A Commentary on Environmental And Human Distress
By Ian Kirkaldy-Willis
Aggression is responsible for something that is getting increasingly strange in the realm of human affairs contemporarily. So-called evil people are perpetrating acts of violence against the citizens of societies that are themselves seen as evil in being responsible for the ills that the impoverished suffer in those societies the so-called evil ones come from. Such a visitation of personal violence in response to structural violence is a sort of tit for tat, in which it is not possible to say which is the mirror and which is the reality. This matter has taken to escalating in leaps and bounds that are more and more extreme. I present the following as a commentary on this.
I am involved in investigating the discrepancies concerning human attitudes and behavior that are the background to environmental and human distress. So, it is from that standpoint that I would like to comment on a number of issues that are persistently held apart and treated separately, as if there are absolutely no connections amongst them. Herein lies something far more grievous than the continuing failure to find any real resolution for any of the individual issues themselves, and I have an appeal to make about this. My voice will be one of dissent, because of the ideas, opinions and the underlying attitudes, thereof, that are at the root of the distress. I make no apology for this. I will not try to explain or justify my position at this point - I will just state it, to let it stand on its own merits.
If one was to say that misunderstandings about ecology and economy are at the root of environmental and human distress, then, from one point of view, one could define the matter quite simply this way. The “eco` part of both words comes from a Greek word for household, or habitat, in the sense of living place. Words in English with a “logy` ending express relation between things. While words with a “nomy`ending point to knowledge about them. If ecology, therefore, is more about the relation between the various forms of life in the household, or habitat, economy should be about how the household's members manage amongst themselves, in the home they share. Life and Consciousness have made quite a journey together, evolving a complex and amazing world, in the process - a world that has evolved humanity as but one of its many presences - a process that has involved no human interference to achieve such success. So it should go without saying that things are most favorable. This is not the case, though.
Instead of having a common focus, ecologists and economists are very much at odds with one another. In terms of the word definition, the fault would seem to lie with the economists for their failure to be true to their science. You see, being absorbed with economics is not the same as being investigative within the scientific field of economy. Hence the problem - a very big one. How big? Well, it could not be bigger! The matter is the conceptual one of how people behave as a result of the way they look at the world. Economics, economic structures and economic institutions are the engine of all environmental, geo-political and human distress. Unfortunately, there is actually no science of economy (as the word definition just outlined frames it) that could be corrective in the face of the economic abuses that human-centered preoccupations with money and fiscal matters visit on the world at large, the way greater knowledge in the field of astronomy was able to counter the earlier geocentric view, for instance, showing planet earth to be in a star system with the sun at its center.
Since I am also involved with educational presentations, I have to give considerable attention to why such things are so. So, let me tell you some of my concern. You will be familiar with the fact that a number of reputable, international bodies, the UN included, have, in the last couple of years, postulated that the catastrophic proportions to the environmental and human predicament, world-wide, could be countered by a total change of direction, through major policy shifts by the governments of the world's nations. As you well know, the state of the world and its peoples is a controversial issue. Change to it even more so. For instance, even the statement I have just made above is, in itself, controversial, in that one deeply-entrenched view is that there is not a problem - that everything is OK - that there is nothing that cannot be regulated by one of two adjustments, here and there.
Well! Not only is the matter controversial, it is highly emotive. Let me illustrate this in the following way. Take a country (You pick one yourself!) in which things have got idealized as a dream and a life-style has been packaged, accordingly. Of those there, who aspire to this dream, only a small proportion can actually claim success. For most of them the success is relative. This dream has been disseminated in a variety of ways, seducing large swathes of humanity - people whose lives, resources, environments and cultures have been, and are being, destroyed, in bolstering a life style that does not, when all is said and done about things like suicide rates, stress and stress-derived illnesses, social conditions, the state of society, human rights records, structural violence, state terrorism, and so forth, really provide satisfaction, or make people happy.
