The Rational Animal?

What have we been given? What speaks this unspoken moment in silence?

There is – within each of us whether we have experienced it or not, whether we even acknowledge it or not – something understood: Despair in a world whithering away before our eyes. A despair that takes refuge in a thousand activities of forgetting or in the loss of all genuine feeling by scepticism.

But are we not human beings, the rational animal, do we not work against this despair using our reason to correct the mistakes of the past, to build a better future? Does technology not offer us the means to overcome any limitations and reach for not only the stars but for what even lies beyond?

These are the words we hear daily in the cacophony of the media and within ourselves to assuage the growing fear at the growing destruction. But, ultimately, however many and however loudly the headlines proclaim some new technological miracle, we can no longer ignore the spreading despair that speaks this unspoken silence.

It is now more than five decades since it became clear that for all of the wonder of progress we were leaving only destruction in our wake. In Silent Spring, 1961, Rachel Carson made clear the pesticide decimation of birds on the American plains that literally spoke this destruction in silence!

The history of the past decades is that we do not have the strength to face up to what we have done and would find any and every form of forgetting to avoid the responsibility for what we have done.

It is clear that it is no longer enough to take care only of the physical world expressed in the worthy proclamations of ‘greenwashing’, for with every passing decade, year or day, the speed of destruction is accelerating: And I do not know how to adequately express this extraordinary fact that for all the rhetoric, for all the information, for all the evidence that each one of us experiences wherever and however we live, we have not turned or let alone slowed the destruction, but allow it to continue accelerating!!!

How many exclamation marks are worthy to mark this extraordinary refutation of human rationality – we know without doubt what we are doing, we know the physical causes of what we are doing and yet we have not found and continue to not find a solution to the destruction.

What is being spoken today, what the growing silence of the Earth beneath the cacophony of mankind says is unequivocal: While we work to solve the physical, external problems of the world and to deepen and extend these solutions, no amount of technological progress will ever be enough, for every solution to a problem will itself become a problem requiring a new solution which will in turn become a problem…and so on to destruction!

Our rational response to the accelerating death of the natural world – our home! – is a failure. The question that now appears, a question that has been asked before (was implied as far back as the Garden of Eden in Adam being urged by Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge) but has been forgotten and ignored, is whether Aristotle’s ‘Man by nature likes to know’, man the rational animal, is true or just another vainglorious boast?

Even if we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to technological fixes, to every concept of sustainability, alternative energies and agricultures, it is not enough. For if we don’t take care of the problem within it’s not going to work. No matter how much we do to ‘save the Earth’, for as long as what’s going on inside is not repaired its not going to help.

The inner problem is something each one of us has to do for ourselves. It is not something a politician can fix, a green campaigner, a film star or novelist, TV personality or even a spiritual guru – the destruction of the Earth occurs in and as the very same moment where we choose to fix it!

Unless we can find a new place from which to perceive and understand the world and our place within it, all of us will continue to destroy the world.

Despair is everywhere but unacknowledged. How many of us are there who can slow down enough to hear the silent speaking of the dying Earth? How many of us are able to step outside the culturally received wisdom that tells us as a child’s lullaby that technology will save us all as we slide ever deeper into ecological oblivion?

Are we able to acknowledge our despair, the nihilism that lies in all our hearts and, in acceptance of our own individual responsibility, change?

How much has technology given us: We can have an apple in early Summer, a tomato in Winter, we can lie on a warm beach in December and ski downhill in July, we can speak to a friend in Japan face-to-face from a bus on our way to work in Berlin, we can check in on our 800 social network friends while in conversation with our parents by telephone while watching our football team score a goal…we can buy these clothes, this camera, that music or film, now, when we want – we have never had it so good!

We can do it all, but when it comes to ridding ourselves of the despair that has become the unvoiced companion to these technological marvels, we do not know how to do even this most intimate and simplest of things. While we can have any material thing immediately we want it, none of these ‘things’ ever makes us happy for long and nor will it take away the accelerating destruction of the world.

Sometimes we become aware that we are too self-conscious of ourselves, we find ourselves trapped within a too small world, constrained by our own too small energy and we would do anything from release into the greater energy we feel is so close by that it is more intimate than we are to ourselves!

There is this constant discomfort created by our internal problems which then become reflected in our actions on the world and thus the external problems by which we are now beset.

It is not as if these internal problems that create external problems are new, it is just that technology has now given us the means to rapidly transform the world – which has, is and will always mean (if we fail to change it) – the destruction of the world.

So, yes, we can go on getting what we want and ignoring the despair. Consuming the world to fill the growing vacuum in our hearts. This is our true problem, the problem of our small, ego-driven desires that are destroying the world in front of our eyes.

This is our choice! But is it any choice at all?

Here is the crux, here is the point on which the future of the world rests, here is the point on which our happiness and the happiness of every single human being or creature on the face of this wondrous world rests. It is no less a moment than this!

Man the rational animal? Ha! What vainglorious hubris! Reason simply runs after desire, is the lacky of every need and unfulfilled want that has ever been given birth in our ever-needy hearts. Logos does not precede Eros as the Ancient Greeks imagined, but Eros – our every whimsy, stray conceit and wish – controls Logos, the reasons we tell ourselves why we do things.

Man is not the rational animal but a marionette strung-along by an endless series of desires that are covered up by our incessant narrative account of our lives. Our lives are fiction and Logos a lonely onanist; it is only Eros that has ever, that can ever, create the world.

Yes! Just as we have the power to destroy, so we must now realise that we also have the power to create – in every moment lies this awesome potential and responsibility.

All we have to do is find the space in which to open to the unspoken saying of this moment.


About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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