Fr. Thomas Berry educated and inspired many. His last book, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, was certainly read by many of those who worked on Laudato Si’. It remains a source of guidance and consideration. What follows are excerpts from this classic that may be read as a summary. Place references in the book are to the kindle version.
Our educational institutions need to see their purpose not as training personnel for exploiting the Earth but as guiding students toward an intimate relationship with the Earth. The planet itself that brings us into being, sustains us in life, and delights us with its wonders.
In this context we might consider the intellectual, political, and economic orientations that will enable us to fulfill the historical assignment before us—to establish a more viable way into the future.105
As in creating some significant work the artist first experiences something akin to dream awareness that becomes clarified in the creative process itself, so we must first have a vision of the future sufficiently entrancing that it will sustain us in the transformation of the human project that is now in process. We propose as such a vision: the Ecozoic Era, the period when humans would become a mutually beneficial presence on the Earth. That future can exist only when we understand the universe as composed of subjects to be communed with, not as objects to be exploited. “Use” as our primary relationship with the planet must be abandoned.108
The deepest cause of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans. The other-than-human modes of being are seen as having no rights. They have reality and value only through their use by the human. In this context the other than human becomes totally vulnerable to exploitation by the human, an attitude that is shared by all four of the fundamental establishments that control the human realm: governments, corporations, universities, and religions—the political, economic, intellectual, and religious establishments. All four are committed consciously or unconsciously to a radical discontinuity between the human and the nonhuman.171
In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being throughout the entire universe. So too every being has rights to be recognized and revered.176
All rights are limited and relative. So too with humans. We have human rights. We have rights to the nourishment and shelter we need. We have rights to habitat. But we have no rights to deprive other species of their proper habitat. We have no rights to interfere with their migration routes. We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of the planet. We cannot own the Earth or any part of the Earth in any absolute manner.
We own property in accord with the well-being of the property and for the benefit of the larger community as well as ourselves.182
(Our) personal work needs to be aligned with the Great Work.277
We cannot doubt that we too have been given the intellectual vision, the spiritual insight, and even the physical resources we need for carrying out the transition that is demanded of these times, transition from the period when humans were a disruptive force on the planet Earth to the period when humans become present to the planet in a manner that is mutually enhancing.279
Our world of human meaning is no longer coordinated with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment that is inherent in our nature. Our children no longer learn how to read the great Book of Nature from their own direct experience or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes.330
We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research in developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources from whence we came and upon which we depend every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this attitude we must first make our children unfeeling in their relation with the natural world. This occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet if we observe our children closely in their early years we see how they are instinctively attracted to profound experiences of the natural world.335 …comprehensive context enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” She observes how this experience of the universe creates in children admiration and wonder, how this enables children to unify their thinking. In this manner children learn how all things are related and how the relationship of things to one another is so close that “no matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe” (Montessori, p. 6).349
The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than as a communion of subjects. We frequently discuss the loss of the interior spirit world of the human mind with the rise of the modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant realization, however, is that we have lost the universe itself.353
The proposal has been made that no effective restoration of a viable mode of human presence on the planet will take place until such intimate human rapport with the Earth community and the entire functioning of the universe is reestablished on an extensive scale. Until this is done the alienation of the human will continue despite the heroic efforts being made toward a more benign mode of human activity in relation to the Earth. The present is not a time for desperation but for hopeful activity. This we discover in the firm reassertion of traditional thought and rituals that we can observe with the indigenous peoples of this continent. This we find in the teachings of Black Elk and in the resurgence of the Sundance ritual with the Crow Indians. In the writings of Scott Momaday, the inspiration of Lame Deer, the guidance of Oren Lyons, the poetry of Joy Harjo, the essays of Linda Hogan, and the insight of Vine Deloria, we find a renewal of indigenous thought and a critical response to the traditional religious and scientific modes of Western thought. In each of these we find an intimate391
Now, after these centuries of experiencing the planet as being a collection of objects for scientific analysis and commercial use, we must ask: where can we find the resources for a reevaluation of our activities? How can we obtain the psychic energies needed to disengage from our plundering industrial economy? We might begin with our basic sense of reality as this exists at present. Our sense of reality cannot be simply the mythic worlds of the past, nor can it be limited to traditions that exist in a spatial mode of consciousness. Whatever be the case with other societies and other times we function through our observational sciences, in the context of a developmental universe that has, within the phenomenal world, its own self-organizing powers. For our sense of reality three commitments are basic: to observational science, to a developmental universe, to an inner self-organizing capacity.464
