Creating a Humane Sustainable Society

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Creating a Humane Sustainable Society

By Dr. Michael W. Fox
May 2011

To regain our freedom, we must rediscover what it means to be human by living in communion with all that is sacred on this living Earth. We must accept, balance, and reconcile our dual, chimeric natures and take the path of renunciation that links human liberation with environmental protection and restoration rather than destruction, and with animal liberation rather than cruel exploitation, through appropriate ethical behavior based on our reverence for all life.

The more we harm the Earth and other life forms, the more we harm ourselves.

A global humane society is possible to achieve because it is imaginable. The development and blossoming of our humanity is clearly not in the twilight zone of materialism, industrialism, and consumerism. When the vision is only "I-Me-More", there can be no sustaining vision shared.

The human species has a dual nature, half demonic and half angelic. Possessing such a chimeric nature, with capacity to bring good or evil into the world, makes the human species a unique member of the animal kingdom.

Other animal and non-animal species, by virtue of their innate proclivities and limitations, have contributed over the millennia to the maintenance, balance, diversity and harmony of the life, ecology and beauty of planet Earth. But the proclivities of the human species have been temporarily unfettered from Nature’s self-limiting constraints by the social-organizational, intellectual, and more recent technological capacities of our species. These proclivities range from the reproductive to the industrial, commercial-productive. The unfettering is temporary because in the absence of self-constraint, and obedience to the ethical and moral principles derivative of natural law, the planetary ecosystem and economy become increasingly dysfunctional. The more we harm the Earth and other life forms, the more we harm ourselves.

Ultimately, the global market economy will collapse if its present course and value system are not changed, and those people, institutions, and nations caught up in it will suffer the consequences of Nature’s retributive justice. Succeeding generations will be increasingly fettered by the sins of omission and commission by their predecessors that stem from ignorance and indifference to natural law, and from the evils of arrogance and greed that come from the dark or demonic side of human nature. A poisoned and sickening planet means a poisoned and sickening populace: A planet impoverished of life’s beauty and diversity means an Earth community that is spiritually and culturally impoverished by the same forces of industrialism and consumerism.

All of this need not be or come to pass, but without a change in how we live and do business, it is inevitable no matter how materially secure or technologically sophisticated, certain segments of society may be. Techno-fixes, economic "recovery" and political reforms will continue to offer false hope and cause more harm than good, unless the ethics of care and the spirituality of compassion and reverence for all life prevail, which arise from the virtuous or angelic side of human nature where reason, dignity, wisdom, humility and empathy prevail.

In ignorance we have sought freedom from Nature’s laws through power and control, and in the process we have lost our freedom to fully realize the innate potential for good that arises from the virtuous or angelic side of our natures.

To regain our freedom, we must rediscover what it means to be human by living in communion with all that is sacred on this living Earth. We must accept, balance, and reconcile our dual, chimeric natures and take the path of renunciation that links human liberation with environmental protection and restoration rather than destruction, and with animal liberation rather than cruel exploitation, through appropriate ethical behavior based on our reverence for all life.

A beginning for many is ethical vegetarianism and supporting humane, organic and sustainable agriculture. It is never too late to change, to make a difference, to give more than we take, to serve more than we exploit, and to live simply so that others may simply live. But as individuals we are all limited. We can do little but witness and suffer the death of Nature and the holocaust of the animals and of indigenous peoples. We may be strangers to others who live in denial, but we are not strangers to frustration and despair, to injustice and inhumanity when we embrace the sacred. The more we love, the more we must be prepared to suffer and learn how not to harm ourselves or others with our pain and rage.

Finding others of like heart and mind, those who have the courage of commitment to truth and justice, and faith in the values and ethics that they live for and, if need be, would die for, is the first step toward building communities, networks, and associations of concern and effective action against the forces of evil and inhumanity.

This all may seem counter to the "progressive" ideals of a consumer society and market economy, but if we are to survive and evolve as a species, such renunciation, so that we can embrace the sacred, is, I believe, our final and only choice.

If we believe that the Earth and all who dwell therein are sacred, then how should we live? How closely does the way we choose to live accord with this belief? How close can the ideal of a sacramentalist way of life approach the reality in which we live and work? What choices do we have to make this ideal the reality and the truth of our existence?

