In general, we orient ourselves based on a creation story, a story that places us within the Universe and imbues our life with meaning and value.
Therefore, the difficulty is not with the creation stories per se, but with the cultural stories that rule our daily lives. When our cultural stories don’t match reality, we tend to do things that are not true to ourselves, that are against our core “Dharma”.
It is necessary for us to correctly answer the "Who Are We?" question, at least from a purely biological sense so that we can put the puzzle pieces together on the much more important "Why Are We Here?" question later on.
Unfortunately, humans are not biologically equipped to be like carnivores. Our biological characteristics such as our colons, intestines, saliva, jaws and teeth, which have been relatively unchanged for the past 200,000 years, are not designed for the consumption of animal flesh.
When I immigrated to the US and came to know of the horrific conditions in which dairy cows are raised in the US, I justified my continued consumption of dairy products telling myself that it is different in India. I spun a cocoon of denial around myself so that I didn't have to face the reality of what I was consuming on a daily basis. But the truth kept intruding, time and again.
In the Hindu view, all that is “good” is God or Brahman. Truth is God, happiness is God, peace is God, and so on.
When the cultural stories that rule our daily lives don't match reality, that's a sure sign that we have become truly disconnected from our core Dharma.
We like to think of ourselves as dominating the Earth. The factual evidence for this perspective is abundant. We are destroying forests, killing wild animals, birds and fishes with little to no opposition from them.
The question of free will is an age-old one that has exercised minds for millennia. Currently, Neuroscience has advanced to a point where it is possible for a computer to accurately predict the choices that an individual is going to make, well before he or she is conscious of making those choices.
Any relationship is a connection established to meet the needs of the two parties involved. Our relationship with the Earth is no different. Ideally, our relationship with the Earth must meet our needs as a species while also meeting the needs of the Earth and other beings on Earth, each giving to the other in a way that creates a mutually beneficial connection.
The Earth transitioned into the Holocene era about 12,000 years ago, an interglacial period of remarkable climactic stability, which allowed organized human civilizations to flourish. Environmentalists and climate scientists have mainly attributed this remarkable climactic stability to good fortune.
The industrial era is when most of the technologies that we see today got invented. In the process of creating and deploying these technologies, we have had to burn a lot of fossil fuels, destroy a lot of forests, pour a lot of fertilizers and irrigate a lot of land.
Imagine that we are Earth doctors and we are being asked to diagnose the Earth's condition and prescribe a course of action for healing and reversal. Let's take each of the planetary boundaries and examine the root cause for the human induced perturbations in the underlying Earth processes.
Modern animal husbandry is a marvel of technology. From instruments that guarantee the impregnation of animals to machines that milk dairy cows and the disassembly line that is the modern slaughterhouse, technology has relentlessly squeezed the resource requirements for livestock production.
It’s a human condition to be blind to our foibles. It is very difficult for us to correct for that blindness when the dominant culture encourages and subsidizes those foibles.
The Nobel-winning behavioral economist, Daniel Kahnemann, said,
“We can be blind to the obvious. And we can be blind to our blindness.”
But the time is ripe for our globally connected industrial civilization to overcome culturally bequeathed habits that no longer serve their original purpose and transition to a truly nonviolent, sustainable, steady-state presence on Earth.
In Nature, both the Caterpillar and the Butterfly serve useful purposes and have their respective niches in ecosystems. But in order to understand the purpose served by human beings in both our Caterpillar and Butterfly phases, we must examine the human story in a broader context.
Who or what is the Earth anyway? Is the Earth just a big lump of rock with useful resources on it, a "Blue Marble" as seen from outer space? Or is the Earth a more complex material object governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, but still insentient? Or is the Earth also an intelligent, sentient being endowed with some independent agency executed through Life, though confined to a prescribed orbit around the sun, as in James Lovelock's "Gaia" model and in the "Mother Earth" formulation embraced by most Eastern and indigenous wisdom traditions?
In order to comprehend why Life has spawned a tool-building species, we first have to embed the human story within the Earth’s biography.