The pandemic is going to cause unfathomable economic damage, massive unemployment, slow or negative growth and it will affect the entire world, with Asian economies possibly emerging as the stronger ones.

Banks, corporations and financial firms must be made to bear the burden, along with the state, of coming out of the crisis and become partners in the collective health of their employees. They will have to contribute to research, to emergency preparedness, and to massive hiring drives, once the crisis passes. They will have to bear the burden of the collective effort to rebuild the economy, even at the price of lower profits.

Capitalists have taken for granted resources provided by the state – education, health, physical infrastructure – without acknowledging that the resources they were squandering from the state could, in a situation like this, ultimately be responsible for withholding them from the world which makes the economy possible. This must stop. For the economy to have meaning, it needs a world. And this world can only be built collectively, by the joint efforts of corporations and the state. While only states can manage a crisis of such scale, they will not be strong enough to get out of the crisis alone: Corporations will need to contribute to the maintenance of the public goods from which they have taken so much benefit.

Public fear always puts institutions in danger (the political monsters of the 20th century all used fear to strip democracy of its institutions). In Israel, despite the relatively low toll in human lives (so far), the coronavirus crisis has exerted a profound shock on its governing institutions.

As writer-activist Naomi Klein has relentlessly argued, catastrophes are often opportunities for elites to grab bounties and exploit them. Israel provides a striking example. Netanyahu has de facto suspended basic civil rights, closed down the Israeli courts (postponing for at least two months his own criminal trial). On March 16, the government approved the use of technological tools developed by the Shin Bet security service for tracking suspected terrorists for following the movements of virus carriers. It circumvented approval of the Knesset in the process and took measures that no other democratic country, has taken.

But Israeli citizens are used to obeying quickly and sheepishly orders from the state, especially when security and survival are at stake. They are used to security serving as the ultimate justification for erosions of the rule of law and democracy.

Fear of death

In the 5th century, B.C.E., Thucydides wrote about the plague that ravaged Athens during the second year of the Peloponnesian War: “[T]he catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or law.”

In Thucydides’ eyes, the fear of death is stronger than any other emotion, including other types of fear. Certain fears contribute positively to culture and society – fear of God, fear of the law – while other fears can sabotage the social order, as can occur during a mass outbreak of disease. In the latter type of situation, he maintained, people can discard conventional restraint and the social order collapses. However, in Israel the public is displaying impressive restraint, while it is the leaders who have abandoned the basic norms of respectable conduct.

Crises of this kind can generate chaos, and it is in the management of such chaos that tyrants often emerge. Dictators thrive both on fear and chaos.

In Israel, such respected commentators as Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev see in Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis an example of just such cynical exploitation of chaos and fear. Thus, Israel is going through a crisis that has no parallel elsewhere in the world: Its crisis is at once a medical one, an economic one and a political one. In times like this, trust in public officials is crucial. Unfortunately, a significant part of the public has lost trust in its officials, whether in the Health Ministry or in any other branch of the executive.

What compounds the sense of crisis is the fact that the pandemic requires a novel form of solidarity, by way of “social distancing.” It is a solidarity between generations, between the young and the old, between someone who does not know he may be sick and someone who may die from what the first person does not know, a solidarity between someone who may have lost his job and someone who may lose his life. But it is also a terrible solidarity, one that lets people die alone, as we have seen in reports from Italy and the United States.

Fragmented body

I, like millions of other Israelis, have been in confinement for many weeks now, and the love my children have showered on me has consisted of leaving me alone. This solidarity demands isolation, and thus fragments the social body into its smallest possible units, making it difficult to organize, meet and communicate, beyond the endless jokes and videos exchanged on social media.

Social intercourse has become vicarious. The use of the Internet has more than doubled; social media has become the new living room, the number of coronavirus jokes circulating on social media across continents is unprecedented, the use of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video has doubled, students of the world are now meeting with teachers and classmates via Zoom.

In short, this epidemic, which has made us revise all known categories of intimacy and care, has been a high holiday for virtual technology. I have no doubt that in the post-corona world, virtual and long-distance life will assume new significance, now that we have been forced to discover its potential.

We will survive this crisis, thanks to the heroic work of doctors and nurses and the resilience of citizens. Some countries are already tentatively emerging from it. But citizens will have to ask questions, demand accountings and draw the right conclusions. The bluff of neo-liberalism must be called out. The era in which each economic actor need worry only about filling his or her pockets with gold must end. It is the state that, again and again, has proven to be the only entity capable of managing such large-scale crises.

The public interest must return to the center of public policy. And corporations must contribute to this public good, if they want the market to even remain a frame for human activities.

This pandemic is a preview of what we may expect in the future with more dangerous viruses, and when climate change makes the world increasingly unlivable. Short of changing the relationship between private and public interest, there will be neither a private nor a public interest to defend. Contrary to some predictions about the resurgence of nationalism and borders, I believe that we have become aware of how distressingly interconnected we are, economically and in terms of health.

