Charles Eisenstein https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/15726/all cached version 08/02/2019 16:54:15 en Fear of a living planet https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/charles-eisenstein/fear-of-living-planet <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>By refusing to recognize that the Earth is alive we implicitly endorse the worldview that enables our destruction of the planet (3k words).</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/CharlesEisenstein2.png" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Moraine_Lake">Wikipedia</a>. Some rights reserved.</p> <p>Does the concept of a living planet uplift and inspire you, or is it a disturbing example of woo-woo nonsense that distracts us from practical, science-based policies?</p> <p>The scientifically-oriented nuts-and-bolts environmental or social activist will roll her eyes upon hearing phrases like “The planet is a living being.” From there it is a short step to sentiments like, “Love will heal the world,” “What we need most is a shift in consciousness,” and “Let’s get in touch with our indigenous soul.”</p> <p>What’s wrong with such ideas? The skeptics make a potent argument. Not only are these ideas delusional, they say, but to voice them is a strategic error that opens environmentalism to accusations of flakiness. By invoking unscientific concepts, by prattling on about the ‘heart’ or spirit or the sacred, we will be dismissed as naive, fuzzy-headed, irrational, hysterical, over-emotional hippies. What we need, they say, is more data, more logic, more numbers, better arguments, and more practical solutions framed in language acceptable to policy-makers and the public.</p> <p>I think that argument is mistaken. By shying away from the idea of a living planet, we rob environmentalism of its authentic motive force, engender paralysis rather than action, and implicitly endorse the worldview that enables our destruction of the planet.</p> <p><strong>The psychology of contempt.</strong><strong></strong></p> <p>To see that, let’s start by observing that the objection to “Earth is alive” isn’t primarily a scientific objection. After all, science can easily affirm or deny Earth’s aliveness depending on what definition of life is being used. No, we are dealing with an emotional perception here, one that goes beyond ‘alive’ to affirm that Earth is sentient, conscious, even sacred. That is what upsets the critics. Furthermore, the derisiveness of the criticism, encoded in words like ‘hippie’ or ‘flake,’ also shows that more than an intellectual difference of opinion is at stake. Usually, derision comes from insecurity or fear. “Judgment,” says Marshall Rosenberg, “is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”</p> <p>What are they afraid of? (And I—the voice of the derisive critic lives in me as well.) Could it be that the contempt comes in part from a fear that one is, oneself, ‘naive, irrational and over-emotional?’ Could the target of the derision be the projection of an insecurity lurking within? Is there a part of ourselves that we disown and project, in distorted form, onto others—an innocent, trusting, childlike part? A feminine part? A vulnerable part?</p> <p>If so, then critics of the infiltration of New Age ideas into the environmental movement may not be serving the movement at all. They may be enacting their own psychological dramas instead. If you are one of those critics, I am not asking you to join hands with me and sing Kumbaya. I ask only that you soberly and honestly consider where your discomfort comes from.</p> <p>Certainly, much of the discomfort is a healthy revulsion toward the escapism, spiritual bypass, and cultural appropriation that plague so much of the New Age. Certainly, there is a danger that, intoxicated by the idea of cosmic purpose or some-such, we ignore the pain and grief that we must integrate if we are to act effectively and courageously. Certainly, dogma like “It’s all good” or “We’re all one” can blind us to the exigency of the planetary crisis and discourage us from making changes in our lives. Certainly, borrowed rituals and concepts of sacredness can be an insidious form of colonialism, a strip-mining of cultural treasure to compensate for and enable the continuation of our own cultural vacuity. </p> <p>However, such criticisms address a mere caricature of the thoughtful work of generations of philosophers, scientists and spiritual teachers, who have framed sophisticated alternatives to conventional phenomenological, ontological and causal narratives. Phew, that was a mouthful. What I’m saying is not to hide behind facile criticisms.</p> <p>The fear of being emotional, irrational, hysterical, etc. is very close to a fear of the inner feminine, and the exclusion of the fuzzy, the ill-defined, and the emotionally-perceived dimensions of our activism in favor of the linear, rational, and evidence-based, mirrors the domination over and marginalization of the feminine from our social choice-making. Part of our resistance to the notion of Earth as a living being could be the patriarchal mind feeling threatened by feminine ways of knowing and choosing. But that’s still pretty theoretical, so let me share a little of my own introspection.