A framework for understanding human story (some essential features of human life and experience, or “the meaning of life”)
Scattered throughout his books, Joseph Campbell presents an outline for understanding human life/human story- i.e. the point or meaning of it all. I have added to his basic framework, revising, paraphrasing, and changing some things.
Jumping right in… The point of human life? We are here to love, to learn what love is and how to love. This is the fundamental reason for the cosmos, our world, and conscious human life.
Where Campbell used the term “universal love” to define the transition to human maturity and “heroic” human story, I would use the broader term “unconditional” or “no conditions” love. It includes universal and more. My point: Unconditional, as our highest human ideal (the most humane expression of love), gives meaning to everything. It answers all the great questions: “Why existence?”; “Why this cosmos and this world?”; and “Why conscious human life?”
Unconditional takes us to the height of being human, shaping our goals, our mission/purpose in life, how we become the hero of our unique story, and how we mature as a human being. Unconditional is how we conquer our personal monster, our real enemy in life, and thereby “tower in stature” as a wise person, as a mature human person.
An insert qualifier: Unconditional does not mean pacifist inaction in the face of injustice, violence, or evil. In discussion groups you sometimes get smart-ass participants who respond to the suggestion of embracing unconditional as an ideal with this extremist dismissal, “Oh, you’re saying that we should let all the psychopaths go free”. No. In advocating for an unconditional mindset, no one is suggesting anything so thoughtlessly irresponsible. Embracing an unconditional ideal to guide life does not entail the abandonment of common sense in an imperfect world.
An unconditional approach to human failure will still hold all responsible for their behavior, including the restraining and imprisoning of people that are not able or not willing to self-control their worst impulses. Unconditional will even regretfully engage war to stop aggression against the innocent. But it will do so with the non-aggressive and non-triumphalist attitude advocated by the Chinese sage Laozi.
Unconditional is a profound redefinition of humanity’s ultimate ideal and authority- deity. It overturns entirely the long history of punitive, retaliatory religious deities demanding sacrifice. Unconditional deity thereby fully humanizes the age-old human goal of “becoming fully humane just as our originating Source is fully humane” (i.e. the belief/behavior relationship- validating our behavior with our beliefs). Embracing unconditional in our highest ideal and authority- i.e. deity- will influence and shape our responses and treatment of human imperfection and failure. Where punitive, retaliatory deities have long validated human punishment and retaliation, so unconditional deity will, for example, orient us away from punitive forms of justice and toward restorative or rehabilitative justice.
Now, those features of human story…
First, I would affirm with Campbell that we come from a great Oneness that humanity has long called God (i.e. the Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit, Self, Goodness). There is one overwhelmingly dominant feature that describes this divine Oneness- Love. Not just love as we commonly know it here, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, and infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God that is Love is an Ultimate Reality infinitely beyond our theories of God- the God and Love that are infinitely beyond the term God. Transcendently beyond the best that we could ever imagine. No religion has ever communicated this liberating wonder to humanity.
That ultimate no conditions Love gives meaning to everything. The stunning new theology of ultimate Love defines the core purpose of the cosmos, the world, and conscious life. It is all.
A related stunner: Our true self is also that same no conditions Love. This ought to radically transform and reshape our sense of identity or self-image. We are not the fallen, “originally sinful” beings of religious mythology. The love that is God is the very essence of our human spirit and our human consciousness, though our spirit and consciousness are often clouded and inhibited by the material body and brain that we have come to inhabit. Our core nature as no conditions love is often distorted and buried by the animal brain that we have inherited, with its anti-human impulses to exhibit tribalism, domination of others, and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of others.
Further, on our origins in Oneness (i.e. that we are part of a greater Consciousness), some suggest that only part of our consciousness is expressed through our body and brain that are mechanisms to limit our consciousness in order to enable us to function in this material realm. Our greater consciousness when mediated through our body is limited by the 5 senses of our bodies/brains and the three or four-dimensional reality of this material realm so that we can experience life here. In this view, the brain is a transmitting organism, a limiting mechanism to make a life experience possible in the here and now. (Note: This view is more in line with John Eccles’ “dualist inter-action”)
Our origin in the Oneness or the Source that is Love, our inseparable and intense union with that Oneness, according to Campbell, is critical to remember as we journey through life so that we do not lose our humanity in this world where we engage a struggle with evil. Our true home in ultimate Oneness reminds us that the others that we battle with here- the imperfect others that we view as “enemies” or opponents- they are also equally part of that same Oneness that is love. They are still intimate family despite the oppositions/dualisms that we all engage here (i.e. the dualisms of religion, politics, race, nationality, gender, or other). They are still full equals with us. They are our brothers and sisters in the same one family. If we forget this oneness with others during our righteous struggle with evil in this world (“our brotherhood with even our enemies”), then we will lose our humanity, says Campbell. We will forget that “love your enemy” is the key to maintaining our humanity.
Others have suggested that we are co-creators with God, that we take part in creating this material reality as a learning arena, a place to come and learn how to be human, to act out a human adventure, story, or quest. We all come as fellow actors in God’s theater, says Campbell, playing our differing temporary roles, whether good or bad.
And others yet suggest that we may even be responsible for choosing our unique life stories and the experiences of our stories, both good and bad. We may choose our bodies, our families, and our lives, in order to learn, develop, and grow as human. If this is true in any way, then we cannot blame God for our troubles. I am not affirming these speculative things… just offering them for consideration. They point to some alternative ways to view the harsher experiences of our lives. We may have chosen our unique life experiences as opportunities for learning and growth.
Insert: This is not a new take on religious predestination. As freedom is inseparable from love, so freedom remains paramount to our stories. We exercise authentic freedom of choice and create our stories on the fly, during our sojourn in this world. Freedom, with elements of indeterminacy and randomness, is inseparable from love.
Moving along… Others have suggested that we come into life to fulfill some special mission, that we are called, or sent, to make some unique contribution to improve life, to make the world a better place. And we do this through living a unique life story. No one else can accomplish the unique mission that we came to fulfill.
