Connection: A state of empathy with, and understanding of our critical dependence on the natural world and other human beings. This is the natural state of human beings.
Disconnection: The inability to relate to, or understand the natural world and humans’ critical dependence on it. This is the normal state of civilized humans.
Tool of Disconnection: A device by which humans are disconnected from, and prevented from being reconnected to, the natural world and other human beings.
Tool of Disconnection 9: Abuse Us
Just another day in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest: the dank, humid air hangs like lianas, the moisture dripping from leaf to branch and down onto the shady litter-strewn soil; insects feed on plant matter, and themselves are preyed upon by birds – the tumult of the deep dense forest being heard for miles; chainsaws buzz and scream as they carve up massive trunks, leaving behind acid, infertile soil that may never again be fertilized by the tree canopy; Dorothy Stang, an American nun, defending the same area of forest she had defended for 20 years, is shot six times – murdered in cold blood by a hit man hired by a cattle rancher, determined to ensure that this swathe of forest can be cleared and grazed for a healthy profit.
The men directly responsible for Dorothy Stang’s murder in 2005 were eventually prosecuted and sentenced, but it took another two years for the cattle rancher who ‘owned’ (or rather, took from the native inhabitants) the land, to be prosecuted. In fact, despite nearly 800 people having been killed in the heavily forested Para region of Brazil in land disputes, only four people have ever been convicted: “Intimidation by loggers and land-grabbers, corrupt local authorities and a lack of law enforcement resources mean that many of these cases go uninvestigated and unsolved. Meanwhile, the decimation of the Amazon continues at alarmingly high rates.” What you will never see is the conviction of anyone higher up the ladder than the rancher – the chain of responsibility ends where it connects to those who have a significant part to play in the global economy: these people will never be held to account. The simple fact is that corporate leaders invest in wholesale human misery and, where required, they will initiate and then ignore the slaughter that is invariably the outcome of their activities – euphemistically known as ‘turning a blind eye’. This slaughter is not necessarily the pernicious, gradual type either – the roasting of the planet, or the toxification of the land and the oceans – some forms of corporate slaughter are very much in the open and visible to all. These most visible forms of corporate slaughter have almost always been state-sanctioned.
The British colonial slave trade, and the use of slaves as a form of cheap (free) labour, which persisted throughout the 18th and 19th century in order to provide a ready supply of exotic foods for the public and vast financial rewards for the companies involved, was readily sanctioned and overseen by the British government. The brutality of the West Indian plantations, which were the source of the British companies’ riches (and not just companies, for the Church of England were the landowners of one of the most notorious plantations, at Codrington in Barbados), led to a death toll that we would now call genocide:
When slavery ended in the United States, less than half a million slaves had grown to a population of four million. When it ended in the British West Indies, total slave imports of well over two million left a surviving slave population of only about 670,000. . . . The Caribbean was a slaughterhouse.
If you are under any illusions that such corporate and state-sanctioned atrocities are no more, think again. The mining companies’ destruction of the native West Papuans’ forest – their means of survival – was, as discussed in Chapter 11, ably assisted by the Suharto government of Indonesia. The continued, senseless slaughter of thousands of Sudanese in the oil-rich Darfur region is regarded by both the Sudanese government (who are gaining tremendous wealth from oil sales) and the Chinese government (who have an insatiable thirst for oil) as an unavoidable consequence of economic activity.35 Arms companies throughout the USA have benefited tremendously from the purchase of billions of dollars worth of weapons by the US military for the second Gulf War in Iraq – which, incidentally, tops up the GDP of the country in which the weapons are manufactured. The war has been responsible for at least 80,000 civilian deaths since 2003.
Such abuse of people and power may seem, on the surface, to be unrelated to the environmental disconnection that humanity has had foisted upon it; but this would be ignoring the subtext. The driver for this abuse is primarily to gain wealth for a privileged few. The unwritten reason for using abusive tactics, as with using fear, is to ease people into a state of denial. Denial of a situation, however terrifying, is the standard human response to prolonged abuse of all types; whether parent-child abuse, employer-employee abuse or state-civilian abuse. Riane Eisler, president of the Center for Partnership Studies in the USA, writes:
In a top-down, authoritarian family that relies on fear and force, children often learn to be in denial about their parents’ behaviour since they depend on them for survival. This makes it easy to later be in denial about ‘strong’ leaders who abuse power, and to identify with them. People’s willingness to countenance the erosion of democratic safeguards . . . and their support for the pre-emptive Iraq War, even though it was justified by false information, are also largely due to early habits of obedience to authority figures coupled with denial that ‘strong’ leaders can be wrong.
The various tools and methods used in order to disconnect us from the real world and accept the way that the world is being run on our behalf – the way that the planet is being trashed for economic gain – accumulate over time, from birth to death, to create an almost insurmountable personal barrier. We willingly disconnect because, eventually, we see it as the only option.
