There are a number of books with that title and I looked into some of them, but was disappointed. They say all kinds of things, but I didn’t feel that any of them got at the essence of the issues.

We are different from the other animals in ways that we behave and in things that we do.

One issue:

We are highly conscious. Being conscious of our individual vulnerability and ultimate mortality induces anxiety. Other animals appropriately experience fear, but only humans experience a generalized anxiety.

As consciousness emerged during the history of our species development we increasingly sought assuagement for anxiety. We developed culture. Human culture is like a cocoon of assuagement and transcendence.

And we sought control (Nietzsche: “the will to power”).

Another issue:

On account of language and proto-technologies we were a successful species. Our numbers grew. Our presence expanded into all continents. The support of high population densities became an issue. Earlier, like all animals, we had relied upon the bounty of nature for sustenance. But beyond a certain point of population density we had to start to rely upon self-production, especially of food. We needed to be highly productive.

We cleared the land of other flora and fauna in order to control it and exploit it. We started to live not only in our worlds of human culture, subjectively, but also in our human-built environments, objectively. Farms and cities provided a new kind of transcendence.

Another issue:

Beyond control, at some point the concept of ownership of the land and its produce emerged. It set in motion contentions for wealth and power.

Under the Old Ways it was advantageous for communities to keep in check lusts for individual power. As lifeways transitioned toward conditions of high density, production, farms and cities, the aboriginal communities were torn asunder. With the New Ways there were prospects for high productivity, development, expansion, wealth, and power.

Contentions resulted in wealth/power elitism, imperial aspirations, nation-state militarism, war. Most individuals became cogs within the Leviathan of mass institutional-technological society. The latter provides a kind of transcendence which is not healthy.

* * * * * *

We should be chastened about the last five thousand years of our species history. What we formerly had viewed as “progressive development” has brought us to an ominous human condition characterized by globalized monoculture, inequality, hypertrophy, and unsustainability. Going forward, what we need to do is gradually deconstruct the Leviathan and get back to humanly-scaled, localized, nature-based/community-based existence.

A co-editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a Green movement activist for almost thirty years.