Saturday, October 24, 2009

Climate Change, Environmentalism, and the Problem of Human Evil

One of the political-spiritual issues that has been on my mind a lot lately is the worldwide effort to warn people about the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. We all know what this is about - the notion that human beings, through their growth and rapid industrialization, are not only wrecking various forms of ecological havoc upon the world, but are actually changing its climate, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels and the raising of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere to the point where they threaten to raise worldwide temperatures far beyond the normal range of our present ecosystem. A great many spiritual and environmental thinkers have used this situation to criticize humanity as a pathogenic life form that needs to be greatly curbed and prevented from destroying our planet. I've been investigating this idea for quite some time now, particularly in recent years, and have come to the tentative conclusion that this entire notion is deeply flawed, not just spiritually but literally and materially, and that it represents a self-destructive tendency within humanity to see itself as a sinful force that must be repressed and suppressed rather than allowed to evolve in its own unique fashion.

First, let's address the practical, material matters. I don't want to get too deeply into the actual science involved in the study of climate for (for now at least),  but let me simply say that from my own personal studies, it seems quite clear to me that most of the warming the world has been experiencing during the last 150 years has been of natural origin, and not from a dangerously explosive rise in greenhouse gases such as CO2. This is certainly a minority viewpoint within the scientific community, but it is not an extreme or marginal view. This viewpoint is growing among climate scientists and others following the debate, and the evidence keeps coming in supporting these views, to the degree I think that we are near a "tipping point" in the debate itself.

In part, this is simply because the climate models which have predicted dangerous temperature rises have simply not been borne out by the climate itself. The divergence between these model's predictions and the actual temperatures has been growing, to the point that it has been sowing serious doubts among many studying climate, including even the general public, who have simply not noticed any significantly warmer weather. (For example, a little known fact is that over the last century temperatures in the United States have simply not gone up). If this divergence continues, many more scientists will have to re-think their theories about climate and its sensitivity to human-created changes in the atmosphere's greenhouse gas content, and the entire worldwide political apparatus dedicated to controlling the world's economies to reduce GHG emissions will collapse.

This is good news, of course. Unfortunately, there's a great many well-intentioned people who are committed to "saving the planet" from mankind's depredations, and this cause has become their rallying cry, around which a great deal of baggage has been hung. Consequently, there is a great deal of attachment to this cause, and to perpetuating the notion that the world is in some kind of literal peril from man-made warming, to the point where opponents and skeptics of this cause are often treated as demonic toads in league with the devil, "deniers" of the truth. The worldwide progressive political community, which in most respects I would consider myself a part of,  has embraced this cause with great fervor, and seems dedicated to persuading the world's politicians to make deep cuts in their consumption of fossil fuels in order to prevent a new deluge.  This reveals, to my mind, one of the problems that has plagued the progressive movement from its inception, and which needs to be purged from its mindset, which is a deeply negative self-image of humanity. 

In many respects, the progressive movement has tried to divorce itself from many negative aspects of the world's history. It has opposed the exploitation and degradation of humanity and of the ecosphere, it has stood firmly for a new order of freedom and prosperity, it has denounced age-old traditions of suppression, repression, and a social order based on tyrannical control of human instincts and enjoyments. In terms of religion, it has tried to reject the notion that humanity is the product of "original sin", and has put forth the positive notion of a future in which humanity can rise above its baser instincts and selfish desires, and produce a loving and peaceful world. And yet, to a serious degree, it has also engaged in a self-destructive projection game, in which those negative patterns have been assigned to a great and powerful multi-tentacled "other", who are the sources of economic, political, and social injustice and suffering, to the point where it all too often ends up duplicating the very notion of a "fallen humanity" that it originally sought to eradicate and heal. 