Affirming my main point- the core purpose of human life and story is to know and learn love. To learn what authentically humane love is about. To learn how to love, how to receive and to express the love that is our true self. And the expression of love is achieved through all the diversity of innumerable human lives and experiences- e.g. whether making an economic contribution, a political or social contribution, or something personal. Perhaps as an entertainer. Is there any greater contribution to improving life than that made by comedians? Putting suffering in its place, laughing at it all, and thereby lightening the dark parts of life. And what about the valued contribution of farmers growing food for all of us? Or sanitation workers preventing the spread of disease? There are no “useless” or less important human lives or stories. All contribute to the grand overall venture of humanity learning to love.
Our contribution may be small and hidden, or it may be offered in the larger public realm. Again, our contributions to life are as diverse as being human in our individual life stories. There is infinite creative potential in human lives and the freedom to be different, to explore, to experience, to create and innovate.
I would offer, again, that unconditional love is the central point of it all. And that is intensely personal. As we contribute in some area, we shouldn’t forget that its all about how we relate to others around us in the mundane, ordinary, and private situations of daily life. Success in life is about how we treat others as fellow members of the same one family. They are our equals in that family despite their status or failures in this world.
Taking another Campbell point here: We all face some monster in life. We experience some problem, some trial and form of suffering, something that we struggle with and try to overcome. Our monster/problem may be a physical disability, or mental/emotional problems, or some social issue, perhaps economic or political. Our monsters, and struggles/battles, are as diverse as the problems of our complex world, whether public or personal.
Others, Campbell included, have noted that dualism is a vital part of this material realm and there is a point to the dualisms of material reality and life. Whether the male/female dualism, or the good versus evil dualism. While this requires cautious treatment (i.e. not making light of evil and related suffering), dualism serves the purpose, in this arena of life, of providing a backdrop or contrast against which we learn what good is. We would not know good without its contrasting opposite. The experience of evil or bad in life provides the opposite that we struggle against, and through that “righteous struggle with evil” we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. Our struggle with the wrongs, injustice, or evil of life is where we also learn empathy with suffering others.
Again, being cautious with the horrific suffering that people have endured, but some have suggested that struggle and suffering are necessary and even good for us because we would not learn, we would not develop and grow as human, aside from struggle and suffering. As Julian Simon said, our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions and our discovered solutions then benefit others. Struggle brings forth the best of the human spirit.
Further, human experience of evil and suffering is never some form of divine punishment. That religious fallacy must be rejected entirely. God does not punish human imperfection.
While no explanation will ever fully satisfy all questions regarding evil and related suffering, it makes more overall sense to view the creation of this imperfect world as fundamentally an experience and learning arena.
Campbell adds that we will be “wounded” in our struggle with our monster/problem. “Wounding” is as diverse as human stories.
To reiterate, we may have chosen our unique problems and experiences of suffering before we came here. We may be more responsible for our lives than we realize. Let your mind toy with this suggestion (see, for example, Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things).
I would add something further to Campbell’s good points, though in places he has intimated something similar. The greatest monster and the real enemy that we all face and must conquer, the greatest problem that we must all wrestle with and solve, is the inherited animal within each of us (“the animal passions”). The greatest of all “righteous battles against evil” is the intensely personal inner battle that takes place inside each of us. Here is where the role of unconditional comes into laser focus. And this is where we make our greatest contribution to making the world a better place. It starts within us, with conquering our own animal passions. “Why do you worry about and judge the speck in the other person’s eye (their imperfections) when you have a beam in your own eye (your own imperfections)?”
Revolution, reformation, renewal, change… should all begin as something intensely personal. Within us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The great battle-line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart”. The great battles against evil in life should focus primarily within ourselves.
We have all inherited a core animal brain. They used to frame this as the “tri-partite” brain, with the reptilian core (i.e. amygdala), the limbic system, and then the more human cortex at the surface.
The animal brain (and our past in millions of years of animal existence) bequeaths us with basic impulses to things like tribalism (small band separation and opposition to outsiders), the impulse to dominate others (Alpha male/female), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other/enemy.
But then embrace a liberating qualifier: To paraphrase Jeffrey Schwartz, we are not our brains. Our core human spirit, our human self or person, our consciousness, is the same Love as our great Source that we have long called God. We are not our inherited physical/animal brains. We are something much better in our essential nature, personhood, or being (the “real” us). We are most essentially beings or persons that are love. Love is our most true inner nature. Love makes us authentically and maturely human.
This is the most important dualism of all to understand- i.e. the human versus the animal. The human in us- our human spirit and consciousness- is taking us in an entirely new direction from our brutal animal past. It is taking us toward a more humane future. Evolutionary biology/psychology tends to devalue the human by explaining it too much in terms of the animal, by viewing and reducing the human to just another form of animal. Evolutionary biology/psychology also devalues our core love as something to be explained mostly in terms of the animal survival impulse- i.e. just another form of “species altruism”. No, it is something far more humane.
And here is where Campbell shines when defining human story. He says that the most critically important transformation in human life is when we orient our lives to “universal love”. Then we begin to mature as humans. We then become the hero of our story. Again, I would use unconditional love as a broader, more inclusive term.
Unconditional potently counters (overcomes, conquers) the animal inside us by pointing us toward the embrace of all others as equals in the same one human family (inclusive not limited tribal love). Unconditional inspires us to treat all others as equals and to not dominate and control the free and equal other (no alpha domination). And unconditional urges us to not destroy the other but to forgive the imperfection that we encounter in others. Our core self, as unconditional love, points us toward the restorative treatment of failure in others (justice not as punishment but as rehabilitation).
Add here Campbell’s comments on the shamanic experience that involves a disintegration 0f the self, and then re-integration around something new, a new worldview and life story. Orienting our worldviews and lives to no conditions, universal love will provide a new cohering center for an entirely new worldview and life story. Unconditional transforms and changes everything. It liberates and transforms consciousness away from the old features of human narratives that were often subhuman, and it orients us to embrace features that are entirely new and humane. See ‘Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives’ for details on constructing an entirely new worldview oriented to unconditional.
