What is there to do?

The other day I was discussing with a reader what can be done to prevent the growth of meaninglessness and isolation in the heart of our culture from crossing the point of no return. Although my conversation with her included more practical issues, like the alarming environmental deterioration and dangerous geopolitical trends we all bear witness to, I want to focus here on the psychological and 'spiritual' – a word I use with hesitation, since its meaning is so loose – health and wellbeing of humanity. On this specific point, my young reader felt strongly that vocal and decisive initiative should be taken by those with insight into the situation; that something must be done in the form of strong actions. It wasn't lost on me what she was trying to suggest regarding my responsibility in all this.

La Liberté guidant le peuple

Yet, I am not inclined to revolutions or attempts to change people on a mass scale. By and large, I don't think they are effective. I believe change comes from within the individual, not from without. Once the impulse for transformation has manifested itself from within, then people can help each other transform by sharing experiences, ideas, philosophies, worldviews, etc. My work consists precisely in such an attempt to share my own ideas and worldview with those who already have the nascent drive to look at alternatives to our current cultural madness. Such sharing helps provide validated grounding for a new way to relate to reality and each other. But it only works with those who are already rejecting the status quo.

My attitude here can be construed as too passive; as too-little-too-late, which I suspect is my reader's take on it. A big part of me even acknowledges this. Shouldn't I then do something more proactive? Shouldn't I take more responsibility, as an inhabitant of this planet and a member of humanity, for changing our presently suicidal course?

I pondered much about it this weekend and finally found a way to reconcile my conflicting attitudes: Instead of trying to do something I will, instead, suggest what we could stop doing in order to improve our own psychological and 'spiritual' circumstances. Indeed, I believe that much of the damage arises from our own misguided actions. We blindly go about life doing all kinds of things that ultimately harm us. As such, perhaps the best way to stop the downward spiral of madness is not to do yet more things, but to stop doing a few things. In fact, it is a symptom of the madness of Western culture – which now pervades the whole world – that all useful thinking must translate into actions. Ours is a culture of do, do, do. However, when someone is pounding his own head with a hammer, the right course is not to look for a helmet, but to stop the hammering.

So here are my three suggestions – only three! – of things we could all, individually, stop doing to help improve our collective sanity and wellbeing. None of the three entries in the list below requires effort, since they are not proactive but purely passive. Yet, if most of us would stop doing these three simple things, I am convinced that our psychological and 'spiritual' health would improve substantially, both individually and collectively. And as a direct result of that, we might even find our culture and civilisation on a path back to meaning.


  1. Let us stop compulsively stupefying ourselves. We all feel, in the depths of our unconscious minds, that our ordinary lives are becoming increasingly empty and meaningless. The unconscious tries to correct the course of our lives through an array of signals, which we then diligently ignore through distractions: idiotic television shows, alcohol, shopping 'therapy,' compulsive money-making and status-chasing, compulsive dating, and what not. This is understandable in that nobody likes to remain exposed to the anguish and anxiety emerging from the unconscious in its attempts to force a change. But if those feelings are not allowed conscious room to be processed, acknowledged, and integrated, not only will they harm us even more from within – think of neuroses and even psychoses – we will not give ourselves any chance to find the meaning of our lives again. This tragic loss is unnecessary: The unconscious process often unfolds by itself when given the appropriate room in consciousness. All we need 'to do' is to stop stupefying ourselves and trust that the initial discomfort will be, in time, followed by a much richer and more harmonious life.
  2. Let us stop eating so much meat. No, I am not saying that we should all turn into vegetarians, just that we could perhaps reduce meat consumption. Now, why am I saying this? Not for the usual reasons, like better health, less environmental impact, etc. These reasons may all be true and good, but my motivation here is different: The conditions under which animals are kept and 'processed' (like objects) for food are dreadful under the best of circumstances, and often outright unthinkable. Here are some videos (viewer discretion advised). If you have the stomach, try this (no, really, if you have the stomach). Many more higher animals are killed for food every day than the total number of human beings killed in the whole of World War II. The enormous volumes of animals involved mean that they aren't 'nicely put to sleep,' if you know what I mean. This unfathomable and excruciating orgy of torture, distress, and death is being carried out on our account as you read this, because we provide the demand for it. And if all minds are one at the level of the collective unconscious – a point I argue in my philosophy – imagine how much outrage, stress, fear, anxiety, dread, anguish, and sheer pain is being pumped every day into our unconscious minds? Do you really think that you, as an individual, is completely insulated from this? Can you even imagine the magnitude of what we are doing to ourselves?
  3. Let us stop acting so much. Now, what do I mean with this one? Let's face it: We all act. We act at work, we act at home, we act at the gym, we act at the pub, etc. We act so consistently that we mistake the acting for living an ordinary life. We try to control the image of ourselves that we make available to others, motivated by a need to fit in, to appear strong, to look attractive, etc. In psychological terms, we all wear the mask of the persona. But since we know, deep inside, how much suffering, insecurity, and anxiety we actually live with, and since everybody else is acting too, each one of us ends up thinking that she or he is the weakest, most inappropriate and fear-ridden person on the planet. The acting causes us all unnecessary suffering. Show me a person who claims to have no significant fears or insecurities and I will show you a liar. We're all on the same boat; we are all suffering. But because we try to put up this image of strength and harmony, we add insult to injury by convincing ourselves that we are each alone in our suffering. This only increases our profound isolation and loneliness as individuals. We forget that the only real strength is the courage to present ourselves to the world as we really are, so we can live in authentic community and help each other out.