The global warming thesis has played all too well into this theme of humanity as a pathogenic plague upon the earth, but it is not alone in this regard. There is an element within our political culture which tends to view all of the modern world, and even humanity itself, as a negative, unnatural presence which must be removed and destroyed. An almost comical example of this can be found in a widely read essay "Humans as Cancer" posted at the Church of Euthansia website, whose slogan is "Save the Planet: Kill Yourself". Despite the fact that the author seems not to have taken his own advice, this theme has in many respects invaded the popular culture, and made it possible to believe in all kinds of negative ideas about the world, and humanity's presence in it, that have helped created a deeply distorted self-image for us all to contend with on a daily basis, as we hear the "news" of impending self-created doom at our door on a regular basis. 

This is of course not new. Doomsaying has been a popular pastime since the beginning of recorded time. Prophecies of the end of the world have always been with us, whether by plague, famine, war, natural disaster, or various "acts of God". These prophecies have always been tied to religious ideas of the sinful nature of mankind, to the idea that humanity has committed some kind of blasphemy against God, and that we need to be punished and purified of our sinful nature through catastrophe, and that the only way to avoid this fate is through repentence from our sins, which usually means enduring self-induced privations, fasting, the rejection of pleasure and enjoyment, and the embrace of asceticism and voluntary deprivation.

That the modern political world is largely secular and functionally agnostic does not change the fundamentally religious pattern of all doomsayers, even of the modern progressive environmentalist stripe. The climate doomsayers are no different. Their message is in line with all ancient prophets: humanity has sinned, and it is bringing disaster upon us all through its self-indulgent reckless pleasuring, and to avoid this we must repent by embracing a more ascetical lifestyle that ceases to poison the world with our toxic hedonism. A variation of this is the "Tower of Babel" myth, which likens our modern world to the ultimate blasphemy of aspiring to "become like the Gods", by acquiring technological powers which are reserved only for Deities, for which we must be punished by some worldwide natural disaster, a new "deluge" that will divide the world and keep us apart. This notion that humanity is cursed, and embodies some kind of ancient evil, is so universal that it permeates even those sectors of our society which are the least religious, or think of themselves as representing a "new" form of religion.

This thinking is present in much of the New Age community, for example.  I found the "Humans as Cancer" essay at my friend Maia-Gaia's website, and I've encountered this kind of attitude at many places devoted to bringing a new form of consciousness to the world. While I admire the good intentions, it needs to be said that this kind of consciousness is not new at all, it's one of the oldest traps humanity has always fallen into, and it doesn't represent a "new age", but a regression to an old pattern that keeps us all in the same "sinful" rut. 

There is indeed a "conspiracy" out there, but it is merely a projection of our own internal conspiracy, called the ego, which continually sends us false messages about ourselves and the world we live in. It's primary message is that we are bad, that we are limited, sinful creatures who are separate from God, that we have destroyed our connection to God, that we are lost, sick, self-destructive and capable of great evil, who can only repent by limiting ourselves even further, by embracing an ascetical rejection of ourselves and any thoughts of living in a Godlike fashion, as free, unbound masters of our own universe. Much of what makes humanity miserable, however, is precisely this message, repeated endlessly in all kinds of forms and media and tradition, even the modern secular warnings of doom we hear from the daily news. 

We tend to gravitate towards anything which might reinforce this message of the ego. This is why in large measure people gravitate towards bad news, rather than good news. We like, in a perverse way, to hear bad things about ourselves, about the state of the world, the state of humanity, because it makes us feel confirmed in our knowledge of sin, our conviction of being sinners, and our need to feel guilty and bad about it all. At least, a part of us likes this. If there is a genuine struggle in humanity at this stage in our history, it is between these two parts of ourselves, the part that wishes to see ourselves as sinful creatures who are self-destructively undermining our own happiness, and that part which is able to see beyond this, to our Divine Nature, the free and happy state of ease and pleasure that is our very Self. This theme plays itself out in a thousand different ways, in our personal life and in our world politics, and the climate change debate is one of those areas in which it is tending to dominate our collective lives in increasingly tangible ways.

I don't wish to minimize the degree to which humanity is capable of hurting itself, and the degree to which environmental damage is real and represents a genuine area that humanity needs to take responsibility for. It simply cannot do this while it is in the grip of this negative pattern of delusional self-imagery that exaggerates and turns every challenge we face into  a form of self-flagellation. Fortunately, I think that on the practical level humanity will soon come to see that the climate crisis was a false one,  an embarrassing misinterpretation of natural and human patterns that are not intrinsically negative, but in fact are actually quite positive. 

