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

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RIGHTEOUSNESS

9 07 2017

Once again, my occasional reading of a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s 2012 book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible,” seems totally appropriate to our current situation. You can read the whole chapter here, and buy it and other works by Eisenstein at that same link.

The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.

—Goethe

Underneath the common agreement that the problem with the world is evil and the solution to conquer it is an unmet psychological need for self-approval. Two-thirds of our political discourse goes toward meeting our need to be right, to align ourselves with Good. If the man who disagrees with me does so because he is stupid, naive, bamboozled, or wicked, then I must be smart, canny, independent-minded, and good. Positive and negative judgments alike hold oneself as a tacit reference point (lazy means “lazier than I” and responsible means “responsible like me”).

Why do you really visit those websites that get you stirred up and indignant? Whatever reason you give yourself (e.g., to “stay informed”), maybe the real reason is the emotional gratification, the reminder that you are right, smart, in a word, good. You are part of the in-group. If you want even more reassurance you might start an online discussion group or a face-to-face group where you and a bunch of other people get together and talk about how right you are and how awful, incomprehensible, evil, and sick those other people are. Unfortunately, because this gratification is addictive, no amount will be enough. (The real need here is for self-acceptance, and the proxy offered does not and cannot meet the real need.) Soon everyone will want to be even more right—more right than certain others in the group, which will degenerate into infighting and flame wars…….

……Look at the plot of so many Hollywood movies where the resolution of the drama comes with the total defeat of an irredeemable bad guy. From high-concept movies like Avatar to children’s movies like The Lion King or Wreck-It Ralph, the solution to the problem is the same: conquer evil. Significantly, the type of movie that most often has this plotline, besides children’s movies, is “action” movies. No wonder defeating the bad guy so often becomes the unquestioned programmatic assumption behind all kinds of political action. I need not mention that it is also the defining mentality of war. And since the label “evil” is a means of creating an “other,” one might also say it is the defining mentality of our relationship to everything else we have made other: nature, the body, racial minorities, and so on.

More subtly, Western notions of story and plot have a kind of war built in to them as part of the standard three-act or five-act narrative structure, in which a conflict arises and is resolved. Is any other structure possible that isn’t dull, that still qualifies as a plot? Yes. As the blogger “Still Eating Oranges” observes, the East Asian story structure called Kishōtenketsu in Japanese is not based on conflict. But we in the West almost universally experience a story as something in which someone or something must be overcome. This surely colors our worldview, making “evil”—the essence of that which must be overcome—seem quite natural a basis for the stories we construct to understand the world and its problems.

Our political discourse, our media, our scientific paradigms, even our very language predispose us to seeing change as the result of struggle, conflict, and force. To act from a new story, and to build a society upon it, requires a wholesale transformation. Dare we do it? What if I am wrong? Let’s look more deeply into the nature of evil.

music: Jackson Browne, “Black and White

Lisa Gerrard, “Space Weaver

        Susan Shann, “The Final Word

 





PAIN

6 11 2016

eyes-of-the-world-sspv3This is the 23rd chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” You can buy the book, or read it on line, here.

So, what exactly are these unmet needs, and how can we discover and satisfy them? A multiplicity of basic human needs go chronically, tragically unmet in modern society. These include the need to express one’s gifts and do meaningful work, the need to love and be loved, the need to be truly seen and heard, and to see and hear other people, the need for connection to nature, the need to play, explore, and have adventures, the need for emotional intimacy, the need to serve something larger than oneself, and the need sometimes to do absolutely nothing and just be.

An unmet need hurts, and fulfilling a need feels good. Here lies the connection between need, pleasure, pain, and desire. The deeper the unmet need, the greater the pain we feel, the stronger the desire it generates, and the greater the pleasure in meeting it. Pain and pleasure are the doorways through which we discover what we really want and really need.

One thing that we discover as we enter the space between stories is that we do not want what we thought we wanted, and we do not like what we thought we liked. We look within and question: What do I really want? Why am I here? What makes me feel alive? Because our deeper unmet needs were mostly invisible to us, and because they have been unmet for so long, our physical and mental systems have adapted around them so that the pain becomes subconscious, diffuse, latent. That makes it hard sometimes to identify what the unmet need is. During life transitions, the obscuring stories break down and what’s missing in life becomes clearer. We begin to ask ourselves, “What hurts?” and to discover answers. These answers orient us toward meeting our true needs for connection, service, play, and so on. As we do so, we find that our experience of joy and well-being deepens, and that we far prefer this feeling to the pleasures that we now recognize were mere substitutes for it…..

