When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he gave them a command and warning: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest you die. They broke that commandment and were cast out of the place of perfect harmony and cursed with pain.
This, I would argue, is the mythological rendering of human self-consciousness. God wanted to prevent Adam and Eve from the knowledge of good and evil, a discriminatory knowledge that separates into subject and object. The tempting serpent correctly predicted “in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” They ate, saw that they were naked, and hid from God; that is, they became self-conscious.
This is the fundamental break from the more-than-human world. Somewhere in the deep past we became aware that we related to the world in a way that was unique and that created distance from the creatures around us. The cherubim crossed their flaming swords; there was no going back.
We continued in this break for ages upon ages. Some of us sought to understand and heal it through philosophy and religion. So often, though, these attempts to understand and heal only deepened the break by moving the promised healing into some future existence when the self is united with the divine or subsumed into the cosmos.
Meanwhile, technology increasingly replaced manual labor and freed our minds to develop and store knowledge. Now, in our time, the wealthy (by global standards) have almost no contact with the natural world. They have become knowledge workers, service workers, etc., who buy packaged and processed food in grocery stores.
Our ancestral memory points to a time when we broke from the more-than-human world. In the time since, we have drifted further and further away. Self-consciousness, the awareness that we are separate, has led to the abstraction of our lives. We live by ideas: nations, democracy, money, freedom, morality, and many more. We argue over ideas. We divide families over ideas. Ideas threaten to ruin our common life.
We have an epidemic of anxiety and depression because ideas are insufficient as a substrate for human life. We have multiple ecological crises because self-consciousness has unmoored us from the source of our lives. The head drifts free of the body and is sickened.
What is the solution? I don’t know. Solutions are just more ideas. “The Way that can be told is not the true Way.”