Nature can heal us if we let it.
If, like most people, you grew up in a corporate capitalist world, you are insane. It’s not your fault. It’s just that the ways we have been taught to see the world are dangerous lies, and it takes years of effort and guidance to unlearn them. Nature is the best teacher on this path.
It’s hard see the world as it is, because those who run society and their story-telling media churn out an endless stream of fantasies, propaganda, and delusions that mask reality from those who consume them. We learn from our culture that money, corporations, possessions and power are important, while trees, rivers, soil, and living creatures are trivial.
When I say “insane,” I mean inability or refusal to see the world as it is, particularly denying the reality that we are part of nature. I mean attempting to control and exploit all other living things, starting centuries ago with the rise of colonialism and capitalism, a belief now dominating nearly every society on Earth. We learn the need to dominate from the time we’re children. We are taught what philosopher Charles Eisenstein calls The Story of Separation: in which we are each isolated individuals competing for survival in a mindless, uncaring universe. In such a world, why not focus one’s life on accumulating money and power? How else to be safe?
Over centuries, Separation’s search for safety and wealth have created other forms of madness, including the central importance of money, an economy based on debt, the rise of nation-states that declare war on each other. The natural world which gives us all life has been reduced to a storehouse of resources for rich people to exploit however they choose.
Sociopathy and Windigo
This is where Separation becomes well-defined mental health conditions such as sociopathy and paranoia, which are built into the structure of corporations and governments. Joel Bakan, PhD, author of The Corporation: The pathological pursuit of profit and power, said “Corporations meet the criteria for sociopaths, acting without a conscience, not caring what happens to others as a consequence of their actions, having no compulsion to comply with social or legal norms, not feeling guilt or remorse.” Think cigarette companies or fossil fuel corporations to see how true this is.
Corporate sociopathy is now called economic science. Economist Milton Friedman asserted that maximizing shareholder profit was a corporation’s only social responsibility. The world runs on greed, he said, and no society anywhere can prosper if it isn’t based on greed.
Friedman won a Nobel Prize for his work, but he is celebrating madness. The spirit he promotes is the evil spirit Indigenous people of the Northern forests call Windigo. Windigo always wants more and is never satisfied. The more he eats, the hungrier he gets. He cannibalizes the weak and turns those he eats into greed monsters like himself. How exactly like capitalism with its eternal need for growth, no matter who gets destroyed in the process!
The natives have elaborate rituals for exorcising Windigo, and if they don’t work, the possessed one is driven away to protect the tribe. Indigenous people live in the natural world where greed is a disease, but modern capitalism celebrates and promotes endless consumption and growth. It creates more Windigos every day, and no society of greedy monsters can survive long.
A more clinical term for belief in Separation is paranoia. To the paranoid, the world is a dangerous place. There’s no one you can count on, you have to kill or be killed. This belief has been taken to world-historical levels by the current US Empire. Their written policies call for a unipolar world dominated exclusively by the USA economically, militarily, culturally and scientifically, what they call “full-spectrum dominance.”
Where does this uniquely paranoid ideology lead? The USA currently has 750 military bases in over 80 countries. They spend about a trillion dollars a year on what they call “defense.” They are currently fighting at least five wars and preparing world war with Russia and China.
They fight economic warfare as well. They are currently bankrupting their own allies in Europe and impoverishing billions of people with economic sanctions, preventing nations from trading with each other. It’s not enough to be №1, the US has to be the one and only. What a lonely, scary, paranoid place to be! Their fear ripples out into society, so that most Americans feel they are actually in danger of being attacked.
Joining the real world
If living in Separation is insanity, where do we find sanity? Well, Nature is not crazy. It can be violent: predators eat prey, animals compete for mates and nesting places. One can starve or freeze in the winter. It can be a lot of work to survive. But it is reality-based. Nobody hoards; nobody discriminates. There are no stock markets; there are no wars.
As Robin Kimmerer eloquently describes in Braiding Sweetgrass, Indigenous people treat each other with respect, take what they need, and care for others in their tribe. This is how they survive without consuming the world they live in.
In the 21st Century, people everywhere are realizing the indigenous people have a point. People are trying hard to become sane again. So far, healing happens one person at a time. Australian “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone says, “We are each singularly responsible for our own role in the maturing of the human race. Every mature human brings humanity as a whole that much closer to maturity [I would call it ‘sanity’], and provides one more voice that can help orient the world toward truth.”
How to become sane when we constantly receive crazy-making messages? I see two dimensions to this — how can we heal ourselves and our loved ones? How can we help the truly insane, the ones running our world — to heal?
For either group, I think the most important thing is to step out of the narrative matrix. Instead, be in the natural world as much as we can. Learn from observing and interacting with plants and animals. Our own bodies are part of Nature, so paying attention to them can bring mental and physical health.
Use our time and energy to grow things. Practice regenerative agriculture and forestry on a small or large scale. Watching things grow and interact is a great way to see how life really works. If you can find a way to leave town and live on the land, you can help part of the Earth survive and thrive. Seacoasts, forests, and wetlands are especially important. If you can’t get away, do community gardens or a personal organic garden.
Then there’s the psycho-spiritual work we each have to do, just like recovering from any illness, trauma, or addiction. If we feel the need for more possessions or more status, where did those feelings come from? Who told us what’s important in our lives, and why should we believe them? Instead of being consumers, we can become who we really are, part of the great being that is life on Earth.
What being sane would feel like
What would life be like without the paranoia and separation, the advertising, and the constant threats real and imagined.? Eisenstein says we would be a lot more relaxed. In his writing, he compares the current story with a sane alternative story struggling to be born. He says in the sane story, we will never be isolated, “because self and other are inseparably related.”
Where the current dominant narrative says well-being comes through material wealth, control of natural forces, and domination of biological and social competitors, the sane narrative says, “Well-being comes through participation, community, intimacy, and sharing.”
In the sane story, humans and non-humans will take care of each other. We would have an economy where everyone starts out with a basic income and a place to live, and striving for more is discouraged. Eisenstein says, “In the new story, the destiny of humanity is to bring all our gifts and powers into the service of life, to create beauty and wonders, and to witness what life creates through us and around us.”
Unfortunately, our rulers and billionaires are living large in their paranoid narrative. Why would they ever change? I would say because they are miserable. Only a paranoid sociopath can run a paranoid, sociopathic system. As Gabor Maté described in The Myth of Normal, such personalities (think Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton) develop from a history of childhood abuse and trauma. “Our democracy,” he writes, “consists of the traumatized voting for the traumatized, the wounded leading the wounded.”
Our leaders are not happy or peaceful. Could they be healed? Nature could do it, if we could get them there. What if we create more regenerative spaces and invite others into them? Could people put down their devices and their greed and make sanity the new normal? We could start by healing ourselves, creating sane spaces which will attract more people over time, including our leaders who don’t yet realize they need it.
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