10. Our Culture and Civilization

        There is in the end and the beginning the origin.  It is a subtle organizing field in every living being, including the cultures of the earth, and indeed the earth itself.  This origin is a coherent center which organizes and harmonizes the physical, emotional, and mental into a whole.  The central organizing is foundational, constituted of innate awareness, and emanating from that basic awareness.  We however tend to marginalize it and call it “spiritual” as though it were something that has to be added after everything real and important (factual) is said and done.  Through gnosis, we can intuit this subtle organizing field because it is essential.  It is what we basically are, but the limited thought forms of our present scientifically based reality have barely grasped it.

         In our quantitative way, we think of culture as symphonies, performing arts and museums.  But real culture is related to gnosis; providing access to it and giving expression to it.  True culture is the discovery and establishment of the essential, and the generation of thought, art forms, and institutions that freshly accord with it.  When culture becomes the proliferation of error and the celebration of foolishness and depravity, the culture degenerates.
         The cancer of contemporary culture is the profit motive run amok in the world.  Like cancer, it feeds on healthy cells and turns them into pathogens.
         Not long ago I participated in a conference in Europe entitled “The Possibility of a Dialogue of Civilizations.”  Half the speakers were Europeans and the other half were Muslims. A Libyan philosopher said that while a dialogue of civilizations is possible, one between civilization and non-civilization is not.  What is non-civilization according to my Libyan friend?  A culture whose values are determined by the profit motive.  The sole focus on profit is the law of the jungle.  Was this the message to the West in the destruction of the Twin Towers?
         The profit motive becomes truly malignant when it is wedded to the scientific method.  The practical beginning of this error is isolating any phenomenon from the whole and subjecting it to an empirical method that creates the possibility of technological deployment with no view or responsibility for the divine whole.  Science, having “murdered to dissect,” is becoming more sophisticated about systems, but it remains destructive when it does not regard the systemic whole. 
         The environmental movement was inspired in the 60s when Rachel Carson alerted us to the fact that isolating a phenomenon in the laboratory, manipulating it so that it has certain effects, and creating a technological product that employs its algorithm never regards the intrinsic equilibrium of the whole.  Pesticides do eliminate certain organisms, but what effect do they have on the environment?  What impact do they have on the subtle organizing field?  The results of this error, she warned, may be catastrophic.  Carson was a prophet.
         Advanced theorists in many fields now understand that nothing is in isolation, every whole entity being a part of a greater whole.  The interaction of all parts of any whole and the greater whole of which it is a part is its essential nature. Our blindness to this has created a planetary system which is out of control.
         The culminating insight of the environmental movement was the Gaia hypothesis of Lovelock, that the planet itself is such an organizing unitary field, and we are in the process of destroying this, with consequences whose magnitude we are only beginning to experience and comprehend.  We humans with our science and technology are in effect a pathogen threatening the Gaian organism.  If that organism is sufficiently healthy, it will shake us off…with what consequences to our species and our human culture?  This is likely to be the central challenge of the twenty first century.
         Science is the child of the vision of progress.  It is an extension of intelligence about things.  This in itself is neutral. Scientism is the belief that science and its child, technology, tell us the truth about reality and puts us on a track of progress.  But scientism is hubris whose nemesis is regress.  Even as science brings us progress, the world is regressing into ever more violent and contentious behavior. Those who love nature are in despair as they look around them at the spectacle of our collective self-destruction.
         Heidegger showed how this scientism is a kind of ontological malignancy leading to nihilism. Whatever science looks upon is removed from its essential context and subject to mere usefulness, which Heidegger sees as a kind of violence.  Thus, whatever it turns toward is subtly damaged.  In its pursuit of the manipulable essence of things, science violates the essential. Like a malevolent magician, it casts a spell over us.  Whenever its latest view and evaluation of things is digested by the common mind, it becomes “reality”.  With each new scientific discovery, we breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Ah, this is how it really is.”  Thus we all learned in school that there are nine planets in our solar system, but now we know how it really is: there are only eight.
         The latest theory, once it becomes comprehensible to the common mind, is taken as the truth of being. This is the fundamental faith of our civilization.  But this truth is never really essential.  It is just the latest error.  Remember when we were all puffing away on cigarettes, hoping we looked like movie stars?  Wasn’t it the latest science that repeatedly proved to us that smoking was not addictive or deleterious to health? If you have any sense of the essential, however, you knew that inhaling smoke into your lungs was harming them. The more subtle harm of tobacco was increased as chemicals were added. Basically, smoking is a pulmonary and blood disease brought on by a habit of choice. Ex-smokers, look back.  Didn’t you always realize it?
         In the 60’s, the government published the first food pyramid.  It was the digest of the latest research on nutrition.  This was taken to be “how it is”, the reality of nutrition. According to these revelations Americans dutifully changed their diets.  But the “science of nut
rition” fostered more and mo
re additives and processed food, which, together with environmental poisoning (more technological wonders) created a dramatic increase of cancer and degenerative disease.  The pyramid was revised in 1992, and there was a shift in our national diet accordingly. Lots of pasta and bread.  This then became the truth.  Now, the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other degenerative diseases has spawned new pyramids, and it is revealed that the old ones were greatly influenced by the manufactured food lobbies. Slowly expensive experiment by experiment, we are coming to the realization that foods taken in moderation in their natural state are peerless as nutrition. In fact this is the only essential nutrition.  As this newest scientific revelation dawns on us, the food processors are falling all over themselves to manufacture products that “replicate” natural food.  This will take a very long time.  The subtleties of the relationship between food in its natural state and the well being of the whole human being, while essentially obvious, seems to be incomprehensible to our current technological paradigms. The industry will be at pains to replicate these features, which likely are not even specifically physical. The processed food industry in the last 100 years has put the farming industry at its service, rendering extinct the small farmer who in the ancient way grows essential food.  It will have to manufacture such foods, because we have disassembled the infrastructure by which foods in their essential state are grown.

         Computer technology has spawned awesome new forms of communications and information processing.  But each device demands to be maintained and increasingly utilized. As the power and influence of these devices in our lives increases, so does our frenzy to keep up with it all.  Take a look.  Most Americans are frantic.
         The combination of scientism, technology, and the profit motive are Error.  We live in the fashions of Error.  No wonder that we are alienated and that the quality of our lives is degenerating.

Next: The Virtual and the Essential