Human beings by nature engender culture – the totality of values, attitudes, convictions, and practices of a common way of life. The individual behavior of millions weaves together to form a culture in which emerging structures of politics, economics, family life, and so on come to the fore. Culture reinforces behavior which in turn reinforces culture.
Human culture continually shifts between the better aspects of human nature and the more destructive traits of human behavior.
In what may be called the culture of the imperial self, ego-driven behavior is rewarded, honored, and glorified to the extent of human detriment. Such behavior leads to lacking attunement to what might be called spiritual values. In such circumstances, the individual ego (defined as the selfish will to power) is free to run amok without much restraint. In a world that denies its spiritual depths, the very purpose of life often reduces to self-satisfaction, self-pleasure, and the inflation of ego and it’s needs.
Political, economic, and social structures emerge that can be analyzed through six primary traits of the imperial egoist culture (hat tip, John Dominic Crossan):
Materialism/Consumerism is dysfunctional thinking that equates a good life with having more things. This mindset leads to an unending desire for the accumulation of material goods as a means to happiness. Within a consumerist culture, other human goods eventually become subjugated to the pursuit of material gain. As the dysfunction spreads, even the mechanisms of consumerism itself begin to fray – work loses its dignity, wages grow stagnant as the owner-elite skim ever deeper from the gains of productivity. Plutocracy, wealth inequality, cultural bifurcation, and the loss of meaningful creative opportunity tear the social fabric.
Slavery in its strict form is rare in developed nations. Yet its overt practice continues in many parts of the world and more subtle forms of slavery exist even in the developed countries. A fundamental precept of justice is that a worker is due their wage and the benefit of their labor. Obviously, others may also benefit from such labor, but only in a system of free and fair cooperative agreements. Many of the industrialized economies are now witnessing deteriorating and exploitive terms for workers and ownership and upper management unfairly benefiting from the work of those deemed below them.
Patriarchy is the result of complex attitudes, practices, and biases that allow men to exercise undue control over women, preventing their full participation across society, as well as the oppression of many sexual minorities who serve little interest to the male sexual power elites. The dignity of the individual person is lost as they are treated as an object of sexual gratification, a means to an end of ego sexual fulfillment. The Ego Imperial culture promotes hyper-sexualization. Often, exploitative sexual practices are favored and furthered – including promiscuity, pornography, abusive fetishes, prostitution (the commodification of sex) and subtle (and not so subtle) forms of sexual abuse and control. Marriage, committed relationships, and family life suffer as a result.
Elitism is a fundamental preference for the powerful, the wealthy, and those who sit atop the hierarchies of social and cultural control. Driven by the dictates of rampant, uncontrolled egoism, the elite use those below them to further their own ends. In this sense, the elite become social parasites and create abusive structures that denigrate the poor, the marginalized, the misfits, the elderly, the young, the ill, the undereducated – all those who do not demonstrate social “utility.”
Violence is the natural result of the glorification of the imperial ego. Tensions, divisions, and hostilities are fostered and even manufactured on all societal levels as a way of furthering the control of the political and economic elite. Violence is seen as an acceptable means to social control and permeates all aspects of the culture. On the level of geopolitics, war is used as a tool of empire building and for exploiting weaker and poorer nations.
Ecological Abuse is the unhealthy practice that results from seeing humans as separate from nature and not an inherent part of the ecosystem. There is nothing wrong with harnessing nature’s powers for human betterment; the problem comes when humans dominate and use nature without regard for the long term consequences. Abusing and ruining nature is the not the same as benefiting from nature’s bounty.
The fundamental “program” of any mature spirituality is the mastery of self so one may find fulfillment and a sense of proper place in the cosmos through kenotic love.
The ecospiritual vision of human dignity and the sacredness of nature has been called a culture of life, a program that has animated the better aspects of Western culture for thousands of years. This social vision is fundamentally subversive to that of the vision of the culture of the imperial self.
