Monday 14 September 2009

Humanity and Nature: Organic Solidarity as a New Planetary Commitment

Once upon a time, man roamed freely without considering much besides the fact that he had to instrument the most effective means of assuring his own subsistence. But it did not take him long to figure out that the same environment in which he resided was not only the source of his survival, but also the source of his biggest fear and resulting suffering, the mortally encroaching effects of death. It was here, then, when man grasped the whole essence of life. To elaborate strategies that would enable him to tame death, or at least to prolong the forced confrontation with it.

Man’s organic link to Nature, besides living inside an organic body, can be naturally represented by the digestive system and its relation to the external circumstances that make it function. Both food and excretion are exogenous to the body and only the digestive system is found within it, but the system is useless in itself; its utility depends on a dual but exogenous process of input and output. Food comes from outside and excretion ejects residues out and back into the environment.

Eating could be seen as the initiation of a life sustaining process in itself. The consumption of food is not only an act that preserves individual life, but when socially and publicly portrayed it symbolizes the collective demonstration and celebration of how, at least temporarily, fears of extinction have been transcended. The social commemoration of eating practices establishes not only these facts, but additionally develops into a kind of identification with that group’s particular way of eating, a distinctive culture.

Defecation, on the other hand, represents the culmination of the same life-sustaining process that starts with the ingestion of food, and it is perfectly natural to assume that ancient humans would have related this fact to the process of eating. But it must have been the most unpleasant of realizations, because it in itself could be interpreted as the last stop in a series of pursuits undertaken for survival’s sake. If food perished and if fellow humans perished too, then it would have been very easy to link both, and to establish a conscious and unconscious symbolism between defecation and death. These facts must have altered in a significant way the real world as we experienced it; hence, our own individual finitude became an existential reality. If defecation meant the end of a pleasurable process of eating and being satisfied by it, it could have been decidedly imperative to eliminate, or at least to repress defecation from our plethora of customary public and social activities. Eating, on the other hand, would become per se a social and public activity, which would be put in place in the collective realm in order to represent survival, and only much later, "well-being". Defecation was rendered  a lonesome and private activity.

It is easy to infer that both defecation and death would have been confined to the most obscure and hidden of human individual and collective receptacles. But by relegating both these realities and dispositions, man initiated on of the most excruciating processes, and one which we continue to recreate and reproduce up to this day: the dissociation of humanity from Nature, and the subsequent “social and cultural inoculation” to prevent the "diseases" which can be borne from some of Nature’s most "frightening" and "harming" features.

This "sterilization" of the public space of representation came to be colonized by the advent of Religion, an institutional practice that operated as a continuation and as an incredibly substantial facet of that repression. Religion, originally bonded a few leaders to a profusion of deities, which in a sense, where responsible for the provision of aliments, and following that same logic, these deities (originally related to fertility cults) could serve as screens where we projected our most pressing predicaments derived from our insatiability. Both organized Religion and Politics originated around the same socio-historical period, where agricultural societies (empires) which revolved around a semi-civilized urban life where the norm. Pharaohs and kings both legitimized their rule by calling upon the divine in order to satisfy their subject populations’ feeding demands. This new social framework -civilized culture-, where institutions reigned supreme, would had been a place where theoretically everyone had by then, transcended both these overwhelming predicaments (defecating and death). Civilization became a space that permitted an equilibrium between personal frustration and collective synergies. But the city stemmed intimate aspects of our lives (that which was repressed for the sake of the collective) in order to conform to some kind of operational order.

Every institution of today carries that inexorable fact within its structure; they not only serve to meet the demands of any social order – but they carry the seeds, leaves and branches of years of cumulative projection of fear upon them. Much of the power that institutions wield comes from that certainty. Our most intimate fears would now be projected and transferred upon creations that could be separate from us (divine leaders who claimed direct ascendancy to some God), and deities themselves, which “inhabited” some place very far away indeed. Institutions embody a part of each and every one of its followers and subjects by serving as a repository for their fears.