We will need international coordination and cooperation of a new kind, international monitoring of zoonotic spillovers, possibly new international methods for controlling and sanctioning the way nations handle such crisis (China’s silencing of the crisis until January was criminal, given that in December it was still possible to stop the virus from spreading). New international bodies have to be established to innovate in the fields of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and epidemic prevention. Mostly, we will need a part of the vast wealth amassed by private entities to be reinvested in public goods. That will be the condition for having a world.

Eva Illouz is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Institute, Jerusalem. This article first appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Le Nouvel Observateur.

Source: Haaretz

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Boredom

“Out of thought is then born desire, the urge to continue, to enhance, or possess, to make secure that which is pleasant and to guarantee the avoidance of what is unpleasant. Desire attaches itself to an object of the imagination, in order to attain permanence. But the object of desire is always changing. Firstly, the real object changes in one way, while the object imagined in desire changes in another way. We then discover when we get the object of our desire that it isn’t what we expected; we soon encounter satiety and boredom. Other objects soon seem more attractive to desire. Besides, objects of desire change in unexpected ways, grow old, and even pass out of existence. So the attachment of desire to an object leads to contradiction (contradictory desires), and out of this comes confusion.”
David Bohm, The Essential David Bohm, p. 206, Ch. 7, STRUCTURE-PROCESS AND THE EGO (1958–1967)

Boredom_

Timer

The ascent of humanity has come at a price, and I am not speaking here merely of the destruction of the ecological basis of human civilization. Our separation-fueled ascent exacts its toll not just on the losers, the victims of our wars, industry, and ecocide, but on the winners as well. It is the highest of all possible prices: it comes out of our very being. For all we have built on the outside, we have diminished our souls.

When we separate ourselves from nature as we have done with technology, when we replace interdependency with “security” and trust with control, we separate ourselves as well from part of ourselves. Nature, internal and external, is not a gratuitous though practically necessary other, but an inseparable part of ourselves. To attempt its separation creates a wound no less severe than to rip off an arm or a leg. Indeed, more severe. Under the delusion of the discrete and separate self, we see our relationships as extrinsic to who we are on the deepest level; we see relationships as associations of discrete individuals. But in fact, our relationships—with other people and all life—define who we are, and by impoverishing these relationships we diminish ourselves. We are our relationships.

“Interdependency”, which implies a conditional relationship, is far too weak a word for this non-separation of self and other. My claim is much stronger: that the self is not absolute or discrete but contingent, relationally-defined, and blurrily demarcated. There is no self except in relationship to the other. The economic man, the rational actor, the Cartesian “I am” is a delusion that cuts us off from most of what we are, leaving us lonely and small.

Stephen Buhner calls this cleavage the “interior wound” of separation. Because it is woven into our very self-definition, it is inescapable except through temporary distraction, during which it festers inside, awaiting the opportunity to burst into consciousness. The wound of separation expresses itself in many guises, ranging from petty but persistent dissatisfactions that, when resolved, quickly morph into other, equally petty dissatisfactions in an endless treadmill of discontent, to the devastating phthisis of hopelessness and despair that quite literally consumes the spirit.

Riding any vehicle it can, the pain from the interior wound manifests in a million ways: an omnipresent loneliness, an unreasonable sadness, an undirected rage, a gnawing discontent, a seething resentment. Unaware of its true source, we assign it to one or another object, one or another imperfection in the outside world. We then seek to forestall the pain by suppressing its vehicles: getting life under control. In a personalized version of the Technological Program, we identify happiness with the maximum possible insulation from danger, dirt, and discomfort. But of course, this insulation cuts us off even further from the world and, so, exacerbates the separation that is the actual source of the pain.

A saying goes, “Seek not to cover the world in leather—just wear shoes.” It is a spiritual cliché that happiness is not to be found by engineering the world so that everything goes your way: such happiness is transient, doomed. But that’s the way we act, culturally and individually, much of the time. Someday, everything will be perfect and we’ll be able to relax and be happy forever.

The futility of the personal and collective Technological Program of complete control finds incontrovertible demonstration in the phenomenon of boredom, which shows us the human condition when the Technological Program succeeds. What is the ground state, the default state of the human being when everything is under control, when no personal calamity imminently threatens? What happens if we just sit here, with nothing to do and nothing that needs to be done?

Boredom is so endemic to our culture, particularly among youth, that we imagine it to be a near-universal default state of human existence. In the absence of outside stimuli we are bored. Yet, as Ziauddin Sardar observes, boredom is virtually unique to Western culture (and by extension to the global culture it increasingly dominates). “Bedouins,” he writes, “can sit for hours in the desert, feeling the ripples of time, without being bored.”[19]

Whence comes this feeling we call boredom, the discomfort of having nothing to occupy our minds? Boredom—nothing to do—is intolerable because it puts us face to face with the wound of separation. Boredom, that yearning for stimulation and distraction, for something to pass the time, is simply how we experience any pause in the program of control that seeks to deny pain. I am not suggesting that we ignore the causes of pain. Pain is a messenger that tells us, “Don’t do that,” and we are wise to heed it. But we step far beyond that when we suppose, even when the wound has been inflicted and the consequent pain written into reality, that we can still somehow avoid feeling it. A saying of Chinese Buddhism goes, “A Boddhisatva avoids the causes; the ordinary person tries to avoid the results.”

