"Separation from nature" impossible despite rising social alienation
by Jan Lundberg
Paradoxically, the need to help one another is growing rapidly as the besieged modern human family allows its social bonds of support to weaken. The dominant culture may be to blame, but the pressure rises due to the ecological and economic crisis that is building to a climax. Fortunately, also on the rise is an alternative way of living.
We become increasingly alienated in society
Consumers respond to threats of insecurity with materialism rather than conscious activism. This may be understandable when no social movement may be discerned suggesting an immediate alternative, such as communities based on truly sustainable living. So, the typical citizen's relationship with the natural world continues to deteriorate, just as topsoil erodes, clean water disappears, and the Earth loses her forests. One does not have to be middle class to be alienated from nature and humanity, for the poor in industrial societies are also boxed into artificial dwellings that rely on technological, authoritarian systems (however inefficient).
People are so accustomed to living in this contradiction with nature that they lose appreciation and awareness for the real world: their local environment and its air, land and water that is sacrificed for "progress."
"Separating ourselves from nature" is impossible, although it is discussed by those who expound on modern humanity and the environment. We can shield ourselves from living things, using such dead matter as formaldehyde-laden particle board as used in construction, but our mostly artificial indoor environments do not achieve real separation from Earth and natural processes. Even blasting off to the moon or Mars could not break those bonds that tie us to our fate.
When we attempt to "cut ourselves off" from nature we engage nature in an unusual, deadly way: we proceed to consume as we indulge our modern convenience and affluence; we kill earthbound species with our paving, and we inevitably kill ourselves. And when we die, we finally become one with nature.
Imagine a mythology where we find ourselves living further and further beyond nature, as if we could forever escape predators or parasites an impossibly sanitary world. Yet, this is exactly the current and wrongheaded thinking that is increasingly afflicting our world.
When we see a snake's hole in the dirt, we modern folk frown upon it and imagine ourselves to be "above" it. But our homes of ingenuity and comfort delude us. They are not superior to any natural shelter in the long run if they hasten us toward our own extinction.
Separation from one another: U.S. American Dream
The U.S. American typically consumes energy in vast disproportion to need. Much of the rest of the world, especially in the Bush II era, views the U.S. as an evil sponge. In this era of global warming and war for oil both have barely begun to make their terrible backlash felt the pursuit of happiness usually means pursuit of multiple cars and televisions and computers all under one "dysfunctional roof." Family members, meanwhile, become more distant from each other, and the individualist and materialist lifestyle seems to flourish (insofar as Americans invest their hopes in "the program" offered by the dominant society)..
Yet, despite there being no perceived need to help one another obtain food, shelter, water, clothing and warmth, we are not a loose collection of isolated consumers. We delude ourselves if we ignore our family and neighbors, instead paying ever more attention to the talking heads and even the cartoons brought to us through our TVs.
Another paradox: it is alienating to not participate in the mass delusion of alienated society. Those who seriously question a heartless and unfair system may be square pegs in round holes, and they have trouble joining in the game of consumption and trivial gratification. Lack of a job can result in family strife or lack of family, and this creates more alienation. There is little sympathy by the majority for such sensitive, bruised ("lazy"?) members of society.
If people don't help each other, it will affect their chances for survival.
People have only recently been divided and conquered, primarily through cultural conditioning. Helping each other today is no longer the expected response, as it is not considered practical.
That survival is threatened through not helping one another would not be so critical except for the fact that some members of modern U.S. society live by preying upon others to survive as well as to excel and acquire. Victims and their supporters sometimes react with solidarity, although it is usually temporary and not structural.
Such is the predominance of cutthroat aggression and ambition that there is little mutual help available, despite the unprecedented size of the human population. Nevertheless, human kindness does exist, while it may not be alive and well in the land of "me first."
The ruling/moneyed class has ballooned in wealth to the point of undermining its base. We can witness this increasing trend both in the U.S. and globally year after year, such that, given the strain on Earth's resources and life-support system, the breaking point looms fast.
The need to actively help each another as opposed to amassing wealth separately grows with the rising ecological and economic crisis. Additionally, as political dissent can only be curtailed by both force and sleight-of-hand rule, unrelentingly, it is all the more critical to defend freedoms. Through observation of various political and cultural communities or diverse individuals we can begin the process of liberation, or at least build some healthy resistance to both Madison Avenue's value system and blind allegiance to U.S. institutions.
Alienation as a false option
As fertility and reproduction have not yet subsided, and each human specimen becomes a candidate for the terminal illness of materialism, we begin to see how deep global cultural change must be. We barely consider the wisdom and requirements of "primitive" peoples because they honor nature and do not overproduce (nor over-reproduce) as civilized folk do. One imagines the day when masses of post-modern people urgently wish they had primitive survival skills and a familiarity with local plant and animal species that provide food, medicine, shelter, etc.
Our tribal roots have intertwining support systems within and between families that are almost lost to modern folk. Extended family members are seen once a year, typically. Mutual aid in extensive networks that provide for common needs locally, without coercive pressure by greedy elites or distant imperialists, will one day become the norm again.
It may require a Utopian, a dreamer or a hippie to envision an alternative to today's system of exploitation, domination and materialism. Like those traditional societies that are still extant, many intentional communities in the "First World" offer experiences in sharing, decision through consensus, and living according to a value system honoring nature and human ties. One can find reference to intentional communities on the virtual world of the Internet or explore the physical world seeking traditional cultures. However, in both cases one might find oneself an outsider. Perhaps, it is best is to evolve ones home-ground into a more cooperative place that can finally become closer to the land.
Next Culture Change Letter essay: How fukked is the average U.S. citizen?
Back to Home Page
Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: firstname.lastname@example.org