As the human story is at this time, there are many countries that endorse this dream. (The greater their GNP, the more strongly they endorse it). For some people to get what they want, a lot of others have to be deprived. That is the way the dream works and there is a whole host of emotions, from anxiety, frustration and discontent, to resentment, anger and despair, that more and more of the world's peoples are experiencing, in these circumstances. This state of affairs has to be taken into account, for it has sown a rapidly-spreading malaise, whose harvest is an active despisal of and hatred for the governments, the bodies, the institutions, the people, who are the agents of the exploitation and destruction these people know and have to put up with in their everyday lives. Whatever else is said about 9.11, it pinpoints the struggle to become human of those whom the dream has both seduced and impoverished. That they can react only in those ways that they find open to them, and that they can throw their very lives away through it, because they experience everything else being denied to them, has got to be appreciated and accepted. Even the being reasonable that is demanded of them is made invalid, for there is no place for the decency to heed it. It cannot, in fact, be heeded, for the dream could no longer exist in the face of those changes that understanding, compassion and fellowship really call for.
There are no sacred cows here. However determinedly the established order holds court in the ivory towers of its institutions, globalization is not unstoppable. Assumptions just are not tenable where there is such instability between an economico-political monarchy and the masses subject to their misrule. Nation states cannot sustain demeaning policies towards specified categories of their own citizenry, any more than they can to others within their territory, towards other states, or to the rest of the world at large. If the aberrant conduct of the present world order does persist, more and more of the world's population will move towards being marginalized, simplistically, on the grounds of their being of the same flesh and blood, one way or another, as those amongst them who have elected to actively resist the structural aggression against their kith and kin, in person. Yes, it is right, specific “wanted` individuals have families and belong to communities. However, it is not valid to take out individuals and purge communities, because it is the people as a whole that are persecuted. Their cause remains whatever one does with specific individuals. This means that whether resistance is just confrontational, or is terroristic, the oppressor who has become oppressed and the victims who become victimizers have a stranglehold on each other.
We have been forced to recognize climate change, despite the nay-saying of many in the scientific community. There is much more than climate change that is afoot. Just as that conglomeration of issues that has been bringing climate change about is shifting wildly in itself, so is it with everything else in the field of environmental and human distress. There is no dream here! - only a nightmare, that is highly emotive for all concerned.
However, if one would be so bold as to assume that such a thing points to change, then change to what and how?
Governments are supposedly in the driving seat. That this is actually not so, due to the nature of the economic and political power structures (market forces, corporate lobby, revolving doors between business and government, etc.) that are at the core of the contemporary world order, is common knowledge. There can be no will-to-change in such circumstances. This must be as it is, for, if the change necessary would be seriously contemplated and planned for, the system itself would have to go.
This indicates that another set-up would be necessary. The inherent flaws and its record of failure show this system to be irrelevant, which is a good reason to think of it being replaced. In addition to this being a heterodox statement, there is a daunting demand here, because the roots of the predicament humanity is in, contemporarily, go back something like 100 million years, way beyond the point when humanity, in the evolutionary form we know, appeared upon the scene. Such a long story makes the matter enormously complex, confusingly so. Of course, one of the daunting aspects to this is that words do not necessarily help - they may be used to define the issue, but what then?
Not much of this is appreciated. Even less of it is explicit. Almost none of it is accepted, let alone credited. So, people persist in talking about the system and change in that context. Their considerations, therefore, are repeatedly modified to fashioning changes that the system could possibly encompass. For this, the question of finding the will-to-change still pertains. The reality here though, is that change comes about only where the economic and political elite become interested in backing other horses, though still for their own reasons and in their own way. A particular case in point is to be found in what happens to the otherwise beneficial development of renewable energy resources, like wind. Involving further extensions of the same technology to develop it and to lock it into the same grid, nothing is different. By and large, the developers are the same players, and business is as usual. There is actually no change of attitude here, no different behavior, no adjustment to the conduct of society. The human burden and the human predicament remain the same, with one more detail to further complicate them. In this manner, the nature of, and the significance of, real change gets by-passed automatically. Nobody notices the fact. So, of course, it gets no attention.