Renouncing the way of life of rational materialism challenges our imagination and creativity to transform our profane world and depraved existence into the reality of divine presence and co-creative participation, celebration, and communion. This is demanding of our faith, courage, and commitment.

Understood from the transcendent perspective of the sacramentalist, the created world is a mystery to be embraced, as an infinite source of divine revelation and as a means to spiritual ends and not as a resource and as a means to pecuniary and other selfish ends.

I see the hallmarks of a truly humane society that sustains us all in body and spirit as the antithesis of those attitudes and values that lead us to treat wild nature purely as a resource and animals as mere commodities and objects of property. These hallmarks are as follows:

Sustainability Begins with a Vision Shared

A global humane society is possible to achieve because it is imaginable. The development and blossoming of our humanity is clearly not in the twilight zone of materialism, industrialism, and consumerism. When the vision is only "I-Me-More", there can be no sustaining vision shared. Then humanity shall perish. The vision that can sustain us in these difficult times is what the over-used terms "progress," "development," and "sustainability" are all about. It comes in the light of our awakening to the divinity of Nature and the nature of divinity, of being, and thus of self and other. Then we manifest the spirituality of compassion, and live in accordance with the bioethics of reverential respect for all life. The choice is ours and those who have made that choice, give their light to others.

Moral-Ethical Relativity

Styles in morals, in our tolerances, appetites and aversions, and in our acceptance or rejection of other's actions and values, change with time. Like situational ethics, they do not embody many absolutes, and though they may represent some objective criterion of normalcy or propriety, they are mostly highly subjective. Through social consensus, like the scientific consensus that holds certain theories to be true and constant, but are later proven to be "wrong", moral principles can later be seen as wrong or unacceptable.

The resolution of moral issues like slavery, vivisection, abortion, euthanasia, and deforestation, entails a close examination of human interests, giving equal and fair consideration to the points of view of all concerned. Simply pronouncing some activity as being immoral or moral without such deliberation can lead to bigotry, violence and other evils, the antithesis of morality. Yet precisely because ethical considerations are precluded from moral judgments, social progress becomes social conflict, as much within society as between different cultures.

Some culturally "normative" traditions like eating dogs or cows, and socially accepted practices like child labor and prostitution, killing animals for sport and felling old trees, are regarded as immoral in other cultures. The inherent weakness of this cultural relativism in morals parallels the phenomenon of "situational ethics." In one context, like in a research laboratory, causing a dog to suffer is not perceived as being wrong by some, while causing similar deliberate harm to such an animal in the context of one's home is regarded as wrong. For others, to deliberately cause harm and pain to any sentient being is evil no matter what good ends might come, because no good ends can come from evil means, even if there was no evil intent.

As philosophy Professor Bernard Rollin has said, "When we deny the relevance of morality to any of our activities, we do not see pain as evil but merely as fact."

As our ethics and sensibilities can be manipulated to justify evil means to achieve certain desired ends, so morals can be twisted to serve vested interests. So we must each examine our lives. This entails examining the values, ethics and moral codes that we live by, for a society or a self that is unexamined can never be well and flourish. The ethical absolute of all beings having the right to equal and fair consideration, and the morality of compassion are instrumental values and virtues necessary for the development of humanity and the evolution of society.

Social Development and the Spirituality of Compassion

Neither material affluence nor poverty provide the ethical and spiritual impetus for a community or culture to become compassionate. Neither does the degree of technological sophistication attained, or industrial creativity and productivity. Affluence may, however, provide the individual with the freedom to engage in humane works and philanthropic acts of compassion for the benefit of others. Similarly, abject poverty and the associated community of human and animal suffering can be the catalyst for individual acts of altruism. But in either context, the collective spirit of humanity is not yet sufficiently developed in any part of the world for a truly compassionate society to be manifested, with the rare exception of various religious and secular "intentional" communitarian enclaves. Yet even these are not fully developed when animals, wild and domestic, and the natural environment, are not regarded as possessing intrinsic value and are not given the same equal consideration as the human members are accorded in such communities.

