I had my first serious encounter with the stuff of Joanna Macy tonight, via a certain YouTube video. I must say, it was anything but a pleasant experience, filled with claims which were not justified historically, such as the suggestion that the rise of agriculture was consistently peaceful, and war and disruption arose only with the industrial revolution, the implication that by continued use of fossil fuels humanity is risking their own annihilation and that of other sentient beings on Earth, and that technology, corporations, and finance are each and all intrinsically tied to a pattern and cult of exponential growth.
Indeed, I was very upset, almost to the point of being ill, having felt so quite enough reacting to the contents of Twitter posts from a Certain Person in Washington, D.C., as well as pronouncements of his followers. But, worse, all this suggests to me that Macy believes, along with David Korten, that by wishing hard enough and purifying oneself, the world can be automatically transformed. This is a seductive anti-technology, anti-engineering, anti-rationalist, anti-intellectual, and anti-scholar rant, akin to the implicit hope Tolkien had that if only everyone would return to the agrarian world of his fictitious Hobbits, all would be fine. They call it The Great Turning. It’s interesting that Macy also refers to it as The Great Unraveling.
And it is effectively doomed to failure, unless one assumes there is a Deity who will intervene, or that there is some pan-psychic Gaia who will, in the end, come and rescue Her worthy worshippers. This is the kind of stuff I have opposed all my life, and is one of the reasons I identify with being a physical materialist and atheist. It is a seductive version of the worst stuff Sagan described in Demon Haunted World.
And it is deeply unfortunate, in my opinion.
First, there is, it seems, an increasing attraction of well-meaning, somewhat spiritual individuals to this philosophy, or whatever else one wants to call it. There is a futility of any other course ingrained within it. It is almost as if they embody another view of Tolkien who, in a letter to a son, suggested the world as it is is fundamentally broken, and it needs some spiritual elixir from the Deity to save it. It has certainly captured many UUs.
Second, it is becoming its own narrative, assigning roles to players who do not know The Great Turning‘s script, for they are trying to grapple with the actual world, not the necessities of Macy’s drama. And in doing so, it puts them both in an impossible situation and, indirectly, condemns them for pursuing a pathway which is inconsistent with its own view.
Third, it rejects what, in my opinion, human beings are best at, as David Suzuki has observed, their skills in imagination and intellect.
I am still recovering.
And one of the saddest things is that, this judgment of Macy’s proposal is cleaving friendships. All I feel like I want to do is withdraw and, like a friend who died long ago once said, become the equivalent of an old English colonel tending his garden and working on his ciphers.
Maybe I need to stay stronger by the UU Humanists.
Or maybe the zealous atheists are correct, and this religion thing is just irrevocably cancerous, even if it gives succor to people.
From the Preface of Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
There are demon-haunted worlds,
regions of utter darkness.
The Isa Upanishad (India, ca. 600 BCE)
Fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which every one in himself calleth religion.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or my grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantative content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.
From Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World