What about other forms of action - action, say, that could draw attention to things and pin-point the issues? Well, it already exists, doesn't it? It is happening haphazardly, in all sorts of ways, across the planet. It is fitful, and, though disturbing, it is not effective to any greater extent, because it does not stem from a considered policy uniting its various protagonists in concerted action, according to the deeper, more comprehensive perceptions of what being human is really about.
Of course, there is a great tension with regard to this. Society does not accept it as a watchdog. Instead, the forces of law and order that protect the status quo all too easily latch onto such activity, designating it subversive, as if it is some kind of guerilla activity to be equated with terrorism. They treat each instance independently, adopting tactics for policing it, accordingly. One of the most telling consequences of such a tension is that there is an as-yet undetermined critical point at which the system, feeling itself to be increasingly beleaguered, would get coordinated about fighting for its life, using every means to stamp out dissent and to assert a control that would have to be total. (In the present political climate, it could be possible that we are perhaps already treading the razor's edge, in that respect.) Nothing is said about this tension and such a breaking point. It is not even recognized. Nevertheless, it is there, agitating the establishment as well as honing the dissent in the same embrace; further entrenching each of them; calling each into greater dispute with the other, and putting dialogue over issues of mutual interest at an even greater remove.
One could speculate about both sides being able to win - a “new` order emerging, living in another reality, because of its having become free to reach within by the fire of the all out nature of the struggle, through which the “old`order has simply had to let go and has thereby found the freedom to establish neat, tidy, controllable and autonomous virtual enclaves that really satisfy it. A fine idea of something that would provide a very neat solution in such sticky circumstances. However, this is purely speculative.
Now, there are some serious implications here. One of the most devastating of them is that anyone who means what they say about having a better world and believes in the approach they have to this has a greater kinship with even the most outrageous ways of objecting for, calling for, seeking, change than with the actual society within which they live. You see, there is no fence here that one can jump back and forth over, according to whether one is considering the ways of one's own society, or criticizing others from the armchair of one's place in that society, instead of having compassion for them, there, where they find themselves to be, doing what they have been forced to choose. Each of us is as honest as anyone else about the nature of the problems we see, but we are also as misguided, with regard to the limitations of our standpoints and the partial nature of our approaches.
Well, there are other things about the world predicament that could be considered, looked at, analyzed and interpreted. Within the membership of the BWW Society/IAPGS there is a wide spectrum of informed opinion, in this respect. Furthermore, there are other ways of looking at the issues I have dwelt upon. I have chosen to present the line I have taken, in order to juxtapose the environmental distress and human suffering that there are on a mass scale, with the incomprehension and mismanagement that there is towards this, amongst the academic, the cultural, the economic, the intellectual, the political, the scientific, the social, elite (sorry, that is us!) - a dichotomy of so much substance that it has to be encompassed for each and every one of us to really become human.
I have taken this approach because of the unusual view it offers. You see, there is something so blatant, that it is not obvious, rather in the same sort of paradoxical way that there is this thing about common sense being the most uncommon sense. Let me illustrate the matter like this. It is already well-known that an animal like a chimpanzee, born and bred in a zoo, does not have the life-skills of that same creature in its native habitat. Even if its intelligence is cultivated, in well-considered, or sensational ways, it is no less deficient. It is a chimpanzee in name and form only and not functionally so. More recent field observations take the matter further. It has been discovered that apes have extensive awareness of the medicinal properties of plants and other things in their native habitats and a well-developed ability to utilize them, spontaneously, not only in curative ways, but preventatively. So, if one was to see one kind of chimpanzee, for instance, sitting next to the other, it would not be hard to imagine how they are two extraordinarily different creatures, the one a pale shade of the other, though they were both chimpanzees. Furthermore, one probably would not even be able to see the difference between the two creatures, simply as they sat there! There is something similar about us human beings. But, please, this is nothing to do with primitive and civilized states, cultured and uncultured people, natives and non-natives, or whatever.