Thus, Religion was a very efficient apparatus which aided in metabolizing and administrating ingestive processes, but it also served, on one hand, in harnessing personal and collective wants towards the goal of establishing a social order that gradually kept fears in check by giving them a proper means for chanelling their negativity. On the other hand, it also helped man to believe that it was not only possible to survive, but that it was necessary to do so, in a kind of obligation that tied him more to an idea of shared or collective "destiny". But in order to fulfil its human goals, Religion had to give something back in return, as a trade-off with humanity. As a result, humans where given the primordial position in the hierarchy of being (at least for the Judeo-Christian Religions). This meant that Nature, including animals, plants and other species, would definitely occupy the lower rungs of existence where they would act as mere servants to humanity.

The more otherworldly Religions became, the more they kept fears under control but their power augmented in an inversely proportional way. The further away Religions moved away (more abstract and hard to pin down) from the people, the planet and Nature, the more control they gained, but did so at the layman’s expense, and by never relinquishing on fear as the basis of formal control. Organized Religion was originally devised to be a repository of our fear of death but in order to fulfil its social potential it had to harness that fear into a form of control.

With the rise of modernity, Science eventually took over the public space by sidelining Religion and its "metaphysics". But nonetheless it left in place its most important motivation, the need to find a way of delaying death, by substituting it with rational certainty. The other main task, which a scientific approach needed to accomplish to legitimate itself versus a religious one, was to eliminate residues of fear which Religion generated as side effects, and to substitute them with some kind of idea of progress. To do this, science kept in place the idea of time progression and it also maintained, but transformed, the idea of Christian eschatology. Salvation would give way to Utopian communities based on scientific and technical progress, a secular form of salvation. Ultimately, Science also kept man at the top of the hierarchy of being, a process that was initiated by Religion.

During the past 300 years we can observe how to a point both a lingering Religion and Science have been responsible of orchestrating our transition towards an ideal scenario which in order to "appreciate", we first have to alienate and estrange ourselves from Nature and our relation to it. But it was the scientism paradigm that definitely spearheaded the operation in terms of what a modern society should stand for. One of the first assignments of that “new order” was to cleanse the public arena of unwanted vestiges of traditional societies to more efficiently put in place the foundations for material progress. Out of that idea came the Industrial Age came and the consumer society, both which in tandem basically multiplied the amount of generated consumption and waste. But for some curious anthropological reason, man relegated and ignored the effects of the productive and consumption processes altogether. He only paid attention when the impact that production had over life, either affected economic logic, or if it drastically altered the social order. It would not make political sense to change course because a whole new paradigm was comfortably ensconced by then.

It is almost impossible to try to establish an empirical link between the ancient repression of defecation and death to the modern ignorance of waste and its substitution with everlasting progress and material prosperity. But it is philosophically plausible to posit. So if this assumption were real, it would mean that we intentionally conceal the side effects of consumption, just like we do the effects of eating. Furthermore, it would signify that the idea of death has been mostly substituted with a philosophy of acquisition, one in which society is successful enough to either repress or at least delay civilization’s extinction. People die but ideas and societies persist. Annihilation could be perfectly substituted for some fantastic and Utopian world where eternal consumption and progress would be the norm.

Following on the same idea, it would be logical to understand that progress and perennial consumption are based of the fact that it is achievable to hold on to the product of our satisfaction and our survival. Hence, two pairs of categories can de derived from the former position: Food equals consumption of goods and defecation is tantamount to side effects, unwanted results and unnecessary outcomes. This would inevitably lead us to reflect on the feasibility that much of what the consumption of goods really represents unconsciously, and to a certain point consciously, is our “buying our way into collective certainty and away from fear”, an activity that has progress and prosperity as its dominant emblems. Institutions here have taken the lead role in reproducing a systematic form of evasion (fear of death/defecation) and substitution (progress/consumption) to control individual’s fears in order to make them feel safe and pliable and to make them consume without much thought of consequences, most of them which definitely go way beyond the requirement of having to frequently empty rubbish bins. In short, acquisition for this world-view is untrammelled by contradictions and it stands for the basis of liberty and survival. Today, it is more than evident that the progressive-consumerist paradigm has run its course. Unwanted consequences have sprung up and many have raised their voices against this inter-generational tyranny. The formal institutional response has been flagrantly and blatantly irresponsible.

