As Homo sapiens begins its second millennium C.E., it has reached a critical point in its long, seven-million-year evolutionary journey. A simple, yet gigantic adaptation is required, especially among those living in "Western civilization," to enable this species’ continuation on its evolutionary branch. Let us not deceive ourselves any longer. If we do not make this adaptation our species will soon become extinct, a fate already recently met by thousands of the other approximately 10 million species on this planet. The number of extinctions is escalating daily at an alarming rate primarily due to the destructive policies of the West.
Up until now, our ancestors have made the necessary adaptations required for our continued evolution since our beginnings about 7 million years ago. The awaited adaptation requires no new technological invention or physical alteration. The requirement is simply is a new consciousness–or a revival of ancient consciousness–that recognizes deep within the psyche our intrinsic and sacred interconnection with all life in the cosmos, including Mother Earth. This must be felt so deeply that it is integrated in both the unconscious and the cognitive realm. A similar consciousness guided our species for the first 99.9% of our journey! The question is whether we can access in time this deep but submerged part of our psyche/soul in order to "see" this interconnection so that we will be empowered to make radically different life choices.
The beliefs and systems that have dominated modern man’s existence for the past 5,000 years have revolved around power complexes and bureaucracies identified by names such as "king" or "nation-state." They have thrived on various forms of the control of large labor pools, use of force, expansion of territory, and the pursuit of economic gain for a few at the expense of the many. The first urban civilizations emerged some 5,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, today’s Middle East region, which in fact established the pattern that became "Western civilization."
Since the end of the nineteenth century the United States of America has been a genuine world imperial power. Since victory in World War II, the U.S. has been on a campaign to assert its economic system throughout the globe. Shrouded under the cloak of "democracy," it engaged in a battle against the "evil empire" of the U.S.S.R. until the latter’s collapse about 1990. This, of course, was termed the Cold War, but was in fact a concerted effort to contain people’s independence movements (generally in the Southern Hemisphere) that threatened the needs of unfettered capitalism to control resources, markets and labor forces in its quest to feed an ever-expanding economy with associated greater private profits.
In the process, the American Way Of Life (AWOL) has become an egregious threat to the health of the entire planet and all her species, including our own. With but 4.5 percent of the world’s population, collectively the U.S. is responsible for massive, disproportionate amounts of consumption of the earth’s finite resources and corresponding pollution of the earth’s ecosystem. The countries that comprise the "First World" possess nearly a quarter of the world’s population, consuming somewhere around 85 percent of the world’s resources. The result is that 75 percent of the earth’s human population is squeezed with but 15 percent of the resources. Not only is this grotesquely immoral and unjust; it is totally unsustainable and will not continue much longer. It is what might be called an extraordinarily dangerous and untenable structural problem of MAMMOTH proportions.
The egregious harms caused to the earth’s ecosystem and to the majority of human cultures and their populations are so severe as to inevitably create explosive reactions that might be termed "corrections." The corrections have been in process for some time for those who want to see and hear the realities existing all around us. The cries of the earth and her warning signs are now ominous, as recognized by the vast majority of the world’s scientists and common folks. People’s revolts have continually "plagued" the smooth operation of nation-states for centuries, being especially conspicuous following World War II, as people in the "Third World" vigorously struggled to free themselves from colonialism in order to attain some semblance of justice for their aggrieved populations.
All citizens living in the "First World," and especially those residing in the United States, in effect have been complicit, virtually without thought, with an economic-political system that requires systemic, global exploitation, militarily enforced as necessary. It is a long historic pattern that simply has become more intense and more far-reaching under the concept of "neoliberal" global economics during the last 30 years. Generally, people in the United States have become spoiled rotten, believing they can consume virtually anything they want at any time. The transborder, corporate economic production system protected by most nation-state governments, whether called capitalist, socialist, or totalitarian, happily furnishes all that we have been induced to believe we must have. Advertisers and mass media, along with the educational system, all contribute to this pattern of consumptive addiction, without being able to critique the self-destructive, therefore insane, belief in infinite growth through ever-expanding production and consumption.
