THE ASCENT OF HUMANITY

The Addiction to Control:  The way we relate to the world is written into our most basic mythos, our cosmology, our ontology—belief systems that underlie the superstructures of science and religion. It is our fundamental beliefs about who we are and about the nature of the universe that have generated human life as we know it, and the world as we experience it. If these beliefs remain unchanged, then unchanged as well will be the direction they take us. Our despair, then, is justified. Technology as we know it, and with it the program of control, will never fulfill the promise of the ascent of humanity. But herein also lies a great hope, because from despair comes surrender, and from surrender comes an opening to new beliefs, a new conception of self and world. From this might come a new way of relating to the world; that is, a new mode of technology no longer dedicated to the objectification, control, and eventual transcendence of nature.

The collapse we are facing is of more than “our civilization” but of civilization itself—civilization as we know it. It is a collapse of a whole way of relating to the world, a whole way of being, a whole definition of self. For at the root of the technological addiction is our own off-separation from the universe, our self-conception as discrete and separate beings that goads us toward control. Historical civilizations’ disintegration were a preview of the archetypal collapse that is overtaking us today, diffracted back onto history.

What drives our addiction to technology? Underneath all addictions there is an authentic need that the addiction promises to meet. The narcotic says, “I will kill the pain.” But of course, the promise is a lie that leaves the true need unmet. The same goes for technology, driven by the imperative to control nature, which itself comes as well from an unmet need. It is a need that we all feel in different ways: as an anxiety endemic to modern life, as a near-universal feeling of meaninglessness, as a relentless ennui from which we can only ever be temporarily distracted, as a pervasive superficiality and phoniness. It is a feeling that something is missing. Some people call it a hole in the soul. What we are seeking in our technological addiction is nothing less than our lost wholeness, and its recovery is what lies on the other side of the imminent collapse of the regime of separation.

From Separation to Boredom:  When we separate ourselves from nature as we have done with technology, when we replace interdependency with “security” and trust with control, we separate ourselves as well from part of ourselves. Nature, internal and external, is not a gratuitous though practically necessary other, but an inseparable part of ourselves. To attempt its separation creates a wound no less severe than to rip off an arm or a leg. Indeed, more severe. Under the delusion of the discrete and separate self, we see our relationships as extrinsic to who we are on the deepest level; we see relationships as associations of discrete individuals. But in fact, our relationships—with other people and all life—define who we are, and by impoverishing these relationships we diminish ourselves. We are our relationships.

“Interdependency”, which implies a conditional relationship, is far too weak a word for this non-separation of self and other. My claim is much stronger: that the self is not absolute or discrete but contingent, relationally-defined, and blurrily demarcated. There is no self except in relationship to the other. The economic man, the rational actor, the Cartesian “I am” is a delusion that cuts us off from most of what we are, leaving us lonely and small.

It has been said in a Judaic-Christian-Islamic context that separation from God, the Fall, is the source of all suffering. Buddhism names attachment as the cause of suffering, but careful examination reveals its teaching to be nearly identical to that of esoteric Western religion. Attachment, to the impermanent, delusory ego self and all those things that reinforce it, maintains a separation from the rest of the universe from which we are not actually separate. Attachment is separation. As for separation from God, what is God but that which transcends our separate selves and interpenetrates all being? On the origin of suffering, Eastern and (esoteric) Western religion are in fundamental agreement.

Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity.
The whole book is published under a Creative Commons license here.

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  1. Pingback: TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW | TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

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