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Dreams of a Neo-Human Family:

Fingers Pointing to Evolution


By Justin Broglie

ZEN BUDDHISM PROF. HENRY GLASSMAN UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA SPRING 2011

I will preface this paper by writing that it is about the societal implications of the manifestation and integration of the pointings of spiritual teachers of the human family across the centuries, particularly how modern expressions of spirituality are acting as important agents of social change. Zen Buddhism, though beautiful as a whole body of literature and teachings, is very much a flower in the field of spiritual inquiry of mankind, and thus must be studied alongside the other flowers. As the human species faces increasing challenges to its own survivalincluding the impeding depletion of fossil fuel resources as well as our continued failure to develop genuine and non-violent relationships across cultural, racial, and national barriersit has become urgently relevant to study the teachings of mystical religion in their biological context: in terms of how they concretely shape human beings and thus societies.

any leading thinkers on the planet feel that humanity has reached a crossroads after which it may or may not survive. With looming issues of global warming,

overpopulation, fossil fuel depletion, international conflict and economic turmoil, it certainly seems as though humanity could benefit from a good dose of enlightenment at this time, or at least a substantially new manner of thinking as Einstein put it. 1 In the words of Matthew Gilbert, director of communications for the Institute of Noetic Sciences, it seems clear to more and more of us that we have collectively created an unsustainable way of life for most of the worlds people and jeopardized our very existence as a species. 2 The Institute of Noetic Sciences was co-founded in 1973 by Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell after an epiphany during the three-day journey back to Earth that led him to assert the necessity of focusing research on human potential, consciousness, and integral healing. 3 Though we have seen an increase in dysfunction within all levels of human society, we thankfully have begun to see a new emerging frontier led by individuals and institutions like the Institute of Noetic Sciences, that highlight and explore the possibility of an enlightened human family, much similar to the visions held by many current and past spiritual leaders. Many of these leading individuals have been influenced by spiritual teachers who came to the United States in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, such as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn, Rinpoche Chgyam Trungpa, Taizan Maezumi Roshi and many others, and are now taking the insights they have gained and redefining the meaning of

Chase, Stuart. "World without boundaries." The Bulletin, 1979: 82. Bourne, Edmund. Global Shift: How A New Worldview Is Transforming Humanity (Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2008), V. 3 Institute of Noetic Sciences. http://www.noetic.org/about/overview/ (accessed 5.3.2011).
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enlightenment and spirituality through their professional lives as doctors, scientists, consultants, and educators. Whether a spiritual tradition emphasizes salvation of oneself through striving or letting go, achievement or non-achievement, sudden or gradual, in either case both point to some sort of shift or transformation of the human being, which has also been alluded to throughout history by philosophers, scientists, and activists, such as Emerson, Einstein, and Gandhi. Transformation experiences often include a sense of being more in touch with oneself, others, and the rest of the world. Thus in this light, it would not be improper to conclude that enlightenment encompasses the full development of a healthy, functioning human being, with general qualities of empathy, openness, and compassion towards others, intuitive understanding of oneself, and a dynamic ability to move in harmony with ones environment. It also means becoming more conscious, socially conscious, and thus shifting ones worldview to be more encompassing and inclusive of all the varieties of life. These (re)definitions have been popularized by many 21st century spiritual leaders, from Andrew Cohen, founder of EnlightenNext, who advocates the importance of the becoming aspect of enlightenment as much as the being aspect 4, to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who focuses on the need for humanitarian work and a violence-free, stress-free world, 5 to Bernie Glassman Roshi, with his sociallyengaged Buddhism approach to guiding his Zen Peacemakers Sangha. 6 This redefinition of spirituality comes at a much needed and urgent time. Taking a brief overlook of human history as well as contemporary times, we find much evidence of humankinds own insanity and dysfunction in how we have treated our own species. By the end of the 20th century, the number of people who died a violent death at the hand of their fellow human beings would rise to more than one hundred million.7 Although modern day

