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We live today in a world defined and designed—and polluted—by industrialism.
We were all born into a society where our survival is based on obtaining money in order to purchase goods made by others. This is a human-made artificial world that operates on its own assumptions and laws that are quite different from how the rest of Life functions. As a result, the process of industrialized manufacture and the consumer culture that has arisen from it are—by their very nature and design—in conflict with Life.
Industrial and consumer activities, as they are now, are headed toward complete destruction of our planet.
On the other hand, the activities of all other species on Earth—every single one of them—contribute to regenerating and sustaining the life of the whole ecosystem in which they live. The end result of participating in Life's processes is more life, more abundance, and the sustaining of all life into the future. Birds do it, bees do it, flowers and trees do it. Since we Homo sapiens sapiens are a species of nature, we must have within us the same ability to do it too.
Because of the destructive nature of human industry, our species as a whole has been characterized by the environmental movement as "bad humans" against "good nature."
But I disagree. I know we are by nature "good humans" and have the inherent desire and ability to live harmoniously with all life. We just need to remember how to do it.
How Industrialization is Destroying the Planet
Often the most difficult thing to see is that which we are in the middle of. We are so entrenched in shopping and living and working and designing and manufacturing within the current industrial system, that we often aren't even aware of the system itself and the assumptions on which it is based. Once I learned what I am about to tell you, I became more convinced than ever that we need to leap out of the industrial paradigm and back into nature.
Though industrialism seems "normal" today, in fact, it has existed for just the blink of an eye in the life of the planet, and is even a very small part of human history. Prior to industrialization, the goods of everyday life were mostly made at home or by artisans and craftspeople using local materials.
Industraiization began in the mid-1700s in England, with the invention of the spinning jenny. Before this invention, villagers spun thread on spinning wheels in their own homes, one thread at a time. The spinning wheel was operated with their own human energy. The spinning jenny increased the number of threads that could be spun from one to eight to sixteen and more. Other new technologies developed very quickly and the production of daily household goods began to move from the home to the factory. Rural life close to the land gave way to cramped quarters in crowded cities. Workers went from using their creativity and artistry to make individual handmade goods to operating machines that turned out quantities of products that were all exactly the same.
But the Industrial Revolution was not entirely the result of new technologies. A whole set of new assumptions about life emerged at the same time. These are the assumptions that have shaped our modern world.
- Production based on profit. For most of human history, the production of goods was driven by human need. Goods were not made until there was a use for them. Industrialization is based on using manufacturing technologies to amass huge stores of money. Instead of making beautiful, high quality, individual products one by one, at home or in the workshops of skilled craftspeople, industrialized manufacturers look for ways to get the greatest volume of goods possible into the hands of the largest number of people. The goal of production is now how many products can be sold, not how can human needs be fulfilled.
- Natural resources valued only for human use. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was a shift in the general worldview. From the beginning of human life, the world was considered to be full of life. But the separation of life into religion and science created a scenario in which living ecosystems became lifeless storehouses of natural resources. A forest was not seen as having value in and of itself for it's contributions to conditions on Earth, or a magical place filled with living creatures, but rather as a pile of lumber waiting to be cut.
- Availability of vast resources. When industrialization began, there were far fewer people in the world and resources were plentiful--especially here in America. To the early industrialists, it seemed that resources from which to make products were endless. It was assumed that any wastes would simply be absorbed back into the Earth. Many people believed there would always be wilderness untouched by man. They never imagined the world we live in today where virtually every drop of water is polluted, all mother's milk is contaminated, and the bodies of babies contain toxic chemicals at birth.
- The desire to dominate nature. Especially in the American West, people in the mid-1800s saw nature as a dangerous force that needed to be civilized and subdued. At that time, people were subject to variations of weather. Many died from famine when crops would not grow--after all, they couldn't just go down to the local supermarket and buy food or have a pizza delivered. These were very real survival problems that industry seemed to solve. Modern industries--and indeed everything about our modern culture--is still based in processes designed when it seemed to be a good thing to control nature. Industrialization gives us the power to grow food, heat and cool our homes, travel to any destination, and many other benefits, regardless of the conditions occurring in nature (except during extreme changes, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornadoes).
- Efficient mechanization as a driving force. In order to get the greatest volume of goods to the largest number of people, production has to be based on efficient mechanization. Now, I've found for myself that there is nothing inherently wrong with efficiency--nature is very efficient. But rather than apply efficiency to improve production of diverse and unique products, placing efficiency of manufacture as the driving force behind design has led to mass production of a single universal design that is meant to apply to all consumers in all locations, regardless of personal taste or needs, or how the product impacts the local environment. And so we have universal design in cars and houses and clothing and food and everything else. This undermines personal skill and creativity, local diversity, and local solutions, and living methods based on traditional wisdom and local resources become lost.
- Production in isolation. The whole design of industry has been around making a product and getting it to the customer as quickly and cheaply as possible. All that is important is the manufacturing business itself and its profits. Little consideration is given to anything else. Manufacturing processes are designed around a "cradle-to-grave" model, which assumes that each product has a "final resting place" in a landfill. This results in a system that slowly but surely transformation the living ecosystems of the planet into waste dumps.