A slightly warmer climate is, after all, generally a good thing. For several hundred years the world endured a "Little Ice Age", from about 1350 to roughly 1850, and the warming since that time has been of significant benefit to the world. Of course a dramatically higher warming trend could be highly disruptive and even destructive, but fortunately I believe that is simply not in store for us, both scientifically and spiritually. In general, there are many positive developments in the spiritual growth of the world, and one of them will come as we begin to see through and reject the negative view of humanity as a "cancer" upon this earth.

The spiritual basis for this negative view of the world is, I believe, rooted in the unique spiritual  evolutionary problems that humanity faces as it contends with its own relationship to the human body itself, and the world our bodies live in. One of the themes I'd like to continue to address (I think I've mentioned it in earlier period of posting) is that a great deal of human suffering is simply due to our difficulty in interfacing, as spiritual beings, with our own bodies. 

This of course requires a tacit understanding that human beings are not merely physical creatures living in a physical world, but spiritual beings who "incarnate" time and time again on this planet (and others, perhaps), each time facing the difficult spiritual challenge of integrating their spirit with the physical mechanisms of the human body and brain. This is not generally the case with most other creatures on this planet. Other than some higher mammals and birds in this world, virtually all living forms in this world have no individual "soul". They do not reincarnate. They do not have a higher spirit which descends into the physical realm, attaching itself and growing in symbiotic relationship to a physical body. They are simply natural organisms within this physical realm, who are of course in their depth the same universal consciousness modified and multiplied through endless forms and features as we are, but of a much simpler nature. They do not have past lives or future lives. They come into living form in the natural order of physical life, which is miraculous in its own right, and they are beautiful expressions of the consciousness that is source and foundation of existence itself, but they are not of the same nature as we are. This is why we consider there to be, fundamentally, two different realms in this world - the human realm, and the natural realm. 

This world is certainly a Divine Creation, but we must understand that human beings do indeed play a unique role in it, spiritually speaking. In fact, it is more accurate to say, as many ancient religious texts do, that the world was created for the sake of human beings, rather than that we are the product of this world. The purpose of this world, spiritually speaking, is as a place for human beings to incarnate in, grow in their understanding, and realize their true nature. It was created for that purpose, and every living thing in this world is intended to serve that purpose, not merely because it is of benefit to humanity, but humanity's spiritual growth is of benefit to the entire world, and even the entire universe. This does not mean that humans are supposed to treat the world with indifference and simply exploit it thoughtlessly and for their own base pleasure. Even so, that isn't entirely far from the truth. It is generally a good thing that this earth's resources are put to use in the service of human beings. It's also true that the world is far more resilient and strong than it is often given credit for. We humans certainly do have the capacity to destroy it, but the world has a very powerful capacity to not only preserve and heal itself, but to make sure that human beings don't overexploit it. It has feedback mechanisms, both in the physical and in the psychic dimension, which are able to keep things in check, and ensure that human beings don't inadvertently destroy this very useful world. 

Most of the problems human beings have relating to the world are rooted in the problems they have spiritual, as spirits, in relating to and connecting with their own bodies. I am not merely speaking of the usual "mind/body split", but of the actual mechanism by which the subtle spiritual being that is our higher, re-incarnating self (to be distinguished from the universal Self of non-dual teachings) connects to and integrates itself with the human physical body. This process occurs on both a psychic and a spiritual level, since it is the connection between the two which defines our human "struggle" here. We, as conscious beings, are primarily situated in the inner, psychic dimension, not in the physical world. When we incarnate, we don't actual enter into human bodies, we simply grow and establish living links to the physical body and nervous system. This is done primarily through the breath, through the etheric energy and matter dimension of our physical bodies which our breath links us to most directly, and from that "pranic" energy dimension, to the subtle or "astral" planes in which the reincarnating higher self lives.