That's it. Three simple things we could stop doing today in order to change the world significantly.

Copyright © 2013 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Bernardo,

    I basically agree with all three of your points above, but perhaps I would like to add at least one more point:

    We should accept that we don't have the right to leave a larger burden - in terms of numbers of people - than we have now. The world is very crowded - the root of all environmental concerns - and every couple should limit themselves to 2 well-loved children.

    I don't actually accept the idea of AGW, for a lot of reasons that I don't want to go into here, and I feel in a way, the fuss over CO2 has been a way to channel environmental organisatons away from real issues, such as nuclear weapons, over population and the destruction of the rain forests, and perhaps ultimately discredit these organisations when the truth comes out.

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    1. Hi David,
      I thought of population control as well. But I wanted to keep the list restricted to things that would involve no or little significant sacrifice. Telling people not to have the child they want to have (whether it's the first or third) is often perceived as a major sacrifice, since many people see the meaning of their lives -- as well as their ability to transcend death -- in having and raising children.
      Moreover, population growth is well under control in most economically-significant nations, where most of the audience of this blog lives. In places like Japan and Russia, the population is even declining...
      Anyway, a long story to justify why I agree with you and yet did not include it in my list. :-)
      Cheers, B.

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    2. Bernardo, thank you for this spot-on insight into our dire predicament, and for your elegantly parsimonious suggestions for ameliorating that predicament. Just one thing occurs to me: This is a predicament on which an establishment thrives. Do we not, therefore, have an obligation to dis-empower that establishment? We might do this, for instance, by refusing to vote for the establishment puppets whom the establishment pretends are our assumptive leaders/decision makers. Of course, we would keep away from all the silly elections-related functions, too. Doing that in big enough numbers, we would eventually strip public life of the puppet-politician behind whom the real movers and shakers lurk. Exposed to the light of day, without a politician to hide behind, these movers and shakers/the establishment must become more restrained in what they do to the world.

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    3. Hi Sophie,
      While I sympathize with where you're coming from, and have some more thoughts about it, I hesitate very much getting into the political dimension. Two reasons for this hesitation: first, I don't consider myself qualified. Second, getting into political activism would dilute the focus of what I am trying to do on the philosophical/ontological level...
      So I guess I'll leave at that, with a discrete and somewhat ambiguous nod for the point you made... :-)
      B.

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  2. Bernardo,
    I've stepped away from this blog for awhile now, due to discomfort, I'd say. I have catching up to do. I read this post last night. I applaud, support, verify and encourage your speaking honest truth as you see it. Thank you for admitting to the "act" I surmise we are all playing - myself certainly. Doing so plunges this blog into deep water and sets it apart from just about everything occurring in the blog-o-sphere. Continue, friend.

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    1. Ho Joseph, welcome back! It's nice to see you commenting again. If I may be so bold, may I ask what made you uncomfortable?
      Thanks for the encouragement...
      B.

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    2. You're welcome. I'll get back to you on the discomfort issue. What I have to say about it I think will be insightful, but need time to let the gray cells rub together. This kind of exploration can be difficult to pin down.

