Sunday, May 27, 2012

Inquisition — Part 3 of 3

The Inquisition was certainly a memorable era in human history, but modern society prefers to forget it, because it’s a dark and creepy skeleton in civilization’s closet (one of countless thousands).  What can we learn from the Inquisition?  For many years I filed it under simple insanity — medieval society was insane, and the evidence for this was overwhelming.  Case closed. 
My diagnosis of insanity was correct, but incomplete.  I had assigned full blame to twisted religion, and by doing this, I missed much of the story.  I was recently looking at Witchcraze, by Anne Llewelyn Barstow, and it gave me a brisk eye-opening dope slap.
For example, around 1550, as the witch craze was picking up steam, Europe was being flooded with precious metals stolen from the Native Americans, and serious inflation was driving up the price of everything.  Population now exceeded the stratospheric levels that existed prior to the Black Death, but this time around society wasn’t rescued by major pestilence.  “Overpopulation created a land shortage, followed by the inevitable food shortages, hunger, unemployment, and unrest.” 
The merchant class remained fat and happy, but the 99% suffered in wretched poverty.  “Begging, vagabondage, homelessness, and theft increased; a vast underclass was created.  As the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer, tension between them rose.”  Old ladies and odd people weren’t the cause of the economic turbulence, but they were blamed for it, and burning them provided an effective solution, according to the magical thinking of the day.
With the arrival of the seventeenth century, conditions worsened.  Barstow described a 100 year depression that hit most of Europe.  From the early seventeenth century to the early eighteenth century, Europe was rocked with turbulence, an era that historians have labeled the General Crisis.  It was a time of abundant warfare, political conflicts, religious battles, and intellectual disputes.  Inflation led to rising prices.
The bubonic plague did not walk off the stage in 1350.  Smaller epidemics struck periodically in various widespread regions (life remained rich with filth, rats, and fleas).  English records indicate that the plague returned in 1361, 1363, 1365, 1369, 1371, 1373, 1375, 1378-82, 1390, and 1399-1400; followed by 20 acute epidemics in the fifteenth century, five in the sixteenth, and four in the seventeenth. 
For excitement and variety, Mother Nature also threw in periodic epidemics of typhus, smallpox, malaria, measles, syphilis, and dysentery.  She also thinned the cattle herds.  Rinderpest moved into Europe, and it killed 1.5 million cattle between 1709 and 1714.  During the Inquisition years, rabies spread across Europe, turning numerous canines into vicious mad dogs that aggressively attacked people without provocation, spreading an extremely painful disease that was always fatal.  This led to extermination campaigns, like one in Madrid, in which up to 900 dogs per day were killed.
Throw in a long list of regional famines.  Then add a longer list of regional wars and rebellions, like the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in which six million died.  It’s easy to see that the Inquisition era was not a time when obese peasants sat on plush couches in air conditioned family rooms, munching on corn chips, guzzling cola-flavored sugar water, playing video games, listening to music, smoking their bong, and texting their friends.
Today, trend watchers understand that collapse is now unfolding before our eyes, as we move beyond the era of cheap and abundant energy.  Time is running out for the world as we know it.  There is not unanimous agreement as to whether our collapse will be slow or catastrophic, because the future remains unknown, as usual.  But most would prefer a kinder and gentler slow collapse.  Viewed from the peak of the Roman Empire, which maintained a functional economy across much of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, the Inquisition era can be seen as part of a slow collapse, when centralized control gradually disintegrated into chaos.
The prosperous consumer societies of today are living in a manner that is radically different from the historic norm for civilized people.  Let me say that again, because this is something that most people cannot comprehend — in the 8,000 years of civilization, the normal life for most working people more closely resembled the Inquisition era than how industrial consumers live today.  In his incredible book, A New Green History of the World, Clive Ponting came to the stunning conclusion that prior to 1800 “almost everyone, everywhere in the civilized world, lived on the edge of starvation.”  Only in the last 200 years has a significant portion of humankind temporarily escaped from the traditional (civilized) norm of living in close proximity to poverty and malnutrition.
A 200 year binge on cheap fossil energy has temporarily replaced a muscle-powered way of life.  The temporary era of antibiotics, vaccines, public sanitation, and high-tech medicine has given us a brief vacation from the traditional nightmares of contagious diseases.  The temporary era of chemical-guzzling industrial agriculture had created an obesity epidemic and a catastrophic population explosion.  The temporary era of soil mining, fish mining, water mining, forest mining, and mineral mining has produced a bizarre way of life that is notable for its extreme levels of waste and pollution.  It’s hard to imagine what life in 2100 will look like, but it will bear little resemblance to the “prosperous” societies of 2000.
It is very important to understand that all of the serious crises that confront us today seem to have their roots in the domestication of plants and animals.  Prior to domestication, the wild and free way of life was vastly more functional, despite its defects.  Wild freedom was the norm for almost all of human history — it’s not a theoretical concept that dropped out of a shimmering rainbow cloud of magical thinking.  All of us carry the blood of our wild and free ancestors, and all of our newborns remain wild and free animals for the brief period prior to their plunge into the enculturation process.
Today, we are depressed, obese, unhealthy, and spend the best years of our lives performing robotic work routines in order to acquire trade trinkets that allow us to shop for things we do not need because we have an insatiable hunger for the social status that comes from hoarding vast quantities of frivolous belongings.  We periodically have large yard sales to make space in our basements and garages for piling up even more stuff that we have no real need for.  We believe that endless economic growth is possible, because we believe that technology has unlimited power to convert the living planet into unnecessary consumer products forever.
If there are still people in 2100, who will they consider to be crazier — the consumers or the witch killers?  Yes, the Inquisition may have brutally murdered a few million people, but the consumers have blindsided the health and stability of the entire living planet — the land, the seas, and the atmosphere.
It is as if our entire culture is possessed by an evil spell of self-destruction.  But spells can be broken, and curses can be lifted, if sincere bold efforts are taken, and good luck prevails.  Remember that the Inquisition ended long ago — the evil energy dispersed.  Be aware that there will also be a day when consumer society passes into history, and gets pushed into our skeleton closet of creepy old stories.  There will be a day when the last civilization dies.  One way or another, sooner or later, the craziness will pass, and the Earth will heal.
This may be the only life we ever live, and the evil curse commands that we spend it working, shopping, and being awesomely trendy — a spectacularly meaningless living-death existence — planet-killing Zombie hoarders.  We don’t have to follow the crazy herd.  We don’t have to throw away our lives foolishly obeying the fashionable whims of a crazy peer group.  If our insane society demands that we burn old ladies, or destroy living planets, we don’t have to play the game.  There are better paths.  It’s time to imagine them and pursue them.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Inquisition — Part 2 of 3