History has come full stop to a turning point in humanity’s existence. By collectively taking into account that we have repressed the most natural of human activities, we acknowledge the consequences that our modern collective consumption has wrought among the planet. It is time to implement Organic Solidarity as a human project and a lifestyle choice. This venture must cover the various dimensions that life in this planet entails.

First, Organic Solidarity at the individual and personal level means that man must relate with himself in a way that attempts a harmonious balance between what is consumed and what is discarded. This means that man has to take responsibility for his own actions regardless of any context (geographical, ideological, etc) he may find himself in.

Second, Organic Solidarity at the Social/Collective level relates to human intercourse and community relations anywhere. Because we are organic beings we realize that we can devise common solutions to common problems. Besides respecting others, we must instil in them a few simple values that bind men together in simple ways where social mobility (class stratification) and competition for progress and prosperity can be decoupled from the struggling necessity to deplete the earth of its finite resources. Example of this is the non-coincidental fact that the fattest people on earth inhabit places where the most savage competition and consumption takes place. These people appear to be the most fearful because they have been subdued by financial slavery and creditworthiness. These biggest of consumers have been made prey by their fear of death and have subsequently devoured the bait that ties acquisition to progress and happiness. These hypertrophied societies have lost their balance and are very responsible of putting everyone else of their balance to. It is at this level where politics and institutions must function, not just for the solidarity of its members, but also for establishing a social framework that enhances the respect for organic links between citizens. In this sense, politics must not stand basically for individual repression and limits on liberty for the sake of the collective, but must operate as a talking forum pertaining to personal and collective needs, and as a natural representative of those needs. Politics must also implement a civil and legal code, punishable by law, which enforces organic relations between civilians. But it must not act in a judicious manner. People must be educated in order for them to understand the problems that the planet faces, in a fully participatory fashion. So, any application of law should be managed in democratic circumstances where an educated populace takes decisions for itself with full consent of the legal consequences of their actions. But ultimately consciousness at this stage need be primarily social (human) and secondarily civic (legal) in the sense of collectively shared actions and responsibilities towards Nature.

Finally, the most important part of the project or Planetary Commitment is the establishing of Organic Solidarity between Humanity and Nature, including all of its creations. This stage is mostly social, no real application of law is required, because there is no use to law if humanity does not comprehend and accept the implications of an ignored environment and Nature. Without a natural base - society, politics, economics, culture and law cannot exist. Therefore, it is time to come out into the open, in a metaphoric way, to understand who we really are. This means that we must realize that that which we repress is what most hinders our freedom and our liberty because by not accepting temporal (defecation) and permanent (death) finitude we go on destroying the platform that sustains life in this world, Nature and the planet. Coming out into the open just means bearing these realities in mind, not materializing them! This new Organic Solidarity will help to mend the broken link between Humanity and Nature by letting the former to take karmic responsibility of the obvious fact that extreme and conspicuous consumption has a toll over the whole planetary system that is controlled by Nature.

This “toilet” we have made of the planet is overburdened with the unwanted consequences of our consumer habits. We can keep on acting as we have been up until now, circumventing reality as it is by inventing ways of repressing our material and organic relations to life sustaining systems, for example, by an intent on eating in even more “refined” ways, like the implementation of cutlery, an invention which separated us from the organic act of eating. Or we can enclose ourselves further more by making our toilets into even more private cocoons that increment the fantastic aspects of an ordinary activity. Or why not, we could also stomp and crush every single living cockroach on the face of the earth - beings which have accompanied us through the journey of life and that certainly were witnesses to the moment in which we subjugated our most intimate humanity - and that carry with them that secret deep inside their collective psyche. Or we could also persist in “externalizing” our dirty processes of industrial production in society by perennially sending them over our backyard or across the planet in search of empty spaces. We could go on in this futile attempt to remove from our sights the image presented upon us of the “defecation” that manufacturing processes have to endure in order to give us the fresh and novel products which we crave for.

Humanity has been playing a dubious game of brinkmanship versus Nature for too long now. We must realize ultimately, that we first have to perish in order to be able to reinvent ourselves, ever again…. But we must keep that at the mental and rational level. We do not need extinction to materialize as a real human option in order for us to act.

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