Over the holidays, a friend expressed grave concern to me about the devolution of humanity as aided and abetted by the Internet. "How can we get anywhere when Internet violence and pornography sabotage us at every turn?" he said. "It's so bad, and we stand to lose God in the middle of it." This was not the first of such conversations I've had with people in the 40+ age group -- people who have raised or are still raising teenagers. It's a big social issue and a losing argument in many households as kids (and adults) find ways around moral codes and digital firewalls. It's easy to find whatever you want, good or bad. The internet has unlocked the basement door and thrown away the key.
For the sake of clarity (and word count) I'm defining porn loosely here as the general tendency to degrade ourselves and others, not just physically or sexually, but also socially and intellectually. In other words, porn in this context is anything that appeals to our lower nature, including violence of thought, word, deed or animation. And while I find all of the above as offensive as anyone, I'm surprisingly less pessimistic about it. I don't think it will destroy the planet or arrest the evolution of our consciousness. I don't think it signals the end of God or decency. In fact, I think the exposure of our moral underbelly is essential to the future of humankind, and possibly the only way out of the global sinkhole we've created. Here's why:
The Internet on its own is not essentially good or bad. It's a tool, a searchlight directed at us -- our attic, our living space and our basement. And, as it turns out, the basement is filthy, swimming in debris and crying out to be cleaned. What shows up on the Internet is merely a reflection of what's already present in our individual and collective consciousness. It's nothing new. Maybe it's 10 percent high-order transcendent thought and 90 percent polluted filth, but that might be optimistic. Choose your own numbers. Whatever it is, it is, and we're all getting a good look at what really attracts our attention. The monsters of our lower nature have driven us mad for millennia with pride, greed, bias, rage, addiction, enslavement, rape, entitlement, loathing, and whatever other deficiencies you can name. They have run rampant in the dark since the dawn of consciousness, chained occasionally to the stone walls of our psychic dungeons during brief periods of enlightenment, but never for long.
Now they are free.
Now they are free to roam larger than life, 3-D, LED, LCD, and whatever else technology will dream up next. Now the monsters have dimension and light. We have no choice but to acknowledge that: Yes, we do think these things, imagine these things, entertain these things that have the power to degrade and wound us. And they have certainly wounded us. But wounds cannot be treated and healed until they've been lanced and exposed. The Internet exposes them.
The great visionary, Teilhard de Chardin, identified a membrane of thought that wraps around the earth. He called it the "noosphere" (no-o-sphere). The noosphere indiscriminately contains whatever thoughts we have contributed to it -- conscious, subconscious, and collectively unconscious. There's no taking them back. It is the witness of our existence, proving that our thoughts have mattered much more than we ever knew. Before the internet, we could mask them in darkness; hide them in the basement. In hiding them from others as well as ourselves, they were often not clear or obvious until they did damage. Before Twitter and Facebook only a master psychic or disastrous slip of the tongue could indict us for a lewd thought, biased opinion, or hateful barb. But now our ideas, opinions, and attitudes toward each other are as transparent as our words and deeds. As Teilhard predicted, the noosphere is waking up.
In his book, The Phenomenon of Man, published in 1955 -- years after his death -- de Chardin wrote:
"A glow ripples outward from the first spark of conscious reflection. The point of ignition grows larger. The fire spreads in ever widening circles till finally the whole planet is covered with incandescence. Only one interpretation, only one name can be found worthy of this grand phenomenon. Much more coherent and just as extensive as any preceding layer, it is really a new layer, the 'thinking layer', which, since its germination at the end of the Tertiary period, has spread over and above the world of plants and animals. In other words, outside and above the biosphere there is the noosphere."
He believed that as the noosphere spread over the surface of our globe, Idea would meet Idea, and the result would be "an organized web of thought, a noetic system operating under high tension, a piece of evolutionary machinery capable of generating high psychosocial energy."
In other words, the Internet.
Looking at the Internet this way does not remove our responsibility to protect our higher nature from the pull of gravity. But it does allow us to see what really belies our human pain. It's a mess down there. And just maybe that energetic/spiritual mess is also affecting our mental and physical health and the health of our planet. Blinded by the light of the internet, maybe now we'll be able to own up to it. Maybe in acknowledging the real status quo, we'll be able to reinforce the positive aspects of our humanity. In reinforcing the positive aspects of our humanity, maybe we'll see the critical importance of learning (and teaching) profound inner spiritual and moral discipline. And in the end, maybe that was always the way up the basement stairs.