EnlightenNext. http://www.enlightennext.org/ (accessed 5.3.2011). Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Homepage. http://srisriravishankar.org/ (accessed 5.3.2011). 6 Zen Peacemakers. http://www.zenpeacemakers.org/ (accessed 5.3.2011).
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Tolle, Eckhart. A New Earth (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 150.

warfare has become more efficient in terms of lives lost, the psychological toll on the soldiers has only become more disturbing. For example, from the US invasion of Afghanistan to summer 2009, 761 soldiers had lost their lives in combat there, while 817 in the service had taken their lives in the same period. 8 Humankind has indeed had a messy history. Spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle identifies the cause of this collective struggle as having to do with a close-minded obsession with ones own values and conditioning:
The collective ego of tribes, nations, and religious organizations also frequently contains a strong element of paranoia: us against the evil othersThe Spanish Inquisition, the persecution and burning of heretics and witches, the relations between nations leading up to the First and Second World Wars, Communism throughout its history, the Cold War, McCarthyism in America in the 1950s, prolonged violent conflict in the Middle East are all painful episodes in human history dominated by extreme collective paranoia. 9

Tolle calls on all of us to become aware of our conditioning and to simply allow the otherness of others to be as well as any adverse feelings which may come up during this process. Though counter-intuitive to how our biology responds to perceived irritations and enemies, much research in psychology points to the validity of practices such as these, which will be explored later in the paper. Looking deeper than the statistics that reveal disturbing qualities of humankind, it seems that we are indeed engaged in a subtle internal struggle as well, which when scaled to 6 billion people undoubtedly will produce external war. Despite the many achievements of science, healthcare, and commerce, most of human innovation has arguably been driven by the need for security, status, pleasure, and survival and has thus produced very easy and comfortable lives for those of us living in the privileged echelon of society. In his book, Global Shift: How a New Worldview is Transforming Humanity, psychologist Edmund Bourne writes Technologically, humanity has progressed from a predominantly survival-oriented existence to a postindustrial civilization, in which the average person enjoys many more conveniences

Tolle, A New Earth, 223.

Thompson, Mark. "Is the U.S. Army Losing Its War on Suicide?" Time Magazine, April 2010.

and comforts than royalty did in previous times. 10 Though improvements in quality of life can be beneficial, just like anything else, too many improvements lead to an obsession for more and a scary attachment to our own domestication. Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche, Chgyam Trungpa, alludes to this in his famous book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism:
Our highly organized and technological society reflects our preoccupation with manipulating physical surroundings so as to shield ourselves from the irritations of the raw, rugged, unpredictable aspects of life. Push-button elevators, pre-packaged meat, air conditioning, flush toilets, private funerals, retirement plans, mass production, weather satellites, bulldozers, fluorescent lighting, nine-to-five jobs, televisionall are attempts to create a manageable, safe, predictable, pleasurable world. 11

Perhaps the prolonged period of industrial and material development in the West has numbed us to the reality of the limited resources on the planet. Social critic James Howard Kunstler identities the most pressing issue threatening our lifestyle as the depletion of the worlds accessible oil supply, which will greatly alter all levels of society due to our industrial and personal dependence on it. In his book The Long Emergency, he writes:
It has been very hard for Americans lost in dark raptures of non-stop infotainment, recreational shopping, and compulsive motoring to make sense of the gathering forces that will fundamentally alter the terms of everyday life in technological society. Even after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,America is still sleepwalking into the future. We have walked out of our burning house and we are now headed off the edge of a cliff. Beyond that cliff is an abyss of economic and political disorder on a scale that no one has ever seen before. I call this the Long Emergency. 12

Our grandparents and parents today deeply remember a similar situation in which a period of material prosperity preluded a great downfall: the Great Depression. The world population has since roughly tripled (2 billion to 6 billion)13, and another depression would most likely be much more complicated and detrimental. Because we have not been immediately faced with the repercussions of the damage we are doing to the planets ecological system, we have

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Kunstler, James Howard. The Long Emergency (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2005), 1. U.S. Census Bureau. World Population Summary. http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/idb/worldpopinfo.php.

