Monday, May 30, 2011

We Are Here

I believe there are five natural factors that determine and will continue to determine our history and future.
* All life reproduces to the maximum their environment allows(population density).
* All life will use all the resources in its environment to promote its present living (population pressure).
* Much of life manifest an us against them protectionism (even plants release poisons to the soil to protect their territory. This is the convergence of territoriality (which is manifest by all life) and the need to belong for this dependently social animal called human.
* We are immersed in an environment of our own making and our "brilliance" threatens us with unintended consequences (whether agriculture or nuclear power).
* Groups larger than the small group of 30 to 200 people which is the social environment in which we evolved for a million years, creates power-over and inequality.   These smaller groups were fluid in the sense that individuals and groups moved and interacted with others groups of similar size over large distances.
These five factors are a natural part of life and being human. 

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it. Friedrich Nietzsche
Kaufmann, Walter. 1967. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. trans. and ed. p. 714.

If we don’t blow ourselves off the face of the earth in the struggle for diminishing scarce resources, humanity will survive. We are a powerfully resourceful and inventive animal. However, if we don’t address the issues below then in the long run it will be same old, same old. We will repeat what all animals do and what is particular to us humans.

As an expression of life, as a representative animal and as ourselves, we are exactly how we would end up. We are not dysfunctional, as some would have it. We did not take a wrong turn in the past, ten thousand years ago at the agricultural revolution. We are not a cancer on the earth and we are not disconnected from our environment.

There are several natural factors that have aimed us at this particular moment in human history, where population pushes against resource availability, where as a social animal we stand against each other, where we are immersed in an environment of our own creative making and where our brilliance threatens us.

We are exactly where we have to be. It is the nature of the beast. Every life form, amoeba, oak tree, aphid, mouse, will make as many of their kind as the resources in the environment permit. And they will use those resources until they are no more and they either die out or relocate to more resources.
We are no different. We have population density because we can. Unlimited growth is written into the code of life. In the universe’s ironic wisdom, not only are we driven by this code, but also it feels good. And, oh my, we know it feels good. So we mate and we do what we can to be able to mate.
And as any lifeform will do, we will use all the resources available to us both for propagation and for enduring in the present. Here enters the second prong of overshoot – population pressure. We are devouring our environment as fast as we find ways to use it.

As David Price states in his great essay that all should read:
“All species expand as much as resources allow and predators, parasites, and physical conditions permit. When a species is introduced into a new habitat with abundant resources that accumulated before its arrival, the population expands rapidly until all the resources are used up.”1

Price is defining the process of overshoot, the convergence of the dual population issues of density and pressure. (See also Catton, William. 1980. Overshoot. University of Illinois Press. Chicago).
Overshoot as noted is a characteristic of life itself. Another critical aspect defining our present situation is territoriality/tribalism. Many organisms define territory. The song of birds, the scent of dogs, the deed of homeownership each expresses marking of territories. As a social animal, our territories extend beyond solid things. Our groups are part of our territory. Our congregation, a clan, a tribe, and a nation these and others commandeer loyalty, energy, and defense if deemed necessary. This need for and protection of our social groups is a critical part of being human. Important to note the threat to any of these does not have to be directly physical. (See bibliography US and Them at the end of the essay)

The infant human’s need for attachment is well documented. This need evolves with the advent of language and self into a need to belong. There is voluminous evidence for attachment needs of all humans cross culturally. There is evidence for the behavioral and emotional results of various kinds of attachments. The need for identity is closely related to attachment. Here there is also significant research available as well as research on the disturbances of poorly formed identity. (See bibliography ATTACHMENT at end of the essay)

I am using the generalized term tribalism to indicate this human need for social identity and its protection. Tribalism dictates the stresses that limited resource create whether they are real or imaginary. When the physical scarcity of resources raises its ugly head, whether it is land, wood, oil, food, or mates, the group looks beyond their boundaries for more.

Support of the group is not particular to the human animal; however, we have several unique takes on it. We create group identities, boundaries of belonging of all sorts that are not physical or directly related to physical survival. A threat to our group(s) is a threat to our stability psychologically, socially and also perceived as physically.

Man can be the most affectionate and altruistic of creatures, yet he's potentially more vicious than any other. He is the only one who can be persuaded to hate millions of his own kind whom he has never seen and to kill as many as he can lay his hands on in the name of his tribe or his God.
(-Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and author (1903-1998)
Benjamin Spock, Decent and Indecent (1970), quoted in Rebecca Davison and Susan Mesner, eds. The Treasury
Of Religious & Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By (Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1994), p. 224.)

William Bridges indicates four ways we are embedded in our world – identity, engagement, orientation and enchantment. (Bridges, W. 1989. Transitions. Addison-Wesley. N.Y.) (See also my essay for a more in depth description of these aspects - Disruption of these especially our enchantment, our way of seeing the world, our way of making sense of the world and our place in it, is a serious threat.

Some atheists and other critics of religion like to use the analogy of a crutch for religion – which it is something that the weak use to get them through otherwise difficult situations. The implication is that, if they were stronger (like us) they could dispense with the crutch and walk independent and free. [But] you cannot pull a crutch from underneath a cripple and expect him or her to walk. Rather, they will fall and then probably blame you for the accident. The real point is more profound but perhaps more discouraging: religion for the religious person is like culture for the cultural person – it is glasses, not crutches. And these glasses are not prophylactic – they do not help the person to see “better.” They make seeing at all possible. Maybe an ultimate analogy for culture in general and religion in particular is not glasses but the very eyes themselves. You could not expect to pull someone’s eyes out and have them see better, any more than you could expect to take away someone’s culture and have understand and act better.
Eller, David. 2010. “The cultures of Christianities.” In The Christian Delusion edited by John W. Loftus. Prometheus. N.Y. pg. 44

In may seem that I am targeting religions as the bad boy of group cohesiveness and group violence. Religion, spirituality and their many facets and manifestations have been an interest of mine for decades so I have more sources for them. There is considerable literature around these issues. (See US AND THEM in the bibliography). Nationalism, tribalism and other exclusionary groupings have contributed to violence against the other across human history and human cultures.
Religion creates unchallengeable aspects – such as salvation or submission – that are as proprietary as a deed to a home. The group and the individuals of the group must defend these unchallengeable aspects for continued belonging and stability.

The postulation of invisible, undetectable effects that (unlike atoms and germs) are systematically immune to confirmation of disconfirmation is so common in religions that such effects are sometimes taken as definitive. No religion lacks them, and anything that lacks them is not a religion, however much it is like a religion is other regards. Pg. 164. Dennet, Daniel. 2006. Breaking the Spell. Viking. N.Y.

A fourth and particularly human issue is our manipulation of the environment both physical and social. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, we are a powerfully creative and inventive animal. Our abilities in using the natural environment and manufacturing devices of all kinds to facilitate our living more easily in the moment on the earth is our particular tool for survival. The eagle has its eye sight, its soaring, its talons as tools for survival; ours is in part our technological ability (I believe we have an even more profound ability that allows enculturation of all humans, see:

These abilities carry with them a flaw, a flaw that may well be fatal. We are not designed to consider the long term. We are designed to be aware of the immediate; the tiger in the brush, the viper in the tree – immediate dangers and fears – the fight or flight response. Only particular and a limiteds number of members of a group see into the distance.

Consider it this way. If humanity is seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter. She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought. This same 100 year old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution. And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.

Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence. Is it bad or wrong? This is not the criteria. There is no fault. Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time. At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that expands and deepens the knowledge of our travels. (From my essay:

We are burdened with a belief in our specialness which we think manifest as our seeming control of the environment. This control is an illusion founded in perhaps arrogance, short sightedness and hubris. The evidence that it is an illusion continues to manifest itself and is given proof by the convergence of the many issues facing humanity at this point in time. Ozone depletion, acid rain, nuclear waste, oil spills, population predicated on a nonrenewable resource, radiation in the air, radiation in the water, medicines in our drinking water, depletion of clean water globally, melting of glaciers and ice caps the list goes on and on.

We simply do not account for unintended consequences. One of the powerful unintended consequences is our distance if not mental and emotional divorce from the living environment. We are absolutely connected to our environment, an environment of our own making, mechanical timings and straight lines. By losing our awareness of and embeddedness in the living environment, our sense of specialness blinds us to the true connectivity of all things. This imperils our very existence. And it is cumulative.

A fifth aspect of our humanness that threatens our existence is inequality.  When humans groups grow beyond the gatherer/hunter size, a disparity evolves.   The stronger, “richer”, sometimes smarter will hold higher assess to resources and reproduction.  As groups grow in size, the disparity grows along with it.

Five natural aspects of life and being human have been named: population, resource consumption, tribalism, unintended consequences of our “genius” and inequality.