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  3. Bernardo, can't really recapture what I was sensing at the time. But here's an insight that might lend a clue. Your writings are immensely honest and soul-searching. Compare your voice within the world of shared thought with that of, say, Richard Dawkins, Nobel laureate that he is. There's NO comparison. Don't know him personally, but his public persona is like that of a cardboard cutout. As a scientist, at least in public, he approaches the world with all the willingness for honest intellectual give-and-take of a tele-evangelist. One questions the depth of his ability to search his own soul. My impression of Dawkins and others like him is that they ride a powerful popularity wave at the surface of the intellectual world. It's a telling thing that such people wield such influence in science. Your writings, on the other hand, drop - Zing! - to the core issues of existence.

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    1. Hi Joseph,
      Wow, many thanks. I sincerely appreciate what you wrote, and it gives me motivation to continue.
      I thought you had become uncomfortable with something I had written here; I thought it was negative feedback that you wanted to give me, so I was trying to understand it, so perhaps I could improve. So your comment above positively surprised me. :-)
      Once again, many thanks for this wonderful feedback.
      Regards, B.

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    2. Bernardo, please DO continue! I have ZERO doubt that science - and world culture - are approaching a mind-blower of a period of revolution, centered around the subject of consciousness. It entails science letting go its materialist dreams and beginning to think extraordinary thoughts about consciousness. It's got to be an exciting yet at times challenging period to avatars like yourself who are making the initial inroads. I hope you continue.

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  4. There are millions of those who've had NDEs that have come back profoundly changed who make Love their highest priority and have lost most of their attachment to the "material" world. This trend can only continue as technology brings more and more people back. This could have a major effect on how things develop on the planet.
    On the other hand I was discussing the fact that all this is in the mind with a friend if mine and he asked the question "So if none of this is real is environmentalism and saving the planet important?" Now personally I've always been interested in living in a non-wasteful fashion and respecting nature. However since this is a dreamed up reality and eventually we all shift consciousness to something else does it really matter? According to the rules of this game it seems we could do everything right, live in peace and harmony, respect nature and the whole nine yards and eventually a big rock is going to hit the planet and flatten everything anyway. I suppose that's the yin and yang of it. We have to create problems so we can try and overcome them in this experience while growing in Love the whole time.

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    1. Here are the comments I mad eon this in the forum:

      To say that all is in mind is not to say that it is unreal. The reality of experience is the most 'real' reality that there can possibly be. What reality can an abstraction, such as a universe fundamentally outside of experience, really have? The reality of experience is the only and most pungent reality. The world is pretty real, if you ask me... :)
      Now, the world may be a dream, but a precious dream nonetheless. What exquisite interplay of patterns and players; what amazing level of synchronization; what incredibly powerful appeal to take everybody in. The world is an amazing production of the mind; a pearl, a jewel that cannot be overestimated. What did it take to produce this? What level of effort and skill? How 'long' did it take? Could we do it again if we destroyed it? What a waste wouldn't it be to tear this dream apart?
      Whether 'we' -- as egos -- come back to the dream in the future isn't really the point, is it? If we're split-off complexes of one mind, it is 'we' -- in the deeper, true sense -- that are living the dream of reality anyway -- now, in the future, and everywhere -- so long as there is a single conscious creature dreaming it up.
      Cheers, B.

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  5. I always enjoy your posts...they always resonate with me and this one especially as I've been pondering similar somethings recently. I agree strongly with #1 and #3 but I'm less clear about #2 regarding eating less meat. I actually agree that eating less meat would almost surely be better for us, healthwise and for the environment as a whole, but it's the moral argument that leaves me with questions. This may sound ridiculous and maybe it is, but how do we know that plants don't also suffer when we grow them on a farm and harvest them for food? I think we identify with animals since they seem to be more like us, but what if plants have a consciousness as well?

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    1. Hi Rambutan,
      My argument was not really a moral one... my concern is, if we all share a collective unconscious, making sure that we don't excessively pollute it with unfathomable amounts of suffering seems like a good idea.
      As you know, I see a living organism as the image of a process of consciousness localization. As such, plants are the image of a partial, weak process of localization. The fact that they don't have a central nervous system (well, they don't have a nervous system) is powerful indication that they are inherently incapable of the kind of suffering higher animals can undergo.
      Cheers, B.

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