If formerly we knew by downward reduction processes that considered the particle as the reality and the wholes as derivative, we now recognize that it is even more important that we integrate upward, because we cannot know particles and their power until we see the wholes that they bring into being. If we know the elements simply in their isolated individual reality we have only minimal knowledge of what they really are. To understand atoms we must see these elements in their central role in molecules, megamolecules, in cellular life, organic life, even in intellectual perception, since atomic structures in a transformed context live and function in the wide display of all the gorgeous plants and animals of the Earth as well as in the most profound intellectual, emotional, and spiritual experiences of the human.478
We now live not so much in a cosmos as in a cosmogenesis; that is, a universe ever coming into being through an irreversible sequence of transformations moving, in the larger arc of its development, from a lesser to a great order of complexity and from a lesser to great consciousness.493
The third foundation for appreciating our own times is to recognize that there exists at every level a basic tendency toward self-organization. This we find at the physical level, at the biological level, and at the level of reflexive-consciousness.496
The astronaut Edgar Mitchell tells us that he had an amazing experience when he looked out at Earth from outer space and saw “this blue-and-white planet floating there,” then saw the sun set “in the background of the very deep black and velvety cosmos.” He was overcome with immersion in an awareness that there was “a purposefulness of flow, of energy, of time, of space in the cosmos” beyond any previous experience that he ever had (Kelley, p. 138).503
This sensitive experience of the universe and of the Earth leads us further back to appreciation of the ten billion years required for the universe to bring the Earth into existence and another 4.6 billion years for the Earth to shape itself in such splendor. For our present Earth is not the Earth as it always was and always will be. It is the Earth at a highly developed phase in its continuing emergence. We need to see the Earth in its sequence of transformations as so many movements in a musical composition. The sequence of events that emerge in time needs to be understood simultaneously, as in music: the earlier notes are gone when the later notes are played, but the musical phrase, indeed the entire symphony, needs to be heard simultaneously. We do not fully understand the opening notes until the later notes are heard. Each new theme alters the meaning of the earlier themes and the entire composition. The opening theme resonates throughout all the later parts of the piece. So too the origin moment of the universe presents us with an amazing process that we begin to appreciate as a mystery unfolding through the ages. The flaring forth of the primordial energy carried within itself all that would ever happen in the long series of transformations that would bring the universe into its present mode of being.
The origin moment of the universe was the implicate form of the present as the present is the explicate form of the origin moment. The primordial emergence was the beginning of the Earth story, as well as the beginning of the personal story of each of us, since the story of the universe is the story of each individual being in the universe. Indeed the reality inherent in the original flaring forth could not be known until the shaping forces held in this process had brought forth the galaxies, the Earth, the multitude of living species, and the reflection of the universe on itself in human intelligence. After the origin moment a sequence of other transformation moments took place, the shaping of the first generations of stars within their various galaxies, then the collapse of one of these stars into a vast dispersion of fragments throughout the realms of space. The energy of this supernova moment brought into being the entire array of elements. These elements in turn made possible the future developments on the planet Earth, for indeed the appearance of life needed the broad spectrum of elements for its full expression.506
The 3.4 billion-year story of life is so integral with the story of Earth in its basic structure that we cannot properly think of the Earth as first taking shape in its full physical form and then life emerging somehow within this context. Earth as we know it came into being through its four great components: land, water, air, and life, all interacting in the light and energy of the sun. Although there was a sequence in the formation of the land sphere, the atmosphere, the water sphere, and the life sphere, these have so interacted with one another in the shaping of the Earth that we must somehow think of these as all present to one another and interacting from the beginning.534
This unity of the universe was more easily appreciated in classical times when Plato in his Timaeus proposes the idea of a world-soul that gives a living unity to the entire universe. This idea of a world-soul, an anima mundi, continued in the European world until the seventeenth century with the Cambridge Platonists: Henry More, Richard Cumberland, and Ralph Cudworth. Of more immediate significance to ourselves in this telling the story of the Earth is the sequence of life developments that has emerged in these past 600 million years, the time generally presented in terms of the Paleozoic (from 570 million years before present to 240 myp), the Mesozoic (240 myp until 65 myp) and the Cenozoic (65 myp).544
It is the Cenozoic that is of most interest to us. This is the era when our world took shape. While many of the distinctive life-forms of the Cenozoic were already present in the earlier Mesozoic Era, they attained their full development in the Cenozoic. This is the era when the flowers came forth in all their gorgeous colors and fantastic shapes. It is the period of the great deciduous trees in the temperate zones and of the tropical rain forests in the equatorial region. The Cenozoic is the special time of the birds in all the variety of their forms and colors and songs and mating rituals. Above all it is the era of the mammals. The varied multitude of living species, possibly twenty million, came into their greatest splendor in this era. We will never know these species fully since many have come and gone in the natural process of evolutionary change.