</p> <p>When I apprehend concepts such as “Earth is alive,” or “All things are sacred,” or “The universe and everything in it bears sentience, purpose and life,” there is always an emotion involved; in no case is my rejection or acceptance the result of pure ratiocination. Either I embrace them with a feeling of eager, tender hope, or I reject them with a feeling of wariness, along the lines of “It is too good to be true,” or “I’m nobody’s fool.” Sometimes, beyond wariness, I feel a hot flash of anger, as if I had been violated or betrayed. Why?</p> <p>That wariness is deeply connected to the contempt I’ve described. The derision of the cynic comes from a wound of crushed idealism and betrayed hopes. We received it on a cultural level when the Age of Aquarius morphed into the Age of Ronald Reagan, and on an individual level as well when our childish perception of a living, personal universe in which we are destined to grow into magnificent creators gave way to an adulthood of deferred dreams and lowered expectations. Anything that exposes this wound will trigger our protective instincts. One such protection is cynicism, which rejects and derides as foolish, naive or irrational anything that affirms the magic and idealism of youth.</p> <p>Our perceived worldview has cut us off, often quite brutally, from intimate connection with the rest of life and with the rest of matter. The child hugs a tree and thinks it feels the hug and imagines the tree is his friend, only to learn that no, I’m sorry, the tree is just a bunch of woody cells with no central nervous system and therefore cannot possibly have the qualities of beingness that humans have. </p> <p>The child imagines that just as she looks out on the world, the world looks back at her, only to learn that no, I’m sorry, the world consists of a jumble of insensate stuff, a random melee of subatomic particles, and that intelligence and purpose reside in human beings alone. Science (as we have known it) renders us alone in an alien universe. At the same time, it crowns us as its lords and masters, for if sentience and purpose inhere in us alone, there is nothing stopping us from engineering the world as we see fit. There is no desire to listen for, no larger process to participate in, no consciousness to respect.</p> <p>“The Earth isn’t really alive” is part of that ideological cutoff. Isn’t that the same cutoff that enables us to despoil the planet?</p> <p>The wounded child interjects, “But what if it is true? What if the universe really is just as science describes?” What if, as the biologist Jacques Monod put it, we are alone in “an alien world. A world that is deaf to man’s music, just as indifferent to his hopes as to his suffering or his crimes.” Such is the wail of the separate self. It is loneliness and separation disguised as an empirical question.</p> <p>While no amount of evidence can prove it false, we must acknowledge that the science that militates against an intelligent, purposeful, living universe is ideologically freighted and culturally bound. Witness the hostility of institutional science to any anomalous data or unorthodox theory that suggest purposiveness or intelligence as a property of inanimate matter. </p> <p>Water memory, adaptive mutation, crop circles, morphic fields, psi phenomena, UFOs, plant communication, precognitive dreams…and a living Earth, a living sun, a living universe, all incite scorn. Anyone who believes in these, or even takes them as a valid topic of investigation, risks the usual epithets of ‘pseudo-scientist,’ ‘flake,’ or ‘woo-woo,’ regardless of the merits of the theory or the strength of the evidence.</p> <p>Of course, simply by making this assertion I open myself to the very same calumny. You can conveniently dismiss me as irrational, scientifically semi-literate, gullible at best and delusional at worst, perhaps knowingly dishonest, bamboozling my audience with learned allusions to impart an illusion of scientific probity to my ravings. But if you really care about this Earth, you’ll want to be curious about the emotional content of this judgment. What hides behind the contempt? The reactivity?</p> <p><strong>What moves the environmentalist?</strong></p> <p>Our discomfort with New Age-sounding concepts like “The planet is alive” is not entirely rational, but comes in large part from a wound of betrayal, cloaked in the pervasive ideology of our culture. Is it true though? We might play with various definitions of life and come up with logical, evidence-based arguments pro and con, just as we could debate the veracity of anomalous data and unconventional theories, and never come to an agreement. So let us look at the matter through a strategic lens instead. What belief motivates effective action and real change? And what kind of action results from each belief?</p> <p>Most people reading this probably consider themselves to be environmentalists; certainly most people think it is important to create a society that leaves a livable planet to future generations. What is it, exactly, that makes us into environmentalists? If we answer that, we might know how to turn others into environmentalists as well, and to deepen the commitment of those who already identify as such.</p> <p>I don’t know about you, but I didn’t become an environmentalist because someone made a rational argument that convinced me that the planet was in danger. I became an environmentalist out of love and pain: love for the world and its beauty and the grief of seeing it destroyed. It was only because I was in touch with these feelings that I had the ears to listen to evidence and reason and the eyes to see what is happening to our world. I believe that this love and this grief are latent in every human being. When they awaken, that person becomes an environmentalist.