Seeking to Empower Humanity with the Perspective to Manifest Evolutionary Change Everywhere

In the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that humanity is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. The problems that stand in the way are not of economical or technological nature. The deepest sources of the global crisis lie inside the human personality and reflect the level of consciousness evolution of our species.

- Dr. Stanislav Grof

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shamanism, Materialism and Paradigm "Warfare" Pt. 1

Happy January 27th everyone. Not that we need a reason to celebrate, but I'm sure everyone can think of a reason as good as another to be happy.

So, as you may have gathered already - I am taking a very No Fear approach to the topics discussed here. You may sometimes wonder how certain topics relate to end-state sustainability, but rest assured that there is a form of method to my madness. Trying to evolve the human condition forward sufficiently to exist in a state of equilibrium with the planet's ecology requires more than just a tame discussion of technology, science and economics.

The last post regarding politics, specifically political convergences - or at least the birth of a new political paradigm in the United States - is one of those areas that is simply unavoidable in order to have a complete discussion. This post delves even deeper down the rabbit hole into the area of human psychology, culture and *gasp!* spirituality.

So brace yourselves. You've been warned.

Now, part of the inspiration for the topic and title of this post is a workshop I attended this past weekend, concerning basic shamanic practices (provided by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies). It was a "hands-on" affair, which I found particularly rewarding and insightful. And while I am a trained Anthropologist, my approach was participant first and foremost, with "observer" a distant second. Having had some time to reflect and be somewhat more systematic in my consideration of my experience, I wanted to reflect a little on the experience and its relation to human progress towards end-state sustainability.

I will confess that one of the first things I was inspired to do was write a six page rebuttal of the Anthropological community's smirking condescension towards non-modern cultural practices and their proponents. Particularly because taking part in shamanic practices certainly sheds more light on most pre-modern cultural belief systems and human myth than the years of study and research that I've done. But that is far outside the bounds of what I want to focus on here.

The real crux of this post comes down to human paradigms - that is to say, the intellectual and psychological filters that our cultures bestow upon us due to our presence in them. Its clearly been said to death that our post-modern Westernized Globalized culture is highly materialistic. And it should be pointed out that materialism is not inherently vile - from a reasoned perspective Western materialism has directly contributed to the techological and scientific acheivement that we currently have. Furthermore, Western culture's focus on materialism diverted its attention from the contentious issues revolving around religion that nearly destroyed Europe (and still threaten world peace, I might add).

BUT (there's always a "but"), materialism in its current form has become as destructive as the other paradigms it has been trying to displace. Everything else aside (socially, spiritually, politically, etc.), our current obsession with stuff and acquiring more of it has A) bankrupted us financially, and B) is destroying the ability of the planet's ecosystems to support us.

I don't know about you, but being broke and dead is not my idea of a winning solution.

The other easy lay up is the parallel quest in Western civilization to reject materialism. And this is not merely the provence of New Age ideas, this goes back through the many groups and ideas (many some derivative of Christian), past Jesus, and at least all the way to Plato. Unfortunately for this view, rejecting the material world does not make it go away. It has this amazing quality of tenaciousness that has proven to be quite nettlesome for many thinkers and social reformers.

And of course, regarding problems A) and B) above, there are many people in this country who reject materialism (at least in speech) and use this as rational to not care about problems A) and B) (particularly B). If you believe that God has tells you to be "in this world, but not of it", that makes it much harder to sell you on the idea of changing your life ways in order to do something good for that world.

It may not be strange to therefore imagine that perhaps the solution to the problem is a Kantian synthesis of these two paradigms? Which sounds great - until you have to sit down and reason out how that actually would work.

Because it would seem to me that we have some sort of dysfunctional synthesis already. We are surrounded by stuff - are bombarded by stuff, and are practically drowning in it, yet at the same time we shovel it out into the trash about as fast as we bring it into our lives. Its incongruous to believe that would love a thing if we make it deliberately in order to get rid of it. Disposability is a characteristic of a thing that you want to get out of your life.

But more ludicrous is that we make things that are disposable, yet are incompatible with the ecosystems from which we've extracted them. So we take value out of Nature, screw with it, ruin it, use it and then dump it back into Nature where it makes a bigger mess of things.

This isn't just unsustainable - this is pathological.

If this paradigm of thinking were a patient, and I was the psychiatrist - my diagnosis would be an obsessive-compulsive disorder driven by a fear resulting in self-destructive tendencies. Its like we're trying to save ourselves from the material world by destroying it before it corrupts us - ensuring our own demise in the process.

So again, not a healthy synthesis.

In Part 2, I'll talk about my ideas for "a cure".


  1. Frank, Mark - the issue of personal vs. social responsibility will be touched upon, but the post has been postponed

  2. Your comment that our obsession with "stuff" is bankrupting us financially is curious. If we didn't need "stuff" we wouldn't have a need for money, would we? However, we do need "stuff", therefore, we need money too.

    And as we acquire money, history has shown that, if we're shrewd, we can acquire more money than we need, thereby allowing us to by "stuff" that we don't need, but instead want. We need sustenance and shelter. We want the amenities that plumbing provides (running water, sanitary means of disposing of waste). We want the functionality that electricity provides. From these stem other wants.

    My point being at what point do wants become excessive? Where do you draw the line?