Now we ourselves are extinguishing species in a volume and with a rapidity far beyond any former natural processes of extinction since the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. The late Cenozoic was a wildly creative period of inspired fantasy and extravagant play. It was a supremely lyrical moment when humans emerged on the scene, quietly, somewhere on the edge of the savanna in northeast Africa. From here they later spread throughout Asia and Europe. From early transitional types come our own more recent ancestors, some sixty thousand years ago, with developed speech, symbolic language, skills in tool-making, extended family communities along with the capacity for song and dance, and for elaborate ritual along with visual arts of amazing grandeur. All of these are expressions of the late Paleolithic Period. Then some ten thousand years ago, the human community emerged into the Neolithic Period with its new social structures, weaving and pottery, domestication of wheat and rice, also of sheep, pigs, cattle, horses, chickens, and reindeer. Above all, this was the period of village beginnings.550
For the emergent process, as noted by the geneticist Theodore Dobzhansky, is neither random nor determined but creative. Just as in the human order, creativity is neither a rational deductive process nor the irrational wandering of the undisciplined mind but the emergence of beauty as mysterious as the blossoming of a field of daisies out of the dark Earth. To appreciate the numinous aspect of the universe as this is communicated in this story we need to understand that we ourselves activate one of the deepest dimensions of the universe. We can recognize in ourselves our special intellectual, emotional, and imaginative capacities. That these capacities have existed as dimensions of the universe from its beginning is clear since the universe is ever integral with itself in all its manifestations throughout its vast extension in space and throughout the sequence of its transformations in times. The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe. In ourselves the universe is revealed to itself as we are revealed in the universe. Such a statement could be made about any aspect of the universe because every being in the universe articulates some special quality of the universe in its entirety. Indeed nothing in the universe could be itself apart from every other being in the universe, nor could any moment of the universe story exist apart from all the other moments in the story. Yet it is within our own being that we have our own unique experience of the universe and of the Earth in its full reality.585
The peoples who lived here first, with their unique experience of this continent, have much to teach us concerning intimate presence to this continent, how we should dwell here in some mutually enhancing relation with the land. If the original peoples living in North and South America have not previously entered our general account of the human venture, they are now recognized as having influenced the larger course of history economically and politically as well as intellectually and spiritually. It was the gold and silver of Central and South America that lifted the economic life of Europe to a new level of activity. The vegetables of these continents—the potatoes, corn, beans, squash, tomatoes—altered the diet of the world. The discovery of quinine, cocaine, and other healing nature products by the First Peoples of the Americas was so extensive that one writer has claimed: “Their cornucopia of new pharmaceutical agents became the basis for modern medicine and pharmacology” (Weatherford, p. 184). In our appreciation of the indigenous peoples, we might also note their achievements in the creation of languages, in their spiritual intimacy with the land, and in their political competence. In their language creations, among the most sublime and most fundamental of all human achievements, we can only marvel at the linguistic diversity. Perhaps over a thousand languages were formulated in the early period, of which over five hundred survived this early contact period. (Each language has its own insights into reality, our surroundings and the Divine, as Wade Davis describes). Their spiritual insight into the transhuman powers functioning throughout the natural world established the religions of Native Americans as among the most impressive spiritual traditions we know. Their imaginative powers came to expression in their arts, literature, and dance, but especially in their poetry and their ritual. Their emotional development became manifest in those qualities of human affection and their heroic cast of soul, something consistently remarked upon by the earliest settlers.
In their gentility and poise of bearing, in the affection they showed to the arriving Europeans, they made a deep impression on these first strangers from abroad. Already in the early seventeenth century with the founding of the English colonies in the Virginia region of North America, Arthur Barlow, one of the earliest explorers of the Virginia-Carolina region, was convinced that “a more kind and loving people there cannot be found in the world” (Kolodny, p. 10). One of the most touching events in the early history of Virginia was the question posed to John Smith by the chief of the Powhatan confederacy after there had been some aggressive act by the colonists: “Why do you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war …? We are unarmed and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner and not with swords and guns, as if to make war upon an enemy” (Jamestown Voyages, edited by P. L. Barbour, p. 375 sq., quoted in T. C. McLuhan, p. 66).648
These were also the heroic qualities of the Indian personality, found especially among their leaders. In the east we find Pontiac the Ottawa, who negotiated extensively with both the French and British to preserve the independence of his people. In the opening years of the nineteenth century Tecumseh the Shawnee traveled extensively and spoke to many tribes east of the Mississippi to convince them that no single tribe had a right to make a separate treaty with the English because all the land belonged in common to all the tribes. Then there is Little Turtle, the Miami war chief who defeated the forces brought against him in the Battle of Mississinewa in 1791 causing the greatest number of American casualties ever suffered in a battle with American Indians. Red Jacket the Seneca spoke with President Washington and addressed the United States Senate. To the missionaries he responded that he would wait to see how the Seneca who had been converted acted. He would then decide concerning acceptance of Christianity by himself and his people. These were leaders who spoke in council with the English with a grace and command that gave evidence of the high cultural development of the peoples here and of their capacity to address the leaders of the nations on an equal and often on a superior plane of basic cultural development. West of the Mississippi the settlers were met by such memorable leaders as Red Cloud and Crazy Horse of the Oglala Sioux, by Black Kettle and Roman Nose of the southern Cheyenne, by Cochise and Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apache, by Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé. These are the leaders who took their peoples through the difficult times of military conflict and transition to reservation status. It is a tragic and a long continuing story that endures into the present. Yet there is a sense in which the First Peoples of this continent in the full range of their bearing and in their intimacy with the powers of the continent have achieved something that guides and instructs all those who come to live here. Throughout