We are living through a transition in awareness that might be described as the shift between the recognition that “the personal is political” to the recognition that now, “the personal is planetary.”
It’s not enough, anymore, to think about the ways we live our politics in our daily lives. We urgently need to become aware of how our lives are expressions of our relationship to our planet.
If the personal is planetary, then who we are is deeply indicative of the state of our planet.
Today, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, almost completely divorced from the natural world. Most of us have little sense of our relationship to the living planet, since most of our time is spent in artificial, asphalted environments.
Many of us are sick from diseases that are themselves symptoms of our alienation from the planet, our penchant for industrial growth at any price, and our general physical and mental malaise. The very technologies that we most admire and rely on are the ones that are making us, and our planet, sick.
Despite our technological sophistication, we have serious problems with the most basic mammalian function of providing ourselves with food on a steady, reliable basis. The imbalance is evident in the fact that billions of human beings on the planet are perpetually hungry; others are malnourished from an over-reliance on empty-calorie sugary processed foods; and still others starve themselves to comply with unrealistic body image expectations, or have so much food that they can afford to casually throw it away.
We are a species that claims to admire empathy and compassion, but actually spends an inordinate amount of time gazing at our own reflection in our ever-more-complex forms of representation, from writing to film, without even realizing how very ego-, ethno- and species-centric our behavior is. We claim to value love, but for most of us love is too often confused with lust, or so interlaced traditions, habits and obligations that the reality is a poor shadow of our professed ideal.
If the personal is planetary, then it should be no surprise that our planet is suffering so terribly. We humans are suffering too, and along with us all the animals and plants in our biosphere.
Where will it all end? Will we be able to get out in front of the tsunami of disastrous climate change, environmental poisoning and destruction of oceans, forests and fresh water in time to restabilize our planet and ourselves?
I worry when I see influential publications like The New York Times giving prominence to think tanks like the Breakthrough Institute, a so-called environmental organization that is working hard to convince us that we can become total cyborgs living happily in a high-tech, managed, artificial environment.
Such a vision of the personal as planetary imagines our planet as a giant park, complete with zoos and aquariums, manicured gardens and “rambles” left artificially “wild.”
What it fails to give any credence to is the possibility that we, and our planet, might have—dare I say it?—a soul.
Machines do not have souls. But our beautiful planet, with her myriad forms of life, of which we humans are just one more emanation—she is more than just the mechanistic sum of her parts.
When we understand the personal as planetary, we see that to go down the road of total technological dominance of human beings and our environment would be to cut ourselves off from what is most beautiful and unique about ourselves as a species: our conscious awareness of the possibility of connecting with and cultivating the divine—that is, extra-human—energy that animates our entire biosphere, giving us the spark of life that we recognize as the dynamic beauty and power so ever-present in the natural world and potentially in ourselves as well.
To heal the planet, we must first heal ourselves, beginning with our self-imposed split from the natural world and our repudiation of the simple values that human societies have always claimed to revere. “Do unto others” and “love thy neighbor” take on new meaning when we realize the personal as planetary. The forests are our neighbors. The whales are our neighbors. Even the humble soil bacteria are our neighbors who must be respected for life to flourish in the balance that will benefit us all.
The personal is planetary. A mantra for the 21st century. Pass it on.