If you have managed to avoid seriously contemplating your own mortality in the midst of a global pandemic, well, good for you, I guess…? I’m a philosopher and, as such, contemplation of my own mortality is a thing I’ve done for years. Our collective “situation” has merely made my interrogation of the topic somewhat more urgent, however. Here are some of my reflections:
- We are all temporary, individually. This is not a new idea and I’m certainly not claiming the insight as original to me. What has become clearer to me through this time in relative isolation is a more visceral understanding of the concept. My life is a blip on the radar screen of space & time and I’ve been compelled to reflect upon my impact which is, admittedly, difficult to assess from a purely individual perspective. One thing is abundantly obvious to me, however- my life’s meaning is found in my relationships to and influence on others.
- Our actions have significant impact on other people and our entire living environment. Again, this is not an original concept but one that is important to examine and evaluate. I have spent most of my adult life committed to causes in pursuit of peace and justice. I started out focusing on finding personal peace. Dysfunction and trauma in my childhood led to certain distortions of my thinking and behavior that did not serve me or those around me well. Therapy, motherhood, studying social sciences and philosophy, and focusing my career toward service to and with others led me to a broader perspective and I realized that my talents, knowledge, and experiences have made me a valuable resource to others who’ve suffered similar pain and trauma. Hurt people hurt the world AND healed people heal the world.
- Our cultural stories shape our worldview and impact everything we do. Once I moved beyond the focus on myself as an individual, I was able to more accurately recognize the narratives that shape our human societies and how we perpetuate stories that are harmful to ourselves, each other, and the entire world of Life. In the United States, our cultural stories have been particularly harmful due to the normalization of exploitation, alienation, and abuse of power that are inherent to our nation’s formation, expansion, and hegemony around the globe. Most notably, our economic system, subsidized market capitalism or crony capitalism, goes largely unquestioned in the public discourse and, when it is interrogated, those seeking to expand our understanding of what an economy is actually for (the ability of people to make a sustainable living) are marginalized and attacked personally so their ideas won’t be seriously considered. We, as a people, are the most militaristic, materialistic, and narcissistic society in human history and we’ve exported our way of life to other “developed and developing” countries, while imposing the worst impacts of our lifestyles on those who’ve maintained much less harmful ways of living. The remaining indigenous/First People in the world represent fewer than 5% of our global population, despite the success of their cultures for many millennia prior to the development of modern civilization. We have almost wiped out our most effective models for how to live in harmony, integrated with the natural world! We must learn from their stories and their success.
- We rationalize harm to others and the planet as necessary for “growth & progress.” I’ve written more extensively on the Myth of Perpetual Growth in Flattening the Pyramids and invite you to read my longer-form thoughts on the subject there. I’m confident that you likely understand the idea since it is apparent in every news report, every discussion of economics, and every social studies class we took as kids. Growth is the standard for progress in our culture and the more the better! Even while acknowledging that unchecked growth is akin to a social and ecological cancer that depletes life-sustaining resources in service of making wealthy people wealthier, we continue to accept the measurement of GDP and the direction of Wall Street numbers as primary indicators of how we’re doing as a society. We must re-frame this narrative and bring attention to alternative ways of being and living in our world- especially those of indigenous tribes and other folks who have successfully maintained or restored ecological balance. Eco-villages, intentional communities, and worker-owned cooperative businesses are some modern forms of sustainable socioeconomic models.
- Once “awakened” to our true nature as inter-dependent, inter-connected members of the universal Web of Life, it is impossible to return to complacency and mindless participation in systems of harm. As my worldview has expanded to include caring for all living species of our fragile planet, I have found it increasingly intolerable to go through the motions of living in ways that ignore my negative impacts as an individual and the collective damage our culture has wrought. Though I appreciate technology as a means of communication and connection, especially in this time when we are unable to gather in person, I am painfully aware that more and “better” technologies will not save us from impending extinction. We will not outsmart biological pathogens released through our unchecked destruction of wild spaces, we will not artificially increase the carrying capacity of the Earth, and we will not escape to another planet once our only home has been rendered uninhabitable. “Green Tech” will not help us if we don’t abandon the death cult of “growth at all costs.”
- Humanity’s time is very short unless we shift rapidly & collectively toward true sustainability. Despite my seemingly negative outlook on our situation, I am actually optimistic about the potential of our culture to shift, especially in light of the fact that we’ve (largely) accepted our relative powerlessness in the face of the current global pandemic and stopped many of our harmful practices out of necessity. There are more crises coming and there will be no return to our prior “normal.” This is a scary but hopeful place to be. This is a place that allows us to imagine new possibilities and make decisions with the future of all generations in mind. True sustainability requires us to understand ourselves and our relationships within a different, but not entirely new, cultural framework. We have great examples and, I believe, deep longing for other ways of being and living- ways that celebrate the best of who we are as humans- loving, connected, joyous, caretakers of life.
If I should die before our species wakes up to our true nature and makes its way toward the world we want, I’ll leave knowing I’ve said my piece.
Will you say yours?