The historic, ancient understanding of our intrinsic and dependent relationship with the Earth and the forces of the cosmos began eroding some 5,000 years ago, and has virtually disappeared over the past few hundred years of Western mechanistic thinking. Founded during the industrial revolution and subsequently enhanced by petroleum, the religion of progress has only escalated in the information and computer revolutions. This process seems to be spinning out of control as the political and economic structures that are in charge of the power complexes proceed, ignoring vast amounts of suffering and all the ominous, clearly visible signs of destruction of our species.
Moving Toward the New Consciousness: Withdrawal and Resistance
Fortunately, millions, perhaps billions, of the earth’s nearly 6.5 billion inhabitants either already adhere to or are beginning to grasp these understandings of our intrinsic interconnectedness. However, virtually all power-brokers and decision-makers we in the West have sanctioned with our own living patterns, operate as oligarchs. Those at the top of the power complex are quite removed from being genuinely representative, and unable to promote just and sustainable policies that conflict with their oligarchic interests. Thus, a major challenge for those of us who live in the "First World," as we begin to seriously understand this sacred dimension, is to extricate ourselves from continued dependency on and support for the structures of this power complex. The complex is deeply and intrinsically flawed, and has been throughout five millennia of oligarchic patterns and unaccountable power. Deliberate withdrawal of our continued support is therefore essential.
Gandhi grasped this concept clearly in his campaign to rid India of British imperialism. He modeled the need for self-reliance, and critiqued the devastation caused by mass production while promoting the sustainable production by the masses. In other words, he advocated decentralized federations of sustainable communities of smaller farmers and producers freed from dependence upon outside inputs. His campaign included what appear to be the two essential strategies begging us at the beginning of the second millennium C.E. The first is resistance to existing structures that continue to rob the resources from the poor for the benefit of the rich while destroying the planet. The second is mindfully living in and experimenting with
alternative, sustainable self-reliant local communities.
It makes no sense to petition the power complex (in our case the U.S. Congress and the President) for solutions, for they are inextricably connected with and committed to continuation of policies that create the problem. The fact is that historically our power complex, like those in other empires, is obsessed with its power, both economic and political, and has little room to maneuver toward justice and redistribution policies. An issue that has rarely been examined, though there are exceptions, is that the size of structures, machines, administrative units, etc., has been an intrinsic problem since the beginning of the advent of power complexes. It is likely that, upon examination of the historic evidence, we will find that size itself is an extraordinarily important independent factor that must be considered when assessing the workability and practicality of everything from machines, political and economic administrative units, farming and production processes, to communities and cities.
Of course, continuing efforts to block implementation of destructive policies is important. This type of resistance requires tenacious nonviolent strategies. However, unless at the same time we intentionally and dramatically alter our consumption patterns, and begin modeling sustainable, local alternative living practices, we will continue to feed and rationalize the existing power complex and its policies. The former activity of resistance is, in form, something that people have somewhat more experience with. The latter, which many people, of course, have been taking seriously, is a path that requires more radical changes than what we are normally used to. However, as the eco-consciousness shifts and emerges, new choices become more natural, and obvious.
The withdrawal of larger and larger numbers of people from centralized economies of food, goods and energy production, is the most important aspect of these new strategies. As that happens, dramatically simpler, higher quality lifestyles will begin to prevail. This process requires substantial dialogue and experimentation at each local level, while sharing respective ideas with communities all over the world. There is no magic in the ingredients of sustainablility. There is a consensus worldwide on the need to live within the carrying capacity of nature in each region of the earth. Consumption patterns vis-à-vis local resource availability can be measured by utilizing standards such as BTUs, calories, or hectares as a guide to making comparisons between existing, "thoughtless" practices and the necessary "mindful," sustainable ones. These "footprint" analyses are becoming increasingly popular in guiding where each of us in our respective local community needs to reduce, eliminate, or change various choices–what and from whom we make purchases of food and essential goods, by which means and for what distance we regularly travel, taking back the day with reliance on direct energy from the sun, reassessing all of our past consumptive patterns, changing work endeavors, etc.