</p> <p>Now, I am not saying that a rational, evidence-based analysis of the situation and possible solutions is unimportant. It’s just that it will be compelling only with the animating spirit of reverence for our planet, born of the felt connection to the beauty and pain around us.</p> <p>Our present economic and industrial systems can only function to the extent that we insulate ourselves from our love and our pain. We insulate ourselves geographically by pushing the worst degradation onto far-away places. We insulate ourselves economically by using money to avoid the immediate consequences of that degradation, pushing it onto the world’s poor. We insulate ourselves perceptually by learning not to see or recognize the stress of the land and water around us and by forgetting what healthy forests, healthy streams and healthy skies look like. And we insulate ourselves ideologically by our trust in technological fixes and justifications like, “Well, we need fracking for energy independence, and besides it’s not that bad,” or “After all, this forest isn’t in an ecologically critical area.”</p> <p>The most potent form of ideological insulation though is the belief that the world isn’t really in pain, that nothing worse is happening than the manipulation of matter by machines, and that therefore as long as we can engineer some substitute for ‘ecosystem services,’ there need be no limit to what we do to nature. Absent any inherent purpose or intelligence, the planet is here for us to use. </p> <p>Just today, the borough was removing trees on our street, and I felt grief and rage as I listened to the chainsaws, even as my mind said, “But after all, those are old trees and the branches could fall onto a person or damage a house. They are unsafe. And what does it matter? They are only trees.” So here, inhabiting my own mind, was the fundamental ideology of domination (the trees must be removed because they stand in the way of human interests) and separation (they are ‘only trees;’ they are not-self; they do not have the basic qualities of beingness that I do).</p> <p>Look around this planet. See the results of that ideology writ large.</p> <p><strong>The love of life.</strong></p> <p>The idea that our planet is alive, and further, that every mountain, river, lake and forest is a living being, even a sentient, purposive, sacred being, is therefore not a soppy emotional distraction from the environmental problems at hand; to the contrary, it disposes us to feel more, to care more, and to do more. No longer can we hide from our grief and love behind the ideology that the world is just a pile of stuff to be used instrumentally for our own ends. </p> <p>True, that ideology is perfectly consistent with cutting carbon emissions, and consistent as well with any environmental argument that invokes our survival as the primary basis for policymaking. A lot of environmental activism depends on appeals to survival anxiety. “We have to change our ways, or else!” Appealing to fear and selfish interest, in general, is a natural tactic for anyone coming from a belief that the planet has no intrinsic value, no value beyond its utility. What other reason to preserve it is there, when it has no intrinsic value?</p> <p>It should be no surprise that this tactic has failed. When environmentalists cite the potential economic losses from climate change, they implicitly endorse economic gain and loss as a basis for environmental decision-making. Doubtless they are imagining that they must ‘speak the language’ of the power elite, who supposedly don’t understand anything but money, but this strategy backfires when, as is the norm, financial self-interest and ecological sustainability are opposed. </p> <p>Similarly, calls to preserve the rainforests because of the value of the medicines that may one day be derived from its species imply that, if only we can invent synthetic alternatives to whatever the forest might bear, we needn’t preserve the rainforest after all. Even appealing to the well-being of one’s grandchildren harbors a similar trap: if that is your first concern, then what about environmental issues that only affect people in far-away lands, or that don’t tangibly harm any human being at all? The clubbing of baby seals, the extinction of the river dolphin, the deafening of whales with sonar… it is hard to construct a compelling argument that any of these threaten the measurable well-being of future generations. Are we then to sacrifice these beings of little utility?</p> <p>Besides, did anyone ever become a committed environmentalist because of all the money we’ll save? Because of all the benefits we’ll receive? I am willing to bet that even the survival of the species or the well-being of your grandchildren isn’t the real motive for your environmentalism. You are not an environmentalist because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t act. You are an environmentalist because you love our planet. To call others into environmentalism, we should therefore appeal to the same love in them. It is not only ineffectual but also insulting to offer someone a venal reason to act ecologically when we ourselves are doing it for love.