The human mechanism of bodily attention is thus a hybrid of subtle and physical beings. The physical body is in fact a living, conscious evolutionary mechanism which naturally developed in this created world through many of the biological mechanisms studied by scientists. However, at a certain point in its evolution it began to be co-opted by us as vehicles by which we could incarnate into the physical realm. In so doing, the physical mechanism underwent its own genetic and evolutionary transformation, both through "design" of a kind, and through natural selection, which gave it greater and greater flexibility and capacity for spiritual integration and growth. This allowed us as spirits to become more and more deeply connected to and able to function as physical beings. And yet, the basic challenges of life on earth for us still essentially boil down to our struggle to proper "interface" with these physical bodies, which remain a work in progress for our spirits, and also as evolutionary mechanisms in themselves.

Most of our personal difficulties in life reflect these difficulties we have in interfacing as spirits with our own bodies. In fact, the practical aspect of spiritual growth is almost entirely a simple matter of nurturing the healthy growth of the various literal nerve-connections between our spiritual selves and our physical bodies. And because the two are so deeply intertwined, even our physical growth as bodies in the world depends to a large degree on this spiritual connection being properly cultivated and allowed to grow and flourish. When it does not, various mental neuroses and physical diseases and disabilities present themselves. If we treat these as merely physical illnesses, we are not grasping the true nature of their origin. Of course it's simply true that the physical body is vulnerable to all kinds of microbes and accidents and improper development all on its own, but the added complication of our spirit-self integrating with the body makes the situation far more complex. It not only introduces a factor that is not "natural" to the natural world, of which the body is a part, but it can lead to all kinds of delusions in the mind that are not "natural" to the psychic and subtle worlds.

Contrary to what many religions have taught, the psychic dimension does not contain what we might call "evil". In reality, there are no demons, devils, monsters of the dark realms, or evil spirits. The spirit realms are remarkably free of that kind of "infestation" which we have been taught by many religions to believe in as a matter of course. Nor, might I add, is the physical world an evil, "fallen" place. The natural course of the physical world is of course one of birth and death, but this is, from the persepective of physical beings, simply the way things are, and the creatures of the physical world do not rebel against this or fight in any in great way. Physical creatures don't want to die and experience their physical consciousness dissolve back into the universal pattern of conscious energy that pervades the universe, but they accept it with an attitude of simple surrender. Human beings, on the other hand, represent a wierd mixture of both the subtle and physical realms that is still trying to find its own healthy equilibrium. 

Human beings, in their half-finished way, have a strange perspective on the physical world. On the one hand, they tend to feel alienated and out of place here, as if this isn't their real home. And in a very real sense this is true, this world is not our home. We are primarily spiritual beings, to the degree that even our own deeper minds, through which we experience the physical body and world, exists in another realm entirely, in the subtle or astral realm. Nonetheless, this spiritual self is wedded through various mechanisms to a physical body in a physical realm that operates by very different rules and patterns of manifestation than we are used to as spirits. In the process of trying to function and experience the physical world through the physical body, and even trying to control or master the physical body, we tend to become strained, aberated, and frustrated. In many ways, we are justified in feeling frustrated. In the first place, this is simply a very difficult balancing act to undertake. Very simple things become very complicated for us merely because we are operating, to some extent, "by remote control". The more accustomed we become to operating as reincarnational spirits, the more at ease we become in life, but we are always facing new challenges, new levels of mastery we need to develop over the various mechanisms of the body and its connections to spirit, and new frustrations that inevitably pop up.

Some of those frustrations, I perhaps need to mention, are profound, and even profoundly disorienting. What we call "human evil" is simply the product of this sometimes disorientied, dis-integrated, disordered connectivity between the reincarnating spirit and the physical mechanism of our own bodies. However, it's important to realize that this "evil" does not actually exist in either the physical world or in the higher spiritual planes in which we live. It's merely a kind of "echo" effect created by an incomplete and disturbed "disconnect" between the spiritual and the physical dimensions. Neither the human body nor the human spirit, on its own, would ever engage in the kinds of things we often call "evil". Likewise, when we conceive of some kind of metaphysical form of evil in this world, or in the spirit world, we are merely projecting this disconnect upon those otherwise pure realms. 

