If we begin with the assumption that there is no leadership that can take us to where we need to go, if we further assume the high improbability of getting a significant number of the world’s people to respond to the arguments of presentations like Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and other educational attempts, if we assume that the great consolidated forces of action on the earth, governments, corporations, armies, institutional religions, service organizations and sports fans have such competing interests that these will not support adapting to biophysical reality until the very last second when that is the only option left, then we clearly need to figure out some other way. As Mr. J. K. Galbraith cynically put it: “Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”
But then in dueling quotes there is M. Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In the way of a Zen Koan, removing the paradox of these two observations leads us to the supremely counter-intuitive conclusion that another Zen (Taoist) notion is an important part of the way (Tao): action in non-action.
I am not saying that those who understand the issues, consequences and required behaviors should put on the robes and find a nice cave – though it is appealing – but that we should not engage the struggle solely with methods that create the very problems we are trying to address. Movies, educational bureaucracies, massive material movement, technology dependence, specialists flying hither and yon while all necessary, in some amounts for some occasions, cannot be the whole or even the major part of the effort: a corporate/government designed process with all of the beliefs and habits of growth economics, political structures and ecological domination will, regardless of small victories, be co-opted by the present global economic process. This is not because the present design is evil – though it is – it is just its design. If we, all of life on earth in its present natural order, are to survive, the force for the necessary changes will have to come from another source that is so foreign to the present economic order that it cannot be absorbed and commercialized.
The vast majority of the world’s people are inherently sane, even as the ideas and behaviors through which they express themselves are thoroughly mad. A small percentage of the people of every culture recognize at some level their essential specieshood and try with varying success to incorporate their feeling of it into their lives. These are a nascent “priesthood” for specieshood.
I believe the number is potentially large. In my own random conversations I find that people understand the essential notions: live within our means, seek pleasure in community, live in honor and personal power not fear and subservience; and an essential notion of specieshood, that humans have a way to be as a species just as do other animals, that what we are at present is not it and that we would be benefited by its rediscovery. But the materialistic social order is powerfully compelling; it is relentless. Most people, even as they understand the inanity, can’t defeat its glitter and narcotic pressure. It is necessary to make a committed effort to find employment that both doesn’t compromise values and also allows time to live some part of each day with experiences that support being human. Not everyone with the potential can do it; many who could recover their specieshood will be lost. It is the nature of the time we are in.
More and more people are both realizing the approaching dangers and of these more and more are springboarding that realization into a recognition of their need for a relationship with the natural world. It is from these ranks that some will attempt to live in a way that models both the coming need and ways that more fully allow the expression of specieshood. I believe that it is this number that will decide the fate of the human species and much of life on the earth.
Our present economic and political system is completely unsuited to make any of the changes needed other than to exterminate 5/6ths of the earth’s people. Unfortunately, that may be the only option that the economic elite (I have called them elsewhere the mad minority) will understand how to implement. One of our responsibilities will be to stay vigilant for national and corporate preparations for such a possibility. But short of that it is most likely that we will simply drive off the cliff – do nothing until the biophysical damage is so great that the environmental response is massive and cascading.
As such a time approaches and the situation nears being lost, if there are communities of people modeling the way to live in such times, and if they have been actively preparing the zeitgeist to accept the modeling, then it is possible that the most dramatic ecological collapses might be avoided. Some of the present ecological structure and genetic history would be maintained, much of human history preserved. At this point I would see this as a win.
Another side of the possibility that people trying to rediscover their specieshood might offer the greatest chance for reducing the damage and danger for the future is that these people will also be living the most fulfilling and complete lives possible in these times, and thus will have an increasingly powerful effect on those immediately around them. There is the possibility that their example would expand their numbers and perhaps bring about a fuller recognition of the danger and meaningful responses to it that much sooner.