It was an ideal British summer festival evening, courtesy of the most desirable star at any outdoors gathering in the Albion – the Sun (the celestial body not the tabloid paper). Though it had already jetted off from the festival grounds, el sol’s rare presence was still felt and seen everywhere – precious warmth was lingering in the air and splashes of crimson and gold turned the sky into an abstract painting you’d actually love having on your wall. Cocooned in the refined luxuries of one of the most middle class festival in Britain, if not the world, a mix of human content were aggregating politely around the main stage, where a hot new folkotronica band were blasting out their experimental sounds. Slightly away from all the action, my six-year-old son and I were sitting cross-legged on the grass, facing each other, while my husband and our 3 year-old daughter went off to get some food.
Having exposed our urbanite children to a day of telluric activities such as stone-carving, basket weaving and bow making, I felt quite satisfied with myself as a parent. Being more used to scooting alongside busy city streets inhaling exhaust fumes, it was a welcome change to see our children run around a quaint village fête environment. We pretty much gave up on trying to see any bands during the day, so that our kids could craft their hearts out and delight in organic ice-creams, while we praised their creative efforts and hovered nearby, away from all the musical fun, ready to attend to their whims. Sometimes being a parent feels like being someone’s slave, only instead of hating your master, you absolutely love them. At the end of the day, all that was required from my son to continue feeding my self-image of a good parent doing the best for him is to just look happy. When you make sacrifices you need to know they are worth it. Unfortunately, to my disappointment my son’s expression was not as jolly as I would have expected it to be.
I was aware that he must have been quite tired after such a busy day, so I instantly attributed his slightly sad expression to that. I tried to engage him in some fun conversation, but N. wasn’t that responsive. He looked quite pensive and visibly more and more upset. I gave him a hug and asked him what he was thinking and feeling, I was slightly disappointed that he was in a grumpy mood after what we thought was an idyllic day, but such is one of the main laws of parenthood – the more you bend backwards to please your child, the more unsatisfied they seem to be. However, N. wasn’t being a spoilt brat about to throw a tantrum. Feeling stronger in my embrace, he got courage to start expressing his thoughts and this is the general gist of what came of out him:
“Mummy, why are humans so stupid? They are cutting trees, making too many cars, which pollute the air, and making animals extinct! And they are killing each other! They are making wars around the world! Like this we will become extinct too. Like dinosaurs. Why are humans doing it? Why? All humans care about is money and nothing else. They are so stupid. I hate humans.”
I wish I could have told him that he’s just tired and exaggerating and that everything is actually fine and is going to be even better as humanity continues on its glorious path of progress and that he should stop worrying about all of this and have a milkshake instead. For lack of an immediate decent intellectual response, I resorted to an emotional one: I gave him a tight squeeze and told him that I love him, my mind racing for what to say to a new being that I have brought into this completely mad even if beautiful reality.
“You are right, son. Humans are stupid. We are destroying our world, and not only polluting the air and cutting down the trees, which is leading to global warming, but also making our water and food toxic. Yes, we are making many animals extinct, sometimes through destroying their habitats, sometimes, because we like to kill animals for fun. Also we farm animals in cruel conditions often injecting hormones into them and feeding them with parts of themselves and then slaughter them for food, which is ultimately bad not only for the environment but also for us. As you can imagine eating our toxic food and drinking our toxic water and living in our polluted atmosphere is not making us that healthy, which is very convenient for the pharmaceutical industry that makes a lot of money out of our illnesses, feeding us chemicals, which suppress some symptoms but create other problems. Our knowledge of natural healing has practically been eliminated, as medicine, alongside other sciences, is now run by the funding of corporations, which operate within a philosophy of reality that views humans in a very limited way, as biological machines. Not that you get better philosophy taught at school, where education is a carefully-calibrated system of indoctrination, which works alongside media propaganda, to brainwash people and keep them blind to all injustices and hardships in the world. Governmental policy often reflects interests of a small group of people, whose power and wealth are increasing every year, generally at the expense of other people. In the meantime, the rampage for resources continues around the world. Wars are orchestrated on purpose, often using radical extremists within proxy armies, and these wars often kill millions of innocent civilians and force millions of others to migrate in hope for a better living. Movements that rise up to fight these malevolent global powers are demonised and dissolved. Leaders who attempt to address these injustices and crimes are instantly ostracised, ridiculed and vilified with the help of the lackey media. People who attempt to expose the shadow mechanisms of these powers are arrested or detained. And while all of this insanity is going on the majority of people are sleep-walking through their reality, spending most of their lives slaving away for this power structure in order to purchase a lot of unnecessary goods, the want for which is inculcated in them by incessant advertising, while in their spare time they entertain themselves on various screens, obsessing about celebrities and fictional worlds, thereby perpetrating the whole cycle of destruction with their inactivity and ignorance. So yes, son, you are right – humans are stupid and you are right for hating us.”
This is what I may have said to my son, if he wasn’t only a six year old and I didn’t think that already having war and destruction of the environment on his mind is too much for his growing consciousness. I don’t want him to turn into a misanthrope, to be angry and disillusioned. So far, aside from his occasional outburst such as this one, he is a jolly curious passionate character and I want him to continue being excited about life and to have hope. So instead of my hardened realist tirade, I continued hugging him and told him that even though I cannot know for sure, I hope that some humans are not so stupid or are smartening up and waking up and that there will be more and more of these people and that eventually humans will find a way of saving their world, and use their intelligence, emotional and spiritual resources, as well as technology, to clean up their environment, while starting to treat each other and the animals with care and respect. This idealistic response served the job of calming my son down and once my husband and my daughter re-joined us, the tears were dry and we managed to at least partially enjoy our evening within our privileged convivial atmosphere.