What we are generally left with then, is a lingering sense that somehow "evil" is all our fault, that it is something that we have artificially brought into this world, and that we are somehow the source of it, the "bad guy", the cancer that is infecting this otherwise pristine world with our own evil intentions. This is an example of projecting what is simply a mechanical problem onto ourselves, as if it defines us in some metaphysical way. The notion of sin evolves from this mechanically based perception of ourselves as spiritually incomplete and defective. And there's certainly some truth to the notion that our spiritual connection to this world is often incomplete and at times shows the signs of things going terribly wrong, as in the case of sociopaths, violent criminals, the mentally ill, and the general miseries of mankind. But to define ourselves by such things is a terrible mistake. It only reinforces the very thing we are trying to overcome by our efforts to incarnate here in a healthy fashion. Evil does not exist in any metaphysical sense, it exists only in that strange intersection of the physical and the metaphysical, in the frustrations of incomplete and distorted connectivity that often results when the process of incarnation fails to achieve a healthy link to the spiritual dimension.

The practical benefits of most spiritual practices are simply that they foster the growth of healthy connections between our spirit and our bodies. They literally help the threads or "nadis", the energy currents that connect the physical with the spirit, to grow and deepen. In many respects, not a lot is required to make this occur. It's a fairly natural process, requiring intention to be sure, but most of the growth occurs naturally, simply by not interfering, and instead simply giving oneself the quiet and undisturbed peace in which these connections can grow on their own. Like a garden, they require sunlight, water, and proper nutrients, but the growth itself is virtually effortless. It isn't really our doing, any more than growing our own bodies is something we "do". So the simpler and less complicated our spiritual practices are, the better. Likewise, the simpler and less complicated our minds are, the better. Quiet is often best. 

These same patterns manifest themselves not just in our personal lives, but in our collective politics. Most of humanity is not even directly cognizant of the spiritual reality in which we dwell, and from which we connect to the world. Because of that, we tend to live in an almost wholly projected cognitive state, thinking of ourselves as embroiled in a struggle of good versus evil within the various "selves" of this world. Much unnecessary confusion and conflict ensues as a result of this. We tend to play out the various struggles with our own spiritual process of incarnation as if it were actually a struggle with real forces in the world at large, and part of some larger cosmic battle that even the Gods are engaged in. All of this is simply a delusion, however, with no basis in reality, other than as a summary of our own individual difficulties in creating healthy incarnational connections to our own physical bodies. 

One might ask, then, what the purpose of this entire reincarnational exercise is? Well, in the first place, it helps us to grow as spirits by exposing us to the stark experience of the physical realm. In so doing, we are confronted very dramatically with the dualistic nature of all conditional worlds, not just the physical world, but the subtle realms as well. This is not something that is terribly self-evident to those living in only one or the other. Beings living in the subtle realms tend not to reflect on the dualistic nature of their experience, because it is generally so "nice", and not confronted by death or dissillusionment or intense suffering. Likewise, physical creatures are not prone to reflect on the dualistic nature of their life because they know nothing but the physical and its processes, and they don't know anything greater exists. it is human beings, being split between heaven and earth, who are forced to confront the dualism of experience, and to reflect upon that to the point where they begin to see that this is the central illusion to be overcome. And thus, the spiritual struggle of incarnation deepens over time into a spiritual struggle with dualism itself, to the point of radical awakening from dualism itself, and all experiences in all worlds. 

It is in that sense that even the present world crises we are going through are largely positive in nature. The purpose of this realm is not to create some kind of perfect harmony, but to be turned back upon our own nature, to question the reality of our dualistic experience, and to overcome the false self-magery of the ego. The various practical struggles of growth and incarnation in this world can actually be a goad to that awakening, if we do not turn it into an unconscious process of projection of our difficulties onto ourselves and others, not recognizing the true nature of our struggle, but assuming instead that it reflects something evil either in ourselves or in our relationship to the world, or "out there" in the mass of human beings and Gods and demons we have made real by our lack of full self-awareness. 


maya-gaia said...

