What are Humans For?
Many spiritual approaches focus on the fundamental human question of “who am I?” and stop there. At this point in my journey, I admit that I am less interested in that question and more concerned with another fundamental spiritual question: “how shall I live?”
It seems to me that “who am I?” is something that our souls already know and will ultimately remember and return to. Whereas the issue of how to inhabit this embodied experience is something we are faced with every moment of our lives. Living and exploring that question seems to me to be the adventure that our souls are on. We are each savoring a very particular flavor, while never ceasing to partake in what the Buddhists call the One Taste.
Recent conversations with friends have revolved around this second question in the context of the darkness of our time and the decline of our civilization. What’s worth doing now? What does inscendence look like now, at the end of this fossil-fueled age?
Loving the earth must surely be part of this. And given our circumstances, defending and protecting her necessarily follow. But this can get tricky. Because it requires the ability to discern the difference between nature and culture.
The word “sustainability” is very common these days. But it’s contextual and relative. What is it that we wish to sustain? Ecology or ourselves? And if it is ourselves, then what version are we advocating? Most mainstream environmental efforts are about sustaining the same rapacious culture that has brought us to the brink of self-destruction. In my view, this is not loving the earth.
I imagine the advocacy and activism of inscendence as quite different than the usual models. Fundamentally, it involves making a different culture. Fashioning different ways of making meaning and understanding reality. Working with different relationships between humans and the more than human world. These are the things that we need to experiment with and model for those who will come after us.
There’s a place for conventional protest and activism. This is what Joanna Macy calls “holding actions”. They are necessary and important. But we should have no illusions about them. This work is purely tactical and as such, its impact is limited. The deeper, more challenging, and ultimately more significant work has to do with transforming our culture, and this has to happen at the level of spirituality and cosmology.
We need to model answers to Wendell Berry’s question: “What are humans for?”