The Root Cause of Unsustainable Development, Luis Gutierrez, CEESP Member

Let's face it: the UN MUG Review Summit was "business as usual." This in no way detracts from the value of this important event. But it is painfully clear that peoples and nations are not ready to change old habits and norms of behavior in order to facilitate the transition from consumerism to sustainability. Indeed, the number of "global citizens" that are genuinely concerned and ready to start walking the talk is increasing. But general inertia, resistance to change, and vested interests continue to prevail and, therefore, political will is lacking to pursue meaningful reforms in most secular and religious institutions.

There is no such thing as sustainable development that is not synchronized with human development. And human development must reach human beings at all levels: physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual. As we get into the second decade of the 21st century, it is increasingly possible to see that humanity is facing the need for a new stage of human development. Human beings are called to more than just growing addictions to material consumption of goods and services.

Indeed, a reasonable amount of material consumption is required to meet physical (and to some extent, psychological) human needs. Humans need food, water, shelter, sanitation, and other essentials. But there is more. Excessive reliance on material consumption and technological innovations induces stagnation in the human development process, as wave after wave of new "miracle widgets" reinforce dependency on external distractions and inhibit any attempt to undertake the inner journey that makes a person whole by the encounter with the inner Self which - in the Judeo-Christian tradition - is the imago Dei that abides in each human being. And until this inner encounter with the Self is accomplished, the human person is not really free to pursue a life that is fully meaningful in terms of commitment to personal growth (character, responsibility, wisdom) and the common good of the human community and the human habitat. This lack of responsible freedom is the root cause of unsustainable development .

Human development that makes possible reaching the stage of responsible freedom is made possible by the development - during the 20th century, and still continuing - of the psychological sciences that rescued us from so many taboos and errors about human nature and, in particular, issues of human sexuality. From a psychological perspective, the beginning of this new stage of human development has been foreseen by many: Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948), Carl Jung (1875-1961), Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), Emma Jung (1882-1955), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Marie-Louise von Franz (1915-1998), Elizabeth Boyden Howes(1918-2002), Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004), John Sanford (1929-2005), and many others. Access to this new stage of human development seems to be around the corner, just at the time when humanity is confronting a crisis of survival as we approach the sunset of the industrial era.

"The most central observation that can be made today from the insights of all schools of depth psychology is the fact that modern man is lacking a relationship to himself, and his own total personality, and that there are large areas within his psyche which are unknown, unconscious, lying dormant, which need to be used, to be redeemed, to be brought back into consciousness, both for their sake and for his sake." Elizabeth Boyden Howes, Intersection and Beyond , Guild for Psychological Studies, 1971, page 119.

Such development of personality is a lifelong religious-psychological journey. It is a journey to find and pursue the unique vocation given by God to each human being:

"I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life - that is to say, over 35 - there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life." Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul , 1933; Harcourt Harvest, 1955.

"The achievement of personality means nothing less than the optimum development of the whole individual human being. It is impossible to foresee the endless variety of conditions that have to be fulfilled. A whole lifetime, in all its biological, social, and spiritual aspects, is needed. Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination." Carl Jung, The Integration of Personality , 1939; Routledge, 1952.

The outcome of this new stage of human development is not to be understood as a "superhuman" that goes beyond Homo sapiens sapiens . Rather, it is a matter of human beings developing to the maximum potential - which is, of course, a lifelong undertaking. It is essentially a matter of "becoming what we are" - as Pindar (Greek poet, 518?-438 BCE), Hildegard of Bingen (Benedictine abbess, 1098-1179), Thomas Merton (Trappist monk, 1915-1968), and many others have pointed out. But the opportunity to "become what we are" is now available to a much wider subset of the world population. This human development process entails bringing into consciousness both "demons" and "angels" that abide in the subconscious and limit human freedom unless recognized and dealt with. There is both a "personal subconscious" and a "collective subconscious" that require integration in order to attain "the greatest possible freedom for self-determination." A significant part of this process is to recognize the presence of masculine and feminine polarities in both men and women.

"Let Go. Return."

"Behold, he has done one thing well,
And he knows whereof he speaks,
and he means what he has said,
And we may trust him.
This is sufficient for a life."

Josephine Johnson, 1910-1990

Jung identified these polarities as the masculine ( animus ) presence in women and the feminine ( anima ) presence in men. It does take an open mind and a willingness to undertake the inner journey; and it usually requires a mentor. As in everything else, "no pain, no gain."

In a patriarchal culture in which the feminine has been repressed and undervalued for so long, this may be the most critical factor in enabling people to become really free to make responsible choices and live life to the fullest in both the inner (individual) and outer (social) dimensions. Specifically, it is hard to imagine much progress toward "gender equality" unless this Jungian insight is understood and internalized by both men and women. Jesus of Nazareth, the model "Human Being" in the Christian tradition, aware of the need to balance both polarities, as attested by many gospel texts in which the influence of his anima is prominent. See, for example, Luke 13:34b. In the above referenced book by Elizabeth Boyden Howe, chapter on "The Forgotten Feminine in the Gospels" (pages 107 ff), she offers an extended exegesis of gospel texts analyzed from a Jungian perspective.

This feminine presence in man, and masculine presence in women, is an essential ingredient of the Self as imago Dei , and affects no only the psychological health of each human being but the quality of human relations among human beings:

"The most important contribution Jung makes in his concepts of the anima and the animus is to give us an idea of the polarity that exists within each of us. We are not homogeneous units of psychic life, but contain an inevitable opposition within the totality that makes up our being. There are opposites within us, call them what we like -- masculine and feminine, anima and animus, Yin and Yang -- and these are eternally in tension and are eternally trying to unite. The human soul is a great arena in which the Active and the Receptive, the Light and the Dark, the Yang and the Yin, seek to come together and forge within us an indescribable unity of personality. To achieve this union of the opposites within ourselves may very well be the task of life, requiring the utmost in perseverance and assiduous awareness. Usually men need women for this to come about, and women need men. And yet, ultimately the union of the opposites does not occur between a man who plays out the masculine and a woman who plays out the feminine, but within the being of each man and each woman in whom the opposites are finally conjoined." John Sanford, The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in each of Us Affects our Relationships , Paulist Press, 1980, page 112.

In other words, human development cannot happen in a vaccuum; it must happen in a concrete social context. But there is a vicious circle: human development cannot proceed beyond a certain point unless there is inner balance and harmony between the male and female "partners" in each human being. The patriarchal culture and patterns of male domination, which have prevailed for at least 5000 years, are toxic for human development, because human relations cannot be fully healthy unless there is balance and harmony between the "invisible partners" in the collective subconscious. And a lack of such balance and harmony precludes a culture of gender equality, which in turn leads to human underdevelopment and makes sustainable development utterly impossible.

Gender inequalities are a universal phenomenon, and gender equality must become a new universal phenomenon. This is the only way to break the vicious cycle that keeps human development, and sustainable development, from taking off. It is time to recognize that both patriarchy and gender inequality are rooted in bad anthropology and a literalist (fundamentalist) reading of selected biblical texts. Indeed, gender inequality has nothing whatsoever to do with human nature or divine plans for humanity. Gender inequality is a structure of domination entirely made by human hands.

But there is another vicious circle in the tight coupling between society and religion. Patriarchal cultures are the context in which patriarchal religions thrive, and patriarchal religions in turn reinforce the inflation of the masculine and the deflation of the feminine in all dimensions of human life, starting with the subjugation of the feminine in family life: a perversion of the original "nuptial covenant" that emerged from men and women being created as imago Dei (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:24, 5:1-3, 9:6-7).

In this regard, it is to be noted that gender equality must be totally inclusive. The majority of human beings are heterosexual, but there is a minority who are homosexuals. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals are fully human, and both are entitled to express their human sexuality according to their best judgment and informed conscience. Why should the "nuptial covenant" be restricted to heterosexuals? Since human life is sacred from conception to death, are there not many opportunities to be "pro-life" in the context of same-sex nuptial covenants? It is time for all social and religious institutions to recognize that homosexuality is not "an objective disorder." In fact, the "objective disorder" is the prejudice that excludes homosexuals from full development of their human vocation in both secular and religious institutions. Such exclusion is morally wrong, as evidenced by the visceral reactions that emerge when the exclusion is removed, or even proposed.

In order to overcome human underdevelopment , the importance of religion and theological-anthropology should not be underestimated. The following is an excellent synopsis of the tight coupling between gender equality, human development, and sustainable development:

"Anthropological thought in recent years has shown that male-female are not autonomous entities, but principles or sources of energy that continually build the human being as man or woman. The latter are the result of the actions of the above underlying principles that are fulfilled in the one and the other in different densities.

"The feminine in men and women is that moment of completeness, of abyssal depth, of the ability to think with one's own body, to decipher hidden messages under signs and symbols, of interiority, of a sense of belonging to a larger whole, of cooperation, compassion, responsiveness, of creative and nurturing power and spirituality.

"Masculinity in women and men expresses the opposite pole of the human being, the pole of reason, objectivity, order, power, even aggressivity and materiality. The movement for change, for work, for the use of force, for clarity that distinguishes, separates and sorts, belong to the masculine in women and men. The ability to rest, care for, conserve, love unconditionally, perceive the other side of things, cultivate the space of mystery that always challenges curiosity and desire for knowledge, belong to the feminine in men and women.

"Note: I am not saying that men do everything that involves the masculine and women all that the feminine expresses. What we're dealing with here are the principles present in one or the other, structuring the personal identity of man and woman.

"The drama of the patriarchal culture is still the fact of having usurped the male principle only for men making them deem themselves the sole possessors of reason, control, building of society, and relegating to the private sphere and dependent tasks women, often thought to be appendages, objects of adornment and satisfaction. By not integrating the feminine in themselves, they became rigid and dehumanized. On the other hand, by preventing women from fulfilling the masculine within themselves, they weakened them and gave rise to a sense of incompleteness within them. Both are impoverished and have crippled the construction of a single, diverse, reciprocal and egalitarian human being.

"Overcoming this cultural barrier is the main prerequisite for more inclusive gender relations, ones that are fair to each party.

"The worldwide feminist movement put the project of patriarchy that had dominated for centuries in check and deconstructed gender relations organized under the sign of oppression and dependency. It opened more symmetrical and cooperative relations. Such developments hint at the dawn of a rotation of the cultural axis of humankind. Everywhere a new type of manifestation of the feminine and masculine in associative terms is being outlined, one of cooperation and solidarity in which men and women are welcome with their differences in the framework of a deep personal equality of origin and destiny, task and commitment to building more benevolence towards life and the Earth in more participatory and supportive ways.

"But at the present time we are experiencing a unique situation for humankind. As a species we are at a new threshold. Global warming, the depletion of natural resources and services, the scarcity of drinking water and the stress on the life-system and Earth-system have brought us to this dilemma: either we give birth to ourselves as a different human species, with a different consciousness and sense of responsibility, or we go to meet the darkness. Brazil, given its privileged eco-geographical situation, should play a central role in the construction of the new balance of the Earth or we risk an irreversible path.

"At this point as never before in history it is necessary to live out the values of the feminine, of the anima, as we described them above: giving a central place to life, caring, cooperation, compassion and universal human values." Leonardo Boff,
Iglesia Descalza , 15 October 2010.

Given that God wants only what is good for humanity, reformation of social and religious institutions will be required in order to foster sustainable human development via gender equality. Many other kinds of reformation may be required, but gender equality is the top priority .

Technological innovation can be helpful, for instance, in transitioning from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy; but no technological breakthrough will take humanity off the hook in facing the inevitable transition from consumerism to sustainability. Reformation of financial and economic systems, as well as other social and political institutions, will be helpful but not sufficient. Reformation of religious institutions will be needed, but will not be sufficient unless they include full gender equality at all levels. Specifically, the reformation of religious institutions must include having women in roles of religious authority, even if this requires rethinking ancient doctrines and practices based on primitive thinking.

"A custom without truth is ancient error."
St. Cyprian (3rd Century CE)

Human development is where the action is. The United Nations' Human Development Report 2010 is scheduled to be released 4 November 2010, and the subtitle is promising: "The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development." Readers are encouraged to download the document and study it with diligence. But it is doubtful that it will touch on sensitive issues of politics and religion; and these are the issues that matter the most!   Luis Gutierrez

This is an abridged version of an editorial written by CEESP member Luis Gutuerrez, first published in the newsletter he produces, Mother Pelician: A Journal of Sustainable Human Development ( http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv06n11page1.html )

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