Re-emphasizing critical points:
The most important battles in life are not the great historical wars of tribe against tribe, or nation against nation. The greatest battles/wars are those that take place inside us. And this relates to the deeper meaning of equality in human life. There can be no outer material equality because life is shaped by hierarchies and pyramids where only a few can reach the upper levels, whether in business, sports, politics, or entertainment. Only an elite few can achieve the highest success in those pyramids of life. But everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the greatest success of all in the most important achievement of all- common love. Love is the most foundational thing to human existence and story. It is the defining feature of our human spirit and consciousness, and it gives the most potent meaning to our existence and stories. And love is the only lasting achievement in the cosmos. All else will be left behind and forgotten in the material world or realm. Only what is done in love lasts forever.
When we struggle and suffer in life, and then discover unconditional as the route to an authentically humane life story- that is the greatest insight that we can learn, the greatest treasure that we can discover, and the greatest victory that we can achieve. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, then we can offer the greatest benefit or boon to others- to treat them unconditionally. Unconditional points us toward the greatest revolution that we can bring to life, toward the greatest possible transformation of life, toward the greatest liberation that we can offer to the world (i.e. liberation from the inherited animal in all of us). The unconditional treatment of all the imperfect people around us (e.g. restorative justice) is one of the most potent personal ways to make the world a better place. Include the expression of unconditional toward oneself and one’s own failures and imperfections.
Another way of putting this… We will all face some struggle, some experience of suffering, something we fear, perhaps opposition from an enemy, or some abuse from an opponent. If we choose to respond to that challenge with love, we then discover our true self as a being of love, and we mature into a heroic person through that experience and choice. See, for examples, ‘The Railway Man’, Nelson Mandela, the tortured prisoners in ‘To End All Wars’, or the mother in ‘The Forgiven’.
In all that we do, and should do, to make this life better- i.e. in sports, in business and work, in all public or social issues, or entertainment- we should never forget that it is how we treat others in the daily mundane interactions (the ordinary and hidden things) that make us real successes and achievers, or not. Steve Jobs understood this on his death bed when he apologized to his daughter Lisa for treating her sub-humanly at times. He had great public material success but regretted that he failed in his private life. He wished that he could have been kinder to family when alive and healthy.
Added notes in conclusion:
The embrace of a no-conditions ideal to guide our lives will orient us to (1) the non-tribal inclusion of all others as full equals. It will orient us to (2) respect and protect the full freedom and rights of all others. And it will orient us away from punitive, destructive forms of justice and (3) toward restorative/rehabilitative forms of justice- i.e. treating all human imperfection and failure with forgiveness, mercy, and generosity.
Campbell also says that a “wise man”, or mentor, will give us a sword to slay our monster and help us to achieve our purpose in life. We all know such people among family and friends, people who give us advice from their own life experience. And again, most importantly, unconditional love is that most potent sword to slay our personal monster or enemy- the inherited animal in us.
From our struggle with this imperfect life and our struggle to learn love, we are transformed into a new person, into a better version of our self (or better- learning to love is the unveiling or expression of our true self). When we orient our lives to unconditional love, we then “tower in stature as mature humans”, we become the hero of our story, and we fulfill our destiny, we accomplish our mission. And that is how we help to create a better world, a new world, by first making ourselves better persons, by learning to live out the love that is our true self.
Another: An essential part of the development toward becoming a mature human person is to take responsibility for our failures in life. Personal acknowledgement and embrace of our failures is the starting point of the life trajectory of personal improvement.
Another: Unconditional love is the key to the cosmos, this world, and conscious human life. It is the defining essence of our great Source- God. As someone said, “The very atoms of God are made of love, unconditional love”. That love then defines the purpose of the cosmos and life- that all has been created as an arena where we come to learn and experience such love, to receive and express such love. The imperfection of life is the background against which such love shines all the more brightly.
While each of us has some unique thing to contribute to life in economics, politics, work life, social life, sports/entertainment, music, or whatever else that we choose to do, the one common factor in all human story is to learn unconditional love, to discover and achieve something of this highest form of love. When we orient our lives to this central ideal, then we have conquered our real monster and enemy, the inherited animal in us. Then we have become the hero of our story.
One more: The monster that we face in life is a two-part beast. I noted the basic features of animal reality that we all struggle with- the impulses to tribalism (small band separation and opposition), domination of others (the alpha thing), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other. Across history, people have also projected these very same features onto deities, onto humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. They have thereby created ultimate monsters that embody tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction. Consequently, conquering a monster in life is more than just overcoming the monster inside us- the animal inheritance in us. Our battle in life includes conquering the monsters in our meta-narratives- i.e. the religious God theories that inspire, guide, and validate our emotions, attitudes, motivations, and responses/behavior. Religious gods- humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- have long been monstrous in nature and their features have been employed to validate the same monstrous impulses in people- to tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction.
Unconditional is the sword that potently slays the monster in us and also slays the monstrous pathologies of humanity’s God theories. An unconditional God does not engage dualistic tribalism (believers versus unbelievers), or domination of people (the myth of “humanity created to serve the gods”), and does not punish and destroy “unbelievers” (i.e. apocalypse and hell myths).
The two worst ideas and the two best alternatives
Over my life I have undertaken what Joseph Campbell outlined in the ‘hero’s journey’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4288NRq1vVc). I have left my safe home, and gone forth in a great adventure, confronted a monster (in my case the Christian God and Christ myth), and I have been wounded in that battle. But I have also received the help of a wisdom sage to fight and overcome my monster. And during this life-long struggle I have died to my old self and struggled to be reborn as a new self (the disintegration of the old and the re-integration around something new, becoming something new). I have now discovered my boon to bring to life. This site is the product of my life’s struggle and story.