</p> <p>Nonetheless, environmental campaigning relies heavily on scare tactics. Fear might stimulate a few gestures of activism, but it does not sustain long-term commitment. It strengthens the habits of self-protection, but what we need is to strengthen the habits of service.</p> <p>Why then do so many of us name “fear that we won’t have a livable planet” as the motive for their activism? I think it is to make that activism acceptable within the ideological framework I have described that takes an instrumentalist view of the planet. When we embrace what I believe is the true motive—love for this Earth—we veer close to the territory that the cynic derides. What is it to make ‘rational’ choices, after all? Is it ever really rational to choose from love? In particular, is it rational to love something that isn’t even alive? But the truth is, we love the Earth for what it is, not merely for what it provides.</p> <p>I suspect that even the most hardheaded environmentalist, who derides the Earth-is-alive crowd most vociferously, harbors a secret longing for the very object of his contempt. Deep down, he too believes the planet and everything on it is alive and sacred. He is afraid to touch that knowledge, even as he longs for it. Often, his intellectual reasons are but rationalizations by which he gives himself permission to act on his felt understanding of what is sacred.</p> <p>This person is all of us. I am no exception: the idea of a living, sentient Earth attracts me and repels me both, mirroring the polarity of opinion I observe at conferences between the nuts-and-bolts and spiritual factions. Accusations of ‘naive!,’ ‘softheaded!’ and ‘gullible’ rattle around in my own brain, expressing a hurting thing within. Maybe if I join the ranks of the critics and turn the criticism outward, accuse others of ignoring science and indulging in fuzzy thinking, I can find some temporary relief. But there is no real healing in that. I want to be whole. I want to feel more and not less. I want to heal these alienated parts of myself, so that I don’t act from them unconsciously and sabotage the beautiful vision that asks my contribution.</p> <p>Each of us (in an industrial society) wades against the tide of an old ideology as we dare to act from the felt understanding of our intimate connection to life, our interdependency, our interbeing. Critiques of the idea of a living planet make that struggle all the harder. In the interests of honesty as well as effective strategy, we need to look at the fear and pain that that critique comes from. Then we can get people in touch with their perception of a living sacred planet, so they can feel the grief and love that perception opens, and act upon it.</p> <p class="image-caption">This article first appeared in <a href="http://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/fear-of-a-living-planet/">Kosmos Journal</a>.</p> <hr size="0" /><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/charles-eisenstein/oceans-are-not-worth-24-trillion">The oceans are not worth $24 trillion</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/paul-kingsnorth/age-of-endings">The age of endings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/christopher-zumski-finke/staying-human-in-time-of-climate-change">Staying human in a time of climate change</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Charles Eisenstein Love and Spirituality Environment Economics Fri, 14 Oct 2016 00:00:00 +0000 Charles Eisenstein 105950 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The oceans are not worth $24 trillion https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/charles-eisenstein/oceans-are-not-worth-24-trillion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some things are beyond measure and beyond price. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/CharlesEisenstein.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=images&amp;cd=&amp;cad=rja&amp;uact=8&amp;ved=0CAYQjB0&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rtcc.org%2F2015%2F04%2F23%2Fearths-oceans-have-economic-value-of-24-trillion-says-wwf%2F&amp;ei=blJCVZOhEIiagwSImYGgCA&amp;bvm=bv.92189499,d.eXY&amp;psig=AFQjCNEUE_49CeNKEMQEpC_2rWAZ-_Di6Q&amp;ust=1430495651093211">www.rtcc.org</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p><span>In case you were wondering whether the oceans are worth protecting, the World Wildlife Fund has helpfully </span><a href="http://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/ocean-assets-valued-at-24-trillion-but-dwindling-fast">put a monetary value</a><span> on them: $24 trillion. No doubt they hope to align economic incentive with ecological well-being: a laudable motivation. But think for a moment about the mentality this kind of valuation feeds. It suggests:</span></p> <p><span>(1) That money is a valid way to assess the value of something like an ocean.</span></p> <p><span>(2) That we can and should make decisions about the planet based on the foreseeable financial gains and losses, and therefore...</span></p> <p><span>(3) That if we could make more than $24 trillion (say, $48 trillion) by trashing the oceans, then we should do it.</span></p> <p><span>(4) That it is possible to foresee and calculate the contribution of the oceans to human welfare in the first place—that our knowledge is sufficient to qualify us to even make this valuation.