Summary highlights from The Great Work: Our Way into the Future by Thomas Berry
Fr. Thomas Berry educated and inspired many. His last book, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, was certainly read by many of those who worked on Laudato Si’. It remains a source of guidance and consideration. What follows are excerpts from this classic that may be read as a summary. Place references in the book are to the kindle version.
Our educational institutions need to see their purpose not as training personnel for exploiting the Earth but as guiding students toward an intimate relationship with the Earth. The planet itself that brings us into being, sustains us in life, and delights us with its wonders.
In this context we might consider the intellectual, political, and economic orientations that will enable us to fulfill the historical assignment before us—to establish a more viable way into the future.105
As in creating some significant work the artist first experiences something akin to dream awareness that becomes clarified in the creative process itself, so we must first have a vision of the future sufficiently entrancing that it will sustain us in the transformation of the human project that is now in process. We propose as such a vision: the Ecozoic Era, the period when humans would become a mutually beneficial presence on the Earth. That future can exist only when we understand the universe as composed of subjects to be communed with, not as objects to be exploited. “Use” as our primary relationship with the planet must be abandoned.108
The deepest cause of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans. The other-than-human modes of being are seen as having no rights. They have reality and value only through their use by the human. In this context the other than human becomes totally vulnerable to exploitation by the human, an attitude that is shared by all four of the fundamental establishments that control the human realm: governments, corporations, universities, and religions—the political, economic, intellectual, and religious establishments. All four are committed consciously or unconsciously to a radical discontinuity between the human and the nonhuman.171
In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being throughout the entire universe. So too every being has rights to be recognized and revered.176
All rights are limited and relative. So too with humans. We have human rights. We have rights to the nourishment and shelter we need. We have rights to habitat. But we have no rights to deprive other species of their proper habitat. We have no rights to interfere with their migration routes. We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of the planet. We cannot own the Earth or any part of the Earth in any absolute manner.
We own property in accord with the well-being of the property and for the benefit of the larger community as well as ourselves.182
(Our) personal work needs to be aligned with the Great Work.277
We cannot doubt that we too have been given the intellectual vision, the spiritual insight, and even the physical resources we need for carrying out the transition that is demanded of these times, transition from the period when humans were a disruptive force on the planet Earth to the period when humans become present to the planet in a manner that is mutually enhancing.279
Our world of human meaning is no longer coordinated with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment that is inherent in our nature. Our children no longer learn how to read the great Book of Nature from their own direct experience or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes.330
We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research in developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources from whence we came and upon which we depend every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this attitude we must first make our children unfeeling in their relation with the natural world. This occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet if we observe our children closely in their early years we see how they are instinctively attracted to profound experiences of the natural world.335 …comprehensive context enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” She observes how this experience of the universe creates in children admiration and wonder, how this enables children to unify their thinking. In this manner children learn how all things are related and how the relationship of things to one another is so close that “no matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe” (Montessori, p. 6).349
The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than as a communion of subjects. We frequently discuss the loss of the interior spirit world of the human mind with the rise of the modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant realization, however, is that we have lost the universe itself.353
The proposal has been made that no effective restoration of a viable mode of human presence on the planet will take place until such intimate human rapport with the Earth community and the entire functioning of the universe is reestablished on an extensive scale. Until this is done the alienation of the human will continue despite the heroic efforts being made toward a more benign mode of human activity in relation to the Earth. The present is not a time for desperation but for hopeful activity. This we discover in the firm reassertion of traditional thought and rituals that we can observe with the indigenous peoples of this continent. This we find in the teachings of Black Elk and in the resurgence of the Sundance ritual with the Crow Indians. In the writings of Scott Momaday, the inspiration of Lame Deer, the guidance of Oren Lyons, the poetry of Joy Harjo, the essays of Linda Hogan, and the insight of Vine Deloria, we find a renewal of indigenous thought and a critical response to the traditional religious and scientific modes of Western thought. In each of these we find an intimate391
Now, after these centuries of experiencing the planet as being a collection of objects for scientific analysis and commercial use, we must ask: where can we find the resources for a reevaluation of our activities? How can we obtain the psychic energies needed to disengage from our plundering industrial economy? We might begin with our basic sense of reality as this exists at present. Our sense of reality cannot be simply the mythic worlds of the past, nor can it be limited to traditions that exist in a spatial mode of consciousness. Whatever be the case with other societies and other times we function through our observational sciences, in the context of a developmental universe that has, within the phenomenal world, its own self-organizing powers. For our sense of reality three commitments are basic: to observational science, to a developmental universe, to an inner self-organizing capacity.464
If formerly we knew by downward reduction processes that considered the particle as the reality and the wholes as derivative, we now recognize that it is even more important that we integrate upward, because we cannot know particles and their power until we see the wholes that they bring into being. If we know the elements simply in their isolated individual reality we have only minimal knowledge of what they really are. To understand atoms we must see these elements in their central role in molecules, megamolecules, in cellular life, organic life, even in intellectual perception, since atomic structures in a transformed context live and function in the wide display of all the gorgeous plants and animals of the Earth as well as in the most profound intellectual, emotional, and spiritual experiences of the human.478
We now live not so much in a cosmos as in a cosmogenesis; that is, a universe ever coming into being through an irreversible sequence of transformations moving, in the larger arc of its development, from a lesser to a great order of complexity and from a lesser to great consciousness.493
The third foundation for appreciating our own times is to recognize that there exists at every level a basic tendency toward self-organization. This we find at the physical level, at the biological level, and at the level of reflexive-consciousness.496
The astronaut Edgar Mitchell tells us that he had an amazing experience when he looked out at Earth from outer space and saw “this blue-and-white planet floating there,” then saw the sun set “in the background of the very deep black and velvety cosmos.” He was overcome with immersion in an awareness that there was “a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos” beyond any previous experience that he ever had (Kelley, p. 138).503
This sensitive experience of the universe and of the Earth leads us further back to appreciation of the ten billion years required for the universe to bring the Earth into existence and another 4.6 billion years for the Earth to shape itself in such splendor. For our present Earth is not the Earth as it always was and always will be. It is the Earth at a highly developed phase in its continuing emergence. We need to see the Earth in its sequence of transformations as so many movements in a musical composition. The sequence of events that emerge in time needs to be understood simultaneously, as in music: the earlier notes are gone when the later notes are played, but the musical phrase, indeed the entire symphony, needs to be heard simultaneously. We do not fully understand the opening notes until the later notes are heard. Each new theme alters the meaning of the earlier themes and the entire composition. The opening theme resonates throughout all the later parts of the piece. So too the origin moment of the universe presents us with an amazing process that we begin to appreciate as a mystery unfolding through the ages. The flaring forth of the primordial energy carried within itself all that would ever happen in the long series of transformations that would bring the universe into its present mode of being.
The origin moment of the universe was the implicate form of the present as the present is the explicate form of the origin moment. The primordial emergence was the beginning of the Earth story, as well as the beginning of the personal story of each of us, since the story of the universe is the story of each individual being in the universe. Indeed the reality inherent in the original flaring forth could not be known until the shaping forces held in this process had brought forth the galaxies, the Earth, the multitude of living species, and the reflection of the universe on itself in human intelligence. After the origin moment a sequence of other transformation moments took place, the shaping of the first generations of stars within their various galaxies, then the collapse of one of these stars into a vast dispersion of fragments throughout the realms of space. The energy of this supernova moment brought into being the entire array of elements. These elements in turn made possible the future developments on the planet Earth, for indeed the appearance of life needed the broad spectrum of elements for its full expression.506
The 3.4 billion-year story of life is so integral with the story of Earth in its basic structure that we cannot properly think of the Earth as first taking shape in its full physical form and then life emerging somehow within this context. Earth as we know it came into being through its four great components: land, water, air, and life, all interacting in the light and energy of the sun. Although there was a sequence in the formation of the land sphere, the atmosphere, the water sphere, and the life sphere, these have so interacted with one another in the shaping of the Earth that we must somehow think of these as all present to one another and interacting from the beginning.534
This unity of the universe was more easily appreciated in classical times when Plato in his Timaeus proposes the idea of a world-soul that gives a living unity to the entire universe. This idea of a world-soul, an anima mundi, continued in the European world until the seventeenth century with the Cambridge Platonists: Henry More, Richard Cumberland, and Ralph Cudworth. Of more immediate significance to ourselves in this telling the story of the Earth is the sequence of life developments that has emerged in these past 600 million years, the time generally presented in terms of the Paleozoic (from 570 million years before present to 240 myp), the Mesozoic (240 myp until 65 myp) and the Cenozoic (65 myp).544
It is the Cenozoic that is of most interest to us. This is the era when our world took shape. While many of the distinctive life-forms of the Cenozoic were already present in the earlier Mesozoic Era, they attained their full development in the Cenozoic. This is the era when the flowers came forth in all their gorgeous colors and fantastic shapes. It is the period of the great deciduous trees in the temperate zones and of the tropical rain forests in the equatorial region. The Cenozoic is the special time of the birds in all the variety of their forms and colors and songs and mating rituals. Above all it is the era of the mammals. The varied multitude of living species, possibly twenty million, came into their greatest splendor in this era. We will never know these species fully since many have come and gone in the natural process of evolutionary change.
