The true essence of planetary wellbeing

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Article Date: 
Nov 05 2012, 2223

Contemporary cultural historian Thomas Berry pleads for a new lifestyle for human beings, which resonates with planetary wellbeing. His ideas and vision provides “nothing less than a new intellectual-ethical framework for the human community by positing planetary wellbeing as the measure of all human activity.”
He is influenced by western philosophy, Indian thought and Native American traditions, as well as contemporary physics and evolutionary biology. Berry offers a new perspective that recasts our understanding of science, technology, politics, religion, ecology, and education. He shows us why it is important for us to respond to the earth’s need for planetary renewal and what we must do to break free from the “technological trance” that promises a misguided dream of progress.
He is not against technology, since he believes that technology can truly help humans to cope with many of life’s problems. But he is against the unbridled fascination and eventual addiction or enslavement of human beings that technology can cause. So he suggests that by employing technology properly and getting out of the “technological trance”, we can foster mutually enhancing human-earth relationships. Only such an enriching and enhancing relationship, according to him, can heal “our traumatised global biosystem.”
Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth and The Universe Story, dreams of human-earth relationship, that enhances planetary wellbeing. He pleads for a collective human dream, which takes into account our connection to the whole earth. He hopes that all our actions and public policies or institutions should have as their goal that “the earth enterprise does not fall into deficit as a result of our presence.”
From this perspective, he relativises the conflict and tension between human communities. For him, the issue of inter-human violence is secondary to human-earth tensions. He asks: “If humans will not become functional members of the earth community, how can they establish functional relationships among themselves?”
Going further, he holds that it is not exactly the question of how the nations can survive each other. So for him, the fundamental question not “whether intelligent beings can survive the natural forces of the planet.” The crucial issue is “if the planet can survive the intelligence that it has itself brought forth.” For him, the need of the hour is that the human must realise their cosmological role, just as the cosmos needs to be seen in its human manifestation. This cosmological context has never been clearer than it is now, when “everything depends on a creative resolution of our present antagonisms.”
According to him, such a “creative resolution of antagonisms,” rather than tranquil peace, promotes the cosmological process. With some types of peace, there is “a general feeling of fullness bordering on decay” and he wants to avoid such a peace of the grave. From this perspective, neither violence, nor peace, is the goal of the creative transformations through which the more splendid achievements of human being and the universe emerge. In order to enable genuine planetary wellbeing, he seeks “creative resolution of our present antagonisms.”
This brings into focus two spiritual issues. First, we need to acknowledge the deep antagonism present among human beings, human communities and also between humans and earth. Then, we need to use our spiritual competence and resource to deal it creatively and resolutely. Is it too much to expect such a spirituality fostering planetary wellbeing?
(The writer is a professor of science and religion)