That said, there is one final method that I need to tell you about: one that almost everyone on Earth is a party to, and one that feels so natural to accept that it couldn’t possibly be to our disadvantage – or so you would think.
Tool of Disconnection 10: Give Us Hope
Not all hope is bad. There is the simple type; the benign wish or blessing, that shows you care: “I hope you have a good day”, “Hope to see you again soon”, “I hope you pass your exam.” In isolation, and as merely a gesture, then this kind of hope can make someone feel wanted and rather special. This kind of hope is nice – it is harmless.
There is a second kind of hope that is not harmless; it is the kind of hope that implies more than benign wishes. This kind of hope is, essentially, prayer – religious or otherwise. Religious prayer, we all know about and, as we saw in Chapter 10, a large proportion of the world’s population uses prayer of one sort or another. Even when not religious, ‘secular prayer’ bears all of the hallmarks of its religious namesake, and carries the same dangers that are faced when someone’s future is entrusted to it.
Like it or not, there appears to be no empirical evidence to show that prayer works. The Religious Tolerance website has carefully broken down the methods and results in, and reaction to, all of the recent major studies carried out on the effectiveness of prayer; and the conclusion you have to reach is that prayer alone simply does not have any recordable effect. The reactions that this kind of statement invokes are often furious, but also more specifically along the lines that God must not be tested. As one theologian put it: “You’re going to do your best to limit the prayer some people get so that you can measure the benefits for those who receive a lot of prayer? Do you think that’s how God intended prayer to be used?”
So that appears to be that. Except that when you look deeper into the research, you find something very interesting. A widely cited and carefully controlled study into the relative effects of prayer on post-operative coronary recovery found no significant difference in recovery rates between those who received prayer unknowingly and those who did not receive prayer at all. But here’s the interesting bit: the group of patients who knowingly received prayer had a 15% to 20% worse recovery rate than the other two groups. Some commentators suggested this was because of the increased pressure of knowing you were expected to respond to prayer, but I believe the cause to be down to something different.
When you hope for something to happen – not the benign good wishes, but the deep, heartfelt hope that aches for an outcome of your choosing – then something happens to you: your motivation to work for the desired outcome actually decreases. Like the detached worker who can’t accept their responsibility for the destructive outcome of the process they are part of, by entrusting an outcome to the ethereal entity that is ‘hope’ then you are passing on responsibility to something that is out of your control. This is what you are doing when you pray: you pass on the responsibility for the outcome of your prayers, meditations and deepest wishes to an external force.
A positive state of mind is often a vital attribute in recovering from illness, whether mental or physical, and also other conditions such as addiction. Quite how this works is uncertain, but more studies than not show that maintaining positivity is beneficial. Knowing that someone cares about you enough to pray for you is one thing, though; thinking that the job of getting you better has passed from you to something you have no control over is another thing entirely.
* * *
Every day, in all sorts of ways, we hand over the responsibility of our actions to other parties. We entrust religious leaders to act as proxy supreme beings, to give us blessings and pray for the delivery of our souls and, as is becoming more common, the protection of the natural environment. We entrust politicians to justly run districts, states, countries, the whole planet, on our behalf, and deliver whatever is in their jurisdiction from whatever evils we have asked them to deal with. We ask the heads of corporations to use profits wisely, to provide fair wages, allow union representation and listen to their staff and respond appropriately – we ask them not to destroy the planet. We ask environmental organizations to look after the planet on our behalf, to lobby fiercely and petition prudently, to give us a world worth living in.
We are guilty of a mass dereliction of responsibility.
When we vote, we hope the politicians will do the right thing after they have been elected. When we buy a product from a company, we hope that company are acting in the best interests of everyone and everything they impact. When we sign a petition, go on a protest march or write a letter, we hope that it will change things for the better. But it is never that simple.
Voters vote for different things: your hope that a politician will increase pollution controls will be running counter to the hope of another voter that pollution controls will be weakened. Your entrustment of a company that they will act ethically runs contrary to the basic needs of a shareholder in that same company, who demands an increase in profits, which requires poorer labour standards, increased use of natural resources, corner-cutting and cost-slashing across the board. Your petition or protest march may give you hope that something will change, when in fact you have simply channelled your anger and concern into a symbolic action that threatens not a single media executive, company director or head of state. You innocently believed that right would out simply because you placed your demands on the wings of hope.
When we stop hoping for external assistance, when we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free – truly free – to honestly start working to thoroughly resolve it. When hope dies, action begins.
This is an extract from “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis” by Keith Farnish. The author considers the Tools of Disconnection to be so critical to the understanding of civilization’s destructive behaviour that all of the Tools will be detailed on the Chelsea Green Blog over the next few weeks.