27 Dec 4.1 Our Disconnected Lives
Therefore, the difficulty is not with the creation stories per se, but with the cultural stories that rule our daily lives. When our cultural stories don’t match reality, we tend to do things that are not true to ourselves, that are against our core “Dharma”. Dharma is an ancient Sanskrit word with no precise English equivalent, but which can be loosely translated as “right action” or “action in concert with Nature.” It is only through science that we have begun to discover how our cultural stories are fundamentally contradicting reality and therefore, contrary to whom we truly are.
At the moment, we appear confused about who we are as a species, especially within our modern technological civilization, despite the fact that we have been going through a self-absorbed phase in which we seem truly narcissistic. In any university, apart from a couple of underfunded departments of zoology and the environment, we spend all our time and effort studying ourselves and our systems, though in Nature, there are 10-100 million non-human species as opposed to our one species. Despite this self-absorption, we still haven’t satisfactorily identified our ecological niche, a unique place within ecosystems where we, as a species, belong exactly as we are. Because we are so unsure of this identity as a species, we don’t generally have a sense of belonging in Nature.
If you are reading this in our modern technological world, please look around you. The odds are that every object in your vicinity was made by humans somewhere. It is very likely that you don’t understand how these objects were made either, as we have become so disconnected from the industrial processes of production. Even the experts among us are narrowly oriented. There are very few of us who are trained to take a broad systems perspective. As the author and historian, Prof. James McWilliams, wrote,
“Imagine living in the 18th century. Almost everything about your physical existence would make immediate and intuitive sense. Your food, your shoes, your clothes, your transportation, your garden, the mill that churned your flour, your house—these would hold few mysteries in terms of how they came to be and how they operated. Spiritual conundrums might haunt you. But not the logistics of the physical world. It was all levers and pulleys and other manifestations of forces visible.
Now imagine the physicality of your existence today. Can you really explain how your iPhone works? Email? Do I have any idea how this post will appear in hundreds of inboxes of people I don’t know? How does an elevator operate? A car engine? The cloud? The bomb? My toilet? The gun that killed Mike Brown? It’s safe to say that at some point in the twentieth century modern humans went from engaging with the physical world from a position of understanding to a position of trust. Blind trust. The first books I ever read were called Tell Me Why, but I remain essentially clueless about the inner mechanisms of the objects that surround me. Every day I ask “why,” shrug my shoulders, send my emails, grab the wheel, and view the details of my physical life as comprehensible as Chinese algebra. I just stand back and marvel at it. Or I just hit send.”
This disconnection has served to separate the consumer from the violence that was embedded in the production process. It is only the global elites, the billionaires and the business CEOs who have to deal with the slave labor, the suicide nets in factories, the dismembering and maiming of human and animal bodies in slaughterhouses, the CIA-sponsored coups and the brutal dictators in distant countries who help keep our product prices low. They are the hardened few whose empathic cores have been squeezed out through repeated exposure to the violence. The rest of us would be truly horrified if we became aware of the suffering embedded in the products that we consume.
The complexity of our human enterprise has clearly contributed to this disconnection as well, since we have each become more and more silo’ed in our expertise. But even among experts on the topic, opinions differ as to who we are as a species. Some call us a virus, a plague, an evolutionary cul-de-sac, or a failed mutation that Nature will eventually need to eradicate and start over. Others call us the crown of all Creation, a deified species that will eventually replace the native ecosystems of the planet with genetically engineered versions and remake the Earth to our own liking. The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere between these two extremes. The truth is we are just like any other species!