these centuries despite wars, cultural oppression, poverty, and alcoholism, indigenous peoples have maintained diverse communities committed to self-determination, homelands, and ancestral traditions. These qualities of mind regard the presence of the powers of the North American continent and their traditional wisdom to be an abiding source of guidance. This presence of native peoples to the numinous powers of this continent expressed through its natural phenomena expresses an ancient spiritual identity. The Iroquois peoples communed with these powers under the name of Orenda, the Algonquian as Manitou, the Sioux as Wakan. Every natural phenomenon expressed these sacred powers in some manner. To be allied with these powers is primary and necessary for every significant human endeavor on this continent. Some sense of indigenous relation with the land can be gathered from the First Peoples’ ceremonial lives, for it is in the celebrations of a people and the designs on their dress that they participate most intimately in the comprehensive liturgy of the universe. This intimacy we observe especially in the vision quest of the Plains Indians. The person entering adulthood spends several days fasting in some isolated place in hopes of receiving inner powers and a vision that would be the main source of personal strength throughout life. We also observe this intimate relationship with the universe in the Omaha ceremony carried out at the time of birth. The infant is taken out under the sky and presented to the universe and to the various natural forces with the petition that both the universe and this continent, with all their powers, will protect and guide the child toward its proper destiny (Cronyn, pp. 53, 54). In this manner the infant is bonded with the entire natural world as the source, guide, security, and fulfillment of life. So too, as prescribed in their Chantways, the Navaho through their sand paintings depict the entire cosmos and summon its powers to restore imbalances in the individual and…672
That the indigenous peoples were more interested in living than in working bothered the missionaries considerably. That there was no tendency to “use” the land in terms of exploitation; that there was no drive toward “progress” was a decadence not to be accepted.730
To indigenous peoples and to those in the founding period of the classical civilizations the natural world was the manifestation of a numinous presence that gave meaning to all existence. Human societies at whatever level of cultural sophistication found their true significance by integration of human activities into the great transformation moments of the seasonal sequence and in the movement of the day from sunrise to sunset. Human societies participated in these unending transformations. They simply gave intelligent recognition of that spirit presence pervading the entire natural world. The natural world provided both the physical and the psychic needs of humans. These were inseparable gifts that came to humans in the same moment and through the same causes.
As seen by the Europeans the continent was here to serve human purposes through trade and commerce as well as through the more immediate personal and household needs of the colonists. They had nothing spiritual to learn from this continent. Their attitude toward the land as primarily for use was the crucial issue. This attitude was not only the clash of two human groups with each other over some land possession or some political rule, it was a clash between the most anthropocentric culture that history has ever known with one of the most naturecentric cultures ever known. It was the clash between a monotheistic personal deity perceived as transcendent to all phenomenal modes of being and the Great Spirit perceived as immanent in all natural phenomena. It was the clash between a people driven by a sense of historical destiny with a people living in an abiding world of ever-renewing phenomena. It was the clash of a people with certain immunities to tuberculosis, diphtheria, and measles with a people devoid of such immunities. Over the centuries it became the clash of an urban people highly skilled in industrial manufacturing with a tribal people skilled in hunting and farming who could still appreciate the integral relations that exist between the human community and the natural world. The insuperable difficulty inhibiting any intimate rapport with this continent or its people was this European-derived anthropocentrism.
Such orientation of Western consciousness had its fourfold origin in the Greek cultural tradition, the biblical-Christian religious tradition, the English political-legal tradition, and the economic tradition associated with the new vigor of the merchant class. In religion, culture, politics, and economics there existed with the settlers a discontinuity of the human with the natural world. The human, transcendent to the natural world, was the assumed ruler of the land. That is why the North American continent became completely vulnerable to the assault from the European peoples.
To the European settlers the continent had no sacred dimension. It had no inherent rights. It had no way of escaping economic exploitation. The other component members of the continent could not be included with humans in an integral continental community. European presence was less occupation than predation. The critique of this attitude came through the naturalist writers, the poets and artists, and on occasion in some of the writings and sermons of ministers such as Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), to whom all creation manifested the divine glory. Yet these critiques were peripheral to the basic orientation of American thought and culture throughout this period. Even the transcendentalist essayists were less inspired by the continent than is sometimes thought. In the four areas of life enumerated (religion, culture, politics, and economics), the cultural commitments are so deep in the American soul, so imprinted in the unconscious depths of the culture, that until now it has not been possible to critique these areas of human endeavor in any effective manner. We saw ourselves as the envy of the ages, as relieved of superstition and in the highest realms of intellectual enlightenment. So committed were we to our divinely commissioned task of commercially exploiting this…777
We might reflect on this sense of the wild and the civilized when the dawn appears through the morning mist. At such times a stillness pervades the world—a brooding sense, a quiet transition from night into day. This experience is deepened when evening responds to morning, as day fades away, and night comes in the depth of its mystery. We are most aware at such moments of transition that the world about us is beyond human control. So too in the transition phases of human life; at birth, maturity, and death we brood over our presence in a world of mystery far greater than ourselves. I bring all this to mind because we are discovering our human role in a different order of magnitude. We are experiencing a disintegration of the life systems of the planet just when the Earth in the diversity and resplendence of its self-expression had attained a unique grandeur.839
How awesome, then, must be the present moment when we witness the dying of the Earth in its Cenozoic expression and the life renewal of the Earth in an emerging Ecozoic Era (a transition we must make, learning from those who would teach us). Such reflection has a special urgency if we are ever to renew our sense of the sacred in any sphere of human activity. For we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us. The universe carries in itself the norm of authenticity of every spiritual as well as every physical activity within it.
