COLUMN: Shine Your Light

COLUMN:  Shine Your Light

Scissors and Paste

The academic supervisor for my post-grad thesis in history would not have approved of what I do in this edition of the Arc. He dismissed the method (with a curl of his lip) thus: “writing with scissors and paste, Charles.”

I have looked over several pieces of writing recently, some of it my own, and I am making a scrapbook of topics that hang together. The theme emerges from the topics.

War and Peace [I wrote this in 2012]

War is over if you want it.” – JohnLennon, “So this is Christmas?”

I would gladly accept the proposition that war originates in ego. But having agreed to that, what conclusion can you draw for ending war? Ego is a natural ingredient of being human.

Sure, we are spiritual beings experiencing the condition of human living in material/ carnal circumstances. But our spirits, though they may abhor war, do not rule all that our bodies do.

We make war. It is part of a present human condition. That condition can be changed. War is not going away just because of good arguments against it. It never has, and there have always been good reasons to outlaw it. Pacificism has a long and respected tradition in civilization. Maybe the best we can do, in our present human condition, is make rules for war that we might live within.

Maybe we can get America to agree that its stupendous war-making superiority over every other state on earth, its cyber-drone-wizardry, should not be used. Why would Americans agree to give that up? Because peace is beautiful, good, true, and just?

Canadians cannot agree to stop ruining land and water for the profit we get from selling oil. We should, because it is right. We do not. Some, or many, of us think creating material affluence justifies destroying natural environment.

Why will Americans agree to give up military force to achieve what force can achieve? Make no mistake, violence and force still can achieve certain kinds of solutions to international conflict. The “military solution” is ugly, inhumane, and atrocious -- but it is a solution. Humans sometimes choose that path.

Charles Eisenstein: two perspectives on our current world [2013]

Could we be seeing the next stage in the obsolescence of war, that began when the hydrogen bomb made total war between the great powers unthinkable?

Could it be that the ecological crisis is making concepts of “America’s adversaries” ring hollow and obsolete?

Could it be, as the $15 minimum wage movement and European unconditional basic income movement suggest, that we are beginning to assert the right of every person to be free of material want?

Could it be that the rights of nature, as written into law in Ecuador and Bolivia and the subject of Europe’s ecocide initiative are becoming as self-evident as the rights of man?

I say a more beautiful world is possible. I say it from a knowing, and it touches the same knowing in anyone who listens. And that knowing generates fear and pain, because it has been betrayed, repeatedly, by a world that denies it. It denies its possibility and denies our power as creative agents to bring it into being. It says, like my inner voice of doubt, that the vision is a hallucination and that any efforts to serve it are futile. That denial, that betrayal of what we know, was so brutal that we dare not believe again -- and so we retreat into cynicism or despair.

I speak from a knowing, yet I just as much as anyone need help to believe. The help takes the form of the people, the gifts, the stories, and the positive developments in the world that I have mentioned. It also comes as wonder, awe, touch, dance, being held, being loved. All of these pierce the logic of normal and communicate more than any words can that my knowing is a true knowing. In those moments there can be no doubt. What I, as a child, knew becomes obvious once again. Yes, the world can be more magical, beautiful, playful, and authentic than what is offered as normal. Yes, I am here to contribute to such a world. Yes, I and everyone I meet, without exception, bears special gifts in order to make that contribution. Yes, every act, even the smallest, has untold significance and, therefore, yes, my life matters, as does the life of every being, without exception.

…we can make a case that the world is spiraling into hell, or we can make a case that we have turned the corner. Evidence and reason can be arranged to support either side, although I will admit that in the worldview we have inherited, in which we are separate selves in an objective universe governed by impersonal laws and devoid of purpose or intelligence, the case for despair is by far the stronger. No matter. It isn’t evidence or logic that sustains me, nor can it sustain anyone else in a life of service….

We are all together in this. We cannot pierce ourselves, but when we receive the gift of being pierced, courage and generosity are born within us, and we are able then to pierce others with our beautiful acts.