….We are only able to continue our ravaging of the planet under the cover of pretense. How is it that we as a society take no action, when the awful artifacts of our way of life on this planet lay strewn all around us? How is it that we continue to hurtle toward an obvious abyss? It is only because we have been rendered blind and insensate. Underneath their numbers games, the banks and hedge funds are stripping wealth away from the masses and the planet. Behind every profit statement, behind every executive bonus, is a trail of wreckage: strip mines, debt slaves, pension cuts, hungry children, ruined lives, and ruined places. We all participate in this system, but can do so willingly only to the extent we do not feel, see, or know. To conduct a revolution of love, we must reconnect with the reality of our system and its victims. When we tear away the ideologies, the labels, and the rationalizations, we show ourselves the truth of what we are doing, and conscience awakens. Bearing witness, then, is not a mere tactic; it is indispensable in a revolution of love. If love is the expansion of self to include another, then whatever reveals our connections has the potential to foster love. You cannot love what you do not know.

One role of the changemaker is to be the eyes and ears of the world. Recall the power of the videos taken of police brutality during the Occupy movement. Just as nearly everyone who saw passively seated protesters pepper-sprayed in the face was sickened by what they saw, so also, everyone who sees behind the veil of numbers is sickened by what our financial system is doing to the world. By being antennae for the collective attention, we can tear away the veil. Even if some of the perpetrators retreat more deeply into rationalization and denial, others will have a change of heart. More and more police will refuse to shoot, more and more authority figures will counsel restraint, more and more functionaries of power will quit their jobs, blow the whistle, or try to reform their institutions from the inside.

What is power, after all? Every one of the power elite’s overwhelming advantages—military forces, surveillance systems, crowd control technology, control over the media, and nearly all the money in the world—depends on having people obeying orders and executing their assigned role. This obedience is a matter of shared ideologies, institutional culture, and the legitimacy of the systems in which we play roles. Legitimacy is a matter of collective perception, and we have the power to change people’s perceptions.

music: Grateful Dead “Eyes of the World

Indigo Girls, “Hammer and a Nail





DOING

3 04 2016

This is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” You can read the whole chapter here, and buy the book here. Please consider supporting Mr. Eisenstein’s work by buying the book!

All of these flavors of scarcity share a common root, a kind of existential scarcity for which I cannot find a name. It is a scarcity of being, the feeling “I am not enough” or “There is not enough life.” Born of the cutoff of our extended selves that inter-exist with the rest of the universe, it never lets us rest. It is a consequence of our alienation, our abandonment to a dead, purposeless universe of force and mass, a universe in which we can never feel at home, a universe in which we are never held by an intelligence greater than our own, never part of an unfolding purpose. Even more than the scarcity of time or money, it is this existential unease that drives the will to consume and control.

The primary habit that arises from it is the habit of always doing. Here and now is never enough. You might protest that most people in the Western world spend vast amounts of time doing nothing productive at all, watching TV and playing video games, but these are displacements of doing, and not nondoing.

I am not saying that it is bad to do. I am saying that there is a time to do, and a time not to do, and that when we are slave to the habit of doing we are unable to distinguish between them. As I mentioned earlier, the time to do is when you know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, and act anyway, you are probably acting out of habit…..

music: Indigo Girls, “Let It Be Me

Sheila Chandra, “La Sagesse

Jenifer Berezan, “ReTurning” (excerpt)





SCARCITY

12 03 2016

This is another chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” You can buy the book here.

The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.

―Confucius

Even as the old world comes apart around us, or even as we leave it in disgust, still we carry its conditioning. We have been colonized through and through by the old Story of the World. We are born into its logic, acculturated to its worldview, and imbued with its habits. And all of this is so pervasive as to be nearly invisible. As the comment of the Dogon elder suggests, we take for granted the very things that are at the root of the crisis, helplessly replicating them in all we do.

Wisdom traditions, indigenous worldviews, and sacred stories help to illuminate some of this baggage we carry from the Age of Separation, just like the Dogon elder questioned the operating assumption of scarcity of time. As we become more attuned to a new way of seeing the world, the more we wish to rid ourselves of the burdensome habits of the old. Not only do they no longer resonate with who we are and who we are becoming, but we recognize that trapped by those habits, we cannot help but create the world in their image. To release the habits of separation is therefore more than an issue of self-cultivation; it is also crucial to our effectiveness as activists, healers, and changemakers.

read the rest here

music: Greg Brown, “One Cool Remove” (The second link is to a Shawn Colvin/Mary Chapin Carpenter cover of the song. I like to have gender balance in my song selection, but for technical reasons am unable to play this version on the air.)

to end the show, here’s some serious Sufi Divine Feminine for ya:

Abida Parveen, “Ek Nukta Yaar

 





URGENCY

20 02 2016

This is a chapter from Charles Eisenstein’s book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.  You can buy it here.

The Way is calm and wide,

Not easy, not difficult.

But small minds get lost.

Hurrying, they fall behind.

