Beyond the Bullshit of Dualisms

The illusion of separation is what threatens life on Earth.

Before I die, I want to see the world recognize that social science IS a natural science. Far too many people alive today continue to carry around the myth of human separation from the natural world — bringing with them a suite of judgmental hierarchies about the superiority of men over women, reason over emotions, and humans over non-humans.

Then there are the more subtle (therefore more pernicious) racisms of Western over non-Western peoples, white over colored, capitalist over social democracy, and so on. These bullshit social constructs are only real because they exist and function below the radar in the unconscious minds of people alive today. If we let ourselves believe race is a fundamental category (a discarded idea that anthropologists rejected decades ago), then these judgements receive the weighted significance of being real even though they are not.

So when I say that it is time to get beyond the bullshit of dualisms this is what I mean. It has been more than a century since physicists confirmed what spiritual mystics of many traditions have known since antiquity — that everything is connected. This is a central tenet of quantum mechanics that reminds us how all of the seemingly solid objects we perceive as separately real are, deep down, irreducible webs of interacting energy fields achieving resonance with one another.

Herein lies the secret to our salvation in the 21st Century as we grapple with a convergence of ecological, political, economic, and social threats. The global crisis persists because we treat humans as separate from the natural.

Even before the physicists got their metaphysical act together, the biologists and geologists laid the groundwork for a continuity of history in the evolutionary processes that give rise to all living things and the thermodynamic processes that change planets across eons of deep time.

More than 150 years of evolutionary study show that all living things are part of the same interconnected web of life. Similarly, all planets are subject to the same geologic forces that either give rise to plate tectonics and the formation of oceans or they don’t. We have had the scientific basis for recognizing that all change processes arise from a “prior unity” that gives rise to the appearance of differentiated forms for most of the Modern Era.

What holds for the entire cosmos applies to human cultures too. This is the great prospect of cultural evolution — which holds out promise that the social sciences can all be integrated with enough care, thoughtful study, and intellectual effort. If human social systems function according to natural laws (which they do), it is our task to understand what they are and how they work.

For more than a decade now, I have been deeply immersed in parallel efforts to reframe global poverty and inequality, guide humanity through the transition to planetary sustainability, and birthing the field of cultural evolution as a mature science. My colleagues span the globe and are making great strides (though the clock is ticking and time is of the essence). It is truly possible to get beyond dualisms. But doing so will require a fair amount of conscious effort.

The human mind — it is now confirmed by the cognitive sciences — is fundamentally embodied meaning that all human thought and behavior arises from the interactions of brain, body and environment. There is no credible dualism left in the study of human cognition. The same can be said for the social sciences (as the “Big Data” Explosion makes clear). We can now study cultural systems with an incredible amount of rigor and clarity.

Whether it is tracking emotions on Twitter, revealing social networks of human relationships in public health studies, tracking mobility as people drive their cars or take public transit, or in the language they use to think and talk about political issues… it is now unavoidably true to say that social systems are physical. They ARE part of the natural world.

Let us strike at the conceptual heart of the racisms, sexisms, nationalisms, and destructive tendencies of those who exploit and destroy nature for profit (therefore destroying themselves). It is time to awaken to the fact that we are all connected. Not only are our bodies the remnants of exploded stars, our minds and societies are the flow of energy through physical forms of information that we call economies, religions, governments, and communities.

I say down with the bullshit of dualism. Let it’s reign of error come to an end. And then, in the spaces between where we once assumed separation, let us make mends and heal ourselves — and therefore heal the world.

Onward, fellow humans.

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