The Illusion of Control


Dale Hollow Reservoir, Tennessee

How often do you think of schizophrenia? Are you aware that most of Western society suffers from collective schizophrenia? I've mentioned wetiko in this space often, because of the implications it has with modern civilization. For those unfamiliar with wetiko, please see this article. Most people completely ignore the unsustainability of civilization, brought about by denial of reality. It is this collective denial which also allows us to completely ignore the real world that we live in; especially the part which actually sustains us - the flora and fauna which provide the wonderful biodiversity that promulgates the ecosystem services we require to survive - our habitat. Without said habitat, we cannot continue as a species.

These words written by Michael Asher have never been more true, quote:

"What is schizophrenia? In colloquial use we take it to mean 'split personality', but in fact it's a disorder of the brain's right hemisphere - the part that sees the world as a web of connections. A serious problem with the right hemisphere leaves people stranded, dependent on the left hemisphere, which sees the world as a disjointed and meaningless collection of separate material objects.

If that condition doesn't ring a bell, it should. Since the 17th century, when the philosopher Descartes declared that mind was separate from matter, we have tended to see the world almost exclusively from a left hemisphere perspective. Schizophrenia, as it happens, is not recorded before the industrial era.
This hasn't occurred by chance - it's the way we are conditioned by family, school, media, arts, and so on. In fact, we've developed a whole philosophy based on the left hemisphere POV - it's called materialism.
The problem with the left hemisphere view is that it lacks any sense of direction or meaning - like a car blundering round and round at top speed without a driver. That's a very dangerous situation to be in, and we have the wreck of our once-flourishing Mother Earth to prove it. (Left hemisphere doesn't like the term 'Mother' Earth, because it sees the Earth as an object.)
The fact is - and this has been demonstrated clearly by neuroscience - that the two hemispheres of the brain are not of equal importance. The right hemisphere is 'the master' while the left is the master's 'emissary' or messenger. The problem in our society, then, is that the emissary has forgotten what his mission was, and believes he is the master. This delusion amounts to collective schizophrenia.
And it's certainly an aberration. If we look at Indigenous cultures, it's easy to see that they have the sense of meaning and connection that is born of the proper left brain-right brain balance. Those cultures managed to live for millions of years without destroying the Earth or each other.
Do you remember the Mickey Mouse cartoon, where Mickey is the sorcerer's apprentice? When the sorcerer goes off somewhere, the apprentice steals his hat, and tries to use magic to help perform menial labour. All goes well at first, but then the power proves to be way beyond his control: it threatens to destroy everything. The sorcerer returns just in time to save the situation.
That's a perfect metaphor for the fix we are in now - a fix created by left-hemisphere thinking. If we are to save the house, we must bring back right hemisphere thought - the part of us not deluded by power we can't control. The sorcerer may be asleep, but he - she - is still there in all of us and can be awakened."

In this quote is The Sorcerer's Apprenticea segment of the 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia, which uses the music by Dukas and the story from Goethe's poem, which can be seen here in three parts:

I've written about wetiko before because of the power it wields in terms of what society does collectively. The reason for so much of the ecological overshoot our species has caused is due to the cultural programming and indoctrination caused by the ignorance of the unsustainability of civilization and the inability to see the whole forest through the trees, so to speak. Most people today are just becoming aware of the true threat of climate change but are completely ignoring all the other symptom predicaments of overshoot, such as energy and resource decline or pollution loading or biodiversity decline, and as such, have little recognition of precisely WHY we are at risk of near-term extinction. We are systematically wiping out the very habitat we require as organisms, and not just through climate change or any other symptom predicament, but through ALL the symptom predicaments that ecological overshoot is causing (caused by us collectively).

As Iain McGilchrist says, quote:

"Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole. These gifts of the left hemisphere have helped us achieve nothing less than civilization itself, with all that that means."

As I mentioned above, since civilization itself is unsustainable, using only the left hemisphere of our brains is fraught with danger. McGilchrist has several books available highlighting our predicaments, including the notable The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. This quote from his website describes precisely what makes the book so important:

"Since the publication of his groundbreaking book, The Master and His Emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World in 2009, his work has reached international recognition and acclaim. Described by Professor Louis Sass as “Unbelievably rich… of absolutely crucial cultural and intellectual importance”,  his thesis debunked the old paradigm of the human brain. If only scientists had asked a slightly different question, says McGilchrist – not what the two hemispheres of the brain do, but how, in what manner, they do it – they would have stumbled across something of the utmost importance.  For each hemisphere pays a quite different type of attention to the world: and the type of attention we pay transforms the world we perceive and in which we come to believe we live."

McGilchrist goes on to say, quote:

"I believe that we are engaged in committing suicide: intellectual suicide, moral suicide and physical suicide. If there is anything as important as stopping us poisoning our seas and destroying our forests, it is stopping us poisoning our minds and destroying our souls.

Our dominant value – sometimes I fear our only value – has, very clearly, become that of power. This aligns us with a brain system, that of the left hemisphere, the raison d’ĂȘtre of which is to control and manipulate the world. But not to understand it: that, for evolutionary reasons that I explain, has come to be more the raison d’ĂȘtre of our – more intelligent, in every sense – right hemisphere. Unfortunately the left hemisphere, knowing less, thinks it knows more. It is a good servant, but a ruinous – a peremptory – master. And the predictable outcome of assuming the role of master is the devastation of all that is important to us – or should be important, if we really know what we are about.

Even if we could, by some miracle, reverse the course on which we are set, unless we change our way of thinking, of being in the world – the way that is destroying us as we speak – it would all be in vain. This is why I have written the last long book I will ever write: The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World.

In it I search out what it is we have lost sight of, all that is there for us to see, if only we were not blinded to it: an inexhaustibly, truly wondrous, creative, living universe, not a meaningless, moribund mechanism. By bringing to bear up-to-the-minute neuropsychology, physics and philosophy, I show not only that these are in no way in conflict with one another, but that they all lead us, time and again, to the same insights. And that this is not in opposition to, but rather corroborates, the wisdom of the great spiritual traditions across the world.

All this converges on a vision that is necessary if we are to survive; and, even more importantly, if we are to deserve to survive. What I hope for my readers is that, if they are willing to accompany me on this adventure, they will never see the world in quite the same way again."

As one can (hopefully) clearly see, it is the way we think and see that influences how we act. If we cannot even "see" the false beliefs we are acting upon, it is almost certain that the same behaviors that got us to this stage will continue. Understanding how difficult it is to change behavior, I'm not holding out hope that society will change anytime soon; certainly not soon enough to avert absolute disaster. In order to accomplish this monumental task, we must change the way we think and see the world. The world is not here for us to just use and dominate. It is not simply a source for extracting, but the source of our being. As long as we collectively only see it as something to gain resources from rather than the wondrous miracle it really is and respect it as such, we condemn ourselves to extinction. Defining precisely WHO and WHAT "weare is where the trouble is.
While I don't think all humans are inherently destructive, those who cannot escape the destructive matrix of wetiko are destined to continue the so-called "human progress" which has ultimately brought us to this point in time with 8 BILLION humans on this planet. This issue of power has brought humans time and again into the aura of domination and this way of thinking has occurred to all humans including hunters and gatherers. Hunters and gatherers did not have access to the technology of today, which also limited their ability to extract resources from their environment. However, archaeological evidence time and again points to violence of our species not limited to any specific timeframe or period of our existence. Thus, why I question our ability to "come together" and collectively think differently about the world around us. While I cannot rule it out, I see it as unrealistic. In terms of probability, unlikely is putting it lightly. We lack agency, which is why I just don't see these ideas as ever gaining enough traction to become any sort of large-scale reality.
Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking threads I've read in recent months on this topic comes from a debate on whether humans are inherently destructive or not. My thoughts on this depend on whether humans choose to use the system of civilization (which depends upon technology use) or not. Humans who choose to use civilization ARE inherently destructive. Those who choose to abandon civilization ARE NOT inherently destructive. As a species, because civilization is employed by some humans, ALL of us are threatened because there is only ONE planet. 
Jeff Hoffman's response (reprinted underneath this paragraph) to the article very closely mirrors my own thoughts reagrding the question. Individuals may or may not be inherently destructive based upon the system of living they choose, but because civilization and the technology use required to achieve it exist, the entire species is currently inherently destructive. This doesn't mean that we must remain this way, but that in order to do away with this inherent destructiveness, 100% of humans would have to abandon civilization; and I don't see this as realistic in any way, shape, or form. Here is his response, quote:
"I am the one whose comments were mentioned in this essay. There are multiple basic misunderstandings of both my comments and my position, both by Dr. Helga Vierich and Max Wilbert.

Fundamentally, my problem with Dr. Vierich’s interview is that she characterized the Bushmen in the Kalahari as some godsend to their region, improving on the natural ecosystem. The idea that humans can improve upon nature is anthropocentric self-worship with no basis in biocentric or ecological reality. Humans will never be smart enough, wise enough, or know enough to be able to improve upon nature. The best thing that humans can do regarding the natural world is to take just enough to survive with an ecologically-balanced population level while focusing their attention on expanding their consciousness instead of manipulating the natural world. The idea that humans can fix the mistakes that nature made or improve on the natural world is exactly the kind of egotistical hubris that leads to hideous things like genetic engineering.

As to humans being a cancerous tumor on the Earth, I don’t claim that this is inherent. Instead, it’s solely due to choices that humans have made over millennia, starting at least as far back as the use of agriculture. If humans had focused on wisdom, empathy, and expanding their consciousness instead of ego, intellect, and materialism, they would be a shining light on Earth instead of the cancerous tumor that they are. All that said, it matters not one bit to the Earth and the non-humans on it why humans fit the medical definition of being a cancer; the only thing that matters to those entities is that we are one.

Dr. Vierich’s reply to my comment on her interview begins by saying that I “see all human economies as equally bad for the planet.” I never said or implied anything like that. I was discussing humans as a whole, and I in fact stated that hunter-gatherers do not destroy life and ecosystems merely by their existence like agriculturalists do. I strongly advocate for returning to living as hunter-gatherers, though I view this as a very long-term goal by necessity (i.e., it’s simply not possible to achieve this in the near future) and probably am at odds with DGR in that way.

I do strongly object to the idea that humans can increase biodiversity or have any positive impact on an ecosystem by manipulating it. The example given in Dr. Vierich’s interview was spreading seeds of native plants in order to increase the number of those plants. I asked the question whether anyone had analyzed what plants the artificially extra natives had replaced and correctly pointed out that additional plants of one species is not an “improvement” in the ecosystem just because those plants are desirable to humans. What about the plants that were replaced? What species to they benefit, and what harms were done to those species by changing the ecosystem?

As to humans being necessary to any ecosystem, Mr. Wilbert’s rebuttal to my first comment merely claims that some humans have regulated or managed ecosystems into something better. In addition to what I wrote above regarding this type of claim, even if humans had improved certain ecosystems, that doesn’t make humans necessary for them. Predators are necessary to manage prey animals. Prey animals are necessary for the predators to eat and to manage the vegetation that the prey animals eat. Plants are necessary food and habitat for animals and to keep the soil alive and from eroding. Etc. Humans don’t fit into this type of scheme.

The fact that humans as a whole fit the medical definition of being a cancerous tumor on the Earth is not an “idea” as Mr. Wilbert claims, but is instead a provable fact. Mr. Wilbert and Dr. Vierich point to hunter-gatherers as proof that humans are not a cancer, but this argument is ludicrous. Hunter-gatherers comprise less than 0.005% of the people on Earth. While hunting and gathering instead of agriculture is what we aspire to and respect, the facts are that hunter-gatherers do not even come close to representing the current human species and that it will be a very long time if ever for humans to return to living that way.

I supplied an outline of my position regarding the proper role of humans on Earth to DGR via email, as there is no way to attach it here. Hopefully DGR will attach the outline somewhere on this page in order to clarify my positions. We are basically on the same side here, but I’d hate to see DGR slip into anthropocentrism and self-worship and advocate for human control of the Earth. Much better to focus on our minds, which is our strength and a much better role for humans in the grand scheme of things."

In conclusion, the idea that we have this ability to control the world around us has been brought about from this left-hemispherical thinking and seeing the world around us. As long as we only see the world in materialistic terms (reductionist thinking), control of it appears possible. However, as soon as we use more right-hemispherical thinking, we bring reality into the fold and realize our lack of agency and our lack of full knowledge (until we master control of the weather and even nature in general, the ability to control the world is nothing but pure fantasy) prevents us from such illusions. That is what we are suffering from with so many different ideas, such as geoengineering - that we have the ability to control that which in reality we don't have the ability to control. Only in our anthropocentric, hubristic illusions does that control actually exist. I have written about these illusions (and delusions) in many other articles besides the ones linked above, most notably these: 
It's a Trap, Don't Do It

So, at the end of the day, most all ideas which include the illusion of control over nature must be thrown to the curb. This includes the ideas of "saving species" from extinction, geoengineering, and using technology to "undo" what technology use has caused, among many others. 


  1. Thank you. This is one of the best essays I have read in a while in that it aligns with a lot of what I have been thinking about, and clearly explains what I struggle to articulate. When we talk about good and bad, we must ask 'for whom?'


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