Apparently, boredom was not even a concept before the word was invented around 1760, along with the word “interesting”.[20] The tide of boredom that has risen ever since coincides with the progress of the Industrial Revolution, hinting at a reason why it has, until recently, been an exclusively Western phenomenon. The reality that the factory system created was a mass-produced reality, a generic reality of standardized products, standardized roles, standardized tasks, and standardized lives. The more we came to live in that artificial reality, the more separate we became from the inherently fascinating realm of nature and community. Today, in a familiar pattern, we apply further technology to relieve the boredom that results from our immersion in a world of technology. We call it entertainment. Have you ever thought about that word? To entertain a guest means to bring him into your house; to entertain a thought means to bring it into your mind. To be entertained means to be brought into the television, the game, the movie. It means to be removed from your self and the real world. When a television show does this successfully, we applaud it as entertaining. Our craving for entertainment points to the impoverishment of our reality.

All the causes of boredom are permutations of the interior wound of separation. Aside from the impoverishment of our reality, we are uncomfortable doing nothing because of the relentless anxiety that dominates modern life. This in turn arises from the paradigm of competition that underlies our socioeconomic structures, which (as I will explain in Chapter Four) is written into our conception of self. Second, we desire constant stimulation and entertainment because in their absence, we are left alone with ourselves with nothing to distract us from the pain of the wound of separation. Finally, technology contributes directly to boredom by bombarding us with a constant barrage of intense stimuli, habituating our brains to a high level of stimulation. When it is removed, we suffer withdrawal. We are addicted to the artificial human realm we have created with technology. Now we are condemned to maintain it.

That we have unprocessed pain inside us, waiting for any empty moment so that it may assert itself and be felt, is not so surprising given that a main imperative of technology is to maximize pleasure, comfort, and security, and to prevent pain. The urge to make life easier, safer, more convenient, and more comfortable has motivated technology from its inception. When the inventor of the Levallois flint-working technique produced his first spearhead, his contemporaries enthusiastically adopted it because it made life easier: “Not nearly so much work, now, to produce each spearhead.” The new technique was so much more efficient. Life got easier. Need I cite more examples? Today we go to the pharmacy cabinet to apply technology to the alleviation of any discomfort, no matter how minor. Have a hangover? Take an aspirin. Have a runny nose? Take a cold medicine. Depressed? Have a drink. The underlying assumption is that pain is something that need not be felt. And the ultimate fulfillment of technology would be to discover the means to eliminate pain and suffering forever.

Maximizing pleasure and eliminating pain is the goal of the Technological Program taken to its logical extreme. An articulation of this goal in fairly pure form is David Pearce’s “Hedonistic Imperative,” which advocates the total elimination of suffering through genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and neurochemistry by disabling pain receptors, stimulating pleasure centers, and so on, as foreshadowed by today’s happy drugs but also by the entire medical apparatus that seeks to remove or palliate symptoms. The mood-altering drugs, most notably the “selective” serotonin uptake inhibitors, are applied on the premise that the real cause of mental anguish is low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Raise levels of these neurotransmitters and the anguish goes away. The treatment is a success!

Underneath the assumption “the pain need not be felt” lie some even deeper assumptions. One of these is disconnection. The low serotonin levels are viewed in isolation from a patient’s whole being, like a car with a broken part. This mechanistic paradigm denies the organic nature of a body, in which the health of any part reflects the health of the whole. It denies that there are reasons for the low serotonin, and reasons for the reasons, and reasons for those, spreading out to encompass the patient’s whole being.

Related to disconnection is a further assumption, that we live in a dead and purposeless universe. Events happen essentially at random; there is no orchestrating purpose to make each event significant and right. Depression did not a serve a higher purpose because there is no such thing as a higher purpose, no reason except the identifiable, mechanistic reason, and therefore no cause to expect the pain will return in another form when this avenue is blocked. Reality is infinitely manageable.

If, however, we see technology (both on the personal and the collective level) as a means not to eliminate pain but to defer it, then it stands to reason that it will be waiting for us in any empty moment. All the more so if the very effort to defer pain generates new pain: the new problems caused by the previous technology, the symptoms caused by the drug itself.

In a connected, purposeful universe, managing the pain is like patching a leaky pipe when the water pressure is too high. Fixing one leak ensures another will spring elsewhere. Meanwhile, the pressure keeps rising. The apparatus of civilization springs one leak after another, as frantically we try to seal the spreading cracks.

