On a world that is, for all we know, alone in the universe, I question many customs that guide
human civilization while appearing useless. I believe religion, politics, and other paradigms must be evaluated as to their effects on the sustainability and the survival of life on earth.
Assuming inconveniences of global warming are escalating; that we are witnessing a human
population-mediated mass extinction; that clean air and water are becoming scarce as soil
becomes increasingly eroded and poisoned: given that these events are real, I believe that a radical intellectual and philosophical shift must soon take place to ensure that the landscape of tomorrow is not thoroughly depauperate, denuded, and despoiled.
Having long held a rather incredulous view of humanity, I also love the humans and other species with whom I have found meaningful connections in relationships or through reading and art and experience.
I have often been considered to be archetypally cynical, in the sense of distrusting the motives of others. As a child growing up during the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear annihilation, then having watched the unfolding tragedies of Viet Nam, Uganda, Somalia, and now Afghanistan and Iraq, while stories of environmental decline have been ubiquitous, I can’t imagine responding otherwise. Yet Cynics were also a sect of 4th century B.C. Greek philosophers who “believed that virtue is the only good, that the essence of virtue is self-control, and that surrender to any external influence is beneath the dignity of man.”
I believe there is a vast cynical undercurrent of distrust and pessimism, while also believing there is a widespread hunger to transcend ideas that no longer serve our planet well–including such cynicism. In spite of the terrible momentum of millennia of religious zealotry, of political bickering and sectarian violence, of enslavement of people and other species to ensure disparity between the powerful rich and the slum-dwelling poor; in spite of the extirpation of species and communities everywhere on the earth, I believe we can enrich the world by learning to live with and on the earth rather than living off of it by devouring it. I believe we can and must recognize our difficult situation and respond by abandoning the belief systems that no longer serve the collective purpose of living well and equitably on our world. In doing so, I believe we can transcend the well-deserved negativity associated with my first definition of cynicism, and turn around ourselves and our communities and our planet as we embrace the virtue of self-control for our world’s sake.
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