Adaptation and Normalization
As a species, homo sapiens are highly adaptable. Not only can we move into almost any environment and thrive, but we can also establish a wide range of communities based on many environmental and social factors. Human societies are complex, and any description will never come close to grasping the whole of humanity. This evolutionary adaptability has allowed humans to develop experimental communities in diverse ways within very different ecosystems. Evolution has illustrated that the majority, if not all, healthy, sustainable human societies have lived interwoven with their ecosystem in small bands. Rather than separate, they saw themselves as deeply interdependent. Of course, this is not articulated in their communities, for it was simply the way.
Throughout millions of years, homo sapiens evolved to work together in groups. Compared to other animals, we weren’t fast or strong. However, we could think critically, problem-solve, and work together as a unit. Homo sapiens used collaboration, ingenuity, and highly sophisticated forms of communication within a group synthesis. They found unique ways to hunt, gather food, create, connect with the ecosystem, and work together in an egalitarian fashion to support the whole community. They developed an authentic individual and collective intelligence that saw and connected with nature’s interwoven energetic web.
Because this way of living was sustainable and holistically intelligent, these cultures were very successful. Hunter-gatherer societies lived within their bioregions for thousands of years, sustaining their group and the natural ecology. More than this, they found joy and a rich sense of beauty in the landscape and biodiversity they participated in. Their communities were, generally speaking, small, democratic, and egalitarian. Also, being egalitarian and democratic led to close, cohesive, healthy relations between individuals and the collective of these societies. Imagine a great tree with branches rising upwards and the leaves dancing together in the wind. In a way, this mirrors a sophisticated, interrelated egalitarian society. Not one part is better than the other. All are included, from the individual to the entire community of people and the ecosystem.
Rather than hierarchy, these groups lived ecologically, where living things and the community were seen as joined together in a mutually interdependent and interconnected system. To truly understand one’s ecosystem, one has to understand all the different smells, the feel and texture of the topography, the layers of flora and fauna, and the sounds and sights of the community, both human and ecological, that surrounded them. As mammals, homo sapiens children learned from their elders and the incredibly diverse and deeply interlaced ecosystems in which they explored. Their senses were alive and constantly in use, digesting the multidimensional information a landscape shares. There was a need to learn how to read the tracks of animals, the geography, the climate, the changes in weather, which plants were edible or inedible, and their different medicinal properties. There was a need for highly developed and sophisticated intelligence to live in this way. They learned how to listen and understand other species, thereby understanding their language. Nature’s language wasn’t necessarily verbal but a language of the senses.
Like most mammalian species, children learn through play. In many indigenous communities, children could play and learn without coercion. Learning arose from children’s innate sense of wonder, curiosity, and openness to explore how adults and elders live their lives within their natural ecosystem. This evolutionary design worked well. Playing gave children time to explore through imagination and trial and error to learn the different modalities of the roles in which to play out within their communities. They would run through the fields, forests, or deserts. They would interact and build and act out what they were sensing. Playing allowed them to build critical thinking skills, ingenuity, creativity, communication skills, community, relationships with one another, and the wild. The play informed them about the complexity of their ecosystem.
There was no need for grades or grading. Their school was the community and wild. Trust without trying to trust was the nature of these communities. They trusted their children to learn what they needed to know. This style of communal parenting is not to say there were no certain expectations or boundaries concerning behavior. They looked to understand the situation and teach in a way that helped the child and the group as a whole. As they matured, they would follow the adults to learn the necessary skills to make them successful individually and as a community.
Homo sapiens lived in tiny egalitarian societies throughout most of their evolutionary history. The community was a significant factor in the ongoing success. Generally, these societies did not have a concept of ownership or profit. They did not need a hierarchical leader. Rather than having a word for freedom, they lived it. There was no need for social justice groups to live in an egalitarian way. Everyone had a voice, from the children to the elders. The idea of stealing, profit, and job competition was irrelevant. Instead, they were contributors to the whole of life. In her book Freedom and Culture, Dorothy Lee shared, “Every aspect of nature, plants and rocks and animals, colors and cardinal direction and numbers and sex distinctions, the dead and the living, all have a cooperative share in the maintenance of the universal order. Eventually, each effort, human or not, goes into this huge whole. And here, too, every aspect of a person counts. The entire being of the Hopi individual affects the balance of nature, and each individual develops his inner potential. Hence, he enhances his participation, and the entire universe becomes invigorated.”
They had much more time for leisure. Instead of just the parents raising children, the whole community shared in this task. Of course, being an egalitarian society did not mean they did not have issues. However, most of the psychological problems we have in our culture were not present in these small societies.
Indigenous cultures were generally cooperative, non-hierarchical, and respectful of both the individual and the community, interdependent with the ecosystem in which they lived, and had very few issues, as we see in our contemporary civilization. “If I were asked to state briefly and succinctly what is the outstanding feature of aboriginal civilizations, I, for one, would have no hesitation in answering that there are three: the respect for the individual, irrespective of age or sex; the astonishing degree of social and political integration achieved by them; and the existence of a concept of personal security which transcends all governmental forms and all tribal and group interests and conflicts.” Shared Paul Radin, an American anthropologist specializing in Native American languages and cultures.
These societies illustrate that homo sapiens are not problematic or sinful. Homo sapiens are mammals and primates. Like other primates, we learn from our parents and community about what it means to live on this multi-diverse planet. Because of our ability to adapt, we could move into different environments and develop different cultures based on the people and ecosystems in which they formed their communities.
Evolution is not about right or wrong. Evolution is about finding what works well that helps not only the species survive but also the ecosystem as a whole thrive. Species will die off when they cannot adapt and succeed through many factors within a diverse and complex ecosystem. As homo sapiens are an animal species, we are no different than other animals regarding evolution. Lions, gazelle, hornets, butterflies, octopuses, or frogs are not sinful for the way they live. Neither are homo sapiens.
However, if a culture becomes dysfunctional at its core, the dysfunction can create the ideas of sin, right and wrong, and develop all sorts of debilitating psychological problems.
Culture is an evolutionary experimentation on how to live on this planet. For a million years and potentially more, hunter-gatherer societies illustrated that they could live sustainably with the earth. At some point, a small number of these small cultures developed a hierarchy through an agriculture system that grew abundant food and established non-nomadic communities that increased their population. The growing population grew from towns, cities, and city-states into civilizations. These civilizations were hierarchical, impacted the ecosystems in destructive ways, and at some point collapsed (Such as the Maya, Olmec, and Anasazi, to name a few). “You are captives of a civilization system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world to live.” Shared Daniel Quinn in his seminal work, The Story of B.
A recent article from NASA by Safa Motesharreia Jorge Rivasb, and EugeniaKalnay, said, “Collapses of every advanced civilization have occurred many times in the past five thousand years, and they were frequently followed by centuries of population and cultural decline and economic regression. The results of their experiments show that some of the very clear trends which exist today– unsustainable resource consumption, and economic stratification that favors the elite– can very easily result in collapse.” They continue sharing that “collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes.” What happened to these civilizations is no different than the ongoing trend of our culture that is now global in scale.
Hierarchical civilizations have illustrated over and over again that they aren’t sustainable. How can they be? They grow like cancers, devouring the ecosystem that surrounds them. Civilizations being hierarchical are by their very nature oppressive and consuming. They are oppressive within the human community and in how they look at and treat natural systems. They are governed by a small group of people who hold all the wealth and power within any given system. Whether capitalistic or communistic, they are manipulated through power and hierarchy. Through coercion, propaganda, fear, and manipulation, this elite class forces the masses to do all the work to hold up the pillars of the “civilized” culture. As a result, the economic class system creates significant dysfunction and sorrow.
If we were aware, we would see how our civilization is not sustainable. “The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many.” Shared Michael Parenti. The Earth is being destroyed because of our cultural systems’ insane greed. Anything that is not sustainable will, at some point, collapse. Our culture is rushing toward its destruction. All the issues of our society clearly illustrate the cultural neurosis that perpetuates itself dysfunctionally in the individual and the collective. This comes from the root idea, born out of our culture, that we are not only separate from the world but that something is wrong with us. This mythos develops into a hierarchy, control, oppression, and fear. We are at war within ourselves and the world because that ideology is normalized in our cultural schema. We then believe that human beings are the problem. We form a belief that there is something wrong with us. Because of this inherent belief, we have difficulty seeing how deeply dysfunctional and maladaptive our society is and how it conditions us.
The story of Genesis illustrates metaphorically how our culture removed itself from nature and became “sinful” to create a system based on fear, control, growth, and manipulation. The Garden of Eden mythos represents our true sense of home — that we are interwoven with nature, not separate from it. However, based on this myth, we lost sight of Eden. We became lost because our culture taught and reinforced the idea that we are separate from nature and each other. We then developed the idea that there is also something inherently wrong in us and that there is a god in the sky and a devil in hell to either reward or punish us. If we follow our culture’s values of what is good, we will be rewarded with heaven. If we don’t, we are damned with the punishment of hell. This limited myopic way of thinking blinds us to looking underneath what any of that means.
The Genesis myth points out that by creating the idea of separation and perpetuating this mythos through how we are conditioned, we are taught to separate ourselves from our connection to all that is. This idea of separation isolates oneself from others, creating conflict and suffering. From here, we have been so conditioned to separate ourselves through constant distraction through work, religion, and entertainment that collectively, we become stuck in ignorance. From ignorance, we become stuck in our normalized patterns and struggle to change even though we suffer within our psyche. Hell is what we have created within our minds.
Regrettably, most of us have been born into a hierarchical, dysfunctional society. Looking around, we would recognize the multitude of dysfunction permeating our culture caused by hierarchy.
Collective feelings of confusion and escapism.
Lack of attention.
Overabundant conflict creates ongoing drama both individually and collectively.
An economic system that benefits a few buttressed by the sweat and tears of many.
Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash
This dysfunction has been going on for thousands of years. Our culture perpetuates suffering and war because it is like a capitalistic hydra that feeds off fragmentation and trauma. It is a culture of unlimited growth that is directly opposed to the limited earth system that we are, in actuality, a part of the entire cosmos. We are at war with the earth and, therefore, with ourselves. Our war machine keeps finding ways to feed to continue the wealth and power for a few individuals, no matter the horrific violent consequences to the many.Yet, we don’t see this generally speaking. Most of us go to work and dismiss what is happening because this violence seems normal or doesn’t really affect us. Why? Our culture makes sure we are always busy and distracted. We have been taught to be this way since we were children. As young children, we are conditioned to adapt to and normalize the dysfunctional family and school systems that have been dysfunctional for generations. Infants and young children are open and curious, yet they are navigating their family system with parents who are taught into this system. Then they go to school. Here, they discover relatively quickly that their voices don’t matter. Instead, they must follow the teacher’s authority and learn what to learn.
When born into a confusing maladjusted system, their psyches find ways to protect and normalize the drama and trauma they are experiencing. Over time, the young child’s psyche attaches to the parts born out of this trauma, solidifying into the roles they are conditioned to play. Then, this plays out into adulthood as maladaptive behaviors and suffering. Our culture is the collective dysfunction taught to us from the moment we are born. We project this conditioning into the field of our perception. The Buddha said, “With our thoughts, we create the world.” If we are born into a dysfunctional culture and are taught to fit into this culture, then one’s thinking will reflect this. This thinking then mirrors itself upon reality.
Children adapt to the cultural belief systems and customs of their community. As the culture they are born into is all they know, they normalize the culture as real, and their psyches find ways to adapt even when there is trauma and suffering. They perform roles that fit the culture’s expectations as they go through school. This cycle of trauma is perpetuated into the drama of war — war upon oneself, others, and the environment.
There are many different ways homo sapiens have lived together throughout history. Most of these small organic societies were sustainable and egalitarian. However, our culture is maladaptive and now global in structure. Being conditioned into this society, is it possible to break free of our mental chains, individually and collectively, and adapt to a new experiment in which we can live sustainably with each other and the planet?
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