The spiritual and the physical are two dimensions of the single reality that is the universe itself. There is an ultimate wildness in all this, for the universe, as existence itself, is a terrifying as well as a benign mode of being. If it grants us amazing powers over much of its functioning we must always remember that any arrogance on our part will ultimately be called to account. The beginning of wisdom in any human activity is a certain reverence before the primordial mystery of existence, for the world about us is a fearsome mode of being. We do not judge the universe. The universe is even now judging us. This judgment we experience in what we refer to as the “wild.”851 We have at times thought that we could domesticate the world, for it sometimes appears possible, as in our capacity to evoke the vast energies hidden in the nucleus of the tiny atom. Yet when we invade this deepest, most mysterious dimension of matter, nature throws at us its most deadly forces, wild forces that we cannot deal with, forces that cause us to fear lest we be rendering the planet a barren place for the vast range of living beings. I speak of the wild dimension of existence and the reverence and fear associated with the wild, since precisely here is where life and existence and art itself begin. When Thoreau in his essay on walking said, “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World,”864
This immense effort that has been made over these past ten thousand years to bring the natural world under human control. Such an effort would even tame the inner wildness of the human itself. It would end by reducing those vast creative possibilities of the human to trivial modes of expression. Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being.871
As one woman told a group assembled in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, she did not consider herself a victim but a participant in this wild event in all its creative as well as its destructive aspects. The hurricane, she insisted, was telling us something. It was telling us how to build our houses if we wished to dwell in this region. It was telling us to consider well the winds and the sea, to mark well the fact that if we live here we must obey the deeper laws of the place, laws that cannot be overridden by any type of human zoning. We might live here if we wish but on terms dictated by powers other than human. The hurricane has its own inner discipline. It is itself a response to the needs of the region. This we need to know: how to participate creatively in the wildness of the world about us. For it is out of the wild depths of the universe and of our own being that the greater visions must come. We mistake the wild if we think of it as mere random activity or simply as turbulence. Throughout the entire world there exists a discipline that holds the energies of the universe in the creative pattern of their activities, although this discipline may not be immediately evident to human perception. The emergent universe appears as some wild, senseless deed that wells up from some infinite abyss in the expansive differentiating process of those first moments when all the energy that would ever exist flared forth in a radiation too mysterious for humans to fully comprehend. Yet as this energy articulated itself in the form of matter the gravitational attraction that each being has for every other being produced the basic ordering process, gravitation, the primary discipline in the large-scale structure of the universe. This mutual attraction and mutual limitation of gravitation is, perhaps, the first expression and the primordial model of artistic discipline. It gave to the universe its initial sense of being at home with itself and yet caught up in a profound discontent with any final expression of itself. We might consider, then, that the wild and the disciplined are the two constituent forces of the universe, the expansive force and the containing force bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe.877
“In the beginning was the Word,” the principle of order and intelligibility. Or we can perceive the originating power itself in the disequilibrium of the universe, in the spirit world, in the wildness of things, in the dreams that come into our souls in the depths of the night, dreams that correspond in the human soul to the openness of the curve that holds the universe together and yet enables it to continue its infinite creativity.905
Both are valid, both are needed. The universe from the beginning, and even now, is poised between the expanding and the containing forces, and no one knows just when or if this creative balance will collapse or will continue on indefinitely. So the philosopher and the artist are both poised between the two possibilities. In this mysterious balance the universe and all its grandeur and all its loveliness become possible. Exactly here the presence of the sacred reveals itself. Here is the exuberance that could fling the stars across the heavens with such abandon and yet with such exquisite poise, each in relation to the untold billions of other shining fragments of primordial existence.911
…the dream paintings of the Aborigines of Australia. Here in the desert regions of this vast continent in the southern seas are a people who experience the universe around them, especially the topography of the land, as expressions of those preternatural beings or powers referred to as Dreamings. Their paintings, composed of lines and dots in an endless variety of patterns in color and design, are unimaginable in our Western traditions. These paintings portray the Dreamings as the creative forces producing the landscape and expressive of the deepest spirit of the universe.922
The world of mechanism has alienated us from the wild beauty of the world about us.933
The natural world demands a response beyond that of rational calculation, beyond philosophical reasoning, beyond scientific insight. The natural world demands a response that rises from the wild unconscious depths of the human soul. A response that artists seek to provide in color and music and movement. The response that we give must have a supreme creative power, for the Cenozoic Era in the story of Earth is fading as the sun sets in the western sky. Our hope for the future is for a new dawn, an Ecozoic Era, when humans will be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.945
Once we recognize that a change from a human-centered to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value is needed, we might ask how this is to be achieved and how it would function. We might begin by recognizing that the life community, the community of all living species, including the human, is the greater reality and the greater value. The primary concern of the human community must be the preservation and enhancement of this comprehensive community, even for the sake of its own survival.
While humans do have their own distinctive reality and unique value, these must be articulated within a more comprehensive context. Ultimately humans find their own being within this community context. To consider that one is enhanced by diminishing the other is an illusion. Indeed, it is the great illusion of the present industrial age, which seeks to advance human well-being by plundering the planet in its geological and biological structure and functioning. Opposed to this exploitation of the natural world is the ecological movement, which seeks to create a more viable context for human development within the planetary process. We must clearly understand, however, that this question of viability is not an issue that can be resolved in any permanent manner. It will be a continuing issue for the indefinite future. Indeed, we are at the present time participating in an unparalleled change in the human-Earth situation. The planet that ruled itself directly over these past millennia is now determining its future largely through human decision. Such is the responsibility assumed by the human community once we ventured onto the path of the empirical sciences and their associated technologies. In this process, whatever the benefits, we endangered ourselves and every living being on the planet. We altered the entire mode of functioning of the planet. If we look back over the total course of Earth development, we find that there was a consistent florescence of the life process in the larger arc of the planet’s development over some billions of years. Innumerable catastrophic events occurred in both the geological and biological realms but none of these could cause the forebodings such as we might experience at present. There is no question of the extinction of life in any total sense, even though many of the more elaborate forms of life expression can be eliminated in a permanent manner.
What is absolutely threatened just now is the degradation of the planet. This degradation involves extensive distortion and a pervasive weakening throughout the entire life system of the planet. Because such deterioration results from a rejection of the inherent limitations of human existence and from an effort to alter the natural functioning of the planet in favor of a humanly constructed wonderworld, resistance to this destructive process must turn its efforts toward living creatively within the organic functioning of the natural world. Earth as a biospiritual planet must become for us the basic referent in identifying our own future.978
It seems quite clear that after these centuries of industrial efforts to create a wonderworld we are in fact creating wasteworld, a nonviable situation for the human mode of being. The true wonderworld of nature, whatever its own afflictions, is available as the context for a viable human situation. The difficulty just now is that the financial and industrial establishments have such extensive control over the planet that change so basic as that suggested here would be extremely difficult. After identifying the order of magnitude of the difficulty before us, we need to establish a more specific analysis of the problems themselves. Then we need to provide specific programs leading toward a viable human situation on a viable planet. For this purpose I offer the following analysis of the present situation as it exists under the controlling power of the industrial entrepreneur and then offer alternative proposals for a viable human situation.
As concerns natural resources, the industrial, commercial, and financial corporations are in possession of the planet; either directly or indirectly, with the support of governments subservient to the various corporation enterprises. This possession is, of course, within limits. Fragmentary regions of the planet have been set aside or will be set aside as areas to be preserved in their natural state or to be exploited at a later time. Yet these regions themselves, frequently enough, survive by consent of the controlling corporations.
To the ecologist, reducing the planet to a resource base for consumer use in an industrial society is already an unacceptable situation. The planet and all its components are reduced to commodities whose very purpose of existence is to be exploited by the human. Our more human experience of the world of meaning has been diminished in direct proportion as money and utilitarian values have taken precedence over the numinous, aesthetic, and emotional values. In a corresponding way, any recovery of the natural world in its full splendor will require not only a new economic system but a conversion experience deep in the psychic structure of the human.
Our present situation is the consequence of a cultural fixation, an addiction, an emotional insensitivity, none of which can be remedied by any quickly contrived adjustment. Nature has been severely, and in many cases irreversibly, damaged. A healing is often available and new life can sometimes be evoked, but this cannot be without an intensity of concern and sustained vigor of action such as that which brought about the damage in the first place. Without this healing, the viability of humans at any acceptable level of fulfillment remains in question.
As regards law, the basic orientation of American jurisprudence is toward personal human rights and toward the natural world as existing for human possession and use. To the industrial-commercial world the natural world has no inherent rights to existence, habitat, or freedom to fulfill its role in the vast community of existence. Yet there can be no sustainable future, even for the modern industrial world, unless these inherent rights of the natural world are recognized as having legal status. The entire question of possession and use of the Earth, either by individuals or by establishments, needs to be considered in a more profound manner than Western society has ever done previously. The naive assumption that the natural world is there to be possessed and used by humans for their advantage and in an unlimited manner cannot be accepted. The Earth belongs to itself and to all the component members of the Earth community. The Earth is there as an entrancing celebration of existence in all its alluring qualities. Each earthly being participates in this cosmic celebration as the proper fulfillment of its powers of expression. Reduction of the Earth to an object primarily for human possession and use is unthinkable in most traditional cultures. Yet to Peter Drucker, author of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the entrepreneur creates resources and values. Before it is…1004 richer and environmentally poorer than ever before” (Brown, p. 15). The Earth is a kind of sacrificial offering. Within the human community, however, there is little awareness that the integral survival of the planet in its seasonable rhythms of renewal is itself a condition not simply of human progress but of human survival. Often the ecologist is at a loss as to how to proceed; the language in which our values are expressed has been co-opted by the industrial establishment and is used with the most extravagant modes of commercial advertising to create the illusory world in which modern industrial peoples now live.1056
One of the most essential roles of the ecologist is to create the language in which a true sense of reality, of value, and of progress can be communicated to our society.1061
The term profit needs to be rectified. Profit according to what norms and for whom? The profit of the corporation is the deficit of the Earth. The profit of the industrial enterprise, whatever its advantages, can also be considered as a deficit in the quality of life. We need to reexamine the entire range of our language.
There are questions concerning “gender” that need consideration. The industrial establishment is the extreme expression of a patriarchal tradition with its all-pervasive sense of dominance, whether of rulers over people, of men over women, of humans over nature. Only with enormous psychic and social effort and revolutionary processes has this patriarchal control been mitigated as regards the rights of women. The rights of the natural world of living beings is still at the mercy of the modern industrial corporation as the ultimate expression of patriarchal dominance over the entire planetary process.
Then too we begin to recognize the rights of ethnic groups and of the impoverished classes of our society. For the ecologist, the great model of all existence is the natural ecosystem, which is self-ruled as a community in which each component has its unique rights and its comprehensive influence. The ecologist, with a greater sense of the human as a nurturing presence within the larger community of the geological and biological modes of Earth being, is sponsoring a mode of human activity much closer to the feminine than to the masculine modes of being and of activity.
As concerns education, its purpose as presently envisaged, is to enable persons to be “productive” within the context of the industrial society. A person needs to become literate in order to fulfill some function within the system, whether in acquisition or processing of raw materials, manufacturing, distributing the product in a commercially profitable manner, managing the process or the finances, or, finally, spending the net earnings in acquisition and enjoyment of possessions. A total life process is envisaged within the industrial process. All professional careers now function within the industrial-commercial establishment, even education, medicine, and law.
In this new context of a viable human mode of being, the primary educator as well as the primary lawgiver and the primary healer would be the natural world itself. The integral Earth community would be a self-educating community within the context of a self-educating universe. Education at the human level would be the sensitizing of the human to those profound communications made by the universe about us, by the sun and moon and stars, the clouds and rain, the contours of the Earth and all its living forms.1067
This orientation toward the natural world should be understood in relation to all human activities. The Earth would be our primary teacher in industry and economics. It would teach us a system in which we would create a minimum of entropy, a system in which there would be a minimum of unusable or unfruitful waste.1090
Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Ladakh lies east of Kashmir high in the Himalayas on the border of China, and has a Tibetan Buddhist religious orientation. It has a severe climate of eight months of winter with temperatures of 40 degrees below freezing, little rainfall, and a meager soil—all indicating as harsh a natural condition as a person might imagine. Yet the people of Ladakh have educated themselves in a sustainable way of life, a grace and delight in living, a sense of community, and thus have created a world of meaning in its deepest sense. All this provides convincing evidence that education in direct relation with the natural environment and the use of basic technologies can supply the needs of life in a context that leads to a high level of personal fulfillment. Success or failure as human communities has no absolute need of such technologies or conveniences as we imagine are needed for a proper life fulfillment.1111
Behind the long disruption of the Earth process is the refusal of Western industrial society to accept needed restraints upon its quest for release, not simply from the normal ills to which we are subject, but release from the human condition itself. There exists in our tradition a hidden rage against those inner as well as outer forces that create limits on our activities. Some ancient force in the Western psyche seems to perceive limitation as a demonic obstacle to be eliminated, rather than as a strengthening discipline.
Acceptance of the challenging aspect of the natural world is a primary condition for creative intimacy with the natural world. Without this opaque or even threatening aspect of the universe we would lose our greatest source of creative energy. This opposing element is as necessary for us as is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. This containing element, even the gravitation that binds us to the Earth, should be experienced as liberating and energizing, rather than confining. Strangely enough, it is our efforts to establish a thoroughly sanitized world 1132 that have led to our toxic world. Our quest for wonderworld is making wasteworld. Our quest for energy is creating entropy on a scale never before witnessed in the historical process. We have invented a counterproductive society that is now caught in the loop that feeds back into itself in what can presently be considered a runaway situation.
