EVIL

10 12 2017

This is the 29th chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” It’s a long one, so I won’t be reading the whole chapter this month. Please buy the book to support Mr. Eisenstein’s work. Thank you!

When we confront something we regard as “evil,” it poses a threat to the self-preservation of ego. We are so busy preserving our existence in the face of this threat that we cannot see the thing clearly at all.

—Chögyam Trungpa

Sometimes in Q&A sessions or internet comments I am confronted with the accusation that I ignore “the dark side of human nature.” I would like to unpack that statement. What is the dark side of human nature? It certainly means more than “Sometimes people do some pretty awful things,” because obviously if it wasn’t someone’s fault or intention to cause harm, that is not very dark. Besides, anyone who has read my work knows that I am well aware of the horrible things we humans have done to each other and the planet. No, when we speak of the dark side of human nature we are making a dispositionist claim: that we do bad things because there is bad within us. We bear within us evil, malice, selfishness, greed, brutality, cruelty, violence, hate, and callousness.

On the one hand, this is trivially true: all of these are parts of the human experience. Even if circumstances bring them out, they must be there to be brought out in the first place. But if it were only that, then the situationist response would be sufficient: change the circumstances that elicit evil. No easy task, this: these “circumstances” include the whole edifice of our civilization all the way down to its foundational mythology of Separation and Ascent. Yet still, a more beautiful world is still possible in principle…..

…..

Jimi told me he’d think about it. He didn’t do as I suggested, but let me tell you what happened. Later that week Jimi arranged a meeting with the thief. He went accompanied by his friend M., a martial arts expert. The thief brought two of his friends along as well. He said he really wanted the item and didn’t want to pay for it. His two friends started egging him and Jimi on, suggesting that they fight for it. Jimi (who is six-feet-two and has also studied martial arts) said, “Forget it, I’m not going to fight you for this petty material object. You keep it. I don’t want your money.”

The thief was taken aback. Then he said, “You know, that doesn’t feel right. I shouldn’t have taken it like that. Let me give you some money. How about $50? That’s all I can afford.”

Whereas each had held the other in a story of enmity, now there was humanity.

Bruce Cockburn, “The Gospel of Bondage” and “The Gift

Second installment begins:

Pancho Ramos Stierle runs a peace house on the border between two gang territories in what is considered one of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, California. People tell me that more than once, local individuals have entered the house with the intention to rob or kill, only to be converted into peace workers instead.

Years ago, Pancho was involved in a protest at UC Berkeley, where he was a PhD student in astrophysics. He was one of a group of students publicly fasting to protest the university’s involvement with nuclear weapons development. After nine days, the university got tired of it and had the police come and make an example of the group of hunger strikers. Police officers broke the human chain the protesters had made by interlocking their arms, and one officer lifted the slight Pancho into the air, slammed him onto the concrete, and brutally handcuffed him…..

…..Even if the reader is not convinced that there is no such thing as elemental, essential evil, it should at least be clear that most of the time, what we ascribe to evil actually comes from situation. Even if the reader still thinks there is a “discontinuity that divides the ordinary flawed human from the truly evil,” it is clear that we often categorize the former as the latter. That is extremely important, because whereas evil can be overcome only by superior force, anything else can be changed by changing the situation, the totality of the inner and outer circumstances. In large part, these circumstances consist of layer upon layer of story, going all the way down to our personal and cultural Story of Self.

This is the level we must work at if we are to create a different kind of society. We must become the storytellers of a new world. We tell the story not only with words, but with the actions that spring from that story. Each such action shows all who witness it that there is another world out there, another way of seeing and being, and that you are not crazy for thinking it is there.

I will conclude my reading of this chapter next month.

music: Jefferson Starship, “I Want To See Another World

Well, actually, I’m not going to finish it this month. Conclusion of “Evil” will happen in March, unless other stories take up all my time. (Local transit issues and recent Russiagate developments come to mind.) The February segment begins

Every act of generosity is an invitation into generosity. Every act of courage is an invitation into courage. Every act of selflessness is an invitation into selflessness. Every act of healing is an invitation into healing. I am sure you have felt this invitation upon witnessing such acts.

I once read a news story about a train wreck in Peru. The travelers and tourists were stranded in the mountainous area in winter, without food or heat. Many might have died that night, if it weren’t for the local villagers who came with food and blankets to keep them warm. These were poor villagers, and they were giving their only blankets.