For most people, pursuing the American Way Of Life (AWOL) is generally a full-time individual endeavor that keeps people chained to a frenetic rat race precluding time and energy for vital participation in even local policy-making. The opportunity for reflection and critical thought is virtually lost in the frenzy. Exhaustion often results just from keeping up the effort involved in making a living, managing a household, paying taxes, buying all the necessary goods thought necessary to have the "American" life, getting to and from work, getting to and from the store, getting to and from children’s activities, etc. The terrible exacting price we pay is to give up interactive community for the desperate life of individualism in a materialist age. Now we know that this lifestyle isn’t even possible to sustain, whether examined from a psychological, economic, political, social, ecological, genetic, spiritual, or practical perspective. It simply will not continue much longer, no matter how many plans Bush and other Western officials make for controlling resources and people’s lives. Something is going to burst, and it might be that the karmic consequences of several centuries of Western plunder and murder will catch up with us mighty soon. Whether it is our own weapons returning to kill us, escalation of catastrophic ecological "correction," economic and political collapse, or other unnamed disaster, something ominous is in store for Homo sapiens.
To repeat: There is one path that is clearly, obviously, and readily available to us that would offer an historic, evolutionary opportunity for our survival with dignity. A manifestation of an already percolating eco/feminine-consciousness that deeply integrates the understanding of our ancient and sacred interconnection with all the processes of Mother Earth and the Cosmos would quickly enable us to see our way to radically different choices. A different consciousness leads to corresponding values. Different values leads to corresponding choices and policies.
The famous Twentieth Century archaeologist, V. Gordon Childe, stated eloquently that "man" makes himself. His book by the same name, Man Makes Himself (1936), is a classic study of the origin and progress of "man" from earliest recorded history to the rise of modern civilization. "Man" has made the institutions and structures, the power complexes, that are on the verge of destroying the world as we know it, even destroying ourselves period! "Man" can undo all of this and re-create a way of life that is sustainable. As a species we know what to do, and how to do it. We simply need the will. "Man" can make the new world, the world that virtually all the species on the planet, and the vast majority of the humans around the world are desperately waiting for.
The big gun presently pointed at the earth and at our heads has been placed in the hands of a small oligarchy by the vast majority of the citizens living in the "First World." These citizens pay for the gun. Many even vote in elections believing somehow that they are part of genuine democracy behind the gun. The sons and daughters of common citizens serve this power complex and actually carry and fire the guns. The few, who comprise the oligarchy, if not converted quickly to humble, common person status, are about to order the firing of the final bullets. In the meantime, those of us living in the "First World" who to varying degrees have been complicit in allowing this out-of-control power complex to get to this point, must now begin an escalated nonviolent program to resist continuation of these destructive human and ecological policies, while having the courage to radically shift our daily reality. We must become part of self-reliant communities in federation with each other the world over.
The Zapatista revolution that erupted in southern Mexico on January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect, offers us a courageous and inspiring example for our own course of action. The Mayan uprising was precisely over their insistence on preserving their local cultural and economic self-sufficiency. Their culture, and their lives, were about to be destroyed by the requirements of "neoliberalism" to incorporate into a cash, rather than subsistence, economy, and to become landless employees, rather than community owners of their small farms. They refused to allow their lands and their own labor to be sold for the benefit of the "free" market. Everything is for sale under the terms of the new religion of "Globalization." That is how far removed our species has come from our sacred connection to Mother Earth.
The Mayans have shown us an example of defying authority, including the military, literally with their bodies, while deepening their local democratic, consensus decision-making community pro
cess. Other than a short period of less than two weeks of a shooting war in early January 1994, there has been no violence exercised by the Zapatistas. Virtually all the violence has been committed by the U.S.-equipped and supported Mexican military or their paramilitary sidekicks. The Zapatistas defy authority by physically blocking the military when it attempts to enter their villages. Their only weapons are their strong desire to preserve their culture, and the machetes needed for work in their milpas. They often refuse to pay taxes or utility bills to the state, choosing in principle to forgo the services. They walk or ride on horseback from community to community. They have no vehicles. They have few goods. Their clothes and shoes look ragged to a Westerner. They conduct their own checkpoints on the one dirt road that meanders through their villages to confiscate drugs, alcohol, and weapons that might be brought into their territory. They know that drugs and alcohol can destroy their struggle to resist the government and to build their new communities of autonomy. They do not want weapons, as they know how useless they would be against the well-equipped Mexican military. They do not want to provide any extra excuses to the Mexican government for repression, already abundantly present.
