Our Main Concern
If you live in a society that provides regular access to the internet, you live in the "dominant world culture." So do we—the authors of this web page. Over the last 10,000 years, what started as a single culture among others has grown into a mega-culture dominant over almost the entire planet.
This culture has provided some of us the best "standard of living" humans have ever known. At the same time, the fundamental operating principles we learn in this culture lead us to put ourselves at war with life on planet Earth, systematically doing those things which no population of organisms can do and continue to survive. Moreover, we presume that we know the one right way to live, and with that conviction we have made sure that no other way of living remains untouched.
Andy Hilgartner says:
In 1952, the year I turned twenty, I came to recognize where the practices we consistently follow appear actually to lead.
I expressed my insight in a poem:
nothing living anywhere in sight
the sands fused to green glowing glass
the hills scorched dry eroded bare
the lake foul dead radioactive
while on the lifeless plain
a white-eyed skull surveys its handiwork
In this unquiet insight, I do not feel altogether alone any more. During my lifetime, more and more members of our culture have expressed publicly and in their own words an awareness that we seem intent on doing ourselves in.
I recently encountered the writings of Daniel Quinn, including Ishmael and My Ishmael. In both mythical and analytical language, these books express conclusions which match some of my own.
Quinn offers "rules of thumb" by which we can recognize members of our own culture:
If you find the last two points somewhat contradictory, you have begun to understand the depth of the mess which, I maintain, we have arranged for ourselves.
As the cartoon character Pogo puts it, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Following our cultural assumptions, many of us seem to regard a calamitous outcome, such as the one envisioned in my poem, as inevitable—the end-product of a supposed, fixed "thing" we call "human nature." I disagree with that view (and regard my poem as part of my dissent). Several years before I wrote that poem, I had encountered the general semantics of Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), who holds that humans behave in ways analogous to a logical system—that what we DO follows from what we ASSUME.
By 1952, I had begun assimilating that insight. Through a young adulthood no less confused that that of many other humans, I learned how to uncover my own assumptions, and to revise them when the need becomes clear. Then I generalized that process, learning how to study human assumptions in situ, and shared this process with others.
Our group has disclosed the main assumptions that commit us to seek species suicide and extinction. Further, we have gained experience in using Korzybski's alternative assumptions, which seem more likely to lead us to align ourselves with sustaining life on planet Earth, to fit ourselves into the diversity of the biosphere.
Perhaps the most important next step becomes to test the viewpoints so far built up on these alternative assumptions, and settle the question of whether or not they perform as promised.
But close behind this step comes another main question: How do we go about discarding those assumptions which lead us towards species suicide and extinction, and replacing them with others which may lead us to develop viable and sustainable ways of living?
That forms the main concern of our research group
Statement of Intent
I ASSERT that the patterns by which we and our ancestors for the past several thousand years have lived have now failed us.
In my view, these patterns center in the lived assumption that "I already know how things REALLY ARE"—the perhaps unspoken, even unrecognized, pretense to "absolute certainty", with a consequent unwillingness to re-examine and revise "what I thought I knew." From that lived assumption follows a certain quarrelsomeness: If I already know "how things really are", and you express a view which differs from mine, I will find your PROVOCATIVE BEHAVIOR a THREAT to my AUTHORITY. And if I cannot persuade, manipulate or coerce you to revise what you say so it matches what I ALREADY KNOW, I may take steps to defend my own TRUTHS by suppressing your mistaken OPINIONS—or even may set out to suppress YOU. And the means of suppressing you range from verbal put-downs to fisticuffs, to murder, war, and genocide.
Today, we know how to use cosmic forces (such as nuclear fission and fusion—A-bombs and H-bombs) to defend our "absolute certainties". Under these conditions, I assert, those lived assumptions which lead us to pretend to "absolute certainty" have outlived their usefulness. To persist in relying on them will, I predict,lead us into species suicide and extinction.
I DECLARE the possibility of intentionally revising our lived assumptions. We can re-build these patterns we live by so that we live not from the practice of defending our presumed "absolute certainties" (or from what I call self-defending), but rather, from the practice of testing our own guesses (which I call self-correcting).
In other words, I declare that we humans now have it within our grasp to produce a fundamental, principled, concious, and deliberate revision of the structure of human social transacting. For example, we can build up social patterns with which to replace our non-viable social institutions: the self-defeating or self-eliminating aspects of our dealings with ourselves, and the self-defending patterns in what we now call "nuclear family", "friendship", "social group", "corperation", "local government", and "nation-state". We can come to recognize our patterned dealings with the-human-species-as-a-whole. And, having built up these newer, potentially viable patterns, we have it within our grasp to replace the older, non-viable patterns with the newer ones.
I PROMISE to catalyze this revision of the fundamental lived assumptions of the human species so that, by the year 2007, we have put the new patterns into use planet-wide.
And I REQUEST your direct and immediate participation in this project.
C.A. Higartner, MD