It has been said in a Judaic-Christian-Islamic context that separation from God, the Fall, is the source of all suffering. Buddhism names attachment as the cause of suffering, but careful examination reveals its teaching to be nearly identical to that of esoteric Western religion. Attachment, to the impermanent, delusory ego self and all those things that reinforce it, maintains a separation from the rest of the universe from which we are not actually separate. Attachment is separation. As for separation from God, what is God but that which transcends our separate selves and interpenetrates all being? On the origin of suffering, Eastern and (esoteric) Western religion are in fundamental agreement.[21]

In everyday human life, happiness and security come from strong connections—to family, community, nature, place, spirit, and self—and not from “independence” whether psychological or financial. Because the story of technology is one long saga of widening separation from nature, widening separation from community (because of specialization and the mass scale of society), widening separation from place (because of our highly mobile and indoor-centered lifestyles), and widening separation from spirit (because of the dominant scientific paradigms of the Newtonian World Machine), it is no wonder that the pain of the human condition has only grown throughout the modern era. Even as outright physical hardship has declined, psychological suffering in the form of loneliness, despair, depression, anxiety, angst, and anger has grown to epidemic proportions. Even when our technology succeeds in holding off the external consequences of separation, we still internalize it as a wound, a separation from our own souls.

A final indication of the nature of the wound lies in the phenomenon of greed. When I ask my students the source of global problems such as pollution, they invariably cite greed, which they see as a fundamental characteristic of human nature that can be controlled but never eliminated. But greed like boredom is absent in most hunter-gatherer cultures based on a more open conception of self. Acquisitiveness is merely another attempt to fill the void and assuage the ache of separation, as if the accretion of more and more self, in the form of possessions, could compensate for the profound denial of self that is separation. Tellingly, we often use acquisitive metaphors for the ways we distract ourselves from the existential unease we call boredom: have a cigarette, have a drink, have something to do. It is by having as well that we strive for security, whether material—having possessions—or interpersonal, even to the extent of “having sex”. But of course, no matter how much accrues to the discrete and separate self, that self is still fundamentally alone in the universe.

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[19] Sardar, Ziaduddin “Cyberspace as the Darker Side of the West”. The Cybercultures Reader. Routledge, 2000, p. 742.

[20] Hodgkinson, Tom. “A Philosophy of Boredom”, New Statesman, March 14, 2005. This is a review of Svendsen, Lars Fredrick. A Philosophy of Boredom. Reaktion Books, 2005. Translation by John Irons.

[21] Hinduism is similar to Buddhism in its explanation of suffering. As for Taoism, suffering could be said to result from ignorance of the Tao; that is, resisting the natural flow of life. This too is a form of separation.

Source: Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity

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The Ascent of Humanity

Tower-of-Babel

Ascent of Humanity

Charles Eisenstein

Introduction

More than any other species, human beings are gifted with the power to manipulate our environment, and the ability to accumulate and transmit knowledge across generations. The first of these gifts we call technology; the other we call culture. They are central to our humanity.

Accumulating over thousands of years, culture and technology have brought us into a separate human realm. We live, more than any animal, surrounded by our own artifacts. Among these are works of surpassing beauty, complexity, and power, human creations that could not have existed—could not even have been conceived—in the times of our forebears. Seldom do we pause to appreciate the audacity of our achievements: objects as mundane as a compact disc, a video cellphone, an airplane would have seemed fantastical only a few centuries ago. We have created a realm of magic and miracles.

At the same time, it is quite easy to see technology and culture not as gifts but as a curse. After millennia of development, the power to manipulate the environment has become the power to destroy it, while the ability to transmit knowledge transmits as well a legacy of hatred, injustice, and violence. Today, as both the destruction and the violence reach a feverish crescendo, few can deny that the world is in a state of crisis. Opinions vary as to its exact nature: some people say it is primarily ecological; others say it is a moral crisis, a social, economic, or political crisis, a health crisis, even a spiritual crisis. There is, however, little disagreement that the crisis is of human origin. Hence, despair: is the present ruination of the world built in to our humanity?

Is genocide and ecocide the inevitable price of civilization’s magnificence? Need the most sublime achievements of art, music, literature, science, and technology be built upon the wreckage of the natural world and the misery of its inhabitants? Can the microchip come without the oil slick, the strip mine, the toxic waste dump? Under the shadow of every Chartres Cathedral, must there be women burning at the stake? In other words, can the gift of technology and culture somehow be separated from the curse?

The dashed Utopian dreams of the last few centuries leave little hope. Despite the miracles we have produced, people across the ideological spectrum, from Christian fundamentalists to environmental activists, share a foreboding that the world is in grave and growing peril. Temporary, localized improvements cannot hide the ambient wrongness that pervades the warp and woof of modern society, and often our personal lives as well. We might manage each immediate problem and control every foreseeable risk, but an underlying disquiet remains. I am referring simply to the feeling, “Something is wrong around here.” Something so fundamentally wrong that centuries of our best and brightest efforts to create a better world have failed or even backfired. As this realization sinks in, we respond with despair, cynicism, numbness, or detachment.

Yet no matter how complete the despair, no matter how bitter the cynicism, a possibility beckons of a world more beautiful and a life more magnificent than what we know today. Though we may rationalize it, it is not rational. We become aware of it in moments, gaps in the rush and press of modern life. These moments come to us alone in nature, or with a baby, making love, playing with children, caring for a dying person, making music for the sake of music or beauty for the sake of beauty. At such times, a simple and easy joy shows us the futility of the vast, life-consuming program of management and control.

