I was born in the US Empire during its time of peak flourishing, in the 1960’s, to a middle class white family, with well-educated parents. This largely influenced my chances and trajectories. It allowed me to foster an attitude of contemplation and to be curious. I did not have an easy go: I had to struggle diligently and constantly to stay grounded and gain knowledge. But I cannot deny the importance of events beyond my control in steering my fortune.
Such is the unfairness, luck, and inherent cruelty of life, going back in history as far as I know. I was destined, upon birth, to benefit from the unethical practices of my people. While millions starved across the globe, due to no fault of their own, I was handed the financial, social and genetic basis to challenge the difficult hurdles that reared up before me.
I learned that the Earth has been here about 4.5 billion years, with modern humans showing up around a hundred thousand years ago. Everything changed with agriculture, around 10,000 BCE, though before that we were the greatest hunters on the planet, and lived well.
Civilization brought several thousand years of struggle between rationality, on one side, and ignorance and power-lust on the other. The big lesson: ideas can both shackle and liberate. Culture can program the human mind, rendering the ‘naked ape’ highly resistant to innovation, creativity and justice.
We all know it: patterns of thought tend to repeat, generation after generation. A kind of behavioral social software settles into the ruts of tradition. Culture persists because it has developed techniques to replicate its mechanisms in progeny.
Part of this we can blame on the brute physicals of evolution. We are geared to focus on short-term material wants, which, in human terms, requires gregarious cohesion. We are animals first, thinkers second.
Women achieved the right to vote in my country less than one hundred years ago. In many countries, they are still completely subordinate. The greatest genocide of all time--afflicting the variegated tribes and nations of North and South America--occurred over the last 500 years, with repercussions and racisms still going strong today.
All of us are all largely molded and hampered by the belief-systems that dominated human advances and horrors before our birth. And there are plenty of horrors still, some of them tentacles of old yet vibrant Leviathans.
I cannot over-emphasize: today’s ideas of freedom and social progress tilt precariously on an ancient foundation of change-resistant rulership. This rulership relied, as it does today, on extreme violence. How this plays out--the tension between freedom and the desire of the powerful to control others --is going to determine our collective fate.
Never in the history of humanity, or the Earth itself, has there been any time like now: the invention of nuclear weapons, the rise of the internet, and also the rapid expansion of secular ethics--all of these alongside the inveterate claws of avarice, lust and war.
Add to this tempestuous mix the psychology of a primate: we humans have a tendency to go into denial; to repress critical information; to displace our anger irrationally; to project our own self-hatred and doubt onto others; and on and on. All these defense mechanisms can take place below our ability to admit we have them, even more our ability to defuse them.
Ironically, the fanatic has become a militant not just of mythical doom, but actual doom. Fanaticism salves a primal fright of the great unknown, and claims to save the soul; but it actually cripples the soul, sacrificing an open mind for delusional beliefs. When two fanaticisms collide, the result is butchery and woe. In the nuclear age, that is indeed a recipe for apocalypse.
Another major psychological factor: about 3% of the US population is diagnosable with sociopathy or narcissism. Such people act without conscience. They end to behave recklessly yet often with great persuasion. They can rise to thrones of high leadership, aided by their ability to lie without flaw, inflict evil for selfish gain, and warp others’ view of reality.
Such is the milieu of the early 21st century. Four things stand out to me right now. First, no matter how much progressives, such as ecofeminists, want to move civilization in utopic directions, we are going to be checked and limited.
We are limited by our own bodies and minds, but also by fanaticism, plutocracy, the entrenched drag of tradition, the selfishness of males who don’t want to yield any ground to females, the power of demagogues to sway millions, and so on. Plus, all the psychological mechanisms that accompany these, and hinder the ability of humans to be rational.
To emphasize how bad it is: those who claim to be rational are often, in fact, in the grips of irrational psychic forces such as repression and projection.
Second, things are changing very rapidly. The Earth has never seen such fare. Even the Permian Extinction was nothing like the invention of the internet. Scientists are now modeling computers on neural architecture. It is only a matter of time (let’s say a thousand years, though I am probably throwing the ball too far) before artificial life forms gain mental equivalency.
Third, this is a time of unreckonable extremes. It is a divide is that could drive anyone insane if they pondered too long. Genocide. Universal suffrage. World Wars. Civil Rights. Human-slaying drones with “hellfire” missiles. Universal healthcare.
As Dostoevsky suggested, we have invented the Devil. And it seems, as Freedom warrants, that many of us are stumbling toward an exquisite system of ethics, one that is both pragmatic and advanced.
Maybe the great question is: What will drive our technological rush? The Devil, or ethical considerations wedded to formulas for psychological health?
Fourth, anything is possible. Utopia. Equality. Wisdom. Flourishing. However, attaining these goals is for future generations.
It is sad that we will not live to see this better world of better beings. But we can start now, by laying down some crucial seeds for the potential garden of the future
I would like to propose an idea: The Good. It is the outcome of ideas that will decide human destiny. One key tension is Liberal vs. fanatic.
Another is corporate consumerism versus praise for our Earth. The material greed of corporations disseminates jingle-laden propaganda to challenge balance, spirit, and reciprocity.
The Good is beyond the provenance of any one religion. Although any religion (if not fanatic) could be a pathway toward The Good.
The Good involves advancing human rights and equality. It means enriching empathy and conscience. To seek The Good we must immerse in environmental spirit and philosophy.
The Good does surely involve spirit. We can all praise The Good together, but each in our place, and in our own creative, unique way. Buddhist practice can advance The Good. A modified Christian practice could, too (but there would have to be a lot of re-interpreting).
What could The Good be? What does it imply for our lifestyles? I have made a few suggestions. Human rights. Psychological awareness and health. Environmental conscience. Connective yet personal spirituality.
A lot of discussion needs to happen. A nation founded on the The Good would have, I think, a lengthy Constitution embodying a history of arguments, debates, dialectics, precedents, and more.
The Good would encompass science, the occult and psychology. Counseling for everyone would be a good start. Plenty of care and support all around, for anyone ready to take the courageous journey of self-knowledge.
Maybe the motto of The Good is none other than the words that hung over the gate at the Oracle of Delphi: Know Thyself. Another incisive option comes from Virginia Woolf: "Everything in fact was something else."