Now we ourselves are extinguishing species in a volume and with a rapidity far beyond any former natural processes of extinction since the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. The late Cenozoic was a wildly creative period of inspired fantasy and extravagant play. It was a supremely lyrical moment when humans emerged on the scene, quietly, somewhere on the edge of the savanna in northeast Africa. From here they later spread throughout Asia and Europe. From early transitional types come our own more recent ancestors, some sixty thousand years ago, with developed speech, symbolic language, skills in tool-making, extended family communities along with the capacity for song and dance, and for elaborate ritual along with visual arts of amazing grandeur. All of these are expressions of the late Paleolithic Period. Then some ten thousand years ago, the human community emerged into the Neolithic Period with its new social structures, weaving and pottery, domestication of wheat and rice, also of sheep, pigs, cattle, horses, chickens, and reindeer. Above all, this was the period of village beginnings.550
For the emergent process, as noted by the geneticist Theodore Dobzhansky, is neither random nor determined but creative. Just as in the human order, creativity is neither a rational deductive process nor the irrational wandering of the undisciplined mind but the emergence of beauty as mysterious as the blossoming of a field of daisies out of the dark Earth. To appreciate the numinous aspect of the universe as this is communicated in this story we need to understand that we ourselves activate one of the deepest dimensions of the universe. We can recognize in ourselves our special intellectual, emotional, and imaginative capacities. That these capacities have existed as dimensions of the universe from its beginning is clear since the universe is ever integral with itself in all its manifestations throughout its vast extension in space and throughout the sequence of its transformations in times. The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe. In ourselves the universe is revealed to itself as we are revealed in the universe. Such a statement could be made about any aspect of the universe because every being in the universe articulates some special quality of the universe in its entirety. Indeed nothing in the universe could be itself apart from every other being in the universe, nor could any moment of the universe story exist apart from all the other moments in the story. Yet it is within our own being that we have our own unique experience of the universe and of the Earth in its full reality.585
The peoples who lived here first, with their unique experience of this continent, have much to teach us concerning intimate presence to this continent, how we should dwell here in some mutually enhancing relation with the land. If the original peoples living in North and South America have not previously entered our general account of the human venture, they are now recognized as having influenced the larger course of history economically and politically as well as intellectually and spiritually. It was the gold and silver of Central and South America that lifted the economic life of Europe to a new level of activity. The vegetables of these continents—the potatoes, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes—altered the diet of the world. The discovery of quinine, cocaine, and other healing nature products by the First Peoples of the Americas was so extensive that one writer has claimed: “Their cornucopia of new pharmaceutical agents became the basis for modern medicine and pharmacology” (Weatherford, p. 184). In our appreciation of the indigenous peoples, we might also note their achievements in the creation of languages, in their spiritual intimacy with the land, and in their political competence. In their language creations, among the most sublime and most fundamental of all human achievements, we can only marvel at the linguistic diversity. Perhaps over a thousand languages were formulated in the early period, of which over five hundred survived this early contact period. (Each language has its own insights into reality, our surroundings and the Divine, as Wade Davis describes). Their spiritual insight into the transhuman powers functioning throughout the natural world established the religions of Native Americans as among the most impressive spiritual traditions we know. Their imaginative powers came to expression in their arts, literature, and dance, but especially in their poetry and their ritual. Their emotional development became manifest in those qualities of human affection and their heroic cast of soul, something consistently remarked upon by the earliest settlers.
In their gentility and poise of bearing, in the affection they showed to the arriving Europeans, they made a deep impression on these first strangers from abroad. Already in the early seventeenth century with the founding of the English colonies in the Virginia region of North America, Arthur Barlow, one of the earliest explorers of the Virginia-Carolina region, was convinced that “a more kind and loving people there cannot be found in the world” (Kolodny, p. 10). One of the most touching events in the early history of Virginia was the question posed to John Smith by the chief of the Powhatan confederacy after there had been some aggressive act by the colonists: “Why do you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war …? We are unarmed and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner and not with swords and guns, as if to make war upon an enemy” (Jamestown Voyages, edited by P. L. Barbour, p. 375 sq., quoted in T. C. McLuhan, p. 66).648
These were also the heroic qualities of the Indian personality, found especially among their leaders. In the east we find Pontiac the Ottawa, who negotiated extensively with both the French and British to preserve the independence of his people. In the opening years of the nineteenth century Tecumseh the Shawnee traveled extensively and spoke to many tribes east of the Mississippi to convince them that no single tribe had a right to make a separate treaty with the English because all the land belonged in common to all the tribes. Then there is Little Turtle, the Miami war chief who defeated the forces brought against him in the Battle of Mississinewa in 1791 causing the greatest number of American casualties ever suffered in a battle with American Indians. Red Jacket the Seneca spoke with President Washington and addressed the United States Senate. To the missionaries he responded that he would wait to see how the Seneca who had been converted acted. He would then decide concerning acceptance of Christianity by himself and his people. These were leaders who spoke in council with the English with a grace and command that gave evidence of the high cultural development of the peoples here and of their capacity to address the leaders of the nations on an equal and often on a superior plane of basic cultural development. West of the Mississippi the settlers were met by such memorable leaders as Red Cloud and Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux, by Black Kettle and Roman Nose of the southern Cheyenne, by Cochise and Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apache, by Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé. These are the leaders who took their peoples through the difficult times of military conflict and transition to reservation status. It is a tragic and a long continuing story that endures into the present. Yet there is a sense in which the First Peoples of this continent in the full range of their bearing and in their intimacy with the powers of the continent have achieved something that guides and instructs all those who come to live here. Throughout these centuries despite wars, cultural oppression, poverty, and alcoholism, indigenous peoples have maintained diverse communities committed to self-determination, homelands, and ancestral traditions. These qualities of mind regard the presence of the powers of the North American continent and their traditional wisdom to be an abiding source of guidance. This presence of native peoples to the numinous powers of this continent expressed through its natural phenomena expresses an ancient spiritual identity. The Iroquois peoples communed with these powers under the name of Orenda, the Algonquian as Manitou, the Sioux as Wakan. Every natural phenomenon expressed these sacred powers in some manner. To be allied with these powers is primary and necessary for every significant human endeavor on this continent. Some sense of indigenous relation with the land can be gathered from the First Peoples’ ceremonial lives, for it is in the celebrations of a people and the designs on their dress that they participate most intimately in the comprehensive liturgy of the universe. This intimacy we observe especially in the vision quest of the Plains Indians. The person entering adulthood spends several days fasting in some isolated place in hopes of receiving inner powers and a vision that would be the main source of personal strength throughout life. We also observe this intimate relationship with the universe in the Omaha ceremony carried out at the time of birth. The infant is taken out under the sky and presented to the universe and to the various natural forces with the petition that both the universe and this continent, with all their powers, will protect and guide the child toward its proper destiny (Cronyn, pp. 53, 54). In this manner the infant is bonded with the entire natural world as the source, guide, security, and fulfillment of life. So too, as prescribed in their Chantways, the Navaho through their sand paintings depict the entire cosmos and summon its powers to restore imbalances in the individual and…672
That the indigenous peoples were more interested in living than in working bothered the missionaries considerably. That there was no tendency to “use” the land in terms of exploitation; that there was no drive toward “progress” was a decadence not to be accepted.730
To indigenous peoples and to those in the founding period of the classical civilizations the natural world was the manifestation of a numinous presence that gave meaning to all existence. Human societies at whatever level of cultural sophistication found their true significance by integration of human activities into the great transformation moments of the seasonal sequence and in the movement of the day from sunrise to sunset. Human societies participated in these unending transformations. They simply gave intelligent recognition of that spirit presence pervading the entire natural world. The natural world provided both the physical and the psychic needs of humans. These were inseparable gifts that came to humans in the same moment and through the same causes.
As seen by the Europeans the continent was here to serve human purposes through trade and commerce as well as through the more immediate personal and household needs of the colonists. They had nothing spiritual to learn from this continent. Their attitude toward the land as primarily for use was the crucial issue. This attitude was not only the clash of two human groups with each other over some land possession or some political rule, it was a clash between the most anthropocentric culture that history has ever known with one of the most naturecentric cultures ever known. It was the clash between a monotheistic personal deity perceived as transcendent to all phenomenal modes of being and the Great Spirit perceived as immanent in all natural phenomena. It was the clash between a people driven by a sense of historical destiny with a people living in an abiding world of ever-renewing phenomena. It was the clash of a people with certain immunities to tuberculosis, diphtheria, and measles with a people devoid of such immunities. Over the centuries it became the clash of an urban people highly skilled in industrial manufacturing with a tribal people skilled in hunting and farming who could still appreciate the integral relations that exist between the human community and the natural world. The insuperable difficulty inhibiting any intimate rapport with this continent or its people was this European-derived anthropocentrism.