There are obvious things about the way we are and the state of our societies that we just do not recognize, because they have come to be as they are over a period of time that has pre-human beginnings - this 100 million years, or so, that I mentioned earlier. We are blind to them, because we are used to them. We accept them as being so, not because we, or any of our ancestors ever thoughtfully decided that they should be so, but because we have not know them to be otherwise, from time out of mind, not only as individuals, but as a race. One thing has followed from another, again and again and again, within this huge span of time. Life has progressed. Humanity has appeared and evolved, carrying all this, infected by it, the way the blood carries pathogenic organisms that have got into it, and that infect the body that is their host. Thus have we grown to be as we are, a sickly version of what it is in us to be. That is what all the talk about human potential is really about - not about mining dormant abilities and skills in order to be able to go on abusing our planetary household and its other members in yet more intelligent and spectacular ways.
Well, I would like to conclude with an appeal. I have made this commentary in a personal way. Again, I readily acknowledge that there are other considerations than my own, with regard to the predicament of Life on Earth. I only think of us in the BWW Society giving a critical matter consideration, beyond whatever our individual opinions of it have been so far. So, please, I do not ask you to agree or to disagree with my views. In that respect, I would ask you to forgive me, if the way I have grasped the matter has been ill-considered, or offensive to you. And, if you feel that this matter has been presented in a satisfactory way, I would ask you not to feel you should stand up for that alone. My appeal is for people like us to be able to consider the matter from the many points of view there are, for the greater light that would shed upon it. You see, I think the BWW Society/IAPGS is a grouping of minds that could be influential, if it was able to formulate something at more fundamental levels and speak with a common voice thereon.
Mr. Kirkaldy-Willis was born in 1942 and was brought up in Kenya. His university education was in Canada and he has worked, subsequently, in India, Finland and Northern Ireland as a teacher in social and environmental action, wood products manufacture, organic agriculture, healing and education. Further training, experience and qualifications include bio-dynamic agriculture, suggestopaedic language instruction, medical radiaesthesia, facilitating self-directed learning and adult education. Mr. Kirkaldy-Willis thinks that more immediate concerns with things, like the life-education of the children, put the family in different, sometimes remote places, where he did what he has done and benefited enormously from the unusual experiences.
According to the inter-disciplinary investigations of human identity with which Ian Kirkaldy-Willis is involved, it would seem that a very long time ago, the forms of Life in which Consciousness was in then, reacted towards something that happened, in a way that handicapped subsequent evolutionary developments. So, for instance, the development of social patterns that led to the appearance of hierarchical structures amongst the species then began to evolve hampering the ability of consciousness to find them fully expressive for itself. Humanity's limited sense of its identity and its own troubled state stem from this.
It is in this context that even the achievements of the most accomplished individuals feed the complexity of societies in which people function in terms of a fraction of their potential. Operating within the parameters of social structures in which something like the hierarchy of wealth and poverty is rooted, these individuals' private and public lives are similar to everybody else's. What they contribute also exacerbates the distress. For instance, the gap widens between a proportionately smaller elite of those for whom there is gain and the increasing mass of those whose already poor existence becomes worse simply because the others have yet more. The spread of ancient issues like this has become global. Whatever their achievements, such discrepancies indicate the defectiveness of societies for structuring the human condition, in ways in which humanity is but a shadow of itself.
In terms of predicaments like this, no matter how evolved human intelligence is considered to be, relatively speaking, its state is larval. However, though fixations on something like the biological status of the human species, as something placing it apart, compound the poor state of affairs, the ensuing sense of discomfort and helplessness over human misconduct is an aspect of the transition to another level of awareness and the itnago state of intelligence, wherein another stream of humanity lives and thrives (and always has) in the fullness of the consciousness of which life made humanity capable. With human identity being so much more than its personal and species status, more mature behavior would be a far better vehicle for the consciousness with which it is endowed. The metamorphosis from human self-centeredness to a deeper, more mature state, in which people both experience and give expression to the fullness of human nature, occurs through personal change. Ian Kirkaldy- Willis is a scribe for educational presentations on such matters. He now lives in the Canary Isles, where he has a second family, brought to him through a love that he finds transforming.
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