For those of you who’ve just found your way here, this is the ninth post in a multi-part entry entitled Beyond the Longest Childhood. Click on the following links to read the Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and Chapter 7. Then you will be ready to proceed with Chapter 8.
Chapter 8: Maturation Now
The conceptual, behavioral, technological and artistic changes reflective of a measure of success rooted in cultural maturation and ecological integrity will no doubt be most dramatic for those of us who are alive now at this brief pivot point in time where long-standing non-viable habits must transform into long-standing viable ones. For example, now is the time to begin phasing out all forms of mining including agriculture. Now is also the time to shift our dependence from non-local, early successional (immature) staples to staples (yes, nuts and berries) derived from local, later successional (mature) habitats, thereby fostering the essential culture/landscape maturation process that must go hand in hand. Additionally, ours is the generation in whom the addiction to immature “high” technologies will give way to a lasting desire for technological maturity.
And rather than framing this process as regression, stagnation or ‘going back,’ we’ll frame it as the attainment of a mature life-way nourished by the gifts of the Sun and Earth for which we are obligated to reciprocate with gratitude, generosity, celebration and responsibility. We will no longer violate (till) the body of the earth or enslave (domesticate) our wild four-legged, finned, winged, and leafy kin for our sustenance because we will not need to do so in order to feed our optimal numbers and obtain all the essentials of our lives.
We will then be living Coyote’s mandate to the fullest. We will be mature. And in this state of maturity, far more humans will be able to live (with a far better quality of life) than live now. They just won’t do so all at once, but over many, many millennia. Our traditions of caring for a world that make this possible will be our way of caring for them. And they will remember us and give thanks. And carry the traditions on.
There’s no reason such traditions can’t start now. Almost all of us live within walking distance of fellow humans who could be, and soon probably will be, parts of inter-dependent communities rooted in reciprocity with the land. Practical, social and legal impediments may, at present, prohibit enacting the turn to this local, ecologically-beneficent, community self-sufficiency, but nothing prohibits nurturing social connections, imagining and planning for the possibility (“making other arrangements,” as James Howard Kunstler puts it26). In the process, more options for meaningful, practical, immediate expression may present themselves than could have been imagined.
By tapping into a human potential for cultural innovation dating back over 70,000 years to the bottleneck that made us who we are, we might just find a path out of the present predicament and into unexpected prosperity the way our ancient ancestors found a path to an abundant world in the hidden potential of an ostrich egg. And our planetary overkill (now called the Sixth Extinction27) may yet end the same way the Australian Aboriginal’s continental overkill ended twelve thousand years ago, with the attainment of lasting ecological integrity.
It can only happen however, if personally and collectively we are able to draw forth the humility to admit we are the last human culture on Earth yet to attain maturation and have, in fact, been holding it back for ten millennia rather than living at the forefront of the effort. This admission may be the most difficult psychological/conceptual hurdle for us to clear. And so, for that reason, it is our collective rite of passage. If we can find this admission within ourselves, the attempt to live accordingly in every facet of our lives will turn us in the very direction we need to turn not only to survive but to thrive in an ever more bountiful, diverse and resilient world. A healing world.
The time has come for the last immature culture on Earth to stop living in the hubris of self-inflating exceptionalism and, through humility in the face of the Earth Crisis, enter into adulthood.
Since doing so now involves only a single culture, success will represent nothing less than the total human attainment of the next stage in the development of the species. From there, a new kind of bounty will open before us: contentment in the lasting ability to thrive in a world that, at every level, grows increasingly diverse, complex, beautiful, resilient and just, thanks to the contributions offered by every remaining member of the community of Life to the health and wellbeing of the all-inclusive whole: the greater body of the Earth of which we are, always have been, and always will be, inseparable, though distinct, parts.
I can’t imagine any greater incentive than that. Nor a better ending to the story of Homo sapiens, which of course, is no ending at all, but a continuation — the true measure of success! I for one am thankful that every one of humanity’s ancestral species enjoyed this kind of success throughout all the ages of Earth, for the last 3.8 billion years. Now, it’s our turn to do our part to pass that legacy on, to accept our place in the story, so that Life will keep unfolding, forever. For that is the wonderful opportunity offered by, and also the tremendous burden of, living with ecological integrity.
Whether we are up to the challenge depends on the story we tell ourselves and so enact in the world. The story that led to the present state of degradation, a convoluted story riddled with not just glaring inconsistencies, but blatant contradictions with reality, will not take us where we need to go if we keep following it. Cultural maturation will not happen by happenstance, but must be our guiding intention and given our every effort at every scale of our lives.
To make cultural maturity our intention, we must question and change the underlying convictions from which intentions arise. The word conviction gives some hint as to the challenge this represents; to be a convict is to be a prisoner and so we are prisoners of the convictions that inform our intentions.
If cultural maturation is to become our intention, our personal/collective conviction to the immature global/industrial mode of being, and the social reinforcements and rewards — money, material possessions, elevated positions in institutional hierarchies and the consequent power over others — this mode offers to cement those convictions, will need to be actively and consciously replaced with different reinforcements and rewards — personal/planetary health, ecological integrity, a deep sense of belonging in space and time, genuine community, a lasting legacy rooted in the land.
The intentional path to cultural maturity is a narrow one to be sure (a bottleneck) and will involve acts of profound personal and cultural re-appraisal aimed at discovering the presently-available beliefs and behaviors capable of fostering the long term well-being of the community of Life as an all-inclusive whole.
And this path grows narrower every day, but no other path appears to have a future. Luckily, we’re the last culture on Earth yet to walk it and so we have many examples from which to draw inspiration. All we need is a story that lets us see those examples for what they are at the same time it reveals the dead-ends toward which many of the popular paths ultimately promise to lead via techno-fixes, the colonization of other planets and/or increased efficiency as measured by the flawed economic model of modernity, to name a few.
For those of us living as captives of a ten thousand year tradition of obligate drawdown, the emergence of a remedial story represents no less than a new way to be human in the world, a way that will unfold concurrently with a new way for the world to be in humans. This, of course, is exactly what both the world and drawdown-dependent humans need more than anything else.
We who face the imperative of cultural maturation will know we are succeeding when forests begin to wash over wheat fields, cow pastures, and cities, without washing us away in the process; when soil layers begin to reknit and deepen even as they feel our footprints and provide nourishment for our bodies; when the plunge in ecological, biological and cultural diversity, and the concurrent plunge in all forms of justice reverse; and when the wild abundance of the other lives of Earth start to rise, refilling rivers with salmon and flyways with migrating geese.
This is not a case of going back to some idyllic past condition, but forward with a focus on aligning human intentions with the intentions of all the remaining kindred spirits of Earth, spirits who are bent on filling rivers and flyways, but impeded by a countercurrent will. It is a case of being ever-responsive to changing conditions, to the movements and reconfigurations of animal and plant populations as they respond to climatic perturbations and infiltrate and create new habitats, habitats into which we can integrate as equal and interdependent participants.
The choice is ours: remain developmentally arrested or see through Coyote’s trickery and enter the next stage of our cultural life cycle.
(Coming next: Beyond the Longest Childhood, Chapter 9 — Cultural Maturation Cascade and Endnotes)