The beauty and madness of civilization: Thoughts as tools vs thoughts as truth

This civilization is immensely beautiful and immensely mad, like many civilizations I imagine.

It’s beautiful because we make use of thoughts to imagine and create things.

It’s mad because we hold thoughts as true.

BEAUTY FROM IMAGINING AND CREATING

Every piece of our civilization was once imagined by someone, and others then reimagined it a little differently.

It has created the immense beauty we see in art, music, dance, technology, science, and much more.

Thoughts – in the form of mental images and words – made it all possible.

MADNESS FROM HOLDING THOUGHTS AS TRUE

This civilization is also immensely mad. It has fueled immense suffering through ideas of power-over, separation, different worth based on changing characteristics, privilege, racism, sexism, anthropocentrism, a remote sky god, nature as infinite, nature as here for us, I am right and you are wrong, you are not quite human, I am unlovable, and so on. Worse than that, it’s ecocidal and suicidal. It has an economics that operates on the idea of nature as infinite, which has led to global ecological overshoot. Ecocide means suicide, so it’s also inherently suicidal.

Thoughts created all this too. Thoughts held as true instead of as questions.

THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

We are a young species and a young civilization.

We make use of thoughts, we believe thoughts, and we rarely examine thoughts or our relationship with thoughts or find their nature. We rarely consistently make conscious and wise use of thoughts.

Collectively, we have yet to learn to wisely and consciously make use of thoughts as the tool it is.

What’s the nature of thoughts?

They are imaginations. They are different in nature and content from what they point to. They cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. That’s not their nature or purpose. They are questions about the world. They are here to help us orient and function in the world. That’s it.

A DIFFERENT CIVILIZATION

I imagine a different civilization, one that has a more mature relationship with thought.

Here, children learn to relate more consciously with thought.

They learn to choose as guide thoughts supported by good data and avoid logical fallacies. They learn to find practically useful and grounded thoughts as guides.

They learn to identify the thoughts they operate on. They learn to examine and question them.

They learn to find what’s more true for them, which is that thoughts – even the ones that may seem the most true – are questions about the world. They are practical tools only.

The world is always more than and different from any thought about it.

They learn to hold thoughts lightly. They learn to use thoughts as tools to orient and navigate, and recognize their limits.

They learn to live in and as a deeper mystery.

Will this prevent the inherent problems of civilization? Not likely, but it will make life easier for many individuals, and it may make it easier for us collectively to identify essential problems and make changes.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

All this is literally stardust reorganizing itself.

It’s the universe locally forming itself into all of it – consciousness, us, feelings, thoughts, experiences, civilization, art, technology, suffering, inequality, wars, and so on.

There is an immense beauty in that too.

There is an immense beauty in the messy complexity and awesomeness of it all.

NOTE

There is another way we can see the madness of our civilization, and that it comes from thoughts. Our civilization likes abstractions. It likes things to be easily understood intellectually, and abstractions is a good way to do that. The only problem is, life is not like that.

This is reflected in how we treat nature. Here in Norway, people want manicured and sterile gardens. They remove trees, bushes, and previously wild areas of the garden, and replace it with a sterile lawn with a few exotic ornamental plants. This provides a habitat for almost no animal, bird, or insect. We grow food through monoculture. All of this is easy for our thoughts. It gives the illusion of control.

In contrast, nature is wildly diverse, that diversity provides a rich habitat for a range of beings, and it also balances the ecosystem. For instance, it prevents any one species – insect, plant, animal – from multiplying so much that it’s detrimental to the ecosystem. It’s far more life-supporting and wise than a monoculture.

The image is created by me and Midjourney


DRAFT FRAGMENTS

The beauty and madness of civilization: Making use of vs believing thought

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