—Seng Can

A year or two ago a young man confronted me at a talk in Florida. I’d been describing my view that the paradigm of urgency, heroic efforts, and struggle may itself be part of the problem; that it comes from the same place of scarcity and domination as the conquest of nature; that coming from that place, we might blindly create more of the same. Instead, I suggested, we might try slowing down, perhaps even doing nothing sometimes. Instead of holding ourselves to a high standard of revolutionary asceticism, we might approach life in a spirit of ease and play. Perhaps from this place our creative energies can bring about something truly new for civilization.

The man said something to the following effect (embellished here with words from my own inner critic):….

You can read the whole chapter here.

….None of this should be taken as a rejection of action or a call for passivity. There is a place in this world for effort, for urgency. What I have described is much like a birth process. From what I’ve witnessed in the birth of my children, when the time comes to push, the urge to push is unstoppable. Here is the very epitome of urgency. Between contractions the mother rests. Can you imagine saying to her, “Don’t stop now! You have to make an effort. What happens if the urge doesn’t arise again? You can’t just push when you feel like it!”

“You can’t just do whatever you feel like.” “You can’t just do anything you want.” “You have to learn self-restraint.” “You’re only interested in gratifying your desires.” “You don’t care about anything but your own pleasure.” Can you hear the judgmentality in these admonitions? Can you see how they reproduce the mentality of domination that runs our civilization? Goodness comes through conquest. Health comes through conquering bacteria. Agriculture is improved by eliminating pests. Society is made safe by winning the war on crime. On my walk today, students accosted me, asking if I wanted to join the “fight” against pediatric cancer. There are so many fights, crusades, campaigns, so many calls to overcome the enemy by force. No wonder we apply the same strategy to ourselves. Thus it is that the inner devastation of the Western psyche matches exactly the outer devastation it has wreaked upon the planet. Wouldn’t you like to be part of a different kind of revolution?

music: Eliza Gilkyson, “Through the Looking Glass”

Afro-Celt Sound System, “Inion

 





NEWNESS

8 01 2016

This is the 16th chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.” If you like what he has to say, please buy his book.

Let us pause for a moment to question the newness of the new story. After all, one of the hallmarks of the old story is the glorification of change, of novelty, of constantly discarding the old in favor of something new and better, the latest technological marvel in an endless saga of progress that devalues old relationships, knowledge, and traditions. Fixation on the new can also become a kind of escapism that sees existing problems as inconsequential, since we will leave them behind when we enter the “new” world. Some look to technology to save us, hoping that more novelty can rescue us from the disastrous unanticipated consequences of previous novelty; for example, that nanotechnology will reverse the climate effects of fossil fuel technology. There is nothing new about that ambition. So I would like to preempt that concern by clarifying that the new story is only new in the context of what we in modern “civilized” society are used to.

Many readers will recognize that the Story of Interbeing echoes the worldview of various indigenous tribes and ancient wisdom traditions around the world. None of the principles enunciated herein are new at all. I am wary, however, of appealing to “indigenous wisdom” as a way to legitimize my beliefs, first, because that would imply a uniformity across indigenous belief systems that trivializes their diversity; second, because various elements of indigenous spirituality have oft been ripped from their context and used as sales props for all manner of questionable products and ideas; third, because to draw too sharp a distinction between the civilized and the indigenous obscures our common humanity and perpetrates a kind of inverted racism that superficially valorizes, but ultimately demeans, those labeled as indigenous…..

read the rest here

….In a conversation, the Lakota Aloysius Weasel Bear told me that he once asked his grandfather, “Grandpa, the White Man is destroying everything, shouldn’t we try to stop him?” His grandfather replied, “No, it isn’t necessary. We will stand by. He will outsmart himself.” The grandfather recognized two things in this reply: (1) that Separation carries the seeds of its own demise, and (2) that his people’s role is to be themselves. But I don’t think that this is an attitude of callousness that leaves the White Man to his just deserts; it is an attitude of compassion and helping that understands the tremendous importance of simply being who they are. They are keeping alive something that the planet and the community of all being needs.

By the same token, our culture’s fascination with all things indigenous is not merely the latest form of cultural imperialism and exploitation. True, the final stage of cultural domination would be to turn Native ways into a brand, a marketing image. And certainly there are some in my culture who, sundered from community and from a real identity, adopt Native pseudo-identities and pride themselves on their connections to Native culture, spirituality, people, and so forth. Underneath that, however, we recognize that the surviving First Peoples have something important to teach us. We are drawn to their gift, to the seed that they have preserved until the present time. To receive this seed, it is not necessary to participate in their rituals, take an animal name, or claim a Native ancestor, but only to humbly see what they have preserved, so that memory may awaken. Until recently, such seeing was impossible for us, blinkered by our cultural superiority complex, our arrogance, our apparent success in mastering the universe. Now that converging ecological and social crises reveal the bankruptcy of our ways, we have the eyes to see the ways of others.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Through the Looking Glass

Eliza Gilkyson “Requiem








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