This essay originally appeared under the title “Spiritual Dimensions Of World Order” in a new book called Nuclear Strategy And The Code Of The Warrior/Faces of Mars And Shiva In The Crisis Of World Survival, edited by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough (North Atlantic Books, 2320 Blake Street, Berkeley, California 94794).
Gordon Feller has been involved for years in encouraging what he calls “global security,” as director of Planetary Citizens and the Ark Foundation.
It is time to go beyond the usual parameters of the nuclear debate. It is time to begin asking ourselves how The Bomb has affected the human soul itself. By exploring The Bomb as symbol, we can penetrate more deeply into the amazing mirror nuclear weapons have created. Extraordinary changes in society, in attitude and in values have emerged world-wide since Hiroshima, changes that show us a thousand ways in which The Bomb has become the guiding metaphor of our time.
The world has been noticeably speeding up: economically, technologically, culturally, politically, militarily, scientifically, and intellectually. We often hear of an “information explosion,” not infrequently in the same breath that we speak of the “population explosion.” The explosive character of contemporary society is mirrored nowhere better than in atomic and hydrogen bombs.
Amidst explosion, “implosion” is simultaneously and just as radically transforming our lives. Although only a handful of scientists and their students used the word “implosion,” it entered into real usage with the inauguration of the atomic age. Reflected in the subatomic process of implosion is a world experiencing shrinkage — in today’s jargon, the “small world” of “spaceship Earth.” At every level, bar none, things seem closer: ideas and discoveries, causes and effects, movements and events, people and places. They are each converging one upon another, imploding.
How does something implode and explode at the same time? One is tempted to refer the question to a nuclear physicist. Rather than look at it from an outer world perspective, shift gears for a moment and view it from the angle of inner consciousness.
Implosion and explosion are not simultaneous in the physics of the nuclear reaction; the first follows the second by fractions of a second. And so, too, in the macro-dimension of modern social reality. The Age of Exploration and physical expansion was an explosive event, paralleled by the Age of Enlightenment’s intellectually and culturally introspective implosion. Global reach of this sort has today crystallized into multinational corporations, who, despite their often blatant wrong-doing, have brought us closer together, causing an implosion of humanity upon itself. Material well-being affected by the technoscientific explosion produced in its turn a population explosion that has brought humanity — finally — face to face with itself. Distance has shrunk: we can be in places today we only dreamed of being before. Time has shrunk: we can be there today more quickly than at any other time in history. Post-industrial societies have come into direct contact — and confrontation — with prehistoric stone-age peoples. We imploded into one another, after exploding out from behind old rigid boundaries.
The atomic process which catapulted us into the nuclear age depends almost entirely upon the liberation of an enormous untapped potential. Out of the interaction of particles come energies which have heretofore existed only in latent forms; this is a liberation process once again mirrored in the post-Hiroshima world where, among others, colonies, women, minorities and children have been liberating themselves from outmoded patterns of domination and repression.
Since 1945, the political and military configuration of the globe has undergone a wrenching process of transformation. During the Cold War we bore witness to the world-wide liberation of the forces of militarization, repression, and authoritarianism. Stimulated by the destructive potential of the atom and the actions of the two superpowers, latent world-competitive tendencies have emerged, manifesting an enormous material expansion and distortion in scientific and technological spheres of life. Although we sometimes tend to view it in a generally negative light, the widespread positive effect of this trend has been to liberate vast subtle human energies and resources of which the West’s “human potential” and “voluntary simplicity” movements have been but two of dozens of expressions.
For better or for worse, fusion nuclear energy seems to be “coming of age” in the early 1980s. It differs from fission in that the energy reaction is produced not by the division and separation of atomic structure but rather by the union of separated parts into new and more integrated wholes.
Fission is an expansive process that multiplies forms and regenerates atomic energies. It mirrors the expansionary tendencies of human consciousness and awareness characteristic of our entire century. Fusion, on the other hand, is an integrative and unifying symbolic presence which mirrors the shrinkage and coming together of once disparate and separated worlds.
The creation of a critical mass of energy-bundles within the nuclear core is essential to having either a successful fusion or fission reaction. Only when the critical minimum of actualized energy mass has gathered together can an explosive release of energy occur. In the societal counterpart, we today are being told by both futurist and mystic alike that only when a critical mass of awakened and activated human beings come together in either consciousness or form will we have the non-violent chain reaction of global transformation needed to assure human survival and dignity.
A critical mass of dedicated persons can make the difference, perhaps even enough difference to move the world back from the nuclear threshold and forward into planetary civilization.
In almost every conceivable manner, the release of the energy of the atom has revolutionized human and natural life on this planet. Every aspect has been affected, and the result has been a broadening and deepening of the world crisis. The passing of the old civilization and the birthing of a new, more humane global culture has been sped up by the energy of the atom to a degree that few of us are aware. The struggle to free humanity from the death grip of the nuclear menace promises — if we succeed in preventing a major catastrophe — to transform life as we have come to know it.