</span></p> <p><span>(5) That we can separate out the oceans from the rest of the planet, as if they were a line item on a spreadsheet independent of the rest. So conceivably, we could compensate for the loss of the oceans with more from some other revenue stream.</span></p> <p><span>(6) That decisions about the oceans should be made based on the effect on human beings—that the oceans themselves and everything living in them have no intrinsic worth. What is important is their economic worth—their value to us.</span></p> <p><span>Clearly, this mentality is part of the problem. At this very moment we </span><em>are</em><span> trashing the oceans for the sake of money. I do not know how many trillions of dollars we are making in the process, but when I read of ten thousand seals washing up dead on California’s beaches, I know that however much we are making, it isn’t enough. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.</span></p> <p><span>We have to understand that some things are beyond measure and beyond price. This conflicts with the reigning ideology of our time: science says that nothing is beyond measure; economics that nothing is beyond price. Accordingly, we (the dominant culture) have believed that by extending the scope and accuracy of our quantitative reasoning, we will through technology conquer the world, and that by extending the domain of market relationships, we will maximize the efficient production of wealth.</span></p> <p><span>Why then, even as our technologies of control grow more powerful and precise, does the world seem to be spiraling </span><em>out</em><span> of control? Why then, even as global GDP reaches new heights, do we experience greater and greater poverty—a poverty from which even the financially rich are not exempt? It is because something is left out of our measurements.</span></p> <p><span>What is left out? First, the things we choose not to measure, perhaps because we don’t think they are important, or because they interfere with established power relationships.</span></p> <p><span>Second, the things we don’t know how to measure, because our understanding of nature or society is much less complete than we admit. Can we really know the effect of the seal die-off when it cascades through the ocean ecosystem?</span></p> <p><span>Third, those things that are un-measurable: beauty, joy, purpose, pain, sacredness, fulfillment, play... and the sight of seals on the beach, even if they are useless for any other purpose. Yet these are what make life rich. Think of the difference between a rote performance and a song actually sung to you. Money can’t buy you love.</span></p> <p><span>Numbers have their place, but if we are to preserve the things on this planet that are beyond price, we cannot rely on mathematics to do it. We cannot scare ourselves into compassion, imagining that properly quantifying the blowback will deter us from wreaking further harm. Fear for one’s self-interest is what thwarts compassion in the first place.</span></p> <p><span>Nor can we bribe ourselves into love, hoping that we will finally take care of the oceans if only we realize how much money we’d save. Those contributing to the despoliation of the oceans are making an awful lot of money doing so, and a lot of the choices we must make in the future will seem to defy economic interest. The pecuniary mind won’t save us from the destruction generated by the pecuniary mind.</span></p> <p><span>We need to be very cautious about valuing “</span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem_services">ecosystem services</a><span>.” At best, this stance allows the bean counter in all of us to relax their guard and give us permission to act from our love of Earth. “It’s OK, it makes economic sense too.”</span></p> <p><span>Unfortunately, by invoking economic arguments we risk perpetuating the notion that the ecosystem is, fundamentally, a source of “services;” that the planet is here for us, valuable for its use to us, and not in its own right.</span></p> <p><span>The ecological revolution must go deeper than that. It isn’t about valuing and utilizing nature more cleverly. It’s about genuine respect for nature, and according it intrinsic value—even holding it sacred.</span></p> <p><span>Where is the sacredness when we have reduced nature to a number?</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jem-bendell/future-of-climate-debate">The future of the climate debate</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/carolyn-baker/welcome-to-planetary-hospice">Welcome to the planetary hospice </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/shannon-biggs/no-surrender-responding-to-new-breed-of-climate-change-inactivists">No surrender: responding to the new breed of climate change in-activists</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation climate change oceans Charles Eisenstein Economics Environment Love and Spirituality Sun, 03 May 2015 23:52:26 +0000 Charles Eisenstein 92515 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Gateway drug, to what? https://www.opendemocracy.net/charles-eisenstein/gateway-drug-to-what <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Substance abuse has less to do with the substance than it has to do with the lives we live. But what has the War on Drugs done to us, and what will follow it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span><span><span>You've probably heard about those addiction studies with caged lab rats, in which the rats compulsively press the heroin dispensing lever again and again, even to the point of choosing it over food and starving themselves to death. These studies seemed to imply some pretty disheartening things about human nature. Our basic biology is not to be trusted; the seeking of pleasure leads to disaster; one must therefore overcome biological desires through reason, education, and the inculcation of morals; those whose willpower or morals are weak must be controlled and corrected.