How to accomplish this “social engineering” while being fair and not dictatorial should be the immediate debate and exploration. How do we enjoy the pleasure and sensuality during procreation and separate the pleasure and sensuality from procreation? When do we instill these behaviors and attitudes while protecting the young from power-over? How do we assess technological applications without stifling creativity and inventiveness? How do we reemerge our enchantment into the web of life and celebrate that connection? If these issues demand development of politics, economics and even religion, how do we protect against tyranny?

I have thought about these issues for decades. I don’t know.
1 Price,David. 1995. Energy and Human Evolution. Originally published in “Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies”, Volume 16, Number 4, March 1995, pp. 301-19. See original at: or


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Cumpsty, John. 1991. Religion As Belonging. University Press of America. N.Y.
Docker, John. 2008. The Origins of Violence: Religion, History and Genocide. University of New South Wales.
Douglas, Tom. 1995. Scapegoats: Transferring blame. Routledge. N.Y.
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Prothero, Stephen. 2010. God is not One: The eight rival religions that run the world- and why their differences matter. Harper. N.Y.
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Spock, Benjamin. 1970. Decent and Indecent. Quoted in Rebecca Davison and Susan Mesner, eds., The Treasury of Religious & Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By (Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1994), p. 224.
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May 2011

Self Talk - the Human Adaptation

This was written several decades ago. It is a shortened version. It is a different direction than most of my essays presented here. 

Shame is an important part of our shaping, see more on shame at the end. 

(There may be some confusion how I use/mean the term “self consciousness” especially the somewhat loaded term “consciousness”. The concept I am trying to convey is the self-talk, the internal talk that all of us do. Sometimes it seems like a broken record, this we call ruminating. It is “programmed” in multiple verbal and non-verbal ways from birth onward. Some of it is not even talk but “feelings” because it was communicated in the preverbal developmental period.)
HOMO spiritualis - In search of meaning

The miracle said 'I" and then was still
lost in the wing-bright sphere of his own wonder:
as if the river pause to say a river,
or thunder to self said thunder,
As once the voice had spoken, now the mind
uttered itself, and gave itself a name;
and in the instant all was changed, the world
two separate worlds became -
Conrad Aiken. Collected Poems.

The development of a complex and learned communication system in humans coupled with the highly developed feedback systems of our brain has made us a highly adaptable animal. Humans can be placed in any wide variety of environments and a way will develop for surviving in that environment. Along with learning a physical survival system, a way of human interaction will also arise.
So often the importance of language is placed solely on the exchange of information between people. This is only one side of the coin. I want to emphasize that the internal monitoring that our language ability allows is an equally important adaptation for human survival. Self-consciousness allows the developing human to learn acceptable ways of being and to have an internal monitor to regulate our behavior.

For adaptive survival, the eagle has the talon and keen eyesight, the porcupine it’s quills; we have the internal dialogues that are a coupling of our complex feedback systems and language. We have self-consciousness.

Self-consciousness is the process that allows the child to learn about and adapt to the most necessary, most complicated, and potentially most dangerous component of our environment - other humans. The human child must spend many years learning how to live. Most important are not the raw data of physical survival, but the intricacies of social behavior and acceptance.

Early in human life we “learn”, in many ways and on multiple levels, acceptable social modes of behavior. Self-consciousness is the comparative process that allows us to monitor, mediate, modify, or inhibit our individual behavior to obtain social membership. Self-consciousness generates guilt when our individual behavior is incongruent with the social behaviors we were taught. Guilt is a powerful regulator of our activities.

The human child is taught these ways of being through the family and immediate social environment. This learning begins at birth with some evidence of the emotion of shame being generated as early as 18 months. The primary teaching begins in earnest with the arrival of language ability around two years of age. A child is taught how to be angry, how to display their gender, what is valued, what is acceptable. This teaching is both verbal and nonverbal. The monitoring and constricting of behavior to conform to these teachings is accomplished by our internal self-talk feedback system. Thus it is the convergence and co-evolution of the brain’s feedback activity and language that allows for our wide range of environmental and cultural adaptability.

Do other animals have something akin to self-consciousness? Perhaps. Do other animals have communication? Yes. It is the evolutionary leap of our sophisticated language that makes such a huge difference. Survival information for all life forms is stored and available through genetic inheritance and mutation. Language metaphorically becomes the genes of a new evolution. Language adds a new dimension to this process of storing and retrieving information. Language does not supersede the genetic information system but mediates, modifies, and extends.

How do I propose that spirituality arises from self-conscious-ness? The truly revolutionary aspect of self-consciousness is that it allows us to step out of the moment. In essence, it allows us to alter our involvement with time and space. We can shape in our imagination the past or future and we can rearrange or recombine our mental contents in space.