I remember when I read that story how petty my own insecurity seemed, how tight my heart, and how tiny my generosity. I felt a kind of opening. If those indigent villagers can give their last blankets, then surely I needn’t be so concerned about my financial future. I can give. It will be okay……

and ends

I would be curious to know what people who have been victimized by psychopaths or other malevolent powers have in common. Are they just random victims, or is there something inside of them that attracts the experience?

Those who do what they call shamanic work might ask the same question about the “entities” that attach themselves to people. Are these arbitrary, predatory forces, like the impersonal forces of nature, that visit themselves upon the unlucky? Or is there an energetic hole, a missing part, a wound that perfectly complements the configuration of the entity that attaches itself? In that case, perhaps the entity is performing a service, merging with the host into a symbiotic whole. One might ask, is the entity really a separate entity at all, or could it be an unintegrated part of the psyche? Is there even a meaningful difference between those two categories? What is a self, anyway? If we are interbeings—the sum total of our relationships—then the existence of an alien, othered “evil” is highly problematic.

My response to his question about whether those attacked by psychopaths are “random victims,” in light of my view that we are all, humans and non-humans alike, suffering from the actions of political psychopaths, is that in a way, yes, we are simply random victims who have done nothing to attract this unwelcome attention except be born here on Earth. Since we have been born into this mess, however, it’s up to us to clean it up if we can.

Music: Buffy Ste. Marie, “Priests of the Golden Bull,

Zakir Hussein, “Balinese Fantasy

Buffy Ste. Marie, “Power in the Blood

The March reading begins with this paragraph:

The idea that evil is part of a larger alchemical dance vastly complicates the usual narrative of fighting on the side of good to conquer evil. We might instead see the evil we encounter as the externalized image of something hidden within ourselves. In contrast, the concept of absolute, merciless evil is closely analogous to the impersonal, merciless forces of the Newtonian universe, which visit destruction randomly upon us. It is also analogous to the ruthlessly competing gene-controlled robots of Darwinian natural selection. Both of these are key pillars of the old story. Does it not stand to reason that evil is as well?

And ends at the end of the chapter, with an amazing story:

My friend Cynthia Jurs met Christian Bethelson while she was doing peace work in Liberia, which had suffered a horrendous civil war in the 1990s. A rebel leader known by the nom de guerre of General Leopard, Bethelson was infamous in a milieu of massacre, child soldiery, and torture. If any human being is evil, it would have been him; he was, in his words, a man with “no conscience.” Eventually the war ended, and with it Bethelson’s livelihood: he had no skill other than killing. He decided to go to the nearest war, in Ivory Coast, where there might be demand for his gruesome services. On the way his car got stuck in the mud. Who would have guessed that another car would be stuck in the mud on the same stretch of road at the same time, and that that car would be bearing members of a peace group called the Everyday Gandhis? Intrigued by their conversation, he announced himself as a former rebel general. He thought they would vilify him, maybe even beat him, but to his astonishment the group gathered around him, hugged him, told him they loved him. He decided to join them and dedicate his life to peace.

Let us hold out for no less a miracle planetwide. Let us accept the invitation that it offers us into a larger sense of the possible.

music: Incredible String Band, “Painted Chariots





BUILDING BRIDGES

7 08 2010

I have long believed in the importance of talking with people with whom I disagree strongly, although I have not always been successful in creating the healing dialogues I long for.

Towards the end of the years I lived on the Farm when I  didn’t like the materialist direction in which things were going, my friends and I invited a lot of people to sweat lodges and full moon drum circles, hoping that sharing prayer and ecstatic experience would bond us and create a deeper basis on which to discuss the community’s direction.  The adults we wanted to commune with never showed up, but accused us of corrupting the youth when their kids did.  Socrates, I feel for ya. Eventually, pretty much all of us who held a “hippie/spiritual” vision of the community left, feeling like victims of subtle ethnic cleansing.

After that, I spent several years in Vermont, a place distant enough from The Farm that, if I said I was “from the Farm,” the most common response was, “which farm?”

Oddly enough, I did end up living at a place that everybody in the neighborhood referred to as “The Farm,” but that’s a digression….my experience with sweat lodges had left me curious about the sacramental role of tobacco in Native American ceremony, and so I planted a few rows of it in my garden, where, to my surprise and delight, it flourished, growing six feet tall, topped with huge clusters of white flowers that, unlike commercial cigarettes, smelled simply heavenly in the moonlight.

I dried my crop and found myself in possession of several pounds of organically grown tobacco leaves.  I have never been a cigarette smoker, but I crumbled up a little bit of dry leaf and stuffed it into a pipe.  The taste was not unpleasant, but the effects, if any, were pretty minimal.  Aware of the fact that I was messing with a plant that is not only highly addictive but also potentially lethal, I confined my tobacco use to rare, ceremonially appropriate occasions, and came up with an idea for political theater:  I would go to the Montpelier farmers’ market and offer tobacco in ounce and quarter-ounce baggies, as well as potted tobacco plants, for those who wanted to grow their own.  In this way, I hoped to start a dialog about tobacco, the sacramental use of herbs, the commercialization of sacramental herbs, addiction, and who knows what else.

First, I had to get it clear with the Farmers’ Market management, who were wary about being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for selling tobacco outside the normal channels.  I called the BATF, and a gentleman there assured me that, as long as I was selling simple air-dried tobacco leaves that had not been “cured” in any way, they had no jurisdiction over me.

I had a good time, sitting there at my table full of rolled-up baggies, offering samples from a small pipe, selling rolling papers,  and getting double-takes from all the pot smokers in the crowd.  I could actually make decent money at it, generally managing to gross $30-50 over the course of a morning.  But the hoped-for dialogues never happened.  I found I was basically “preaching to the choir,” talking to hippies who already dug what I was doing, while straight, square types with cigarettes in their mouths or packs in their pockets barely gave me a glance.

With the help of friends, I eventually expanded my business, selling incense, spiritual books, and imported batik clothing to benefit the Buddhist center with which I was affiliated.  It was fun selling beautiful clothes to beautiful women, but what I enjoyed most was the occasional deep conversation about a book or the spiritual essence of tobacco or the other (legal!) herbs I sold.    That business wound down in the late nineties as the music festival vending scene became overcrowded and overpriced, and my modus operandi for seeking dialogue on serious issues morphed again.

I wore a shirt that said, “WILL WORK FOR BUDDHA” to a job interview for the produce department at the new Wild Oats store that was opening in Nashville, and it just so happened that the guy who interviewed me had been a student of Baba  Ram Dass,  and had helped him start Naropa Institute, a Buddhist university, in Boulder, Colorado.  Ram Dass’s partner in starting Naropa, was, of course,the famous (or, in some quarters, notorious) Chogyam Trungpa, who has perhaps done more than any other Tibetan to transform the somewhat arcane practices of Tibetan Buddhism into something culturally understandable by Americans.    As so often happens, I’m digressing–the upshot is, he hired me.

Ten years ago, when this happened, Wild Oats’ motto was, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and store clerks were expected to be not mere faceless shelf-stockers, but dynamic, knowledgeable personalities who could educate customers on the virtues of the stores’ products.  As someone who had farmed for nearly twenty years, both conventionally and organically, and who feels passionate about the virtues of organic farming,  I was a natural for the produce department.

For several years, I enjoyed this position.  Sure, I wasn’t talking with people who disagreed about the advantages of healthy, organic food, but I was able to educate a lot of people who already knew a little and wanted to learn more.

But Wild Oats was changing.  Management squared up and expected us to do the same.  I found I was being harassed for the same behavior I had been hired for, and left the company, landing in another health food store where, in spite of it being smaller and more informal, I was talking less with customers than I had at Wild Oats, if only because there were fewer customers and my duties kept me behind the scenes more of the time.

In 2005, Radio Free Nashville went on the air. I began doing this radio show, and started the blog that records it.  “Another chance for dialogue,” I thought, but for years comments were sparse, and favorable.  I began to feel like I was still just preaching to the choir.  In the last few months, that has changed.  Let me tell you, I have had some dialogues that about made my head spin.

The first ones were not too promising.  In response to my “OBAMA THE SOCIALIST AND OTHER DELUSIONS” post, “Commieblaster” dropped me a link about how “Obama is more Marxist than socialist.”  Simple, and easy to counter.  But then somebody named  “Wouldee” sent me a longer love note that started,

obama is just as confused as you, libtard. You idiots are amazingly ignorant of reality. bye bye. You sealed the deal for the youngsters’ better judgment, showing how stupid you marxist-socailist (sic) asshats really are on the LEFT. You will hate what is coming at you for reward….

What the hell, I printed it, and responded, in part:

I’m sorry, sir, that you’re so angry and looking for some satisfaction in blaming me for Obama and Obama for the mess we’re in. I agree with you that Obama has contributed to the mess, but, again–I’ve been saying since day one that Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution. If you’re not paying enough attention to tell me from him, you’re not paying enough attention to keep yourself from getting hurt long before you have the chance to do damage to anyone else. Please be careful!

The ice was broken.  “Clarance R” went several rounds with me on “SCIENCE-BASED MEDICINE” largely on the basis that plant medicines couldn’t possibly be as effective as synthesized, concentrated pharmaceuticals.  I’m not sure s/he ever did get the point that I think we need to look to the plants because the pharmaceuticals may not be widely available much longer, but the exchange evolved from an argument to a discussion, and left me feeling good about it.

Then I started hearing from “Jack,” who wrote in his opening response to “TEA PARTIES–BOSTON OR WONDERLAND?”

…in the past ten years I have moved to the right politically and by now the Tea Partiers make more sense to me than The Farm’s veterans…..

Reading your words I remember how I used to see the world a few decades ago and I realize how difficult it is to bridge the gap between, roughly, the right and the left, the red and the blue, the Tea Party and The Farm.

I don’t have a solution for that. The differences are real and they go pretty deep. The two sides talk but they don’t really hear each other because the words aren’t understood in the same way and they are connected to different sets of facts with different shadings of emphasis and different belief systems of how things fit together.

America is about as polarized now as in the sixties and seventies. I find it distressing but it seems like something we will just have to work through as best we can , with as much respect and love as we can manage, and that seems to be a tall order for everyone these days.

I responded, in part:

I share your concern about people not listening to each other, and not being able to hear/understand each other when they try. It will take some effort and commitment, but if we are as intelligent a species as we like to think we are, we can learn to do it. In fact, we had better.

In further exchanges, he pointed out that, if I’m really seeking dialogue, I might have more success without terms like “Repugs” and “deluded,” and I responded…anyway, with dialogue being a rare critter these days, I think it would be worth your time to go to the blog and check it out, just for a model of what Tea Party-Green dialogue can be.

there’s more.  “Rogerthesurf” doubted my claim that we are running out of oil (TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES–LAMAR ALEXANDER):

You have to remember that we heard the same stories as you write above in the ’70′s and ’80′s.
Well the shortage then was manufactured by politicians, for example President Carter with his domestic oil price policy etc.

I came back with:

If we had taken Carter’s advice then instead of drinking Reagan’s Kool-Aid, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today, with the US running major deficits to import oil and major military missions (and consequent deficits) to secure oil supplies from Iraq because “the American way of life is not negotiable.” The oil companies wouldn’t be pressing to drill in dangerous, expensive places like a mile under the ocean or the far Arctic if they knew of “easy oil.”

And we were off!  It was quite a spirited debate, and about the last I heard from Roger was

Well Brother Martin, thanks for answering my questions so well.

I will leave you in peace.

However do you have any advice for the normal individual on how to prepare for the approaching holocaust?
For instance, are you taking any steps yourself?

And I answered,

cultivate a circle of friends of varied ages and aptitudes, and do things together that build your trust in each other. Learn and practice basic knowledge and skills–gardening, carpentry with hand tools, hand sewing, “barefoot doctor” medical skills, including herbal medicine and skin stitching, shoemaking, metal working, bow hunting, small animal raising, butchering, simple ways to preserve food–including meat. (I’m a vegetarian, but if I can’t raise enough beans and grains, I’m not going to starve for my principles! There’s more important things in life than what we eat.) Pay off all your debts. Make home improvements that improve the efficiency of your home. Cultivate good relations with your neighbors, even if they don’t end up being the people in your circle of close friends. Do your best to hip people to what you see coming–the greatest security is created by the maximum number of people being most prepared, not by who’s got the most guns and ammo.
Cultivate tolerance and humor, and do your best to be easy to get along with, caring and sharing.

As for what steps I/we are taking, that same list about covers it.

Hope that’s helpful to you. Happy trails!

A few days after that, “Sarah” left a note on the “TEA PARTIES” thread, saying

Maybe you should copy this thread as a post so more people will read it. Or post a condensed version.

Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah.  I’ve had to give a very condensed version, but hopefully it will inspire some of my readers and listeners to check out the conversation, and maybe even contribute something to it…meanwhile, I’m very happy to finally get to communicate with some people who challenge my views and make me think about why I think what I think.  Occasional rigorous examination of our own biases, opinions, and beliefs is as essential to a sane future as any material survival skill…as one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK!”

Speaking of which, P.S. to Jack on the “McCHRYSTAL FOR PRESIDENT?” thread:  after reading Hansen, Jonah Goldberg, and a few other right-wing commentators, I see what you mean about it being unlikely that McChrystal will be the Republican presidential candidate…he bucked authority and that’s a big no-no….

music: The beatles, “Hey Bulldog








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