At the densest, physical level, the surface of the earth is spotted with thousands upon thousands of reactors, missiles, waste storage sites and laboratories using nuclear materials. A truism which gets asserted quite often these days is that “never before in human history has the survival of the planet and the human species upon it been so seriously threatened.” At the same time, however, the potential for spiritual growth and fulfillment is expanding under the weight of the arms race, a fact which often gets neglected in increasingly popular apocalyptic writings. To unravel this paradox we have created by and for ourselves is also to suggest one path by which we may make a conscious choice and collectively opt for awakening, rather than destruction.
Since World War II this planet has been undergoing transformations whose pace and quality are unprecedented in recorded history. The release of the energy of the atom has been discussed and written about to a greater extent than any other single event in history. Yet, despite the millions upon millions of pages and the billions upon billions of words spoken on the subject, I believe there is an important — no, a fundamental — dimension and dynamic which has been consistently overlooked.
The release of atomic energy symbolized, ironically, the birth of the spiritual heart in humanity. How, one asks, could the death of 150,000 human beings and the destruction of two large Japanese cities, constituting probably one of the most heinous crimes of history, be a spiritual event, let alone a high point? Who would dare entertain such an absurd suggestion?
As always, the answer comes in digging more deeply. A clear and careful distinction exists between the devastating effects of the atomic blasts and the symbolic meaning of the discovery of the energy of the atom. Symbolism has a psychic meaning which penetrates to the depths of both culture and civilization. A symbol, like a word, is the outer signal of an inner event taking place at levels of being and thought not immediately accessible to the normally physically-conscious mind. Therefore, the symbolic is in fact no less real than the event from which it draws its symbolism, and to which it refers for its basis in earthly reality.
The political struggle to abolish nuclear weapons and halt the spread of nuclear reactors has raised important questions about the social impact of the presence of nuclear materials on our planet. (By “social,” I mean broad shifts in the distribution of political and economic power, modes of social organization, and the like.) Stated in its simplest terms, the nuclearization of physical power and militarization of security have revolutionized the whole of the human social order. Concomitantly, the denuclearization and demilitarization of the globe will have an even greater revolutionary impact on the state of the world.
Choices made in society about the energy and resource base are value decisions, born of certain very basic attitudes toward the earth and humanity’s relationship to it. On the plane of human-nature relations, those who advocate and adopt the nuclear option hold what economist and peace researcher Kenneth Boulding called the “open cowboy” paradigm of the planet, a vision of an endless and enduring capacity for the planet to handle despoilation of its body. From the beginning of the nuclear fuel cycle in uranium mining operations through the end when nuclear wastes destined to radiate millions of years are buried in the sea or under our homes and farms, the cycle goes on. The “open cowboy” view is insensitive to Earth’s needs for cleanliness and respect. Only in this more refined and sacredly held state can she provide us in turn with the physical sustenance on which we depend for daily survival. To lack awe in the face of the wonder of life, or to lack a sense of honor for this planet on which the miracle of life has occurred, is to invite exploitation and rape. These become almost expected actions, since with this paradigm human beings should feel free, like the cowboy of an era gone by, to grab and destroy without regard for other life.
The “open cowboy” paradigm on the vertical plane of relation between human beings and the natural world on which we depend and with whom we share life is an inherently dangerous one. It fails to be cognizant of the physical limits of our biosphere; it is an embodiment of one of the darkest sides of ourselves, a side which we have come to know all too well over the millennia. The massive material resources required for endless rounds of nuclear arms competition and for expensive and dangerous nuclear power plants have begun to sap that once idyllic dream of unlimited supplies and limitlessly fulfilled demand. As the manifestation of a highly centralist and authoritarian paradigm upon which some multinational corporations and almost all governments seem to base their decisions, it is especially threatening. As a species we stand at the edge of a precipice.
Nuclear transformation itself is a symbol. Einstein’s famous equation E = MC2 tells us — in the most simple of interpretations — that all matter, when sped up to the speed of light multiplied by itself, is equal to the energy found in pure states in the universe. At the core of every atom of matter is a Life-energy; its release can bring forth untold quantities of power. At the core of every particle of life, at the core of every living thing, including you and I, this reality also holds true. Each atom of our being has this power, and as collectively we are made up of countless such atoms, the potential power of every human being can be called “divine” in its potential and magnitude.
Symbolically, the energy of the atom foretells the release of unimaginable creative potential from within every human being — if we can make it beyond the nuclear threshold itself. It is the story of human beings on a journey, our beginning or awakening of that nuclear center within every atom of our being, to the life energy from whence matter comes and to which all matter returns.
The materialist’s worldview of the life energy is indefensible in the face of this revelation of power and strength. The interchangeability of pure energy and seemingly inert matter means all things are Life and all objects are parts of the One Life in which we live and move and have our being.
© Copyright 1984 by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough