Some millennia ago, some ape-like creature looked in a still pool of water, saw its reflection and thought, “Wait a minute – that’s me!” It showed other ape-like creatures this trick, and soon there was a whole tribe of “people,” who recognized themselves in the reflection and recognized that they were different from other “people,” including animals.
Recognizing their separateness made certain things easier for the ape-like creatures – they could kill and eat other animals with much less stress, for instance, because they were different/separate/not-me. The ape-like creatures could also see that they were different from the environment, so they began to excavate, to dam rivers, to farm and otherwise exploit the rest of the separate-from-me world.
The ape-like creatures continued to evolve and grow their societies, but retained various connections to the rest of the world, especially through long-time practices like hunting, fishing and farming. Like any other animal, the ape-like things had to pay attention to the water, the woods and the weather to know when to plant, hunt or fish. When they went to war they reverted almost entirely to their pre-reflection selves, although war was only possible because they saw themselves as separate from whoever they were fighting. In body/mind/spirit terms, they were almost completely physical – the biggest, strongest and most connected to the physical world won, in general.
Not all the ape-like creatures were big and strong, though, and as their species’ dominance over the other animals became more and more established, the ape-like creatures had time to wonder. This gave rise to shamans, priests and other spirit guides, and the ape-like creatures went through a spiritual phase of existence, guided and ruled by other ape-like creatures who claimed a close relationship to God. Curiously, the ape-like creatures became very afraid and distrustful of the physical world during this phase, diminishing the social status of hunters, fishers and farmers and turning away from sex and other pleasurable aspects of the physical world.
Then along came Rene Descartes, who said, “I think, therefore I am,” and the ape-like things were off to the races. If thought was the thing that made the ape-like creatures exist, and if awareness of their individual existence made them different from the dumb animals and the quiet Earth, then the sky was the limit. Literally – flying and leaving the Earth are universal fantasies of the intellect. It almost goes without saying that the mind feels nothing but discomfort and contempt for the physical and spiritual worlds.
Now (September 17, 2023) we are at a point where our willful, purposeful separation from the rest of existence has led us to the brink of global climate and culture collapse. And what are our responses? To create AI, which has no connection to the natural or spiritual worlds at all, and to make plans to leave the planet once it’s ruined, the greatest separation of all. Some try desperately to “go back” to some former halcyon time. But for these “golden age” ape-like creatures too, the mechanism of their solutions, the avenue of their efforts to reclaim the past are the same as the other ape-like creatures’ forward looking solutions – to separate. From the immigrants, from ape-like creatures with different religious beliefs, from government and from other representatives of the modern world.
We have become a uni-directional species that appears to be speeding toward a cliff, and the common feature of this rush to self-annihilation is this habitual but now purposeful and sometimes violent tendency to separate. This tendency has become the favored strategy, even the monopolistic strategy for the species. Even the stupidest, least thoughtful among us say, “I’ve done my own research” as justification for whatever self-destruction they may be practicing.
There is no going back. We can only go forward. However, we must go forward in three dimensions, because this is a three dimensional world. We must learn, as a species, how to integrate our bodies, our minds and our spirits in our decision-making and actions in the world. This means observing the consequences of our actions on the world around us and making adjustments, which is a big drag for forward-rushing, separate-from-others animals. However, we have no choice – we either resume paying attention to everyone and everything else who shares our planet or we will become extinct. And our extinction will arise directly from our own incompletely considered actions, which is poetic justice that the separate-from-others ape-like creature doesn’t typically even recognize.