Human civilization has existed for some 10,000 years and in all that time we have been killing one another, raping, stealing, exploiting one another, and destroying the natural ecosystem which supports our very existence. No other species behaves so recklessly. No other species is so systematically self-destructive.
Religions have not solved the problem. Governments have not solved the problem. No organization has solved the problem. In fact they have only seemed to make matters worse. They have only created more division and conflict.
While we have made all kinds of advancements in technology we have made very little advancement psychologically. And this has become very dangerous because, while humanity has remained in an infantile mental state, technology has made our destructive impulses more widespread and more easily achievable. A couple million years ago our ancestors fashioned stone into sharpened tools, which on occasion might be used to kill one another. Today we are still killing one another, but now we have automatic weapons, sophisticated missiles, and nuclear bombs that can wipe out entire populations. So the technology has advanced, but the motivation has remained the same for thousands of years.
The human species has remained psychologically stunted and seems incapable of maturing. We are like children in adult bodies who seem unable to interact with the world, and with one another, in a way that is constructive and cooperative. We fight over petty differences and use excessive violence where we lack rational and intelligent understanding. We are driven by insatiable greed, having no concern for the welfare of others or the planet on which we live. We are destroying our own home and ourselves along with it, and we don’t seem to care. As a species we have gone completely insane.
When will we wake up from this madness? When will we grow up and become responsible? When will we realize that all of this destructiveness is completely unnecessary? Will we wake up in time to change or will we continue on until we have destroyed ourselves?
What is at the root of all of this madness, all of this conflict? What is driving us toward our own demise? Can we understand it? Can we get to the very root of it? Can we change our course before it’s too late?
If we look very deeply at conflict, whether personal or political, whether in relationship or religion, or wherever it can be found, what is at the root of it? All external conflict is a manifestation of internal conflict. Isn’t this so? If there were no conflict within us, no hatred, no violence, would there be conflict in the world? If we were devoid of selfishness, devoid of greed, devoid of fear, would there be any injustice? Would there be any poverty or war? The state of the world is a reflection of our collective inner state. And if we want to understand why there is so much conflict in the world, we need to look within ourselves.
What is that conflict within us? What does it mean to be conflicted? In order for there to be conflict there must be some incompatibility. There must be two things, that which exists and that which we resist. Conflict means opposition, resistance, so we must come to understand what it is we’re resisting.
To understand this we need to understand the nature of desire and discontent. What does it mean to be discontent? It means that we are unsatisfied. It means that we desire circumstances to be different than they initially are. Desire is itself discontent, because if we were content we would have no desire. If we were satisfied with things as they are we would not desire them to be any different.
But man has not been satisfied with the world for thousands of years. We have looked at the natural world with discontent and tried to shape it to our desire. We have divided ourselves from nature and tried to dominate it. But in doing so we have somehow convinced ourselves that we are not only separate, but also superior. This is complete insanity, because we are intimately and biologically connected to nature. We are not separate, but deeply entangled. We are in fact completely dependent upon nature. This means we are not superior, but completely subordinate, because without nature we cannot survive. If we completely separate ourselves from nature, if we destroy our natural environment, we destroy ourselves.
So what is this discontent we have with the natural world? When we observe animals in the wild we find that everything needed for their survival is provided by the natural environment. Nature provides them with food. It provides them with the tools and materials for shelter. And we can observe that animals in the wild are very healthy. Disease is minimal. Starvation is extremely rare. And while there may be occasional violence, we don’t see the kind of mass systematic killing that we observe among ourselves. And when we observe nature in its entirety we find that the entire thing is an intricate self-sustaining system in which every living creature contributes to the function of the whole.
Now what we have forgotten is that we are animals too, and that we are an integral part of that ecosystem. That system has, for many thousands of years, provided us with food and shelter, and at no cost. Now we pay for these basic necessities, and the cost is not simply a matter of money. The cost is our very survival as a species, because the more we try to dominate nature, to innovate upon it or replace it entirely, the closer we come to destroying ourselves. We have created all kinds of conditions for excessive disease and famine. The more suffering we inflict upon the natural world, the more we suffer in response, because we are so intimately connected.
Now how does this have anything to do with the sort of conflict we find ourselves in today? Primarily I’m talking about war. Why do we have war? This all goes back to our initial attempt to dominate nature. Being unsatisfied with the way that nature provides us with food we sought to improve upon that system. Instead of merely foraging, we began tilling the ground and planting seeds. This requires a greater effort on our part, and because of that effort we feel a sense of entitlement. If we spend a great deal of time and energy preparing the soil, planting seeds, pulling weeds, and so on, and some animal comes along and eats the fruits of our labor we feel cheated. Now the animal has no understanding of this. It’s simply in their nature to forage wherever food is found. It makes no distinction between what nature provides and what man has cultivated. But man makes a clear distinction between the two, and because of this he feels entitled. He feels entitled, not only to the fruit of his labor, but also to the very ground upon which that fruit is grown. He feels that because he has put so much effort into working that piece of ground, he is entitled to it. He owns it. And he must guard it from others.
Now as humans began to farm and domesticate livestock they became more sedentary. Before this, we were primarily nomadic. We would migrate from place to place following the seasons, like other herd animals. But as we began to farm, we settled. We became territorial. And as we became more settled we began to create more complex systems to maintain and protect those territories from other animals and from other groups of people.
Now these systems were by no means perfect. In fact, they could not guarantee a good harvest, and sometimes, due to weather or other circumstances, there would be scarcity. But if there was an abundance to be found among another group of people, we could go to them and ask for food. However, if we had nothing sufficient to offer in trade it was unlikely that others would freely share. After all, they worked hard to produce that abundance. So they also felt entitled. They also felt the need to protect that entitlement. And if we were desperate to acquire resources from them, then we would have to take without any agreement on their part. If they tried to stop us, which inevitably they would, then we might have to fight and even kill in order to secure those resources.
So we can see the beginning of war, the fight to acquire and control resources. And what has changed in all these thousands of years? We are still fighting over territory and resources. And it isn’t that resources are truly scarce. When it comes to basic necessities like food and water, nature has been plentiful. The only reason these resources have become scarce in any regard is due to our attempts to reorganize nature, to control and restrict it. We have destroyed so much of the natural environment. We have transformed lush forests into grasslands and deserts, thus reducing the amount of naturally occurring foods. We have done all this because of some innate dissatisfaction. And after many thousands of years we are still dissatisfied. All of our attempts to impose a better system have only caused more disorder and more conflict.
So why are we not content with the world as it is? Why do we try to rearrange it? What is this innate dissatisfaction, this insatiable hunger? We need to understand this if we hope to find any real solution.
What we have created in the world is an external reflection of our internal dissatisfaction. Collectively we have created all of this, and we need to take personal responsibility. This, perhaps, is the crux of the problem. We don’t want to take responsibility. We always blame someone else. And this only creates more conflict. So we need to look very deeply at ourselves, at our own internal conflict. If we can understand what’s at the root of it, then perhaps we can address the issue.
Continue reading here: “All Conflict is Rooted in the Self”