Such orientation of Western consciousness had its fourfold origin in the Greek cultural tradition, the biblical-Christian religious tradition, the English political-legal tradition, and the economic tradition associated with the new vigor of the merchant class. In religion, culture, politics, and economics there existed with the settlers a discontinuity of the human with the natural world. The human, transcendent to the natural world, was the assumed ruler of the land. That is why the North American continent became completely vulnerable to the assault from the European peoples.
To the European settlers the continent had no sacred dimension. It had no inherent rights. It had no way of escaping economic exploitation. The other component members of the continent could not be included with humans in an integral continental community. European presence was less occupation than predation. The critique of this attitude came through the naturalist writers, the poets and artists, and on occasion in some of the writings and sermons of ministers such as Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), to whom all creation manifested the divine glory. Yet these critiques were peripheral to the basic orientation of American thought and culture throughout this period. Even the transcendentalist essayists were less inspired by the continent than is sometimes thought. In the four areas of life enumerated (religion, culture, politics, and economics), the cultural commitments are so deep in the American soul, so imprinted in the unconscious depths of the culture, that until now it has not been possible to critique these areas of human endeavor in any effective manner. We saw ourselves as the envy of the ages, as relieved of superstition and in the highest realms of intellectual enlightenment. So committed were we to our divinely commissioned task of commercially exploiting this…777
We might reflect on this sense of the wild and the civilized when the dawn appears through the morning mist. At such times a stillness pervades the world—a brooding sense, a quiet transition from night into day. This experience is deepened when evening responds to morning, as day fades away, and night comes in the depth of its mystery. We are most aware at such moments of transition that the world about us is beyond human control. So too in the transition phases of human life; at birth, maturity, and death we brood over our presence in a world of mystery far greater than ourselves. I bring all this to mind because we are discovering our human role in a different order of magnitude. We are experiencing a disintegration of the life systems of the planet just when the Earth in the diversity and resplendence of its self-expression had attained a unique grandeur.839
How awesome, then, must be the present moment when we witness the dying of the Earth in its Cenozoic expression and the life renewal of the Earth in an emerging Ecozoic Era (a transition we must make, learning from those who would teach us). Such reflection has a special urgency if we are ever to renew our sense of the sacred in any sphere of human activity. For we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us. The universe carries in itself the norm of authenticity of every spiritual as well as every physical activity within it.
The spiritual and the physical are two dimensions of the single reality that is the universe itself. There is an ultimate wildness in all this, for the universe, as existence itself, is a terrifying as well as a benign mode of being. If it grants us amazing powers over much of its functioning we must always remember that any arrogance on our part will ultimately be called to account. The beginning of wisdom in any human activity is a certain reverence before the primordial mystery of existence, for the world about us is a fearsome mode of being. We do not judge the universe. The universe is even now judging us. This judgment we experience in what we refer to as the “wild.”851 We have at times thought that we could domesticate the world, for it sometimes appears possible, as in our capacity to evoke the vast energies hidden in the nucleus of the tiny atom. Yet when we invade this deepest, most mysterious dimension of matter, nature throws at us its most deadly forces, wild forces that we cannot deal with, forces that cause us to fear lest we be rendering the planet a barren place for the vast range of living beings. I speak of the wild dimension of existence and the reverence and fear associated with the wild, since precisely here is where life and existence and art itself begin. When Thoreau in his essay on walking said, “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World,”864
This immense effort that has been made over these past ten thousand years to bring the natural world under human control. Such an effort would even tame the inner wildness of the human itself. It would end by reducing those vast creative possibilities of the human to trivial modes of expression. Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being.871
As one woman told a group assembled in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, she did not consider herself a victim but a participant in this wild event in all its creative as well as its destructive aspects. The hurricane, she insisted, was telling us something. It was telling us how to build our houses if we wished to dwell in this region. It was telling us to consider well the winds and the sea, to mark well the fact that if we live here we must obey the deeper laws of the place, laws that cannot be overridden by any type of human zoning. We might live here if we wish but on terms dictated by powers other than human. The hurricane has its own inner discipline. It is itself a response to the needs of the region. This we need to know: how to participate creatively in the wildness of the world about us. For it is out of the wild depths of the universe and of our own being that the greater visions must come. We mistake the wild if we think of it as mere random activity or simply as turbulence. Throughout the entire world there exists a discipline that holds the energies of the universe in the creative pattern of their activities, although this discipline may not be immediately evident to human perception. The emergent universe appears as some wild, senseless deed that wells up from some infinite abyss in the expansive differentiating process of those first moments when all the energy that would ever exist flared forth in a radiation too mysterious for humans to fully comprehend. Yet as this energy articulated itself in the form of matter the gravitational attraction that each being has for every other being produced the basic ordering process, gravitation, the primary discipline in the large-scale structure of the universe. This mutual attraction and mutual limitation of gravitation is, perhaps, the first expression and the primordial model of artistic discipline. It gave to the universe its initial sense of being at home with itself and yet caught up in a profound discontent with any final expression of itself. We might consider, then, that the wild and the disciplined are the two constituent forces of the universe, the expansive force and the containing force bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe.877
“In the beginning was the Word,” the principle of order and intelligibility. Or we can perceive the originating power itself in the disequilibrium of the universe, in the spirit world, in the wildness of things, in the dreams that come into our souls in the depths of the night, dreams that correspond in the human soul to the openness of the curve that holds the universe together and yet enables it to continue its infinite creativity.905
Both are valid, both are needed. The universe from the beginning, and even now, is poised between the expanding and the containing forces, and no one knows just when or if this creative balance will collapse or will continue on indefinitely. So the philosopher and the artist are both poised between the two possibilities. In this mysterious balance the universe and all its grandeur and all its loveliness become possible. Exactly here the presence of the sacred reveals itself. Here is the exuberance that could fling the stars across the heavens with such abandon and yet with such exquisite poise, each in relation to the untold billions of other shining fragments of primordial existence.911
…the dream paintings of the Aborigines of Australia. Here in the desert regions of this vast continent in the southern seas are a people who experience the universe around them, especially the topography of the land, as expressions of those preternatural beings or powers referred to as Dreamings. Their paintings, composed of lines and dots in an endless variety of patterns in color and design, are unimaginable in our Western traditions. These paintings portray the Dreamings as the creative forces producing the landscape and expressive of the deepest spirit of the universe.922
The world of mechanism has alienated us from the wild beauty of the world about us.933
The natural world demands a response beyond that of rational calculation, beyond philosophical reasoning, beyond scientific insight. The natural world demands a response that rises from the wild unconscious depths of the human soul. A response that artists seek to provide in color and music and movement. The response that we give must have a supreme creative power, for the Cenozoic Era in the story of Earth is fading as the sun sets in the western sky. Our hope for the future is for a new dawn, an Ecozoic Era, when humans will be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.945
Once we recognize that a change from a human-centered to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value is needed, we might ask how this is to be achieved and how it would function. We might begin by recognizing that the life community, the community of all living species, including the human, is the greater reality and the greater value. The primary concern of the human community must be the preservation and enhancement of this comprehensive community, even for the sake of its own survival.
While humans do have their own distinctive reality and unique value, these must be articulated within a more comprehensive context. Ultimately humans find their own being within this community context. To consider that one is enhanced by diminishing the other is an illusion. Indeed, it is the great illusion of the present industrial age, which seeks to advance human well-being by plundering the planet in its geological and biological structure and functioning. Opposed to this exploitation of the natural world is the ecological movement, which seeks to create a more viable context for human development within the planetary process. We must clearly understand, however, that this question of viability is not an issue that can be resolved in any permanent manner. It will be a continuing issue for the indefinite future. Indeed, we are at the present time participating in an unparalleled change in the human-Earth situation. The planet that ruled itself directly over these past millennia is now determining its future largely through human decision. Such is the responsibility assumed by the human community once we ventured onto the path of the empirical sciences and their associated technologies. In this process, whatever the benefits, we endangered ourselves and every living being on the planet. We altered the entire mode of functioning of the planet. If we look back over the total course of Earth development, we find that there was a consistent florescence of the life process in the larger arc of the planet’s development over some billions of years. Innumerable catastrophic events occurred in both the geological and biological realms but none of these could cause the forebodings such as we might experience at present. There is no question of the extinction of life in any total sense, even though many of the more elaborate forms of life expression can be eliminated in a permanent manner.
What is absolutely threatened just now is the degradation of the planet. This degradation involves extensive distortion and a pervasive weakening throughout the entire life system of the planet. Because such deterioration results from a rejection of the inherent limitations of human existence and from an effort to alter the natural functioning of the planet in favor of a humanly constructed wonderworld, resistance to this destructive process must turn its efforts toward living creatively within the organic functioning of the natural world. Earth as a biospiritual planet must become for us the basic referent in identifying our own future.978
It seems quite clear that after these centuries of industrial efforts to create a wonderworld we are in fact creating wasteworld, a nonviable situation for the human mode of being. The true wonderworld of nature, whatever its own afflictions, is available as the context for a viable human situation. The difficulty just now is that the financial and industrial establishments have such extensive control over the planet that change so basic as that suggested here would be extremely difficult. After identifying the order of magnitude of the difficulty before us, we need to establish a more specific analysis of the problems themselves. Then we need to provide specific programs leading toward a viable human situation on a viable planet. For this purpose I offer the following analysis of the present situation as it exists under the controlling power of the industrial entrepreneur and then offer alternative proposals for a viable human situation.