Hi Conrad, Great to see ya back! I happen to be reading about a Neo-Vedantic philosopher- Swami Vivekananda at your fellow blogger- - Like Aurobindo, the swami was a Hindu nationalist and spiritual reformer repudiating things like the caste system. Their activist approach can be contrasted with Ramana who during the same period showed no interest in worldly politics beyond that which affected the title to his ashram property or had any concern about oppressive religious discrimination. His satsang gatherings were dutifully arranged according to caste with a curtain separating Brahmin. Your
environmental essay contrasting our ego (where guilt over our evil potential arises) with our spiritual essence seems inspired by Ramana's emphasis on the Self and his detachment in contrast to the engagement of Aurobindo and ultimately is a reflection of the ontological maya-gaia dialectic.

Gee willergigs - Conrad!....I respectfully must protest that in my 100-page website, nowhere is there any essay about "Humans as Cancer". There IS the following comment: "If we accept the Gaia Theory, what is inescapable, is that human civilization is analogous to Earth's cancer. The personal challenge then, for each of us, is to evolve from a virulent to a benign strain, by
raising our environmental consciousness." This is from my page about the Gaia paradigm and is a fervant call to practical
action- to support and participate in environmental and wildlife conservation projects. Ecospirituality doesn't have anything to do with our ego's atavistic guilt about humanity's intrinsic evil but is an intuitive response (occasionaly evoked from
direct revelation) to the real-world devastation being wrought on Gaia and her beautiful, innocent, disappearing nature. Our species is not evil but is endowed with the means and will to survive and overpopulate at all cost to nature. Raising ten children, in a rightous act to feed his growing family, a single poacher, homesteading on the borders of Udege Legend National Park in Far-Eastern Siberia- harvests gall bladders to sell to the Chinese apothacary trade. He- singlehandedly- can easily wipe out the Himalayan black bear to extinction. The ecospiritual approach- - is to set up infrastructure to train him to become a wildlife ranger for ecotourism and provide birth control for his community.

Our discourse here is mirrored in the dispute between Wilberian's and the ecospiritualists regarding the Gaia imperative at

In regards to climate change I am confused by the pro and con data but think it can't be a good thing that China is bringing more than 30coal-fired power plants on line every year and that gray air masses the size of Rhode Island regularly contaminate the Koreas, Japan- even reaching Alaska and think the science that shows emissions deplete the ozone layer alone justifies a dramatic effort to reduce greenhouses gases.

Since my maya-gaia site was the foil by which you developed your inspired condemnations of "new age" regression and pretension, I feel obliged to correct your misapprehension of my position in this regard re: my page at - Your Pal- maya-gaia

Losing M. Mind said...

I have always been pretty convinced about the global warming thing, is it really swaying back the other way. Nonetheless, I don't know if I'm a believer in the humans are cancer, but it does seem almost obvious even just looking around without any data, that the world is finite, and relatively fragile. Extinction rates, and stuff. Humans are not having no effect on the ecosystem a damaging effect. I don't know about GLobal warming, but even in Jared Diamond's collapse, there was alot of data about the effects humans are having on extinction. I also don't see why changing on this has to be self-denying. But just acting in a rational, sensitive way as to our effect. There were also several mass extinction events in the past that show that it is infact possible to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth. Now, it doesn't seem like humans are going to do that, but it is well within their potential to wipe out a huge percentage of animal and plant life and even do ourselves in, in the process. That seems like an obvious fact that that could happen. While global warming, I could imagine, is potentially natural caused, and humans are having a negligible effect, though I think the data does not support that view, certainly I could only imagine the macro effect that the kinds of stuff humans are putting in the atmosphere has. In addition, even things I've read about, remember Lake Eerie at one point was so full of pollution that it caught fire. In addition, all the denuded hill sides, the vast reduction in old growth forests. All that stuff is kind of negative. Now, as far as personal responsibility. I'm going with taht if I Realize the Self, or put all my efforts there, it will awaken the correct intuition/bliss to act responsibly in the world, while realizing that ultimately an ego can have no effect on the script.