Posted by: chrismaser | December 13, 2011


If our human society, as we know it, is to survive the future, we must strike a balance in all we do. I use the metaphor of an eagle to depict this balance for two reasons. First, because so many nations, such as the United States, Germany, Austria, Mexico, and the Roman Empire, have used, and still use, the eagle as their national symbol, and second, because an eagle cannot fly unless its wings are in balance. Put too much weight on one wing or the other, and all an eagle can do, regardless of its strength, is spiral downward until it crashes—as did the Roman Empire, as did Germany twice, and even as our social system is in the throes of doing today.


To avoid such a crash, we must balance ourselves between linear thinking and cyclic thinking, because we need both to maintain our society. Cyclic thinking is in harmony with the inviolable biophysical principles that govern Nature and thus the three interactive spheres of our earthscape: the atmosphere (air), the litho-hydrosphere (the rock that constitutes the restless continents and the water that surrounds them), and the biosphere (the life forms that exist within the other two spheres). Cyclic thinking is also in tune with our spirituality, but even though we “do not live by bread alone,” we must have bread. Linear thinking is therefore necessary to produce some of the material products that maintain the physical aspects of human life and society within the cycles of Nature. Society is thus the body of the eagle; cyclic thinking is one wing, and linear thinking the other. For the eagle to fly straight and true, its wings must be in balance.

With this imperative of social balance, the main question that needs to be asked in terms of the future is: How do we balance ourselves, the human animal, with the spiritual and material energies of Planet Earth? Although I don’t have THE answer, I have an idea to share with you.

We are, for example, concerned today in our heightened ecological awareness with the things we are losing from the environment, such as biodiversity. In addition, however, we need to be far more concerned with the things that we are introducing into the environment, things with which it is not adapted to cope—such as our exploding human population, which is degrading the environment with its rapacious, material appetites. And once something is introduced, it is forever out of our control.

We introduce thoughts, practices, substances, and technologies into the environment, and we usually think of those introductions in terms of development. Whatever we introduce into the environment in the name of development will consequently determine how the environment will respond to our presence and to our cultural necessities. It is therefore to our social benefit to pay close attention to what we introduce. What any culture, including ours, introduces into its environment—and the attitude with which the introductions are made—is partly determined by the mythological view with which it sees its place in and of Creation.


The underpinnings of social values, and therefore chosen lifestyles, are rooted in cultural myths, including the various religions. A people’s thoughts and values, which are based on their cultural myths, translate into their lifestyles, and it is the cultural values of their chosen lifestyles that ultimately affect the land they inhabit.

Most Indigenous North Americans, for example, survived largely by hunting and gathering. They lived in a world where life was always balanced on a fine line between abundance and scarcity. To survive in such an unpredictable world, they reconciled themselves with Creation through their myths and spiritual connection with the Creator—The Great Spirit. Their lifestyles reflected this spiritual connection because they lived their myths through enacted rituals, which remained to a large degree in harmony with their changing environment.

Another and very different set of cultural myths was brought to the “New World” by the European invaders—largely from the pastoral scenes of Europe, first the Spanish followed later by the British and French. When they arrived in the New World, they saw not a land to be understood, adapted to, and nurtured but a wild, untamed continent to be conquered and plundered. They came from “civilized” countries with “civilized” myths and lifestyles and felt conquest was their duty to church and country of origin—even if it meant enslaving, massacring, and plundering the indigenous peoples.

What Europeans did not understand, however, was that their myths and lifestyles belonged to another place and another time in the evolution of human society and were incompatible with those of the indigenous peoples of the New World, or with the New World itself, for that matter. The myths and lifestyles of the Indigenous Americans belonged to the land they inhabited, whereas those of the Europeans belonged to a land halfway around the world.

The indigenous Americans had lived on and with the land for more than ten thousand years. Thus, in keeping with their myths, lived with the land and considered themselves to be an inseparable part of its spiritual harmony—something that could not be owned. The Europeans, in keeping with their myths, on the other hand, sought to conquer, harness, subdue, and own the land. Whereas the indigenous peoples viewed the land and all it contained as something sacred to be revered, the invading Europeans viewed the same land simply as an object to be exploited for short-term private gains and/or owned for personal advantage.

