on humanism and environmental crisis

Archive for July, 2022

Rome conference or die

Part  1: The vision.

Part  2: The crisis of the human niche.

Part  3: The worldview and the crisis of the human niche.

Part  4: The role of evolution.

Part  5: The prehistory of mind and the crisis.

Part  6: The conference as a metaphor and the process.

Part  7: What we will teach – the vision of Experience Society.

Part 1: The Vision.

    When we observe the world, most events are circular in nature. The day and night, the seasons of the year, first marriage, second marriage, 

First coming, Second Coming, reincarnation.

     This is the natural source of popular and reassuring concepts;  “as it is worse, it will get better.. and worse again, after the drought there will be a flood, it is warmer, it will get cooler”.

Even in science, the cosmos is hugely circular and particle physics too. Glaciations, civilizations, and periods of war and peace come up and down. “ we are fine, we’ll be fine”.

    Not so fast, desafortunamente.

Evolution is one of the basic, and relatively newly discovered mechanisms in the universe that are not circular. 

Also thermodynamics II and expanding Universe.

Sure, Heraclitus pointed to the non-circular flow of the river, but then we’d found out about water circulating in the earth. Maybe you just need to find a bigger circle and “we’ll be fine”?.

What is “fine,” I ask, and I pick the smartest and best-informed people I can find. 

They would – uniformly, uniformly- say” I know it is bad, I do what I can locally, give money to charities, but it is going to be bad.” “ Not in our lifetime” they add sheepishly and walk away with just slightly bent shoulders, as if saying “I know, our children, hopefully, educated and with good jobs…”

There is a fierce battle to position ourselves to survive well forthcoming disasters, not unlike virtual reality video games. As in the game, the blood and corpses aren’t so disturbing if the people concerned were not even born yet, who will live ( and die) in far away countries (mostly imaginary) and even now dying in droves, poor and miserable and we learned to tolerate this fine.

The problem: the more we learn ( and we can not unlearn, and understanding is fun) the more realistic are these corpses. They soon acquire faces, maybe even names, and they start to stink, after they slowly die in front of our eyes. More charities? More steel bars in our windows?

I have a better solution and it comes from 50 years of working with children, studying worldviews, evolution, and the history of our minds.

   The only hope I see is creating a different type of people, actually, the type we use to be for the last 10 million years until the last 50 000 thousand years (0.5% or “December 31st “ of our species’ existence). 

The last surviving hominids, we almost got extinct before. We need again a Houdini trick, we need to shed the last 10 000 years of a thin slimy layer of greed and grabbing. We will retain symbolic thinking, and smart brains but avoid the destruction of the planet.

We are going to create Experience Society.

We are going to teach the new generation to live happily, peacefully, in partnership with other humans, other sentient beings, and the whole environment. 

How do teach them that?

It is what the Rome conference is all about.

We’ll start with infants, then expand to older and older children. 

Let me address some objections. 

  1. “You can not parent and teach something or some ways you are not. It is not what you say, but who you are.” Agree, it has to be bootstrapping and dealing with the chicken or egg ( literally) dilemma. But we can do, and all we can do is the best we can. Certainly, we can do better than we are doing now. And neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology have some good news for us.
  2. “How can you force others about such an intimate subject like parenting. Parents feel they know how to parent and will not listen to any ‘propaganda’”. Agree, that it will be difficult, but it is why we need a broad range of experts and authorities and wise men and women and maybe magicians. I am listening for solutions rather than for naysaying. But every year it became more and more clear that doing nothing will bring to our children unspeakable misery. We are talking about the happiness of your children, nothing less.
  3. “We’ll never agree on the curriculum”- different cultures and nations, different religions, different economies, different worldviews. Yes, I see it as an almost un-winning gambit, but, first, in the beginning, we are talking about parenting babies 0 to 12 months old! everybody wants babies to be happy. Second, psychologically, I see the possibility of some kind of “unity out of desperation”. ( covid-19 in Italy and the response to Putin’s aggression comes to mind.)