We intuit also that something similar is possible collectively. Some of may have experienced it when we find ourselves cooperating naturally and effortlessly, instruments of a purpose greater than ourselves that, paradoxically, makes us individually more and not less when we abandon ourselves to it. It is what musicians are referring to when they say, “The music played the band.”

Another way of being is possible, and it is right in front of us, closer than close; that much is transparently certain. Yet it slips away so easily that we hardly believe it could be the foundation of life; so we relegate it to an afterlife and call it Heaven, or we relegate it to the future and call it Utopia. (When nanotechnology solves all our problems. . . when we all learn to be nice to each other. . . when finally I’m not so busy. . .) Either way, we set it apart from this world and this life, and thereby deny its practicality and its reality in the here-and-now. Yet the knowledge that life is more than Just This cannot be suppressed, not forever.

Whether for myself or for the world, I share with dreamers, Utopians, and teenagers an unreasonable intuition of a magnificent potential, that life and the world can be more than we have made of them.

What error, then, what delusion has led us to accept the lesser lives and the lesser world we find ourselves in today? What has rendered us helpless to resist the ugliness, pollution, injustice, and downright horror that has risen to engulf the planet in the last few centuries? What calamity has so resigned us to it, that we call this the human condition? Those moments of love, freedom, serenity, play—what power has made us believe these are but respites from real life?

Inspired by such moments, I have spent the last ten years trying to understand what keeps us—and what keeps me—from the better world that our hearts tell us must exist. To my endless amazement, I keep discovering a common root underneath all the diverse crises of the modern age. Underlying the vast swath of ruin our civilization has carved is not human nature, but the opposite: human nature denied. This denial of human nature rests in turn upon an illusion, a misconception of self and world. We have defined ourselves as other than what we are, as discrete subjects separate from each other and separate from the world around us. In a way this is good news: in this book I will describe the profound changes that will flow—and are already flowing—from the reconception of the self that is underway. The bad news is that our present conception of self is so deeply woven into our civilization—into our technology and culture—that its abandonment can only come with the collapse of much that is familiar. This is what the present convergence of crises portends.

Everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph about our civilization also applies to each of us individually. Saints and mystics have tried for thousands of years to teach us how we are trapped in a delusion about who we are. This delusion inevitably brings about suffering, and eventually a crisis that can only be resolved through a collapse, a surrender, and an opening to a state of being beyond previous self-limitation. You are not, they tell us, a “flesh-encapsulated ego”, and lasting happiness can never result from pursuing that ego’s agenda. These spiritual teachings have helped me realize, at least partway, my intuitions of what work, love, human relationship, and health can be. They are not the main subject of this book, however, nor do I claim to exemplify them in my own life. Nonetheless, the shift in our collective self-conception is intimately related to a parallel shift in our individual self-conception. In other words, there is a spiritual dimension to the planetary crisis.

As this planetary crisis invades our individual lives, unavoidably, neither the personal nor the collective misconception of who we are will remain tenable. Each mirrors the other: in its origins, its consequences, and its resolution. That is why this book interweaves the story of humanity’s separation from nature with the story of our individual alienation from life, nature, spirit, and self.

* * *

Despite my faith that life is meant to be more, little voices whisper in my ear that I am crazy. Nothing is amiss, they say, this is just the way things are. The rising tide of human misery and ecological destruction, as old as civilization, is simply the human condition, an inevitable result of built-in human flaws like selfishness and laziness. Since you can’t change it, be thankful for your good fortune in avoiding it. The misery of much of the planet is a warning, say the voices, to protect me and mine, impelling me to maximize my security.

Besides, it couldn’t be as bad as I think. If all that stuff were true—about the ecological destruction, the genocide, the starving children, and the whole litany of impending crises—then wouldn’t everyone be in an uproar about it? The normalcy of the routines surrounding me here in America tells me, “It couldn’t be that bad.” That little voice echoes throughout the culture. Every advertising flyer, every celebrity news item, every product catalog, every hyped-up sports event, carries the subtext, “You can afford to care about this.” A man in a burning house wouldn’t care about these things; that our culture does care about them, almost exclusively, implies that our house is not burning down. The forests are not dying. The deserts are not spreading. The atmosphere is not heating. Children are not starving. Torturers are not going free. Whole ethnicities are not being exterminated. These crimes against humanity and crimes against nature couldn’t really be happening. Probably they have been exaggerated; in any event, they are happening somewhere else. Our society will figure out solutions before the calamities of the Third World affect me. See, no one else is worried, are they? Life hums on as usual.

As for my intuition of magnificent possibilities for my own life, well, my expectations are too high. Grow up, the voices say, life is just like this. What right have I to expect the unreasonable magnificence whose possibility certain moments have shown me? No, it is my intuitions that are not to be trusted. The examples of what life is surround me and define what is normal. Do I see anyone around me whose work is their joy, whose time is their own, whose love is their passion? It can’t happen. Be thankful, say the voices, that my job is reasonably stimulating, that I feel “in love” at least once in a while, that the pain is manageable and life’s uncertainties under control. Let good enough be good enough. Sure, life can be a drag, but at least I can afford to escape it sometimes. Life is about work, self-discipline, responsibility, but if I get these out of the way quickly and efficiently, I can enjoy vacations, entertainment, weekends, maybe even early retirement. Listening to these voices, is it any wonder that for many years, I devoted most of my energy and vitality to the escapes from life? Is it any wonder that so many of my students at Penn State look forward already, at age 21, to retirement?