Self-consciousness is experiencing the experience. Once again, if asked if you are happy, you must step outside whatever your particular state in order to assess that state. Self-consciousness puts us “beside” our self, looking at our self. We interrupt and manipulate time and space. In doing this we seemingly step outside the flow of life, outside the immediate. We live not in the moment. Using our self-consciousness we can rekindle and resentiment the past or we can dream and project the future. We are the director and producer of our own dramas by manipulating the sets of events, people and things.
Being in the flow (grace) is a normal and necessary state of life. Time and space are outside the awareness of other animals. They are enmeshed within it. They have no codifying language system to couple with their feedback processes to be aware of time or space, as we know it.

Self-consciousness appears to work contrary to being in the flow. The very functioning of self-consciousness interrupts and manipulates time and space. Our mental mediation of time and space seemingly outside the flow of life generates at our core a sense of separation. We are “beside” our self. This sense of separateness is subtle. If unchallenged it is at the very most a nagging feeling - a predisposition. It is a seed of doubt.

This feeling of being outside is illusory; we cannot be outside the flow and be alive. Illusion or not, this does not keep the seed of doubt, the sense of separateness, from being a main experience of all humanity.

In the best of all possible worlds this sense of being disconnected would remain subtle and far from awareness. However, the necessities of socialization amplify the aloneness. The growing child can hardly avoid dissonances and contradictions in the learnings of the social environment. Parents are not necessarily consistent either individually across time or between themselves. Depending on the individual and the environment, this illusion of disconnection is magnified in our attempts to fit into the social environment. The more dissonance the greater is the craving for belonging, hence unity.
Self-consciousness is a double-edged sword. It is our tool for meeting our need to belong in the social fabric. It allows for the monitoring of the behaviors that support membership in the social setting. On the other edge in functioning to allow us to step out of time and space, it generates at our core a feeling of separateness at best, alienation at worst.

So our most powerful adaptive tool, self-consciousness, drives us to seek unity. It drives us to find the present moment, a place without time or space. It moves us to search for the experience and the experiencing of unity with the cosmos, with the whole. This feeling of separateness, of being outside, comes up against our broadly defined living need of being in the flow, of belonging in the familial as well as the existential sense. Energy and tension are generated. Human life becomes a search, a quest towards being back in the flow, towards belonging, towards unity. This is the root of spirituality.

The creation myth in the Old Testament is a beautiful metaphor for the spiritual quest that self-consciousness brings to us. With the eating from the tree of knowledge, we come to know of ourselves. We see our nakedness. We are beside ourselves. We are banished from the garden. This is the ultimate not belonging. This is descriptive of the existential and illusory separateness that is particularly human. This has been called original sin.

Adam and Eve are exiled before finding and eating from the tree of immortality, eternal continuity. Humans are forced to face limitations, losses and death. The unfolding, evolving self can become and may continue to become more self-aware as we learn to pass through life's transitions and changes.

Not belonging with its painful feeling of shame is both bane and blessing. Shame is hurtful and hurting, often destructive. Arising from our very human need for belonging, shame can create new forms of belonging, supporting our survival and continuity.

In a relevant and soulful statement, John Lee Hooker, the blues singer and musician, said that the blues began when God told Adam and Eve to get out of the garden. Thus begins our search; a uniquely personal and human quest towards unity, towards soul.


Flexible social interaction and the broad range of environmental adaptations are emphasized as the primary adaptive advantage of self-consciousness. This reflective function and our other self-referential activities produce two other very human results. The first being technology. Although shared in a minimal way with other animals, technology is most highly developed in humans. The second, spirituality, might easily be noted as the defining characteristic of humanity although it may be a by-product of the referential process. It may also be our next step on the evolutionary road.


Self-consciousness seemingly allows us to step out of the ongoing experience of time and space. Whether we ruminate over a recent slight or recall in joyful detail a long past pleasant experience, we have removed ourselves from immediate time and space. I believe the ability to as it were step out of time and space and mentally manipulate structures and functions is at the root of technological developments.

I am defining technology as a process of modifying time and/or space by structural transformations, functional analogs, and inputting energy. These modifications are usually compressions of time and/or space but may involve expansions.

As an example, gathering and hunting was a means of subsistence for 99% of human history. It required space in square miles and fluctuated with nature’s rhythms across time. With the development of agriculture, space requirements became measured in acres and time was bounded by a specific growing season. Transportation technologies are also easily seen as examples of this definition of technology.