The military troops that cruise daily through their territory wear new uniforms and boots, carry modern weapons, and ride in new Humvees and armored personnel carriers, most of this equipment provided or paid for by the U.S. military. U.S.-supplied helicopters fly overhead.
The Zapatistas are relentless for one basic reason. They know that their lives and their dignity are on the line. They would rather die fighting for their self-reliance in the manner of their own choosing, than buy into the capitalist model that the Mexican and U.S. governments are trying to impose on them. In the minds of the economic and political architects of "neoliberalism," the Zapatista example of defiance is like a virus that might infect millions of other poor throughout Latin America and the world. The fragile foundations of unsustainable capitalism might then come crashing to oblivion.
My first deep understanding about people’s strength in preserving their integrity and dignity occurred while serving in Vietnam. As an Air Force combat security officer in the Mekong Delta, one of the topics of conversation in the command bunker while planning bombing missions was why the Vietnamese villagers consistently refused to vacate their village when notified that they were about to be bombed. As the "free fire zone" area became so large as to include most of the region in the area where I was stationed along the Bassac River, virtually every village was sooner or later targeted for destruction because of so-called intelligence reports indicating their complicity in some way with the Viet Cong, our "enemy." Due to our superficial understanding of the Vietnamese and their culture, along with general racist attitudes, U.S. officers tended to chuckle in contempt over the Vietnamese stupidity and lack of desire to save their lives. Over time, through conversations and study, I came to a better understanding of Vietnamese beliefs. Most Vietnamese, like so many people around the world, had farmed and lived in the same location for generations. The land was part of their soul and spirit. Furthermore, they were not allowed to take their cherished farm animals with them when going to designated secure areas. On top of that, their ancestors’ graves were located in or near their villages, and it was very important to live in proximity to these graves to continue the relationship with the spirits of their now deceased families. Their lives and psyches were very integrated with the history, rhythms, smells, and feel of their sacred ground. I realized (duh!) then that the plight of the American Indigenous was similar. Once the Europeans decided that the land was to be theirs rather than honoring the original inhabitants, the Indigenous were pushed off the ancestral lands that were an intrinsic part of their soul/psyche, traditions, and history. In essence they became de-raced (like erased), either physically or psychologically.
This integrated connection to land and traditions, to the earth, is a concept that we in the West collectively forgot long ago. Fortunately, some of us have been able to rediscover the importance of this connection. Having grown up in western New York State I lived near several Amish farming communities and also became acquainted with local Seneca Indians. These experiences provided me perhaps with an early sense of both the importance of maintaining a mindful connection to the land, and the tragedy that occurs when this connection is lost.
When I returned to civilian life after the war, these insights began to suggest a different course for my own life. Despite a formal education that suggested I was to have a career in law, I instead experienced a personal restlessness and alienation in "America." Now, 32 years later, having benefitted from many learning experiences in the United States and travels to nearly 30 countries, I feel a strong affinity with the Vietnamese villagers, the Zapatistas, the original American Indigenous, and people around the world who simply want to continue their village lives as small farmers and producers.
Having been born and raised in the United States, now 61 years old, I understand what I need to do. Great Spirit help me. I need to be part of resisting the continuation of this nightmarish Western, capitalist model, known as the American Way Of life, destined to destroy all life as we know it. Just as important, and perhaps more difficult, I am committed to a radical process of transitioning to a locally sustainable life with other folks committed to regional self-reliance living in harmony with the carrying capacity of nature that we are part of, that surrounds us everywhere. The stakes are high–our very survival. "Man" makes himself, and we know what we must do, at least the direction in which to walk. All we need is the will, and spiritual strength to begin and be sustained in the walk. Whatever risks we face in stumbling on this path, or in being arrested or killed by the state if perceived in some way as a threat, pales in comparison to the risk of continuing business as usual which we KNOW will destroy life as we know it, including your life and mine.
Let us begin–or resume if that is the case–our historical evolutionary adaptation to remake ourselves. Through mutual aid we will not be alone.