As concerns natural resources, the industrial, commercial, and financial corporations are in possession of the planet; either directly or indirectly, with the support of governments subservient to the various corporation enterprises. This possession is, of course, within limits. Fragmentary regions of the planet have been set aside or will be set aside as areas to be preserved in their natural state or to be exploited at a later time. Yet these regions themselves, frequently enough, survive by consent of the controlling corporations.
To the ecologist, reducing the planet to a resource base for consumer use in an industrial society is already an unacceptable situation. The planet and all its components are reduced to commodities whose very purpose of existence is to be exploited by the human. Our more human experience of the world of meaning has been diminished in direct proportion as money and utilitarian values have taken precedence over the numinous, aesthetic, and emotional values. In a corresponding way, any recovery of the natural world in its full splendor will require not only a new economic system but a conversion experience deep in the psychic structure of the human.
Our present situation is the consequence of a cultural fixation, an addiction, an emotional insensitivity, none of which can be remedied by any quickly contrived adjustment. Nature has been severely, and in many cases irreversibly, damaged. A healing is often available and new life can sometimes be evoked, but this cannot be without an intensity of concern and sustained vigor of action such as that which brought about the damage in the first place. Without this healing, the viability of humans at any acceptable level of fulfillment remains in question.
As regards law, the basic orientation of American jurisprudence is toward personal human rights and toward the natural world as existing for human possession and use. To the industrial-commercial world the natural world has no inherent rights to existence, habitat, or freedom to fulfill its role in the vast community of existence. Yet there can be no sustainable future, even for the modern industrial world, unless these inherent rights of the natural world are recognized as having legal status. The entire question of possession and use of the Earth, either by individuals or by establishments, needs to be considered in a more profound manner than Western society has ever done previously. The naive assumption that the natural world is there to be possessed and used by humans for their advantage and in an unlimited manner cannot be accepted. The Earth belongs to itself and to all the component members of the Earth community. The Earth is there as an entrancing celebration of existence in all its alluring qualities. Each earthly being participates in this cosmic celebration as the proper fulfillment of its powers of expression. Reduction of the Earth to an object primarily for human possession and use is unthinkable in most traditional cultures. Yet to Peter Drucker, author of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the entrepreneur creates resources and values. Before it is…1004 richer and environmentally poorer than ever before” (Brown, p. 15). The Earth is a kind of sacrificial offering. Within the human community, however, there is little awareness that the integral survival of the planet in its seasonable rhythms of renewal is itself a condition not simply of human progress but of human survival. Often the ecologist is at a loss as to how to proceed; the language in which our values are expressed has been co-opted by the industrial establishment and is used with the most extravagant modes of commercial advertising to create the illusory world in which modern industrial peoples now live.1056
One of the most essential roles of the ecologist is to create the language in which a true sense of reality, of value, and of progress can be communicated to our society.1061
The term profit needs to be rectified. Profit according to what norms and for whom? The profit of the corporation is the deficit of the Earth. The profit of the industrial enterprise, whatever its advantages, can also be considered as a deficit in the quality of life. We need to reexamine the entire range of our language.
There are questions concerning “gender” that need consideration. The industrial establishment is the extreme expression of a patriarchal tradition with its all-pervasive sense of dominance, whether of rulers over people, of men over women, of humans over nature. Only with enormous psychic and social effort and revolutionary processes has this patriarchal control been mitigated as regards the rights of women. The rights of the natural world of living beings is still at the mercy of the modern industrial corporation as the ultimate expression of patriarchal dominance over the entire planetary process.
Then too we begin to recognize the rights of ethnic groups and of the impoverished classes of our society. For the ecologist, the great model of all existence is the natural ecosystem, which is self-ruled as a community in which each component has its unique rights and its comprehensive influence. The ecologist, with a greater sense of the human as a nurturing presence within the larger community of the geological and biological modes of Earth being, is sponsoring a mode of human activity much closer to the feminine than to the masculine modes of being and of activity.
As concerns education, its purpose as presently envisaged, is to enable persons to be “productive” within the context of the industrial society. A person needs to become literate in order to fulfill some function within the system, whether in acquisition or processing of raw materials, manufacturing, distributing the product in a commercially profitable manner, managing the process or the finances, or, finally, spending the net earnings in acquisition and enjoyment of possessions. A total life process is envisaged within the industrial process. All professional careers now function within the industrial-commercial establishment, even education, medicine, and law.
In this new context of a viable human mode of being, the primary educator as well as the primary lawgiver and the primary healer would be the natural world itself. The integral Earth community would be a self-educating community within the context of a self-educating universe. Education at the human level would be the sensitizing of the human to those profound communications made by the universe about us, by the sun and moon and stars, the clouds and rain, the contours of the Earth and all its living forms.1067
This orientation toward the natural world should be understood in relation to all human activities. The Earth would be our primary teacher in industry and economics. It would teach us a system in which we would create a minimum of entropy, a system in which there would be a minimum of unusable or unfruitful waste.1090
Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Ladakh lies east of Kashmir high in the Himalayas on the border of China, and has a Tibetan Buddhist religious orientation. It has a severe climate of eight months of winter with temperatures of 40 degrees below freezing, little rainfall, and a meager soil—all indicating as harsh a natural condition as a person might imagine. Yet the people of Ladakh have educated themselves in a sustainable way of life, a grace and delight in living, a sense of community, and thus have created a world of meaning in its deepest sense. All this provides convincing evidence that education in direct relation with the natural environment and the use of basic technologies can supply the needs of life in a context that leads to a high level of personal fulfillment. Success or failure as human communities has no absolute need of such technologies or conveniences as we imagine are needed for a proper life fulfillment.1111
Behind the long disruption of the Earth process is the refusal of Western industrial society to accept needed restraints upon its quest for release, not simply from the normal ills to which we are subject, but release from the human condition itself. There exists in our tradition a hidden rage against those inner as well as outer forces that create limits on our activities. Some ancient force in the Western psyche seems to perceive limitation as a demonic obstacle to be eliminated, rather than as a strengthening discipline.
Acceptance of the challenging aspect of the natural world is a primary condition for creative intimacy with the natural world. Without this opaque or even threatening aspect of the universe we would lose our greatest source of creative energy. This opposing element is as necessary for us as is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. This containing element, even the gravitation that binds us to the Earth, should be experienced as liberating and energizing, rather than confining. Strangely enough, it is our efforts to establish a thoroughly sanitized world 1132 that have led to our toxic world. Our quest for wonderworld is making wasteworld. Our quest for energy is creating entropy on a scale never before witnessed in the historical process. We have invented a counterproductive society that is now caught in the loop that feeds back into itself in what can presently be considered a runaway situation.
The media and advertising are particularly responsible for placing the entire life process of the human in a situation wherein producer and consumer feed back into each other in an ever-accelerated process. Presently we experience on a world scale an enormous glut in many basic products, along with unmatched deprivation in the vast numbers of peoples gathered in the shantytowns of the world. Few of our most prominent newspapers, newsweeklies, or periodicals written for the general public have a consistently designated space for the ecological situation, although environmental concerns are being mentioned more frequently. While there are regular sections for politics, economics, sports, arts, science, education, food, entertainment, and a number of other areas of life, only on rare occasions do significant articles appear concerned with what is happening to the planet. These periodicals are of course supported by the great industrial establishments. Media attention to the disturbed life systems of the Earth is considered as threatening or limiting to the industrial enterprise. In this situation the commercial-industrial control of the media can be considered among the most effective forces thwarting any remedial action to save the disintegrating planet.1140
Expression in politics, in economics, in education, in healing, and in spiritual reorientation. Together these movements, oriented toward a more benign human relationship with the environment, indicate a pervasive change in consciousness that presently is our best hope for developing a sustainable future.1165
These four symbols—the Journey, the Great Mother, the Cosmic Tree, and the Death-Rebirth symbol—experienced now in a time-developmental rather than a spatial mode of consciousness, constitute a psychic resource of enormous import for establishing ourselves as a viable species in a viable life system on the planet Earth. Among the controlling professions in America, the educational and the religious professions should be especially sensitive in discerning what is happening to the planet and the value of these symbols in restoring a certain integrity to the human process. These professions present themselves as guiding our sense of reality and value at its ultimate level of significance. They provide our life interpretation.