This is not to say that all businesses today are based on these assumptions, because certainly many manufacturing businesses do consider more than profits. But these are the predominant assumptions that most people hold to be true and still mold industry and our consumer culture today. They are built in to the fabric of the culture into which we were born.
By becoming aware of these assumptions, we can look at them and see if these are the assumptions we want to base our own lives on, and consider other views.
Reducing Our Human Impact
That modern industrial practices are destructive to the environment, our social fabric, and human creativity, was evident early on.
In the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, factories were so destructive and polluting that they had to be controlled in order to prevent immediate sickness and death. The manufacturing practices of today are a vast improvement over factories of the past. But because most manufacturing is still based on the old assumptions, we are still perpetuating a process that is based on turning the planet into profits, rather than based on sustaining life.
The environmental movement arose as a response to industrialization. At its roots, the environmental movement is about protecting nature from the destructive actions of human industry. Given the existence of destructive industry, it only makes sense to set aside land that cannot be destroyed for profit, and to fight against the destroyer to protect that which is pristine and pure. It is our human nature to do so.
But the environmental movement has also produced a serious side effect. It has firmly established in our minds the idea that humans are inherently separate from and destructive to nature, and that nature needs to be protected from harmful humans. Solutions to environmental problems developed by environmentalists have therefore been based on controlling the behavior of the "bad humans." And so, much of what is recommended as being "better for the environment" are actually ways to make us "bad humans" less bad.
To be fair, I have to say that the idea that humans are bad did not originate in the environmental movement. Our whole culture is based on "humans are bad" in one form or another. We have religion that says "man is a sinner" and he has to be saved from his sins. We have a system of law and order that basically says humans are violent and everyone would kill each other if it weren't for the police and the threat of law. It's basically a viewpoint that says humans by nature are destructive and need some outside force to control them.
It could be argued that we have "rightfully" come to these conclusions because some humans have demonstrated sin and violent plunder and environmental pollution. And so, because of this, our human culture is filled with restraints. If we are "bad" and "destructive" it only makes sense that our bad activities should be curtailed if we wish to sustain life.
But I don't agree that humans are bad. Despite the underpinnings of our culture, I believe that humans are basically good and can—from their own consciences—act in ways that encompass good for their own lives and all life. I believe our natural state is to love ourselves and one another and act in fellowship for the good of all. Humans can interact positively for the ongoing existence of ecosystems just as effectively as any other species.
Yes, industrialization (a human activity) and consumerism (a human activity) are destructive to the ecosystems of our Earth, but these activities need to be considered separately from our humanity.
In fact, we humans are a species of the Earth. We are beings of nature. We cannot be separated from nature any more than a tree can be separated from a forest. If we humans have lost our way—and we have—the answer is not to separate us from life, but rather to restore our awareness that we are inherently threads in the great web of life and rehabilitate our native abilities to live in ways that are beneficial to all life.
The Turning Point
So now we are faced with a question: How can those of us of good conscience improve our industrialized consumer society?
There are two paths that benefit nature: the contraction of human activity that is destructive to life or the expansion of human activity that contributes positively to life.
Currently, most of what is being recommended is to lessen negative human activity. Assuming all current human activity is negative, the "best" is then no human activity at all.
If we instead focus the expansion of positive human behavior, the "best" results in life, health, happiness, and abundance for both humans and all of life.
This is the one big thing that has been missing in our thinking: Our intention needs to be to expand of those "good human" activities that lead to the ongoing regeneration of life, rather than trying to limit or minimize our "bad human" activities.
I know this sounds good in theory, but how do we put it into practice? Changing my mind about something that is so ingrained in our culture made even my own mind twist! But I got through it.
Here is an example.
Energy. Our current energy system is based in nonrenewable fossil fuels that take an enormous amount of energy to mine and process, and create pollution during mining, processing and burning. To save energy or use it more efficiently is to simply use less of the same polluting energy. We're still doing the same destructive energy system, just doing it slower. We'll still get to a point where there are no more fossil fuels, it will just be a few years later. I'm not saying we shouldn't save energy or use it efficiently, but doing that and nothing else only slows destruction. When we install energy-efficient lighting in our homes and offices, we follow the "slow destruction" model. I really want to emphasize this is not a bad or ineffective thing to do, but it still acting to minimize our "bad human" actions.
Renewable energy systems take advantage of existing natural energy flows in a given place that cannot be exhausted and are free (except for the equipment needed to harness or collect it). Once that equipment is installed, it can collect and direct an "unlimited" amount of energy—usually more than is needed and enough to flow back into the grid and turn into money.
Some uses of natural energy flows require no special equipment at all. Cool autumn breezes wafting though open windows and doors cost nothing and require no special equipment. All you need to do is open the window or door.
It's easy to see from this example that the act of efficiency alone while still using grid energy is based on limitation of resources and user contraction whereas renewable energy is based on resources abundance and user expansion.