In the mix of comment here I have repeatedly presented the two worst ideas, the two “bad religious myths” that are still prominently embedded in human systems of meaning, in both religious and “secular/ideological” traditions. And I have then noted the two most helpful insights to counter these two pathologies in human thought, pathologies that have deformed people with unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression/despair, and even incited violence (see psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s ‘Cruel God, Kind God’).
My point is that destructive movements like contemporary Green alarmism are also very much about religious concerns or ultimate meaning issues. These historically recent movements, part of the more general environmental alarmism movement, are often just repeats of similar apocalyptic eruptions across history. Today’s variants of alarmism (e.g. climate alarm) embrace the same set of core themes as all past apocalyptic millennial belief systems (i.e. the core themes of our world religions): That there was a better past; corrupt people have ruined the original paradise world; life is now declining toward some disastrous ending or apocalypse as punishment for humanity’s sins; now humanity must make some sacrifice and coercively purge the imagined threat to life because democratic processes are too slow to save the world from the imagined threat that is imminent; and then we can instantaneously restore paradise or install utopia (not via the “gradualism” of democratic history but via the “instantaneous transformation” of totalitarian revolutions that apocalyptic alarmism promotes).
And while science is critical to respond to such alarmism, you must also deal with the deeper human meaning issues behind that alarmism if we are to properly and thoroughly solve alarmism and prevent the destructive outcomes that accompany these endless apocalyptic eruptions (e.g. the move today to rapidly ‘decarbonize’ our societies).
In the interest of getting right to the ultimate point, to the most critical issues of meaning, and to allay the most primal of human fears (i.e. fear of this-life harm through the natural world and fear of after-life harm), here are the two core themes of apocalyptic alarmism, the two core pathological themes that have dominated human worldviews from the beginning, in both mythological/religious traditions and more historically recently “secular/ideological” traditions.
These two “bad religious ideas” have metastasized out to infect all other areas of thought and feeling (see “Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives” below). The two are (1) the myths of some great threatening core reality, some Force or Spirit/deity that punishes and destroys (angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Earth, retributive Universe, or karma). The other (2) is that humanity is essentially corrupt (fallen/sinful, a virus or cancer on Earth) and deserves punishment and destruction.
The alternative to these thought pathologies needs to embrace more than what philosophical materialism offers, i.e. ultimate explanations that end in quantum fields, natural law, mass as energy, Self-Organizing Principle, etc. To meet the deepest human needs for meaning and purpose, and to respond to the primal fears of people, I would offer these two alternatives/insights from “spiritual” traditions:
(1) That there is only love at the core of reality and (2) that core love is also the essence of our true self or nature, the essence of our human spirit and consciousness. Love- no conditions love- is our defining essential nature, our true core self. Hence, we do not deserve punishment or destruction as we struggle in this world with the imperfection of our inherited animal brain. Our struggle is not something to be damned and punished by some monster divinity.
Most critical to grasp is that the core of all reality and life is a stunningly inexpressible Love, an incomprehensible “no conditions” love and that means, among many other things- no ultimate threat, no coming judgment, no condemnation for failure/imperfection, no exclusion of anyone for failure in this life, no domination/slavery (ultimate freedom), and no punishment or destruction (no hell). With that new narrative background, we are liberated from fear of punishment that our ancestors believed came trough the imperfections of the natural world, and we are free from fear of after-life harm. We are free to fully embrace here-and-now life and to create a unique life story, to offer some unique contribution to life despite our never-ending struggle with our own imperfection and failures. And most important, with a sense of ultimate safety, we are free from the curse of the age-old fear of death.
These two core alternatives potently counter the most inhumane of our inherited animal impulses- i.e. the impulses to tribal exclusion of others/enemies, to coercive/enslaving domination of others, and to punitive justice toward imperfect others. The meta-ideal of no conditions love orients us to the best of the human spirit- i.e. to inclusion of all as equals, to respect the freedom and self-determination of others as equals, and to restorative treatment of human failure.
None of the world religions has ever communicated these liberating insights to humanity. The insight that the core of all reality is unconditional Love overturns the most damaging features of religious mythology from across history (i.e. myths of angry, destroying gods, threats of apocalypse or hell, and religious demands for atonement/sacrifice, etc.).
Qualifier: Recognizing that there are ‘this-world’ consequences to our choices and behavior, both social and natural consequences, but that we are ultimately safe in Love, we can then embrace our imperfection without excessive guilt or shame (i.e. not overly beating ourselves up over failure). We can then engage the struggle to become better persons with a healthy self-acceptance. So yes, embracing an ultimate Love does not mean there are no social and natural consequences in this life (i.e. the responsibility to discover, learn, and develop as human). But it should involve, at a minimum, the shift away from punitive justice to the restorative treatment of all human imperfection.
Note: I embrace a dualistic view of humanity in that human consciousness is not dependent on our material brain for its existence. Yes, our conscious self has an intense interaction with the brain, as per John Eccles. But as Jeffrey Schwartz says, we are not our brains. I have never seen a shred of conclusive evidence for the materialist dogmatism that the meat in our heads produces mind or the wonder of the human self.
Site project? The human struggle with imperfection.
This site is committed to fighting fear, particularly fears incited by the human meaning thing (i.e. the false conclusions from the history-long human search for understanding and explanation of reality and life). This site is devoted to countering alarmism and the persisting mythical themes that continue to feed human alarm over the imperfections of life and the consequent suffering from that imperfection. Unwarranted alarmism over life is not just an unnecessary psychic burden on humanity but something that hits the ground of real life and promotes destructive outcomes.
Fear of natural disaster, disease, and human cruelty is a healthy response to imperfection in our world. But excessive alarm over the imperfections of life has been incited by mythical explanations of what such imperfection means. Alarm over natural world problems, for example, often reaches hysterical levels when those problems are viewed in terms of apocalyptic myths, and that alarm then becomes destructive by inciting dangerous responses among populations- i.e. fear, anxiety, survival desperation, and even violence in response to the alarm scenarios (the desperate attempts to coercively purge some imagined threat or enemy in order to save life or “save the world”).
This site is a project to counter the unnecessary fear that is based on mythical thinking and related conclusions about reality and life.
