The people of old knew this. Everything is connected. And like so many things known to the people of old, we modern literates have spent billions of dollars proving the truth of it.
Don’t get me wrong here. Scientific argument, investigation and discovery reveals aspects of the wonder and unity of our universe in graphic detail, formerly only available to the imagination, dreams and psychic travels of the ancients. We are at a point in history where anyone can look at photos of nebulae millions of light years away and peer into the world of microscopic cells, witnessing invisible biological processes. This is fantastic in the truest sense of the word. However the commoner must trust the person with the camera as to what those pictures represent. This is not really much different than the common person’s relationship to the shaman in an animist culture. The method of observation and interpretation looks different, but the cultural reliance on the word of the individuals who actually enter into the unseen worlds is quite similar.
Is it not interesting that the most abstract and expensive branch of modern science, subatomic physics, points ever more clearly and in great detail, at the unity and connectedness of creation? Mass can be transformed into energy and energy can transform into mass. In the beginning, according to Big Bang theory, there was only energy, which then began to take the form of matter with qualities of both mass and energy as it cooled and expanded. All of the elements present in the universe we observe and breathe and walk in today are descendents of the simplest of atomic elements, hydrogen. I The fusion furnaces of early hydrogen stars passed through star lifetimes and then burst forth in supernovae to populate the ethers with new hot gasses which in turn birthed new stars, new elements and new solar systems. And, not only does theoretical physics point at the unity of creation as an objective reality, but also includes the subjective reality of the consciousness of the observer.
The closer we observe the position of a subatomic particle the less we are able to observe its trajectory and momentum. The closer we determine a subatomic particle’s momentum the less we can know about its position. This is not due to interference created by the observer, but is rather a phenomenon of observation itself at the subatomic level. This is due to what is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and was demonstrated by the Bose Einstein condensate experiment, among others. Rubidium atoms were cooled down to near absolute zero. This reduced their vibration, and thus their velocity and momentum, to near zero. But as the rubidium atom’s momentum approached zero, their location became so diffused that the individual atoms couldn’t tell each other apart. Once their momentum approached zero,they could no longer be located in space to the perception of an observing consciousness. Even the elusive quality we call consciousness seems to be an inseparable part of the connectivity of the universe, both acting as a player and being played by the nature of reality itself in some strange and paradoxical way.
Many a wise shaman of old or present day might speak to these discoveries something like this: “Yes, things are not at all what they seem to be on the surface of observable reality. We have always known this. It is probably good you have discovered it for yourselves, though. Now let us proceed with the problems at hand…”
And what, exactly, are the problems at hand? This question is usually treated much like the political polls I have been receiving of late, asking me to rate the importance of issues on a scale from one to ten. OK, let’s see, is war and violence more important than climate change? Is either of those things more important than global child poverty and malnutrition? What about the refugee crisis or the war in Syria? Maybe the problem of human trafficking and the issue of sex slaves is more important? What about the gyre of plastic waste the size of a small continent in the Pacific Ocean?…Why is it that the more focused and definite I become on a particular issue, the less comfortable I become giving it the number one on the scale of importance? Is some kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work in the social realm, where the closer I focus on one concern, other concerns seem to escalate in their potential for suffering and calamity in my peripheral awareness. Is this just me being indecisive?
Lately, I’ve been giving high marks to climate change in these questionnaires on principle, not because I really believe it is number one but because it seems to capture the enormity of what I am feeling. But now I have stopped responding altogether. I know these questionnaires are really just an excuse to gather data about me and send me more focused fundraising appeals. Everything is connected. Every “issue” is connected and vibrating with all of the other “issues.” The whole relative rating of “issues” is bunk. The right questions are not being asked. And what is the reason that the unity of all creation is being left out of the assumptions behind the question? As if we could rate the importance of one life form over that of another. What pattern of thinking and unconscious arrogance might be at work even in the framing of our questions?
