This is a summary of the perceptions underlying the spirituality and worldview I’ll be blogging about. These are the basic points, they’ll be expanded along the line.
1. Humans are an animal species.
2. Given the desire, resources and opportunity, humans can improve their experience of life.
3 We have nations so that we know where we come from, not to wage war over.
4 Our beliefs and the language we use shape our world.
1. Humans as animals.
Credit goes to Richard Dawkins for making me aware of this. For centuries children were taught that life on earth includes plants, animals and humans. In the ancient world it was thought that humans were an order apart from other animals because of language or the presence of a soul. At one time it was even thought that animals could not feel pain the way people do. When you think about it, though, it’s blindingly obvious. Humans are a species of animal. A mammal. A primate. A species with peculiar abilities in language and construction due to the opposable thumbs and frontal lobe, but an animal nonetheless. We exist on the planet in connection with all the other animal and plant species around us, interdependent with them.
The evolution of humans spans millions of years. For much of that time we were walking around the plains in Africa, living in extended family groups. This is one reason why stories are so important to us. We spent so much of our time sitting around camp fires telling stories to explain where we come from and why we’re here. We still use our own internal stories to explain these things to ourselves. In the Anglo nations stories have become dominated by the media, religion and Government, to our detriment. More about stories and their importance later. Much of human behaviour can be understood helpfully by viewing us as animals.
Humans are a group animal. We didn’t survive because we’re particularly fast, strong or clever. We’ve survived because we cooperate in groups. This is not a novelty in the animal world. Many species live in groups and there are some surprising similarities in the behaviours of different groups. There’s also a natural diversity in the personalities and talents of individuals within the group, which enriches the lives of all group members.
Personality typing tools like the Myers-Briggs system show interesting patterns in this diversity. About half of human populations tend to be practical, organised, sense oriented types. People who can do the farming, animal raising, building and other necessary things. There are leadership types, inventive types, creative types and Shaman types. If everyone was a philosopher, nobody would get fed. Einstein famously said that if you do your research too well you’re liable to lose your pants. He was talking about the way some of us can focus on ideas to the detriment of practical life skills. If everyone was a leader, who would follow? If everyone was a farmer, who would remember the stories and history of the peopleor practise healing? So we see that all sorts of different personality types and “gifts” or genius, are necessary for the healthy functioning of human groups. This is why the argument that atheists can have no real morality is stupid. Morality and group values are hardwired into humans because we’re a group animal and we need the group to function well. In the western or Anglo nations we don’t see much of this innate morality because our culture and puritan religion actively destroys personal boundaries.
The word ‘genius’ there doesn’t mean someone who’s really smart. The ancient Greeks used it to describe someone’s particular “gift”. It’s a spirit in the sense that it isn’t a physical ability. Genius can run in families too. Think of families you might know of where there are several generations of doctors, actors or farmers. A natural ability seems to be inherited or learned by the children in the family and passed on. It isn’t fool proof, there’s apples that don’t fall far from the tree and there’s black sheep. Working with your genius is part of the idea that’s going around in some circles these days that you should do what you enjoy as a career. It’s in the interests of the group for every individual to do well, and it’s in the interests of the individual for the group to do well. Aleister Crowley said that everyone should do as they wish. Religious types were horrified by that, but if you consider the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own genius in order to contribute to the group, it does make sense. It does, however, require a grasp of personal boundaries and dysfunctions to understand.
Our personal boundaries are like emotional buffers that help us work within the group. They’re like the bumpers on a car. Some of us are taught that we have to be self-sacrificing and that giving even when it hurts is a sure way to get to heaven. This is like driving a porsche with no bumpers on a busy freeway crowded with trucks with big bullbars. Some of us are taught that we’re supposed to be making decisions for others around us and being the leader of a family. This is like driving a truck with big bullbars and having insurance you never have to pay for. Many people have damaged boundaries because of experiences of abuse or violence and life can wind up resembling a smash up derby.
The gender roles in religious inspired society contribute to this. If your sense of self is a balloon, it should be normally inflated to its optimum level. Not over-inflated and tense or under-inflated and limp. By expecting men to be responsible for more than themselves they’re being over-inflated and stressed. By expecting women to be not properly responsible for their lives, they’re under-inflated and ineffective. These roles aren’t a natural expression of a human individual. Plato thought it was a waste of time and resources to subordinate women.
I’ll finish this little section with a summary and exercise. You are part of a group. You are an individual. It is your individual responsibility to live your life well so that you are able to contribute as you see fit, to the best of your ability.
The exercise is a meditation. Sit quietly and comfortably in a place and time that you won’t be disturbed. If your mind is noisy it might help to write down a “to do” list for five minutes beforehand, but don’t get distracted. This will only take five or ten minutes. First allow yourself to relax and your mind to slow a little. Don’t hang on to any thoughts that pop in. Imagine yourself sitting in a protected, secure space. Then imagine your body surrounded by a gentle shell of light. White, gold, or gentle pink are all good, whatever appeals to you. Feel yourself as a safe, confident person with a place within the network of life of the planet. It only takes a few minutes to do and will add a pleasant sense of confidence to your self-awareness.