The Dance of Fools
Territoriality is probably the culprit although that is just a guess. Each species, plant and animal, has an egocentric function which attempts to establish dominance over a particular geographic area. I was about to say only humans make territorial claims a cosmic project when I was stopped by the new discoveries indicating spacial seeding of microscopic life within our own universe. This is not one of those “Humans are the bane of existence” rants but it is a thoughtful examination of where we might have taken the wrong path many, many centuries ago.
Without redressing well established arguments regarding man’s separation and alienation from his natural world let me make a handful of statement to establish my premiss: The proto-typical human, as a member of the animal kingdom and a neighbor to the plant and mineral world, has very little “real life” experience with this natural realm. The enjoyment of an occasional sunset, perhaps a cuddly pet and a potted plant or two constitutes his/her real time contact with nature (if you don’t count the neatly wrapped contents of his refrigerator). The extreme urban naturalist might go so far as to have a well manicured and landscaped yard. That is it!
“So what” is the correct response….if you add a few words. So what is the core issue with living apart from the natural world?
Never having experienced nature in their formative years a person may live their entire lives in a state of separation.
Well, as humans we are different from our neighbors in that we have the ability/tendency to operate out of a set of core values which eventually become filters through which we view our surroundings. We are not just programmed by nature. Although this value system matrix is constructed for us by parents/teachers/religious leaders beginning in infancy we get to hang the ornaments on the tree as we go through life, discarding some and adding others.
So how is this value system affected by the amount of contact with the natural realm of existence?
Believe it or not, in this highly technological world, nature is the one supreme constant “reality”. Planetary orbits around the sun, seasonal changes, life-death changes are all inescapable. Technology might tweak things a little here or there where it can get a finger hold but that is it in a nutshell. The techno-world is unidimensional. We live the preponderance of our lives in this technical cocoon. Our lives are unidimensional, as are our values.
We live in apparent isolation from the grand reality of nature. All our contacts with nature are filtered through some technological gizmo be it a shoe so we don’t have to touch the ground, central air conditioning so we can control the temperature of our little artificial environments, automobiles so we don’t have to grow weary on our way to-from mall-jogging, or television sets so we can “see” what is going on out there. As a side note some people have retreated even further and are now engaged in sexual congress via the internet. It is just a matter of time before Bill Gates is slapped with a class action “alienation of affection” lawsuit by a band of jilted lovers.
Our collective value systems influence societal values which take the shape of laws and social norms by which we are judged and by which we judge others.
Core values have certain “pillars” which hold them up and keep them relatively constant over time. The first pillar established is the value system of the family. The next pillar comes as one enters the social/religious environment through involvement with the family’s place of worship. The family and religious values are established almost simultaneously. The next pillar has its foundation in social/peer interactions and may be a source of conflict if a child’s family/religious values are dramatically different from their peers. The final pre-adult value pillar is developed in the social/educational process.
Wait a minute!! If nature is the one true reality why is there no “nature pillar”?
Excellent question. Indeed why is there no nature-based value system established in the pre adult years (aside from scouting programs and the occasional summer camp)?
A complicated process yet very simple answer. Nature does not fall neatly into the purview of family, church, or school. It is more likely to have its prominent influence through early outdoor play with peers or during the family vacation.
Think about this: Nature is the one undisputed reality on which all else is based yet it has no place in the construction of our value system as individuals or as a society. Now add this: the physical environments of home, church, and school place technological barriers between us and nature as we learn our “core” values and interact with our peers.
Well why is this and how did it develop?
Another excellent question. . In order to find the answer lets hop into a time machine and visit our earliest ancestors, stupid cave dwellers that they were. Being very much at the mercy of nature they had one of those hostile-dependent relationships with the mother ship. They had to interact with nature to survive and through this interaction there evolved an instinctive understanding of natural cycles and rhythms. During famine they had to be mobile, during winter they had to find shelter, etc. etc. They did not exist apart from their surroundings and they developed a sense of reverential awe towards the incredible forces that affected their lives. The roots of religious expression were formed during this time.
As our ancestors developed more efficient ways of improving and lengthening their lives and as they developed into social clutches they began a gradual movement away from their intimate relationship with those powerful forces that both threatened and sustained their lives. The Witch Doctor/Shaman stepped forward and established himself as the middleman with the plan and the first formal division between man and nature was formed. Now man had a spokesperson to deal with the bogeyman and he could go on with his empire building.
Religious rituals replaced actual communion with Nature and eventually religious orders were established. Then the second great rift with Nature occurred. Religious teachings became centered on Man-Gods instead of a reverence for Nature itself. Social-religious order demanded a human-like figure at its hub and, over time, the religious order and its history became sacred in itself. Pretense at controlling natural forces through rituals lead to a devaluation of Nature and placed it as a subject to the religious order.
At the same time that Religion was conquering Nature, technology was making its own inroads. As you might imagine, the religious order of science eventually challenged the metaphysical order and that is kind of where we are today. Indeed, the current debate regarding intelligent design vs evolution marks the battlefield of this millennium yet this scholarly joust is conducted in a complete vacuum of respect and reverence for Nature.
At this point in time a reverence for Nature would be seen by the scientific community as primitive thinking and by the religious order as heresy and or polytheism. Let me liken this to a masterful work of art. The scientist would insist on a chemical analysis of the paint and the structural qualities of the frame and the religious man would marvel in the divine inspiration that brought it forward in its present form. Neither would ever see the painting.
We are surrounded by great natural wonder at the macro and microscopic level yet we are guilt-ridden if we pay spiritual homage to it. Scientists and religious leaders bicker constantly, pay homage to the gurus of their order, and change their positions more often than their robes in what amounts to an obscene dance of fools. Were it not for their colorful garb one might be tempted to avoid the spectacle entirely.
I find it amazing to watch the religio-scientific community engage in the most primitive, ritualistic obsessions in their age old struggle against the Natural Order. Science is still looking for the fountain of youth; meanwhile religious leaders are promising life-after-death. One has to wonder what the shaman would have to offer if the scientist were to prevail and vice versa..
Although it may seem that I am perhaps overly critical of both science and religion let me just state this: Both communities have tremendous impact on our lives and our planet yet neither have the slightest regard for that which sustains them.
Spiritual leaders insist on placing humans and all the Natural Order beneath a Man-God and, indeed, beneath themselves as divinely inspired middlemen. To make matters worse they also insist on separating man from the rest of the Natural Order and lure him away with promises of immortality.
In a like manner scientists insist on reducing the Natural Order to a series of equations and measurements and set man aside as a superior member of this order. They promise protection from the natural consequences of our cellular existence and give us artificial metaphors by which we now understand our world.
Higher Levels of the Brain
As my wife, Joan, just pointed out, our culture has come to value what is referred to as the “higher” functions of the brain. I guess that would be cognition and reason. Over generations we have experienced an atrophy of those functions of the mind that would allow us to just experience our Natural world without analyzing it. Certainly, Eastern cultures have maintained a certain reverence for nature and a means of blocking out the artificial environment through meditation. Even these cultures are very ego-centric placing man in a pre-eminent role within the Natural Order. Only in a few remaining primitive cultures do we find man in his natural intuitive state and we must, of course, convert him