(6)


As I've continued to work at developing my ability to accept and embrace the more problematical aspects of my existence, two separate realizations have begun to emerge.  First of all, it has occurred to me that anxiety might well be described as being one of the primary motivating powers for evolutionary growth:  it's experientially discomfiting, but ultimately beneficial to its subject.  "Anxiety" designates that discomfiture felt by any living creature as it encounters environmental factors perceived to inhibit the free expression – or endanger the mere existence – of that creature's life.  Every living thing might be said to be fundamentally ruled by the desire to continue existing and, ideally, to continue existing in a state free of all environmental inhibitions; thus "anxiety" might be defined both in negative terms (as the thwarting of this desire's fulfillment) and in positive terms (as the motive power which causes evolutionary change for the purpose of successfully dealing with environmental stressors).  Secondly, it has occurred to me that if accepting and even embracing the causes of anxiety in my own life is not to be equated with a desire to forever overcome them, then it must perforce be defined as a method of bringing to fuller account that aspect of myself which stands in mute awareness of all the many facets of its own experiential existence, for it's only through such awareness that an understanding of the necessity and relative value of all facets of existence may be achieved.  "Enlightenment" – to give such awareness, when developed to its highest degree, the name I think most appropriate to it – might then be fairly described as the human equivalent of what is called the "bruteness" or "dumbness" of the lower animals.  "Enlightenment," in other words, is the manner by which humans may be said to realize their full potential as "human-animals."

But humans, forgetting as we tend to do that we are but one part of the planetary ecosystem, all of whose members live interconnected and interdependent existences; forgetting too that the capacity for reason and the ego are biologically derived tools (the rudimentary elements of which may already be found present in many of the lesser animals) and thus cannot be taken to indicate our transcendence over nature, believe that we can subordinate nature to humanly defined wants and needs.  In place of the ecosystem we erect civilizations, and so come to endorse the view that it is society, not nature, which constitutes our true parent.  After all, society acts towards us as both custodian and teacher:  it trains and conditions us as any parent would its children, asking – requiring, in fact – a certain conformity with regard our behavior, this being considered fundamental to the overall goal of harmonious living:  we need to be able to get along in order to survive.  At this point in historical time the prevailing belief is that the democratic system is the best means we have for accomplishing order while maintaining a modicum of individual liberty.  Unfortunately, democracies tend to be fretted and frayed by the many opposing opinions of its constituents, various groups of which are inclined to want their own particular set of opinions or beliefs to provide the standard to which all should conform.  Given this scenario, is it any wonder that the democratic process should be made the subordinate of an economic imperative?  Economic security is the one desire most likely to be shared by all, it giving the appearance of being the surest guarantor of our survival:  when economies flourish, so do societies; where a society flourishes, so does the individual.  All of which is, of course, true enough, generally speaking at least; but economic prosperity also tends to be confused with individual liberty, and this is a misapprehension of the reality of our situation.  We have become, not nature's subjects, nor even society's, but the subjects of an economic directive.  This translates on an individual level into a desire to possess for the mere sake of possessing, and on a societal level into the substitution of material goods for humanitarian values.  Moreover, the economic system's drive for profit causes industry and big business to dominate our lives, forcing us to subordinate our own self-interest in their favor.  It sacrifices the lives and well-being of humans, nonhuman animals, and indeed the whole of nature to satisfy its ever-increasing appetite for growth.  It seems inevitable that such a system must eventually reach a crisis point.  The system by which we are currently dominated has, however, such a stranglehold on our lives that it is difficult to imagine what an alternative system might look like.  This is true not so much because the ideals of such a system are impossible to envision and articulate, but rather, because they seem so nearly impossible to implement.  The world of nature has been taken over by the political and economic infrastructures imposed upon it by humans.  These infrastructures, infinitely complex, interconnected and interdependent, now dominate the globe.  Change would likewise have to take place on a global scale in order to be effective.  How can one hope to accomplish this?

Change must take place, first and foremost, at the level of the individual.  To fight against the corporate mentality, the individual must begin by turning his or her back upon it, voluntarily electing to become one of the disenfranchised.  He or she must fight in favor of the only freedom that truly matters – individual autonomy.  He or she must fight in the hope that a genuinely new type of society may yet emerge, a society premised on the one hand on the idea that individual autonomy, restricted only insofar as is necessary to prevent the perpetration of violence, should be held as our highest ideal, and on the other by the realization that the health of the planetary ecosystem must be given priority over such benefits and pleasures as are to be derived from economic security.  For while it is natural and valid for humans to desire their own comfort and safety, both as individuals and as a species, when anthropocentrism is fueled by unbridled egotism it leads us to believe that we are of greater importance than the ecosystem out of which we are born; and this must, inevitably, lead to our downfall.  Because humans have a moral cognizance of the consequences of their actions, they also have a moral obligation to limit their actions in such a way as to respect the totality of the ecosystem, of which they constitute only one of many members.  Such moral obligation becomes requisite the moment we give due weight to nature as our true author and parent.  As one member of the natural community, the moral directive we recognize within ourselves, and which we use to justify our exploitation of the natural world, can only be rightly perceived when its biological source has been acknowledged.  It must then also be acknowledged that a similar directive exists throughout the entirety of nature, regardless of the ability of nature's other inhabitants to formulate it in humanly derived terms.  That humans should have a species-specific set of moral obligations only makes sense, of course:  we are capable of understanding such obligations in a way that members of other species are not, and can use them to promote our safety and self-interest.  But if we assign to the human species a higher moral value as compared to nonhuman animals simply because we ourselves are human, then we must also recognize that nonhuman animals would (and in practical fact do) give their own species a similarly weighted consideration.  Thus it is precisely because humans are capable of moral thought that it becomes incumbent upon us to give equal weight, in moral as well as biological terms, to nonhuman animals and, by extension, to all of nature.  This is so because our ability to think in moral terms stands as the consequence of a biological directive, not as its determining factor.  To deny this is to deny a key facet of our existence.








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