Witch Hunting

The Inquisition took a break for the Black Death (1347-1350).  Millions died in the plague — somewhere between one-quarter and three-quarters of Europeans.  For the next hundred years, those who survived enjoyed a number of benefits from the downsizing.  Labor shortages led to higher wages and cheaper rents.  Unused cropland returned to forest and pasture.  Meat and milk became more common in the peasants’ diet, and better nutrition led to better health.  Cities were cleaner and less crowded.  Wildlife populations surged and, unfortunately, so did the human population.  By 1500, Europe was once again overpopulated, undernourished, filthy, diseased, and miserable.
In the aftermath of the plague, the prestige of the Church was weakened.  People noticed that the priests, who had spent a lot of time visiting the sick, died in great numbers.  In other words, God could not be bothered to protect His own officers.  Because of this, many ceased to perceive of God as benevolent, wise, or powerful.  Many lost their faith.
After the plague, as overpopulation returned, the Church directed its attention to witches.  The peak of the Inquisition madness lasted 300 years, from 1450 to 1750.  The Inquisition ranged as far east as India, where Hindus and Muslims were fed to the holy fires.  It also went far west, to New England, where more than 35 were killed, including a five year old girl and a demonic dog.  Overall, estimates of the dead range from 60,000 to ten million, while most scholars say between 100,000 and two million.
Both the Catholics and Protestants engaged in the brutal savagery, believing that confessed witches should be burned — even if the confessions were the result of brutal bloody torture, which they considered to be an appropriate investigative tool.
A turning point came in 1487, when the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches) was published.  It was written by two Dominican priests, Henry Kramer and James Sprenger, not long after the new printing press technology arrived in Europe.  It was translated into several languages, and outsold all other books except for the Bible.  This book was essentially Witch Burning for Dummies, and it reveals the incredibly deranged mentality of the era.  Prior to this book, the Church murdered men and women in roughly equal numbers.  Once the book was printed, the focus shifted to primarily murdering women.

