“Reason is the illusion of Reality”
Hazrat Inayat Kahn
“Pride comes before a fall.”
This overly dualistic and objectifying consciousness, posted by the European Enlightenment, effectively evicted us from the planet in imitation of the unfortunate patriarchal creation myth we had already told ourselves concerning our Fall from Paradise, and a state of grace. A story which, while describing in its own way the birth of dualism, also in one fell swoop demonised woman and all that is feminine, along with Nature and all that is natural. A story to lead us all down the wrong garden path, and finally leave us as paranoid strangers in a strange and threatening universe.
It is this so-called Enlightenment which I believe, in the terms of our creation myth, was our second ‘Fall’. Not only separating us critically from Mother Earth, but also leading to our estrangement from the treasures and riches of our own unconscious and intuitive wisdom. This has resulted in the impoverishment of the collective human spirit, as well as to the detriment of the health of the planet and all life existing on it. Rationalism is of course, a necessary, powerful and important intellectual tool, provided reason does not throw out the mother and the baby, with the bathwater.
We are the authors of this Apocalypse Now that we are only just beginning to gain cognizance of. The seeds of this cultural malaise, as indicated, having been broadcast long before the deluded philosophy of Descartes, who helped post the intellectual wares that were to give rise to the apparently promising Industrial and Agrarian Revolutions, whose congress was to produce the greedy child we call ‘Consumerism’. This has resulted today, in the ever-accelerating development of a global, science-led, monocultural consumerism, captained by multinational conglomerates, disseminating their propaganda and wares most effectively now through the electronic pulses of television and the internet, which is a blight to both the planet and all life on it. The main aspiration, or raison d’etre of consumer societies on this beautiful planet, is acquisition and ownership, while promoting the egos of the architects for its transformation into a planet for scientific and recreational consumerism. A planet and its creatures we make the fundamental error of thinking of, and referring to as ‘ours’, and our having treated them thus, has led directly to our present environmental predicament. While if ownership had any part in it, which it does not, the situation would rather be the reverse, since it is we who are of the earth, and where humankind is, in reality, no more or less important than any other being.
Behind this culture of distraction and anaesthesia we have created for ourselves, is, I believe, an even greater suffering than humankind has hitherto experienced, or has as yet, any true cognition – a deeply dysfunctional culture, which barely qualifies for the definition ‘culture’ in any meaningful sense. The fact that, for example in recent years, we have removed the word ‘culture’ from ‘agriculture’, substituting in its place ‘industry’ or ‘business’, illustrates precisely our line of thinking and action, in placing technology and profit over a true way of life, resulting in our distancing ourselves further yet again, from that which sustains and informs us of our own true natures.
“Modern technological contrivances are symbols to me, of human error.”
Andrei Tarkovsky – Interview with Thomas Johnson / 1986
A Culture as Anticulture
In English there are several definitions for the word ‘culture’, but its root lies in the Latin cultura with its meanings of both contact with the soil and the cycles of Nature, as well as its being allied to the word cultus, meaning ‘worship’ – from which we derive the word ‘cult’ – reminding us to live in harmony with earth while recognising its sacredness. We perversely severed this essential root, and developed a mind-set which is profoundly antithetical to true life on this planet. We have replaced holistic earth cultures with groups of industrial and technological, competing and trading consumer societies, sustained by a very different and artificial ground. A ‘global culture’ that is rootless, and bound to the back of a heartless nightmare, identified and sold as ‘dream’ through the electronic images that have, in turn, replaced the shadows on the back of Plato’s cave, in a technological cyberscape in which, what is already fundamentally unreal, is ever-faster becoming ‘virtual unreality’.
Had we gone in a different cultural direction which was truly more enlightened, and maintained a balanced continuity of a way of life that was holistically symbiotic with Nature, then the technologies we would have produced would have been of a very different order, and without the need for partitioning the natural world. And under the right spiritual guidance, humankind itself might have evolved. But instead, we ironically styled ourselves human beings, when it is only we, of all life on this planet, who do not manifest our true being. And forgetting the natural world as the source of wisdom, we mistook it for ourselves, having the temerity to identify ourselves by the Latin term homo sapiens, which means “wise man”, when we are ignorant in the most profound way.
In passing, it is also interesting to note that similar to the Latin root of the word ‘culture’, in Indo-European languages the term ‘human’ shares the same root as ‘humus’; as in Hebrew, Adam means ‘mankind’ and comes from adamah meaning ‘earth’. Once again, reminding us of our essential provenance, and of the revealing irony that led us to use the word ‘peasant’ as a derogatory term.
Like all who go mad, we fail to recognise our own profound, collective insanity, so that with each generation born into ever-increasingly insane societies, it is taught are sane, we deepen and broaden this pernicious pathology – if you are born into hell, then you will accept hellish life as the norm, and continue maintaining its fires. And how much easier to recognise psychological illness in an individual, than perceive it in a culture’s historical designs and agendas supported by a collective, cultural agreement, and the myths of reality it tells itself. A pathology that turned us against Nature, as well as our own true natures, and that we have, and are continuing to transmit as cultural carcinogens so successfully to the rest of humanity. A relationship to the natural world which had once been profoundly participatory, as part of a sacred paradigm, that we have reduced, partly and ironically with the help of a popular, mainstream form of Christianity, to a secular, scientific, and utilitarian one.
To mourn the loss of a holistic cultural consciousness as well as cultures based on it, is not to indulge in sentimentalism or romanticism – to entertain New Age hippie dreams, or silly scenarios of ‘noble savage’ idylls – but to recognise lives of yes, certain hardships, but meaningful and profound existences, which we have replaced with a culture that is at its sick heart, both trivial and trivialising – the condition of the planet and our dysfunctional human societies globally ringing its indictment.
Malcolm Ritchie’s essay A Second Fall – Notes on a Wounded Culture will be published in six parts on International Times.