The great lie of living on a dead planet

June 22, 2016

Profile photo of Joe Brewer


The biggest lies hide right out in the open. They are so pervasive that we simply do not have eyes to see them. Our brains are hardwired for novelty and difference — so we filter out common things like the nose that is always in our line of sight. No one has to conceal these things because our minds do the work for us.

Look around with fresh eyes and you will see a world teeming with life. Your skin is covered with microscopic organisms alive in the endless drama of birth, death, and renewal. Every cell in your body is a participant in the grand orchestra that is you. The air is filled with pollen and spores floating in a ballet-like menagerie of asexual reproduction. And those are just the things you can’t see.

Step outside and you’ll note grasses and shrubs, trees and birds, a veritable Noah’s Ark of living beings all shuttling through time and space on this latest journey around the Sun. This world of ours is ALIVE and we are a part of it.

And yet, the great lie lurks in every corner. Hides in every shadow. Lays in waiting to guide every action. We have been told by modern science that the Universe started as a big-bang-explosion of dead matter. That this dense burst of light came forth into being as pure energy, then particles, then atoms… and eventually the clockworks of our mechanical universe giving rise to tiny robots — machines that churn chemical soups into animate objects with theappearance of being alive.

Crazy as this may sound, this is the hidden assumption that tells us we are separate from nature. That economies work apart from (and are superior to) environments. That the Earth is our God-given territory to be exploited and consumed as we see fit.

We are told this in the political rhetoric of “life at conception” presuming there was nothing sacred in the chemical flows of egg and sperm before a spirit “entered” the body. It is what guides our corporate CEO’s as they lay waste to the planet in search of new investment opportunities to turn a quick profit, to hell with the consequences. It is what makes us feel alienated and alone in the tiny cubicles and private residences that separate us from our fellow humans and the extended family of living things that evolved together with us (and long before us) on Earth for a continuous stretch of 3,800,000,000 years.

This is why we created industrial machines that consume decayed bodies of flesh (carbon fuel) to feed our factories.

This is what compelled us to spew industrial pollutants into the air that has destabilized the Earth’s climate.

This is why we turn the other way when children “over there” work slave labor in sweat shops.

This is why we rape the land with the same voracity that we consume pornography and use sex to sell the products fabricated in these factories.

It is all connected. There is a tapestry of relationships underlying our denial of the fundamental truth that the Earth is alive and we are merely a part of it.

The great conceit of the Modern Era (and its antecedents that go all the way back to the birth of agriculture some 10,000 years ago) is that the world is made up of dead things and we — the blessed living souls — can do with it as we please.

I find solace in naming this lie.

It reminds me of something I’ve always felt in my bones, as the blood courses through my veins, and when my heart quickens at the loving touch of a friend. I know in the deepest reservoirs of my soul that I am a part of this incredible Cosmic Dance. Realizing that an unbroken chain of mothers and daughters stretches back deep into antiquity is a profound healing elixir for all the traumas great and small that I have experienced in my life or that I have unwittingly caused in others during my days of sleepwalking.

Now I am awake.

Fully awake and aware that my body is an orchestra of cooperation among billions of tiny living creatures — the cells of my body. That I am like the wave forming on the surface of a great ocean that seems solid enough as it smacks the shore. Yet closer inspection shows that this solidity of form is an illusion. In truth, the wave is a rise-and-fall motion for millions of tiny water molecules dancing together for a precious moment.

Thus is my life a cosmic dance of illusory solidness. I am a living being. I sense and feel. I know my place is among the living. The older scientific metaphor of a clockwork universe has been replaced by the systemic point-of-view that now tells us everything is a network. It is all connected. The Earth is alive!

Now is the time to update our mental frames, see the world with new eyes.

Lift the veil of the Great Lie of a Dead Planet before it’s too late. Our species has exploded onto the world stage in the last hundred years — our population crescendoing into the billions for the first and perhaps only time — a veritable wave of humanity crashing on a planetary shore. We are in the most violent moment of felt solidity. Planetary boundaries are quickly passed and the journey becomes precarious.

It is now that we must all realize we are part of this world. That it is an unbroken chain of life that can easily continue without us. And yet, we are the unique species capable of understanding and yes — of loving — the world that is our birthplace. Imagine all the awe, all the beauty, expressed in our great works of human art throughout history. Each inspired in some fashion by nature itself because we are nature itself.

Now imagine all that awe, all that beauty, going away because we were asleep at the wheel of a great soulless machine. That we realized too late that this metaphor got it all wrong. The Universe is alive. The Earth is alive. And we too, in this very moment, are alive. There is no soulless machine. there is only us and our dreams that we fabricate in the cultural mythologies of our lives.

Herein the dead planet can be magically transformed by a simple shift in perspective. And all the possibilities of creativity guided in love for a future yet-to-be-explored become viable once more.

Yes, humanity is in a precarious place right now.

When we realize that the task before us is to re-orient how we relate to the world and, more importantly, how we relate to ourselves. That is when we begin the spiritual healing that will make us worthy of being stewards on a Spaceship Earth filled with trillions of living beings whose existence has already been touched by our reckless disconnection from ourselves.

We can re-make this connection instantaneously by simply realizing that we were never separated in the first place. This is a task for each moment of the rest of our lives. It is the healing elixir for our wounded souls. And the time is now for all of us to drink from it and find the fountain of youth was hidden in plain sight all along.

Onward, fellow humans.

