Groping Toward Our Ecozoic Future

Rev. Thomas Berry, in dialogue with Ram Dass

New York 1991 (c) 1991 Hanuman Foundation; Edited by Skip Robinson

Ram Dass: When I started to read your writings, I came across the term "dysfunctional cosmology"; and something happened inside of me, because it was such an apt phrase for the way in which I'm experiencing the world in which I live.

Thomas Berry: Well, most peoples have their life patterns and their norms of action, their ideals, their values rooted in some kind of a cosmology.

...It's a story of how things came to be in the beginning, how they came to be as they are, and the direction in which, how humans fit into the cosmology, and then the direction in which human affairs should go....

And as long as the cosmology functions well, there is a basis for dealing with human situations. But when there is a disassociation from the cosmology, then the whole basis of meaning begins to change.

...The larger dimensions of my effort is to establish a capacity to experience the developmental story of the universe as our sacred story, as our sacred cosmology.

Ram Dass: The universe is the revelation. In other words, this is a living Bible that we just have to learn how to read. But we... not only have to learn how to read it, we are part of the Bible itself. We've got to read ourselves.

Thomas Berry: So what we are having is a new insight into this, and it's astounding. It's given us this awesome power that we have. And it's the power that we don't know what to do with or how to judge good and evil because we don't understand the story as a sacred story. In other words, we don't understand the earth as a sacred reality, the trees as sacred, the rivers, the mountains....

We live, everything lives in everything else. Every atom lives in every other atom. I think that's one of the wonderful discoveries that we have now from science. But we don't know what to do with it because we don't have this mystique of, to enable us to deal with it. And here's the basic thing. I was dealing with some situations recently and I had to draw up what I call the Pattern of the Emerging Ecozoic Period.

You see we are at the terminal phase of the Cenozoic, the last 65 million years. We're not just passing into another historical period, or another cultural modification, we are changing the chemistry of the planet. We are changing the biosystems. We're changing the geosystems of the planet on a scale of hundreds of millions of years. But more specifically, we're terminating the last 65 million years of life development. Now a person would say, "Well, where do we go from here?" To my mind we go from the terminal phase, if we survive it, ... into a really sustainable world.

We will be passing from the terminal Cenozoic into what I call the Ecozoic. And the primary principle of the Ecozoic that we have to learn, I'm saying, is that the universe (and in particular planet Earth) is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.

If we don't learn that, nothing is going to work...The universe has to do something about itself. But it has so committed itself to the human mode that, as regards to planet Earth, that it has to function through the human at this stage.

Whereas all this beauty of the universe that we see about us came into being without human consultation, from here on, the universe will never function that way again.

As far as I can tell, the universe will never again function the way it functioned previously in the Cenozoic period, that is the last 65 million years, because during the 65 million years in which wave-on-wave of life expansion took place, humans had nothing to say about it; and it came out so magnificently as the universe that we have about us and the planet earth particularly, of course. But ... in the future, ...(whereas the humans cannot make a blade of grass), there's liable not to be a blade of grass unless humans accept it, protect it and foster it.

Now this period that is emerging, ...even wilderness will, in a sense, have to be a protected wilderness. It will have to be protected so it can function within itself, and it will have to be protected from humans by humans. And there are occasions when humans will have to be a support system, provide a support system for so many of the animals, for many of the living forms that prior to our times ... made it on their own. Now the ideal should be that we should enable them to be on their own, that we should withdraw the human interference as much as possible and certainly not make it a cultivated wilderness in the sense of a controlled wilderness....

Ram Dass: Your focus on history and your appreciation of aesthetic beauty leads you to see the changes that humans are bringing about as somehow (I can't help but feel) somehow a breakdown of the system. It's a transformation but also a breakdown, a loss. A loss....

Thomas Berry: Well, it's an enormous difficulty, I think; and I think it's one of the reasons for so many of the pathologies that we're into. It's because we have lost our rapport with these governing forces of the planet. And there's a great deal can be done, a great deal of human sympathy that can be developed and all that; but now we are into what I would consider an unworkable industrial plundering society that is at a dead end.

Let me say this, to my mind, at this order of magnitude, the industrial society, industrialization can be done once; it cannot be maintained, nor can it ever be done again. ... Three reasons:

The first reason is the psychic energy. When we put all this up, we were fascinated with the bright side of things. We saw only the benefits. We didn't see the disadvantages.

The second thing is the finances. We couldn't begin to build the New York subway system now. We and roads are breaking up faster than we can repair them. We've taken on ourselves an enormous burden. Right now, the whole industrial world is bankrupt: our cities, the nations of the world, ... the third world, ... the first world. ...We can't do anything now because we are (look at our three trillion dollar debt) ... going faster up to four trillion dollars... I can remember when in 1928 the national debt was eight billion dollars.

...The third reason why it can't be maintained or can't be done again is the diminishment of natural resources. So we have to immediately begin changing because the oil is going to be going. Everything we do now is dependent on our oil. Our food, our clothing, our instruments, our transportation, everything....Well, to my mind we have to first recognize that we are at an impasse and that we can't cure this by more technology in the sense of genetic engineering, refinement of computers and all this. All these instrumentalities are not going to, to assist.

Ram Dass: The Technozoic age isn't going to work.

Thomas Berry: It's not going to work. Now we need to go into an Ecozoic; and the primary principle of that is that we accept life on the conditions that life is granted us. And life is granted us ... on certain conditions, that we have to learn to accept certain difficulties of life, like for ourselves, we have to first strengthen the inner world. In the Asian world, and you've been rather much into the Asian world, and particularly India, they deal with life by strengthening the inner world not by conquering the outer world, primarily. We try to deal with life by conquering the outer world and the inner world is weakened. Now we have to begin to recover some sense of dealing with life by ... an inner adaptation to life rather than a controlling of life. ... This is going to be imposed upon us....

The basic biological law is that every life system ... has opposed life system or conditions that limit each life system so that no one life system or group of life systems should overwhelm the others. But our technologies enable us to transcend that situation. We are not subject to being limit, we have to self limit. So the basic principle has to be self limiting as regards use of resources, as regards habitat, as regards resources, habitat and population.... America particularly has to begin to limit consumption.

Thomas Berry: Well, the question ... is whether it's going to happen creatively or destructively. It is going to happen ... Is it going to bring a corresponding total devastation? A large amount of the devastation is unavoidable now. We can't avoid a population now of ten billion people. There's no way we can avoid that. But if we are already consuming 40% of the gross earth product, humans, if we double that and begin to take 60,70, 80%, then the whole biosystems of the planet will cease to function effectively, and it will be a kind of a collapse, a biological collapse.

...There is this: A lot of wonderful things have happened in the last several years, the last three or four years. I was much darker ten years ago than I am now...........

Ram Dass: Okay. What kind of things are giving you some hope...

Thomas Berry: Well, pervasive consciousness....In politics nothing is going to work anymore unless it claims to be environmentally oriented....... The whole ecological disaster is beginning to dawn upon people. Now children are learning this now, elementary school. I'm in contact with a lot of schools or elementary schools and when the kids get hold of this, they do things..... a person has to feel the challenge of it and young people particularly need to feel the challenge of it in a creative way. Something like the "Chitco Movement" where those women went out and stopped the coating of the trees and they realized that their destiny and the destiny of the trees go together. And there is just a fantastic number of people everywhere now..... and in the commercial world, ... just about everything has to be recognized, whether clothing has to be ecologically made, everything, food. So beginnings have been made. Maybe it's one percent, but beginnings are of that nature. But what we need are visions of direction, comprehensive directions in which to go. That's what's important.

As soon as we begin to understand the universe in its sacred dimension, then we develop a sense of reverence and concern and identity and sympathies and the compassionate.............there are two ultimate categories for me. One is creativity and the other is celebration. The universe I consider - in its vast extent in space and in its transformations in time - is a single multiform celebratory event. And ... the role of the human is to enter into that celebratory process in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.

Ram Dass: And with that mode, one is a celebratory participant, which you are in your moment-to-moment living.... And that allows you to be peaceful even in the presence of the way in which the human mind has done it's work thus far. You said there were two, there was the celebration, and what is the other one?

Thomas Berry: The creation, the creativity and the celebration.

Ram Dass: Well, in a celebratory act, every moment is a creative act, isn't it? The whole thing is creative, there's no stopping of creation. You don't stop.

Thomas Berry: Yeah. The creative is the most important. That's why the geneticist Dubchompsky (Theodore Dubchompsky) did so much. He's written some beautiful things on this, the evolutionary process. And as regards as it being either determined or random, he says, "It's neither; it's creative." And creativity is, it's like a person making a poem. You don't know what it is until it ... hits you .... It's like a melody. I describe it as a melody. We grope toward these issues. That's why Tellihard's word, "groping" as the expression of the emergent process. We grope toward the creativity. We're groping toward what I would call the Ecozoic Period.

And what we need ... is some help with that groping....we do need to help them enter into this because it's just urgent. And that's why, there's a new movement, now...... We don't know what to do exactly, but I think we are being guided even at this moment, toward a creative response to what has already taken place that can bring about a lot of healing and can bring about a new and brilliant phase that will be available for future generations.....