Some Thoughts On Spirituality And Revolution

One of the most significant mass extinction events in our planet’s known history took place some 2.5 billion years ago, when terrestrial life was still in its infancy. A new organism called cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, began introducing oxygen into the earth’s atmosphere, expelling it as a waste product as it feasted upon our home star’s radiation in the process of photosynthesis.

This oxygen was toxic to the other organisms which existed at the time, and as cyanobacteria flourished it poisoned them out of existence. Eventually oxygen began saturating earth’s atmosphere to such an extent that it began reacting with the potent greenhouse gas methane, greatly diminishing its warming capacity and causing mass glaciation as the planet’s temperature plummeted. This rapid ecosystemic shift nearly caused the extinction of all life on earth, including that of the cyanobacteria, in what is called the Great Oxygenation Event (also known as the Oxygen Catastrophe, Oxygen Crisis, Oxygen Revolution, Great Oxidation, or the Oxygen Holocaust).

Sound familiar? A new organism rolls in, starts killing off all the other species, and begins radically altering the planet’s atmosphere causing catastrophic climate change?

“Come on, Caitlin!” you might say in response. “Humans are far more complex organisms than cyanobacteria! We’ve gone to the moon and invented breast implants — hell, we could give breast implants to the moon if we wanted to! We’re awesome. We may be animals, but we’re rational, thinking animals with the free will to change course before causing total terrestrial extinction.”

Well that’s a cool story, mister hypothetical arguing person, but are you quite sure that’s true? We’re still marching toward climate catastrophe, and we’re still allowing powerful governments to amass weapons which could kill every single organism on earth if ever deployed. If we’re so different from the countless other animals which have gone the way of the dinosaur, why are we acting like glorified cyanobacteria? Like blue-green algae with reality TV and breast implants?

Experiments have shown that decisions we consciously make are actually made neurologically many seconds before we ever become conscious of them. The mental noises we hear in our mind’s ear tell us we’re thinking through our potential choices and then making a conscious “I’ll choose this option” decision in day-to-day living, but more and more research seems to show that our behavior is far more likely to be determined by unconscious mental habits than by the process of conscious thinking.

“Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal,” Robert A Heinlein once wrote. Mental stories clang around in the consciousness of deeply conditioned jersey-wearing apes about being in control as we hurtle on a spinning orb through a sea of blackness in a universe that we do not understand. We act based on the conditioning we’ve accumulated during our time here, most of it from other humans who have been acting out the conditioning they themselves have accumulated generation to generation to generation, and then we rationalize those actions retrospectively.

For these reasons, maintaining hope for our species is necessarily a spiritual position. Not religious, as religions in my estimation appear to consist primarily of the vestigial proto-propaganda of rulers who used them to control the masses, but spiritual. If you think we’ll be able to transcend our inherited conditioning patterns and turn away from the trajectory we’ve been sprinting toward generation after generation, that belief necessarily has built into it the assumption that there is something more to us than the mundane nuts and bolts of animal conditioning. Whether you think of yourself as spiritual or not, you have espoused a position premised on some secret, hidden potential within humanity that is largely undetectable by conventional scientific means.

The Center for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness has reportedly interviewed more than a thousand individuals with what it calls a Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (PNSE), or what those familiar with eastern philosophy might call spiritual enlightenment. These individuals come from all backgrounds and all walks of life, and have undergone a shift in their way of functioning which has drastically changed their relationship with thought. Their lives are no longer dictated by conditioned impulsiveness and believed mental stories, and they experience life in a way that is in some way unfiltered by old cognitive habits, giving them great inner peace and the ability to move through the world in a harmonious and responsive way. Life has an opportunity to get a word in edgewise, and they have the ability to respond to real-world situations instead of acting out repetitive conditioning patterns. What causes this shift in functioning doesn’t appear to be well understood yet, but the potential undeniably exists within our species for such a transformation.

I am fascinated by the parallels between this phenomenon and the political revolution that people are calling for with increasing urgency as those in power keep pushing us in a direction that is clearly not in our best interest. Media propaganda narratives are constantly being used by the elites who control governments to manufacture the consent of the masses and convince the public that it is in their best interest to obey and play along. Even a small child can see that ecocidal capitalism and endless war are stupid, and that letting people starve and suffer just because they don’t have enough money is nonsense, but it continues anyway because believed narratives make our society function in an unwholesome way in the same way that believed mental narratives make an individual function in an unwholesome way.

At its core, establishment media is revolution poison. That is its primary function.

From my point of view, freeing human consciousness from the clutches of mass media propaganda is the collective equivalent of the shift the human organism can undergo in the Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience. If we are indeed different enough from the cyanobacteria to avert annihilation, that difference isn’t in our capacity to manufacture mental noises, it’s in our potential to make this kind of shift in our relationship with mental narrative. And I maintain that if there are individuals who are capable of making this shift on an individual level, our whole species is capable of making it on a collective level.

True revolution is ultimately about moving in the exact opposite direction of extinction and into the health, harmony and peace that we all know deep down we are capable of creating. Let’s create it.


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Caitlin Johnstone

Caitlin Johnstone

I write about the end of illusions.