We humans have all the technology and information we need to turn this planet into a garden of Eden, a planet abundant with a diversity of life, healthy, unpolluted, with little disease, no starvation, and no poverty. Sometimes in my despair over the state of the world I forget the very good news that we actually have the tools we need to create such a future. We also, however, have the choice to move toward a mass extinction of species, the destruction of all the beautiful places on the planet, a steady increase in pollution, famine, war, poverty, and misery. Why does our culture as a whole select the second choice? It seems such an incredibly stupid and crazy decision. The answer to the question, and the solution for changing our direction, I believe, lie in the assumptions that underlie our culture.
A culture, or an individual, can’t operate without having some assumptions about the basic nature of the way things are. Assumptions are interesting things, they are rarely brought up to the light of day to be examined because, well, they are assumed to be true. Every culture has a set of assumptions about the nature of reality, and that set of assumptions makes it possible for a culture to be really good at some things while at the same time making it hard for the culture to be good at other things.
My Western, industrial, culture has a set of assumptions about the nature of the Cosmos that makes us really good at inventing technology. Technology contributes so much to my life; the computer I’m typing on, my telephone, electric lights, hot water at the turn of a tap, a furnace to keep me comfortably warm, a refrigerator to keep my perishable food safely cool. The assumptions, however, that make us so good at technology also make it difficult for us to do certain other things well. We find if terribly difficult, for example, as a society to head toward a future of greater beauty and health and harmony with the rest of life on this planet.
The default setting in our society–what we need to pay attention to and what we need to do to get by in our daily lives–separates us from our connection to the rest of nature, and leads us to engage in behaviors that are, largely out of our sight, killing our planet. And, time is running out for us to change our ways. It is as if we are sitting in the backseat of a car playing with (and fighting over) our toys while the car speeds towards a cliff. When we shoot off the edge of that cliff it will be too late to do anything about it, and we will take much of what is beautiful in this world with us.
The traditional Andean culture has a different set of assumptions about the nature of reality. These assumptions provide the foundation for a mutually supportive relationship with nature, a relationship that is difficult to conceive, let alone attain, with the assumptions of my culture. While certainly not conflict free, they are as highly developed at living in harmony with the Cosmos as we are at making computers and space probes. I have stood in cultivated land in the Andes that has been farmed for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years and they feel as natural and undiminished by human activity as the National Parks in my country (the United States). The default setting for that way of being in the world–what they pay attention to and what they need to do to get by in their daily lives–reinforces their experience of being connected with Nature and the rest of the Cosmos. On the other hand, I doubt that their culture–had its development not been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors–would have ever gotten around to inventing the internal combustion engine.
My culture has the knowledge and technology we need to head for a future of great beauty. We apparently, however, lack the heart to do it. The Andean culture, and I suspect many other intact indigenous cultures on this planet, have the heart. For a future of beauty to be possible I believe we need to bring the two together. This Salka Wind website is my effort to help make this possible.
‘The Crazy Ape’ is the title of a book written by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi. I read it when I was a teenager. The book begins by asking a question similar to the one I begin with above (although he goes a different direction with it). That question…Why as a culture do we select a future of pollution, war, poverty, and pollution when we have the means to create a future of great beauty?….has stayed with me over the years as being one of the great questions of our time.Share...
April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am
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