If life and the world are Just This, we are left no choice but to make the best of it: to be more efficient, to achieve better security, to get life’s uncertainties under control. There are voices that speak to this too. They are the evangelists of technology and self-improvement, who urge us to improve the human condition basically by trying harder. My inner evangelist tells me to get my life under control, to work out every day, to organize my time more efficiently, to watch my diet, to be more disciplined, to try harder to be a good person. On the collective level, the same attitude says that perhaps the next generation of material and social technologies—new medicines, better laws, faster computers, solar power, nanotechnology—will finally succeed in improving our lot. We will be more efficient, more intelligent, more capable, and finally have the capacity to solve humanity’s age-old problems.

Today, for more and more people these voices are ringing hollow. Words like “high-tech” and “modern” lose their cachet as a multiplicity of crises converge upon our planet. If we are fortunate, we might, for a time, prevent these crises from invading our personal lives. Yet as the environment continues to deteriorate, as job security evaporates, as the international situation worsens, as new incurable diseases appear, as the pace of change accelerates, it seems impossible to rest at ease. The world grows more competitive, more dangerous, less hospitable to easy living, and security comes with greater and greater effort. And even when temporary security is won, a latent anxiety lurks within the fortress walls, a mute unease in the background of modern life. It pervades technological society, and only intensifies as the pace of technology quickens. We begin to grow hopeless as our solutions—new technologies, new laws, more education, trying harder—only seem to worsen our problems. For many activists, hopelessness gives way to despair as, despite their best efforts, catastrophe looms ever closer.

This book explains why trying harder can never work. Our “best efforts” are grounded in the same mode of being that is responsible for the crisis in the first place. As Audre Lord put it, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Soon, though, this mode of being will come to an end, to be replaced by a profoundly different understanding of the self, and a profoundly different relationship between human and nature. This book is about the gathering revolution in human beingness.

* * *

When we say that the planetary crisis is of human (and not natural) origin, what do we mean? Human beings are after all mammals, biological creatures no less natural than any other. In a sense, there can be no distinction between human and nature, because human beings are a part of nature and everything we do is therefore “natural”. However, we do distinguish. We recognize in nature a kind of harmony, balance, authenticity, and beauty lacking in the world of technology—think of the connotations of the word “artificial”. Whether in fact or in perception, we modern humans live in a way that is no longer natural.

At the crux of the human-nature distinction is technology, the product of the human hand. While other animals do make and use tools, no other species has our capacity to remake or destroy the physical environment, to control nature’s processes or transcend nature’s limitations. In the mental and spiritual realm, the counterpart of technology is culture, which modifies and even supersedes human nature in the same way technology modifies physical nature. In thus mastering nature with technology, and mastering human nature with culture, we distinguish ourselves from the rest of life, establishing a separate human realm. Believing this to be a good thing, we think of this separation as an ascent in which we have risen above our animal origins. Hence our favorite term for the millennia-long accumulation of culture and technology: “progress”.

It is separation then, in the form of technology and culture, that defines us as human; as well, it is separation that has generated the converging crises of today’s world. People of a religious persuasion might attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an ecological persuasion, to a separation from nature; people engaged in social activism might focus on the dissolution of community (which is a separation from each other); we might also investigate the psychological dimension, of separation from lost parts of ourselves. For good or ill, it is separation that has made us what we are.

Through long and tortuous pathways, these forms of separation have created the world we know today. Our intuitions that life and the world are meant to be more reflect the ultimate illusoriness of that separation. But it is a powerful illusion, having generated the converging crises we see today in politics, the environment, medicine, education, the economy, religion, and many other realms. In this book I will trace the pathways to these crises. Constantly I am amazed how the same fundamental misconception of self underlies phenomena as apparently unconnected as the war in Iraq, intellectual property, antibiotic resistance, acid rain, ethnic cleansing, junk mail, suburban sprawl, and declining U.S. literacy. (No, I’m not going to blame it all on “capitalism”, for our economic system too is more a symptom than a cause of separation.)

The root and the epitome of separation is the discrete, isolated self of modern perception: the “I am” of Descartes, the “economic man” of Adam Smith, the individual phenotype of Darwinian competition for resources, the skin-encapsulated ego of Alan Watts. It is a self conditionally dependent on, but fundamentally separate from, the Other: from nature and other people. Seeing ourselves as discrete and separate beings, we naturally seek to manipulate the not-self to our best advantage. Technology in particular is predicated on some kind of individuation or conceptual separation from the environment, because it takes the physical world as its object of manipulation and control. Technology, in effect, says, “Let us make the world better.”