Simplicity is not the denial of the goodness of the material world, rather it is the refusal to equate the quantity and quality of material good with a life of value and purpose.
Freedom is a primary yearning of all living things and therefore a core, humane value. Many things compete for our attention and devotion, and therefore our freedom. We are only free to the degree that we choose to give ourselves to things that deserve our dignity.
Gender Equality is the opposite of patriarchy and the result of a deep appreciation for diversity. It is also a fundamental stance against all forms of sexual abuse and degradation. Sexuality is intended for intimacy, love, and pleasure – not manipulation, debasement, or an expression of violence.
Egalitarianism is the antidote to elitism and the skewing of power to the few. Its based in consensus, the valuing of diversity, equality, and rule of law.
Peace is the radical opposite vision to violence and results from rejecting violence and striving for cooperation.
Sustainability is the commitment to harness nature’s powers while seeking to live in lasting harmony and balance with the ecosystem.
SIMPLICITY & SUSTAINABILITY
Simplicity and the striving for simple living is a core aspect of ecospirituality and a special concern in the modern world.
Complexity is an often destructive, paramount trait of contemporary society – our daily lives are more complicated than ever with increasing detail, process, and requirements in economics, communications, career, family life, politics, and so on. The antidote is to cultivate a commitment to simplicity – the recognition that less is more.
Significantly fueling complexity is dysfunctional, consumerist thinking that equates a good life with having more things. This faulty mindset leads to constant accumulation of material goods as a means to happiness. Yes, comfort is part of a good life. The problem is not with the things themselves, but with the tendency to over-invest ourselves in things that can’t make us happy.
Consumerism isn’t our only problem. The pace of life also has become an increasing concern. Our culture is inhumanely fast paced. Chronic over-commitment and perpetual rushing leaves many of us exhausted and stressed. We are carried along by the fast culture; we’ve all grown accustomed to rushing. Our bodies and minds have been trained to hurry through meals, conversations, tasks, even sleep. Fast life disrupts our habits, ruins the peace of our homes, erodes relationships, and harms the body and mind.
These, and other trends have left our economy rigged for plutocracy – work has lost its dignity, wages are stagnant as corporate elite skim ever deeper from the gains of productivity. Wealth inequality, cultural bifurcation, and the loss of meaningful creative opportunity has frayed the social fabric and set the stage for upheaval and revolt.
In the midst of the growing instability we are enmeshed in material excess practiced at high speed and that comes at the price of our energy, our time, our environment, our money, and often our best efforts. This leaves precious little energy and time for friends, community involvement, reading, conversation, and other simple pleasures.
Resistance to meaningful reform is encountered from failing religious and political ideology invested in propping up doomed structures. Unfortunately, many insist on living in denial about our situation, leaving us emotionally, culturally, and spiritually unprepared for the necessary changes ahead.
Slow and Simple Living is the progressive answer to our culture gone mad. We must reject the dominant consumerist culture, find practical, innovative, and independent ways to earn a living, and divest ourselves from the ruinous values that fuel our current cultural insanity.
Self-discipline and a commitment to counter-cultural attitudes is pivotal – in the face of superfluous, 24-7 distractions, options, and activities we must learn to say “no” and accept that the motto of “having it all” is a myth. A balance between living a full and robust life and simplicity must be sought. We must deliberately chose to slow down, let up on the accelerator, ease the pace, and let life unfold at a human pace. We must cease embracing the material ethos of our age.
Simplicity must be a central aspect of our environmental concern as well. Western Industrialized nations appear to be approaching ecological overshoot. We have created a way of life that relies on an aggressive, unsustainable utilization of natural resources. We are depleting nature and in the process, poisoning our food chain and source of sustenance. How we treat nature is a direct reflection of how we view ourselves.
Sustainability is a hybrid of prudence, balance, and temperance – the ability to analysis systems in terms of their optimal functioning based on inputs, outputs, and influences. In practical terms, it is the ability to know the difference between needs and wants, to understand proper limits, and to delay short term gratification for long term benefits.