This was about nine months ago now, but I keep going back to that day, as a crucial moment in my life, when I felt the deep resonance of the question ‘What legacy will we leave for our children?’ on my own skin. While each emotionally and mentally adjusted parent will always strive to do the best for his/her child, in the context of a global crisis we are facing, it is not enough anymore to focus on the personal welfare (be that of a family or a small group like community or nation) without considering our collective interests as a species.
As this metaphorical festival memory will always remind me, technology has made sure that no paradise on this planet can be shielded from wider world problems. We cannot cocoon ourselves and our children from global issues, as our awareness of them has been expanding exponentially since the invention of the Internet and children get exposed to them at a younger and younger age. Even if we manage to block ourselves and our children off informationally, thereby decreasing the potentially negative psychological affects, we will still be exposed to the consequences of global problems, be that a threat of carcinogenic pollution or the risk of flooding due to global warming or a danger of a terrorist attack.
Our ignorance will not save us from global challenges, it will actually exacerbate the problems further as personal complacency translates to collective complacency, which is precisely what led us to the state that we are in. Driven by personal goals and interests, humans are causing havoc as a whole. Even though humanity has much to celebrate, especially in terms of its artistic, scientific, technological achievements, with all this fanfare we are actually self-destructing as a species, as well as putting other species and our planet under a huge risk.
While exposing the ill-doings of the current world power as well as fighting these powers through civic action, are extremely important elements on the path towards a just and peaceful world, they are not in themselves enough. The roots of the global crisis are deeply embedded in all of us – in our spirituality, philosophy and psychology, that are formed by our education and culture. Anyone who’s interested in changing the trajectory of human development from the destructive path must also look within and examine their own consciousness for memes which have a potential to lead to actions harmful to the wellbeing of all.
Collective interests of humanity are rarely considered during decision-making in the executive boardrooms or governmental headquarters. At best, figures of power act to reflect interests of small groups that sustain their welfare, i.e. shareholders, lobby groups, sponsors. Most of us, even without any power, are still tribal creatures, who prioritise and value our tribes (as long as it satisfies our needs and wants), even if it is done at the expense of the well-being of other tribes. In order to overcome our global crisis, we need to start shifting towards a more transcendental consciousness, where we place our allegiances with humanity at large, rather than with individual groups of our favoured nationality, religion, race, class, etc. This is not a fanciful idealistic position, it’s actually a highly realist pragmatic stance, which we need to adopt, if we want to survive as a species.
Moral relativists argue that we cannot have universal moral truths on which we can all agree, as all ideas of good and evil are relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. In the context of the current global crisis, surely all humans could agree on one good: saving our planet and our species. However, genuine change is not going to happen overnight, it can take generations. The complexity of the global crisis and the long-term time span of a possible solution can prevent many from wanting to engage in pressing global issues. After all, why give up on our own lives, especially if they happen to be in the first world, for the sake of something, which might or might not happen after we are gone? With good luck, the Earth will still exist by the time our grandchildren grow up, even if it’s going to be more polluted, and there will be fewer varieties of living beings. Why give up on one’s own pursuit of happiness and success, the values which western culture encourages in us above all others, for the sake of abstract seemingly-unachievable universal good?
A prominent US positive psychologist Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi, who dedicated his life to promoting individual happiness via his concept of flow (a highly focused mental creative state), at the peak of his career has argued that “only active and conscious participation in the evolutionary process of humanity can fill our life with meaning and joy”, implying that anyone who’s searching for one’s own individual happiness without taking into account collective human destiny is bound to be disappointed, forever accompanied by a hidden sense of dissatisfaction. He also argued that alongside addressing injustices, fighting oppression, exploitations and inequalities, human beings should work on evolving their own consciousness.
Our genes, culture and personal psychology create a bias in our perception of reality and often make us act in ways, which are harmful to ourselves and others. Once we are able to transcend our own personal immediate interests, dictated to us by genes and memes, and start identifying with the humanity at large, only then we can hope for resolution of world problems. Working on one’s own consciousness, be that through yoga, meditation, reflection, study, self-analysis, etc. can help us weed out parasitic memes. Clear thinking, developing intuition, empathy, wisdom as well as maintaining our creativity will help us create an Evolutionary Self, which will be aligned with our goal of survival on planet Earth.
Once we accept that internalising global issues is not an idealistic stance, but an integral part of our happiness as evolving human beings, which in turn is the necessary aspect of our survival as a species, then we can start dedicating more of our time to raising our own level of awareness about pressing issues, supporting the causes close to our heart, and most importantly thinking very carefully, which leaders we elect.
Questioning and reviewing our own political beliefs is one of the most important steps towards change. (try this political quiz here) Instead of being passive receptors of political memes from our family and culture, we can make a conscious effort to re-educate ourselves on the matters we care about, read radical thinkers and alternative media sources, and then discuss our thoughts with other humans, preferably from a different social/economic/racial/cultural/national group. Today we need cross-everything dialogue, which will expand our awareness, as much as we need socio-political reforms and personal development. The internet and social media can be a source of distraction and procrastination, but also can be an incredible tool for connecting and engaging with other humans from all over the planet.
Expanding one’s own consciousness can only benefit us if we all participate in forming our online collective global consciousness to the best of our abilities, then apply what we learn from it to the real world. All of this is already happening in the digital world (I didn’t lie when I told my then six year old son that some people are waking up and searching for ways to solve global issues), it’s all about whether there will be enough of us within the right time frame with the right knowledge and skills that can make all the difference. If you are not part of this yet, then consider getting involved now. As some modern psychologists have realised, it could be the missing ingredient in our failing happiness project.