Human society is now at a point we we can "Consciously co-create our evolution".

by Riane Eisler 

Is evolution, and thus life on this Earth, devoid of meaning-to borrow Shakespeare’s poignant words, a tale "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?" Some people believe that the only argument for a larger meaning comes from religious traditions. But science too can provide us with this argument.

I have chosen the phrase meaningful evolution to describe a view of evolution in which we can find a larger sense of purpose. This view differs sharply from fundamentalist religious interpretations that totally ignore scientific findings, such as empirical evidence that life on our planet is not 5,000 years old but billions of years old. But it also differs from many so-called neo-Darwinian theories that, as evolution theorist David Loye points out in his book Darwin’s Lost Theory, ignore what Darwin himself emphasized: that factors other than random variation and natural selection-for example, what he called "the moral sense" and "mutual aid" or caring cooperation-come into play at the human level of evolution.

What I call meaningful evolution is an approach that draws from an emerging body of scientific findings pointing to the evolutionary roots of caring for others and caring for what happens to future generations. It highlights that what we do in this lifetime is meaningful because it advances the evolution of our species and fulfills our responsibilities to this planet.

In short, this approach provides a third alternative: an alternative to both creationism and theories of evolution that leave us with the sense that randomness and selfishness are the governing principles of evolution. It offers a bridge between the core partnership values of religion and the empirical findings of science.

Meaningful evolution transcends the conventional polarity between spirituality and science, grounding spirituality in evolution. It identifies for us as a species a meaningful relationship to life and the wonder of the universe. It takes into account key evolutionary developments such as the evolution of consciousness, creativity, and love.

By the grace of evolution, we humans are provided with chemical rewards of pleasure not only when we are loved, but when we love; not only when we are touched with caring, but when we touch another with caring; nor only when we are cared for, but when we care for others. In other words, there is in our human biology a push toward love through chemicals that make us feel good both when we receive love and when we give love-be it to a child, a lover, a friend, a pet, our sister and brother humans, or our beautiful Earth.

Not only that, people who have supportive and caring relations have been shown to recover more readily from illnesses and accidents. Looking at the other side of that coin, people who empathically care for others, as in studies of people who do volunteer work, tend to be healthier and live longer.

The human yearning for caring connection-the yearning of both young and old for love-is built into our species. It is one of our most basic human drives. It is so basic that the deprivation of empathic love-an early environment where what love we get is linked with insensitivity, neglect, coercion, abuse, and/or violence-severely damages, even cripples, our development.

There is clearly some degree of empathy and love in societies that orient primarily to what I call the dominator/control model-as there must be for human survival. But a rigid dominator social organization requires the suppression or at best compartmentalization of empathy, as otherwise rankings of domination and submission backed up by fear and force cannot be maintained.

Dominator child rearing and education habituate children-in extreme cases through the shaping of the neural pathways of their developing brains- to the psychological and often physical abuse required to function in rigid hierarchies of domination. Children chronically subjected to threats and aggression tend to become more vigilant, defensive/aggressive, and to numb themselves so as to not feel their pain. All these are ways of surviving in a hostile environment, and could thus be said to be adaptive in rigid dominator contexts. But they also lead to the unconscious replication, from generation to generation, of precisely the kinds of behaviors that make us feel bad and hold back our development. Moreover, they make it extremely difficult for people with this kind of background to believe that there is an alternative to dominating or being dominated.

Nonetheless, change is possible-and has actually been escalating for several centuries. Even though there is enormous resistance, there has been a strong movement worldwide to shift from authoritarian, male-dominated, violent families and nations to more democratic, gender-fair, and nonviolent families and nations.

At this point in our cultural evolution, when the rapid change from industrial to postindustrial society is destabilizing many entrenched beliefs and institutions, we have the opportunity to consciously co-create our evolution. In fact, humans have from the beginning been unconscious co-creators of our evolution. Both our culture and much of our physical environment are human creations. But to take advantage of this opportunity, and bring our cultural evolution more in line with the evolutionary thrust in our species toward our highest human potentials-including our powerful need and capacity for love-requires that we become conscious co-creators of a partnership future.
First, we need a clear understanding of the partnership and dominator models. Second, we need to identify the most effective interventions that can, through changes in beliefs and behaviors, interrupt the replication of the dominator elements of our culture. Third, we need to develop new social and economic inventions that promote partnership relations.

Young people are empowered to be the best they can be when they know that our strivings for love, beauty, and justice-what for centuries have been called the highest ideals that drive civilization ahead-are part of human biology, rooted in evolution. Whether or not they are given a formal religious context, these strivings constitute the core of a partnership spirituality that recognizes a larger mission for us in life and imbues us with a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty of the universe.

By offering young people a more inclusive story of evolution-one that does not ignore the fact that love and creativity are just as grounded in evolution as violence and destructiveness-we support what I have called spiritual courage: putting love into action, even when it means going against established dominator norms.

When young people understand that our strivings for love, beauty, and justice are at the core of our humanity, they can imbue their lives with greater meaning. Most important, they can more consciously and caringly participate in the great adventure of the evolution of life on our planet.

This article is adapted from Riane Eisler, Tomorrow’s Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000). ©2000 by Riane Eisler. It was printed in New Renaissance, Volume 10, No2, Issue 33 (Spring, 2001)