Saturday, July 21, 2012

Western Civilization: Only as Crazy as its Memes

I’ve been reading many books by Derrick Jensen lately and listening to the Extraenvironmentalist podcast and it has lead me to a strange synthesis of ideas that those of us who are part of the dominant culture (i.e. Western Civilization) are, in fact, insane and just do not recognize it as such.

Not insane, you say? Then how else do we explain, climate change, debt bubbles, wars of aggression, peak oil, famine, poverty, inequality, Ayn Rand, libertarianism, species extinction, deforestation, fishery collapse, pollution, overpopulation?

We are crazy and I can trace the root of it. It starts with the bible where in God gives us dominion over the earth and everything on it. With that carte blanche he also told us to go be fruitful and multiply. It can’t be said we didn’t listen, we really took both instructions to heart. I am positive though, the end result is not what the big G had in mind. I’m sure when he gave us dominion it was in a more stewardship type role, like a parent would say to an older sibling “Your mom and I are going out for awhile. Don’t burn the house down while we are gone.”

Where it really got ugly for us we can lay at the feet of one Rene Descartes, when he made his famous statement cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. It was through this reductionist concept (meme) that lead to the adoption of the mechanistic view of nature, that one can figure out natural systems in isolation, by isolating it’s component parts. Descartes and his students were famous for their vivisections, downplaying the obvious distress of their animal patients as nothing but mechanical reflexes.

Another side effect of Descartes work was the primacy put upon thinking, upon intelligence. It became the primary way we distinguished our species from any other, intelligence being seen as conferring some sort of special status on us, separating us from animals, and from nature. This was the start of the slippery slope, for if intelligence was what made us human, then what could be inferred about some humans that appeared less intelligent then others? That they were perhaps less human?

Intelligence became the justification of the supremacy of western culture in comparison to all others, for when western nations came into contact with indigenous people’s invariably the intelligence of the natives was deemed inferior compared to their own. Based on what measuring stick may you ask? Well the measuring stick of western culture of course! For example, an immediate black mark for an indigenous culture was not knowing who Jesus was. Silly right? No, this was a means use to measure the worthiness of a culture, and if you didn’t know who Jesus was, well your culture didn’t quite measure up. And commonly what happened to indigenous people who didn’t measure up was they were enslaved or wiped out, sometimes both in proper chronological sequence (after all you can’t enslave a wiped out people).

So here is where the strange synthesis comes in, I was listening to a podcast with Dennis McKenna talk about his deceased brother about indigenous use of hallucinogens in rituals and another podcast with Stephen Buhner where he says that most living beings like to get drunk or high (even apparently, and most fascinatingly, apple trees). I wondered about western civilizations hostility to native rituals and drug use in general, not all drug use (the dominant culture loves drugs that enhance productivity and those that numb our reactions), but drugs that specifically make us stop and marvel at the wonder of creation. It is my contention that these types of drugs act as a pressure release valve, rejuvenating our perspective and re-engaging ourselves with our fellow human beings and nature. Preventing access to these is like preventing a person from drifting into REM sleep. The sleep they do have is not sustaining and eventually it leads to ugly consequences. I think it can be argued we are seeing the results of these ugly consequences in world events.

So thank you Rene Descartes for imprinting on our memory DNA the blueprint for racism, classism, and other lesser prejudices. And thank you Big G for not being a better lawyer, less wiggle room in the language from the start could have save a heap of trouble a couple of thousands years on.

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