On this blog, we pursue dialogue and seek to envision how a sustainable humanity would look like and what is needed to work towards it. We do not wish to promote blunt depictions of human nature that confront readers with extreme behavior to shock them and provoke emotional responses. Instead, we believe that rising to higher levels of consciousness by coming to understand our true nature and purpose is a more effective way to inspire advancement than emphasizing our failures.
However, this video also conveys a perspective that has many supporters and touches on some key prevalent conceptions of humans’ relationship to nature. Ceaseless searching for the values that are to shape a new way of being and doing, one that is desperately needed for humanity to evolve towards its maturity, should not be done in isolation. To offer alternatives to the current modus operandi, we must be well informed of current attitudes and beliefs, and we must be ready to face different perspectives. Indeed, very often we come up against statements that belittle our vision and dismiss it as purely idealistic. This means that it is of the utmost importance to develop the capacity to articulate ideas that legitimize a position that rises above the materialistic thinking widespread in today’s society.
That’s why we think it’s important to analyze Man by Steve Cutts. There is a lot to say. After a brief review of the film, we will narrow down our analysis to two main lines of enquiry: 1. Exploring how a crucial part of the solution to the mounting environmental crisis is to move beyond the conception of human nature presented here, and 2. Reviewing a few practical steps we can collectively take to avoid being decimated by aliens — or turning our planet into a dump, whichever you fear most.
Man. The title couldn’t be clearer: it’s about us. More specifically, it’s about the “essence” of us which has passed through the ages and centuries, unchanged, unaltered. The very first image sets the tone: Nature is undisturbed, in a state of quiet delight. And suddenly, out of nowhere, MAN shows up. Uninvited. Already imbued with self-righteousness. Already endowed with a recklessness rarely seen before, one that will characterize Man throughout his short sojourn on Earth. But, hey! See how he’s waving at us. How can we dislike him? And merrily he goes, like a paunchy king in his realm.
Then, the fateful moment. Five seconds in which the destiny of mankind as a whole might change dramatically — no, it’s not about the apple. That’s the kids’ story. Was it a moment of reflection? We will never know. The upshot is that Man makes a decision. He chooses to gratuitously crush the tiniest of creatures that cross his path, and derives instant gratification from it. Thus begins a pattern that will only grow in scale and pace — a pattern in which nothing is left outside of Man’s reach, in which he exercises his greed at will, like a conductor leading a deadly symphony. Unfettered. Unchecked. Man’s foolish recklessness transforms into relentless cruelty. Unrestrained. A folly that only ceases when nothing is left to annihilate. Man, delighted and replete until the end, did not realize for a moment that he was the first victim of his own madness.
What does the ending teaches us? Is of all of creation devoid of consciousness? Does our universe revolve around the principle “what goes around comes around,” thus locking us in an endless cycle of domination by the “fittest”? (And, most importantly, who’s going to kill those aliens?)
Cutts’ short animated film is polished and deserves credit for helping to raise awareness about the catastrophe we are rushing towards if business as usual in everything related to our natural environment continues. The pressing question, though, is how casting Man in this light will motivate us to change our ways. When teaching children how to be courteous, we don’t show them how to be rude.
The capacity for attraction to beauty — in manners, in nature, in a scientific theory — is inherent in every human being. If we were convinced of our inner nobility, if we were taught about the limitless potentialities latent within human consciousness and accompanied in developing them, we would gain a clearer understanding of the condition that could be ours and strive to achieve it.
It is true that we are capable of the lowliest actions and that Cutts’ depictions of their implications are not mere exaggerations. In that sense, we are at the last degree of darkness. But it is equally true that we are at the beginning of light.
It is our responsibility, then, to make a conscious choice. Once our current conception of human nature shifts from one that only considers greed and self-interest to one that recognizes our true nobility, we will be better equipped to choose and walk a path leading to ever-higher levels of excellence in the human condition.
Now that we have reflected on why it is vital to be clear on the most fundamental belief we have — who we are — let’s consider a few steps that can be taken with this new conception in mind to collectively set us on a more sustainable path.
The possibilities are endless. We will briefly explore three main avenues for action, all related to our patterns of production and consumption.
– Science and technology
The processes by which knowledge is generated and applied to contribute to scientific and technological progress are often shaped by materialistic worldviews. Much of this activity is carried out by a minority of the world’s population to fulfill that minority’s own aims, and is therefore divorced from the needs of the masses. Opening up scientific and technological activity to people everywhere, through education, will help reorient a process that currently mainly serves the elite, to a process that is concerned with the welfare of the whole. By empowering all people, according to their capacities, to take part in generating and applying knowledge, scientific and technological research will get off the beaten path to search for never-thought-of-before, innovative solutions, ones that would have a lower environmental footprint.
Already, in many places, people have tapped into their creativity and resourcefulness to develop ingenious solutions in the face of constraints. This capacity to do “more with less” and turn limitations into opportunities even has a name, Jugaad, a Hindi word that refers to these specific problem-solving skills. For instance, a man from the Assam region of northern India who made his daily commute to work by bike found a way to turn the potholes on the road into a means of going faster! He added a device to his bike to convert the shock of the potholes into “accelerating energy”. This shows us the value of a mindset in which simplicity is a key principle in innovation. This approach, called “frugal innovation” by some, has inspired some companies to develop clever products. There is still a long way to go, but the trend will be interesting to follow.
– The purpose of work
Today, the purpose of work has largely been reduced to gainful employment aimed at acquiring the necessary means for the consumption of available goods. This conception sustains and brings about the expansion of the production of goods and services — and this very production is what supports paid employment. This circular system (acquisition + consumption > production > employment > acquisition, etc.) not only locks people in a cycle of endless consumption, but also keeps a large segment of the population at the margins of society by refusing to recognize as productive work any activity one engages in and does not get paid for.
Shifting from this conception to a conception in which work is viewed as service to humanity would allow the community, as one of the three protagonists of change, to benefit from the immense capacities latent within individuals, with everyone participating, however modestly, in the advancement of society. Furthermore, with a conception of work that goes beyond mere satisfaction of personal wants and needs, selfishness will fall away in favor of greater concern for the needs of all people, and this will reshape our essential relationships and strengthen the fabric of community life. With this new mindset, we will not consider nature as a limitless pool of goods to be exploited. Rather we will see ourselves as its trustees.
So, MAN, where are you heading?