Witch’s Crimes

According to the Christians, witches committed a number of serious crimes.  They conjured hailstorms, sea tempests, floods, droughts, and lightening.  They caused impotence, sickness, still births, miscarriages, and death.  They were the reason why cows quit giving milk, why trees were fruitless, why wells dried up or soured, and why fields were damaged by winds, disease, or pests.  People were burned as witches for reasons including the following:
·         Smoking tobacco, the devil’s weed. 
·         Being a werewolf (a surprising number burnt for this).
·         Reciting the Lord’s Prayer to an inquisitor, and leaving a word out, or even mispronouncing a word. 
·         Being an unpopular person when sheep died, cattle were barren, crops were damaged by storms, ships sunk, or any other misfortune occurred.
·         Talking to yourself (i.e., talking to the devil).
·         Being a skilled healer — especially a female healer.  Indeed, two prime targets for inquisitors were healing witches and blessing witches.
·         Living in a manner that was “different from the faithful.”  This included people who lived alone, people who didn’t attend mass regularly, retarded or mentally ill people, and people who talked to animals, plants, or themselves.  Especially suspect were those who “cherish some inordinate love or excessive hatred.”
·         Meeting together with others, by day or night, in sheds, barns, remote fields, or woods.  Especially suspect were those who sang, recited verse, or danced.
·         Being a friend, relative, servant, or guest of a suspected witch — or giving gifts to, visiting, or providing shelter to a suspect.
·         Weeping for a beloved friend or relative who was screaming at the top of her lungs while being burned alive.
·         Being a woman and having a “privie marke” (birthmark, scar, mole, etc.) on your lips, buttocks, genitals, or under your arms or hair.  The inquisitor Reginald Scot noted that the discovery of these marks was “a presumption sufficient for the judge to proceed and give sentence of death upon her.” 

Witch Finding

Witch finding became a profitable profession.  Skilled men wandered from town to town exposing suspected heretics.  Some of these witch finders were called common prickers.  They drove long needles into suspected witches and watched for blood to emerge.  If there was no blood, this was proof of heresy, and the suspect was burned. 
Other witch-finders exposed heretics by swimming them.  Suspects were tied up, wrapped in a large sheet, and put into deep water.  If they sank, their friends and relatives had the poor consolation that the drowned woman was innocent.  If they were carefully laid on the water, they usually floated (the wrappings contained enough buoyant air).  Floating was certain and indisputable evidence of heresy, and floaters were burned.
Once women came under the suspicion of being witches, their lives became hell.  One story tells of two old grandmother types who were thus suspected.  They went to a herring market and ordered fish.  When the shopkeeper refused to serve them, one of the ladies gave him a piece of her mind.  Shortly after, the daughter of the herring dealer died — proof of a witch’s curse — and two old ladies burned.
In another case a little girl had repeated neurotic experiences and blamed these on an old neighbor lady.  Her father grabbed the old lady, stuck her with pins to see if she bled, and pulled out a chunk of her hair to use as a charm.  For some reason, the old lady cursed him.  Fifteen months later the girl died — proof of witchcraft.  The old lady was burned, along with her husband and daughter.
The more witches that were burned, the more they found to burn.  In the rural township of Piedmont, France, every family had lost at least one member to the witch finders.  The Inquisition became a major industry, with the victim’s assets being seized and split up between the judges, priests, scribes, guards, physicians, and torturers.  Innkeepers became wealthy providing lodging to the surging crowds of execution spectators.  Workaholic executioners wore the finest clothing and glittered with gold and silver ornaments.
Old women were the primary targets.  During one period, zero woman over 40 remained alive in some regions of Germany’s Rhineland.  People of both sexes, all professions, and all social classes were burned.  The poor, the unwell, the simple, and the mentally ill had the most to fear.  In some places the fear got so big that poorer women prayed that they would not live to grow old. 
With time people became wary of talking to one another.  Even boys from wealthy and noble families were burned.  Nobody was immune from the holy savagery.  Nobody was safe to talk to.  If someone was arrested, tortured, and commanded to identify their demonic accomplices, they would likely name their friends — the first names to come to mind. 