Education and religion, especially, should awaken in the young an awareness of the world in which they live, how it functions, how the human fits into the larger community of life, the role that the human fulfills in the great story of the universe, and the historical sequence of developments that have shaped our physical and cultural landscape. Along with this awareness of the past and present, education and religion should communicate some guidance concerning the future. The pathos of these times, however, is precisely the impasse that we witness in our educational and religious programs. Both are living in a past fundamentalist tradition or venturing into New Age programs that are often trivial in their consequences, unable to support or to guide the transformation that is needed in its proper order of magnitude. We must recognize that the only effective program available as our primary guide toward a viable human mode of being is the program offered by the Earth itself. Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the universe as we now know it through our empirical ways of knowing. Within this functional cosmology we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis. This story is a numinous revelatory story that could evoke not only the vision but also the energies needed for bringing ourselves and the entire planet into a new order of survival.1184
All four—the political, religious, intellectual, and economic establishments—are failing in their basic purposes for the same reason. They all presume a radical discontinuity between the nonhuman and the human modes of being, with all the rights and all inherent values given to the human. The other-than-human world is not recognized as having any inherent rights or values. All basic realities and values are identified with human values. The other-than-human modes of being attain their reality and value only through their use by the human. This attitude has brought about a devastating assault on the nonhuman world by the human.
Earlier human traditions experienced a profound intimacy with the natural world in all its living forms and even a deep spiritual exaltation in the religious-spiritual experience of natural phenomena. We have moved from this intimacy of earlier peoples with the natural world to the alienation of modern civilization. If some aesthetic appreciation remains, this seldom has the depth of meaning experienced earlier. Yet this presence to the natural world does occur with extraordinary power and understanding in persons such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir and in many of the nature writers of the twentieth century, such as Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland, Brenda Peterson, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, David Rains Wallace, Annie Dillard, David Suzuki, Farley Mowat, and others too numerous to mention. Yet these writers have no role in forming the basic orientation of the contemporary university.
As now functioning, the university prepares students for their role in extending human dominion over the natural world, not for intimate presence to the natural world. Use of this power in a deleterious manner has devastated the planet. We suddenly discover that we are losing some of our most exalted human experiences that come to us through our participation in the natural world. So awesome is the devastation we are bringing about that we can only conclude that we are caught in a severe cultural disorientation, a disorientation that is sustained intellectually by the university, economically by the corporation, legally by the Constitution, spiritually by religious institutions.
The universities might well consider their own involvement in our present difficulties. Some of our most competent biologists in their comprehensive understanding of the biosystems of the planet, such as E. O. Wilson, Niles Eldredge, and Norman Myers, tell us that no devastation at this level has happened to the life systems of Earth since the termination of the Mesozoic Era some 65 million years ago (Wilson, Biodiversity). The present, then, is beyond comparison with other historical changes or a cultural transition, such as that from the classical Mediterranean period to the medieval period or from there to the Enlightenment in Europe. Even the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic Age in human cultural development cannot be compared to what is happening now. For we are changing not simply the human world, we are changing the chemistry of the planet, even the geological structure and functioning of the planet. We are disturbing the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the geosphere, all in a manner that is undoing the work of nature over some hundreds of millions, even billions of years. The genetic strains we have extinguished will never return.
Just what is involved in any full assessment of the disturbance of the planet need not be our concern here. Yet we might mention that in economics, the separation of the human economy from the Earth economy has been disastrous beyond measure. A rising gross human product with a declining gross Earth product is surely a contradiction. To preserve the integrity of the Earth economy should be the first purpose of any human economic program. Yet it would be difficult, until recently, to find a university where this first principle of economics is being taught. It is a strange thing to witness humans moving from suicide, homicide, and…1206
I mention economics, jurisprudence, and religion because these are among the subjects that are taught in our colleges and universities. An integral presentation of these subjects has not been given because of their commitment to the view that the nonhuman world is there fundamentally for the use of humans; whether economically, aesthetically, recreationally, or spiritually. For this reason the universities may be one of the principal supports of the pathology that is so ruinous to the planet.1258
Because of this basic attitude we consider that the more extensively we use the world about us, the more progress we are making toward some higher state of being. The vision of a transearthly status to be achieved by exploiting the natural world has driven us to ever more violent efforts toward this end. The ideal is to take the greatest possible amount of natural resources, process these resources, put them through the consumer economy as quickly as possible, then on to the waste heap. This we consider as progress—even though the immense accumulation of junk is overwhelming the landscape, saturating the skies, and filling the oceans.
It is important to note, however, four significant movements that have arisen to counter these directions. In the field of economics there is the Society for Ecological Economics established by Herman Daly and Robert Costanza. In jurisprudence is the emergence of the Earth Charter as a basis for recognition of the comprehensive Earth community. In the area of religion the Forum on Religion and Ecology arose from the three-year conference series at Harvard examining the various views of nature in the world’s religious traditions.
In education the greening of the university around the Tailloires Declaration is encouraging universities and their leaders to embody sustainable practices. Yet there is still a deeper source of difficulty in the university. It lies in what are called the humanities, or liberal studies, as they are known. These supposedly, as humanist scholars tell us, provide for the expansion of the truly human quality of life. Yet this centering of value so extensively on the human distorts the place and role of the human in the structure and functioning of the universe. We fail to recognize that although the various components of the universe exist for each other, each exists primarily for the integrity of the universe. The human also, however noble in itself, exists for the integrity of the universe and for the Earth more than these exist for the human. Indeed the human depends upon the larger universe for its existence, its functioning, and its fulfillment. Within the order of the universe the planet Earth provides the efficient, final, material, and formal causes that bring the human into being, support the human in being, and lead the human to fulfillment.
The primacy of the universe over any part of the universe, and of Earth over any component of Earth, has been maintained earlier in our Western religious and cosmological traditions. The sacred community is primarily the universe community, not the human community. Whatever the deficiencies of medieval theological thinking it was clear that the entire universe is the primary value. The human belongs completely within the created order as a part of a more integral whole. As indicated by Thomas Aquinas, the most renowned of medieval theologians, “The order of the universe is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things” (Aquinas, SCG, bk. 2, chap. 46). Even within the traditional theological context it could be said that what is done by the divine within the created order has for its supreme purpose the resplendence of the whole, not the resplendence of any single component of the whole. Only the whole has any integral meaning. Even the incarnation and redemption as these are presented within the Christian tradition must be considered as primarily for the good of the universe even though these have a certain immediate reference to the human. As was said at the time: “The whole universe together participates in the divine goodness and represents it better than any single being whatsoever” (Aquinas, ST, Q. 47, Art. 1).1262
If the central pathology that has led to the termination of the Cenozoic is the radical discontinuity established between the human and the nonhuman, then the renewal of life on the planet must be based on the continuity between the human and the other than human as a single integral community. Once this continuity is recognized and accepted, then we will have fulfilled the basic condition that will enable the human to become present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner. In this new context every component of the Earth community would have its rights in accord with the proper mode of its being and its functional role. In each case the basic rights would be for habitat and the opportunity of each being to fulfill its role in the natural systems to which it belongs. Humans would be obliged to respect these rights.
If such concerns were not under discussion in the eighteenth century when the American Constitution was being written, they must be the central issue in any present discussion of the legal context of our society. The critical mission of the university law schools is to address these issues in a depth that has not yet manifested. A more expanded basis for jurisprudence seems to be indicated. A beginning has been made by Justice William O. Douglas in A Wilderness Bill of Rights, published as long ago as 1965. There we find a remarkable affirmation of the need to establish legal status for the natural world.1327
Through these instruments of observation we enter profoundly into the most hidden realms of phenomenal existence itself while at the same time these hidden realms enter into our own minds. It is a reciprocal relationship. We are touched by what we touch. We are shaped by what we shape. We are enhanced by what we enhance. The human university would be the context in which the universe reflects on itself in human intelligence and communicates itself to the human community. The university would have the universe as its originating, validating, and unifying referent. Since the universe is an emergent reality the universe would be understood primarily through its story. Education at all levels would be understood as knowing the universe story and the human role in the story. The basic course in any college or university would be the story of the universe.1345
Since the universe brings us into being with all our knowledge and our artistic and cultural achievements, then the universe must be an intellect-producing, aesthetic-producing, and intimacy-producing process. These qualities that we identify with the human are also qualities that we observe throughout the natural world. Even at the level of the elements we observe self-organizing capacities, also the capacity for intimate relationships. These reveal astounding psychic abilities. These are so impressive that we must consider that modes of consciousness exist throughout the universe in a vast number of qualitatively diverse manifestations.
