The Biology of Town Centers — We Are Out of Balance

We are out of balance! We are out of balance with: ourselves, our community, and our environment. Many of our institutions and corporations are not serving our needs, but are looking to exploit us to serve their own. For example, we have elected officials that are more interested in staying in power than serving their constituents; or companies that promote goods that are unhealthy for the consumer.

Western civilization over the last 5,000 years or so has been on a very rocky path: from Greek and Roman cultures, to the Judeo-Christian world, to the Protestant Reformation, to today’s society based on wealth and power. If you look at the arc of western history, you see a civilization that is very aggressive, driven by the desire to compete and dominate.

Over the last 100 years or so, our planet has experienced exponential population growth, while other life forms have been marginalized or pushed into extinction. We presently have a population of over 7.3-billion. This growing population is putting stress on the planet’s biological systems.

We are presently taking poor care of ourselves. We are dealing with numerous diseases that are mainly being caused by our poor lifestyle choices. These diseases include; heart disease, lung cancer, type two diabetes, obesity, and liver disease.

What do we see when we look at the daily news? We see a society under stress. We have the breakdown of: the individual, the family, along with the community. We are involved in endless military conflicts around the world, along with growing environmental issues.

Our society is chasing the idol of wealth! We believe obtaining an over-abundance of resources is going to make us happy. For many of us, wealth creation is a competitive struggle to accumulate resources to create prestige. It is a process of taking more than we presently need from our environment, and stockpiling it for future use. This belief has created an insatiable appetite for the planets limited resources. We seem to want to become kings or gods, having dominion over all that we can survey. Through corporations, that have come to dominate our media and our political system, we are being sold a consumer vision of what life is all about. Family and community values are being replaced with a self-centered consumerism. I believe, a hollow vision of what makes our lives happy and meaningful.

Our economy functions like a food web in an ecosystem, with each living system fighting for survival and resources instead of as an organized community, that has a vision of what it wants to become. We need to decide what type of society we want to live in: one that is based on greater care and integration, or one that is based on power and aggression!

Through the concentration of resources in the hands of a wealthy elite class, our society is being divided into the haves and the have-nots. These different groups are experiencing very different worlds. This wealthy elite class has started to take on the role of a dominant control group, that is exploiting the rest of society for its own benefit. A kind of master/slave relationship. Different jobs require different levels of skills, and should be paid accordingly. However, individuals and organizations that exploit the community should be reprimanded, like a misbehaving child.

Thomas Hobbes saw community providing order and justice; allowing one to protect the fruits of one’s labor, one’s freedom, and one’s life. To Thomas Hobbes, living in nature man had absolute liberty, there were no rules. In nature man’s life is “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” You could take what you could get away with, but lived in a constant state of fear from others doing the same. Hobbes saw society as a group of individuals that enters into a “social contract” with an absolute power, that creates laws and enforces them. Individuals give up some of their natural freedom in return for protection against chaos and anarchy.

We have laws on our books that are designed to provide order and justice. But, in our society today, we are gaming the system for trying to exploit the system. It is starting to create an environment of aggression, with decreasing social order. We are returning to nature’s food web, with each man for himself. A dog eats dog world. Man, exploiting man for the benefit of wealth and power. Are we broken our social contract?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau felt that humans were born good (noble savage) and where corrupted by an unjust society. He felt living in a civil society had advantages, protection of life and property. He believed a “social contract” was needed to promote what was in the best interest of the community. He felt social bonds were strengthened by religious, governmental and educational institutions. These institutions would discourage anti-social behavior and promote civic virtue. He felt inequality in class and wealth should be removed. Rousseau saw civil liberty as being positive, liberty that was governed by the general will. Negative liberty was man’s slavery to his desires and appetites.

Today, many of our religious, governmental and educational institutions are either ineffective or corrupt. In many cases, they end up exploiting the very people they are supposed to serve. Can a better understanding of our biology help us address many of the social and environmental problems that we face? Let’s see if we can get “Back to the Garden.”

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