The narcissists are in charge of creation

Behold. Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.

Isaiah 17:1

This article is republished with permission from The Generator. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the unanimous view of the editorial board of The Westender.

The Cross is cranky that we are stuck in the debates of last century.

Atheists justify their godlessness to the faithful. Deep ecologists argue for a less anthropocentric morality in a society that worships money. Capitalists argue for economic growth in an age of constrained resources.

We need to move past god and past materialism but we still use arguments that pits one against the other.

Put simply, the dilemma is that a rational, evidence-based view of the world puts the observer, us, at the centre of meaning. What is missing from that mechanistic, reductionist approach is the humility and awe that engenders proper respect for the universe that spawned us.

That is to say that replacing religious faith with a rational, mechanistic world view has created the disaster of the Anthropocene. The narcissists are in charge of creation!

As the world becomes the plaything of our imagination, it is reduced from an endlessly mysterious universe to a vast computer game. In that computer game anything that is beyond the capacity of our imagination and ability to control is simply consigned to the edges.

This dilemma is not new. It has always been thus.

Until recently, though, the light of reason illuminated a small enclave in a dark and mysterious wilderness that was undeniably larger and more powerful than all of humanity put together.

Now, the wilderness has been pushed back to a very fragile periphery. One simple example: Over 99% of the mammal bio mass on the planet is now domesticated.

So, we do not need to believe in an invented god to make us be good, but our self-centred intellect has not given use the wisdom to use the power we now control. We need to be reminded that the universe is not our plaything; that a little humility and respect is in order.

To quote Thomas Berry, “Most of all we need to alter our commitment from an industrial wonderworld achieved by plundering processes to an integral earth community based on a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship.”

We cannot achieve that while atheists and deep ecologists throw rocks at each other or, even worse, talk past each other and so fail to engage.

One ray of hope: the forces of the status quo are also philosophically split.

On one hand, fundamentalist believers simply want to stop thinking and be told what to do and, on the other side of the same coin, their leaders want everyone else to stop thinking so they can tell them what to do. This dynamic is driven by the primitive tribal desire for protection by their gods.

On the other hand, the power elite want to turn humanity into cogs in the totally godless machine that chews up all before it to generate its wealth and power.

The contract between the fundamentalists and the military-industrial complex is brutally simple. Give us your money, your young and the power to make decisions for you and we will feed and house you while the rest of the world swelters and starves.

This has always been the promise to the faithful. It is the same contract promised to the people of the USA, Iran and Russia. The gods change, but the machine simply demands cannon fodder to capture more resources.

The philosophical schism in the current expression of this contract is that it assumes the worship of money. Promised wealth is the reward for sacrificing yourself and your family to the machine. Wealth on earth has replaced a belief in the reward of the afterlife. Expose that and you expose the underbelly of the machine.

Our simple and robust counter is, “Money cannot save you from exploitation. Dedication to a harmonious and cooperative future can.”

It is pretty easy to drive logical holes through the argument that Russia, Iran, Turkey and the USA are all fighting in Syria to save the souls of the local people. It is much harder to convince them that there is a robust and vigorous future on a planet of nine billion people.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the tax-payers who provide the money, the bodies and the materials for war that will last a lifetime is not being fought rationally. By keeping a large part of the population on the brink of economic disaster it is easy to frame the global challenges as a scrabble for the last remaining riches in which we fight or die.

As always, the philosophical challenges cannot be unhinged from the economic and political ones.

We need to attach degrowth to communal abundance and robust longevity of resource management to a non-anthropocentric view of the universe.

We need a narrative of meaning that people can adopt and live by that counters the economic rationalism on which our daily activities currently hinge. Developing that narrative is not trivial.

We have to remember that it has taken 600 years for the “Venetian method” (of binding society together through accurate and fair accounting of profit) to become the central tenet of our moral framework. It will not be displaced overnight.

We have to remember that it is 1700 years since Constantine re-appropriated and directed the succour people find in their religion in the name of consolidating his empire. The destructive nature of the Imperial Roman religious project and the Inquisitions that naturally flowed from it are deeply ingrained in our social institutions and need to be undone very thoroughly. That will take time.

The deeper challenge, though, is to re-integrate the ancient awareness of and respect for the awesome integrity of the universe without resorting to the fundamentalism of faith-based doctrine. We have built a world view in our image and like all good narcissists are blind to the limits of our obsession.

That is as yet an unresolved challenge.