We are Inescapably Connected But It’s Not Clear that We can Share the Same Planet
Whether we members of the human race want to be or not, we are each part of a larger whole. We ignore the connections, we ignore our relationships, at our peril. Whatever lessons and reminders there may be in the global pandemic that is spreading at internet meme-like speed, surely one of those lessons and reminders is how connected we all are.
Yes, polarization runs deep. Yes, our connections bring dangers, not minor and not a few. Some connections bring joy and life. Some bring death (more on that below). But ultimately we cannot sever connections without killing ourselves and maybe everything else with us.
Everything that is—from energy to matter, from space to time—exploded from a single point billions of years ago. Everything, from the energy-matter constellation in your body and in mine, to the energy-matter constellations throughout the universe. Everything and everyone. We are stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang.
Homo sapiens outlasted or bested other humanoid contenders, and we share 99.9 percent of our DNA with each other.
We inhabit one planet. We breathe one atmosphere. We all depend on the oceans of the world for weather and climate and oxygen.
Toxins and trash we dump into the ground, in the oceans, and in the atmosphere are ingested and kill thousands of miles from their point of origin. We extract oil, shake and toxify the earth with wastewater from fracking, create single use plastic bags that in landfills will outlast many people we love, ban the banning of single use plastics, choke turtles and whales with these plastics—and no one is held responsible for misusing all the connections it took to come to this point.
How difficult it is to see all the connections.
There are some connections we acknowledge and value, and others we can’t or refuse to see. We can watch a movie or documentary or read a story about how a butterfly wingbeat in the Amazon is linked to a hurricane leagues and leagues away. And that kind of story moves us to tears. How beautiful and mysterious the connections!
But when hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico and Central America flee their countries—countries with drug gangs that originated in the United States, drug gangs that supply drugs predominantly for people living in the U.S., drug gangs that filled a social void created by civil wars in the 1960s through the 1980s in which the U.S. had a huge role (propping up anti-communist dictators, protecting U.S. corporations, training what became death squads in the School of the Americas, ousting elected leaders and even bombing a capitol [Guatemala City 1954])—we as a nation cannot rouse enough compassion or moral indignation to overturn cruel and inhumane treatment of those refugees and asylum-seekers. We can’t see the connections between the circumstances to which we have contributed and the present. But connected they are. For we are all connected.
There is no “safe browsing” or internet safe zones for children. There is only more or less safe. If we are online, we are exposed, vulnerable. We can access googles of knowledge, sustain wonderful relationships, or be snagged into hell. We are connected, for better and for worse.
Religious folks: which side are you nurturing? The connections side or the “you must be cut off” side? We are experts at both.
Religious people, we have a huge role we might play, for good, in this connected world. But that will be a choice rather than a natural outcome of religion. Religious people have started wars and died to end wars that their co-religionists championed.
We’ve emphasized our differences, our holiness against the Other’s impurities and abominations. We’ve been exemplars of compassion that transcends all allegedly divinely-ordered separations. We’ve fed every division and every kind of hate, and we’ve seen and channeled the deep wells and arteries fashioned by Being Itself that circulate the energy of life and love.
On the whole, as measured on the balance scale of time, will we religious people do more to foster a sense of One Ecology and One Community of All Living Things, or will we crusade as the Children of Light warring against the Children of Darkness—regardless of the deleterious consequences of that war for humankind and possibly for all living things except roaches?
I don’t know. Today, the power of rejection, division, fear, othering, and difference-without-meaningful-commonality are in ascendancy, inside and outside of religions. Purity codes in religion and in religion-like movements are winning. And while the “who threw the first punch” drive for purity has surged from the side of authoritarian illiberalism, purity codes (and the desire to be protected from those who mean us harm) are not exclusive to the Right.
Can we imagine all of us drinking from the same wells, looking up at the same moon, breathing the same air, delighting in discovering both the different and the same in each other, learning to live in a world worth living in for all humanity and for the gardens we steward, and elevating compassion and love that transcend our primate and reptilian brains?
Remember this picture of the earth from space, taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972?
It is a photo that changed the way some people look at the world because all the lines between nation states on a map do not exist except on the map. From space, there is one planet. At the time that photo was taken, some observers hoped the photo would create a moral revolution.
We are still waiting. Or, should I say, the challenge of the moral revolution is still in front of us.
What if—simultaneously—we were able to see all the connections on and in this planet that make for life, connections that are always or often invisible to us? What if we could see the long chain fungi in the ground through which trees communicate and share nutrients with each other, if we could hear whale song and dolphin chatter, if we could see whatever navigation system that allows dung beetles to navigate by the stars, if we could picture the emotional energy fields that connect people in a group, if we could see the lines that connect all of us to a place of origin, from whence “our people” came, if we could see the connections that love creates?
Religious folks could be in the forefront of this moral revolution. Or we could double-down on our own specialness and rightness, to the detriment of life per se.