How alarmist mythology begins
Early alarmism arose as a response to fundamental human concerns and questions about reality and life- the primal human impulse for meaning. Early human concern wrestled with the imperfection and problems of the natural world, and the suffering related to such (i.e. changes in nature, natural disaster, accident, disease, and human cruelty).
Early peoples believed there were spiritual forces and entities behind all the elements of the natural world, behind trees, animals, rocks and streams, storms and lightning, sun and moon, and more. They also believed there were spiritual forces behind human actions (e.g. sorcery/curses). If those elements were destructive- i.e. natural disaster, disease, human cruelty- then it was logical to conclude that the gods behind them were angry.
In ancient prehistory shaman had also emerged claiming to know the secrets of the invisible forces behind the natural world and how to appease their anger with sacrifices and offerings, or how to get favor from them (i.e. rain for crops). The emerging priestly elite (claiming to be the more enlightened ones) explained the meaning of things to their fellow tribe members.
The ancients further pondered the larger story of overall existence and life. They thought about the imperfection of the world and the suffering that resulted from that imperfection. They thought about it and concluded that the world had been created originally perfect. The myth of a better or perfect past shows up in the earliest human writing (e.g. the paradise city of Dilmun) and was common to cultures across the world.
The belief in original perfection was based on early people’s assumption that there had been a better past, an original golden age or paradise (e.g. Eden). The belief in a better past may have been reasoned from the sudden decline of the warmth of the last inter-glacial about 100,000 years ago- i.e. the Eemian- and the subsequent descent into the bitter cold of the following glaciation known as the Wisconsin in North America. The belief in an original paradise would naturally arise from comparing the misery of the then colder present with inherited memories of a warmer past. Other imperfections in the world may have contributed to the conclusion of fall from original perfection or paradise.
The ancients then committed a major error of judgment in concluding that the decline into worsening conditions was a punishment from upset gods that were angry at human imperfection. The loss of paradise, and subsequent imperfections in life, was itself viewed as punishment. That fed human guilt/shame and resulted in related mythical conclusions that humans were ‘bad to the bone’- i.e. fallen, sinful, corrupt beings that deserved punishment, suffering, and even destruction in apocalypse (the total and final collapse/ending of the world). Early human creation of mythology was underway.
The above are the two worst errors in thought ever made: (1) That there was some great punitive, destroying Force/Spirit behind reality and life, and (2) that humanity was essentially bad and deserved punishment and destruction. These two errors anchor all other bad ideas in primitive thought and are still embraced in modern systems of thought, both religious and ideological/scientific.
This pathological mythology continues today in the anti-human movements that continue to believe that we- now viewed as the virus or cancer on the planet- deserve punishment for ruining a better past with our industrial civilization. We have destroyed the paradise of an original wilderness world and punishment is coming from the angry Forces/gods of contemporary alarmism mythology- i.e. vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or payback karma. Apocalyptic continues as a vital part of this modern mythology voiced by prophets like AOC, James Hansen, Stephen Hawking, Al Gore, Greta Thunberg, and many others.
Much human outlook today is still mired in primitive thought on such things.
An alternative to the core themes of alarmist mythology
Start with the two worst mythical assumptions and counter them with the contemporary “spiritual” insights that (1) there is only Love behind reality and life- an inexpressibly wondrous no conditions Love. There is no punitive, destroying Force or Spirit behind the natural world. And (2) our essential human spirit and self (the core of our human person) is that very same love (our oneness with the divine). We are not fallen, essentially corrupt beings.
What then of this imperfect world?
First, all good history of our planet shows that there was no original perfection anywhere in the cosmos or world. So throw that myth of original perfection/paradise out first and foremost. Life began on this world that was brutally imperfect from the beginning but has gradually improved toward something better (more complexity, organization, diversity). We also began in the brutality of animal existence but have steadily improved toward something better, more human or humane.
An alternative theology/philosophy would also respond to deeper issues of human meaning (the primal human desire to understand ultimate meaning and ultimate purpose). Some suggest that the imperfection of our world is essential to the original creation, in order to provide a learning arena for human struggle and development, notably, to provide a context in which to learn and grow in the single most important marker of authentic humanity- love. We learn love best out of struggle with its opposite and hence the dualisms of this material realm.
Such explanations will not satisfy everyone’s questions regarding the mystery of the horrors of human suffering but they offer a better alternative to the past mythical explanations of angry gods punishing bad people. Even Paul embraced that fallacy in his warning to the Corinthians that their sickness and death was punishment from a God upset with their sins. The myth of punitive, destroying deity behind the imperfections of life has long fed unnecessary guilt and fear and added horrific psychic burdens (guilt, shame, anxiety) to already unbearable physical suffering. Remember the Japanese woman fretting after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying the good life too much?”
We struggle and work to improve this world and life and we have done well (Julian Simon in Ultimate Resource). And we should not accept the accusations of essential human corruption and beat ourselves up unnecessarily over our remaining imperfection. There is no ultimate threat for our imperfection and no condemnation of our struggle to overcome it.
And respond to the primal human fear of after-life harm: There will be no ultimate exclusion of anyone, not judgment or punishment, and no ultimate destruction (i.e. hell). All will return safely to the core love and oneness that birthed us all.
The ancient themes that have fed human alarmism over the imperfection of the natural world are still present in contemporary alarmism movements. Solving alarmism involves confronting the mythical/religious themes that still shape so much “secular” ideology, even scientific thought and argument. While scientific evidence goes a long way to answering the irrational conclusions of our ancestors, science by itself does not answer all the deeper issues of meaning that concern most people.
We will never thoroughly solve the problem of alarmism until we deal fully with all the deeper roots of the problem- notably, the God theories that have long embodied the wrong conclusions of our ancestors and shaped the basic issues of the human meaning impulse (specifically, the alarmism affirming primitive features of ultimate reality theories). These themes are still deeply embedded in our great narratives of reality and life and hence influence our consciousness (hardwired in subconscious). They continue to influence human perception, emotions, and responses/actions today.
