No one of us would choose to let a child die of hunger or preventable disease, let alone 32,000 children a day.
No one would intentionally destroy so many species in just this century that it could take the planet 10 million years to recover.
No one would seek to poke a hole the size of a continent in the ozone layer, causing cancer deaths to soar.
No one would decide to create a greenhouse effect disrupting life in ways we are only barely beginning to understand, or make our food production-our fossil-fuel-driven industrial model-into one of the biggest culprits, responsible for about one-fifth of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions.
No one would consciously design a world community in which a few hundred individuals control as much wealth as half the world's population; and where-as it is here at home-1 percent end up with more than do the bottom 95 percent combined.
In other words, how could it be that we humans, the dominant species, are creating a world that at the deepest level we can't recognize as ours? A world of mega-cities with unbreathable air, of sterile strip malls, of beggars and billionaires? A world that we have to shut out because the pain of seeing it is too great?
My answer, in part, is that we don't experience ourselves as creating this world; we don't see ourselves as choosers at all. Our planet-in-decline is just happening. It feels as though it is happening to those of us who live amidst abundance as much as it does to the most powerless person in the third world.
It feels as though it's just happening-and we're not choosing it-because, as I've said, we don't see ourselves as capable of being choosers in the public world. But at an even deeper level, it's that we don't perceive the assumptions, which, once in play, silently fuel this destruction of life. As long as we remain blind to these assumptions, other paths are invisible. And if we can't see other paths, there are no choices to be made. So no one is choosing. What we have is all there is.
THE POWER OF IDEAS
But how can this be? How could such a clever, heady species like ours be so nearsighted? What could be powerful enough to make us feel there are no other paths?
Clues came to me in the 1980s as I wrote Rediscovering America's Values, an odd book composed as an imaginary dialogue between a person holding the dominant worldview and myself. To write it I had to force myself to see the world through someone else's eyes.
That challenge made me realize just how much we humans live within frameworks of larger meaning, and it reminded me of the insights of social philosopher Erich Fromm. I loved reading Fromm in my college days-my generation would never forget his The Art of Loving. In my dog-eared copy of his later book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he confirmed what had long felt true to me-that we humans must have a "frame of orientation," some way of making sense of the world. Human beings cannot survive in a meaning void.
It is through these largely unconscious frames that we view reality; they determine what we allow ourselves to see, literally. I think this is what Albert Einstein was getting at when he said, "...it is theory which decides what we can observe."15
So, we're all like the Me'en people of Ethiopia: When given a photograph of themselves for the first time, they stared at it, crumbled it, nibbled at it. They literally could not see human beings on this tiny, shiny, two-dimensional surface.16 It is hard for any of us to see what we do not expect to see; what our mental maps do not allow.
All this is well and good...maybe, if our theories, our maps of the world, aid us in problem solving, and if they align with our deepest sensibilities and needs.
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