Humanity has traced a long path of evolution, somehow jolted from feeding off the soil of this Earth to fast food chains in wild, sprawling cityscapes of steel- we alone have transformed the landscape of our land. Human uniqueness remains an essential question that urges us forward and justifies our very life style, yet it seems quite an overwhelmingly vague concept of what it is precisely that makes us so unique. While it may persist to prove futile to attempt to speak of any objective answer from what is always a subjective being, it could be suggested that our human uniqueness has transformed not from something inherently special about ourselves, but from our disconnect with the land that breathes and feeds us. I assert that if any uniqueness could be procured, in would be in our disconnect from the earth which sustains us and in our ability and need to fuel our own concept of uniqueness. David Abram’s work The Spell of the Sensuous details this concept from a variety of poetic standpoints, and suggests a radically transformative view of humanity that the one that pervades our sweeping, post modern consciousness. Surely, this book is laced with poetic subjectivity and there can be no true way of identifying a solid truth, but this idea of fundamental truth seems moot in a post modern world regardless. So the question remains, are humans unique?
This word “uniqueness” presents itself a very interesting construct. It seems that ‘uniqueness’ itself can never quite be harnessed or possessed truly and objectively by a human mind- for we are perpetually locked within the essence of human perception. There is an inherent inability to ever truly conceptualize or perceive what sort of continuousness a tree might experience. There is a blatant barrier and cyclical wall in the struggle to see the world wholly from the singular space of human eyes. We can only see so far and only with the fragile limitations of our own elucidation, and as wise and seemingly evolved as we may feel, the true scope of our perception can only take us so far. We are structurally built with only two eyes and they are set forward- thus our perception is canonically cauterized within this specific field of vision, and our minds wrapped tightly around the lattice work of our own subjectivity. So to attempt to define, quantify or qualify our own human uniqueness seems inescapably hypocritical and barred from the place of a unique human being. The hand touches itself and feels itself but it is limited by the expanses of its own skin and its own inability to be the table that it touches. It can only know what it feels like to touch the table from the minute place of the hand. Herein lies the root of our own beautiful subjectivity- that which creates our innate individuality and gives rise to this uniqueness, while at the same time inhibiting our ability to truly see the individuality within a larger reality. Our embodiment both creates our unique mind and being while at the same time trapping this mind within a space that can only see itself through reflections and mirrors and never truly quite see the whole of a circle. The earth itself can only be half lit up at any one time- and yet, the earth rotates and that light spreads over the entirety through the vortex of time- never all at once, but in pieces and gathered moments of presence. In this same way, we ourselves can never truly shed light on the whole objectivity of the world and our uniqueness within it.
The more important question might be less of are we unique, but can we see and accept that we are the same? Is it possible within the human, modern ego to purge ourselves of this incessant need to be king and see ourselves as the flesh of the earth? Of course on a logical and physical level we are clearly and identifiably unique at the very level of our structural integrity and shape and make-up. However, is all made of the same star dust that is swallowed by the trees and regurgitated by the oceans and formulated within the rocks upon which we stand. And moreso it is the level to which our uniqueness is important which is the more probing question, perhaps. Is our uniqueness fundamentally empowering or is that merely a delusion of the human ego? And ultimately, is our uniqueness unique enough to cling to- to salvage and to value more than the uniqueness of anything else. Are we unique enough to warrant the disrespect that we pummel onto the earth? Are we unique enough to set ourselves apart so much to the extent that we disconnect ourselves from our own sustaining life force: earth?
Is there anything within our evolvement which is unique in a truly novel way? And even if there was, how could we ever know? There is an inherent reflective and reflexive quality to this question that cannot be moved past. We can observe biological facts, yet we cannot ever truly get past the walls that bind us to our own embodiment which castrates us in our own feeble minds. We can only see out of two eyes and thus any answer we may grope at is only a certain fraction that has been lit up by the place of the sun in the sky at any given moment in time. However, it appears that our uniqueness lies in our relationship to nature. Are we the only ones who have lost our connection and awareness? The only creatures that might fall into this same state of disconnect are domesticated animals that remain indoors or potted plants that fall within stationary living rooms- yet all are the direct, manipulated result of a humanity that demands a power over all things for its own design. And yet, there might be a world of perception that the nonhuman world might possess that we simply can not fathom, know or seemingly measure- hence the nature of it being ‘other’ and separate from ourselves. We are so innately separated- from nature, from animals and from ourselves.Everything breathes off the earth and with the earth- everything in innately connected, and yet we insist upon destroying the land and ripping out the cords of connection that draw us near. From a subjective point of view, it seems clear that no other living creature- plant or animal, is as disconnected from the earth and the web of life as we are. The processes which connect these nonhuman beings to the earth through food and through the web of life are simply transformed within our post modern world- a human diet can consist solely of processed foods manufactured in a factory. So how and why did this disconnect come to be?
We cling so longingly to some essential quality of ourselves. Bolstered by the ideas of religious thinking that pursue us into concepts of divine natural selection and materialistic measurements, we give ourselves our own sense of Godliness. If certainly our perception is our reality, and we stuff our perception with images and designs of a God that created humanity in his image and we grant ourselves the ability to place ourselves at the top of the totem pole.
Where is the moment of disconnect and is it our fault? Abrham suggests that there is an innate point of disconnect at the birth of language. Our ability to give voice to the world both defines it and creates webs of worlds within worlds that feed themselves and delineate an entire circumference of being and meaning that simply could not exist without language and words. He expresses that: “Under the aegis of the Church (Christian), the belief in a non-sensuous heaven, and in the fundamentally incorporeal nature of the human soul-itself “imprisoned,” as Plato had suggested, in the bodily world- accompanied the alphabet as it spread, first throughout Europe and later through the Americas. And wherever the alphabet advanced, it proceeded by dispelling the air of ghosts and invisible influences- by stripping the world of its anima, its physic depth.” (Abram 253) Words cling us to our tiny circles as well as thrust us out into planes upon planes of ingenious and imperfect realms. They weld unlimited weapons of new creation and new destruction without which we would stand splintered and unmoving. Language sets us in motion. And certainly it can be said that Christianity and a large portion of classical religious thinking pervades our sense of reality and in many ways, puts life out of reach- takes us out of our bodies and puts it out in the ethos somewhere. God is presented as something outside of ourselves and apart from this earth and thus takes one more step towards the disconnect from the earth. There is in inherent contradiction between this patriarchal, Christian concept of a God that must be served, and a loss of respect towards serving ourselves and serving our earth. So the question arises, can you be Christian and not be an environmentalist? Let’s connect the morality.
There is some sense that the divine should be something other than this earth, when in fact the earth itself holds more mystery than could ever be empirically measured. The puppet master in the sky image of God does not necessarily perfectly find its way into this thinking- it more feeds a rather patriarchal and in many ways, empirical nature of reality. The earth itself, however, speaks in abstract terms, whistles without words and continues to unfold in a myriad of matrices that never quite add up to numbers or letters.
The structural integrity of our entire society is founded upon our own human uniqueness. The very fabric of America is woven together on this incessant concept of “individuality” and to remove that would undermine everything we hold dear. The state of human disconnection is so inherently tied up in parallels of America and the only way we feel we can assert our individuality is by differentiating ourselves. Rather than respecting that our individuality will exist no matter what we do, and that there is more diversity in our union than in our petty attempts to separate. We cannot just trust in our own uniqueness, and so we claw and scratch at the surface of our suggested selves to procure something resembling a sense of self. It is this very need for a sense of self that separates us. And this separation continues to shred our disconnect. Every step of disconnect takes us farther and farther from our original sense of home. We do not trust our home, so we batter against it with name brands and plastic and something borrowed and something blue and something turning bitter at every corner of our figmented pigment shapes.
The trace of human evolution and our civilized trajectory of industrial revolution paves the way for this disconnect. Everything feeds into one another and every bit of our discoveries as a species we have used to further bolster this theory of our own importance. However, we seem to regard our evolution as something that defines us and sets us apart, rather than something that binds us to all other creatures. “The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the Descent of Man introduced a profound tension into the anthropocentric trajectory of European philosophy and science. If humans are animals evolved like other animals, if in truth we are descended by “natural selection” from primates, if indeed fish are our distant ancestors and mice are our cousins, then our own traits and capacities must be, to some degree, continuous with those found in the rest of the earthly environment.” ( Abram 78) The problem, it seems, arises not in our inherent egoism, for this seems to be a staple of the human condition and by product of being conciously emodied, the problem may linger within our eyes. It is a loss of awareness and a manipulation of natural truths into our own contorted justifications. We are distracted and we are blinded by a pulsing white light eminating from our monitors. We are comfortable, controlled, complacent and blind. Instead of using the patchwork web of life to bond us, we use it as a launching pad to progress our own selfish disconnection. Our uniqueness is our justification for the lifestyle that we have become accustomed to and for the very foundation of our belief system and the way we have patriarchally shaped the world. We are singed with starlight and yet we insist on pummeling ourselves into cardboard boxes and plastic furnishings and styrofoam windows and cinder block wheels and peach fuzz ideas of some discarded American dream. And yet we are so deeply and innately connected to this matrix; this interconnected web of organic breathing life.
A more pungent question might lie in- what is it that we need? Certainly we have evolved from this disconnect, and it has acted as a catalyst to allow ourselves to progress with a pace and without a fair amount of guilt. Our Western philosophy has lead the way to technological advancements that indigenous cultures could not achieve. This does not inherently place one in a higher place over the other, it merely begs the question- what do we need? Is it more important for us to be Gods ourselves, or to have a connection to a God outside of ourselves? Is what we are aching for as a unified body more connection, more awareness and more forgiveness?
It seems slightly reductionist and simplistic to simply chalk up the entirety of our human civizilation to being somehow wrong or evil. Certainly, there is a disconnect between humanity and earth and certainly it is pillaging all hope for future sustainability, however can it be said in any conclusive way that our evolution was inherently wrong or did we evolve in the way in which we were bound to evolve? Does the disconnect happen inherently given our natural human qualities? Our embodiment both creates our unique mind and being while at the same time trapping this mind within a space that can only see itself through reflections and mirrors and never truly quite see the whole of a circle. And with the entirety of the world- it’s all speaking. The trees have their message and so do the TV’s. The fault does not lie within the TV- it seems a silly thought to try to find “blame” anywhere within the trajectory. And in fact, Abrham postulates as well that: “The apparently autonomous, mental dimension originally opened by the alphabet- the ability to interact with our own signs in utter abstraction from our earthly surroundings- has today blossomed into a vast cognitive realm, horizonless expanse of virtual interactions and encounters.” (Abram 265) An immensity of beauty, art and wondrous discoveries have been the by product of this inherent disconnect- it is a double edged sword producing poetry and complex human thought, yet at the same time, ripping us away from our place within the stars. Yet, is this the final resting place? Is there not a way to reconnect these seeming disconnect parts of a fratured whole?
Even Abhram is able to suggest, in addition, that an inherent connection to a certain place (in refence to indigenous cultures) is not wholly and perfectly ideal- it does not fully allow for an overwhelming global connection. “Such considerations must lead us to wonder whether the strange sense of human commonality made possible by the spread of formal writing systems is not something very worthy after all. Is there not something terrifically valuable about the modern faith in human equality?” (Abram 270) Yet he follows this by asserting that this faith is merely an idea and it does not consistently change the state of our world. There is so much more connection to find, and so much about our human lifestyle that must be reevaluated if we are to attempt to salvage our humanity. And yet, it does not seem valuable to entirely discredit our humanity- there is some sense of balance that can be achieved. More so, it is most pertinent to learn to decipher what is valuable in our disconnect and what is valuable to reconnect to. Not all is lost just yet. And the the world unfurls, the more this idea permeates that perhaps we are just not sick enough yet. It is not yet bad enough for the symptoms to cripple us. And yet, this remains the crucial time for awakening and for reconnection. Abram suggests: “A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquanted with truth, regardless of how many supposed facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world.” (Abram 264) Truly, this is a vitally important time for the shape of the course of human history and our ability to survive as a species. And yet we are rendered helpless to an onslaught of conditions seemingly overwhelmingly obtrusive to our salvation.
And so where are we left? Somewhere between blameless shame and helpless unawareness? Do we concede defeat to the track of evolution that led us to a space in which we no longer feel anything but the glow of pixels and the shapes of wires binding us to our own robotic downfall? Or perhaps, is there a connection within the disconnection. There is life within our evolution and there is hope within all of our sham and drudgery. We cannot simply be compliant, however, we must actively participate in ‘reinhabitation’ of our land. Abrahm suggests that: “If, however, we simply persist in our reflective cocoon, then all of our abstract ideals and aspirations for a unitary world will prove horribly delusory. If we do not soon remember ourselves to our sensuous surroundings, if we do not reclaim our solidarity with the other sensibilities that inhabit and constitute those surroundings, then the cost of our human commonality may be our common extinction.” (Abram 271) We stand at a crucial precipise, one which has not been confronted in this particular way throughout the entire course of human history and one whose relinquishment is simply not an answer. We are obliged to move, we have no choice but to ignite, and we have every power within us to let go of our bolstered egos and pursue a future full of light, unity and reconnection. We are not inherently lost within our disconnect- we just must now open our eyes and move into the light once more.
We might or might not be unique in this way which we are able to disconnect from our land and our true home, and yet we are rendered sufficiently helpless to our lack of true knowledge. We cannot fully know our own uniqueness, if it exists or why- we can only know where our responsibility lies in a world that is slowly turning the earth to ash. As Socrates suggests that all is in existence, and learning is merely the process of remembering what was lost from the trauma of birth, Abrham suggests as well that we recall our reciprocity with the land and learn to awaken our senses within this alignment of reality. We need not lose all that has been created within the pages and leaflets of history and the volumes of poetry that echo infinite human voices- that has its own power too. However, we must believe, at least in some way, in the ability to connect within the disconnect and to weave ourselves back into the true power that awaits bubbling within the land we trample upon. Our uniqueness cannot be defined or altered by words alone- it is something far beyond a collection of syllables and sounds- it is the very shape of our souls.