An idea came to mind this morning as I was reading The Te of Piglet, by Benjamin Hoff. In his chapter, “Things as they Might be,” he writes to the pervading unhappiness that can come with living in our modern society with its layers of untruth, its mistrust and abuse of the natural world, and worship of technology. He includes a lengthy quote from Joseph Chilton Pearse which includes:
Our real criterion of value becomes the culture’s body of knowledge offering or promising enhanced tool production, possible domination of nature, and so some security. Potential is seen as an increase of tools. The training and education of children is designed to lead to better tool invention, production, consumption, and handling.
He goes on to say that our body of knowledge is focused primarily on tool development, but this eventually “splits us off from our lives and creates anxiety and unhappiness, [conditioning] us to believe religiously that escape from our misery lies in perfecting that body of knowledge.”
So for the sake of my own process and reflection, I have to play this out a bit.
I would say that it is pretty universal understanding that the use and creation of tools is a trait that marks species apart from others as intelligent more further evolved. It is one of the many things that sets humans apart from the rest of the natural world. The development of tools has allowed our civilizations to grow and expand. As tools get more sophisticated so does our knowledge and as our knowledge begins to expand so does our ability to create more sophisticated tools.
But is this the end of the line? Does human evolution hinge on our ability to use and create more sophisticated tools? How dependent ARE we on the tools that, frankly, others build for us? What is the answer for most “problems” we face whether they be mechanical, emotional, or ecological? Most likely it involves some derivative of the following… If there is a problem that needs fixing, we just need to find the right tool to do the job. (substitute “medication”, “theory”, or “professional expert created technology” for “tool”)
But there are other marks of human distinction that set us apart. Self-reflection, the ability to creatively and generatively nurture and care for other species, emotional intelligence, the conscious awareness of the divine, the ability to embrace paradox. And there there are those things we share with other species: a sensitivity to our own body to feed and exercise it in a way that sustains health, connection and communication with the natural world, instinctual perseverance to survive in the midst of environmental chaos, existence as part of the circle of life and death and cooperation.
These things are the things that I fear we may be losing in our dependence on technology that others have developed for us.** If our human evolution stops at the limit of tool creating (using, consuming, and distributing), we are lost.
What is the answer then? I don’t know honestly. I don’t know how to pull myself out of the tool addiction and I don’t know how you would either. Much of me thinks that awareness is the first step. Another deep part of me believes that time spent in nature is another significant help. Not using or abusing nature for our own human-centered fulfillment, but listening to the wild world around us. Talking to our more than human brothers and sisters. Praying, while in nature, to the Creator, the pervading Spirit that exists within all and sustains all. Cooperating with the natural order of things in our daily lives (living with seasonal awareness, eating our food locally, buying consciously). It is about paying attention and knowing that we are not the only agents of our survival or existence. There is a bigger world out there.
**I only know this because I see it in myself. Even tomorrow, I will be upgrading my iPhone for a Galaxy S4, named the “life companion phone.”