Awakening Humanity

In Oct. 2008, Dr. James Gustave Speth, the dean of Environmental Studies at Yale University wrote, "All we have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today...."

Culture is one important reason given by people who continue doing exactly what they have been doing all along. Culture is the collective memory which traps a society in a lockstep pattern of activities, even if the society collapses spectacularly as a result. Most societies use a drug called "approval" and a stick called "criticism" to keep members in line while their cultures keep gliding along on auto-pilot.

Clearly, our present world cultures are not serving us well, if Dr. Speth's assessment is any indication. Most cultures are still operating under the assumption that only humans experience consciousness, while animals are unconscious automatons put on earth for human use and consumption. (I submit to you that any human being who operates under that assumption while living with a pet is actually unconscious!) Thus, western cultures have evolved to "farm" animals in vast gulags, using perverse subsidies and price supports to make the consumption of animals and fishes cheaper than the consumption of plant-based foods, while vast tracts of tropical forests and marine fisheries get destroyed in the process.

On such purely cultural considerations, last week, the nations of the world voted to condemn the Bluefin Tuna to extinction at the Doha round of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), so as not to offend the sensibilities of Japanese sushi consumers. Anyone with a high school diploma should have the mathematical skills to compute that the Bluefin Tuna is facing a "culiinary extinction": if 95% of the world population of Bluefin Tuna was eaten by human beings in the span of 50 years, how many years will we need to eat the rest if our appetite for tuna continues to increase exponentially?

On the surface, it would appear that humans are suffering from an acute crisis of not understanding simple, high school arithmetic.

However, I can cite numerous examples of well educated scientists and environmentalists, who are continuing to consume animals even as the arithmetic consequences of their consumption should be crystal clear in their thinking minds. Therefore, it is probably the cultural cocoon that they are ensconced in that keeps them acting like carnivorous caterpillars and prevents them from awakening to the consequences of their consumption. And such awakening is hard to do, especially when almost everybody else around you is fast asleep.

Therefore, I believe that the true crisis facing the current generation of humanity is that of awakening and connecting with reality, i.e., a spiritual one. To quote the late, great philosopher, Fr. Anthony de Mello, "Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep. They are born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep and they die in their sleep without ever waking up."

For the sake of our children, grandchildren, the magnificent Bluefin Tuna and all the other creatures that are careening towards extinction, I hope that humanity awakens soon.