anthropomorphism is the most dangerous thing
Daniel Quinn wrote that anthropomorphism is ‘the most dangerous thing in existence—more dangerous than all our nuclear armaments, more dangerous than biological warfare, more dangerous than all the pollutants we pump into the air, the water, and the land. All the same, it sounds pretty harmless. You can hear it and say, “Uh huh, yeah, so?” It’s pretty simple too. Here it is: Humans belong to an order of being that is separate from the rest of the living community. There’s us and then there’s nature. There’s humans and then there’s the human environment.’ Think of that next time you go for milk.
a definition, of sorts, and an antidote, of sorts
John Seed (below) added a definition, of sorts: ‘ “Anthropocentrism” or “homocentrism” means human chauvinism. Similar to sexism, but substitute “human race” for”man” and”all other species” for “woman”. Human chauvinism, the idea that humans are the crown of creation, the source of all value, the measure of all things, is deeply embedded in our culture and consciousness.’ The definition comes with an antidote: ‘When humans investigate and see through their layers of anthropocentric self-cherishing, a most profound change in consciousness begins to take place. Alienation subsides. The human is no longer an outsider, apart. Your humanness is then recognised as being merely the most recent stage of your existence, and as you stop identifying exclusively with this chapter, you start to get in touch with yourself as mammal, as vertebrate, as a species only recently emerged from the rainforest…. What is described here should not be seen as merely intellectual. The intellect is one entry point to the process outlined, and the easiest one to communicate [see ‘more head and hands and heart’, below]…. That is, the change is a spiritual one, thinking like a mountain, sometimes referred to as “deep ecology”. As your memory improves, as the implications of evolution and ecology are internalised and replace the outmoded anthropocentric structures in your mind, there is an identification with all life. Then follows the realisation that the distinction between “life” and “lifeless” is a human construct [see ‘thinking like a mountain’, below]…. We have found here a level of our being that moth, rust, nuclear holocaust or destruction of the rainforest gene-pool do not corrupt…. The fear and anxiety which were part of our motivation start to dissipate and are replaced by a certain disinterestedness. We act because life is the only game in town…. Some teachers of meditation are embracing deep ecology and vice versa [see two-way street, below]’
Joanna Macy wrote of ‘the three stories or realities shaping our world today. Which do you choose to put in the foreground: Business As Usual in the industrial growth society? Or The Great Unraveling, as ecosystems and cultures fall apart? Or The Great Turning to a life-sustaining society? Each story is true and happening right now. The question for each of us is which do we choose to identify with and devote ourselves to.’ Your choice. John Seed (below) noted that we have the chance ‘to discover an Earth ethic that begins to shape a future that we are proud to pass down to our children and our children’s children.’ Or, like agnosticism, there’s the The Great Unknown. But you still have to act, still have to make a choice.
more head and hands and heart
John Seed (pictured) wrote that ‘cognition is partial. If we merely know what’s going on without feeling it also, we are not motivated to make the necessary changes. When we say “I was moved” to do something we are not talking about thoughts, we are talking about feelings. Without passion, thought is sterile.’
(Pictured is Electric Universe by Miroslaw Magola.) In an interview with Jim Schenk, Seed said, ‘I don’t hold the view that we are some terrible scourge or cancer…. In the larger frame of reference creation and destruction are equal, there is not a moral side of creation…. To the universe, humans are not needed more than ants; I feel one of the mistakes we are making is to think we are the reason all of this took place, that we are the point of the story, the stars of the show. We are not. We are swirling around like everything else…. If we only understood who we are from a bigger perspective than we might be in the position to change our destiny and so change our role.’
Seed continued: ‘The idea found in Thomas Berry[pictured]’s writings is that our purpose here is to celebrate. That is a profound understanding as long as it doesn’t lead to a sense of denial…. I feel that any celebration we do has to be tempered with a strong commitment to our incarnation. It is not enough to escape to that largest view and to tower beyond tragedy. We have to take strength from that largest view and dive as deep as we dare into that tragedy to attempt to avert it or at least to warn our people. I feel a little bit cautious about endorsing the kind of joy that comes from the big picture because I think it is too easy for us to hide there.’