&nbsp;</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><span><img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Hanf.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></span></p><p dir="ltr"><span><span><span><span>WikimediaCommons/Hemp/ Hendrike/2006</span></span></span></span></p><div><span><span><span>The rat addiction studies also seem to validate the main features of the War on Drugs. First is interdiction: prevent the rats from getting a taste of drugs to begin with. Second is &ldquo;education&rdquo; &ndash; conditioning the rats into not pressing the lever in the first place. Third is punishment: make the consequences of taking drugs so scary and unpleasant that the rats will overcome their desire to press the lever. You see, some rats just have a stronger moral fiber than others. For those with a&nbsp;strong moral fiber, education suffices. The weak ones need to be deterred with punishments.</span></span></span></div><p><span>All of these features of the drug war are forms of control, and therefore sit comfortably within the broader narrative of technological civilization: the domination of nature, the rising above the primitive state, conquering animal desire with the mind and the base impulses with morality, and so forth. That is, perhaps, why Bruce Alexander's devastating challenge to the caged rat experiments was ignored and suppressed for so many years. It wasn't only the drug war that his studies called into question, but also deeper paradigms about human nature and our relationship to the world.</span></p><p><span><span><span>Alexander found that when you take rats out of tiny separate cages and put them in a spacious &ldquo;rat park&rdquo; with ample exercise, food, and social interaction, they no longer choose drugs; indeed, already-addicted rats will wean themselves off drugs after they are transferred from cages to the rat park.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>The implication is that drug addiction is not a moral failing or physiological malfunction, but an adaptive response to circumstances. It would be the height of cruelty to put rats in cages and then, when they start using drugs, to punish them for it. That would be like suppressing the symptoms of a disease while maintaining the necessary conditions for the disease itself. Alexander's studies, if not a contributing factor in the drug war's slow unraveling, are certainly aligned with it in metaphor.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Are we like rats in cages? Are we putting human beings into intolerable conditions and then punishing them for their efforts to alleviate the anguish? If so, then the War on Drugs is based on false premises and can never succeed. And if we are like caged rats, then what is the nature of these cages, and what would a society look like that were a &ldquo;rat park&rdquo; for human beings?</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Here are some ways to put a human being in a cage:</span></span></span></p><li><span>Remove as far as possible all opportunities for meaningful self-expression and service. Instead, coerce people into dead-end labor just to pay the bills and service the debts. Seduce others into living off such labor of others.</span></li><li><span>Cut people off from nature and from place. At most let nature be a spectacle or venue for recreation, but remove any real intimacy with the land. Source food and medicine from thousands of miles away.</span></li><li><span>Move life &ndash; especially children's lives &ndash; indoors. Let as many sounds as possible be manufactured sounds, and as many sights be virtual sights.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Destroy community bonds by casting people into a society of strangers, in which you don't rely on and needn't even know by name the people living around you.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Create constant survival anxiety by making survival depend on money, and then making money artificially scarce. Administer a money system in which there is always more debt than there is money.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Divide the world up into property, and confine people to spaces that they own or pay to occupy.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Replace the infinite variety of the natural and artisanal world, where every object is unique, with the sameness of commodity goods.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Reduce the intimate realm of social interaction to the nuclear family and put that family in a box. Destroy the tribe, the village, the clan, and the extended family as a functioning social unit.