Consciousness Evolution and Planetary Survival: Psychological Roots of Human Violence and Greed: Paper Presented at the Thirteenth International Transpersonal Conference Entitled Spirituality, Ecology, and Native Wisdom in Killarney, Ireland, June 1995

Article excerpt

The two most powerful psychological forces in human history have been without doubt violence and greed. The amount and degree of atrocities that have been committed throughout ages in various countries of the world-many of them in the name of God--is truly unimaginable and indescribable. We can think here of the countless Christians, sacrificed in Roman arenas to provide a highly sought-afar spectacle for masses, many hundreds of thousands of victims of the medieval Inquisition who were tortured, killed, and burned in the autos-da-fe, the mass slaughters on the sacrificial altars of the Aztecs, and the millions of soldiers and civilians killed in wars and revolutions of all times.

Genghis Khan's hordes sweeping through Asia killing, pillaging and burning villages, Alexander the Great's army conquering all the countries lying between Macedonia and India, the amazing spread of Islam by sword and fire, the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the ventures of Cortez and Pizarro, the colonialism of Great Britain and other European countries, and the Napoleonic wars - all these are examples of unbridled violence and insatiable greed.

This trend has continued in an unmitigated fashion in the twentieth century. Historically, more people were killed in the last hundred years than have existed from the dawn of humanity up to the last century. A total of twenty million men and women were killed on the battlefields of World War Il and an equal number as a consequence of the wars off the battlefield.

The expansionism of Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust, Stalin's domination of Eastern Europe and his Gulag archipelago, the civil terror in Communist China and in the South American dictatorships, the atrocities and genocide committed by the Chinese in Tibet, the cruelties of the South African Apartheid, the war in Korea and Vietnam, and the recent bloodshed in Yugoslavia and Rwanda are just a few salient examples of the senseless bloodshed we have witnessed during the last fity years

The human greed has also found new less violent forms of expression in the philosophy and strategy of capitalist economy emphasizing increase of the gross national product, "unlimited growth", plundering recklessly non-renewable natural resources, encouraging conspicuous consumption, and practicing "planned obsolescence". Moreover, much of this wasteful economic policy that has disastrous ecological consequences has been oriented toward production of weapons of increasing destructive power.

In the past, violence and greed had tragic consequences for the individuals involved in the internecine historical events and their immediate families. However, they did not threaten the evolution of the human species as a whole and certainly did not represent a danger for the eco system and for the biosphere of the planet. Even after the most violent wars, nature was able to recycle all the aftermath and completely recover within a few decades. This situation has changed very radically in the course of the twentieth century. Rapid technological progress, exponential growth of industrial production, massive population explosion, and particularly the discovery of atomic energy have forever changed the equations involved.

In the course of this century, we have often witnessed more major scientific and technological breakthroughs within a single decade, or even a single year, than people in earlier historical periods experienced in an entire century. However, these astonishing intellectual successes have brought modern humanity to the brink of global catastrophy, since they were not matched by a comparable growth of emotional and moral maturity. We have the dubious privilege of being the first species in natural history that has achieved the capacity to eradicate itself and destroy in the process all life on this planet. The intellectual history of humanity is one of incredible triumphs. We have been able to learn the secrets of nuclear energy, send spaceships to the moon and all the planets of the solar system, transmit sound and color pictures all over the globe and across cosmic space, crack the DNA code and start genetic engineering. …