The Holy Process

If you were named by a friend who was out of her mind with excruciating pain, because she was being burned with a red-hot iron by her parish priest in the church basement, you were promptly arrested, and brought in for questioning.
Questions included:  When did you become a witch?  Why did you become a witch?  If you refused to answer these loaded questions you were displaying the well-known demonic trait of taciturnity.  If you displayed taciturnity you were promptly taken to the torture chamber, to loosen up your wicked tongue. 
Torture took a number of forms, and all were brutal, violent, and painful.  It was common to die while being tortured.  The torture continued until you confessed or died.  There were no limits to how cruelly or how frequently the priests could torture you — they were free to do whatever they wanted.  It was OK to viciously torture you 20 times — cut you, burn you, break your bones, rip out your fingernails — as befitted the mood of the day.
So, let’s say that you were named by a friend, brought in for questioning, survived the torture, and confessed.  You would then be taken back to the interrogation room and asked to confess once again, without torture, so that this confession would be “freely” given, without coercion.  If you refused to make a free confession then you were taken back to the torture chamber for another round of unbearable pain.
Once having made a “free” confession you were handed over to the courts.  In some cases, the authorities would not even inform you of the charges against you.  Generally you were charged with impossible acts like flying on a broom to a witch’s gathering and having sex with demons.  You were presumed to be guilty and the burden was on you to prove your innocence.  The names of your accusers were often kept secret.  Trials were not open to the public. 
Unlike ordinary civil law, the prosecutors of the Inquisition accepted testimony from anyone — even children, felons, mortal enemies, and notorious liars.  Bizarre hearsay and outrageous rumors were gladly accepted as valid evidence.  You could not bring in witnesses to offer testimony about your good character.  In fact anyone who spoke in your defense was assumed to be an accomplice in evil.
Judges were interested in two things only — your confession of guilt and the names of your accomplices.  Nobody was ever found to be not guilty.  At best, and rarely, the court would find that the charges were “not proven” — which left the door open for another round of the game later.  Essentially, everyone accused was found guilty.  The lucky ones were mercifully strangled before being burned.  The less lucky ones were burned alive.  The least lucky were sent to miserable, filthy, verminous dungeons for a slower version of death.
For centuries the skies of Europe were darkened by the smoke of burning witches.  The Inquisition was run by the most educated, most Christian, most respectable people of the era.  They apparently believed that decent society was in immanent threat of overthrow by subversive forces — who were mostly harmless old ladies, mental cases, and eccentric folks.  Or was it simply mass hysteria?  The reign of terror was enthusiastically promoted by both church and state.
After years and years of exposure to the murderous madness, children were brainwashed into believing that the Inquisition’s portrait of diabolical witchcraft was real.  Adults were terrified to utter a single peep of protest.  With the passage of generations the belief that little old ladies flew off on brooms to have sex with demons became an accepted and unquestionable “truth.”
The Inquisition was a war on heresy, to reinforce the power of an entrenched plutocracy.  Having an official enemy to fear and hate diverted attention away from the lavish lifestyles of the elite, and the misery of daily life in medieval times.  Was this a cleverly-planned strategy of domination, or was it simply an unconscious outburst of collective bad craziness?
Today, the highly-educated leaders of prosperous industrial nations are united in a loud chant: “More growth!  More growth!  More growth!” — as the human juggernaut races past countless flashing warning signs towards the edge of the cliff.  Bad craziness often seems to be civilization’s shadow. 
Barstow, Anne Llewelyn, Witchcraze, Pandora, San Francisco, 1994.
Kramer, Henry and Sprenger, James, Malleus Maleficarum (1487).
Lea, Henry Charles, The Inquisition of the Middle Ages (1887), abridged by Margaret Nicholson, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1961.
Mackay, Charles, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Vol. II  (1841), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1932.
Robbins, Rossel Hope, The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Crown Publishers, NY, 1959.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Inquisition — Part 1 of 3

This is the first of three blogs on the Inquisition, which occurred during an era of corruption, plutocracy, overpopulation, homelessness, crime, health crises, and economic breakdown.  During periods of heightened social stress, there seems to be a tendency to create scapegoats and lash out at them.  Pressurized fear and anger need a relief valve, and when mass hysteria arrives, reason and compassion go out the window.
Hitler stomped the Jews, the Rwandan Hutus stomped the Tutsis, and in the twenty-first century, I sense that immigrants are becoming the preferred scapegoats in America, Europe, and elsewhere.  Today, we have no quick and easy solutions for overpopulation, Peak Cheap Energy, or a global economy that is terminally ill.  The pressure is growing.