At best, the European’s ancestral myths and lifestyles became rigid through a long tradition of competition for power and the exploitation of Nature, both of which were incompatible with the land and the indigenous peoples. At worst, the European’s myths and lifestyles—which we have adopted with abandon—informed our current collision course with the survival of human society, as we know it. I say this because, although we are wise in our own eyes, we are blind to the truth that we neither govern nor manage Nature. We treat Nature wisely or unwisely, with respect or abuse, and Nature responds in accordingly, but we do not—and cannot—control Nature! In other words, we cannot “manage” Nature! We do something to Nature, such as overpopulating the Earth, and Nature responds, and in that response lies the lessons we are loath to learn. Which brings me to lifestyle.


Lifestyle is commonly defined as an internally consistent way of life or style of living that reflects the values and attitudes of an individual or a culture. We, in Western industrialized society, have made lifestyle synonymous with a “material standard of living,” which we practice as voracious consumers. If, however, we are to have a viable, sustainable environment as we know it and value it, we must reach beyond the strictly material and see lifestyle as a sense of inner wholeness and harmony derived by living in such a way that the spiritual, environmental, and material aspects of our lives are in balance with the capacity of the environment—air, land, and water—to produce the necessities for that lifestyle.

Whether a given lifestyle is even possible depends on the “carrying capacity,” which is the number of animals that can live in and use a particular landscape without impairing the sustainability of its functional integrity. If we want human society to survive the twenty-first century in any sort of dignified manner, we must have the humility to view our own population in terms of local, regional, national, and global carrying capacities, because the quality of life declines in direct proportion of the degree to which the habitat is overpopulated and thus degraded.


If we substitute the idea of “cultural capacity” for “carrying capacity,” we have a workable proposition for society. Cultural capacity is a chosen quality of life, a quality that can be sustained without endangering the environment’s productive ability. The more materially-oriented the desired lifestyle of an individual or a society, for example, the more resources are needed to sustain it and the smaller the human population must be per unit area of landscape. Cultural capacity, then, is a balance between the way in which we want to live, the real quality of our lifestyle and of our society, and the number of people an area can support in that lifestyle on a sustainable basis. Cultural capacity of any area will be less than its carrying capacity in the biophysical sense.

Cultural capacity is a workable idea. We can predetermine the local and regional cultural capacity and adjust our population growth accordingly. If we choose not to balance our desires with the land’s capabilities, the depletion of the land will determine the quality of our social experience by dictating our lifestyle. So far, we have chosen not to balance our desires with the capabilities of the land, but instead have equated “desire, need,” and “demand” as synonyms with every itch of “want.” Thus, we have not only lost sight of but also have no concept of Nature’s biophysical reality.

If we desire to maintain a predetermined lifestyle, we must ask new questions: (1) How much of any given resource is necessary for us to use if we are to live in the lifestyle of our choice? In this sense, “necessity” is a proposition very different from the collective “desire, want, need, demand” syndrome, so arguments about the proper cultural capacity revolve around not only what we want materialistically but also around what the land can produce in an biophysically sustainable manner. (2) How much of any given resource is it necessary to leave intact as a biophysical reinvestment in the health and continued productivity of the ecosystem? and (3) Do sufficient resources remain, after we have withdrawn what we need to support our chosen lifestyle, or must we modify our lifestyle to meet what the land is capable of sustaining?

Cultural capacity is a conservative concept, given finite resources and well-defined values. By first determining what we want in terms of lifestyle, we may be able to determine not only if the Earth can support our desired lifestyle but also how we must behave with respect to the environment if we are to maintain our desired lifestyle. By “environment,” I mean the three interactive spheres of our earthscape: the atmosphere (air), the litho-hydrosphere (the rock that constitutes the restless continents and the water that surrounds them), and the biosphere (the life forms that exist within the other two spheres).

Related Posts:

• Current Crises: Our Growing Heat Stress

• Current Crises: The Trilogy of Extinction

• Tropical Crisis: “Bushmeat”

• Current Crises: Wealth And Money—What’s The Difference

• Current Crises: Our Inner Vs Outer Landscapes

• Current Crises: The Choice Is Ours

Text © by Chris Maser 2011. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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