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Make children stay indoors in age-segregated classrooms in a competitive environment where they are conditioned to perform tasks that they don't really care about or want to do, for the sake of external rewards.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Destroy the local stories and relationships that build identity, and replace them with celebrity news, sports team identification, brand identification, and world views imposed by authority.</span></li><li><span></span><span>Delegitimize &nbsp;or illegalize folk knowledge of how to heal and care for one another, and replace it with the paradigm of the &ldquo;patient&rdquo; dependent on medical authorities for health.</span></li><p><span><span><span>It is no wonder that people in our society compulsively press the lever, be it the drug lever or the consumerism lever or the pornography lever or the gambling lever or the overeating lever. We respond with a million palliatives to circumstances in which real human needs for intimacy, connection, community, beauty, fulfillment, and meaning go mostly unmet. Granted, these cages depend in large part on our own individual acquiescence, but this doesn't mean that a single moment of illumination or a lifetime of effort can liberate us fully. The habits of confinement are deeply programmed. Nor can we escape by destroying our jailers: unlike in the rat experiments, and contrary to conspiracy theories, our elites are just as much prisoner as the rest of us. Empty and addictive compensations for their unmet needs seduce them into doing their part to maintain the status quo.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>The cages suffer no easy escape. Confinement is not incidental to modern society, but woven deeply into its systems, its ideologies, and our own selves. At bottom are the deep narratives of separation, domination, and control. And now, as we approach a great turning, a shift in consciousness, &nbsp;we sense that these narratives are unraveling, even as their outward expressions &ndash; the surveillance state, the walls and the fences, the ecological devastation &ndash; reach unprecedented extremes. Yet their ideological core is beginning to hollow out; their foundation is cracking. I think that the lifting (still by no means assured) of the War on Drugs is an early signal that these superstructures are beginning to crack too.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>A cynic might say that the end of the drug war would signal no such thing: that drugs make life in a cage more tolerable and absorb energy that might otherwise go toward social change. The opiate of the masses, in other words, is opiates! The cynic dismisses cannabis legalization in particular as a small, barely significant countereddy in an onrushing tide of imperialism and ecocide, an innocuous victory that does nothing to slow the onward march of capitalism.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>This view is mistaken. Generally speaking, drugs do not make us into more effective cage-dwellers: better workers and consumers. The most notable exception is caffeine &ndash; significantly, virtually unregulated &ndash; which helps people wake up to a schedule they don't want to live and focus on tasks they don't care about. (I'm not saying that's all caffeine does, and in no way do I want to demean sacred plants like tea and coffee, which are among the only herbal infusions or decoctions still taken in modern society.) Another partial exception is alcohol, which as a stress reliever indeed makes life in our society more bearable. Certain other drugs &ndash; stimulants and opiates &ndash; also may serve these functions, but are ultimately so debilitating that the guardians of capitalism recognize them as a threat.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Yet other drugs, such as cannabis and the psychedelics, can directly induce nonconformity, weaken consumer values, and make the prescribed normal life seem less tolerable, not more. Consider for example the kind of behavior associated with marijuana smoking. The stoner is not on time for work. He sits around in the grass playing his guitar. He is not competitive. This is not to say that pot smokers don't contribute to society; some of the wealthiest Information Age entrepreneurs are reputedly smokers. In general though, the reputation of cannabis and the psychedelics to be disruptive of the established order is not without foundation.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>The halting but substantial steps in several states and countries toward cannabis legalization is significant for several reasons beyond the well-known benefits regarding crime, imprisonment, medicine, and industrial hemp. First, it implies a release of the mentality of control: interdiction, punishment, and psychological conditioning. Second, as I just discussed, the object of control &ndash; cannabis &ndash; is corrosive to the cages we have lived in. Third, it is part of a deep shift in consciousness away from separation and toward compassion.