Chapter One–what you’ve been told

I don’t know what kind of story you will have been told about the damaged world we left you, but I am guessing that what it leaves out is what you most need to know. Even in my own time, the stories we are telling ourselves lack depth of analysis and are shaped to serve the shallow interests of the few. So I feel I have reason to worry, because I grew up in a world that told itself lies–lies we did our best to live– and we ruined the world in the process.

Ours is a complicated story, yours and mine, and while many may grasp parts of the story with great clarity, very few know the back story, or how to sort truth from lie, and see the epic of civilization as a unified whole. Don’t misunderstand me: I make no claims to omniscience, or to owning the One True Story. There is no One True Story, except as a kind of abstract ideal to work toward, and that is the best I can offer. But I do have a story to tell, and I am hoping you will find it has relevance for you.

The human being lives by story. In a very real and existential way, we live in story, and often in several stories at once. This comes, I think, from being a cultural animal. Instead of living by inborn instinct like the rest of the animals, we are the recipients of a novel innovation in the evolutionary history of the world. We are a highly social animal, a grouping animal that lives according to myths, memes, ideas, values, and perceptions that are passed on from person to person, generation to generation, in a process called acculturation. We learn how to think and feel about the world we live in by the influence of those around us, and most of what we pick up in this way is seldom registered by our conscious mind.

As an evolutionary adaptation in the face of rapid environmental change, culture would seem to have the advantage over genetically transmitted instinctual behaviors, because (theoretically, at least) culture can respond to rapid  changes much faster, thereby giving humans an adaptive edge. All well and good as long as the stories of a people’s culture are a good fit to the actual world that those people live in. But here is the rub. The culture that you and I share–the culture of civilization–is maladaptive in the extreme, making us misfits in an ecological world.

The Earth and its Community of Life are made up of systems within systems within systems, and what makes these systems ecological is their relationship, one to another. All these systems share the quality of interdependence, and cannot exist apart from this highly complex network of reciprocity: of taking and giving back. This is the way of the world, but the culture of civilization has denied this reality for thousands of years, and has constructed an elaborate story that is anti-ecological, and for a very long time now our people have been living in a story that is a lie. I have come to see through this lie, and its many elaborations, and I don’t know what to do with this knowledge but to try to pass it on, in the rather remote hope that seeing our situation for what it is will allow you, or someone, to break free from the group-think of our renegade culture, and find a new and better story to live in–one that is compatible with an ecological world.