Playing my part to minimise the possible repercussions of easing lockdown, I’ve been looking further into the socio-economic choices we all have going forwards: business-as-usual or the ‘new normal’ or even something more extreme?
I came across an essay by Charles Eisenstein called ‘Making the Universe Great Again.’1It’s quite long (20 minutes for me － but then I haven’t watched the Avengers franchise he mentions, and I like to think about what I’m reading), quite provoking, and I enjoy his style of writing. He writes about how and with what degree of pertinacity we perceive the world in an independent/critical manner (i.e consciously) rather than accepting stuff as too complicated to comprehend, or simply taking generally accepted assumptions as ‘fact.’
Perception is defined as the organisation, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information or environment. ‘Understanding’ is the bit we really need to spend quality time on.2I.e no-one can delve into who/what I am but us; and anyway, we have to wholeheartedly (i) want to go ‘within’ our self and once there (ii) dare to open our own ‘pandora’s box’ of beliefs. For it is underlying beliefs on every subject under the sun, that frame the translation of what we each perceive sensorially and that therefore really inform our thoughts, words and deeds.
Here are a few poignant phrases from the essay.3My headings; and you’ll find the link to the full blog at the bottom. Eisenstein’s conclusion is a very helpful prod for me during this latest human crisis=self-discovery/-reinvention invitation.
Competition of the Old
The ugly truth of “greatness” in an imperial system, where great equals dominant.
Supremicism requires someone to vanquish and subjugate.
Nostalgia usually recalls an imagined past.
Only by pulling back is the nonsense manifest.
What thoughts daren’t we think?
What questions and inconsistencies do we let slide, so that the show might go on?
Underneath the cacophony of the news, which has shattered reality into disconnected fragments, there is a deeper story.
Digital movies vs the Real
The project already formulated by Napoleon of “the ruler directing the energy of memory” has found its total concretization in a permanent manipulation of the past.
Divergence between what we portray, and what actually is, a key characteristic of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. We live, he said, in a spectacle, a show, performing the roles of consumer and producer, occupying a job description, alienated from the totality of the production process of commodities (which themselves are real things rendered into economic things, defined in terms of human convention, stripped of uniqueness and relatedness, abstracted from the matrix of being; i.e. part of the show).
All the more as we see the capabilities of these [ComputerGeneratedImaging/ VirtualReality/ AugmentedReality] technologies – we come to doubt reality as it has been presented to us.
Common purpose always manifests
As we lose faith in the show, where are we to turn for truth? Without a commonly agreed source of truth, society breaks up into mutual exclusive realities: red and blue, left and right, pro and anti, each with their own disjointed “meanings and facts.”
…what Walter Wink called the “myth of redemptive violence” – the improving of the world through force. The Avengers’ violent superpowers rendered useless with the retirement of their arch-nemesis, they put them aside so that they may discover other kinds of gifts.
Wouldn’t that be a better formula for our future?
To move into that new story, we would have to cease our collusion with the old one. We have to release the grip of nostalgia for an imaginary time when superior force could solve our problems by destroying our enemies. We have to be dissatisfied with the contrived, cartoonish plotlines and dehumanized actors of the political narrative we are offered. We have to doubt the spectacle presented to us as reality, and understand that faked photographs and staged events are just the most overt level of a grand deception and self-deception that encompasses not only politics, but psychology too. Most of the political observations in this essay could equally apply to me and maybe to you. Do you have a personal narrative in which you are the good guy? Do you weave flimsy storylines (called rationalizations and justifications) that maintain a certain meaning to your life? Do you project images onto other people and the world that are every bit as fake as movie CGI?
This is not to suggest that we put an end to the human drama. We are story-making animals. Stories and symbols, that say who we are and what is real, are a fundamental way that human beings create the world together. Today though, we are stuck collectively in a story that does not serve us and does not serve life. For many this is true on the personal level too. At such times as today, we are repelled by inauthenticity, posturing, and pretense, and we want to come back to the real.
“We are story-making animals.” To see what we truly believe about life we just have to look at what we manifest in our lives!
On the philosophical plane, by seeking to live authentically each of us means to let the highest truths and values guide everything we do. But before we tell our life what we intend to do with it perhaps it might be good to be vulnerable & open to sense what it intends to do with us… Before we blurt out what truths and values we have decided to live up to, let’s ask our life what truths we really embody, what values we represent today.
Vocation does not come from wilfulness, no matter how noble the intentions. It comes from listening to and accepting our “true self” with its limits as well as its potentiality. In accepting frailty and strength, darkness and light, we may realise that our real vocation is not a goal to be achieved but rather a gift to be received.
And on the practical plane, today’s breakneck pace of change has an immense impact on us and our (living & working) communities. All too often we remain stuck, like a deer in the headlights, in outdated mindsets and modes of operating. Even after recognising the need to change. Just as leaders are now learning to pivot even when there are no obvious signals guiding their way, so must we all upend traditional, introspective advice and act first － and then change our way of thinking.
It was our thinking up to now that got us to this point! Daring to defy standard development guidance which encourages deep self-reflection into strengths and weaknesses, the most effective way to change is through action, not analysis; and then by truly learning from our experience. This spring, in short, one and all have been invited to
- embrace a culture of continuous change: everyone first act like a leader and (only) then start thinking like one
- upgrade our individual active role(s) here & now: from purely experiential (receiving) to aware & conscious (giving/serving),
and so to be the leader that our glocal living & work communities really need us to be.
The opinions expressed are those of the author, not of Park Ecovillage Trust.