Yes, it takes resources to make those solar panels, but the point is that it makes more sense to work on finding ways to make renewable energy more sustainable than it does to find more ways to be energy-efficient. Because energy efficiency, taken to its maximum is nothing, whereas renewable energy taken to its maximum is abundant energy for all.
I installed a solar attic fan to pull the cooler outdoor air into our attic to cool it, reducing the need for air conditioning by using a free natural energy flow. Now that I am aware of the importance of doing this, I look for ways to utilize natural flows as my first choice—making decisions and taking actions around applying that principle.
We could, of course, go through every type of product or activity and make a scale from worst-bad to best-good.
The question then becomes, where are we as individuals? Are we still becoming less bad or have we crossed the line to becoming more good? (And the answer might be different for different parts of our lives.)
The important shift in my mind is to have the intent to be in the zone of good—to state that intent clearly and make decisions around it.
The way I see it, in the past I have been thinking of the path to sustaining life like this...
...and saying every step away from destruction—no matter how slight and regardless of where it is on the scale—is moving toward sustaining life. That's true, it is, but now I see it like this...
...where there is a zone of negative activity that needs to be lessened and a zone of positive activity that needs to be strengthened and expanded.
"The line" that divides them is when you cross into renewable energy or to organic agriculture and other similar life-expanding activities.
To me, this is the next step of awareness that needs to be taken:
- to break out of the social conditioning imposed on us by industrialism
- to see ourselves and our activities as inherently life-supporting and regenerative instead of struggling to be less bad, and
- to view ourselves as "good humans," able to support life in every action we take.
Being "Good Humans"
I believe we can do better than just be less bad. I believe not only that we can be "good humans" but that it is actually our inherent human nature to be good.
We humans are nature as much as trees and butterflies are—we are a species among other species. As beings of nature it is possible to be constructive participants in the processes of nature, rather than destroy nature. We can be fully 100% "good" participants by understanding and applying the laws of nature--which is an expansive, fertile, creative, abundant, prosperous thing--rather than having to curb and limit our existing "bad" activities.
To me, discovering ourselves as good humans breaks down into four major areas of action. Though all are necessary facets to the whole of our humanity, separating them out in this way makes them easier to understand and apply.
1 – Choosing green products and lifestyle activities
This includes everything about the material goods we buy or make for our daily sustenance, and all the actions we take in our daily lives. It considers the effect our consumer choices have on our health and the environment--for better or worse--as well as the whole idea of consumerism as a lifestyle. Some steps to take include:
- learning about and reconsidering consumerism
- curbing the most destructive actions, such as not using toxic chemicals and eliminating waste
- choosing the most life-supporting products currently available and supporting those businesses producing and selling such products
- creating a home environment using materials you know to be healthy, safe, and eco-friendly to use.
2 – Becoming aware of and reorienting one's life to Nature
This is about doing things such as learning about and integrating our lives into local ecosystems, celebrating the seasons, telling time by celestial lights, locating directions, and other things I will be writing about on my Living As Nature blog.
3 – Living according to natural laws
All Life is governed by natural laws. Applying these laws in our lives leads to success, health, and the sustaining of life. For the most part, we are completely unaware of these laws in our modern culture. But they are known, can be learned, and easily applied in our own lives. I will be writing about these natural laws on my Living As Nature blog.
4 – Discovering our essential nature as spirit
Spirit is the source of caring, creativity, and conscience—all qualities that are necessary to be good humans. By becoming more aware of our own innate spiritual characteristics and abilities, we have an unlimited resource of life to draw upon.
I have been studying how we can make the shift from living as consumers in an industrial world to living as beings of nature in the natural world for more than twenty-five years now. I gathered a lot of information and then decided it couldn't be done. But since learning the basic assumptions of industry, I've changed my mind. I don't have to accept those assumptions for my life. I've realized that the key is to understand the basic principles of nature and apply them to every aspect of my life.
It's more than a matter of choosing something that already exists. We have something new here to create! So let's get to it...
Here a table I've made to capture details contrasting characteristics of industrialization with characteristics of nature.
If you think of something that should be added, please send me an email.
life as defined by INDUSTRIALIZATION
life as defined by NATURE
|products are machine made in complex factories||products are handmade or with simple pre-industrial tools|
|high volume production driven by profits||low volume production driven by need|
|"international" design for use in all locales||design considers local and regional needs. materials and conditions|
|lifestyle includes lots of stuff||simple lifestyle has essential comforts|
|waste and excess||efficient use of resources, use only what is needed|
|disconnected from the land||integrated into ecosystem, follows local vernacular|
|intended for all-year use||seasonally-appropriate|
|impersonal - made by unknown others||personal - made by oneself or close acquaintances|
|consumers dependent on industry||producers self-determined and self-sufficient|
|fossil fuel transportation - drive, fly||human-powered transportation - walk, bike|
|large amounts of nonrenewable fuels used||small amounts of local renewable energy used|
|mass producded products exactly the same||custom-created originals|
|mass communications - tv, radio, newspaper||interpersonal communications - newsletters, neighbor-to-neighbor, town meetings|