III. 6. Global and Generational Action
Truly facing our death leads us to act globally, and as ancestors who act on behalf of with our descendants.
The Whole Earth Catalogue popularized an apt slogan in the 1970s, "think globally, act locally." Unfortunately, however, this is no longer enough. We cannot be truly alive today without making acting globally a top priority, over national, state and local concerns. Being truly alive in the 21st century requires identifying with and acting for all humanity, as we connect with the top imperative of our time: stopping our slow species-suicide by irrevocably damaging the biosphere upon which humanity depends for life.
And being truly alive also requires not only expanding our connection outwards to all humanity, but forward too, as we act on behalf of the future generations who will live at the mercy of our actions to save the biosphere.
Our denial of our pain about our death is a key factor strengthening nationalism and other sub-identities. As the Terror Management Theory school of social psychologists have demonstrated, people unconsciously respond to reminders of death by strengthening their identification with their own sub-groups, and turning against those outside. In the modern world there is no stronger sub-identity than that of the nation-state or ethnic group. More people are willing to die for one and/or the other than any other entity. When individuals identify with one group and exclude others, however, they restrict their experience of aliveness.
Developing a life-affirming death awareness can be a major means of expanding our experience of aliveness, as we first feel our own pain at the prospect of our death and then come to feel the deepest possible empathy for our fellow-beings who share the same fate. We experience more our common existential fate than the differences that separate us, thus immeasurably expanding and enriching our experience of life.
This experience of connection with all humanity reaches its height of aliveness, however, when it moves from a profound feeling to action that is really needed in the real world to guarantee humanity's survival. What this most requires at this moment in time is acting globally to save the biosphere, upon the behalf of both ourselves and our descendants.
In stressing the need to save the biosphere, we do not mean to imply that the only work required is to join the environmental movement. On the contrary. The environmental movement today, largely because of its preference for flora and fauna over human beings, is failing to save the environment. Individual action on a broad front - technological, psychological, educational, creative, spiritual - will be necessary if the biosphere is to be saved.
As we discuss in more detail ( Preserving The Biosphere), each of us just happens to be alive at a unique moment in human history, one in which for the first time we are destroying the biospheric systems upon which we and our descendants will depend for life. It a moment in which it has become clear that we are committing slow species-suicide.
Given the catastrophic consequences of this fact, an individual can only be truly connected to all humanity and truly alive if we are engaged in seeking to bring humanity to its senses, and acting to find solutions to the threat we pose to our own life-support systems.
This will require, in the 21st century, developing ourselves in two major areas: (1) becoming global citizens , in which we act on behalf of all humanity rather than a particular nation-state or ethnic group; and (2) seeing ourselves and acting as ancestors concerned with the well-being of our descendants, rather than simply those alive today.
As individuals, we can no longer be fully alive if we primarily identify ourselves with our nation-state, since nationalism is clearly a major cause of the biospheric threat to human survival. Becoming a global citizen, and acting globally, has clearly become a necessary step in our societal journey to true aliveness.
The unique fact that each of us is a member of the first generation in human history to pose so great a threat to our own descendants also imposes a second task upon us if we wish to be truly alive. We are also members of the first generation in history whose aliveness depends upon our acting as ancestors concerned with the survival of all those who will follow us, even if it requires reducing our consumption so as to generate the massive investments needed to save the biosphere.
No individual can claim to be fully alive who lives in a way that is jeopardizing the future of all life that will follow us. We need to act individually to reduce our consumption and live more in harmony with the needs of not only of the poor among us, but those of our descendants.
A life-affirming death awareness is critical to developing such an "ancestor consciousness". When we live as if we will never die we have little concern for our descendants. At most, our concern is for our own children and grandchildren, whom we see as extensions of ourselves, and who we may help by providing funds for schooling, a home, or a financial bequest. But we neglect not only their well-being but that of all humanity when we fail to act on their most important need: a livable biosphere.
Living as if we are dying, however, expands our appreciation for aliveness into a concern for all those who will follow us. It becomes far more important to us while we are still alive to know that we are leaving them a better society than the one we inherited from our ancestors, for whom we feel a deeper gratitude for having bequeathed our life to us.
Our societal journey to being more truly alive, in short, progresses from experiencing a reverence for life and human life, to finding meaningful work, to directly contributing to others whom we know and our community, to acting politically to save the biosphere as a global citizen, to acting on behalf of the billions of human beings who will follow us for the rest of time.
Such a societal journey adds immeasurably to our experience of aliveness. We are never more alive than when we are - feelingfully and vulnerably facing our de,ath in a way that affirms life, in deep relationship with our friends, colleagues partners and children, informed by the non-conceptual spiritual experience of connection - acting globally to save the biosphere upon which our descendants will depend for their lives for all time to come.