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Society & Ecology
Wednesday, December 01, 2004  
Living Systems: Culture, Ecology & Change

Human Culture
All human cultures are self-regulating and self-maintaining. They have a set of structures and processes in place to perpetuate a particular worldview and way of life, and this provides a certain level of stability - which allows human life to be lived out. If there is too much instability and rapid change, even the basic tasks of human existence becomes difficult.

The self-maintaining tendencies of culture is reflected on an individual level in the distribution of people who question the basic assumptions of their culture (few) versus those who live their lives mostly concerned with day-to-day affairs (many). From an evolutionary point of view, and in most situations, this seems a wise distribution. Again, if too many habitually questions the basic assumptions of the culture, it may lead to constant change, instability and disturbance to human life. It may also take too much attention and energy from necessary day-to-day tasks.

Culture Embedded in Ecology
As any human system, culture is embedded in the structures and processes of ecological systems. On a larger scale, it is embedded in the Earth as a whole, and on a smaller scale it is embedded in our physical bodies. And these provide feedback and impulses for correction and adjustments.

When there is a need for adjustment and change, there is a predictable tension which is manifested between those who pick up on the feedback and realize the need for change, and those who would like to continue on the current path and way of life. For a relatively long time, there may be a growing realization of the need to change while the culture as whole continues as it has. Then, a critical mass is reached, or the system meets some other perturbance, and it goes into a period of re-orientation and chaos. Which in turn leads to disintegration or re-integration in a way that is more adaptive in the new situation.

Our current culture is receiving feedback in many areas. On an ecological level, in terms of unraveling ecosystems. On a social level, in terms of poverty and unrest. And on an individual level in terms of stress and stress- and/or ecosystem-related illnesses (cancer is a prime example).

We have an culture of alienation. We perceive ourselves as separate from the larger and smaller ecosystems (the Earth and our bodies), and when we act out of this view - which is not aligned with reality - we experience uncomfortable consequences.

On a personal level, we experience it through social institutions and expectations which reflect this view of alienation. They are based on power-over views in many different ways. Consumerism is one example: We work long hours, do not have time for family and friends, all in order to buy more objects that do not meet our deep human needs. We have a school system based on segregation (not integrated in the larger society), external evaluation, performance pressure, and submission. Our political system is based on an adversarial and relatively ineffective approach to decision making.

And when we align ourselves with these systems, we experience frustration, stress and loss of connection with ourselves and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are systems based on subtle and less-subtle forms of violence against life, and we respond accordingly and often below the threshold of awareness.

We need to modify our culture into one that is more life-centered on all levels. One that is more aligned with life as it manifests on a planetary and bodily level. One that is more deeply realistic and takes life into account as it is. One where life is at the center.

Will we change our culture in time? We are the ones who can help this change along - with the silent support of the Earth, our bodies and future generations.

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