It was The Matrix that popularised the idea that industrialised humans are a virus.
And it’s true that, like a virus, we are ravaging our environment to the point of destruction, in a way that seems unending. But I want to argue that this isn’t totally the case, and that thinking we are detrimental to the planet is a waste of time and even dangerous.
Rather, what we industrialised folk need is a pep talk and to change our story.
The idea we are a virus is a notion unique to industrialised civilisation, it’s quite serious and we need to stop—yesterday.
I often wonder about the psychological reasons why, as a culture, the industrialised don’t just stop what they are doing? We all know about climate change and the environmental, and human, destruction that our lifestyles cause. It is clear that every day the average person uses a mammoth amount of resources that come from somewhere, and in doing so we create a lot of rubbish that needs to be put somewhere else.
Darrick Jenson, an environmental philosopher, points out that if your water comes from a stream then you’ll defend it to the death, however, if your water comes from a tap you’ll defend that to the death instead. So perhaps we don’t stop environmental destruction because, currently, our very lives depend on that destructive system continuing.
But I’ve also wondered whether the self-destructive behaviour towards the planet is also a self-esteem issue.
Do we secretly think we deserve it? With popular culture suggesting we’re a virus and major religions telling us that we are born into sin, perhaps it’s not surprising that we lack enough self-worth as a species to even save ourselves.
It’s exasperating that most people seem to be doing nothing beyond changing a few light bulbs to more “energy efficient” ones, and separating their rubbish into different boxes.
Do we really think changing a light bulb can stop the globalised destruction of our planet? Do we really believe that we can consume our way out of the impending doom that is being created by our over-consumption?
Daniel Quinn points out in his book, Ishmael, that industrialised humans are basing their value as living creatures on a minute part of our species history. If we understand the fact that that we were living in harmony with the rest of the planet for millions of years, before we became “civilised,” then a different picture arises.
Instead of seeing ourselves as intrinsically bad we can recognise that we simply made a (pretty massive) mistake.
Our human curiosity and ingenuity meant that 10,000 years ago we discovered a much more reliable way of feeding ourselves. Agriculture gave us a sense of control in world that seemed chaotic. But to create “order” from the chaos we needed to destroy our natural habitats, and if we needed more land, then we destroyed each other as well. And with the discovery of oil there seemed to be no limits to our domination of the planet.
But now, as the resources are running out, we’re beginning to grasp the fact that perhaps all of this control and order wasn’t such a good idea, and that perhaps nature’s more intelligent than we are after all.
But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people—that means we tried something out and it hasn’t worked. Instead of beating ourselves up, and resigning ourselves to annihilation, we could be heading back to the drawing board. And a lot of us are.
In his books and lectures Charles Eisenstien says that it’s time to change our story. So far we’ve been relying on science, religion, economics and popular culture to tell us what we are and how we should relate to the rest of Life.
But these stories are all based on the fundamental idea that we are separate entities from the rest of the universe, and so we tend to see the universe as an indifferent or even hostile place that needs to be controlled. (Could it also be that subconsciously—or consciously—we see it this way so that we can continue to exploit it?)
What we need is a new story describing that human beings should live in harmony with the planet, not just on it.
Eisenstein suggests that “Everything we are doing to the world on some level we are doing it to ourselves.” And so, perhaps, if we treated ourselves better, mentally and physically, we would be more inclined to treat the rest of the planet in a better way.
With this in mind, if we keep telling ourselves that we are a virus, we are going to continue to behave as one.
Whether it’s to create new social stories or to create new ways of growing food and communities with techniques such as Permaculture, we live in a time where we need to create a new type of civilisation (and forget the government bodies taking charge; we need to do it ourselves).
As Eisenstein says:
“The world that we see around us is built on a story. By acting from a different story we disrupt the psychic sub-structure of our mythology”
So let’s change the story to one where humans are a valued part of the planetary community.
We deserve to be here and let’s face it, apart from a few mistakes over the last millennium or two, we bring some beautiful and inspiring energy to the planet.
We also have the tremendous capacity to restore environments back to lush and fertile lands so let’s stop feeling bad about ourselves and get on with it.
Author: Suzanne Williams
Editor: Emma Ruffin
Photo: Tanveer Iqbal/Flickr