The illegal hunting of Cecil the Lion; sex abuse allegations concerning distinguished peers, politicians and philanthropists; extremism of a religious, political and social nature manifesting itself. These are not the causes of a debauched and steadily disintegrating society: instead these are the symptoms and signs.
In the UK we are constantly looking for a panacea to solve the rest of the world’s problems which we seem to believe takes form in the exportation of materialistic Western culture: seen by many as a civilising notion. Yet we do not necessarily consider that Western culture is not only part of the problem but is the antithesis of a solution. Gabor Maté, a Hungarian-Canadian physician, says that society, and human nature is generally perceived in one of three ways: the embodiment of ‘animalistic’ human nature (greed, competition, selfishness etc.); an empty slate on which the nurture aspect of existence has precedence; or the means by which the enlightened characteristics of humans are epitomised (compassion, love, cooperation etc.). The last idea is the concept to which I and Maté subscribe.
Maté believes that by our current model, the first in the above list, we generally encourage people to believe that embracing these characteristics is acceptable. Terrence McKenna, an author, believed that we had openly let the “least among us” become our leaders and this has led us down a path of unenlightened human existence. McKenna also believed that the use of psychedelic drugs should be legal for the adult population as a means and a tool to explore our own consciousness, a view that the author Graham Hancock subscribes to also. Hancock says: “If we do not have sovereignty over own consciousness then how can we ever claim to be free?” I believe this to be true.
Consciousness is something which has dumbfounded scientists and philosophers for a very long time. In a lot of ways it is similar to the problem of not being to say with any certainty that God exists or explain what death is. We experience problems trying to prove the specifics of these things because we have nothing to measure them against: we do not have a control so to speak. However, as Hancock says, if the adult human is not given the freedom to investigate these notions in a manner which causes no harm to others and might include the use of psychedelics, which I am not out rightly encouraging, then how can the adult population claim to be free? The philosopher Allan Watts talked about this same problem when he said that we treat children like “candidates for humanity…who are given an insoluble problem… and only ever taught to live in the future.” We have been conditioned to accept the way our current society works which, although we can claim to experience a range of freedoms, never encourages free thought outside of the norm. And who are the only ones you ever hear questioning the norm? Children and people who are considered strange.
It would be worthwhile giving you another Watts quote which relates directly to the symptoms I listed at the beginning of this article. He talked about TV which he thought was merely “an electronic reproduction of life which you can’t touch and it doesn’t smell and it has no taste” and that in a “robust material culture” that people rushing home from work “to the real point of life might be expected to go home to a colossal banquet or an orgy of lovemaking or a riot of music and dancing”. However, crucially he adds that it seems to the society and culture that “expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred.” You might say we have been tricked but having woken up from the trick we seem content not to do anything about it.
I am not absolving anyone who perpetuates human evil of blame, but we are forever asking ourselves to find the root cause of this sickness and we believe that by brute force we can break people from this state. Thus we believe that by bombing them more heavily, by engineering a more effective propaganda machine or by applying more unyielding pressure on human beings we can convince them. Yet this notion is driven by the assumption that human beings respond well to negative prompting but we all know that this is untrue. Humans respond unilaterally well to emotions such as genuine love, respect and compassion. Just think of the difference in the response that a person will exhibit when you speak to them with a raised voice or with a lowered one. This is like the Daoist concept of how force always begets resistance but this is not exclusively a Daoist concept. The understanding of the force/resistance relationship exists in all religious and spiritual belief systems, but we only have to look at orthodox fundamentalist Islam to understand how Islam has suffered as a result of the same forces that have created Western society. Verse 256 of the surah Al-Baqara contains the phrase “there is no compulsion in religion” which speaks against the forcible conversion of any person. How this has been warped is almost unbelievable.
In conclusion, we must realise that the road to social enlightenment is arduous and will take a great deal of character from each and every individual. However, the solution is not complex and indeed will require the participation of the individual. There is a concept called the Omega Point which is a belief that the universe is moving towards a higher level of material complexity and consciousness. If this is to be true then the individual human being must be a part of it and be a vessel through which this change is enacted. Put simply: you must change yourself and how you perceive the world around you. Individually we are both the problem and solution. When we change then the world will change with us.
Whoever said it would be easy?
Image credit: flickr.com/rabiem