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THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel).

Named #4 in the top15 Pagan podcasts for 2022! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/

Beyond Misanthropy

September 20, 2021

Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com


S2E35 TRANSCRIPTYucca: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-Based Paganism. I'm one of your hosts Yucca 

Mark: And I’m Mark

Yucca: and this week we have a topic that has been inspired by many different directions, but particularly by an email that one of our wonderful listeners sent in and we're going to be talking about misanthropy. Climate grief and our relationship with all of that 

Mark: Right. This is something that many of us really struggle with. The idea that humans are a problem or that we're we're a virus that's devouring the earth, or that there's something inherently bad about us. 

Yucca: We're cancer. 

Mark: Yeah, that were, that were metastasizing all over the earth and that it's, it's it's killing what we love.

And the challenge in confronting this of course, is that if you choose to look at the reality of what's happening on the planet and you choose to look through that lens, Then you can confirm it to yourself. You can con you can say, well, yeah, that's exactly what's happening, but there are other ways of looking at it.

And we'd like to talk about that today.

Yucca: And we think that this is particularly important for any person today, but especially for those of us who have earth centered practices. Right. Those of us who think of, of us as being part of nature as being part of the earth and that being sacred. 

Mark: Yes. Yes. And a part of. Understanding is understanding that our relationships with the remainder of the biosphere are meaningful and that we should tend to them carefully and think carefully about how we, how we maintain relationships with our, our fellow creatures and systems here on the earth.

That's not something that we are raised in the habit of doing in our culture. And it's one of the ways in which a science-based pagan culture really diverges from the mainstream. And probably in my opinion, the most important difference that we understand that we are a part of this greater whole and that we have reciprocal responsibilities to those systems.

Yucca: Yeah. And so that sometimes can make, make it all the more painful. When we look around at our world and we see the, the ecosystems falling apart and the loss of biodiversity and the. Environmental injustices between different racial groups and all of that just on and on and on. There's, there's so much and. And it's easy to take that very personally because it is us, right. We're part of it. It's the whole system. We can't actually take ourselves out of the system. So it's sometimes really easy to go. Oh well, it's humans are the problem in the system, then we're terrible. We're bad shame on us. Shame on all humans.

And I'm just going to throw up my hands and just, I just can't can't even deal with it. Right. 

Mark: Yeah. And that's, that's not an unnatural response. The, the ordinary human response to overwhelm is dissociation. That's what we do psychologically. And that can come down to as, as. As much of a thing as when someone gets terrified enough, they will just sit, maybe rock back and forth, but they won't do anything because they're paralyzed with fear.

Well, it's possible to become. Exasperated and give up hope and filled with despair when confronted with a lot of bad news as well. And I think that, especially as we are barraged with bad news through our media, it becomes really easy for us to choose that path. Now I think it's fair to say that we're wired to look for bad news.

Yucca: Yes. 

Mark: of the things about the nature of humans. You know, when when we were on the African Savannah, it became very important to understand that Bob got eaten by a lion yesterday.

Yucca: Yeah. It's we need to stay alive. This is what's going to keep us alive. Is going lion. lion is a problem, right? Lots of great things happened yesterday.

but where's Bob, 

Mark: But Bob got eaten by a lion. So we're going to, we're going to focus on that. And I think if you, if you take a couple of steps back and just sort of look at ourselves, anthropologically, it's a little bit weird that we pipe all of this bad news into our. Into our media constantly, and that people tune in for the bad news every day.

But that is a reflection of the way that we're wired. It's a reflection of our need to focus on those things that we perceive as being threatening to us. 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: So it's important to understand that there's a thumb on the scale in terms of our evolutionary biology. Our brains are wired to overemphasize bad and threatening news because that's where our survival might be impacted.

Yucca: Yeah. And that's, that's a really, really critical piece of the story. So thank you for bringing that in it so early, right. Because as we talk about what we're focusing on and what are. Within humans and our relationship to humans who remember that we are seeing it through this lens of, you know, for, for all the good things that happened in a week.

We don't, we're not focusing on those. We're remembering that person who cut us off in traffic, or we're remembering the middle of the night when we woke up or that really like infuriating things somebody said on social media or whatever it is. But not the wonderful walk that we took, the pug that we got from our loved ones, et cetera, et cetera, the little animal that you helped or whatever.

It's just those few bad things that we gravitate to that we focus on. 

Mark: Right. Exactly. So, and so it's a good thing to start there, recognizing that we do have these lenses on our minds that are predisposed to look for the negative. And what that means is that if we're going to be reasonable, we should recognize that we're not seeing all the. Because it's being filtered from us that that's where we need to start.

Yucca: And also to be careful to recognize that we're not denying that those, that those bad things are there, that those are happening and that they need to be addressed right there. We're noticing them for a reason. Sometimes that might be the media manipulating us to get clicks, to get more ad revenue, but generally that the negative things we need, they need our attention. But so does the sort of the other things, right? So did the, and there's there real as well in our relationship, there is where we have a lot of influence and how we're going to experience it and how we're going to respond. 

Mark: Right. And it's important also to understand that in our mediated world, the cocktail that we are fed in our media diet is often a combination of here's overwhelming bad news. And here's something you can distract yourself from it with instead of here's how you can be empowered to do something about this.

Yucca: Or unfortunately, here's my product that you can have to fix it. If you just don't worry about the whole industrial agriculture system, just instead of eating that product, eat this product, which is also a product of all of that or whatever the particular thing is. Right. So, yeah. 

Mark: yeah, so, You know, we, we operate at disadvantage in our modern mediated environment for a couple of reasons. Not only because our minds are predisposed to look for that bad news that threatens our survival, but also because we're being offered. Non solutions that are sort of framed as solutions, whether it's by this product to have a great life or drive this car to feel good, or, you know, whatever, whatever those things are.

But also we're really not in most cases being offered. Here's how you can weigh in on this. Here's, here's, who's really responsible for these large scale impacts. And. What role they play in our industrial system. And here's how you can get some leverage to try to make some change. Activism is not encouraged.

Passive consumption is encouraged,

Yucca: Yeah. And that encouraged,

it's there's a lot of people involved. It's not like. Some guy behind the curtain, right?

This is, this is something that all of us are actually part of as well, because talking about us as, from an evolutionary perspective, we're also cultural animals and we tell stories and that's how we understand the world.

And the stories that we're telling were we ourselves? Are reinforcing and adding to that story and putting that story out there and building on it and constructing it and passing that on to the new humans. Well, it's all the humans, but to the new humans as well, 

Mark: Right, right.

Yucca: which is one of the ways that we got on to talking about this topic and said, oh, this, we should definitely.

Talk about this on the podcast. Because our, our viewer and then myself as well, who have young people in our lives and are watching the stories that they are, that they're breathing in from us, the stories about themselves and the stories about the world and that misanthropy is central to those stories. Right. That humans are terrible for messing everything up. The world is dying and anywhere that you look, it's just, oh, look here, we're messing it up again. And there's so little hope in the stories. It's all, it's all doom and gloom about everything that's wrong. And. And I have a lot of compassion for, for the people in the, and I'm not that old, but the people in the younger generations who are, who this is their reality.

And the way we talk about it is we as a culture is pretty, pretty depressing. 

Mark: It is, it is. And it's easy. I think for people to fall into a very misanthropic kind of mentality where it's like, I, I hate us. I hate humanity. We, we shouldn't be here. We're causing terrible destruction. And even though there is like, like all over simplification. There is a kernel of truth to that.

There's no doubt that there's a kernel of truth to that, and we're not denying it in any way. I mean, we can feel those same feelings. On the other hand, the human organism is remarkable, truly remarkable. The human, the human organism, as a, as a manifestation of the universe. Is extraordinary in our capacities with our soaring, imagination and creativity and our visionary capacity to to envision possible futures that we can then pursue.

And our our. You know, very adept, dextrous, thumbs, and hands that we can use to, to manufacture things and our ability to transfer that information on into subsequent generations and other populations, which is what we're doing right now. I could not tell you how to build this PC that I'm on or or, you know, how.

Yeah, how to get the internet and zoom going. I, you know, that's not my area of expertise at all. But I can benefit by the creativity of others who have been able to put those things together. And they're in, in my opinion, lies the hope 

Yucca: Yes. 

Mark: we are a tremendously creative and we got started late and the greed heads.

Put a lot of resistance to making change, but the truth is that the market for coal internationally is almost gone. 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: It's almost gone renewables, generate electricity at so much lower of a cost than burning fossil fuels, mining them, paying the labor, transporting the stuff, all that, that renewables are becoming.

The standard, rather than the exception all over the world. And that's being led even in very authoritarian, places like China. So, that's just one example of how human creativity will not necessarily preventing. A biotic crash, prevent a population crash, but in my opinion is very, very likely to result in a new equilibrium equilibrium.

Afterwards, there may have to be big and disruptive adjustments, but I believe that humans, because we are so adapted. We'll be able to come into better relationship with the biosphere learning the hard way, because apparently that's how we have to, we, we don't ever do anything the easy way as far as I can tell.

Yucca: Well, we haven't focused on where we have, 

Mark: no, that's true. 

Yucca: where We have done the easy way we don't think about it. We only look at the stuff that we mess really messed up on. 

Mark: good point. Very good point.

Yucca: Yeah, so, you know, that's, that's my belief and hope is. And there's another quality that I think is very important about humans that we really need to add to the list is that humans in general are very compassionate creatures.

Mark: yes.

Yucca: We really, really do care and an empathize and sympathize with other beings. yes.

there are the exceptions, right? There's the percentage of people who are sociopathic and there's, you know, cultural things that one can get swept up in. And what should they, in which you don't get to see what's going on around you and. Out of sight out of mind, but typically people really care. We don't like to see things hurting. We don't like to see others hurting. And when there are tragedies, right, when there are the terrible things happening, if you stop and look, there's always the people trying to have. 

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: always someone there trying to make it better, being the person who's lifting somebody else up or caring for them or bringing the water or giving up what they have for someone else.

That's that's also built into us as social creatures, as social primary. 

Mark: Yes. And we can look at some recent examples of this. You know, this isn't just a matter of opinion. This is something that we can observe at a sociological level when the San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake happened suddenly. People weren't granular in their households anymore. Suddenly everyone was helping everyone else all the time.

And it went on for weeks and weeks and weeks. And the same thing is true in hurricane Katrina. The same thing has been true in other major storm events, people 

Yucca: There's a lot of folks still dealing with that right now. From Ida, 

Mark: Yes. 

Yucca: right? This is, yeah. 

Mark: Exactly. So there's some, there is a switch that clicks within us where we realized that our individual comfort and survival is not the priority at that moment within our collective wellbeing is, is what must be addressed. And when the ecological crisis comes to our door, I suspect that that switch will be flipped.

I suspect that when it actually comes to the point where we're having massive crop failures, You know, those, those kinds of issues because of climate change, people's capacity for compassion with one another and to work together in order for the most possible to survive and thrive. We'll be invoked.

We've we've seen it historically in the past and I, I really believe that that's so I work to, I wouldn't say popularized, but. Make visible as an option, the non theist pagan path of atheopagan ism. And the reason that I do that is that is not that I believe that the atheopagan principles are going to certainly make all of the problems go away and have everybody live in peace and harmony.

But I do believe. The culture evolves and that these, these principles, these values, these threads, these practices, they can make their way out into larger human populations and then persist over generations. That's why I do. 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: I believe that by being science-based earth, revering humans with a rich and abundant culture of practices and observances and art and music and all that, we can transform humanity from its current kind of shallow focus on possessions and entertainment into something.

Something that works better with the biosphere.

Yucca: Yeah. not alone on that. Right. That's something else to see that, that there are other people with, that are also wanting to bring and support and nourish those. Values and move in that and develop humans, grow us in that direction. Start telling that story and making that the narrative that we use as we, as our way of understanding the world and relating to and moving through And being part of this world.

Mark: And it's ironic because some of the people that we think of as bringing us the bad news, like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall and so forth, they would acquit a long time ago. If they didn't think that bringing us this information was actually helping us to be better. 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: You're not there just to be storm clouds.

They deeply care about the biosphere and they're bringing us this information so that we can be. And they've been doing it for many, many, many decades, and they're not giving up.

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: So I'm wondering how bad. To kind of bring this down into what people can do in order to help with this, because it's, and I'm just, I'm talking out loud, I'm thinking out loud here. Because we really do have this challenge with the fire hose of information that that is disempowering. And I think that an element of that is.

Putting a valve on that hose is, you know, limiting the amount of just sheer yuck that we expose ourselves to. And. There's a lot of, there's a lot of that yuck that you can ignore entirely like crime news. For example, I don't pay attention to crime news at all. There have always been people that do bad things.

There will always be people who do bad things, but unless it has some relevance to the society as a whole, then to me, it's sort of like slowing down to. Traffic accident, you know, why am I doing that? I'm you know, why am I rubbernecking to try to see something gross? I don't need that. I don't need it in my life.