For the collective spirit of humanity to develop its full expression through compassion, the culture-based definition of selfhood (or personhood), and each individual's sense of self, has to be redefined in terms of the universal nature of selfhood (or being) and of each individual's relationships with other beings, human and non-human, as well as the natural environment that sustains the life community. This re-evaluation of the concept of selfhood leads to a growing sense of inclusiveness, in sharp contrast to the exclusiveness that characterizes human immaturity (egotism) and arrested cultural evolution (anthropocentrism/ethnocentrism). What often masquerades as a more inclusive concept of selfhood, but which in reality is exclusive, is the objectifying materialism of "advanced" industrial civilization, that, for example, sees a forest as so many board-feet of lumber. Contrast this worldview or way of seeing with the subjective spiritualism of "primitive" tribal cultures that see the forest as the abode of various spirits and ancestors. Both worldviews have not reached the transformative stage of seeing the forest as something profoundly "other" with intrinsic as well as instrumental value, and as part of the same life community and creative process. A more inclusive concept of selfhood achieves, through the combined insights of impartial (as distinct from instrumental) knowledge and empathic appreciation, objective or biological realism. Seeing and appreciating the forest in and for itself, and yet paradoxically as part of one's self also, is then possible. The individual and the collective realization of selfhood, in more universal, is consciously manifest in more empathic, ethical and creative, participatory relationships. The exploitive role of "advanced" industrial civilization reflects a self-limiting, if not pathological concept of selfhood.

Philosopher and mystic Dane Rudhyar sees the fulfillment of selfhood as the becoming of God. He contends that "God becomes out of the fulfillment of relationship." Rudhyar asks "Fulfilling the needs of other beings; fulfilling the need of the human race ...Is this the core of the mystery of love? Is true love always rooted unconsciously in compassion, that is, in encompassing elements and values not one's own; elements and values which, in ultimate analysis, will be part of a greater synthesis of living, of which one also will be a part?"

A "greater synthesis if living" entails a broadening and deepening of our awareness in relationship with not simply our own feelings, desires and values, or with those of our community and culture, but with the entire life community of the Earth and an emergent, sentient cosmos. As this awareness grows, so the concept of self changes, developmental stages being reflected in the evolution of human civilizations from the egocentric and anthropocentric to the Earth or Creation-centered and the Cosmo-centric. Clearly both industrial and pre and post industrial civilizations have yet to fully manifest the wholesome degree of Self-awareness that is evident in the traditions, teachings and indigenous wisdom of now almost extinct aboriginal cultures and in the aspirations of some religious and secular systems of self-realization.

As spirituality needs to be rescued from religion, so the concept of selfhood needs to be liberated from the self-limiting values of individualism, materialism and consumerism; from the limited horizons of subjectivity and superstition; from objectivity and intellectualism; and from blind obedience to religious and secular dogmas. These culturally and personally self-limiting influences prevent us from becoming whole precisely because they separate and distance us from the real. As intellectualism "is the slayer of the real", as occultists like Rudhyar say, so our ability to empathize enables us to reconnect with feeling with the sentient world, and thus become whole, authentic. The passion of empathy brings about a redefinition of self as one of relationship and relatedness, leading to the birth of a compassionate soul and the eventual emergence of communities of compassion. How else can a compassionate civilization evolve except through renunciation and the transformation of every member to begin a life of service, participating empathically and intelligently in the real, sentient world, extending loving kindness, respect and consideration to all beings?

The spirituality of compassion is the key to human development and to the evolutionary/revolutionary attainment and advancement of civilization. How else can human nature be made whole, except through empathic communion with all of Nature, which means active, selfless involvement in humane and conservation work for the betterment of self and for the good of all? The good of all is the God of all, emergent in a sentient cosmos and in the hearts of all who care and give their all in loving kindness and unselfish dedication to the supreme task of personal metamorphosis, planetary transformation and ever growing harmony and understanding.

What is "right" or "wrong", "good" or "bad", tends to be relative, more a question of the times and circumstance. What is fair and just is not bound by moral relativism or situational ethics but by the ethical absolute of compassion. When we humans evolved the power to discriminate between good and evil, we acquired a new freedom and responsibility to put concern for others before our own self-interest. This was nascent in the collective tribal consciousness as it is today in the environmental, human and animal rights movements. To understand and respect the interests of others and give them equal consideration is the equalitarian ethic of an ecological and trans-species democracy, which is the bedrock of a humane and sustainable society.