What is the problem at hand? Is it a problem of human consciousness or a problem of the physical reality of human activity on a finite planet? This is another popular debate. Yes, both. How can they be separated? When it comes down to deciding if one life form is more important than another, a choice that politicians and judges argue about every day, by what criteria do we make such decisions? These are important decisions that express our collective social will and have very far reaching consequences in both time and space. For example, by deciding not to return water flow to a diverted stream in East Maui, but instead allow that water to irrigate industrially farmed cropland miles away, we are depriving countless creatures and farmers using ditch irrigation below the diversion, of a resource critical to their lives and livelihoods in favor of organisms and livelihoods at the other end of the irrigation canal. This is an example of how human consciousness is expressed through political processes that directly or indirectly reflect collective social will. The activity of diverting water will have both seen and unseen consequences in the short and long term.
If you have gotten this far you will likely favor a return of at least some measurable flow of water to the streams, if not all of it, because my bias is clear in even the title of this blog. When we turn off stream flow, creatures adapted to that specific stream die out completely This leads to extinction, a permanent and tragic ripple in the fragile fabric of life on this island planet. Such decisions should not be made lightly or out of ignorance of potential consequences. Life on this planet is precious and wonderful, definitely improbable, and nearly impossible given the entropic nature of the universe. We live on a tiny mote of magic, a very long way from any other similar inhabitable motes of magic.
Though life is fragile, it is also resilient. At least it is a bit more resilient than fragile in the mid-range picture of things. But nature’s facility at resilience lies in the unseen unity and connectedness of everything. Some ecological catastrophes, defined by me, create massive changes to a web of life’s ability to support biodiversity and abundance. These are caused by a cascade of unforeseen consequences from the loss of a single species in an ecosystem. Industrial scale hunting of sea otters is one famous example. Sea otters eat sea urchins, sea urchins eat the holdfasts of kelp. Sea otters neared extinction so that the European and Russian elite could wear their skins as coats. This wiped out the kelp forests of the west coast of North America due to an overpopulation of sea urchins. The kelp forests were a necessary habitat and food source for countless species, including the sea otter. Fur hunters had no intention of wiping out entire fisheries and damaging the biodiversity of the entire coastal ecosystem of a continent, but they did. This story has repeated itself over and over throughout human history. In the migrations of Homosapiens, mass extinction of megafauna and massive alterations to ecosystems have been the rule rather than the exception.
What I want to impress upon my reader is not that returning stream flow is good and necessary, even though I think it is in most cases. What I want to do is bring the unity of the universe into the conversation in a radical way. This is something that the new wisdom and the old wisdom agree upon and yet it only remains active in either our spiritual discussions or our scientific and philosophical ones.Yet it remains as the most universal overarching understanding of all time. Everything is connected! We all come from the same source. We are made of the same stuff. Even our consciousness is part of the stuff of creation. Every action ripples out in concentric rings of effect into the universe, from gross events like supernovae, to the smallest step of an ant or the wave/particle energy of an electron. As beings who possess self-consciousness, awareness, observation and choice, this truth should be at the forefront of all decision making.
If we understand the unity and interconnectedness of creation to be the fundamental basis for all questions regarding human action, we change the perspective of the questioner in profound ways. First of all, it opens the door to humility. If I truly understand that every action I take ripples out into creation forever, I might become more observant of the effects of my actions upon the universe, or at least upon my little inhabited part of the universe. I might want to take advantage of the quality of my humanness that allows contemplation and observation. This is an opportunity given to me by the fact of my humanness, and the potential of having a self-conscious Self. Humility enters, because even if I am the most advanced scientist in my field, or the most advanced tracker, scout, healer or shaman in my village, I will never argue that my powers of observation cannot be improved upon.
Today, hubris, not humility, is rewarded in the political and economic realms. Witness the outpouring of support for Donald Trump, who offers nothing but hubris. Watch Bernie Sanders, whom I believe possesses an unusual amount of humility for a politician, use hubris to get attention and raise funds for his admittedly astute substantive messages. A presidential candidate who attempts to use humility as the foundation for their bid for the U.S. presidency you will never hear of unless you look deeply into the matter on your own determined initiative. That person will not, at this time, appear on your ballot, TV screen or newspaper as anything more than a curious human interest story. Yet humility is the most important human quality to flow from our most profound understanding of creation. Even so it gets almost no air-time in public discourse, except from the Dali Lama and Pope Francis and a few other international voices. We are paradoxical creatures indeed, choosing leaders who consistently lack one of the most important qualities needed for getting along with others.