Bourne, Global Shift, 72. Trungpa, Chgyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Boston: Shambhala, 1973), 6.

continued to grow, continued to expand, and continued to treat the Earth as an inexhaustible source of exploitation. The world population is expected to be 9 billion in 2050.14 Bourne writes:
Governments, in combination with all-powerful multinational corporations, base policy decisions on a misguided vision of unlimited future economic development. While problems such as climate change, poverty, and disease are becoming more salient to public awareness, it is still economic values that drive the most powerful corporate and political institutions on the planet 15

The usual explanation of its just human nature can no longer suffice. Our values must change or else perhaps mother nature will find a way to get rid of usjust like our bodies find ways of getting rid of the cells who take more than they need: cancer cells. The overgrowth of our population has in large part been possible because of advances in medical technology as well as farming genetically modified crops. The population overgrowth has caused an unprecedented number of other species300,000 out of an estimated 10 million totalto become extinct in the past fifty years, and environmental scientists speak of an omega point at which the vast interconnected networks of Earths ecologies are so weakened that human existence is no longer possible.16 Furthermore, the population growth has led to even more use of fossil fuels. Global warming is no longer questioned by any scientific or governmental authority: it has been clearly stated as an actual occurring problem, caused by the emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels.17 The potential negative implications of global warming are huge and include: 1) a possible melting of much of the ice in the Arctic and forced displacement of over one billion people due to flooding and 2) the acidic increase of the earths seas as a result of rising carbon dioxide levels, which could kill off large amounts of phytoplankton who are one of the major resources for absorbing greenhouse gases as well as the primary foundation of the entire marine food chain. 18 The potential for disaster in our economy seems very latent, and in the case that we do lose access

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Ibid.

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Oreskes, Naomi. "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change" Science Magazine, December 2004: 1686.

Bourne, Global Shift, 13. Kunstler, The Long Emergency, 8. Bourne, Global Shift, 9-10.

to oil, perhaps the most alarming issue would be the disruption of our food supply. Kunstler concurs that parallel with any sort of energy collapse will be a scaling down of all human enterprise dependent on long supply chains to more local community-based efforts, and producing food will become a problem of supreme urgency.19 For the highly privileged and developed world, the withdrawal from the usual comforts and amenities expected every day would be quite difficult. Besides the food supply and oil industry, two more important systems exist as needing to be greatly reformed: healthcare and education. The United States spends $2 trillion on healthcare annually, and ironically the evidence suggests that advances in medical technology are the single biggest factor driving up healthcare costs over the last 50 years or so. 20 It clearly seems that we simply cannot afford to deal with all of the health problems people have and will have, so the best solution seems to be to focus on making our population more healthy in the first place. In the article The Role of Mindfulness in Healthcare Reform: A Policy Paper authors Elizabeth Mackenzie and Kelley Ruff point out that as the old adage has it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, yet our current system focuses mostly on cure and largely overlooks the advantages of investing in prevention.21 They further point out that of the $2 trillion dollars spent on healthcare, only 5% of that money goes toward public health and disease prevention, but many studies have shown the effectiveness of preventative medicine practices can create huge savings compared to their cost:
The fundamental problem in our healthcare systemthe factor most responsible for driving up healthcare costsis the neglect of low-tech strategies to prevent disease and promote health in favor of high-tech interventions to treat disease after it has arisen. We must change the way we think about health and healthcare if we are to produce meaningful and lasting healthcare reform. As a society, we have become habituated to looking outside ourselves for answers to our

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Mackenzie, Elizabeth, and Kelley Ruff. "The Role of Mindfulness in Healthcare Reform: A Policy Paper." Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 2009: 313.

Kunstler, The Long Emergency, 239. Ibid., 314.

problems, often turning to technological solutions that, although typically effective in the shortterm, may not be the best long-term approach. 22

The West has recently taken a keen interest in the power of inner change in healthcare, particularly through the practice of mindfulness consciously observing ones thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in the present moment. Originating from the meditative traditions from the East, mindfulness strips away of all of the bells, whistles, and doctrines whence it came, and has slowly but surely found its way into Western medicine, psychotherapy, education, and business. Existing spiritual leaders even advocate it more than their traditional backgrounds in some cases because of its universality and lack of rigid rules to follow. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn calls it the miracle by which we can master and restore ourselves and says that if were really engaged in mindfulnessthen we will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts like a flower, enabling us to enter the world of reality. 23 The attraction of mindfulness in context to healthcare providers comes from its portability, low cost, and ability to promote holistic wellness without any advanced technology. Largely introduced to the West by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of University of Massachusetts Medical School in the form of MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction), today hospitals across the nation have developed branches for integrative medicine or holistic healing. Philadelphia alone has several programs that teach preventative practices, including the Penn Program for Mindfulness and Thomas Jefferson Hospitals Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine. Bourne cites the huge interest in alternative and complementary medicine as one indicator that people are beginning to embrace more sustainable ways of living: the National Institutes of Health program on complementary and alternative medicine has grown from an office with a $2 million budget to a national center with a budget of $123 million in 2006. 24 Mackenzie and Ruff enumerate many studies on

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Hahn, Thich Nhat. The Miracle of Mindfulness (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 12-14.

Ibid.

Bourne, Global Shift, 64.

mindfulness or similar preventative practices, that collectively give convincing evidence that mindfulness can improve health and quality of life through decreased perception of pain, reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, enriched interpersonal connection, and enhanced brain, nervous, and immune system function. 25 Furthermore and perhaps more importantly to its realistic full integration into public health, mindfulness can drastically reduce medical insurance claims and hospital costs. To quote one of the studies they listed:
Lutz et al conclude that Many of our core mental processes such as awareness and attention and emotion regulation, including our very capacity for happiness and compassion, should best be conceptualized as trainable skills. The meditative traditions provide a compelling example of strategies and techniques that have evolved over time to enhance and optimize human potential and well-being. The neuroscientific study of these traditions is still in its infancy but the early findings promise to reveal the mechanisms by which such training may exert its effects as well as underscore the plasticity of the brain circuits that underlie complex mental functions. 26

Similar to our healthcare system, our education system seems to be very dysfunctional both within top-tier elitist private schools as well as poor-performing inner city public schools the former aims to produce pre-professionals who take 6 AP classes, play 2 sports, and do 5-10 hours of volunteer work a week 27, while the latter doesnt quite know how to handle its slew of pregnant 18-year-olds or incoming 9th graders with 5th grade math skills. Kunstler elaborates on his view of the public education system:
The failure of schooling in America is manifest. Our inner-city schools are in a nearly complete state of entropic decay due to the effects of our overall disinvestment in citiesthese schools are not producing even minimally literate citizens with adequate social skillsSuburban schools may be in better condition physically, with more abundant supplies, but that, too, is changing. Gigantic alienating suburban schools are producing so much anxiety and depression that multiple slayings have occurred at regular intervals in them in recent years 28

Public education has commonly been viewed by educator reformers as a place to create real change within society, if done right. Public educator and eventual NYU professor, Neil Postman, shares, I began my career as an elementary school teacher and have not for a single

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Mackenzie and Ruff. "Mindfulness in Healthcare, 315-317.

Ibid. Broglie, Justin: a real live student 28 Kunstler, The Long Emergency, 271-272.

moment abandoned the idea that many of our most vexing and painful social problems could be ameliorated if we knew how to school our young. 29 However, it seems that our schools really do produce more stress than is necessary. Researchers have demonstrated that psychosocial stress during childhood plays a pivotal role in the development of disease even way later in life. Due to the uncovering of this fact and for similar reasons as in healthcare, we are fortunately also seeing a huge interest in applying mindfulness in educational settings. Several educational programs have developed nationally with very positive results, including Mindful Schools, InnerKids, and YES! for Schools. Each of these programs has conducted its own research and seen an organic growth in its programs. Mackenzie and Ruff elaborate on results from a study conducted by Mindful Schools in Oakland, CA:
Over 5,000 children in 20 schools have received mindfulness training. Preliminary data show that 93% of students report that mindfulness has helped them in some way[and] among teachers, 96% say that mindfulness training has benefitted them personally, and 94% plan to continue using mindfulness in the classroom.

It seems that programs like these will continue to flourish organically because of their low cost and ability to create positive change in school environments. If we can give children skills to deal with their stress and make more conscious decisions, then hopefully we will see positive results reflected as they grow up. In the experimental animated film Waking Life, a character representing philosophy professor Louis Mackey from the University of Texas at Austin says the gap between say Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between [the] chimpanzee and the average human30 Initially shocking yet arguably true, the lack of widespread ingenuity within human beings largely stems from the limiting conceptions we have about ourselves and the world around usin others words, our worldview. Research has shown us how our brains are

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Waking Life. Directed by Richard Linklater. 2001.

Postman, Neil. The End of Education (New York: Knopf, 1995), IX.

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hard-wired to exclude information that does not fit into [our] current meaning system.31 Thus our preconceived worldview plays a pivotal role in how we experience reality. Philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche arguably fulfilled more of their potential as human beings because they were willing to question existing beliefs about who they were and what they were here to do, and consequently think critically and freely about how they wanted to live their lives. In the paper Worldview Transformation and the Development of Social Consciousness published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the authors argue that a simple shift in worldview in the individual, when scaled to a society, can have huge implications for how such a society exists and behaves. They identify five levels of social consciousness, from embedded, where consciousness is shaped without conscious awareness by social, cultural and biological factors and which is a kind of presocial consciousness, all the way to resonate, in which people report a sense of essential interrelatedness with others a field of shared experience and emergence that is felt and expressed in social groups, and that stimulates social transformation. 32 They cite worldview transformation as being essential in creating positive, prosocial behaviors and lifestyle orientations. Ironically enough, much of our worldview stems from the assimilation of scientific discoveries into everyday life. Let us not forget that it was once commonly believed that the Earth was flat and also the center of the Universe, and those who questioned these assumptions received large amounts of criticism, even death threats in some cases. Throughout history, scientific discoveries have driven changes happening in popular culture. At every scientific paradigm shift, it has taken enormous energy for the general public to overcome assumptions of old views and assimilate the latest findings. We currently find our scientific worldview still immersed in the rational, deterministic paradigm of the Scientific

Schlitz, Marilyn Mandala, and Elizabeth M. Miller. "Worldview Transformation and the Development of Social Consciousness." Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2010: 24. 32 Schlitz and Miller,. "Worldview Transformation," 22-23.
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Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries which left us with a rejection of religious dogma and a physics that operates on laws of cause-and-effect between isolated, material objects (locality). However, the frontier of science today stands at the realm of quantum physics, which completely shatters our notions of determinism, materialism, as well as locality. A slew of scientists at institutions such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences have taken interest in exploring the meaning of the new physics as it relates to principles found in religions, such as the interconnectedness and mutual dependence of all beings, the absence of a separate self, and the power of intention in the manifestation of physical reality. Though this research has often not been respected by the scientific mainstream, many people in the general public have become increasingly interested in these topics which has furthered their standing in research institutions. The scientific community subsequently has become much more open to exploring ideas commonly shunned off as religion. In a collection of essays on quantum mechanics, cognitive science, and consciousness called Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, a variety of highly knowledgeable people in these fields comment on topics relating to consciousness. One physicist, Don M. Page, writes in his essay, Mindless Sensationalism: A Quantum Framework for Consciousness:
I do not believe that any ultimate theory of physics will have any precisely existing persons such as I, any precisely existing objects such as computer screens, any absolute notions of personal identity or object permanence, or even any absolute notion of time or of timescales. 33

