As humans living in the 21st century, we live in a time of incredible advances, and a time of very pressing social problems. As a species we have made millions of innovations to increase the quality of living. Examples are everywhere. We have learned to live together in numbers that truly boggle the mind, we are a species that can fly in a few hours to destinations that 100 years ago would have taken months to reach, a species where two or more of its kind can routinely and instantaneously communicate in various ways while thousands of kilometers apart, a species that has learned to control or eradicate all manner of diseases from the face of the earth. We have attained a vast amount of information about our planet and beyond. We have created the Anthropocene. A world of our own making. We’ve created magic. At the same time, and due to human factors, we are a species altering our environment in profoundly negative ways, to the point where we are on the brink of extinction.

Even if we don’t believe the situation is that dire, and somehow think we are invincible, we know (or should know) that collectively, our modern lives are contributing to pollution on an unprecedented scale. Amidst the thousands, no millions of technological miracles that surround us, we have managed to damage the earth so badly that every year an estimated 4 million people —mostly children and the elderly living in urban settings— can and do die directly from breathing the toxins we’ve put into the atmosphere.[1].

And we’re typically either in denial or a paralyzingly deep despair about it.

We’ve convinced ourselves that things we’ve created- things like pollution, poverty and oppression- are just “too bad, so sad” parts of our every day landscape, not the self imposed insults to living gracefully on the planet that they really are.

When looked at from certain angles, it’s easy to see a nightmare of a planet, a true dystopia: We see the reality that kids are starving to death because of our inability to collectively act with compassion towards each other.[2] We see people routinely beaten down and massacred in the name of state sanctioned force (and the inevitable counter insurrections against that force) because we have collectively failed to create policies where peace and prosperity can flourish. Global inequality is staggering in its scope.

Yet, when our modern day lives are considered from other angles, we’ve created and achieved things that for millennia only gods or magicians were thought to be able to achieve. We have unimaginable comforts. We’ve developed abilities to enhance the qualities of our lives in every imaginable way. We have technology so powerful that we can live in space for months at a time.

So how is it that we are currently not creating the solutions that the vast majority of us want to create to become a kind, gentle, and compassionate people who are good stewards of the planet?

Instead of peace and prosperity for all, we get bogged down in ….what exactly?

We know on a cultural level we are “messed up”, and “have gone completely crazy”, but why?

We can talk about the various nuances and shades of corruption and exploitation that appear to be inevitable when power and control combined with almost compulsive levels of ambition collide.

Some point to what they perceive to be a stunted “human nature”. Many give great importance to economics, and others bemoan the disconnect between humans, nature and spirit. Others have pointed to the bloated forms of government and organization we use. Almost all of these arguments make valid points.

Patriarchal critiques in particular have produced advances, but even as we recognize the futility of (a patriarchally based concept of) state sanctioned force and warfare, we continue to invest in it at staggering rates. We’ve learned reams of information about xenophobia, we’ve found scientific proof that there are areas of the brain that make fear mongering effective, but we still haven’t created a just and peaceful world. We see the destruction of the planet and yet we still buy products that are toxic, work for large impersonal, amoral corporations, and stand by feeling helpless and desperate as “leaders” crash and burn the planet.

We know we produce people, groups, nations and companies that become obsessed with power and control, yet we can’t seem to change course away from these things, even though the vast majority of us only want peace and prosperity for all.  Okay, now think about why people come into counseling: they know something’s wrong, but they just can’t figure out what it is or what to do about it.  It appears that’s where the majority of us are when it comes to addressing these large pressing problems we face.

Cooperation and collaboration are manifestations of humankind’s greatest strengths, yet spheres where they could flourish are regularly co-opted by those who use power for their own ends. One of the main objectives of this piece is to illuminate why power is so revered and becomes so consuming to people that they will destroy the earth and eradicate entire groups of people in order to gain more power and control. I believe it stems from Cultural PTSD.

The most obvious reason why I believe this is this fact: The first thing people recovering from trauma NEED to do is regain a sense of power and control over their environments.  That can happen in adaptive ways or maladaptive ways. We’ll go into detail about the ways that happens in individuals and then apply the general principles to cultural level responses. We’ll also trace a number of other maladaptive human made and culture wide problems back to trauma based decision making. It is my hope that much like individuals who come into counseling not really knowing what’s going on with themselves, we can learn to really identify why we act in such irrational ways on cultural levels, and then learn to consciously heal in ways that allow us to live in cultural contexts that we really want and enjoy.

The World Health Organization estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution.
Many of these mortalities are attributable to indoor air pollution.
Worldwide more deaths per year are linked to air pollution than to automobile accidents.
Research published in 2005 suggests that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution annually.
Direct causes of air pollution related deaths include aggravated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies.
Note:   The above text is excerpted from the Wikipedia article “Air pollution”, which has been released under the GNU Free Documentation License.
[2] Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Around 9 million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year, more than double the lives taken by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in 2012.
Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger.
Poor nutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of five — 3.1 million children die each year because their bodies don’t have enough of the basic nutrients they need to function and grow