Tag Archives: Indigenous peoples

Science is Great but God is Green

 

William Blake's God

More than anything else, the future of civilization depends on the way the two most powerful forces of history, science and religion, settle into relationship with each other.

Alfred North Whitehead

Technology is presented as the solution to environmental problems but wasn’t it technology that got us into this mess in the first place? This won’t sit well with the people trying to sell us green gadgets but we may have to change more than just our light bulbs. The environmental crisis we face is more than just a technological challenge. It is also a moral challenge. Whether it is fashionable or not to bring it up most people on earth still belong to the world’s great religions. Could these huge collections of people hold the key to the widespread behaviour change needed to save civilization?

Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.

Albert Einstein

The success of science is the foundation of the modern age. Science has enabled us to build new technologies, live longer and accrue unprecedented material wealth. However, the ongoing expansion of human capital is marred by the looming spectre of environmental collapse. Humans are expanding into, and at the expense of, the natural world upon which we depend. Humans also have a track record of using smart technology in stupid ways. Exploding thermonuclear devices above cities, engineering viruses and building gas chambers all demonstrate the immense harm we can do ourselves with technology. Holding up science and technology as the solution to environmental problems passes the buck away from the simple truth that it is what we do with technology that is the problem. To paraphrase Ghandi we need to be the change that we want to see in the world; our behaviours and cultural norms must change in line with our changing ecological context.

Indian Cow

A scientific interpretation of religion sees it as a complex adaptive system of beliefs that persists because it instils an advantage on practitioners. For example, the reverence of the holy cow in India effectively prevents the slaughter of cattle. Anthropologist Marvin Harris has shown that cows play a critical role in the Indian economy and the greater good is served by not slaughtering them. The dung is fuel, their traction pulls ploughs and they provide an ongoing supply of milk for children. Thus religion can act as a means of optimizing behaviour.

Religion is culturally ubiquitous and acts as social glue. It provides the common values necessary to make individuals want to do what they must do if social order is to be achieved especially in times of hardship or scarcity. Examples can be found from every religion of peoples’  faith providing a narrative allowing them to make sense of their universe and optimize behaviour in the face of overwhelming unknowns and challenges.

The Pope: useful priorities?

Clearly, religion has its dark side. History is made up of bloody competition between warring tribes. Often it is religious belief that gives a human superorganism its sense of superiority and it readiness to fight and destroy other groups. However, just as modern nations are increasingly multicultural; could not religions coexist with a shared sense of duty towards the planet? An expansion of the religious approach from being tribal or ethnic to planetary could transform modern religions into powerful forces for nature conservation. Just to take Catholicism as an example, if the Pope invested a fraction the energy he spends on sexual morality encouraging sustainable resource use the gains for everyone would be huge.

Voluntary (material) simplicity, revering creation and showing love to fellow humans will be pivotal ethics in the campaign to reduce the total human ecological footprint and are core teachings of many religious leaders including Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Ghandi. Yet to date there seems to be little coming together of environmental and religious worldviews. Are religious people so focused on the afterlife they aren’t concerned with progress down here on the earthly plane? Perhaps new and more relevant interpretations of what the religious founders were saying are called for?

Buddha

The root etymological meaning of religion, the Latin religio, translates as ‘to connect’. A modern interpretation of our religions could connect all humankind to itself and to this planet. By combining with religions a more sophisticated understanding of our mutual interdependencies and the physical limits of our planet a common cause between religions can be identified and a common route into future existence mapped out.

This is in actual fact the completion of a circle. The first religions were invariably based on nature worship. For our ancestors the environment was more immediate and vital. Food, predators and the seasons determined life and death from one day to the next. So it is fitting that as our environmental conditions again become a matter of survival the focus of our religions should pan back and once again incorporate all of the natural world not just human affairs.

It is hard to hear the first voices of dissent opposing never ending economic growth in the face of the deafening roar of development. Indeed environmentalists have been branded radicals and terrorists for opposing the apostles of the free market. Greens with a spiritual dimension to their campaign are derided most: ‘New Agers’. However the ‘idealism’ behind moving to an ecological age is in fact the only rational future for humanity. Prophets or shamans may see outside the consensual reality tunnel and report back and precipitate change.

Mi'Kmaq Warrior Chief and Peace Pipe Carrier, Sulian Stone Eagle Herney with Alastair McIntosh, 1994. (Photo: Murdo MacLeod, The Guardian, 1994)

Alastair McIntosh was one such man. He stood firm in the face of development and preserved his home island. The Isle of Harris was chosen by Redland Aggregates as the prime location for a new massive quarry to supply aggregates for new motorway construction. At 10 million tonnes output per annum, the proposed quarry at Lingerabay would have been 50 times larger than a conventional large British quarry. The area is a designated National Scenic Area. Alastair a Quaker joined forces with Donald Macleod the Calvinist and Chief Stone Eagle Herney a Mi’Kmaq Warrior from Nova Scotia to lead an irresistible campaign preventing construction. They all testified at the public enquiry not by engaging in a scientific debate but by drawing on a sense of profound connection to the land, reverence for God and entering into a “dynamic of service to the natural world”. Their testimonies supported by the pluralistic, democratic campaign proved an unstoppable force.

The Awakening Universe... what next?

For these people religious thought is clearly more than just an adaptive behavioural trait. It is an expression of the spirituality available to all people. Life has evolved into ever more complicated forms on this planet for 3.6 billion years. This increasing complexity suggests a direction and purpose. Opposed to the onward march towards entropy of the rest of the universe life is becoming ever more complex and organized. Humans sit atop this apex of development and our conscious minds, composed of atoms created in suns, is the awakening universe knowing itself.

God sleeps in the rock
Dreams in the plant,
Stirs in the animal,
And awakens in man.

Sufi Teaching

The development of human consciousness and the science and religious thought associated with it allowed humans to expand out of our ecological niche and spread over the world. An expansion of this consciousness further will allow us to shift from competition driven on by our so called ‘selfish genes’ to cooperation. Once society becomes sustainable the world is literally our oyster. Technology can be called upon to once again enhance the human condition. We can explore our planet; celebrate and study other life forms; realize the full creative potential of our imaginations and ultimately head for the stars.

Our Cosmic Crib

The environmental crisis is an outward manifestation of the collective psychological crisis of humans struggling within the existential void of existence that comes from the false belief that we (our egos) are independent entities separate from the rest of the universe. This crisis represents an opportunity. In choosing to move into a sustainable, ecological age we must necessarily open our hearts to our fellow humans and deepen our connection to nature. The ultimate spiritual revelation, as reported back by the great sages independently in disparate religious traditions is called the Perennial Philosophy.  It is the “the confidence that we have devolved from a single Source and the process of spiritual development is completed and perfected in our return to that One” It has been stated thus:

“Thou Art That” or Tat Tvam Asi (Sanskrit: तत् त्वम् असि or तत्त्वमसि), one of the Mahāvākyas (Grand Pronouncements) in Vedantic Hinduism

“Be still and know that I am God!”  Psalm 46:10

“If thou knowest thine own self, thou knowest God.” Ibn-Al-Arabi

This has been re-encapsulated in our time by the environmentalist David Suzuki who said:

“We are the environment.”

Of course this is a scientific truth too. Humans are dissipative structures. Our organizational structure is maintained through the consumption of our environments. We eat other living organisms and the atoms of their bodies become the atoms of ours. There is a flow of energy and matter from the universe around us into the temporary structures that make up our bodies. So ultimately scientific and religious thought converge. The take home lesson is that you should love your environment, your planet and indeed your cosmos as if it was yourself… because it is.

Understanding this not only leads to the conclusion that what we do the environment we do to ourselves and that a species going extinct is like the death of a part of our soul but that everything around us, including ourselves is, for lack of a better word, God.  This expansion of consciousness is our next evolutionary step. We have reached what Buckminster Fuller called our “final evolutionary exam”. Choosing existence and starting the shift to an ecological age is an opportunity to reinterpret our existence. At best sustainability will be a triumph of our better nature and shared adventure into spirit. At worst, we will survive.

Zen

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Home is a giant spaceship with a rejuvenating supply of psychedelics onboard for all the crew!

The Spaceship Earth

As humanity has extended its reach the planet has seemingly shrunk giving rise to the concept of ‘Spaceship Earth’. If you have to go journeying through the cold, black void you really couldn’t really do better then our 6 star vessel. This baby comes equipped not just with the essentials (forests to produce oxygen, fungi to break down dead things etc) but with all manner of lush, decadent add-ons that have snuck into existence.

Creatures like the blue whale, snow leopard, giant salamander and lantern fish reveal the mad exuberance that the life-process is capable of.