Wealth & Corruption

The Inquisition had two phases, separated by the Black Death.  In the first phase, heretics were the primary targets.  In the second phase, it was mostly witches.  The official kickoff began in 829, when the Council of Paris fearfully announced that the whole country was swarming with enchanters, prophets, gonfaloniers, sibyls, poisoners, diviners, and necromancers.  The council issued a decree that all of these satanic forces should be punished without mercy.  Despite these threatening pronouncements, not much happened at first.
Trouble intensified in the mid-eleventh century, when the Catholic Church officially began requiring the priesthood to remain celibate, which separated them from the people.  This created two classes: shepherds and sheep.  Henry Charles Lea wrote that the church became exceedingly corrupt, and it attracted large numbers of “worldly, ambitious, self-seeking, and licentious men.”  Most priests had at least one concubine, few were truly celibate.  They made fortunes by fleecing their flocks.  Lea said that abbeys often “became centers of corruption and disturbance, the nunneries scarce better than houses of prostitution, and the monasteries feudal castles where the monks lived riotously and waged war upon their neighbors….”  
Many thousands of Catholics abandoned their religion because it had become obscenely corrupt.  They joined other spiritual movements.  Two of the most popular alternatives were the Waldenses (Poor Men of Lyons), and the Albigenses (Cathars).  At their peak, these two groups were more popular than the Catholic Church in southern France, northern Italy, and northern Spain.  Some scholars claim that these groups were vestigial survivors of the original Jesus movement — older than the Catholic Church.  In 1184, Pope Lucius III declared both groups to be heretical.  In 1209, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against them — their existence could not be tolerated.


The founder of the Waldenses was Peter Waldo, a rich merchant from Lyons, France.  In 1175 a preacher instructed him to give his belongings to the poor and follow the teachings of Jesus.  So he did.  Waldo became a begging teacher and quickly had a large following.  At a time when the Catholic Church was rotten with riches, Waldo taught that apostolic poverty (voluntary simplicity) was the way to perfection.  The pope did not allow lay people, like Waldo, to teach.  But he did.
The Waldenses’ big offense was making Bible scriptures available to ordinary people.  In the Catholic Church the scriptures were written in Latin, and only clerics could read them.  The Waldenses translated the scriptures into the local languages, and laboriously duplicated them by hand, with pen and ink.  Many also committed large portions of the scriptures to memory. 
In this era, it was common for successful people to donate their property and treasure to the Church when they died.  As the centuries passed, the Church amassed huge amounts of land and riches.  Popes lived lavish lives of phenomenal luxury in massive palaces.  Many members of the clergy lived in great affluence.  Arnold of Brescia was a renegade cleric who taught that the clergy should give away all property and power, and live as beggars — in order to be authentic disciples.  Pope Innocent II didn’t care for this teaching, and in 1130 he excommunicated and banished Arnold.  Two hundred years later, the Church officially banned anyone from teaching that Jesus and his apostles lived a life of poverty.
Well, if you couldn’t read the Bible, you couldn’t know that the Church was wrong.  When the Waldenses gave common people access to the scriptures, they could readily perceive the Church’s profound deceit and hypocrisy.  The story about Jesus and the rich man is not the slightest bit fuzzy or ambiguous.  “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” he said.  “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Can you understand that?
With access to the scriptures, ordinary folks soon saw that few Church officials were living in accordance with the teachings of the Bible.  Meanwhile, the Church was extremely faithful about eagerly collecting tithes and fees from everyone, at every opportunity.  This made folks angry.
Waldenses regularly disputed the false teachings of the priests, and embarrassed them by accurately quoting the scriptures in the Bible.  This made the Church patriarchs hopping mad, and eager to burn them all.  The Waldenses grew quickly and spread.  Their goal was to illuminate the masses, and cleanse Christendom of its entrenched exploitation, thievery, lies, and corruption.
In a nutshell, the Waldenses believed that people should interact directly with God — no clerical intermediary was needed — prayers spoken in a stable were as effective as prayers said in a great cathedral.  They did not see the Pope as being the supreme leader of Christendom.  They detested indulgences — paying money to priests to have sins forgiven.  They didn’t believe that prayers could inspire the salvation of those already dead.  They allowed women to be teachers.
Even their enemies said that the Waldenses were pious, virtuous, and peaceful — they authentically walked their talk.  Their crime was that they wouldn’t dance to the pope’s music, and the Church persecuted and exterminated them.  Many Waldenses, when offered the opportunity to return to the Catholic fold, preferred prison or death.