Where in history have people actually selected leaders,expressing high degrees of humility as a consistent pattern? Only in “non-civilized” societies, as far as I know. That is, only in village-based, primarily oral cultures that live or lived directly off of their ancestral land for countless generations. Indigenous cultures. Old cultures. Cultures with a long ancestral memory of living in one place with no ambition to build empires or “markets”. This is where the Old comes into The New Old Way. These cultures were led by elders who took a long time to make decisions, who possessed great humility and placed a high value on careful and accurate observation.
The New Old Way postulates that the unity of creation is the most important starting point regarding human actions. It honors the process of modern scientific inquiry, even though it may challenge the allocation of the huge resources sometimes required to carry out its work. It may be that many of these resources are better devoted to addressing concerns related to survival, social peace and the restoration of nature, but it does not reject western academic science. At the same time, the New Old Way also honors and recognizes the old arts of scientific inquiry. The way of the scout, the tracker, the gatherer and the shaman are also science. They are the science of oral human culture, a science that predates literacy, a science that is unifying and connective. It is most unfortunate that modern literate science is often arrogant and dismissive of the old sciences. In the New Old Way they get along and there are numerous places where they are beginning to collaborate out of mutual respect. This is positive, and reflects the birthing impulse of a new world view.
As we move forward in this age of global end games, the voice of unity is extremely important. The unity and connection of the universe and what it means as a guiding principle for our personal and collective lives needs to come to the forefront of our awareness. Downstream effects of all of our actions play out for a very long time. The principle of considering the effects of decisions seven generations forward is based on indigenous science as well as the cultural memory of previous mass extinctions and their cost to humans and nature. The loss of the megafauna of the Americas, mastodons, giant sloths and their predators, notably saber toothed tigers, followed the arrival of the human hunters. We acted so swiftly and so greedily that the species at the business end of our spears did not even have a chance to adapt to our presence. This undoubtedly brought starvation to many a thriving human tribe, as the easy food sources disappeared.
Lessons learned in this way tend to have a lasting impact. And these lessons and their moral, ethical and technological implications have been kept alive culturally by the peoples who have lived directly from the land since these cataclysms. The need to respect,observe and know first hand the unity and interconnectedness of nature was universally developed out of direct necessity for long-term survival in each particular place that humans came to inhabit.
Today modern human cultures, languages and consciousness occupy continental and global spaces, not only regional ones. Mass culture has not only forgotten its roots but has systematically attempted to erase indigenous cultures from their territories, as well as indigenous cultural influences from the minds of the common people. There has been an ongoing land-grab and class stratification of society over the last few thousand years of mass civilization. Now is the time to readjust our compasses and evaluate the journey of civilization for its flaws, before it is too late. The unity and interconnectedness of all things is the new north on the social compass of the New Old Way.
I think I need to emphasize right from the start that when I refer to “the people of old”, “ancient cultures” and “animist cultures” as I have here, I am struggling to reach for language that includes both the past and the present. These ancient cultures are not dead and gone, by any means. People of old and animist cultures are alive and kicking, if not necessarily well, though persons of such heritage will almost never refer to themselves in these kinds of general terms. This is paradox number one of many you will encounter as you hopefully read on. I am likely to offend indigenous persons, First Nations people, aboriginal people, Native Americans and their allies. For this I apologize in advance. All I can do is ask for help with a language shaped by a world view that relegates original human cultures to the past, when in fact they are both past and present, assuming they have survived genocide (and ecocide) at all. I am trying to help invent both a language and a world-view that includes ancient but living contemporary cultures. If you have suggestions, please share them by commenting. I love comments.