If, as I wrote above, our self-conception as discrete and separate beings is an illusion, then the whole ascent of humanity—the species of culture and technology—is based on an illusion as well. That is why the implications of our present reconceiving of ourselves are so profound, promising no less than a radical redefinition of what it is to be human, how we relate to one another, and how we relate to the world.

Not only is technology based on a conceptual separation from nature, but it also reinforces that separation. Technology distances us from nature and insulates us from her rhythms. For example, most Americans’ lives are little affected by the seasons of the year. We eat the same food year-round, shipped in from California; air conditioning keeps us cool in the summer; heating warm in the winter. Natural physical limitations of muscle and bone no longer limit how far we can travel, how high we can build, or the distance at which we can communicate. Each advance in technology distances us from nature, yes, but also frees us from natural limitations. Hence, the “ascent”. But how can all these improvements add up to the world we find ourselves in today?

We are faced with a paradox. On the one hand, technology and culture are fundamental to the separation of humans from nature, a separation that is at the root of the converging crises of the present age. On the other hand, technology and culture explicitly seek to improve on nature: to make life easier, safer, and more comfortable. Who could deny that the first digging stick was an improvement over hands and fingernails; who could deny that fire keeps us warmer and medicine healthier than the primitive living in a state of nature? At least, that is what these technologies intend. But have we actually made the world better? If not, then why has technology not achieved its intended purpose? Again: How can a series of incremental improvements add up to crisis?

Chapter One begins to answer these questions by describing a grave constitutional flaw in the very premise of technology, and beyond that, in technology’s generalization as the “program of control”. By considering it through the lens of addiction, we will see that the despair mentioned above is justified, that our entire approach to problem-solving renders us helpless to do anything but worsen the gathering crisis. Like an animal caught in quicksand, the harder we struggle the faster we sink.

Chapter Two describes how we got into this quagmire to begin with. It digs far beneath the usual culprits of industry and agriculture to identify the origins of separation in everything that makes us human: language, art, measure, religion, and technology, even Stone Age technology. These have built upon each other, converging into the tidal wave of alienation and misery that engulfs the planet today. Nonetheless, by tracing the separation responsible for our current crisis to prehistorical or even prehuman times, we begin to see separation not as a “monstrously wrong turn” (to use John Zerzan’s words) but as an organic inevitability leading, perhaps, to a new phase of human and natural development.

It was with the Scientific Revolution of Galileo, Newton, Bacon, and Descartes that the ideology of separation received its full articulation. We call this articulation “science”. Chapter Three describes how the conceptual distinction between self and world is built in to our very vocabulary of thought. The methods and techniques of modern science, along with that entire mode of thought we call rational, objective, or scientific, reinforce the regime of separation even when we try to ameliorate it. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. An example of this is the urge to “save the environment” or “conserve natural resources”, locutions that reaffirm an external environment, fundamentally separate from ourselves, upon which we are only conditionally dependent. This echoes the classical scientific cosmology which, though obsolete, still forms the basis of our intuitions: we are isolated, separate beings gazing out upon an objective universe of impersonal forces and generic masses.

Meanwhile, religion too is shown to be complicit in the despiritualization of the world that we associate with science. By retreating into an ever-shrinking non-material realm of the spirit, or by flagrantly denying elementary scientific observations, religion has effectively ceded the material world to the science of Newton and Descartes. With spirit separate from matter and God separate from Creation, we are left impotent and alone in Fritjof Capra’s “Newtonian World-machine”.

After language and measure have labeled and quantified the world, and science made it an object, the next step is to turn it into a commodity. Chapter Four describes the vast consequences of the conversion of all wealth—social, cultural, natural, and spiritual—into money. Phenomena as diverse as the dissolution of community, the weakening of friendship, the rise of intellectual property, the shortening of attention spans, the professionalization of music and art, and the destruction of the environment have a common source in our system of money and property, which in turn arises from (and reinforces) our self-conception as discrete and separate beings in an objective universe of others. To simply try to stop being so greedy will never be enough, because selfishness is built in at an impossibly deep level. This selfishness, however, is not “human nature”, but rather human nature denied, human nature contorted by our misconception of who we are.

The consequences of our fundamental misunderstanding of self and world, introduced in Chapter One, are portrayed in full flower in Chapter Five. Our opposition to nature and human nature, implicit in technology’s mission to improve them, can only result in a “world under control.” Manifesting in every realm, from religion to law to education to medicine, we maintain the world under control only at an ever-greater price. Helplessly, we respond to each failure of control with more of it, postponing but ultimately intensifying the eventual day of reckoning. As the social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital of Chapter Four is exhausted, as our technology proves helpless to avert the impending crises, the collapse of the world under control looms closer. It is this collapse, which the present convergence of crises portends, that will set the stage for the Age of Reunion described in Chapter Seven.

While classical science presents the illusion of separation as fact, scientific developments of the last century have rendered the Newtonian World-machine obsolete. Chapter Six describes how the crumbling of the objective, reductionistic, deterministic worldview opens the door not just to a new mode of technology, but also to a spirituality that sees sacredness, purpose, and meaning as fundamental properties of matter. Part of our separation has been to see spirit as distinct from matter, either imposed from the outside by an extra-natural God, or a mere figment of our imagination. Assiduously avoiding New Age clichés about quantum mechanics, Chapter Six draws on recent developments in physics, yes, but also evolutionary biology, ecology, mathematics, and genetics. It lays the scientific groundwork for a reuniting of matter and spirit, as well the reuniting of man and nature, self and other, work and play, and all the other dualisms of the Age of Separation.

