Robert Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.” And from all the facts in evidence currently available to us, that certainly does seem to be the case. We’re destroying our biosphere and moving beyond mere flirtation with nuclear war to full-blown courtship, all to facilitate a status quo that everyone hates and which benefits hardly anybody.
We are not behaving rationally. Instead, we rationalize, or have it rationalized for us.
We are told this is the only way it could possibly be, that any desire to turn away from our self-destructive patterns is unrealistic and born of naivety. If you dislike the way status quo politics always keeps the same patterns in place regardless of who’s in office, well that’s too bad, you have to choose the lesser evil. If you dislike the way capitalism has us competing with each other and destroying our ecosystem instead of collaborating and harmonizing with our planet, you’re told it’s the best possible system and that any other system would be way worse. If you dislike the way the US-centralized empire dominates the world with violence and coercion, you’re told it’s better to have Uncle Sam rule over us by whatever means necessary than to risk someone worse taking over. It’s lesser-evilism every step of the way, with any discussion about not choosing evil at all being shut down as unrealistic.
The people who continually rationalize our self-destructive behavior patterns, they’re the realistic ones. The ones saying we need to keep picking the same path over and over again even though it continually makes the world worse and is destroying everything and is leading us toward certain doom. The ones telling us to keep doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for different results. The ones telling us to choose madness over sanity. That’s what being realistic is. Saying, “Yeah keep walking in that direction, don’t stop when you get to the cliff’s edge. You’ll probably fly.”
When really the self-destructive patterns come first, and the rationalizations come second. Really we’re not on this path because it’s the best choice out of other greater evils, we’re on this path because the forces at play within our species have brought us here.
We’re on this path because we have systems in place which elevate viciousness. We’re on this path because of the profit motive, because of market forces, because of the kind of people that have been able to elevate themselves to positions of power at this point in spacetime. We’re on this path because media can be used to manipulate human psychology at mass scale using points of mental leverage like fear and tribalism that are evolutionary remnants from times when life was much different. We’re on this path because our species is in an awkward transition phase between the evolution of massive prefrontal cortices in our skulls and the adaptation of a conscious, wholesome relationship with our newfound capacity for abstract thought.
In short, we’re on the path we’re on because we just sort of stumbled into it, buffeted by forces within us that we don’t really understand which have been unfolding since our evolutionary ancestors first made their way down from the trees. We’re an unconscious species whipped about by unconscious forces we can’t really explain and have no real control over, and then telling ourselves stories to rationalize why things are the way they are.
In that sense our entire species is a lot like an individual human who uses rationalization to explain and justify their self-destructive behavior. They’ll make up excuses for why they started using again, why they missed another one of their kid’s recitals, why they lost their temper again, why they went back to their abuser, why they’ve wound up alone after alienating everybody. Or maybe they’ll be totally real about what happened, fully taking the blame and responsibility for why their life is the way it is — probably also being excessively harsh with themselves — but still unable to change, because they aren’t yet conscious of the forces that are driving their behavior.
Our self-destructive species is acting just like a self-destructive individual: torn between the knowledge that we need to change and our inability to see within ourselves lucidly enough to actually make change happen. We’re killing our biosphere, marching toward nuclear war, and playing along with status quo systems for the same reason someone uses heroin, hurts those they love, stays in an abusive relationship, or sabotages their goals: because we are driven to.
And in each case the solution is the same: the expansion of consciousness. Self-destructive behavior patterns change not when we find Jesus or start applying “willpower” or any of the other fairy tales our culture has invented over the years and promulgated in countless Hollywood movies, but when we become more conscious of the way they are happening and the factors which feed into them. They change when we gain a more lucid perception of what’s going on inside us and what makes us tick. Until that happens, we continue along the same behavioral trajectory, just rearranging the furniture a bit and swapping out old addictions for new ones here and there while we tell ourselves stories about why we do what we do.
And this is just as true of humans as a collective as it is of individuals. We used to burn cats to death as a form of public entertainment; our behavior changed when we became more conscious of the suffering of our fellow living creatures and the idea is now reprehensible to us. This is also what has been happening with slavery, apartheid, racial and sexual injustice, rape, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Human behavior will change when we become a conscious species. Just as with self-destructive individuals, that may not happen until we hit a rock bottom of some kind. It may end up being a situation wherein, as Anais Nin put it, “the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Or maybe it won’t change at all. Just as with the self-destructive individual, you’ve got to allow for the possibility that the self-destructive patterning will continue to total destruction. And that would be very sad. But we’ve all got that freedom, as individuals and as a species. The freedom to continue in our self-destructive patterns until total destruction.
And as difficult as that is, in my opinion it does help to have a kind of openness to humanity’s freedom to take that course if that’s what ends up happening. Setting yourself up emotionally in opposition to human self-destructiveness feels much the same as tying all your will up in your desire to save a self-destructive loved one: a deep emotional attachment to an outcome over which you have no ultimate control.
Eventually you learn that you really do have to grant everyone the freedom to choose their own path, even if that path leads to the end of life. If a loved one keeps returning to a violent abuser or a dangerous substance, all we can do is love them, gently point out areas that could use more consciousness wherever we can, find and bring consciousness to our own projections on the situation so we’re not inadvertently playing a role in the patterning, and be ready to leap in to help them make the changes they need to make as soon as they are ready. And, in my opinion, that’s also kind of how we need to be with humanity as a whole.
That to me is the sanest position to hold on this matter at this point in our unfolding. Not arguing with reality, not trying to will humanity into conforming to my idea of health, not attachment to outcomes, but simply loving humanity, delighting in its weird beauty for however long it’s here, working to spread consciousness of the forces that are driving us, and being ready to step in and help the moment they decide they want a change.
Caitlin Johnstone is a Melbourne-based journalist who specialises in American politics, finance and foreign affairs. Her articles have been published in Inquisitr, Zero Hedge, New York Observer, MintPress News, The Real News, International Policy Digest and more. Caitlin is the author of Woke: A Field Guide For Utopia Preppers, an illustrated poetical guide to reclaiming the earth from the forces of death and destruction.