The Albigenses similarly lived simple lives of voluntary poverty, and rejected the authority of the Catholic Church.  They were pacifists who believed in celibacy (even between husband and wife), and they shunned foods related to sexual reproduction — eggs, cheese, milk, and meat.  They baptized by laying on hands, instead of using water.  God and Satan were equal in power — God ran the spiritual business in heaven, and Satan ran the evil business on Earth.  They did not accept the Old Testament as a sacred text.  They translated the New Testament books, and made these scriptures available to common people.  They were hard working folks who always treated others with kindness, honesty, and fairness. 
The Albigenses were extraordinarily pious and morally rigorous.  All they wanted was to be left alone, to worship as they pleased.  The Catholic Church was close to disappearing in southern France, because of large-scale abandonment.  To re-conquer this region, the pope launched the Albigensian Crusades in 1209.  The invasion lasted more than 20 years, and hundreds of thousands died. 
The local Catholics joined the Albigenses in resisting the pope’s invaders.  In July 1209 the crusaders came to B├ęziers and demanded that the Albigenses be turned over to them.  The request was refused.  The city was invaded and burned down.  Everyone was exterminated — man, woman, and child.  When the head crusader was asked if the Catholics should be spared, he spoke the famous response: “Kill them all!  God will recognize His own.”  Up to 20,000 were exterminated that day — about 200 were Albigenses and the rest were Catholics, according to some sources.  Four years later, in 1213, the crusaders exterminated 20,000 people in Garonne.  In 1218 another 5,000 were killed in Marmande.  There were many other massacres in this crusade.
The Waldenses and Albigenses suffered mass extermination because they questioned authority, because they would not submit to authority, and because they would not hand their hard-earned money over to an authority that they considered to be corrupt.  These exterminations were not isolated events.  Many groups of non-conformist Christians were crushed in the history of Christendom, and countless people perished.
For example, on August 24, 1572 the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place.  This time, the victims were Huguenots — French Protestants.  Estimates of the dead range as high as 100,000.  The nation’s rivers were filled with corpses.  This massacre has been cited as a major reason why the US Constitution includes the right to own guns — so citizens could protect themselves from fanatical religions.  Many early American colonists were Protestants fleeing from the tyranny of the Vatican (but most of these escapees then turned around and violently tyrannized the indigenous Native American inhabitants). 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Earth Alive