Yucca: well, and that's actually a really approved. Metaphor, because when you slow down to look at that accident, you're actually creating a more dangerous situation when you're focusing on it, in terms of what's going to happen with the rest of traffic. And when we. Put that much attention. What we look at online that is the amount of time we spend scrolling through, depending on what platform you're using, but many of the platforms they track, how long you look at that for even if you don't click on it.

And our attention is money is their funding. And so we are. We are enforcing it. It's a habit, right? It's just like a habit that we do as, as organisms where every time you drive a certain route or every time you do a certain movement, you do that over and over and over again, that pathway in your brain becomes more and more reinforced, but we're doing that on a societal level as well.

And so where we put our attention that is making it a more dangerous situation. The attention and focusing on that in the same way that slowing down next to the traffic accident is 

Mark: Right. And in this sense narrowly in this sense I have to, 

Yucca: yeah. 

Mark: to emphasize, we really do create our own reality because we curate our experiences. And one of the things that's very pernicious about social media is that other people have started curating our experiences for us. 

Yucca: Yes. 

Mark: And in the case of a platform like Facebook, for example, it's been well demonstrated now that they are deliberately putting stuff that upsets you in front of you, because you will be fixated on it and you'll spend more time looking at it.

Things that make you angry, things that make you upset. There's a, there's a new thing on the. But platform that's really awful. Where, what happens is now if one of your friends comments on something, it will show up in your feed. So I have all these right wing legislators where some member of my friend group has said, Hey, wait a minute.

I don't agree with this at all. And then I get the entire list of all of this awful right-wing stuff. And I have had to train myself. Just to turn those things off to, to use the function where I can say, I don't want to see anything more from this source and not comment because if I do comment, then I'm spreading it to all of my friends.

Yucca: Yeah. So on this same note, one thing that I want to share with people that has been incredibly helpful in my life in the past few months is I came across the concept of digital minimalism. And Cal Newport. Who's got a book in a website on it and all of that, and it kind of sounds extreme at first, but the, basically the idea is looking at, okay, so all of these things that we're using, how are they serving us and how are they not serving us?

And what, how do I want to live? And how do I use these in a way that supports those values? Right. I want to be connected with people and I want to be informed and you know, it can make a list of other things, but I don't want to spend four hours on my phone looking at stuff instead of playing with my children.

And I don't want. You know, be constantly checking my email 30, 40 times a day, or et cetera, et cetera, and, and really working on that and narrowing down and using it in a very conscious way has, has been I mean, risk being cliche, but it's been a total game changer. And part of that is just looking at where.

Awareness is where's our focus. And I think that's very relative relevant. Excuse me, to what we've been talking about is where are we going to put our focus?

Mark: Right. 

Yucca: Right.

It doesn't make the other things not real. And sometimes we really do. We really, really need to look at what's happening in the world. Am I using my focus in a productive way to help solve these problems?

Or am I feeding the flame? 

Mark: Well, and not only the flame, but also an incipient sense of self-loathing. 

Yucca: Yes. 

Mark: This is the really dangerous thing about this misanthropy is that, you know, we're humans too. And so we can come to have greater and greater contempt for ourselves as humans because of the bad things that are happening ecologically and in the world.

And. The big problem with that is not only that it undermines your happiness in it. It's just really bad for you psychologically. It's also that it disempowers you from being able to accomplish anything in order to make things better. 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: We get a lot of messaging about how, you know, it's all out of our hands and it's, the decisions are being made by other people.

And it's all big companies and it's, you know, big elected officials and it's. It's way, way out of our, our dimension and the truth is that citizens can do stuff. Individuals can do stuff that make a difference, whether it's just making purchasing decisions or whether it's supporting organizations that are actively galvanizing grassroots support so that they can make things better.

Whether it's you know, buying conglomerates that are pulling together the buying power of lots of individuals in order to nudge industry in particular ways, in terms of their practices. And. There are so many little victories that have been seen in this way. I mean, if you think things were bad for the environment, now you have to imagine what they were like in 1965.

When the Cuyahoga river caught fire, because there was no clean water act, there was no safe drinking water act. There was no clean air act. I don't know whether you've ever noticed this, but if you see photographs from the 1970s, they all look kind of yellow and they all look kind of yellow because that was the color of the air.


Yucca: Hm. 

Mark: We have done things that have made improvements and we can do more things that will make improvements. And I believe that if we stay focused on that perspective, that we can do things that make a difference and we don't let the media message of disempowerment and self loathing penetrate. We have a much better shot and the earth has a much better shot 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: because let's face it.

The most powerful organism on earth at this point is homosapiens. And if we're good, if we're not going to be in the game to try to make things better than the biosphere really does not have a very good chance, 

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: we have to be engaged. And that means the folks that are listening to this podcast.

Yucca: Yeah us, right? Yeah, 

Mark: We are the people we've been waiting for.

Yucca: exactly. And here's the thing, if we're wrong and we can't make a difference, then what was the harm? And actually trying, because if we can. And we don't well, we really missed out there. 

Mark: Absolutely. I mean, if the ship is sinking, I would much rather be down below, you know, Manning the pumps for until the very last second, then somewhere up on the above decks, having another drink I just, I don't want to be a participant in the disaster. I want to be someone who resisted the disaster.

And I think that that is a place of pride and a place that people can honorably place themselves in the conduct of their lives. You know, we were talking before we started recording about how, you know, We, we have this habit in the stories of our culture of wanting to think that some hero is going to come along and solve everything.

Right. Some hero with magical powers comes along. We're seeing an awful lot of it now in movies where there's all this superhero stuff everywhere. But it's deeper than that, right? I mean, the. The biblical version of the problem with the world was that there was this original sin and then Jesus comes along and solves it.

Right. And he's a hero and, you know, he's, he's very admired,

Yucca: Well, and by the time this came around, that was the old story that story had been been told for millennia just changed the name and some details here and there. right?

Mark: That's right. So we have to get away from that. The idea that just because you individually can't solve the climate crisis,

Yucca: Yeah. That you aren't, that, that none of us are the chosen one who have failed. right. 

Mark: Collectively though, we can do amazing stuff collectively we can make changes and. That's that's where I hope we'll put our emphasis because among other things, what that does is point us back at this idea of the world as a collective place, a place full of relationships and reciprocity. I'm rereading a great book right now, braiding Sweetgrass and it's all about how.

The, the Western version of science breaks everything into little components, but it doesn't pay very much attention to the relationships between them and indigenous wisdom pulls those relationships forward with a sense of reciprocal responsibility and. We need more of that. We need a lot more of that in our world.

And I think that by, by saying, yes, I will be one of the humans that works for a better world. I think we start to make that happen.

Yucca: Yeah. And that's exciting, frankly, because that's, each of us can go, yes, me, I will. And this is.


Mark: Hm.

Yucca: and being gentle with ourselves. We're not going to be perfect. And we're still part of a S of this civilization and we can't completely fix everything. A lot of us are going to have to get in our car or in our car Right.

now and go to work tomorrow so that we can have money to have food, but we can start thinking about what we can do in aware, where can we be helpful?

And what, what is the story that we really want to be a part of? Not just what, not just, what fire do we need to put out at this moment, but what do we want? Context, right. What do we want our holistic context to actually be, and to start working towards that? 

Mark: Yes. And part of what we can hand on to the next generation is a sense of excitement about being a part of the solution.

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: Because it's the biggest project humans have ever taken on. I mean, it is, it is the mother of all oil tankers that we're trying to steer here. Right. And it's going to be slow interning, but we are, we are even now, even with international agreements on climate and international efforts on biodiversity, we are turning.

The tanker, the question is, will it turn fast enough quickly enough, but that doesn't mean that nothing is happening and that it's all just bad news.

Yucca: Yeah, and there's a lot of good news, right? And there's a lot of different scales that we can be involved on. Right. There's the massive scale when we're dealing with nations with each other, but there's also our backyard and, you know, learning about permaculture or, you know, things as simple as that. 

Mark: Yeah. So I guess, I guess at the end of this, the piece that I would say to people that really suffer from this kind of self-loathing misanthropy piece is take heart. It's not over yet. It's easy to want to skip to the end of the story so that you know, how it ends. It's easy to want that to not want to be in the dark about how it's going to work out.

We humans really hate indecision and, you know, not knowing, not knowing is something that that actually feels plus with fear in many ways. But we don't have to know how the story is going to turn out in order to do the right things now for the, for the values that we care about and for the earth that we love.

Yucca: Yeah. 

Mark: So really want to appreciate our listener, who who wrote us in an email about talking with her kids about what's happening with the world. We really welcome your feedback questions. Topics, all that kind of stuff. At thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com. So the wonder podcast, Q S all one word at gmail.com and hope to hear from you soon.

Yucca: Yep. And thank you for sharing this little hour with us. We really appreciate all of you.

Mark: We do thank you so much. See you next time.