Above all we discover that every being has its own spontaneities that arise from the depths of its own being. These spontaneities express the inner value of each being in such a manner that we must say of the universe that it is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. Precisely in this intimate relationship with the entire universe we overcome the mental fixation of our times expressed in the radical division we make between the human and the other-than-human.1355
Unfeeling relation of the human to the natural world is healed in its deepest roots as soon as we perceive that the entire universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not primarily of objects to be exploited. This communion experience is, I believe, universal. It can be observed in the immediate reaction of almost anyone who simply looks at the ocean at dawn or sunset or at the heavens at night with all the stars ablaze, or who enters a wilderness area with its foreboding as well as its entrancing aspects. In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic, and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world. There is no inner life without outer experience. The tragedy in the elimination of the primordial forests is not the economic but the soul-loss that is involved. For we are depriving our imagination, our emotions, and even our intellect of that overwhelming experience communicated by the wilderness.1364
We now know ourselves as genetically related to every other living being in the universe. Only through this story are we able in any integral manner to overcome our alienation from the natural world about us. We are finally able to understand just why our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of Earth. Yet even when we know this with such depth of understanding we still find it difficult to rethink economics, law, religion, and education within this scientific context. Our universities seem caught in a fixation from which they cannot escape even when these prior cultural forms are proving unable to prevent the devastation of the planet.1382
They have never experienced anything like the transition that is being asked of them just now. The difficulty cannot be resolved simply by establishing a course or a program in ecology, for ecology is not a course or a program. Rather it is the foundation of all courses, all programs, and all professions because ecology is a functional cosmology. Ecology is not a part of medicine; medicine is an extension of ecology. Ecology is not a part of law; law is an extension of ecology. So too, in their own way, the same can be said of economics and even the humanities. There have been stages when the Western university was dominated by theology as the queen of the sciences. There have been periods when the universities were dominated by humanistic concerns. There have been times when the university was dominated by mechanistic science, engineering, or business. The new situation requires that the university find its primary concern in a functional cosmology. Such a functional cosmology can exist, however, only within a university where the spirit dimension of the universe as well as its physical dimension is recognized. The transformation of human life indicated in this transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic Era affects our sense of reality and values at such a profound level that it can be compared only to the great classical religious movements of the past. It affects our perception of the origin and meaning of existence itself. It might possibly be considered as a metareligious movement.1395
Earth, we might say, is a single reality composed of a diversity beyond all understanding or description. This diversity in its arctic and tropical regions, its oceans and its continents, in its mountains and valleys, its forests and deserts, its rivers and their floodplains, all give to Earth both its endless wonder and its functional integrity. These landscape features and these living forms have come into being as some self-woven tapestry or some self-composed symphony or some self-designed painting. To experience this wonder and to enter into intimate relations with the various life communities of these regions seems to be the high purpose of human presence on the Earth.1426
Eventually the achievement of a truly human way of life came to be judged by the extent of control over the geological structure, the vegetation, and the wildlife-forms in the region and their use for human purposes. What also distinguished the human mode of being was the sense of spirit powers present throughout the geographical region. The rivers and moutains were not simply physical forms, they were spirit powers to be reckoned with. The sense of relating to spirit powers identical with the topography of the region established one of the specific differences in the human adaptation to regional context and to other life-forms. It also provided the intense emotional attachment for human communities to the place of their dwelling.
In recent times what industrial civilizations have failed to realize is that in the particular place of their dwelling the well-being of the Earth was a necessity for their own well-being and fulfillment. The attitude that the Earth existed for utilitarian human purposes became progressively severe as commitments to the individual rights of humans were enacted into political constitutions with no corresponding rights being recognized for the other components of the natural life community. Legal enactments gave to humans what were designated as “property rights” over land and whatever existed on the land. Such enactments provided the basis for occupation and unrestrained exploitation of the land. Western civilization, dominated by a cultural arrogance, could not accept the fact that the human, as every species, is bound by limits in relation to the other members of the Earth community.
While refusal of any other members of the Earth community to accept limits might quickly lead to extinction of the disturbing species, humans found that they could, for a period of time, subvert the forces that might normally lead to their own extinction. What humans could not do was to avoid the degradation in their own mode of being that occurs as soon as they prevent the other members of the community from fulfilling their role in the larger Earth community.
Only gradually have modern humans in the Western cultural tradition begun to realize that we have a profound need for the well-being of other species if we are to experience any well-being or fulfillment in ourselves. In these opening years of the twenty-first century we need to renew our intimacy with our local bioregion and with the North American continent but also with the planet Earth itself, in its comprehensive extent and in the diversity of its component regions. To accomplish this intimacy in some integral manner we require a study that would fulfill the ideal of a “total earth science” that was spoken of so frequently by Robert Muller, a former adviser to several secretaries-general of the United Nations from the 1950s until the 1970s. This phrase, total earth science, seems to have the comprehensive extent and the precision in statement needed in designating an area of understanding that has never been given its proper identity or its proper place in our educational program.1452
By bringing humans into existence the Earth has created a supreme danger to all other components of the Earth community because the human can invade the region of other species with a unique range of freedom. Survival of any group of living beings in relation to other groups depends on the recognition of limits in the actions of each group. This law of limits is among the most basic of all cosmological, geological, or biological laws. It is particularly clear in the case of biological forms. In the Hindu world this law of limits is recognized as rita in the cosmological order or as dharma in the moral order. In the Chinese world it is tao in an earlier phase or li in the later neo-Confucian period. In the Greek world it is dike as the order of justice or logos establishing the intelligible order of the universe. Yet in the modern world this sense of limits imposed by the natural functioning of the universe has to some extent been overridden, at least in a temporary manner, by industrial processes created by humans. The general law is that every species should have opposed species or conditions that limit them so that no single species or group of species would overwhelm the others—something that would assuredly happen if even a bacterium were permitted to reproduce without limitation over a period of time.
The law of limits is what makes the functional rapport between the various life-forms an urgent necessity. That is the difficulty for humans. We must self-limit. We have such an extensive range of abilities in relation to the other components of the planet that we seem not to know where to place the limits on our actions. Or perhaps we are simply unwilling to limit ourselves by deliberate decision. To some extent this derives from our partial emergence out of the controls of instinct when we acquired the capacity for intelligent thought. In the twentieth century we have been so entranced with our evolutionary origins and the long series of transformations that have brought us into being that we are more attracted to cosmogenesis than to cosmos. Even as regards Earth we are more committed to history than to geography, more committed to time than to space. History is endless. Place is limited. We are so impatient with our given place in the universe that some persons are totally committed to discovering how we can get beyond Earth.1503
Some are under the illusion that we have been off Earth. In reality humans have never been off Earth. We have always been on a piece of Earth in space. We survive only as long as we can breathe the air of Earth, drink its waters, and be nourished by its foods. There is no indication that as humans we will ever live anywhere else in the universe. Place, too, is continuously being transformed but only within its own possibilities.
Our entire industrial system can be considered as an effort to escape from the constraints of the natural world. We have created an artificial context for our existence through mechanical invention and the extravagant use of energy. In this process we have so violated the norms of limitation, so upset the chemical balance of the atmosphere, the soil, and the oceans, so exploited the Earth in our use of fossil fuels, that we are devastating the fertility of the planet and extinguishing many species of wildlife.
We no longer live within the organic, ever-renewing world that is the natural context of our existence. When we awaken to a realization that the industrial world, as now functioning, can exist for only a brief historical period, we might begin to consider just how we can establish a more sustainable setting for our physical survival and personal fulfillment. We must, obviously, turn from our exploitation of the natural world to consider once again just how the planet functions and where we belong in relation to the other components of the planet. Since we do not function primarily by instinct, we can do very little until we have some idea of how the life systems of the Earth function in producing the food and shelter and the energies we need. In some sense this is a recovery process, since in our agricultural phase we had an abundance of knowledge of how the Earth functions in its various bioregions. Now, however, we need a much more comprehensive type of understanding and a more extensive human adaptation to the various bioregional contexts of our dwelling. While we need this intimate acquaintance with the organic functioning of our local region, we also need a larger sense of the Earth. We have become so conscious of the planetary context of our lives that we cannot completely withdraw into the local region.1521
Yet as population increases and available space on the planet becomes more limited, the study of Earth and its regions becomes more critical. Economic geography needs to discover where the living resources of the Earth are located in each bioregion, how abundant are these resources, how they are best sustained in their capacity for unlimited renewal.1550
While cultural geography, economic geography, political geography, and military geography have served the purposes of human exploitation of the planet, the time has come to study the Earth for the purposes of the Earth. The well-being of the Earth depends to an extensive degree on our understanding of the planet in its global extension, in its bioregional diversity, and in the intimacy of the component parts in the whole. We depend on this understanding of the Earth in all its diversity if we are to know how humans are to be present to the planet in some mutually enhancing manner. Such understanding is the proper role of ecological geography. If this study were properly developed then a great advance will have been made toward achieving a viable planetary community.1578
Earth literacy, as a basic context for educational programs from the earliest years through professional levels. Earth literacy is being fostered especially by educators such as David Orr of Oberlin College and Chet Bowers of Portland State.1607
My own expectation is that the study of ecological geography will have a significant role to play in the future as one of the most effective disciplines leading to an integral human presence to the larger Earth community. This presence will occur, however, only when the study of the Earth gives rise to an appreciation such as that given expression by John Muir in his writings on the Yosemite Valley in California.1610
So with the bioregion, there is an intimacy that brings to fulfillment both the region and its human presence. The region responds to the attention it receives from the various members of the community. This feeling relationship with the Earth intensifies as we grow in familiarity with the region. As described by Barry Lopez in his essay on American geographics, “The more superficial a society’s knowledge of the real dimensions of the land it occupies becomes, the more vulnerable the land is to exploitation, to manipulation for short-term gain. The land, virtually powerless before political and commercial entities, finds itself finally with no defenders. It finds itself bereft of intimates with indispensable, concrete knowledge” (Lopez, About This Life, p. 137).1615
Only intimacy can save us from our present commitment to a plundering industrial economy.1624
IN APRIL OF THE YEAR 1912 THE TITANIC, ON HER MAIDEN voyage across the Atlantic, struck an iceberg and went down at sea. Long before the collision those in command had abundant evidence that icebergs lay ahead. The course had been set, however, and no one wished to alter its direction. Confidence in the survival capacities of the ship was unbounded. Already there were a multitude of concerns in carrying out the normal routine of a voyage. What happened to that “unsinkable” ship is a kind of parable for us, since only in the most dire situations do we have the psychic energy needed to examine our way of acting on the scale that is now required. The daily concerns over the care of the ship and its passengers needed to be set aside for a more urgent concern, the well-being of the ship itself. Here is where macrophase concerns in one context become microphase concerns in another context. Passenger concerns in the situation of the Titanic needed to give way to a macrophase decision about the ship itself.1626
We are presently concerned with ethical judgments on an entirely different order of magnitude. Indeed, the human community has never previously been forced to ethical judgments on this scale because we never before had the capacity for deleterious action with such consequences. As indicated by Brian Swimme in The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, humans, through our scientific insight and our technological skills, have become a macrophase power, something on the level of the glaciations or the forces that caused the great extinctions of the past. Yet we have only a microphase sense of responsibility or ethical judgment. We need to develop a completely different range of responsibility.1637
It is not easy for us to move beyond those basic points of reference that have guided our way of life in former times, for these have given us our human identity and directed our religious and cultural traditions over the past millennia. These traditions have determined our language, our intellectual insights, our spiritual ideals, our range of imagination, our emotional sensitivities. Yet these classical traditions of the Eurasian and American worlds are all proving inadequate in dealing with the disintegrating influence we are now having on the life systems of the Earth. Yet we experience a kind of paralysis in our critical judgment of what is happening and what we need to do at this time to avoid an extensive crash of the biosystems of the planet. Much of our wisdom of the past becomes inadequate in the present.1643
Our traditional spiritual values are disorienting by their insistence on the unsatisfactory nature of the existing order of things and the need for relief by reference to some transearthly experience. Religious persons are constantly asserting the high spiritual nature of the human against the lack of any spiritual dimension of the natural world. All earthly affairs are considered microphase concerns relative to the spiritual concerns that determine our destiny in some other transcendent world.