Stan Rowe (1918-2004) was a Canadian scholar whose career meandered from forestry, to botany, and finally to ecological ethics — a new field of study in which he gained attention for his outside-the-box thinking.  His book Earth Alive is a collection of essays that explore the importance of ecocentrism, a mode of thinking that embraces the entire planet, and is committed to its healing and wellbeing. 
Ecocentrism is a healthy alternative to the worldview that’s killing the ecosystem — humanism.  Almost everyone in the modern world suffers to some degree from morbid humanism, a belief that humans were created in the image of God, are the best and the greatest, and can do whatever they wish with the Earth, because God made it just for them.  “Among infantile beliefs, the idea that Earth was made for the pleasure and profit of the human species ranks first.”  It’s like worshipping sacred fish while rendering their pond uninhabitable via toxic pollution.
Rowe was careful to distinguish between biocentric (yuk!) and ecocentric (yum!).  A biocentric view is limited to living organisms only.  But life is far more than organisms.  Organisms cannot survive without sunlight, air, water, and soil.  Ecocentric embraces the whole enchilada.  We need to care about everything.  Rowe recommended that we call ourselves Earthlings, so that we could form an identity with this planet, the mother of our existence.  We should think of ourselves as Earthlings first, and humans second. 
In his college years, Rowe studied prairies, and they fascinated him.  The wild prairies of Nebraska were essentially unchanged by the passage of thousands of years, while the lands of his European ancestors were a never-ending hell broth of raiding, raping, pillaging, and ecological destruction.  During the ‘40s, his professor was horrified to watch the sacred prairies plowed out of existence and converted into cropland.  A precious treasure was senselessly destroyed, and the health of the land was diminished with each pass of the tractor.  Ecocentric Earthlings naturally harbor a deep and passionate contempt for agriculture.
Agriculture was the most radical change in Earthling life since we learned to control fire, and it led to the emergence of cities and civilizations.  Cities are absolutely unsustainable.  The average adult spends 95 percent of his life indoors, and the new world of digital telecommunication isolates us even farther from the family of life.  Eco-psychologists refer this alienation as EDD, Earth Deficiency Disease.
Cities are also crazy.  Urban culture is a nightmare of unsustainable fantasies that are completely disconnected from ecological reality.  “In short, Western culture — more and more city-based, further and further removed from any grounding in Earth-wisdom — systematically drives its citizens insane.  A society that renders its citizens mad must itself be mad.”
Earthlings should regard nature as being sacred, so we will treat it with care and respect.  Instead, we indulge in magical thinking about “sustainability” and “good stewardship.”  But in the real world, we are heading for disaster because our God-word is “growth.”  We will not protect what we do not love. 
Ideally, everyone should live in wild places, surrounded by nature.  But the herd is migrating to cities.  “The city is an unhealthy place for those who want to come home at least once before they die.”  Not surprisingly, soon after Rowe retired, he promptly abandoned the big city and moved to a remote and gorgeous hamlet, population: 650.  He had a powerful love for the natural world, and he enjoyed walking. (“Our two best doctors are our legs.”) 
Children are far more open to forming a bond with the natural world, if they are ever exposed to it.  This bond is a normal and healthy Earthling experience, and it can last a lifetime.  What is not normal is growing up in a humanist culture, where they unconsciously absorb the toxic worldview by osmosis.  Humanist education is a central cause of the problem, because it devotes little or no attention to ecology or natural history.  Illiterate people harm the planet far less than the well-educated.  And multinational religions tend to direct our attention away from the living creation that surrounds us, and have us look inward, to contemplate other-worldly dimensions.
The humanist culture is extremely proud of the wonders of modern technology.  Modern living is seen to be a great advancement over the primitive lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  But is it really?  Not if our standards of judgment focus on sustainability — by far the best standard of excellence and high intelligence.  Self-destructive cultures are for losers, despite their smart phones and big screen TVs.
Our pre-civilized ancestors had an ecocentric worldview. But modern Earthlings can’t acquire a healthier worldview by popping a pill, watching a PowerPoint presentation, or reading anthropology books.  A good worldview is rooted in place, and consumer society resides in a placeless world, where every main street looks the same (McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Toyota…).  Healthy change will take time.
What can we do?  Rowe concluded this book with A Manifesto for Earth, in which he describes the changes needed, none of which are quick and easy.  Humanism simply has no long-term future, it’s a dead end.  We need ecocentric spirituality, ecocentric education, and ecocentric living.  We need to escape from our miserable boxes, race outdoors, and return home.
For most of us, our worldview is as invisible as the air we breathe.  We accept it without question and rarely think about it.  Our entire society is on the same channel, everywhere we go, which reinforces the misconception that our worldview is normal. 
Green thinkers are searching for a new vision, but it’s really not a great hidden mystery.  Rowe shouts the obvious:  “Look!  The new vision surrounds us in the trees and the flowers, in the clouds and the rivers, in the mountains and the sea….  The new vision is out there and always has been.  It is the spring of inspiration, the source of whatever good has been discovered within the human mind.”
Rowe, Stan, Earth Alive — Essays on Ecology, NeWest Press, Edmonton, Alberta, 2006.  A number of Rowe’s essays can be accessed at: