DISRUPTION

8 07 2018

prettyswiftThis is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2013 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” Due to this chapter’s length, I am only reading part of it this month. The beginning of the chapter, and the end of this month’s reading, are reproduced below. You can find the whole chapter here.

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.

—Jonathan Swift

The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first, to disrupt the existing Story of the World, and second, to tell a new Story of the World so that those entering the space between stories have a place to go. Often, these two functions merge into one, since the actions we take that are part of the telling of a new story are also disruptive to the old.

This is how I see my work, the work of activists, and even on some level the work of artists and healers. Many of the stories I have told in this book exemplify the disruption of the old story: Pancho’s interaction with the policeman, for instance. I will share some more examples soon, but let’s start by considering a class of people that is the source of the greatest despair for many people I know. It is the class of “people who just don’t get it.”……

…..I believe the conversation must go deeper still. What that Nestlé VP did to justify her company, others can do to justify our whole civilization, as long as we grant them certain premises about the nature of life, self, and reality. For example, if we grant the premise that primitive life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” then any doubts about the overall beneficence of technology run into a brick wall. Similarly, if we grant the premise that nature bears no inherent tendency toward organization and that life is just a random collocation of lifeless, generic building blocks bumped around by purposeless forces, then clearly we need have no scruples about seeking to conquer nature and turn it toward human ends. And finally, if we grant the premise that each of us is a discrete, separate self seeking to maximize genetic self-interest, then ultimately there is no arguing over the broad legal and economic parameters of our society, which seek to overcome that wanton nature and channel it toward pro-social ends.

The Nestlé VP’s views are more or less sound within the framework I have described above, the framework of “making life better through technology,” of the progressive conquest of inner and outer nature. Her views will not change until that framework crumbles. They are completely at home within the Story of Ascent.

I have to note that I take issue with what I regard as Eisenstein’s overly generous characterization of climate change deniers, since we now know, much more clearly now than when this book was written, that the big oil companies became aware of the profoundly dangerous consequences of their business back in the 70’s, and chose to hide what they knew and dispute the revelations of others in the interests of short-term profits. Back then, it would have been much easier to change course than it is now, both because so much polluting infrastructure has been built and because we are now running out of time before the changes wrought by our use of oil and coal send the planet’s climate too far out of control for anything but a crash landing.

I suspect that many corporate executives like the one Eisenstein writes about in this chapter may likewise be well aware that the one percent is quite consciously sucking the rest of us, and the planet, dry. Be that as it may, however, they are human beings like us, and if we are going to create, as I said earlier in this show, “a culture that is equitable, ecological, responsible, visionary, and tolerant,” it is going to have to find a way to include these people. That is exactly the issue Eisenstein is addressing here, so tune in next month for the next exciting instalment–or read the book yourself, if you can’t stand to wait.

music: “Pulled Up,” Talking Heads

Am,” Umar Bin Hassan

On the August “Green Hour,” I began reading with this, and concluded with the end of the chapter:

I heard another smart guy one morning on The Diane Rehm Show, an energy industry consultant. One of the topics was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, intended to transport Albertan tar sands oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The consultant made the following point, which I will paraphrase: “Look, if we don’t build the pipeline, the refineries on the Gulf Coast are just going to refine heavy crude from somewhere else, and the tar sands will send their oil to Asia instead of the United States. Stopping the pipeline won’t have any impact on climate change or ecosystem destruction. That oil is going to be extracted and refined anyway, so it might as well be done in a way that brings jobs to the United States.”

Philosophers of ethics would have fun demolishing these arguments, which would apply just as well to selling body parts from the Nazi concentration camps. Whether I sell them or not, the camps are still operating, so I might as well put those body parts to good use, right? The point here, though, isn’t to expose the logical flaws in the justifications for the Keystone XL pipeline or plastic bottles, but to show how the things we take for granted determine our moral choices. In the reality bubble they inhabit, their arguments make perfect sense. If it is indeed an unalterable fact of the universe that the tar sands will be extracted, then it would be vain and counterproductive to disdainfully refuse to engage that fact. If our current petroleum-based civilization is unalterable, then we might commend Nestlé for putting its waste to good use. If we take the growing busyness of people’s lives for granted, then we must welcome the conveniences that make modern life tolerable. Within their operating paradigms, both these smart people are doing good……..

…..

Years later, he says, he still gets emails from those participants, telling him that their lives have never been the same since. “Tell me when you give another seminar,” they say. “I don’t care what the topic is.”

The power of that act of generosity was far beyond the mere economic impact on the working-class janitors. Its power lay in its violation of the laws of reality as the janitors, their supervisor, and the seminar participants had known them. The impossible happened, that day. Experiences like that tell us, “The world doesn’t work the way you thought it did. The realm of the possible is greater than you believed it was.”

Music: “Money” — Pink Floyd

Waiting for a Miracle” –Jerry Garcia Band


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