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6 THE ASCENT OF HUMANITY



more education, trying harder—only seem to worsen our problems. For 

many activists, hopelessness gives way to despair as catastrophe looms 

ever closer despite their best efforts.

This book explains why trying harder can never work. Our “best ef- 

forts” are grounded in the same mode of being that is responsible for the 


crisis in the first place. As Audre Lord put it, “The master’s tools will 

never dismantle the master’s house.” Soon, though, this mode of being 

will come to an end, to be replaced by a profoundly different sense of the 

self, and a profoundly different relationship between human and nature. 

This book is about the gathering revolution in human beingness.



***


When we say that the planetary crisis is of human (and not natural) 


origin, what do we mean? Human beings are mammals, after all, biologi- 

cal creatures no less natural than any other. In a sense, there can be no 

distinction between human and nature, because human beings are a part 

of nature and everything we do is therefore “natural”. However, we do 

distinguish. We recognize in nature a kind of harmony, balance, authen- 

ticity, and beauty lacking in the world of technology—think of the con- 

notations of the word “artificial”. Whether in fact or in perception, we 

modern humans live in a way that is no longer natural.

At the crux of the human-nature distinction is technology, the prod- 

uct of the human hand. While other animals do make and use tools, no 

other species has our capacity to remake or destroy the physical envi- 

ronment, to control nature’s processes or transcend nature’s limitations. 

In the mental and spiritual realm, the counterpart of technology is cul- 

ture, which modifies and even supersedes human nature in the same way 

technology modifies physical nature. In thus mastering nature with tech- 

nology, and mastering human nature with culture, we distinguish our- 

selves from the rest of life, establishing a separate human realm. 

Believing this to be a good thing, we think of this separation as an ascent 

in which we have risen above our animal origins. That is why we natu- 

rally refer to the millennia-long accumulation of culture and technology 

as “progress”.


It is separation, then, in the form of technology and culture, that de- 

fines us as human. As well, it is separation that has generated the con- 

verging crises of today’s world. People of a religious persuasion might 

attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an











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