In episode we discuss the concept of Druids vs. Transhumanists, rediscovering a new and ancient story, and how living and dying well are more important than survival. A read an article a number of years ago entitled Druids vs. Transhumanists which has proven to be a useful framework for understanding the world. The article postulated that the emerging cultural divide could be thought of as one between those going back to nature and more traditional and holistic ways of living (the “Druids”) versus those seeking to transcend nature through technology (the “Transhumanists”).

When I read this article more than a decade ago I was decidedly a transhumanists. As an undergrad philosophy major I came to realize that all the disciplines I was studying in my liberal arts college shared the metaphysical premise that we live in universe consisting of dead matter. That consciousness was emergent not integral to matter, and that if there was such a thing as a soul it was separate from matter.

This worldview is sometimes referred to a “reductionist materialism.” Which simply means the belief that all things can be understood and explained by reducing them to their most basic material causes. The immaterial from this perspective is irrelevant or non-existent.

During this time I became a staunch atheist. If matter was dead and soul was irrelevant life was nothing more than a fight for survival in a dead universe. This worldview led to a deep feeling of disconnection and separation. During this time I was attracted to many things that might be considered transhumanist.

I recall passionately arguing in one paper that colonization of Mars was a moral imperative. It seemed insane not to. We could not risk the survival of the species by limiting ourselves to one fragile planet. Survival was too important. Survival was everything. We must survive at any cost.

In a similar vein I explored cognitive science and efforts to extend human lifespans and even upload consciousness to machines in order to achieve virtual immortality. Death was a disease that needed to be eradicated. Technological transcendence of dead matter and virtual immortality was our destiny. It felt inevitable and necessary.

Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite living public intellectuals, describes this as the Ascent of Humanity. The story of dominant culture is one of humanity’s ascent beyond physical limitations through technological means. This is the origin story of technological civilization. Transhumanism is the natural conclusion of this story of separation. 

Since my awakening I’ve been living into a different story. It is the story of what Eisenstein calls interbeing. The idea that we are not only connected but that we are one. Harm to others is harm to self. What you damn damns you. What you love loves you. This worldview has the metaphysical premise that we live in a universe consisting of alive matter. One where consciousness and matter are one. 

This perspective, which is informed by mystical experience, ancient wisdom, and emerging quantum physics is as Eisenstein says “a new and ancient story.” It looks a lot like the animist worldview of indigenous cultures, which for westerners is perhaps best symbolized by the Druids.

The Druid does not seek to transcend or control physical reality. The Druid seeks to enter into deeper cooperation and harmony with it. For the Druid we are not transcending physical reality. We are ascending with it.

There are things more important than survival. Like love, quality of life, and connection. Physical survival at any cost makes no sense, because death is perfectly safe. Consciousness does not die it simply changes forms.

The collective story is still that of the Transhumanists who seek to survive at any cost. Technology is the messiah that will save us from the problems created by the disease of death and the problems created by our earlier technological inventions. Yet the game never seems to play out as planned. Each new technological fix seems to contain within it unintended consequences that create yet more problems.

The emerging story of the Druid is the key to a future worth living. The Druid seeks to live more fully and cooperate with nature. Gaia is alive, death is inevitable and necessary. Rather than seeking to control nature we strive to learn from her. What is she trying to teach us? What lessons are to be learned? Instead of saying what is wrong we ask, what is right? There is no technological fix for human unhappiness. There is no substitute for human connection. Survival is not the goal - thriving is. The Druid seeks to live and die well.

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