Pages ideas resonate quite well with the Zen principles of impermanence and no-self. As these abstract ideas become assimilated into society, the changes could be quite drastic, similar to the contrast of our technological lives today and life in medieval times. Bourne describes how he sees a new worldview developing:
The Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment left humanity with a world disenchanted, a world devoid of purpose, meaning, or spiritual significance. Over the past few centuries, this has led to
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Page, Don M. "Mindless Sensationalism: A Quantum Framework for Consciousness." In Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives, 469. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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the ascendance of materialistic valuesHowever, a new worldview is emerging, in which the Cosmos is understood as inherently conscious, and thus re-enchanted. 34

Materialism and determinism no longer fit into our scientific framework of the world. Many other branches of science other than physics have begun research into these areas as well, including neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology. Bourne cites numerous indicators since the 90s for the development of an emergent worldview that is inherently more spiritual and interconnected, such as the environment and sustainability movements, the increase in demand for holistic healthcare, the feminist movement, widespread interest in Eastern spirituality, and the development of more than one hundred thousand grassrootsbased nonprofit organizations devoted to social change. 35 It always takes some time for any advance in science or technology to be assimilated within mainstream society, and today it seems that science is now finally reconciling itself with many principles of mystical spirituality such as our interconnectedness as well as the power of the mind in shaping reality. Spiritual teachers have often pointed to how inner changes reflect outer changes, and how enlightenment breaks apart ones inner conditioning, thus revealing the perfection underlying creation. For example, D.T. Suzuki, author on Zen Buddhism, writes of his own experience of satori, or enlightenment:
The individual shell in which my personality is so solidly encased explodes at the moment of satori. Not necessarily that I get unified with a being greater than myself or absorbed in it, but that my individuality, which I found rigidly held together and definitely kept separate from other individual existences, becomes loosened somehow from its tightening grip and melts away into something indescribable, something which is of quite a different order from what I am accustomed to. The feeling that follows is that of a complete release or a complete restthe feeling that one has arrived finally at the destination. 36

In this sense satori represents a radical shift in worldview, and consequently a radical opening of oneself to some sort of absolute reality and freedom. Suzukis perspective also seems to be about a radical openness to all possibilities in life, and thus a very wide worldview. If we can
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Suzuki, D.T. Essays in Zen Buddhism (London: Luzac and Company, 1933), 18-19.

Bourne, Global Shift, 83. Ibid., 17-18.

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explore these experiences and what gives rise to them within scientific research institutions, we can develop methods of supporting each other in going through this transformation, whether we call it mystical enlightenment or ordinary human growth, and take one step closer towards really filling out our humanity. The time has never been more ripe for a new humana neo-humanfamily to emerge on the planet. Though there do seem to be two latent possibilities for our future, either one of dire chaos and destruction, or one of a widespread development of human values that put us back into a sustainable relationship with nature and ourselves in our economy, healthcare and education systems, and international relations. Change happens when enough people finally feel empowered to leap out of the current paradigm and into new territorysimilar to the analogy of the 100th monkey on an island, who represents the tipping point for developing a behavior which spreads like wildfire to the rest of the species. Ironically, what is the norm is often not entirely ideal nor is it moral. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said in a speech Never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal. 37 In this quote he points out to us that every system, structure, and law only have power to the extent that we allow them, and thus we very much have a role to play in creating positive social change and sustainable lifestyle choices.

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King, Jr., Martin Luther. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Hachette Book Group, 1998).

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