The challenges facing the spiritual activist are many: ridicule and censorship; frustration and anger toward those who live in denial of or rationalize their causing harm to the sentient world; the hopelessness, fatalism, and despair of the many who fear to confront the evils and injustices of the world and who see helping animals and saving the last of wild Nature exercises in futility.

The supreme challenge is not in overcoming one's own despair and hopelessness. That is accomplished by accepting the reality of the human condition and by living according to the redemptive truth of compassionate concern and action. The supreme challenge is to witness, confront and question the truth that others live by that cause so much harm and suffering, without judgement: with understanding, courage and forbearance. When people honestly evaluate what truth they live by, what values, virtues and vices lie in the deep heart's core, their divine nature will begin to shine with the clarity of self-realization through compassionate action.

We know from history, however, that people have suffered and died for the truth they live by. There are spiritually corrupted situations and cultures today where this still holds true and where it is difficult, and often dangerous to live according to one's truth. As my wife Deanna Krantz, working on animal welfare issues in India advised me, "You cannot win on truth alone in India. Truth, kindness and concern will kill you there, if not physically, then in Spirit." It was in very different times that Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated the political and social effectiveness of nonviolent Satyagraha, the power of truth in nonviolent action, for justice, equality, and loving concern for all beings.

When few people care, and when even fewer dare show their concern in a corrupt police state, what indeed can be done to help, when putting compassion into action shames more than inspires, and where those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum see you as a threat to their way of life? Is it worth putting body and spirit at risk for the truth you live by? That is indeed a personal choice, a dark night of the soul wrestling with a difficult choice. To withdraw, to totally disengage is not to betray your own truth or to accept defeat. To be defeated is to surrender one's truth. To disengage is to protect and preserve one's life and truth so that you can continue the fight against evil from a more secure place. Many battles on many fronts against inhumanity and the abuse of power corrupted by self-interest are to be fought in the ongoing war between goodness and evil, and the spiritual activist must learn the strategies of the Warrior. Truth does not make one invincible; and it is good to know when to withdraw to heal, and to strategize on the knowledge gained to continue the war against the corruption of the human spirit by the dark side of human nature that is the only source of evil in God's good world.

What is called for in these times is not blind faith but a deep commitment to the vision of an Earth restored and a humanity redeemed. With this commitment comes the acceptance of the need to confront evil and corruption in its myriad forms and to put the principles of bioethics into action in our personal and professional lives as well as in all our institutions. The alternative, encouraged by hopelessness, despair, denial, rationalization, cynicism, and pessimism, is to do nothing and allow evil and corruption to flourish. As Lao Tzu observed over 3,000 years ago, "When the Tao (the way of peace and harmony) was lost, then there was morality, legality, knowledge, and great pretense."

Some institutions and countries may be so beyond reform and restoration that they are like a terminal disease that will run its course no matter what we do. Whatever we do may be too little too late, or highly suspect in a climate where a facade of good intentions conceals ulterior motives. There can be little hope where there is no trust, personal integrity, truthfulness and mutual respect.

New institutions and communities can be built on these latter virtues and other bioethical principles. What is called for is a pan-cultural and religious spirituality founded on compassion and equalitarianism. It is on this humane foundation that human hope and dignity may grow and generations to come realize the fruits of our labors today. The leap of faith that humanity must make if there are to be future generations of life in beauty and health on this now desecrated planet is that quantum leap of empathy for all beings. Then and only then can we really feel for others, care for others, and treat others as we would have them treat ourselves.

The visionary William Blake in Jerusalem put it this way:

He who would do good to another must do so in Minute Particulars; General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer; For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organised Particulars.

Goodness and mercy, justice and compassion, are part of human nature, of our better natures that grow and blossom where there is humility, ethical integrity and acts of loving kindness, of service, self-sacrifice and devotion. Then there will be more peace and harmony. We bow before the divinity omnipresent in every sacred form and aspect of God's Earthly Creation when we realize our own. All else is ignorance and delusion.