Environmental degradation: Is there a simpler explanation?

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Environmental Degradation: Is there a simpler explanation?

I found Unit Three on the one hand fascinating, but on the other an incomplete explanation of how we got to be where we are. I offer the following in a spirit of constructive comment, and with a view to linking the concept of an original human flaw with all of the major problems facing us today.

First, I find that I can try on any cosmological paradigm like a coat, discarding it quite easily for another, so I wonder about the degree to which we can conclude that human behaviour is driven by such paradigms. Isn't it possible that in fact we develop conscious paradigms to justify intentions whose origins lie deeper than the conscious mind?

Second, the human desires which drive modern consumerism are clearly manipulable by forms of advertising that appeal to people's desire for significance. For example, when Tiger Woods wears the Nike 'swoosh' logo on his cap, this successfully creates mass desire for Nike products, because Woods is an 'icon' for many sports-oriented people - especially if they are African Americans. Living icons are 'wannabe' models, and they sell virtually everything today from shampoo to 4x4s. Wanting to be someone else is an emotional/spiritual problem that largely drives excess consumerism without the aid of any cosmological paradigm.

As for entrepreneurial capitalism, there is surely a huge element of 'wannabeism' in this as well. The capitalist class can afford the most exclusive technical toys, properties and works of art, with its most successful members (e.g. Bill Gates) determining who others would most like to be. Money provides a point-scoring system for all involved in this global entrepreneurial game. Exploitative paradigms from the utilitarian tradition lie ready as ideological masks for mere entrepreneurial rivalry - i.e. as justifications for exploiting every 'resource'.

This does not, of course, on its own explain environmental crisis - but the only other elements we need are: global information media that clone images of e.g. Woods and the swoosh; mass production technology to clone the articles labelled with the swoosh; global transport systems for mass distribution of these articles. All three developed only within the last three hundred years. Add to these the aboriginal human problem of dissatisfaction with the self and you wind up with addictive acquisitiveness and environmental crisis.

For me, Genesis gives us not only the notion of a beneficent creation that is our blessed home but an identification of our basic human flaw: the desire to be greater, to have what Gods have - which includes, of course, popular admiration - like Tiger Woods. Our self-esteem tends to depend upon the degree to which we believe we are esteemed. This explains why we believe that we can magically acquire significance by wearing or owning the distinctive brands worn by celebrities.

And this is how I understand original sin - as the tendency to pursue self-aggrandisement through other-esteem - the esteem of others. As 'the world' has always awarded esteem unequally, creating human pyramids of esteem, most of us are always less significant than some of us, and tend therefore to be self-esteem poor. This makes our desires almost infinitely exploitable, as we acquire them simply through envy of those we consider more significant than we are. (The Decalogue calls this flaw covetousness. Another name for it is 'mimetic desire' - desire that unconsciously mimics the desires that others display.)

How do we decide who these enviable people are? We let the media tell us.

The solution to environmental crisis thus becomes (intellectually) much simpler. We all stop trying to achieve self-esteem through other-esteem, by reflecting upon the one person who freed himself completely from the need for other-esteem - the esteem of 'the world' - and who tells us that it is 'the poor in spirit' i.e. those who have lowest self-esteem - who are most highly regarded by God. They will always be those who consume least, as this is the only way you can reconcile a large human population with the survival of Eden.

There is a growing body of people in the world today who have turned away from consumerism to a different game: 'voluntary simplicity' - aimed at downsizing in every sphere. As the environmental crisis grows, this game will become the only viable game - even for the 'movers and shakers'. Christians should have no difficulty playing it very well indeed. The rediscovery of the organic paradigm can give us confidence that we are in tune with a beneficent creation.

A sustainable relationship with a beautiful earth therefore requires a moral principle that all can share: nobody ever was, ever is, or ever will be, truly more significant, more important, than anybody else. Yet everyone is also infinitely important. This, for me, is the meaning of the Gospels. Once we understand that we are infinitely loved as we are, owning little and sharing that, we lose the need to be someone else, and thus the need to possess what they possess. The rule 'Thou shalt not covet' becomes an essential component of environmentalism.

-- Anonymous, May 04, 2002



When I first read your contribution, on the 4th. of May, I was a bit put off by its length and initially its content. But,I printed it off for reading later, which turned out to be last night. Now that I'm much more theologically enlightened (Ha, Ha) I re-read the article with much interest. IMHO (this is e-mail slang for In My Humble Opinion) it is very well written and the content is extremely interesting. I liked your reference to Genesis and the explanation of the human flaw. NO I'm not talking about the flaw in our golf swings. Yes, your explanation of the original sin is simply and easily bought into, i.e. to be greater, upward, better, and the consumption of Apples, HEY Isn't that what Bill Gates did with Apple Mac!

I read on with interest. Your perspective, e.g. voluntary simplicity -- downsizing our egos, seem make sense to me.

Later, while sipping an Irish whiskey, I began scratching my head----- something was bothering me! Where did I come across a similar model of Christianity being proposed? "YES now I've got it" in a book called "Scattering the Proud, Christianity beyond 2000". In that book the author proposed a similar model "abandon the upward journey of self esteem and taking on the Christ like journey of service, a downward journey of not serving self.

Now here's a question are you the same Sean O'Conaill of the above book fame?

I enjoyed it and your contribution.

Cheers, Leonard

-- Anonymous, May 24, 2002

Yes - I am indeed the guilty party. I would say, however, that it's not so much a matter of abandoning self-esteem, as of abandoning trying to find self-esteem through other-esteem (the esteem of others). I'm reminded of Richard Rich in 'A Man for All Seasons' who turns down the teaching job that More offers him, because not enough people would know what a great teacher he was. He's obviously short of self-esteem and believes he must be 'known' as a big-shot to find it - and sells his integrity for that in the end.

It's a very dominant theme in the whole of the Bible, and I'm working on a simple book on that. Today's wannabe teenagers are very much in the same place spiritually - convinced that if you're not on the media you don't exist. For me the whole thrust of the Gospels is to oppose that notion - to affirm the unknown, the 'poor in spirit'. That is what Christ does for each of us - but not so that we should keep it to ourselves.

-- Anonymous, May 24, 2002

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