Kim Stanley Robinson: a science-fiction perspective on the future [1999]

“… back on Earth miracles were being performed, the sciences changing everything on a daily basis, and particularly the medical sciences… all together adding up to some larger balking of death. Decades were being added to people’s lives… If they were lucky enough to have access to the care – if they could afford it, in other words – they would live for many extra decades, far past the normal span, on and on. They would have the time to make the decades into centuries.

“And yet at the same time no one knew what to do with the added years. It baffled one’s sense of meaning, for the rest of the world’s troubles did not go away. On the contrary the immediate practical problems of the increased longevity were vicious – more people, more hunger, more jealousy, more war, more unnecessary premature death. The ingenuity of death seemed to be matching the life sciences stroke for stroke, as in some titanic hand to hand combat, so that it seemed they added years to their lives only to have more people to kill or render miserable. Famines were killing off millions in the ‘underdeveloped’ world while at the same time, on the same planet, near-immortals were sporting in their Xanadus.”

(From The Martians)

This novelist seems to my way of thinking to have been quite prescient. The abyss between the fortunate 1 per cent, or 10, of the world who have all the advantages of health, wealth, and knowledge, and the rest of humanity, is just as he described it. Inequality is inescapable, and there are many sources of information verifying it. I have recently viewed Noam Chomsky’s documentary, “Requiem for the American Dream” and I recommend it, not for uplift but for education.

History can educate

[from a letter to the editor,  2011]

It is historical fact that corporations have been forces for conservative values in Canadian and American society, conservative as relates to the so called rights of property and the vision of the future of society. Commercial values are material values, and its visions of human progress are materialistic. This is not the wrong time or place, in this election campaign, to think about our history.

It is exactly the right time.

Here we are, four hundred years after Europeans came to the Americas first and began to colonize it, and 200 years after the Industrial Revolution began in England and transformed our world. How do you like it so far? Europeans imposed an alien notion of property on the people who were here before us, and told themselves that their higher civilization, higher religion and or more evolved fitness for survival justified what they did. Our standard of living measured by our scientific economists got higher and higher with each passing generation. Our Science prolonged life by our medical and technological breakthroughs, and the amount each individual Canadian head of family could own and spend and invest grew decade by decade.

What do I not like in this historical narrative of Progress?

Two things spring to mind: (1) Injustice to those with whom the wealth is not shared, in spite of their deserving a share; (2) Devastation of the earth due to our economic activity, as if we own the earth for our sole use. It is hard to make the case that material progress is worth those two wrongs. If the wealth that middle class Canadians have enjoyed for the past few decades, were equaled for every person on earth, we would need five more planet earths to do it.

It is already true, that the generations coming after the Baby Boomers are downwardly mobile, not climbing upwardly in standard of living. They will be the first post-settlement generations to have less in Canada and the USA. The economics of perpetual growth are grinding toward paralysis. Capitalism grows toward a terminal condition. What do we do then?

We are mad for change, any change

I quote from a recent Globe and Mail column here:

“This is meant to be Europe’s year of angry politics… There is a revolt against the political establishment and the conventional political parties…Voters do want something different from politics… Some of those voters are indeed terrified of dark-skinned outsiders… [A] far larger group of voters will mark an X next to a ‘collective-suicide’ party simply because they are looking for something new, boring or otherwise.”

-- Douglas Saunders, March 4/17 edition, page F7

Clearly the new US president is another symptom of the mass consciousness in Western democracies that we need change of a rapid, accelerated order, not the same old business-as-usual systems we have lived with. It seems I read news everywhere of the failings of the reign of neo-liberal global capitalism, while at the same time there is a consensus that we have no consensus how to transition to the next system, whatever it may be -- whether Eisenstein’s more beautiful world or something far more dystopian.