Japanese Giant Salamander

From a species perspective, our home is the whole planet and we are nestled within a complex global ecosystem. So it may not come as a surprise that the term ‘ecology’ (coined in 1873 by the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel) is derived from Okologie, from Gk. oikos “house, dwelling place, habitation” + -logia “study of.”

Assuming humans can grow up and stop crapping all over the play pen, our home, Spaceship Earth could provide for our physical needs for 2.3 billion years (until the sun goes red dwarf on our collective asses). This may be enough time to develop intergalactic travel allowing our descendents to go and find fresh pastures. Luckily, there is so much going on aboard our mother ship we are unlikely to get bored over this vast stretch of time. However, in case we do nature abounds with a range of powerful and magical compounds that offer a means to radically change our perspectives. That’s right! Spaceship Earth provides for our mental and spiritual wellbeing as well as physical. Psychedelic compounds are produced by nature in a vast array of forms on every continent.

For millennia indigenous peoples all around the world have ceremonially and recreationally ingested Mother Nature’s finest and reaped a range of benefits. From San Pedro using shamans, Ayahuasca drinkers in the Amazon, the Mazatec who use hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the Huichols who use Peyote; hallucinogenic plants have been used as religious sacrament, healing medicine, and spiritual guides. The Aztecs called them “the flesh of the gods” and Siberian shamans used them to enlighten their path to the spirit world. In Europe the psychedelic experience was extremely common, whole communities would trip out when their crops where infected with Ergot.  and Celtic warriors are known to have consumed a psychedelic potion derived from mushrooms before entering into battle.

In the preliterate world entheogenic substances were an important part of everyday reality and were highly respected for their ability to bring forth the divine. Often entire tribes would partake in rites and rituals used as an initiation into adulthood, for healing, to help guide the community in the decision process, and to bring the direct religious experience to anyone seeking it.

Maya Mushroom Moon

The potential of these compounds is broad and mysterious. Shamens who use Ayahuasca in the Amazon report being able to enter new worlds and dimensions beyond our own. In his extraordinary book The Cosmic Serpent Jeremy Narby presents the case that Amazonians’ encyclopedic, specific knowledge of pharmacology derives not from arduous testing of thousands (millions) of species of plants  (there may not have been enough time for this to have worked) but from direct communication with the plants themselves whilst in hallucinogenic trance.

A record of ancient hallucinogenic mushroom cults symbiotic relationship with fungi is found in prehistoric rock art in the Sahara Desert dating back to 9000-7000 B.C.  However, it is highly likely that humanoids will have used psychedelics for far longer than this. Given the long and illustrious ethno-botanical relationship of humankind with naturally occurring, hallucinogenic compounds the modern taboo and laws against ingesting them seem retrograde at best and at worst a deliberate, self-induced lobotomy on our collective mind. Indeed the industrial decimation of the biosphere, genocide of indigenous tribes and homogenization of culture may be more closely linked to our collective denial of Dream Time then we might think. Terence McKenna, in Whole Earth Review (1989) writes:

“Re-establishing direct channels of communication with the planetary other, the mind behind Nature, through the use of hallucinogenic plants is the last, best hope for dissolving the steep walls of cultural inflexibility that appear to be channeling us toward true ruin. Careful exploration of the plant hallucinogens will probe the most archaic and sensitive levels of the drama of the emergence of consciousness.”

This is in stark contrast to the drugs currently prescribed by contemporary doctors in the US, which are designed precisely to normalize behavior and maintain the ‘walls of cultural inflexibility’. For example, the noisy, impulsive, outspoken (fun) kids in school are labeled as having ADHD and placed on Ritalin. Ritalin aka Methylphenidate’s pharmacological effect on the central nervous system is almost identical to that of cocaine and may prevent free thinking children from asking pesky questions like ‘why are we being taught this bullshit’. Ritalin is currently prescribed to approximately six million people in the US. 75% of these are children, with boys receiving Ritalin about four times more often than girls.