In recent times as our religious traditions have diminished in their influence over our lives, it is the human that dominates the scene. Nothing is considered superior to individual or community values. Our legal system fosters a sense of human rights, with other-than-human beings having no inherent rights. Our economics is based on our mechanistic exploitation of the Earth in all of its geobiological systems. Commercial rights to profit prevail over urgent needs of natural systems for survival. Disengagement from such exclusive commitments to human exploitation requires an ethical stance and a courage of execution seldom found in contemporary human societies.1650
The basic ethical norm is the well-being of the comprehensive community and the attainment of human well-being within that community. Here we find that we are dealing with a profound reversal in our perspective on ourselves and on the universe about us. This is not a change simply in some specific aspect of our ethical conduct. Nor is it merely a modification of our existing cultural context.
What is demanded of us now is to change attitudes that are so deeply bound into our basic cultural patterns that they seem to us as an imperative of the very nature of our being, a dictate of our genetic coding as a species. This reference to our genetic constitution is indeed the issue. Our genetic coding is more comprehensive than our cultural coding. Human genetic coding is integral with the whole complex of species codings whereby the Earth system remains coherent within itself and capable of continuing the evolutionary process.
For a species to remain viable it must establish a niche that is beneficial both for itself and for the larger community. The species coding of the human carries within itself all those deeper physical and spiritual spontaneities that are consciously activated into cultural patterns by the genius of human intellect, imagination, and emotion. These cultural patterns are handed down as traditions, which form the substance of the initiation rituals, educational systems, and lifestyles of the various civilizations. Our cultural traditions are constantly groping toward their appropriate realization within the context of an emerging universe.1708… The radical transformations suggested by the ecologists—organic farming, community-supported agriculture, solar-hydrogen energy system, redesign of our cities, elimination of the automobile in its present form, restoration of local village economies, education for a post-petroleum way of life, and a jurisprudence that recognizes the rights of natural modes of being—all these are too unsettling.1772
…This recession is not a temporary economic recession of any one nation, nor the recession of some financial or commercial arrangement, it is an irreversible recession of the planet itself in many of the most basic aspects of its functioning. The Earth simply cannot sustain the burden imposed upon it. The air in many places has become polluted. The water of the planet is toxic for an indefinite period of time. The soils of the Earth are saturated with chemicals. We have only the slightest idea of the consequences for the physical and psychic life of the human community, especially for the children who have lived in this chemically saturated environment since the day of their conception. Physical degradation of the natural world is also the degradation of the interior world of the human. To cut the old-growth forests is not simply to destroy the last 5 percent of the primordial forests left in this country. It is to lose the wonder and majesty, the poetry, music, and spiritual exaltation evoked by such awesome experience of the deep mysteries of existence. It is a loss of soul even more than a loss of lumber or a loss of money. Loss of spiritual, imaginative, intellectual, or aesthetic experience is considered irrelevant by the developers as soon as a territory is identified as a place where money is to be made.1782
The severity of the tension between the developers and the ecologists can only be fully realized if, in addition to what has already been indicated, we understand that the exploiters have been in control of the North American continent since the beginning of its settlement by Europeans in the seventeenth century. Americans have never known any other way of life.1793
The True State of the Planet, a book edited in 1996 by Ronald Bailey, or Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order, which identifies the controlling power of the corporations, by Richard Barnett and John Cavanaugh.1821
Paul Hawken goes further than sustainability with his proposal that a “restorative economy” is already in process. This view is presented in his book on The Ecology of Commerce (1993) and carried out in its basic principles through the movement known as “The Natural Step.” Another more rigorous critique of the corporations is presented by David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (1995). Both are working toward a depth understanding of the present situation with suggestions as to a viable way into the future. David Korten makes proposals for the sequence of intermediate steps needed if we are to move into a sustainable mode of human presence on the planet in a later book, The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism. A further observation might be made that a sustainable mode of survival at our present level of economic well-being in the industrialized countries is hardly possible as a universal attainment. It is estimated that to support our present Earth population at the level enjoyed in North America would require two or three planets.
The more ultimate question has to do with the “soul” of the future as this finds expression in the single life principle of the planet Earth. There is much consideration of the physical and biological modes of survival with relatively little comment on the soul of the future. Here we are mainly concerned with the “soul” as the shaping spirit within any vital process. These, the inner spirit and the outer form, are two distinctive aspects of a single mode of being. In considering the soul of the future, I am concerned with the inner vision that we need if we are to make the intellectual, social, economic, and religious adjustments required for a viable future. That the human and other components of Earth form a single community of life, is the central issue of the Great Work. We can hardly repeat too often that every mode of being has inherent rights to their place in this community, rights that come by existence itself. The intimacy of humans with the other components of the planet is the fulfillment of each in the other and all within the single Earth community. It is a spiritual fulfillment as well as a mutual support. It is a commitment, not simply a way of survival. Anything less, to my mind, will not work. The difficulty we confront is too great. The future is too foreboding. We need to think of twice the present human population facing the future with half the resources. The next generations need a truly inspiring vision of the wonder and grandeur of life, along with the beginnings of the new technologies they will need.1846
…It is precisely by this grasping after greater wealth to sustain a “better life” that we perceive “progress.” The pathology of this attitude is the limitless straining after what cannot be attained by any level of consumerism. As with any addiction, the addiction itself is seen as the way to life. The authentic remedy, the only valid way to life, is perceived as too painful for acceptance.1876
Accomplishment of a program of integral survival of the planet, and of the human community, requires that the dominant profit motivation of the corporation endeavor be replaced with a dominant concern for the integral life community. To seek benefit for humans by devastating the planet is not an acceptable project.1902
Vandana Shiva, “Since 1970 the Green Revolution experiment has ruined land that could have produced much more food. A third of India has become wasteland. Half the Punjab, once known as India’s wheat basket, now lies unproductive. Malnourishment haunts 60 percent of India’s children” (quoted in Breton, p. 214). We are beginning to ask about the real quality of life achieved, the environmental and social costs, also about the more lasting consequences of these so-called improvements in human life and in the integral functioning of the natural life systems of the planet. India, Indonesia, and the Philippines are three countries that need to be studied in this context.1919
The entire American society was caught up in the transformation taking place. From its beginning until the present, the corporation has proclaimed that the public well-being could only be attained through a prosperous industrial, commercial, and financial establishment whose benefits were freely appropriated by the managerial and ownership class, with minimal payment to those who provided the labor and the skills needed for the process. Any government regulation of these establishments was considered an intrusion into the natural laws of the market economy governing the production and distribution of the goods.