Obama promised Change and Hope but seemed not to deliver the significant transformation of the US his election in 2008 as the first African-American president was supposed to portend. Trump, Brexit, war, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic feelings, are not causes of change but demands for it. Conflict will accelerate. The only way out is through.

The electorates of the West, we with our good educations and knowledge of the many crises facing the planet – as Eisenstein noted above – will not be satisfied until the whole house of cards is thrown up in the air and a new shape emerges from the potential chaos.

Does it matter who we elect to lead us?

[from a letter to the editor, 2015]:

“I believe that a politician’s leadership is fraught with the perils of any human attempt to shape a future, to apply a small arsenal of government tools to manage an astounding array of physical and social factors in her/his world.  Much of life is outside the sphere where political action can be felt. I think people want a sense of peace and security politics can’t give.

“What does government have to do with realms of mind, spirit, or meaning? The human and physical world is on a threshold and millions of people know -- with all parts of their being, their intellects, their emotions, their intuitions, their nightmares -- about some “doom” on the horizon. We want to know who is responsible, accountable, for so many crises at hand. Who can justly be called an enemy? Not Trudeau, Obama, Trump, Putin, Bush, or Netanyahu, to name some who arouse fierce rage and fear.

“I am convinced it tells more of value to call our leaders shadows, not substance. What casts the shade?”

Dark deeds and human conscience

From an Arc of four years ago:

“What ought to be our defenses against eruptions of the dark and nasty elements in us outward into action? It is the task of internalized conscience to turn us aside from wrongdoing. What has happened to conscience?

“It is an interesting fact to me that the English language has a word for “consciousness” and a word for “conscience” but other languages, such as our sister-tongue French, uses only the word conscience for both. We say humans “have” consciousness, and we know what is right for us because our conscience “tells” us. When we sleep we are “unconscious” and when we do what we should we are “conscientious.”

Both conscience, and our consciousness, live inside what we call our mind. Mind, not brain-material, yes?

In writing about mind in my last column, I said that humans’ recorded history of around 5,100 years has one type of mind prevailing over it, the “domineering male mind” of rulers from the Pharoahs to US presidents, and while I am fighting the rulers of our world order on external fields of conflict, I must also fight on an internal plane, to alter a mind -- my mind.

This is of course great news, because there is nothing in the world so much under my power to alter as my own consciousness. There is no lack of teaching for it. What goes on in my mind has a material effect on the world, because it has such an effect on other minds. I do not believe my mind is unconnected to other minds, and I do not mean to suggest telepathy by that. I mean simply that when seven-plus billion humans are alive on Earth generating minds in each brain, that what is a prevailing thought in these minds has a potency that keeps us in conformity.

It is hard to think discordant thoughts. Imperial male minds have ruled not just by their dominance but by others’ voluntary congruence with it. So in this age of vast and substantiated fear, of material problems we might not solve, it stands to reason that humanity’s minds-in-community would manifest more psychopathology, maladjustment, craziness.

Or perhaps I should not say ‘it stands to reason.’ Some things cannot be reasoned. They are unreasonable, in the meaning of “not amenable to the application of reason as a tool of understanding.” Reason has limits. It is not reason that generates conscience; our sense of what is right comes before we ‘reason it out.’ Leaders have tried throughout history to improve humans, make us better, more moral or conscientious, and more contented. They have used persuasion and force.

Conclusion: only kindness matters

Humans have not fit into the plans that visionary leaders have engineered for “our happiness”. Are their designs at fault? The designers never admit to that. All ideas for improving us have brought us to this place. I ask, is it the fault of the rulers manipulating us? My answer is this: Maybe these social engineers have never known what humans truly are. Would I ask a cat to nurture my houseplants? A dog to deliver mail? Cats do not do plants.

My opinion: Humans do not do “improvement” by design; consciousness is not perfectible. We won’t “ascend” nor “evolve forward.”

But I align myself in hope with Eisenstein, that a more beautiful world is possible -- if we have a different narrative for human purpose. Each act of kindness projects light into dark prospects. Shine your light.

 

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