The media and advertising are particularly responsible for placing the entire life process of the human in a situation wherein producer and consumer feed back into each other in an ever-accelerated process. Presently we experience on a world scale an enormous glut in many basic products, along with unmatched deprivation in the vast numbers of peoples gathered in the shantytowns of the world. Few of our most prominent newspapers, newsweeklies, or periodicals written for the general public have a consistently designated space for the ecological situation, although environmental concerns are being mentioned more frequently. While there are regular sections for politics, economics, sports, arts, science, education, food, entertainment, and a number of other areas of life, only on rare occasions do significant articles appear concerned with what is happening to the planet. These periodicals are of course supported by the great industrial establishments. Media attention to the disturbed life systems of the Earth is considered as threatening or limiting to the industrial enterprise. In this situation the commercial-industrial control of the media can be considered among the most effective forces thwarting any remedial action to save the disintegrating planet.1140
Expression in politics, in economics, in education, in healing, and in spiritual reorientation. Together these movements, oriented toward a more benign human relationship with the environment, indicate a pervasive change in consciousness that presently is our best hope for developing a sustainable future.1165
These four symbols—the Journey, the Great Mother, the Cosmic Tree, and the Death-Rebirth symbol—experienced now in a time-developmental rather than a spatial mode of consciousness, constitute a psychic resource of enormous import for establishing ourselves as a viable species in a viable life system on the planet Earth. Among the controlling professions in America, the educational and the religious professions should be especially sensitive in discerning what is happening to the planet and the value of these symbols in restoring a certain integrity to the human process. These professions present themselves as guiding our sense of reality and value at its ultimate level of significance. They provide our life interpretation.
Education and religion, especially, should awaken in the young an awareness of the world in which they live, how it functions, how the human fits into the larger community of life, the role that the human fulfills in the great story of the universe, and the historical sequence of developments that have shaped our physical and cultural landscape. Along with this awareness of the past and present, education and religion should communicate some guidance concerning the future. The pathos of these times, however, is precisely the impasse that we witness in our educational and religious programs. Both are living in a past fundamentalist tradition or venturing into New Age programs that are often trivial in their consequences, unable to support or to guide the transformation that is needed in its proper order of magnitude. We must recognize that the only effective program available as our primary guide toward a viable human mode of being is the program offered by the Earth itself. Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the universe as we now know it through our empirical ways of knowing. Within this functional cosmology we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis. This story is a numinous revelatory story that could evoke not only the vision but also the energies needed for bringing ourselves and the entire planet into a new order of survival.1184
All four—the political, religious, intellectual, and economic establishments—are failing in their basic purposes for the same reason. They all presume a radical discontinuity between the nonhuman and the human modes of being, with all the rights and all inherent values given to the human. The other-than-human world is not recognized as having any inherent rights or values. All basic realities and values are identified with human values. The other-than-human modes of being attain their reality and value only through their use by the human. This attitude has brought about a devastating assault on the nonhuman world by the human.
Earlier human traditions experienced a profound intimacy with the natural world in all its living forms and even a deep spiritual exaltation in the religious-spiritual experience of natural phenomena. We have moved from this intimacy of earlier peoples with the natural world to the alienation of modern civilization. If some aesthetic appreciation remains, this seldom has the depth of meaning experienced earlier. Yet this presence to the natural world does occur with extraordinary power and understanding in persons such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir and in many of the nature writers of the twentieth century, such as Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland, Brenda Peterson, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, David Rains Wallace, Annie Dillard, David Suzuki, Farley Mowat, and others too numerous to mention. Yet these writers have no role in forming the basic orientation of the contemporary university.
As now functioning, the university prepares students for their role in extending human dominion over the natural world, not for intimate presence to the natural world. Use of this power in a deleterious manner has devastated the planet. We suddenly discover that we are losing some of our most exalted human experiences that come to us through our participation in the natural world. So awesome is the devastation we are bringing about that we can only conclude that we are caught in a severe cultural disorientation, a disorientation that is sustained intellectually by the university, economically by the corporation, legally by the Constitution, spiritually by religious institutions.
The universities might well consider their own involvement in our present difficulties. Some of our most competent biologists in their comprehensive understanding of the biosystems of the planet, such as E. O. Wilson, Niles Eldredge, and Norman Myers, tell us that no devastation at this level has happened to the life systems of Earth since the termination of the Mesozoic Era some 65 million years ago (Wilson, Biodiversity). The present, then, is beyond comparison with other historical changes or a cultural transition, such as that from the classical Mediterranean period to the medieval period or from there to the Enlightenment in Europe. Even the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic Age in human cultural development cannot be compared to what is happening now. For we are changing not simply the human world, we are changing the chemistry of the planet, even the geological structure and functioning of the planet. We are disturbing the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the geosphere, all in a manner that is undoing the work of nature over some hundreds of millions, even billions of years. The genetic strains we have extinguished will never return.
Just what is involved in any full assessment of the disturbance of the planet need not be our concern here. Yet we might mention that in economics, the separation of the human economy from the Earth economy has been disastrous beyond measure. A rising gross human product with a declining gross Earth product is surely a contradiction. To preserve the integrity of the Earth economy should be the first purpose of any human economic program. Yet it would be difficult, until recently, to find a university where this first principle of economics is being taught. It is a strange thing to witness humans moving from suicide, homicide, and…1206
I mention economics, jurisprudence, and religion because these are among the subjects that are taught in our colleges and universities. An integral presentation of these subjects has not been given because of their commitment to the view that the nonhuman world is there fundamentally for the use of humans; whether economically, aesthetically, recreationally, or spiritually. For this reason the universities may be one of the principal supports of the pathology that is so ruinous to the planet.1258
Because of this basic attitude we consider that the more extensively we use the world about us, the more progress we are making toward some higher state of being. The vision of a transearthly status to be achieved by exploiting the na