Our ancestors created explanations/themes that explained how they viewed the world and responded to their most basic concerns in life. Those themes explained their sense of fear, guilt/shame, anxiety and despair over the meaning of suffering and death. Those mythical themes explained their primal fears of the future, whether from natural world problems or after-life fears of exclusion, punishment, and destruction. The ancients then created the earliest versions of alarmism out of their search for meaning- for some explanation of reality, and purpose.
One of the most basic concerns of the ancients
Mythically-driven alarmism is still behind so much today. It incites unnecessary fear and does so against good evidence that life has never been better for so many people. Alarmism pushes populations toward salvationist responses and policies that unleash the totalitarian impulse and undermine the freedom of all. Environmental salvationism is horrifically destructive as in the decarbonization policies already harming the poorest people. See Michael Shellenberger’s ‘Apocalypse Never’.
Insert note: Do not discount the ‘background noise’ influence of alarmism on depression and nihilism with its destructive consequences (i.e. the coercive force and violence that is believed to be necessary to purge some corrupting threat, as noted in the apocalyptic millennial studies on mass-death movements like Marxism, Nazism, and environmentalism). Themes in larger background narratives exert influence on real-life situations. Again, we are all responsible for the outcomes of the ideas/themes that we promote in life, whether expected or not (unintended consequences).
There is a blinding denialism in the tribal hatred being unleashed today that refuses to acknowledge the failures on its own side and endlessly condemns all failure, even micro-imperfections, on the other side. This spreading eruption of partisan hate (notable for example in ‘cancel culture’) has abandoned common empathy/understanding, kindness/mercy, and the generosity of offering the benefit of the doubt to the expressions/misstatements of opponents. It refuses to even consider the intentions of the others as perhaps decent and not unforgivably malicious. And perhaps most egregious, this hatred has simply lost its ability to laugh at the imperfections on all sides that reduces us all to a healthy sense of shared imperfection. We are all in this thing of life together, to share the common struggle to become something better.
Hatred at the scale we are observing sometimes today, embraces an intense sense of wounded victimhood, a petty sense of resentment and offense at perceived slights, and a dehumanizing lust for the most severe punishment, even destruction of the differing other. Its time the silent majority of moderates on both sides stepped forward to exhibit the heroic spirit of a Nelson Mandela who sought, above all, the universal inclusion of every member of society and the peaceful, democratic resolution of differences.
What has happened to the greatest human ideal and value of love? Love that rejects the tribal spirit to exclude others as enemies. Love that respects the freedom of the other to differ and refuses to coercively control others. Love that generously embraces a restorative approach to human imperfection, and does not demand punitive justice.
Added note: Check this video clip by Matt Taibbi and Bret Weinstein (both on the Liberal side of things) on the humorlessness of the Left today, the harsh, cold intolerance that cannot laugh at itself… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fDc2oxg_FE
We all like to believe that we are engaging righteous struggles against evil on some other side, that is, against some opponent/enemy. But watch for creeping elements of delusion and exaggeration in such thinking. Yes, we do engage righteous battles against obvious wrongs that both sides can agree on, notably as detailed in our common human rights codes or constitutions. And historically, there have been great battles against clear evils, notably, the struggle of free societies against the totalitarianisms of the past century- i.e. Marxism, Nazism. But even then, were those “enemy others” really irreconcilable enemies?
In today’s ideological divides in democracies, where the differences are more slight shades of difference on a continuum, the tribal element in human psyches can intrude to lead us to view our opponents in some contemporary battles as more severely ‘evil’ than they actually are, to view them in exaggerated terms as irreconcilable enemies to be punished and destroyed. We see this in the modern trend to criminalize more and more micro-imperfections in others as the worst of evils.
Following this trend, we then lose our sense of being members of a common community, that the opposing other is still our family and deserves our generous forgiveness and the repeated opportunities at restoration. In viewing others as enemies deserving punishment we can, as Joseph Campbell said, lose our humanity.
We maintain our humanity by affirming our oneness with others, by loving even our enemies, like a Mandela. Mandela refused to see his former oppressors as irreconcilable opponents to be excluded from the new South Africa that he wished to inaugurate.
An argument on this site: The ultimate issue behind alarmism eruptions over history is an ultimate meaning issue. It has to do with the central pathology in human consciousness across history, as evident in humanity’s great narratives or belief systems- i.e. the fear of some greater punitive, destroying Force or Spirit. And the related myth that humanity is basically corrupt/sinful and deserves punishment and destruction. Note these themes, for example, in Sumerian and biblical flood myths. These primitive myths of destroying deity punishing ‘bad to the bone’ humanity continue in so-called “secular” versions today- i.e. vengeful Gaia or angry Planet punishing the virus or cancer on the planet- humanity.
My response to this pathology? See “The heart of the matter” in sections below.
Site project: Another take on the matter
Countering unnecessary fear from alarmism, notably from environmental alarmism (e.g. climate alarm). Alarmism exaggerates problems in the world out to apocalyptic-scale (the end is nigh) and thereby distorts the true state of problems. That leads to salvationist responses (we must “save the world”) that have been highly damaging, mainly to the most vulnerable, the poorest people.
The mother of environmental alarmism, Rachel Carson, illustrated this with her apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring that exaggerated the chemical issue and influenced the ban on DDT. The result was millions of unnecessary deaths from malaria, mainly children, in following decades (see ‘The Excellent Powder: DDT’s political and scientific history’ by Roberts and Tren). Alarmism is highly irresponsible and horrifically destructive to both humanity and the environment.
How to build a worldview that effectively prepares us to evaluate alarmist claims and find the true state of things.
(1) Find the best data sources that offer the best of material world facts/evidence. Those sources have been summarized in books like Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Desrocher and Szurmak’s Population Bombed, and many other similar studies. Simon, in particular, showed us how to determine the true state of any issue by looking at the complete facts in the big overall picture and at the longest-term trends associated with any thing.