9 thoughts on “The great lie of living on a dead planet”

  1. Anita Lewis says:

    We all travel different paths toward enlightenment, hoping that we can some day feel that we did make an honest effort to accomplish some good deeds. Joe shares some thoughts of personal journey from sleepwalking through awakening to hope that others will wise-up.
    I like the idea that our planet will be just fine until we lose our Goldilocks position in the universe. We may make it uninhabitable for humans, but life life forms will come and go. And, whose to say that there haven’t been many, many different sentient beings and civilizations, but who had been totally bio-degradable, and disappeared without a trace.
    Thank you for these thought-provoking articles. And, tell me again…about the fountain of youth?

  2. Chuck Watts says:

    Your article reminded me of a couple of things: One is the Ash Wednesday liturgy of my church. Participants present themselves to receive an ashes smudge on their forehead with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Another is a recent project of the Ohio Sustainable Business Council to get Ohio to embrace the same Benefit Corporation language that 31 other states has embraced. The State Bar would not endorse the bill as written but rather changed the wording to “community OR environment” from “community AND environment” which changes the meaning significantly. It’s pretty amazing that the Ohio Bar Association does not believe it’s a part of the environment!

  3. William Stahl says:

    I appreciate your article. I would like to mention that in that in the 1970s there was this amazing scientific hypothesis , “The Gaian Hypothesis”. It was conceived by James LoveLock and Lynn Margulis. There was a tremedous push back against the science generated by this idea. Finally in 2000 it was accepted as a valid scientific theory. It is now known as Earth Systems Science. But for a time in the late 60s 70s and early 80s the earth was alive. Then President Ronald Regan led the push back of Neo Liberalism. And we came one again to see our planet as dead rather than our mother. James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis are worth careful reading.

    Thank you,

  4. ZK Green says:

    Great, thought-provoking read.

  5. Connection, communication ,consciousness, all come together in telling the new story. I’ve always been an’alternative’ type from early 70’s dropout back to the land to my current life in rural Wales. Thankyou for your article

  6. Jack O'Malley says:

    Some people may have trouble believing that the Earth is alive. Please consider this: The human (and other living beings) body heals itself. The doctors don’t heal us, the body does.

    If you quit tilling the soil and pouring chemicals on it, the earth heals itself, and becomes fertile (without made materials).

    The Earth is alive.

  7. Susanne says:

    your article reminds me of Brian Swimme “journey of the universe” which many years ago one wintertime I translated into german to make it available to some, who did not speak english that well. Is still one of my inspirations to go further

  8. Michael Laybourn says:

    But how to get back in balance with the earth? Learning about local food and goods is a good start.
    Walk in the mountains or in the desert and smell the air and thank the earth.
    Thank the earth and give back to the earth.
    My worm friends like my scraps to make compost
    Realize the value of water
    and let no one kill the water.
    A historic moment has occurred at Standing Rock as First Nation People from all over our hemisphere
    Tell us: “We Are Protecting The water”. We can all understand that. If we listen.

  9. Margaret Kuchnia says:

    Interesting article. Just to link us fully in to the natural world, are you aware that we harbor many more bacterial cells than human ones? Most writers say for each bodily one, there are 10 bacterial cells, called collectively the microbiome. This raises the question of who’s in charge here. The bacteria perform many important functions for us and we provide them with a place to thrive.

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Trump: Join us in connecting the dots

The election of Donald Trump has left millions, maybe even billions of us in shock. Although we may be looking with bewilderment at the US today, we should remember that he is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a symptom of a sickness that is raging all around the world. People are hurting, disillusioned with mainstream politics and increasingly angry at a neoliberal economic system that is destroying lives and the planet with increasing ferocity. And in their desperation they are willing to consider extreme measures to make themselves heard.

Demagogues thrive amid fear and insecurity, which is why they paint the world in such dark terms. It’s a strategy that has put right-wing populist leaders in power in an Axis of Egos: from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines to Russia, authoritarian strongmen like Trump are on the rise. Meanwhile, many centrist liberals, like the Democratic Party in the US, have been so intent on rejecting left-wing populist solutions, and so sure of their ability to beat anyone running on a white supremacy platform with its misogyny and homophobia, that they opened the door for Mr. Trump to walk straight through. Their preference is always to maintain the status quo that has served them so well.

As dangerous as the election of Trump is for the world, we can also see in this moment the truth that we simply cannot rely on the electoral political system to save us, because it is designed to prevent the fundamental change we need. Its own survival is at stake and it will marshal all its champions and resources to defend itself and stop the emergence of a new system. But when we work, or continue working for change from the ground up; when we build or keep on building new ways of living and being with each other where we live; when we construct or keep constructing the future we know is possible with our own hands, rather than hoping distant leaders will build it for us, we find our true power. Finally, when we combine that with the unbending hope that has powered change through the ages, we know our power has meaning.

A 400-year-old economic system is dying and another is struggling to be born. Change on this scale is not going to be smooth or easy. We should not be surprised, then, that moments like this — where the establishment is dealt a body blow — become more and more common. We can despair when that blow comes in the form of right-wing extremists, or we can step-up. We are the ones we are looking for, who can and must grasp the opportunities in these crises that are undoubtedly there.

So it’s time to come together, taking time to remember the earth. Remember all the successful struggles for justice that came before us, and imagine all those to come. Remember that social movements are growing all over the world and realising the common struggle. Remember life. Then, organise. Find each other and help midwife the inevitable transition that brings forth from the ashes of neoliberal capitalism a system that works for the good of all life on Mother Earth. This is not just activism; this is our responsibility as human beings alive as this all unfolds.

This is why we are here.