Monday, October 20, 2008

deep immersion

From the latest nature newsletter, Jim Conrad, now in the Yucatan, Mexico

When one moves through various cultures, eventually
the question arises as to what keeps people behaving
one way and not another. Why do the Maya keep acting
like Maya, but never even for a moment assume the
habits and outlooks of Arabs or Polynesians? When I'm
back in Mississippi or rural Kentucky, why are most
but not all people socially conservative Republicans
with high cholesterol levels believing that global
warming is mostly bleeding-heart-liberal propaganda?

A liberating feature of experiencing deep immersion in
very different cultures is that at some point during
the process you begin seeing how the vast majority of
people dedicate their lives to living like people
around them, unthinkingly, even when it may not be in
their own best personal interest, or that of the
community. Since all cultures I've ever experienced
proved to have at least one unsustainable feature,
over the years I've developed the notion that the herd
instinct and the momentum of tradition and often-
repeated routines are lethally powerful agencies.

Yet, each human, I've also decided, has a kind of
"switch" in the brain that can be flicked whenever the
person wants. It's the abandon-this-culture switch.
Having reached a certain threshold or saturation point
in something, just flick that switch, start thinking
of yourself as belonging to another sphere of
influence, or maybe no sphere of influence at all, and
it's done, you're out of it.

Recognizing the presence of this switch is important
because herd instinct, tradition and habits aren't
going to save Life on Earth. Only people with their
abandon-this-culture switch flicked, thinking
rationally and behaving decisively -- always at some
point working in conflict with some elements of the
surrounding culture -- can save Life on Earth.

However, reality is strung together so that you never
get by with just abandoning something. Something else
must always take its place -- fill the vacuum. What
should take the place of an abandoned culture?

Intimacy with Nature is the most appropriate
substitution. Nature experienced firsthand, Nature
reflected upon, Nature interpreted the way you
personally interpret it. Nature provides the paradigms
needed upon which ethical, sustainable, loving lives
can be built. Nature fills the human spirit's vacuum
when old, unsustainable, dead-headed manners of being
are flicked OFF.

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