In the recently published book, Abdication: God Steps Down for Good (Friesen Press 2014), I argue for a planet-focused consciousness. I’ll explain something of what I have in mind in this blog entry. But if such consciousness is the answer, the question it answers should be clearly stated. How, I ask, can our species prevent itself from over-heating the terrestrial greenhouse and blowing itself up in war, terror, and nuclear holocaust in the not distant future? Planet consciousness, I suggest, would help. This would help us orient ourselves better, and become a little more intelligent.
Put another way, our world views—philosophies, religions, perspectives, frames of reference, and understandings of history—have brought us to an existential planetary crisis. They have failed us and we need to drastically reinvent ourselves. We can’t continue to think of ourselves in the same old ways. A different way of thinking is needed if we are to survive and improve.
In the book I offer a drastic schedule of major surgeries. These include getting God out of the war business; handing over meaning of life questions from religion to science; teaching kids a nature-friendly curriculum; and reinventing humanity, religion, personhood, life, and God. Ambitious? Yes! If you have the disposition for such a meditation, you’ll probably enjoy the book.
In this essay, I offer a single recommendation involving two readily available documents: the Geological Time Scale and the evolutionary tree of life. I recommend pasting representations of these scales on the refrigerator door, carrying them in your wallet, adjacent to the family pics, and consulting them daily along with your coffee and horoscope. The point is to bring these two scales to the forefront of consciousness, and make them the background reference documents of a global perspective. I’m definitely not asking you to master the content (I haven’t), although that would be admirable and educational, and I’m not offering them as magical icons or talismans. I have in mind something more like a note to oneself or a password hint, a simple daily reminder of what’s really important: Planet Earth and Life.
Here are links to representations of these time scales. Geologic Time Scale. Tree of Life. Google, Bing or Yahoo the titles and you will find numerous versions to choose among. You should be able to satisfy your personal preference and accommodate your wallet, refrigerator, and house decor.
What would these visual reminders do for us? The Geologic time Scale would hopefully give us a more truthful, accurate, and useful orientation toward time and human capabilities, correcting and overcoming the destructive views of time and our species that burden and disable us now. The tree of life would hopefully give us a more truthful, accurate, and positive understanding of life, as it has evolved, clarify our situation as a species, and inspire us to nurture life on the planet. Obviously, the two scales and their uses overlap, reinforce, and enhance each other.
Our habits of categorizing and thinking about time diminish time and constrict consciousness, By emphasizing work time over all other uses of time, we create false urgency and degrade personal confidence. By coming to believe that time is short and pressured, that one can be out of time, that it is a commodity or currency to save and spend, and that time is best tightly managed and obsessively micro-managed, we confess the depth and extent of our mental constriction. We’re chronically sick. Such malaise, exacerbated by religion, leads many to conclude that this life is humdrum, not really worth living, and that a second life is needed after this one ends. Religion invades the future, as well as the past and present, by inventing eternity and by replacing earth and this life with fictive places like purgatory, limbo, hell, heaven, and paradise to dwell on and in. Our lives, each in its own way, are conceived in days, single years, decades, centuries, lifetimes, and a few millennia, usually two or three, sometimes six. We diminish time and imprison consciousness.
In contrast, geologic time is scaled in billions and millions of years, 4500 to 4600 million years to be exact. Millennia are needed mainly to note when modern man (Homo sapiens) arrived on the scene one or two hundred millennia ago. Billions of years more can be reasonably expected; the future is entirely open. No supernatural territories, no forced emigration, no itinerary for the saved and damned, no eternity. No afterlife expected or needed. Life continues splendidly here on earth, no worse than we have found it in the past. There is more time than any of us could use, or even comprehend. I find this encouraging, liberating, and empowering. Things could be convivial here on earth for millions upon millions of years; there is time to gain effective control over ourselves and to use our potential as a species for the benefit of the planet and posterity.
We don’t seem to do any better understanding life than we do appreciating time. We tend to look at living things laterally, rather than historically or linearly, and from the vantage point of a single life, “my life,” the most important one ever lived. In relation to “me,” “we,” “our kind,” the “real people,” we classify other living things in categories like “wild,” “pets,” “zoo animals,” “meat,” “ours,” “theirs,” “pests,” “flying things,” “bugs,” “viruses,” and “garden plants.” “Worm” “insect,” and “animal” are used as epithets to insult people who irritate. Furthermore, millions refuse to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution even today when its truth is obvious and undeniable.
Equally stunning, we act as if we own the planet—it’s our real estate and property to do with as we please. We feel ourselves to be, in Tom Wolfe’s apt phrase “Masters of the Universe.” It’s our sandbox and garbage dump. Because our religious beliefs and concepts of time diminish us and steal our confidence, we compensate by dumping on the other animals, trashing the earth, and claiming dominion over the everything, all the while whining about too little time, personal wealth, power, fame, and respect, as if our poor lives required compensation.
In contrast, the tree of the evolution of life shows us to be participants in life, an improbable, unexplained, wondrous happenstance that occurred, for all we yet know, only on this planet. Life has been on the planet circa four billion years starting with single-celled bacteria and algae. Multi-celled organisms with nuclei date back 2.5 billion years to the beginning of the Cambrian period. If one’s wingspan were used as a ruler to measure time on earth, a thin, thin sliver of a finger nail would be all that is needed to represent the length of time our species has been on the planet. We just got here! Yet we think God looks like us! What chutzpah!
While we are newcomers, we have ancient ancestry going back billions and millions of years. Common ancestry is in fact a characteristic of life. We share genes with plants as well as animals. The cell with its nucleus of replication rules and ordered processes is widely shared, functionally universal. Life is familial in the deepest sense. Life subsumes us; we participate in it. Life is one. We are not its master. If we find ourselves at the apex of life forms in terms of complexity, capabilities, and brain size, it is because we’re made of the same architectural elements and star stuff as other life forms, and we’re very lucky, singularly fortunate.
What we call human history is a useful but distorted addendum to natural history. Religion is one of the main sources of distortion. The book of Genesis is an example. Genesis is surely wonderful human literature, epic allegory, and a profound set of endlessly meaningful stories, but it is not a factual account of physical events. The creation described on the two charts is what deserves and requires explanation, and science is providing the explanations in its own slow, steady, sweet-researched time.
So, what’s in your wallet? What’s on your fridge door? Images of geologic time, I hope, and the evolutionary tree of life. Good for you. Good for us. That’s our true planetary address and our true social standing as a life form. We are life becoming conscious of itself. Life has evolved into consciousness. We are the heart, eyes, brain, mind, and thoughts of the universe. We are the inheritors of time. We are the gardeners. We are the guides. We are the hope of posterity.
Will Callender, Jr. ©
April 29, 2015
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good