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>The mentality of control is predicated on the question of whom or what is to be controlled. Drug War thinking blamed the individual drug user for making poor moral choices, a view grounded in the theory that social psychologists call dispositionism &ndash; that human beings make free-willed choices based on a stable character and preferences. While dispositionism acknowledges the influence of environment, it says essentially that people make good choices because they are good people, bad choices because they are bad people. &nbsp;Deterrence, education, and interdiction spring naturally from that philosophy, as does our criminal justice system at large. Judgment and paternalism, inherent in the whole concept of &ldquo;corrections,&rdquo; are built into it, because it says, &ldquo;If I were in your situation, I would have done differently than you.&rdquo; In other words, it is an assertion of separation: I am different from (and if you are a drug addict, better than) you.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Note as well that the same belief motivates the War on Terror and, well, the war on pretty much anything. But there is a competing philosophy called situationism that says that people make choices from the totality of their situation, internal and external. In other words, if I were in your situation, including your entire life history, I would do as you do. It is a statement of nonseparation, of compassion. It understands, as Bruce Alexander shows us, that self-destructive or antisocial behavior is a response to circumstances and not a dispositional weakness or moral failing. Situationism motivates healing rather than war, because it seeks to understand and redress the circumstances that give rise to terrorism, drug addiction, germs, weeds, greed, evil, or any other symptom we go to war against. Instead of punishing drug use, it asks, From what circumstances does it spring? Instead of eradicating weeds with pesticides, it asks, What conditions of soil or agronomy are causing them to grow? Instead of applying extreme antiseptic hygiene and broad-spectrum antibiotics, it asks, What &ldquo;climate of the body&rdquo; has made it a salubrious environment for germs? That is not to say we never should use antibiotics or lock up a violent criminal who is harming others. But we cannot then say, &ldquo;Problem solved! Evil has been conquered.&rdquo;</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>Here we see how drug legalization is consistent with the reversal of a millennia-long paradigm I call the War on Evil. As old as civilization itself, it was originally associated with the conquest of chaos and the taming of the wild. Through history, it came to incinerate whole populations and nearly the planet itself. Now, perhaps, we are entering a gentler era. It is fitting that something from nature, a plant, should be a hinge for such a turning.</span></span></span></p><p><span><span><span>The growing movement to end the drug war might reflect a paradigm shift away from judgment, blame, war, and control towards compassion and healing. Cannabis is a natural starting point, because its widespread use makes the caricature of the morally weak abuser insupportable. &ldquo;If I were in the totality of your circumstances, I would smoke too &ndash; in fact I have!&rdquo; &nbsp;</span></span></span></p><p><span><span>Marijuana has long been vilified as a &ldquo;gateway drug,&rdquo; the argument being that even if it isn't so dangerous itself, it ushers a person into the culture and habits of drug use. That canard is easily debunked, but perhaps marijuana is a gateway of another sort &ndash; a gateway to broader drug decriminalization, and beyond that, toward a compassionate and humble justice system not based on punishment. More broadly still, it may offer us a gateway away from machine values toward organic values, a symbiotic world, an ecological world, and not an arena of separate and competing others against whom one must protect oneself, conquer, and control. Perhaps the conservatives were right. Perhaps drug legalization would mean the end of society as we have known it.</span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/neal-goldsmith/how-to-change-drug-policy">How to change drug policy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cameron-adams/psychedelics-and-shadows-of-society-0">Psychedelics and shadows of society</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/darryl-bickler/really-breaking-taboo-ending-war-on-right-to-choose">Really breaking the taboo: ending the war on the right to choose</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/simon-g-powell/phony-war">A phony war</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/stephen-downing/drugs-war-lost-and-way-forward">Drugs: a war lost and a way forward</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/marie/war-on-drug-users-families">The war on drug users&#039; families</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Drug & Criminal Justice Policy Forum Cannabis Drug Laws Addiction Charles Eisenstein Tue, 01 Apr 2014 09:12:53 +0000 Charles Eisenstein 80553 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Charles Eisenstein https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/charles-eisenstein <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Charles Eisenstein </div> </div> </div> <p>Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, most recently <em>Sacred Economics</em> and <em>The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible</em>.&nbsp;</p> Charles Eisenstein Mon, 31 Mar 2014 19:59:40 +0000 Charles Eisenstein 80890 at https://www.opendemocracy.net