We are witnessing in our time the intensification of separation to its breaking point—the convergence of crises mentioned above that is birthing a new era. I call it the Age of Reunion. Chapter Seven portrays what life might look like no longer founded on the illusion of the discrete and separate self. Drawing on the new scientific paradigms of Chapter Six, it describes a system of money, economics, medicine, education, science and technology that seeks not the control or transcendence of nature, but our fuller participation in nature. Yet it is not a return to the past, nor a divestiture of the gifts of hand and mind that make us human. The Age of Reunion is rather a new human estate, a return to the harmony and wholeness of the hunter-gatherer but at a higher level of organization and a higher level of consciousness. It does not reverse but rather integrates the entire course of separation, which we may begin to see as an adventure of self-discovery instead of a terrible blunder.

Although I affirm the general, growing premonition of our civilization’s impending crash, nonetheless the enormous misery and ruination we have wrought is not in vain. Look at the New York City skyline, or a closeup of an integrated circuit board: Could it all be for nought? Could the incredible complexity, furious activity, and vast scientific knowledge of our civilization be merely, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “a sound and a fury, signifying nothing”? Following my intuition to the contrary, in Chapter Eight I describe what I believe to be the cosmic purpose of our “ascent” to the furthest reaches of separation. Drawing on religious, mythological, and cosmological metaphors, Chapter Eight puts the tides of separation and reunion into a vast context in which none of our efforts to create a world of wholeness and beauty, however doomed they seem right now, are futile, foolish, or insignificant.

Even in the darkest days, everyone senses a higher possibility, a world that was meant to be, life as we were meant to live it. Glimpses of this “world of wholeness and beauty” have inspired idealists for thousands of years, and echo in our collective psyche as notions of Heaven, an Age of Aquarius, or Eden: a once and future Golden Age. As mystics have taught throughout the ages, such a world is closer than close, “within us and among us”; yet as well it is impossibly far off, forever inaccessible to any effort arising from our present self-conception. To reach it, our present self-conception and the relationship to the world it implies must collapse, so that we might discover our true selves, and therefore our true role, function, and relationship to the universe.

This book exposes the futility, the fraudulence, and ultimately the baselessness of the program to control the world, to label it and number it, to categorize it and own it, to transcend nature and human nature. Thus exposed, that program will loosen its grip on us, so that we may let go of it before it consumes every last vestige of life and beauty on earth. The extensive scientific chapters are there to persuade you that the mechanistic, objective world of the discrete and separate self is not reality but a projection, merely the image of our own confusion.

The Ascent of Humanity is not merely another critique of modern society, and the solutions I explore are not along the lines of “we should do this” and “we shouldn’t do that.” Who the hell is “we”? You and I are just you and I. That is why so much political discourse (about what “we” must do) is so disheartening; that is why so many activists experience such despair, such despondency. You and I, no matter how much we agree with each other, are not the “we” of collective action, as in “we need to live more sustainably” or “we need to pursue diplomatic options.” I find many people resonating with my intuition of a wrongness about life and the world as we know it, but their response is not empowered indignation, it is despair, helplessness, impotence. What can one person do? Actually, these emotions too are symptoms of the same separation behind all of our crises. When I am a discrete and separate individual, whatever I do makes little difference. But this logic is founded upon an illusion. We—you and I—are actually powerful beyond imagining.

Because the illusion of separateness is crumbling, the alternative I offer is practical, natural, and indeed inevitable. The ruin and violence of the present age do not typify an immutable “human condition”. They originate in a confusion about self and world, a confusion embodied in our fundamental scientific and religious principles and applied in every aspect of modern life, from politics and economics to medicine and education. Social and environmental destruction is an inevitable consequence of this world-view, just as rejuvenation and wholeness have been, and will be, the consequence of a different world-view, one that has roots in primitive culture and religion, and that is the inescapable yet heretofore generally unrealized implication of 20th century science.

Our current self/world distinction, and its consequent parsing of all the world into discrete entities, has run the course of its usefulness as the dominant paradigm. Our individuation, as individuals and as a species separate from nature, is complete; in fact it is over-complete. What started with agriculture and even before, with pre-human gropings toward the technologies of stone and fire, has reached its outer limit. It has taken us far, this separation; it has fueled the creation of wonders. To the extent that the separation is an illusion and that we too are part of nature, that illusion has unleashed a new force of nature that has transformed the planet. But if the human gifts of hand and mind are natural too, then what happened to the “harmony, beauty, and authenticity” whose absence everyone can feel in the world of technology? Can we ever attain that human condition that we sense is possible in those moments of spiritual connection? This book will explore the extremes of separation we have reached, as well as the potential reunion that lies in the fulfillment, and not the abandonment, of the gifts that make us human.

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