Nature, Culture and the Future

The human species has a trait that is unique in the animal kingdom. It is the ability to invent, memorise and communicate with a symbolic spoken language. This aptitude for language led to the accumulation of shared worldviews, knowledge, beliefs and attitudes in human groups. That is, it led to human culture.[1]

 In recent times human culture has become an extremely powerful force in the living world.

Shared knowledge, beliefs, ideologies and priorities can lead to human activities that are to human advantage. These are referred to as cultural adaptations. But culture can also get things wrong, and it can sometimes result in activities that are disadvantageous.   These are referred to as cultural maladaptations.

Cultural maladaptations in the modern world are on a massive scale, and if present patterns of human activity continue unabated the collapse of civilisation certain.

Paradoxically, while culture is responsible for the current threats to human wellbeing and survival, it is only through culture that we can hope to overcome them. 

An aspect of culture of special pertinence in this context is what Yuval Harari calls ‘holy scripts’. This author describes how all belief systems, including religions and political ideologies, have their holy scripts.[2] These holy scripts provide the underlying basis of the belief systems and they sometimes have a powerful influence on people’s worldviews and behaviour. 

It is our contention that the prevailing cultures of the world suffer from a very serious deficiency in this area of holy scripts, and that this deficiency lies behind many of the current cultural maladaptations that threaten humanity today.  We have the sacred writings of the various religious belief systems, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and we have the hallowed texts of communism and capitalism. But there is another story, of profound significance for every one of us and for society as a whole, that has yet to find its place among the assortment of holy scripts. It is the story about life on Earth and the human place in nature. We call it the Bionarrative. The Bionarrative is a true story that comes from the natural sciences. Certainly, there are many people who are familiar with this story, but they are very much in a minority. The Bionarrative is not seen as a story of political or ethical significance. It is not a holy script.

The bionarrative generates an understanding of the human place in nature and of the life processes that gave rise to us, of which we are a part, and on which we are totally dependent, and it highlights the urgent need for radical changes in the patterns of human activity on Earth if civilisation, and perhaps our species, are to survive. The prospects for the future of humankind would be very much brighter if the Bionarrative were embedded at the core of the prevailing cultur

[1] The word culture has many rather different meanings. Here it is used to mean the abstract products of the capacity for culture, such as learned language itself and the accumulated knowledge, assumptions, beliefs, values and technological know-how of a human population. This use of the term is consistent with the first definition of ‘culture’ given in Collins Dictionary: ‘The total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action’ (Collins Dictionary of the English Language (1979) Collins, Sydney, Auckland and Glasgow).

[2] Harari refers to ideologies, like communism and capitalism, as religions. Here we use the expression ‘belief systems’ to include both religions that embrace a belief in a god or gods and political ideologies which do not embroil a god or gods. Y. N. Harari. 2011. Sapiens: a brief history of humankind. Vintage Press, London. p. 254.

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