Jonathan Cloud January 27th, 2007
The Human Project is “a multidisciplinary inquiry into the continuing evolution of our species.”
It is obvious that our world is changing very quickly, in political, economic, and environmental terms; and we humans are engaged in a race to evolve fast enough to respond to these new planetary demands. Unless we deal with the realities of global climate change, the flattening of the global economy, and unacceptable costs of war, oppression, and inequality, our species itself will, at the very least, face increasing chaos and conflict, and at the worst may fail to survive.
Yet in the past we have adapted rapidly to changes in our circumstances, and to the series of crises that we ourselves have created.
Our challenge is understanding our current situation, and the changes that are needed in our attitudes and actions. We also need to recognize the possibilities and opportunities for transformation, and nurture those trends that will enable us not merely to survive but to thrive.
The Human Project seeks to discern the deeper forces at work that are shaping a better human and planetary future. History continues to both surprise and dismay us; our species’ potential for both creation and destruction is seemingly unlimited. We can invent not only new technologies but indeed whole new fields of human endeavor. At the same time, we have found new ways of oppressing, exploiting, and tormenting each other – and of destroying each other for cultural and religious reasons.
January 27, 2007
We live surrounded by stories. Television, books, the Internet – literally millions of stories. If there are six-and-a-half billion people on the planet, there are a thousand times that many stories, and a thousand more interpretations of them.
Each story presupposes a world, and gives rise to that world. Such worlds may designed to entertain, others to persuade; some are efforts to grasp reality, others to grasp what is beyond reality.
The only things that are absolutely true are those that are true by definition. Two plus two equals four because of the definition of “two” and of “four.” Such truths are useful devices for making sense of the empirical world, but they do not determine it. What is true about the “real” world is contingent or conditional truth, not absolute truth. It is not possible to conclude anything about the world from a tautology.
Yet there is a “real” world. We exist in the flesh, in a physical dimension subject to gravity, distance, and time. We only imperfectly understand this world, but we interact with that which we perceive of it all the time. I am writing these words with a keyboard, viewing a laptop computer screen, putting them first into the “body” of an email message and then copying and pasting them into an Internet database from which they can be retrieved and displayed by anyone requesting to view the page. So the words themselves exist in a sort of contingent reality, as encoded electrical charges, until requested and displayed. What they then mean depends on the ability of the reader, first, to understand the language, and then to grasp the intended meaning.
But whatever my intention in writing them, what is real is what is understood by them, what you think they mean. What they “really” mean is something that may be debated by different readers, and by the writer. If you believe that what I am saying is true, and is relevant, you may choose to indicate your agreement with it; if you think it is wrong or unimportant you will either argue with it or disregard it. By these choices you determine your own reality.
The classic example of this is religion. If you believe there is a God, as described by your particular affiliation, the world provides evidence to substantiate you. If you believe there is no God, or only an unknowable One, the world as you see it will validate this. By choosing your belief system you determine the reality you will live in.
Most people are, however, uncomfortable with acknowledging this. Even “scientists,” who pride themselves on believing only that which can be empirically demonstrated, are often as adamant that “their” reality is the correct one as any true religious believer. What is obviously so to both, however, is that our beliefs determine how we see reality, and what we think is important, and important to notice about it. If you believe in a personal God, you may then believe that how you behave is important to God, though such an idea may be totally incomprehensible to someone who believes that life is an unfolding drama that has no predetermined meaning.
All of these are aspects of “the human project.” We are, as humans, meaning-giving and meaning-creating beings. We are confronted by a mysterious universe, and are part of the mysterious force of life that somehow miraculously exists within it; and we are unavoidably driven to try to understand it. Some believe they are in fact in possession of the truth about it, and are certain that they are right, at least in the moment – though almost everyone acknowledges that their views of it change over time.
April 7, 2007
So What Are We Doing Here?
Supposedly, everything happens for a reason. It may not be a very good reason, but whatever happens someone will come up with an explanation that’s convenient, comforting, or otherwise self-serving. Take 9/11 for example. For Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, this was god punishing America for tolerating gays, pagans, lesbians, abortionists, and the ACLU. For George Bush and Dick Cheney, this was because “they” “hated our freedoms.” For others with perhaps a little more historical knowledge, it was because we were occupying their countries, propping up their despotic rulers, and exploiting their natural resources (not to mention overthrowing their democracies and trying to subvert their cultures).
But in a larger sense there’s really no explanation for what’s happening on the surface of this planet. At the highest level, we really don’t know how the universe was created (or “came into existence”), or what happened before the “Big Bang” (which is what I called it the first time I got laid), or how life came about. We don’t know how come we alone of the animate creatures of the earth appear to have a reflexive consciousness, and can wonder what we’re doing here.
This becomes an especially acute problem when you realize that, at the rate things are going, we may not last very long as a species. We crawled out of the mud, and entered the Stone Age, and developed agriculture and writing and complex social organizations. We acquired history, and technology, and ever-widening scientific understandings. But we also discovered a dark abyss in the human soul, and started wars, and spread disease, and learned the meanings of hunger and poverty and ethnic hatred.
At this point we are also beginning to realize that our sheer growth in numbers, in economic development, and in aspirations has begun to impact the planet, and may have already started spiraling climate change that we may not be able to reverse without very difficult changes in our lifestyles, our priorities, and our cultures. In this context the question of what we are doing here takes on a new level of importance – at least for some of us.
Now for some people this might seem to be a largely unanswerable question, a matter for speculative philosophy, or for that vast uncharted ocean of theology, metaphysics, and spirituality that opens up for us during the course of life, or for some arbitrary dogmatic religious explanation. But in reality each of us has to have a working answer, at least for immediate personal purposes even if we don’t pretend the mystery of the whole. And this whole is to some extent given by the totality of our individual realities, and is indeed partly if not wholly made up by the coexistence of the multiplicity of our answers. Whether we are Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish or atheist, we are in the end forced to acknowledge that we live in world in which each of these faiths (and non-faiths) exists and is found plausible by some fraction of humanity.
So what are we doing here?
This is the fundamental question that lies at the heart of what I call “the human project.” In my view this is a kind of metadiscipline, an inquiry, a scientific exploration of what it means to be human and to be living on this planet. What are we evolved from, and more importantly what are we meant to evolve into?
Now I know for a lot of people even this way of putting the question will raise a great many objections. Who says we are still evolving, at least biologically; and who says we are “meant” to do anything? And how is it possible that there are still individuals who deny evolution altogether? But for the moment I really don’t want to argue about this. I just want to recognize that we do, at some level, consider ourselves (at least sometimes) to have a mission in life, and if we have a mission in life then life has missions in it, and in some sense has a higher-level mission which is the sum total of those, and that we might call “human striving.” Like other organisms, humans have a will to survive; unlike other organisms, they have a desire to go beyond this level of mere survival, and create something of meaning or beauty or significance for others’ lives.
Of course, we also realize that not everyone recognizes their mission – and in that sense perhaps do not really have one, or has multiple ones, and is merely “existing”: fully conscious of their day-to-day strivings and realities, but at a higher level merely drifting or flitting through life, entirely dominated by the forces of history and social circumstance. These people are like the crowd of extras in a movie; their existence is a reality that needs to be acknowledged but they’re not really part of the action – which is invariably some particular human story. But even if many people do not accept that they have a mission, their liefe’s path is nonetheless driven by some desires and needs that are unavoidable as long as they’re breathing.
One way of looking at this, in fact, is through Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” starting with the basic ones such as food and shelter, and ultimately culminating in self-realization or self-actualization, which is a desire to fulfill our unique potential and manifest ourselves in the world. From Maslow’s perspective, self-actualization is our true mission, and for each person this is going to be unique in some respects and universal in others.
Like trees in the forest, each one of us is wholly unique and exists as an individual; but no matter what our beliefs or ethnic identity we share a certain unversal quality like “treeness,” an essential humanity that makes all alike and all related. So George W. Bush is like and related to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden; the Pope is just another dressed up gangsta rapper; and you and I and everyone else is related to each other.
There is nothing that happens to one of us that might not happen to another, and nothing that is human that is truly foreign or alien to our natures – however much we might find it in that moment abhorrent. We have to face it, to acknowledge it, to accept it as part of who we are, the light and the dark, driven by the inherent force of life and, at least sometimes, by the equally powerful urge to self-destruction. Even the aliens in Star Trek are simply reflections of aspects of ourselves.
It also helps to keep reminding ourselves that our lives are temporary, transitory as they used to say, and that none of us are getting out of this one alive. What I write may endure – or more precisely the fact that I have written it endures – but I will not, and neither will you. We better make the most of it while we’re here.
In Life Directions (one of the Harv Eker courses), I identified my mission as that of “bringingenergy, light, and abundance to the world.” This may seem a trifle grandiose, but the fact is that I have worked my entire adult career in the fields of renewable energy, human enlightenment, and abundance thinking. So this really just defines my actual activity, and describes my outlook on life. Could it be otherwise? Of course. We either choose to embrace what we recognize as our mission, or we reject it or jut disregard it or get distracted. But in the end it is our mission – if we think it is – and it is part of what defines who we are.
This seems so evident to me that I assume other recognize it also. But of course most other people are not like me. At time, for example, I am not only totally hedonistic but also completely twisted; and I given myself permission to explore every impulse as long as it is not harmful to others.
June 9, 2007
Addendum: After letting this settle in my mind, and taking a short excursion into the realms of higher consciousness, it occurred to me that perhaps the alchemists were on to something. In slightly crude terms, we could say today that the mission of the human race was to turn shit into gold – to take our dark side and transmute it into light. This seems to me to be one of the few defensible positions one might take.
Another way of saying this is that humanity’s task is to rise above its savage, tribal, primitive ancestry and “become as gods”: taking the reins of creation into our hands (as we have already acquired the means of destroying our world), and taking responsibility for all of our actions. We are part of the self-actualization of life, on a journey from darkness and unconsciousness into the fullness of self-awareness, our conscious recognition of ourselves as both the One and the many, and of the extraordinarily elegant design of reality.
I would guess that it is this that has led humans to posit a God who is like us, “in whose image” we ourselves are created and endowed with life; but after discovering the vastness of the universe, the idea of a personal God seems as paltry a myth as Zeus or Thor. Whatever exists as the “Creative Force” of the universe is not a moralistic, vengeful, demanding God, or even a more benevolent but still judgmental Being; “It” is rather the energy that surges through our veins, the sap that rises in the tree, the glory of sunset and sunrise and hope and compassion and inspiration that flows through all of us, and through the miraculous balance of this small blue planet.
It is, in other words, that transformative, transcendent vision that always and forever calls to us, and that challenges us to “be all that we can be.” This includes, I say today, that we be wealthy, and happy, and successful in every way; that we return to the earth as much or more than we take from it; and that we seek to expand our consciousness further each day.
June 10, 2007