Technological development can be social or physical and usually involves both. Technology is one of the identifying characteristics of humanity and is a result of the same activities of manipulating time and space that determine self-consciousness.

Two modes for finding unity.
The ego has a stimulus range. It is the experiences outside this range that are the pathways to the cosmos, to the white light, to unity. The existence of a stimulation range of the ego comes from the evidence of various ways the White Light or unity is experienced. One path is the through meditation or fasting or sensory deprivation or depression. This is the “too little” end of the range. The ego needs a level of stimulation to keep it from “eating on itself”. When low input of stimulation is coupled with ritualized processes (chanting or yogic body positions or concentration on a point in space) then the underlying processes are made accessible.

When the ego receives too much stimulation in the form of whirling dervish dancing or continual sexual stimulation or psychoactive drugs or depression then it overloads and lets go of its control. Here the White Light or Cosmos explodes into experience.

Notice I have put depression in both the low and the high input. There is the depression that is the dark night of the soul where existence shrinks to a point of nonexistence. There is also a depression that is an overwhelming brain chatter. Both of these occur under perceived duress and with the loss of the ability to use earlier adaptations successfully to manage the duress.

Each person’s ego range is unique to them as well as to their experience at the particular time. The experience of the White Light can be a conscious quest or an involuntary eruption bypassing the controls of the ego.

(I don’t imagine these two modes as a continuum with individual ego in the middle. More like an island in which two oceans meet. Metaphorically, like Terra Del Fuego where the Atlantic and Pacific come together.)
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Shame is a critical part of our humanness.  Shame can be looked at as a feeling of not belonging, of exclusion from the group.  For a highly and imperatively social animal, our lifelong development of attachment/bonding is pivotal to belonging.  We have a genetically based need to find structure, process and meaning within a social context that arises from both our evolutionary path and the very composition of our information processing.  It is an interplay of biology, language, family, society, culture, and cosmology.  It is a dynamic, ongoing, relational process within ourselves and with others.

It is important to understand the core of shame is not belonging.  As a totally social animal, not belonging is a powerful motivator.  As example, shame arises when we, as children, have no socially acceptable release for our natural frustration/anger.  Or where our natural feelings of flight manifest as fear or terror are condemned.  Shame is the feeling that arises when a behavior that is manifesting a naturally occurring internal state invokes the social response of disgust; of being cast out; of not belonging.

With the social response imprinted very early on our basic survival patterns, self- consciousness acts to maintain a sense of shame whenever the disallowed internal experience occurs.  This is often below awareness because recognition of this aspect of our self is a threat to belonging; hence to survival.

Shame’s counterpart is guilt. Guilt arises from the disapproval of our behavior as opposed to rejection of our personhood.   When guilt occurs, a way is taught for rectifying our error and for the acceptable expression (no matter how convoluted) of our experience within the social context.  Guilt provides a process for continued membership in the group.  In this way it provides continued support for the “traditional” patterns of socially accepted behavior.

Shame and guilt are decidedly different experiences.  Guilt offers continued membership while shame banishes. The pathway to human belonging is channeled and powered by these two emotions of reference that arise through the functioning of self-consciousness.   I believe these two emotions of reference are primary in the processes of personal and social change. 

(The concept of emotions of reference comes from Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.)

A few readings:

Gilbert, Paul and Andrews, B.  1998.  Shame: Interperson Behavior, Psycholpathology, and Culture.  Oxford U. Press. Oxford.

Lewis, H.B.  1987.  The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation.  Eribaum Ass.  Hillsdale, N.J.

Lewis, H.B.  1971.  Shame and Guilt in Neurosis.  International University Press. N.Y.

Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.

Lynd, Helen Merrell.  1965.  On Shame and the Search for Identity.  Science Editions. N.Y.

Peristiany, J. G.  1966.  Honour and Shame.  University of Chicago Press.  Chicago.

Scheff, T. and Retzinger, S.  1991. Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts. Lexington Books. Massachusetts>

Schieffelin, C.  1985.  "Anger, Grief, and Shame: Toward a Kaluli Ethnopsychology."  In Person, Self, and Experience.  Edited by G. M. White and J. Kirkpatrick.  Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.

Schneider, Carl.  1977.  Shame, Exposure, Privacy.  Beacon. Boston.

Sroufe, L. Alan.  1995.  Emotional development: the organization of emotional life in the early years.  Cambridge U.  N.Y.   Page 68 for 18 month old shame.

Tangney, June and Fischer, Kurt; editors.  1995.  Self-Conscious Emotions: The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride.  Guilford.  N.Y.