The Clear Light Cafe has a strange back garden. When it first landed here (Did I forget to mention that the caff is also a spacecraft?) this area was what the French call un terrain vague, nothing but dust and debris, but after we arrived the weather changed, water fell from the sky and seeds I guess, because all sorts of little green fingers and heads sprouted from the moistened earth and some of them began to wriggle and slither, to swim in the pools that emerged, some even grew wings and flew from branch to branch of the fruiting trees, taking their seeds to shit somewhere beyond the blue dome that circumscribes the scene. I noticed then that living things seem to come in two primary flavours: those that root in the Earth and those like you and me that are capable of locomotion. Customarily called animals most of us move by means of moving limbs and wings.
We animate animals have three primary modes of relating to the things outside our hides and these three modes are the root causes of the whole trajectory of our evolution from our first forms to our present dilemma aka the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. Extinction 6 has already erased thousands of species in my lifetime and bodes likely to erase homo sapiens as well or most of us unless we find a way to free ourselves from our enslavement to these three modes of interaction.
Which are? asked the Dark Youth.
When an animal encounters anything outside her skin she moves toward it, away from it or ignores it.
She may also freeze, he said, like a bunny or a deer.
Yes, I said, which may cause the other animal to ignore her, since the other may see her camouflaged form as simply an ignorable and move on until it sees or smells something that triggers approach or avoidance, like a source of food, comradeship or copulation.
So how does this lead to Extinction 6?
With humans this instinctive triad of interaction becomes the template on which our trainers cultivate each child’s view of itself in relation to its world. When I was a child I learned that I occupied a unique position in the world: I was alone on the inside, looking out and all other beings were on the outside and they occupied three categories:
Let me guess, said the Dark Youth, friends, enemies and ignorables.
Yes and based on what I was told by my teachers and the media I created a story about a boy who lived in a largely ignorable world, divided into hostile tribes. I was one of the white English speakers who had won a global war against the evil Nazis and were now waging a cold war against the godless communists. I was told that my tribe embodied and enjoyed a superior religion, technology and political system that naturally dominated the planet because we were better and we were making the world better by bringing light to the unenlightened, freedom to slaves, civilization to savages and prosperity to the poor. All of which was a lie, with requisite window dressing, and that lie included a combination of lies about me, about what it really meant to be a boy and to be the men I was encouraged to emulate, ranging from the soldiers who slaughtered and dispossessed native North Americans, died in the bloody mud of the European wars, filled the gas ovens of the Holocaust, incinerated Dresden and Hiroshima and came home to dominate their wives and children just as God dominated His Church. Not to mention the small-minded men who ran the schools and households in my town.
Now, in my seventies, I see that these same walking lies still dominate our planet and are still ruled by the templates on which they were built. Imagining that they are free they ravage the world, helplessly driven by fear/aggression, passion/craving and ignorance that admits no ray of light or wonder. Princes and oligarchs strive to ensure that their pyramids and towers are taller and more opulent than any of their neighbour’s, encircled by unexcelled batteries of missiles and systems of electronic espionage while the lower ranks emulate their aspirations down thru all the layers of middle class, working class to working poor which is the milieu in which I have always lived. Always on the inside of the Lie, always looking for a different way to be a man, when I should have been getting ahead I worked instead at growing a different kind of head that could tell a better story.
The one you’re telling now is kinda sad, the Dark Youth said. We must be more than organic robots programmed to fear, crave, kill and make little robots we teach to do the same. That’s no life I want to live.
And that’s what Aristotle said, I replied: the unexamined life is not worth living.
Did he find a better way?
A life of examination and natural philosophy is already a better way, I said.
So he wasn’t driven by fear and craving?
He was, I said, but what he feared most was the sleep of the unexamined life and what he craved–and found–was wisdom.
So how do you do this ‘natural philosophy’? asked the Dark Youth. What do those words even mean? And if it’s so much better how come most people don’t do it?
That’s three questions, noble son, let me start with the first.
Philosophy means love of wisdom, a love that comes from the pleasure of watching unintelligible phenomena begin to make sense, like learning that the sounds our parents make are this beautiful thing called language. Likewise all of nature is a web of languages that we can learn to read.
What do you mean by nature?
Your skin, everything around it and everything within. It’s all just so much stuff until we begin to examine it.
It’s all those ignorable things! said the Dark Youth.
Yes, I said, all that unseen because ignored terrain between the objects of our craving and the things we fear.
And we don’t even really see them, he said.
No. I don’t see the beautiful woman until I take some time to see her soul. I don’t see the ugly prince until I learn how his world made him that way. I don’t see the man inside my clothes until I examine his dreams, his parents and the world that shaped his mind.
So becoming a natural philosopher means taking time, slowing up and taking time to look more deeply at things i normally ignore. But why don’t more people do this?
Because of the ancient triad, i said. We’re all taught to live in fear and craving for all the things we’re told to buy and animals that live in fear have no time to stop and breathe and consider the structures of the lie.
We humans have finally come face to face with the greatest threat to our continued existence as a species on a small planet–ourselves. Some think the answer is to gather a band of technobuddhas and move to Mars but every buddha knows that we will only carry the deadly matrix of ego and ignorance with us.
The only way I can see to survive the threat we are is to become natural philosophers and help our children grow into wise animals who identify consciously and passionately as members and defenders of the tribe of life itself.