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The Ascent of Humanity is about the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. The gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse. And this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings we already begin to feel.
The Ascent of Humanity is about Separation: its origins, its evolution, its ideology, its effects, its consummation and resolution, and its cosmic purpose. What is the purpose of the grandeur and the ruin we have wrought? If civilization is to collapse, Why? Will we then go back to the Stone Age, or will we be born into something entirely new?
This book draws from mythological sources, as well as natural processes of birth and transformation, to offer a narrative framework for the majesty and madness of human civilization. More than anything, The Ascent of Humanity is about how to create the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible. Recycle your bottles and turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Write your Congressman. What are these tiny individual actions against the juggernaut of destruction that consumes oceans, trees, soil, and culture?
This book offers an entirely different approach that begins with the reconception of our very selves. It invalidates the logic of despair that so many activists have felt, that arises inescapably from the conception of ourselves as discrete and separate subjects in a world of other. This is the ideology of separation. The ideology that has created the human realm we know is the same ideology that has us despair we can ever change it. Receive new essays, recordings, and information about events.
The newsletter is prepared by us and delivered via email. Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them? Covid is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. A few months ago, a proposal to halt commercial air travel would have seemed preposterous. Likewise for the radical changes we are making in our social behavior, economy, and the role of government in our lives.
Covid demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important. What else might we achieve, in coherency? What do we want to achieve, and what world shall we create? That is always the next question when anyone awakens to their power. Covid is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality.
To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. We might ask, after so many have lost their jobs, whether all of them are the jobs the world most needs, and whether our labor and creativity would be better applied elsewhere.
We might ask, having done without it for a while, whether we really need so much air travel, Disneyworld vacations, or trade shows.
What parts of the economy will we want to restore, and what parts might we choose to let go of? And on a darker note, what among the things that are being taken away right now — civil liberties, freedom of assembly, sovereignty over our bodies, in-person gatherings, hugs, handshakes, and public life — might we need to exert intentional political and personal will to restore?
For most of my life, I have had the feeling that humanity was nearing a crossroads. Imagine walking a road, and up ahead you see it, you see the crossroads. Cresting the hill, you see you were mistaken, it was a mirage, it was farther away than you thought. You keep walking. Sometimes it comes into view, sometimes it disappears from sight and it seems like this road goes on forever. No, there it is again!
Always it is almost here. Never is it here. Now, all of a sudden, we go around a bend and here it is. We stop, hardly able to believe that now it is happening, hardly able to believe, after years of confinement to the road of our predecessors, that now we finally have a choice.
We are right to stop, stunned at the newness of our situation. Some lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful than we ever dared believe to be possible. I write these words with the aim of standing here with you — bewildered, scared maybe, yet also with a sense of new possibility — at this point of diverging paths.
Let us gaze down some of them and see where they lead. I heard this story last week from a friend. She was in a grocery store and saw a woman sobbing in the aisle. Flouting social distancing rules, she went to the woman and gave her a hug.
Going without hugs for a few weeks seems a small price to pay if it will stem an epidemic that could take millions of lives. There is a strong argument for social distancing in the near term: to prevent a sudden surge of Covid cases from overwhelming the medical system.
I would like to put that argument in a larger context, especially as we look to the long term. Lest we institutionalize distancing and reengineer society around it, let us be aware of what choice we are making and why. The same goes for the other changes happening around the coronavirus epidemic. Some commentators have observed how it plays neatly into an agenda of totalitarian control.
Many of these were underway before Covid; since its advent, they have been irresistible. The same goes for the automation of commerce; the transition from participation in sports and entertainment to remote viewing; the migration of life from public to private spaces; the transition away from place-based schools toward online education, the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, and the movement of human work and leisure onto screens. Covid is accelerating preexisting trends, political, economic, and social.
Since the threat of infectious disease, like the threat of terrorism, never goes away, control measures can easily become permanent. If we were going in this direction anyway, the current justification must be part of a deeper impulse. I will analyze this impulse in two parts: the reflex of control, and the war on death. Thus understood, an initiatory opportunity emerges, one that we are seeing already in the form of the solidarity, compassion, and care that Covid has inspired.
At the current writing, official statistics say that about 25, people have died from Covid By the time it runs its course, the death toll could be ten times or a hundred times bigger, or even, if the most alarming guesses are right, a thousand times bigger. Each one of these people has loved ones, family and friends.
Compassion and conscience call us to do what we can to avert unnecessary tragedy. This is personal for me: my own infinitely dear but frail mother is among the most vulnerable to a disease that kills mostly the aged and the infirm. What will the final numbers be? That question is impossible to answer at the time of this writing. Early reports were alarming; for weeks the official number from Wuhan, circulated endlessly in the media, was a shocking 3. That, coupled with its highly contagious nature, pointed to tens of millions of deaths worldwide, or even as many as million.
More recently, estimates have plunged as it has become apparent that most cases are mild or asymptomatic. Since testing has been skewed towards the seriously ill, the death rate has looked artificially high.
In Germany , whose testing also extends to many with mild symptoms, the fatality rate is 0. The story of the Diamond Princess cruise ship bolsters this view.
A cruise ship is a perfect setting for contagion, and there was plenty of time for the virus to spread on board before anyone did anything about it, yet only a fifth were infected.
A research team concluded from the large number of asymptomatic cases that the true fatality rate in China is around 0. That is still five times higher than flu. Based on the above and adjusting for much younger demographics in Africa and South and Southeast Asia my guess is about ,, deaths in the US — more if the medical system is overwhelmed, less if infections are spread out over time — and 3 million globally.
Those are serious numbers. My guesses could easily be off by an order of magnitude. Every day the media reports the total number of Covid cases, but no one has any idea what the true number is, because only a tiny proportion of the population has been tested. If tens of millions have the virus, asymptomatically, we would not know it.
And see here for even more alarming uncertainties about test accuracy. Let me repeat: no one knows what is really happening, including me. Let us be aware of two contradictory tendencies in human affairs.
The second is denial, the irrational rejection of information that might disrupt normalcy and comfort. As Daniel Schmactenberger asks , How do you know what you believe is true? If the final death tally, which will itself be the subject of dispute, is lower than feared, some will say that is because the controls worked.
To me, the most baffling puzzle is why at the present writing there seem to be no new cases in China. It should have spread widely during Chinese New Year, when every plane, train, and bus is packed with people traveling all over the country. What is going on here? Bear with me. Last year, according to the FAO , five million children worldwide died of hunger among million who are stunted and 51 million who are wasted. That is times more people than have died so far from Covid, yet no government has declared a state of emergency or asked that we radically alter our way of life to save them.
Nor do we see a comparable level of alarm and action around suicide — the mere tip of an iceberg of despair and depression — which kills over a million people a year globally and 50, in the USA. Or drug overdoses, which kill 70, in the USA, the autoimmunity epidemic, which affects Why, for that matter, are we not in a frenzy about averting nuclear armageddon or ecological collapse, but, to the contrary, pursue choices that magnify those very dangers?
The Ascent Of Humanity
The Ascent of Humanity is about the history and future of civilization from a unique perspective: the evolution of the human sense of self. The gathering crises of our age demonstrate that this way of being is on the verge of collapse. And this collapse is setting the stage for a revolution in human beingness whose stirrings we already begin to feel. The Ascent of Humanity is about Separation: its origins, its evolution, its ideology, its effects, its consummation and resolution, and its cosmic purpose. What is the purpose of the grandeur and the ruin we have wrought? If civilization is to collapse, Why?
The Ascent of Humanity
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