Pill Head

In the United Kingdom the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002.[28] In the United States a 2005 independent report stated that 11% of women and 5% of men in the non-institutionalized population take antidepressants.[29] For severely depressed people these interventions may be useful. However, for many it may avoid proactively making the changes to their lives which are necessary to improve well being for example, seeking out meaning in life, finding creative outlets and connecting with others on a profound level. Most worryingly of all is the prospect that it is precisely the materialist, atomized dystopia we have created that causes depression which has now led to the new profitable industry of corporations reducing the symptoms with their synthesized chemicals. In this Brave New World the people lulled into their Soma-like druggy happiness will never stand in between an ancient woodland and a JCB saying ‘the line stops here… we don’t need any more roads, malls or car parks’. We can drug ourselves happy while we pave over paradise. It is either nonsensical or purposely repressive to treat natural psychedelics like other drugs. McKenna again:

“The pro-psychedelic plant position is clearly an anti-drug position. Drug dependencies are the result of habitual, unexamined and obsessive behavior; these are precisely the tendencies that the psychedelics mitigate.”

Furthermore, our governments seriously endanger the wellbeing of young people by automatically banning anything non-corporatized and failing to accurately communicate the relative risks. Professor David Nutt was recently sacked as the chairman of the government’s drugs advisory panel for saying that taking E was no more dangerous than riding a horse. This may rankle Middle England but if your child is determined to get high wouldn’t you rather they were taking E then a harmful drug like crack or smack?!

From the paucity of information emerges worrying trends. Kids in the UK are increasingly turning to Ketamine for their high which is cheap and readily available. What these kids do not know is that regular use attacks their bladders and they may end up needing a catheter . Prof David Nutt, suggested that Ketamine should be upgraded from a class C drug due to the harm it can cause users but since the government sacked him this is unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, naturally occurring magic mushrooms are rated as a class A drug whilst being non addictive with widely reported beneficial effects.

It is, of course, an awful irony that the US which leads the world in corporate drug pushing (which is now so out of control that we are seeing widely reported sex reversal in frogs as an effect of drugs in the environment ) also leads the world in the ridiculously named War on Drugs. The War on Drugs seems to exist mainly to mask the U.S. counter-intelligence and paramilitary presence abroad and contribute to the cyclic creation of a permanent underclass.  Whilst their government fights an endless war with another fabricated, intangible enemy millions (70 % non-white) of Americans waste their lives incarcerated in dehumanizing prisons.

Sheriff Arpaio Prisoners

In the UK some enterprising people found a legal loophole allowing them to sell fresh magic mushrooms.

Camden Mushroom Company

As recently as 2005 the my friends and I would stroll down Portobello road and visit the Camden Mushroom Company and enjoy regular trips with close friends. These happy, fun times in the park came without a hangover normally accompanied with profound insights and plentiful giggling.

On discovering the legal loophole enabling good citizens to legally trade these highlights of nature’s bounty a dark and evil force was again extended from the government and within 2 years the good times were over. The 2005 Drugs Act labeled mushrooms a class A drug (like crack cocaine and heroin) with a 7 year jail term for possession.

This draconian step feels like a totally disproportionate intrusion into my life. On whose authority do these law makers act? What right do they have to ban us from intimately connecting with nature and extending our own conscious reach? Making something illegal that grows out of the ground is exactly the kind of perverted authoritarian distortion you would expert from leaders who think they can persuade the people you can bomb a country to avoid a war.

Dark and Evil Force

Are these law makers the same people who lied to take the nation to war wasting billions of our tax pounds to invade and control a distant sovereign state illegally? Are they the same people have spent all our money bailing out banks in what has been termed the greatest swindle of all time with money that should be paying for the transition to a sustainable society? Are they the same people who finally lost any moral credibility and were been rumbled with their hands in the till ?  If so I will defer to my own moral judgments rather then following knee jerk laws written by suited, drab, automatons operating in parliamentarian bubble.

Houses of Parliament

As the human species grows up there will be an ever growing range of narcotics knocking around. Those who seek to control the supply would be better off regulating and raising tax revenue rather then banning with all the subsequent problems of drugs being controlled by the black market and global underworld. Decriminalization and regulation is the only way to control drugs and protect the young. Furthermore, if the government is going to regulate drugs why not do so according to the harm they cause as established by scientists?

Whilst the government sorts out its perverse legislation the good citizens of this country needn’t worry. They can ban but they can’t exterminate. So in the mean time the rest of us can head out to those special patches in the English countryside where our slimy mushroom friends push their pretty heads out of the dark Earth and together celebrate the mad journey us life forms are on. It is a difficult thing for many people to get their heads around, but the fact remains home is a giant spaceship with a rejuvenating supply of psychedelics on board. Let’s enjoy the trip!