Three faults of the nation-state: too big, too complex and too impersonal for the good of individual persons.
Three false expectations that fossil fuels have brought to civilization: the abundance, cheapness and constancy of energy.
For most of history the amount of energy humans recieved from nature was the amount stored in the land, and the habitats on and around it. It was limited and fairly steady. Then we discover fossil fuels and our relationship with energy changed – it suddely seemed limitless, and we treat it that way.
The balloon of perpetual economic growth is “inflated” by something finite. When production of fossil fuels peaks the balloon will deflate, but we aren’t preparing for that moment, and certainly not thinking about what the world will become without economic growth.
It may be that, once again, human economy will return to land-based proportions. Sustainable proportions. Could we stand that?
Three attributes of the divine: spacelessness, timelessness and formlessness.
Three gifts of the gods: inspiration, healing and transformation.
A child isn’t born with karma; they don’t “deserve” it; it is dumped on them from outside by the family and society they were born into. It becomes part of them and conditions their lives unconsciously.
Our underlying (unconscious) mentality weaves karma into our lives; it informs our behaviour, habits and choices, our relationships, careers and interests. The more we become conscious of the karmic patterns embedded within us, the more we can free ourselves from its limits and explore other opportunities.
We are not here to accomplish or fulfil some karmic destiny, but to free ourselves from its influence so we can explore our potential and live more fulfilling lives, free from the limits of cultural karma, as is our birth right.
Is capitalism inherently wealth-making? Is socialism inherently egalitarian? Is Christianity inherently compassionate? Or dogmatic? Is democracy inherently liberating? I’m not so sure it’s as straightforward as that. There may be examples to confirm these, and to confirm the contrary. I believe it may be less a matter of being “inherent” and more a matter of choice, at least for the most part.
I don’t suppose that this subject is anything as simple as I present here, and certain historical tendencies can be discovered in the above examples and many more, but there’s an aspect of claiming “inherent” qualities in abstract ideas that I find abhorrent and unconvincing.
Our ideologies, religions and philosophies are not agents that act themselves out on a passive human mass. They make no choices. They hold no responsibility for what they do. They are tools, means to an end – an end which is determined by human agents that do things “in the name of” their chosen philosophy.
Who’s the servant? Who’s the master? The human or the idea? At what point did we make the idea master, and the human, the passive servant? Are we animists that the ideas we invent (philosophies, religions, ideologies, etc.) have lives of their own, separate from human decisions and actions? Our ideas have become more human than us! Are humans unconscious automata upon which ideas act? To treat humanity as a passive mass shows disdain for the persons that comprise it – it is dehumanising.
Such thinking also allows concrete individuals to shed their responsibility and use ideas as scapegoats. But all “goings on” in human society are not the result of ideas but of many human choices made by many human minds. Maybe they have been influenced by certain ideas, but it is the responsibility and choice of each one of us what ideas we let influence us and how they influence us.
On the other hand, maybe we are a passive mass, easily influenced and manipulated. Our unconsciousness is the pitfall into which we get trapped. The problem of history is unconsciousness, and that quite often we have passively let ideas work themselves on us. They have “played themselves out” without us having any idea what was happening. We do not happen to history, history tends to happen to us.
If we follow some ideas without applying critical reasoning, maybe some of the “inherent” properties of our philosophies, religions and ideologies will arise, but I see it just as possible that when ideas are applied outside of theory in the “real world” they adapt themselves to the psychological and social “soil” they get planted in. The original intention is warped and twisted, sometimes beyond recognition.
It’s possible that, as with physical tools, ideas affect particular changes in the brains of their proponents/users, but I don’t think the results are particularly predictable or “inherent”. It is time to reclaim our own minds from the supposed “tyranny” of our ideas. Our ideas can be reinterpreted and reinvented to suit more modern needs and demands.
Our main imperative is to become more conscious of ourselves and the world we inhabit, so we don’t become passive “victims”, indiscriminately accepting all we inherit from the past. Maybe then we will happen to history.
Three levels of meaning: the nothingness of physical existence, the basic impulse of biological survival, and the higher meaning that arises in the human mind.
Stars are born, burn up and die; planets revolve around them, but without any direction or reason. Lifeforms are diverse and have evolved many forms, but for only one thing: survival. The alchemy of human consciousness transforms and refines physical and biological experience; it creates art and meaning.
Pacifism surely is an art. Life and the universe are filled with conflict and contradiction. If we do not embrace conflict, we will never grow as people or know life as it really is.
A pacifist’s attitude cannot be one of passivity or quietism; “Turn the other cheek” is an excuse to accept mistreatment and does nothing to create peace in the world; it just maintains a tolerance of violence. Pacifism cannot ignore or deny violence. Nor can it merely tolerate violence. It must oppose violence without reverting to aggressive means. It must propose peace as a creative and dynamic option, not as a passive default.
Pacifism requires a warrior’s attitude, standing upright and buoyant, but not rigid and not falling to external or internal violence. Like the martial art Aikido, pacifism doesn’t provoke conflict but actively meets and neutralises it. No provocation is needed, as conflict always exists in the world and in our lives.
Pacifism is about choice and picking your battles where possible. Our choice of relationships and professions are our battlefields, and if we don’t choose well, we will inevitably find ourselves constantly at war. A pacifist should know how to avoid war, or else be well prepared for it.
War happens when all options run out. It is an act of desperation, when we throw out our constructive principles because there is nothing else we can do or feel we can do. This is why we need imagination and creativity. We need to imagine multiple possibilities of peace and have the creativity to carry them out.
There is always a way of preventing conflict devolving into violence, of transforming aggression into creative energy. We won’t always succeed, but pacifism is a dynamic process, not a static dogma – it requires some honest self-reflection. As long as we are constantly expanding possibilities, we are constantly creating possibilities of peace.
Is psychological development rooted in social development, or is social development rooted in psychological development?
To some extent this is a “chicken and egg” issue. The truth is social development begets psychological development, and psychological development begets social development. They are interconnected. If we concentrate only on social development through economic or political policy, the effects will be superficial. But if we are radical, going to the roots of human development, the psychological roots, then the development of society and humanity – social, economic, political and ecological – will be realised in a more permanent and lasting way. However, reflecting on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it may be impossible to realise psychological development in adverse social conditions where we are faced with constant stress and conflict. Realising psychological development may find its optimal expression in conditions of freedom, safety and material abundance – keeping in mind that moments of stress and conflict often produce the opportunity to reflect on and realise our psychological development, as long as we have the appropriate support available.
In the end, psychological development and social development go hand in hand, complementing and reinforcing each other. They cannot be treated in isolation.
The human mind evolved within the universe and can only know what is within this universe or similar to this universe. Anything that transcends the temporal and spatial limits of this universe is essentially unknowable by the limited faculty of the human mind. Atheism is an acceptation of the limits of the human mind to know God. Pantheism is the attribution of divinity to that which can be directly known by the human being. Both avoid the speculative and analogous thinking of theology that lead us to “stray” from the Divine in the here and now.
Many spiritual philosophies – Gnosticism, Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, for example – emphasise “transcendence” of this material realm. I recognise my spiritual thinking has been influenced by these, but I prefer to go in the other direction, to embody and express “transcendent energies” in the material universe. We may have transcendent or unitive experiences but our personal consciousness must return to deal with the practicalities of a physical, biological and social existence. It must make sense, on its own terms, of its transcendent or unitive experience, integrating its insight of the divine within its own personality, hopefully leading to a more meaningful, harmonious and moral life.
The non-dual inclusiveness of God/Ultimate Reality includes and doesn’t obliterate our thoughts, feelings or senses, but includes them. They become ways to know (indirectly) a timeless and spaceless God, albeit through the limits of time and space. The best way to know the “divine universe” is through its most immediate manifestation: ourselves!
I have long been searching for the Divine, ever since I was a little boy, and that search has taken me far and wide, even through Atheism. In the end though, I am searching for an experience of the divine, an experience of meaning right here and now. Not in distant abstractions or in the “next world”, but in life as I experience it. I suppose we could call that “experiential theology.” I’ll leave academic theology to the academics.
I leave here two more quotes from Alan Watts’ The Supreme Identity, a book that inspired this blog and injected some much needed mysticism into my thinking:
“All philosophy, all everyday experience, must begin from oneself; it must assume a knower as the given and irreducible basis of knowledge. But no amount of knowledge proves the existence of a knower, for the simple reason that the knower cannot be the object of its own knowledge. By proof the philosopher means objective proof, and if the knower can never be its own object, it can never be objectively proved. Objective knowledge only suggests a knower as the finite only suggests the infinite.” Alan Watts
“… for as the reality of light cannot be proved or described in terms of visible shape, the reality of the infinite cannot be proved in terms of the finite. For this reason every attempt to prove the existence of God by logic is a forgone failure. Logic cannot reach God. It may travel backwards in time from effect to cause, effect to cause, but as long as it stays in time, as it must, it cannot touch the eternal. That which does not begin with the infinite cannot end with it. The most that can be said is that finite contingencies suggest the infinite; in no sense can they be said to prove it.”
This was part three of a series. Parts one and two can be found here: