What is there to do?
(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)
|La Liberté guidant le peuple.|
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.