Government, concerned with “establishing justice,” insuring “domestic tranquillity,” and “promoting the general welfare” as announced in the preamble to the Constitution, and the corporations, dedicated to limitless increase in personal profit, have seldom related to one another effectively except by sacrificing “establishing justice” and the “general welfare” for the appearances of “domestic tranquillity.” When the government was challenged in its role of keeping public order in those years of struggle between the workers and the owners, the government consistently sided with the corporations in preserving the existing order against the workers whose energies were exploited. Because the corporations had such power to resist any regulation by the government, they prospered through the legal and illegal use of public funds and public properties, such as the forests for logging, the rivers for damming, the mountains for mining, the grasslands for grazing. Much of this was through using influence on the legislatures of the country and by direct and indirect pressures exerted on the judiciary and the administration, largely through manipulation of the media. Since the corporations controlled the instruments of production and since neither the states nor the federal government had any adequate legal structures to deal with the abuses of people, of public properties, or the despoliation of the natural environment, the corporations developed with little restraint through the nineteenth century and the greater part of the twentieth.
Neither the Interstate Commerce Commission established in 1887 nor the Sherman Antitrust Act was able to prevent continued exploitation of the land. Even after the Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970, Congress was willing to support the Agency only in exceptional cases and only in a limited manner. In A History of American Law by Lawrence Friedman we read that in the nineteenth century “the investment market was totally unregulated; no SEC kept it honest, and the level of promoter morality was painfully low. It was the age of vultures. In this period men like Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk fought tawdry battles over the stock market, the economy, the corpses of railroad corporations. The investing public was unmercifully fleeced” (Friedman, p. 513). It can be noted also that the Supreme Court formally recognized the corporation as a person before the law in 1886 in the case between Santa Clara and the Southern Pacific. Since this time corporation law has been among the most significant issues in transforming the mood and meaning of American law.2061
The only security of any life expression on Earth is in the diversity of the comprehensive community of life. As soon as diversity diminishes then security for each life-form is weakened. This has become abundantly clear in recent studies of the biosystems of Earth, such as Biodiversity,2363
The Diversity of Life, in 1992. A third observation might be that these various forms of expression are so intimately related that nothing is itself without everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. Any being can benefit only if the larger context of its existence benefits. This law can be seen in the honeybee and the flower. Both benefit when the bee comes to drink the nectar of the flower: the flower is fertilized, the bee obtains what it needs for making its honey. The tree is nourished by the soil; the tree nourishes the soil with its leaves. It is the ancient law of reciprocity. Whoever receives must also give. These aspects of the universe constitute what I would refer to as the ontological covenant of the universe. I would also note that the planet Earth fulfills this covenant with special brilliance of expression by the manner in which its hundred-some elements are shaped into the five spheres of which it is composed; namely, the landsphere, watersphere, airsphere, lifesphere, and the mindsphere. Each of these is further differentiated into the innumerable forms in which each finds expression.
The wonder, of course, is the bonding into a single community of existence. Especially in the realm of living beings there is an absolute interdependence. No living being nourishes itself. There exists a sequence of dissolution and renewal, a death-life sequence that has continued on Earth for some billions of years. This capacity for self-renewal through seeds that bond one generation of life to a successor generation is especially precious to the animal world, which feeds on the excess of plant life produced each year. Every animal form depends ultimately on plant forms that alone can transform the energy of the sun and the minerals of Earth into the living substance needed for life nourishment of the entire animal world, including the human community. The well-being of the soil and the plants growing there must be a primary concern for humans. To disrupt this process is to break the Covenant of the Earth and to imperil life. Disruption of the biological integrity of the planet is the indictment that must be brought against the extractive economy. Only a restoration of the biological integrity of the planet within its various bioregions can assure the integral survival of Earth into the future. Our primary concern must be to restore the organic economy of the entire planet. This means to foster the entire range of life-systems of the planet. All are needed. It means also that we must establish our basic source of food and energy in the sun, which supplies the energy for the transformation of inanimate matter into living substance capable of nourishing the larger biosystems of Earth. Among the primary evils of contemporary industry is that it is founded on uniform, standardized processes. This is especially devastating in agribusiness, which demands uniformity in its products. Nature abhors uniformity. Nature not only produces species diversity but also individual diversity. Nature produces individuals. No two days are the same, no two snowflakes, no two flowers, trees, or any other of the infinite number of life-forms. Since monoculture and standardization are violations of both the universe covenant and the Earth covenant, we need to foster a new sense of the organic world over the merely mechanical world.2365
Even as regards this planet we need to esteem this planet and its functioning in the depths of their mystery. The greatest of human discoveries in the future will be the discovery of human intimacy with all those other modes of being that live with us on this planet, inspire our art and literature, reveal that numinous world whence all things come into being, and with which we exchange the very substance of life.2397
The role of petroleum in human affairs will have lasted two hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twenty-first century. These years, the glory years of the industrial period and the devastating years of the Earth, might be designated as the Petroleum Interval. The consequences of these years in extinct species, toxic residue, and disturbed ecosystems will remain into the indefinite future. The consequences of scientific discoveries, technological skills, and new energy technologies in health benefits originating in this period will also remain. But even as we recall these benefits we must also be conscious that the story is still in process. Inventions that we thought were pure benefits in earlier days come with associated difficulties much greater than we realized. Our hybrid grains, our irrigation projects, our automobiles—all these have negative consequences we seem never to have suspected. Our antibiotics and our sprays against insects are, in many instances, evoking even stronger germs and more vigorous insects. As we seek the far-reaching adjustments needed for a more viable way of life, we are finding that we are now so conditioned by our dependence on petroleum and its benefits that we can hardly imagine life without these benefits. To discover how we will move from a nonsustainable petroleum-based economy into some alternative form of sustainable economy is the problem. Just now, in this transition period into the twenty-first century, no comprehensive program seems to be available.(Written in 1999. Now, as of 2017, we have seen spectacular breakthroughs in what is possible and now even very affordable, considered intelligent and preferable by all but those invested in the fossil fuel system) Our efforts in every field of human activity, in economics, social structures, legal enactments, education, scientific research, in spiritual and religious life all need to be directed toward this restructuring of human life in a more integral relationship with the planet. This relationship will enable us to survive in a state of well-being in the post-petroleum period. We might expect that the twenty-first century will also be the period when we will recover many of the valuable insights and skills in the art of living that were lost during the period when we were fascinated with new areas of knowledge. 2405
In 1998 when Exxon and Mobil Oil merged they formed the company with the largest assets of any existing industrial corporation. The term petrochemical arises from the fact that petroleum is the basic resource from which the greater part of the chemicals now in use are produced. The invention of nylon from petroleum by DuPont in 1938 was the beginning of a new age in the weaving of fabrics and the fashioning of clothing. After 1909, plastics from petroleum came into modern industrial use. This was the beginning of the real magic of the petrochemical industry. Clear plastic could be shaped into something so delicate as eyeglasses. Plastics could readily be shaped into toys for children. Its use for packaging has become pervasive. In other contexts plastics could be given a hardness that would make it suitable for items formerly made of aluminum or steel. Petroleum was made into preservatives of many kinds as well as into varnishes and into dyes. In the form of glue it is used for making particleboards from wood chips.2468
Radical new cultural forms are needed. These new cultural forms would place the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than place the planet within the dynamics of the human. We must find our primary source of guidance in the inherent tendencies of our genetic coding. These tendencies are derived from the larger community of the Earth and eventually from the universe itself. In Jungian terms, these tendencies identify with those psychic energy constellations that take shape as the primary archetypal forms deep in the unconscious realms of the human. Such forms find expression in the symbols of the Heroic Journey, Death-Rebirth, the Sacred Center, the Great Mother, the Tree of Life. Although these symbolic forms are broadly the same in their general meaning, they each take on various modes of expression in the different religious and cultural traditions, modes that are analogously the same in their essential meaning. The necessity of rethinking our situation at the species level is clear in every aspect of the human. As regards economics we need not simply a national or a global economy but local subsistence economies where the variety of human groups become acquainted with the other species in the local bioregion.
Our schools of business administration at the present time teach the skills whereby the greatest possible amount of natural resources is processed as quickly as possible, put through the consumer economy, and then passed on to the junk heap, where the remains are useless at best and at worst toxic to every living being. Now there is need for humans to develop reciprocal economic relationships with other life-forms providing a sustaining pattern of mutual support, as is the case with natural life-systems generally. Especially as regards law, we need a jurisprudence that would provide for the legal rights of geological and biological as well as human components of the Earth community. A legal system exclusively for humans is not realistic. Habitat of all species, for instance, must be given legal status as sacred and inviolable.2551
Fourth, we need to reinvent the human within the community of life systems. This is the central phrase, the primary condition for reinventing the human. Because the Earth is not adequately understood either by our spiritual or by our scientific traditions, the human has become an addendum or an intrusion. We have found this situation to our liking since it enables us to avoid the problem of integral presence to the Earth. This attitude prevents us from considering the Earth as a single community with ethical relations determined primarily by the well-being of the total Earth community.2576
The human venture depends absolutely on this quality of awe and reverence and joy in the Earth and all that lives and grows upon the Earth. As soon as we isolate ourselves from these currents of life and from the profound mood that these engender within us, then our basic life-satisfactions are diminished. None of our machine-made products, none of our computer-based achievements can evoke that total commitment to life from the subconscious regions of our being that is needed to sustain the Earth and carry both ourselves and the integral Earth community into the hazardous future.2649
We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.2791