Some conclusions from real world evidence: There is no “climate crisis” that requires the ‘decarbonization’ of our societies, a response that is already harming the poorest people. To the contrary, the roughly 1 degree Centigrade warming over the past century has been beneficial to our abnormally cold world in an ice-age era, expanding habitats and enabling life to flourish (see “The Two Best Things Happening Today”, below). And more CO2 (basic plant food) has resulted in a much greener world with a 14% increase in green vegetation across the world, including crop increases, just over the past 40 years.
Other conclusions: There is no species holocaust as species extinctions are at roughly 1-2 proven species losses per year, similar to the rate of the past 500 years. There is no soil degradation catastrophe and crop productivity rates continue to rise with farmers producing more crop on the same or less land and now producing worldwide 25% more food than humanity needs. There is no forest crisis as world forest cover has increased from 3.8 billion hectares in 1950 to over 4.1 billion hectares today, with three times as many people on Earth. Rates of violence and war have decreased remarkably over the past centuries (James Payne in History of Force, Stephen Pinker in Better Angels of Our Nature).
These and other material world facts reveal the ever-improving trajectory of life and provide a sound basis for hope that the future will be ever better. Human endeavor to make life better has succeeded more than we imagine. Other data sources: Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment On The Earth, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist, and others.
(2) Then also consider the best of insights from spiritual traditions that counter the wrong assumptions that feed alarmism, deeply embedded mythical assumptions that are behind human narratives and influence how people view the material world. These insights are critical to deal with the human meaning impulse that has always speculated on the features of greater reality around us, often concluding wrongly with mythical features that promote unnecessary fear, anxiety, shame/guilt, despair and depression, and worse.
Consider, most critically, the insight that there is no great threat behind life, whether punitive, destroying God or vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or payback Karma. There is only Love, a stunning no conditions Love. Add here the insight that such Love cancels humanity’s primal fear of after-life harm, it takes the sting out of death fears.
Further, consider the insight that we are essentially good. We are not the fallen, sinful beings of religious mythology or the similar myths of corrupt humanity as in updated “secular ideologies”- i.e. humanity as the cancer or virus on the planet.
These spiritual insights counter the fallacious assumptions of past mythology/religion and provide a better basis for rational hope, in addition to the material world evidence above.
From another angle…
Building foundations for hope– Countering widespread anxiety, depression, and despair (some cognitive therapy)
Draw from two approaches- they may help different people with differing views and interests.
One. Scientific fact affirms hope in that it helps us see the true state of life. We see the state of things in the long-term trajectories/trends of the cosmos, life and civilization. The cosmos has been a trajectory of development toward something more complex and suited to the emergence of life. Life on Earth has also developed toward something more complex and eventually suitable to the emergence of human consciousness. And even Darwin spoke of life moving toward something “more perfect”.
Civilization has also developed toward something ever better- humanity as more free, unified, equal, and less violent (Payne, Pinker). Such observed evidence works for many.
Two: The greatest blow to human hope came from early mythology wrongly concluding that there was a punitive, destroying God behind life. It wrongly concluded humanity was essentially bad (a fall from previous perfection) and deserved apocalyptic punishment, destruction and ending. That mythology infected subsequent religions and was deeply lodged there in human worldviews/narratives.
A potent corrective/alternative from a spiritual tradition…
Historical Jesus, for one, rejected the old retaliatory, apocalyptic God and offered a new theology of an unconditionally loving God. He said: Do not embrace eye for eye anymore but love your enemies because God does, universally giving sun and rain to both good and bad people without discrimination. The consequence of his stunning new theology? There would be no retaliation, no punishment, no destruction in apocalypse or hell.
Paul retreated from this new insight and buried it in his apocalyptic Christ. He has shaped modern thought more than anyone with his myth of ultimate despair for all except true believers in his Christ.
Use whatever works best to build hope in your story. Draw on science, and if it helps, also on spiritual traditions to understand better the true state of reality and life, as undergirded by ultimate core goodness and love, not threat.
This is not to advocate for blurring or crossing proper boundaries (i.e. the science/philosophy or science/religion boundary), but for meeting human needs from diverse traditions (i.e. the meaning impulse that embraces a broader range of issues, questions, and alternatives than just materialism).
Other comment: What drives alarmism thinking and narratives?
Guilt? Is alarmism subconsciously driven by the belief that we are essentially fallen creatures and deserve punishment for our ‘sins’? Is alarmism influenced by the persistence of the myth of core reality as a punitive, retaliatory, and destructive Force or Spirit? (i.e. angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, karma)
Is alarmism driven by the myth of apocalypse as the great end-time judgment, ultimate punishment for all human sins, and final destruction as ultimate payback? Is alarmism influenced by the belief that this supreme punishment is deserved because we are guilty of ruining an original paradise (the original perfection or Eden myth).
And what about the enduring core myth that the imperfections of the natural world- i.e. natural disaster, disease, human cruelty- are the expressions of punitive, destroying deity punishing bad humanity? Remember that Japanese lady after the 2011 tsunami, summarizing this belief in her rhetorical statement, “Are we being punished for enjoying the good life too much?” This cursed perception of punishment via the nastier features of the natural world has unnecessarily traumatized humanity for countless millennia.
What about primitive atonement beliefs? That we must make some sacrifice or payment, we must suffer some form of retributive pain.
Many things influence alarmism, and often from the subconscious, that is to say, from bad ideas long beaten into human consciousness to the point that they are now hardwired deep within us. Hence, our susceptibility to all sorts of irresponsible crackpot alarmist scenarios thrown into the public realm day after day.
See “Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives” below for more detail. And for a radical re-evaluation of the themes that inform our great narratives. Many primitive mythical themes contribute to greater narratives like alarmism:
Other elements behind environmental alarmism: Humanity as corrupt and greedy destroyers of pristine paradise nature. The natural world as fragile and easily destroyed by human engagement. Declinism ideology- that life is fundamentally in decline toward collapse and ending (entropy dominates nature). Resources are limited (limited good) and humanity consumes too much of such limited resources.