The Ven. Phra Paisal Visalo (pictured) wrote, ‘The relationship between the NGOs [in Thailand, who taught awareness of secular root causes such as politics and economics to the Buddhist monks] and the development monks [aka engaged Buddhists] is not just a one-way type of providing them with something. Rather, the development monks also had a positive influence upon the NGOs. One of the things they imparted was the importance of being aware of the significance of the spiritual aspect when engaged in their activities…. There are even cases in which confrontations broke out among the NGO workers. When that happened, the development monks were able to teach the NGO staff about the significance of attaching great importance to peace of mind while carrying out their activities.’
greed and hatred
He expanded this thought that it’s a two-way street in another article:
‘The happiness of any society is not only dependent on progressive economic and political systems, but also on the quality of its people…. The Thai society nowadays is deeply steeped in … the culture of greed and the culture of hatred. The culture of greed has encouraged the spread of materialism…. In such a culture, people have endless desires and exploit one another, which in turn leads to wide social gaps, rampant injustice, corruption, crime and environmental problems. At the same time, the culture of hatred has encouraged the feeling of enmity among one another…. The fear and paranoia has made one look at people who think differently as enemies.’
economics and the spiritual
Visalo added that ‘social change is not only about political and economic aspects but also the spiritual dimension. Actually, the two sides cannot be separated. The spirit of people cannot grow in a bad environment. Likewise, good political and economic systems cannot thrive when the people are not faring well spiritually. But often, the symbiotic ties between the two have often been overlooked. Thus the present push for social change ignores the spiritual dimension, while those who pay heed to spirituality tend to ignore society and be occupied with their personal pursuits. What I have been trying to do is bring the two dimensions together.’
writing as social action and as spiritual practice
Visalo chose writing ‘to encourage people to see their own potential to realise the freedom of the mind as well as the goodness and humaneness in others so they will try to peacefully build a better society together.’ He believed ‘that this mission is crucial, especially in times when people craft words to hurt, slander, and/or recharge the energy of hatred, as is happening now. What Thai society needs is words that invite people to be compassionate toward one another, to understand each other’s sufferings, and to believe in the energy of love rather than in the energy of anger and hatred…. Such awareness makes me see clearly that social and self-development work cannot be separated…. From seeing writing as a form of social action, I became aware that writing is also a form of spiritual practice.’
thinking like a mountain
Where does ‘thinking like a mountain’ come from? Last year or the year before I (finally) read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949), which contained his essay ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’. ‘Thinking like a mountain’ is code not just for solidity (thanks, km) or long-term awareness but for balance and not being so human-centred too. Conventional wisdom held that if you shoot the wolves, you get more deer. Turns out the opposite happens. If you think like a mountain, you know that deer and wolves balance each other; removal of wolves causes what we call now call a trophic cascade in ecology. Writing presciently more than a decade before the idea was presented in a scientific journal, Leopold chose to write non-technically: ‘the cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.’ (‘Leopold underwent a dramatic conversion from the ‘stewardship ‘ shallow ecology resource management mentality of man[sic]-over-nature to announce that humans should see themselves as ‘plain members’ of the biotic community. After the conversion, Leopold saw steadily, and with ‘shining clarity’ as he broke through the anthropocentric illusions of his time and began “thinking like a mountain”.’ George Sessions “Spinoza, Perennial Philosophy and Deep Ecology” photostat, Sierra College, Rocklin California, 1979.’)
‘remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks?’
Thinking Like A Mountain (1988) is also the title of an anthology. Here’s an excerpt from a review of the book by G. Merritt: ‘This collection of deep-ecology essays, teachings, meditations, and poems allowed me to experience my surroundings in a new way.’ He quotes Seed (above): ‘ “Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks have the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing” (p.36).’ That lava becomes a monkey is a miracle, Brian Swimme pointed out. That some monkeys can write a book like this is even more of a miracle. Merritt continued, ‘This thin book contains a mountain of deep thinking, including exercises designed to “help make us more conscious of our embeddedness in the web of life” (p.80), and meditations to protect the Earth “from the blades of men unhinged by greed, prestige and authority” (p.91): “Relax and breathe in, breathe in Mountain, I feel my rock-roots go deep deep down to where the Earth herself is very hot” (p.90).’ Thinking like a mountain is a handy skill and perspective. Even beats being Entish. 65 years after the publication of A Sand County Almanac, we are beginning to think like mountains. Only a few million years to go.