Immediately, I thought about Rome with: 

  1. Pope Francis being a good guy and the catholic church being, well, “catholic”, would be somewhere to start. Add Dalai Lama, some more religious leaders, spiritual leaders, maybe some presidents, and UN officials.
  2.  Media influencers, press, and activists for equality, global warming, for peace.
  3. Scientists: environmentalists of all kinds, philosophers, sociologists, economists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and AI experts.
  4. Humanists: wise men and women from modern and ancient cultures, teachers, writers, poets, artists, and musicians.
  5. Pregnant mothers and their spouses, grandmothers, and grandfathers.
  6. Teenagers- possibly the primary target populations?

This is the vision, but there are still many elements we need to convince people about, not only convince, like “ ok, maybe, if you say so” but convince about urgency and gravity and famous “ so, what” or “so what, if no Rome conference?”

Parts 2-6. Convincing, before even starting. 

Part 2. We need to convince people that there is a crisis of the human niche. 

It is important to use the term niche instead of “environment”, “habitat” or, worse “ global warming” (a tiny part of the problem).  Modern and deep evolutionary understanding will be necessary. 

On a happier note, it will not be necessary to argue” whose fault”, is it “human-made” or “just a cycle”- because of the revolutionary and unusual nature of the solution.

Part 3. We need to convince people of a humanistic worldview. 

This has nothing to do with religious belief, spirituality is an important part of the conference. Neither is socialism in disguise (how we divide our material goods, according to capitalistic, socialistic, or communistic principles is still all about material goods). We need the humanistic worldview to know that we can die like died other hominids like Neanderthals died, and Sapiens almost died 50.000 years ago. We need to know that we made this civilization and on this base, on these shoulders, consciously, we can build a new one. And thrive and have fun.

Part 4. We need to convince people of the evolutionary mechanisms including strengthening niche, diversity, and complexity.

It is what species do to avoid extinction. Working to keep the niche strong and healthy. Examples are everywhere, even iconic Darwin’s finches. It is not circular! It is messed up because we messed it up, and until we won’t change our ways, it will get worse and worse. Remember what Einstein said about insanity? 

Part 5. We need to convince people about the hybrid nature of our minds. 

If we want to replicate the pre-linguistic value system with our modern, symbolic brains, we need to trust evolutionary realism and evolutionary neuroscience. The exciting research showing our brains mixing ancient algorithmic beings with language-powered symbolic thinking explained how we are the only hominid that survived. We manipulate this incredible system every day, more and more purposely, like with artificial intelligence, meditation, and psychopharmacology. So, we can stop killing the planet and ourselves.

Part 6. We need to convince people to embark on the project.

  Rome conference is perhaps just my armchair musing. It may be a metaphor for the project, a new conversation involving more people. Or it can end up being a real conference in Rome. 

This would involve an unheard amount of trust and goodwill, maybe desperation. We would need to trust developmental experts, parenting experts, our political leaders, holy men, trust people, and each other in general. ( Going to the moon was nothing compared to this request)

We would need to trust the process, the journey because we do not know the way it’d unfold, we’d have to learn from each other, and use imagination. 

We need to cross multiple barriers: east-west, religious-nonreligious, have-have not, truth -media.

Part  7: What we will teach – the vision of the Experience Society

This will be the subject of the conference. The whats and the hows.The curriculum for the starting but crucial segment- “parenting the infants” seems pretty easy to agree on. Lots of this is in Piaget, Spock, Montessori, and Waldorf programs. And a lot is common sense like the parents need to be present and mindful, the society needs to support the family. No media, no violence. The concept of blaming the materialism of the cavemen is new and startling. The conversation about the non-materialistic source of happiness is very new and very old at the same time.

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The terrible and cruel truth is that if we fail to work on it now, we’ll be reduced to something similar, painful, fractured, 50 years from now. Possibly Neanderthals had a similar option: “change your lifestyle, your beliefs, your language, trust them”. And they are gone.  

Not all items of convincing are necessary to work for the conference, just this set of opinions makes everything fit together so well…

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This is the overview of this concept. I am working on Parts 2-7 in the form of separate essays.