When you frame your narrative as alarmists do in terms of salvation (i.e. we must “save the world”) from some evil destroyer (i.e. humanity in industrial society) then you are well on the way to eliminating the legitimate and open debate that is fundamental to human freedom. You are now moving into the realm of religion and abandoning the critical skepticism that is central to good science (challenge, replication, falsification). You are now framing the issues religiously in terms of your truth versus the ‘heresy and lies’ of disagreeing others. This is where alarmists have dragged environmentalism in general and specifically climate alarmism. The result has been the alarmist denial of such facts as the scientific evidence of the massive benefits of more CO2 in the 30-plus percent greening of the Earth over the past century (14% more plant mass or green vegetation just since 1980).
This site repeatedly engages the latest variant of alarmism, ‘environmental alarmism’ (e.g. climate alarm). Environmental alarmism is the direct offspring of 19th Century Declinism which, in turn, is the offspring of primitive apocalyptic mythology- the most dangerous and destructive mythology in history. It is destructive because exaggerated fear unleashes the totalitarian impulse in people. Fear incites survival desperation in populations and people will then embrace salvation schemes that involve the coercive, even violent, purging of some imagined threat, threat that is often framed tribally in terms of some opposing section of the human family that differs in some way.
Environmental alarmism has too often exhibited the most extreme perversions of apocalyptic hysteria. Note the endless ‘end-of-days’ scenarios coming from today’s apocalyptic prophets- e.g. Senator AOC stating that the end of the world would be in 2030. Or James Hansen claiming in 2008 that “Its all over in five years”. And even Stephen Hawking joining the apocalyptic prophesy crusaders and predicting the end in 100 years.
Another: I unapologetically engage metaphysical speculation here just as scientists regularly cross the science/philosophy boundary to explain greater invisible realities (see Sabine Hossenfelder’s ‘Lost in Math’ for illustrations of this free-thinking exploration in theoretical physics). I engage speculation on greater invisible realities because it has to do with the deepest human longings for meaning, for ultimate meaning. This is where most of humanity has wandered and explored across history and continues to do so even today (see World religion survey).
Consider also that the worst ideas/features have long been projected out to define humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. People have and will continue to speculate on such reality, so at a minimum offer better, that is more humane, alternatives. See Old Story Themes, New Story Alternative in sections below.
I have never found materialist explanations to be ultimately convincing and helpful, though they are useful in many areas such as confronting the irrational mythology of religious traditions. But materialism, with its suggestion that ultimate meaning is to be understood in some final sense in terms of quantum fields, energy, natural law, or Self-Organizing Principle (i.e. An originating Source without personhood- without Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Self), such conclusions do not fully and properly respond to the most profound human impulses for ultimate meaning. Across history the vast majority of people have intuited that greater reality has to do with more than just impersonal energy, law, or other forces. It has to do with Mind, Consciousness, Intelligence, or Self, hence the many God theories of religious traditions. Even the early quantum theorists understood where their new science was pointing, in their conclusion that the universe appeared to be “more a great thought than a machine”.
Further, science does not automatically take us to materialist conclusions. While we all embrace scientific discoveries that are soundly evidence-based, each of us must then make our own conclusions about the great Mystery that is forever beyond even science.
But yes, I strongly affirm the maintenance of the clear science/religion or science/philosophy boundaries.
Note: The comment here on the improving trajectory of life and the consequent hope for a better future is not to deny the suffering that continues to permeate all of life. As others have noted, suffering appears to be vital to human learning and development, notably, to the development of empathy with suffering others. As someone said, we only learn the good things in life by confrontation and experience with their opposites (i.e. love and hate). Hence the dualisms of this imperfect realm are viewed as necessary for human growth and development.
One more: This site offers a fiercely Independent, somewhat liberal viewpoint with great sympathy for the Conservative side. I try to float like a butterfly, taking nectar wherever I find it and then moving on, not loyal to anything but the entire common human family in all its diversity and freedom. This is sort of what Louis Zurcher pointed to in ‘The Mutable Self’- that a mature/mutable human self would remain open and flexible in an ever-changing process of development, and not become rigidly fixed and inflexible, locating one’s identity immutably in objects like occupation, ideology, race/national identity, or religion.
There is an exhilarating sense of liberation to being a free self in open process, open to explore the new and different, to change with new insights, to continue to develop as human, wherever that takes one in the infinite diversity of creative human exploration.
The most dangerous people in society are those who believe that they know what is best for all others. The ‘enlightened elite’ believe that they are in a righteous battle against others that disagree with them. They believe that the skeptical or disagreeing others are to be condemned as some variant of evil/wrong, or unjust, they are dangerous to the world, and threaten life. And the enlightened ones, viewing themselves as on the side of some irrefutable right and just cause, believe that they must coerce the disagreeing other via state force to submit and fall in line with their righteous programs, all to “save the world”.
The great denial
My candidate for the single greatest issue of human neglect or denial would be the failure of religion across history to communicate the nature of core reality as no conditions love. That fundamental reality or truth has been buried by religious traditions from the beginning and the result has been endless and incalculable harm to humanity from the pathology of ‘threat theology’ that has always incited fear, anxiety, depression/despair, and other forms of psychological harm, even violence toward others.
Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo details this in Cruel God, Kind God- how cruel god theory deforms human personality. He notes that cruel god theory even incites violence. Cruel God theory incites and validates the worst human impulses to mistreat, abuse, and outright harm others.
Cruel God theories have long fueled humanity’s primal fears of being harmed by angry deities through the imperfections of the natural world- i.e. natural disaster, disease, and human cruelty. Add to this the age-old primal fear of after-life harm (judgment, punishment, exclusion, and destruction in hell myths).
The insight that deity is a core Love, a stunning no conditions reality, eviscerates all such pathologies and inspires the best of impulses in people. Humanity’s highest ideal and authority as fully humane then serves to inspire, guide, and validate the best of being human. Unconditional transforms and liberates consciousness. It inspires the transformation of justice from punitive to restorative.