Two negroes are taking a walk in the woods. Suddenly one of them exclaims, “Look, there’s a mushroom!” – “So what!?” says the mushroom.
Such runs a Sponti joke I’ve heard back at school; it stuck in my mind ever since. The absurdity of the described situation is hilarious as such, the choice of words is peculiar, and the multi-layered observation embedded in it is highly accurate. .
What is your immediate response to it? Are you taking offense by my using the n-word? Or do you see the underlying satirical remark on people pointing fingers at something that (or someone who) is disturbing their perceived state of normalcy? .
When I grew up in Germany’s seventies and eighties people would stand and stare at anyone and anything that seemed sort of off of what they were used to encounter: people of colour, long-haired men, bald-headed women, patchwork clothing, homeless folks, Turkish couples (her dressed in a chador or hijab, following two paces behind him), sports roadsters, wheelchair drivers, atheists, unmarried mothers, or two-headed cats, to name few typical examples. The Spontis – leftist political activists of the students’ and pupils’ movements in Germany who thought that spontaneity and humour were revolutionary elements – with their above-quoted joke pinpointed the discriminatory finger-pointing goggle-eyedness and threw it back at a blaming and shaming duplicitous society. “Everyone’s a stranger – somewhere,” the Spontis noted accurately. .
One would think that those times are over. But not only does discriminatory thought persist in backward countries like Japan where I – the tall blond long-haired stranger – got photographed and giggled at underhandedly on the Tokyo metro, and in India where I get invited to random people’s weddings or excluded from farmers’ meetings merely because I’m fair-skinned; the discrimination in our heads survived in Germany just as well as anywhere else. That it’s not showing as obviously today as it did in the seventies and eighties doesn’t mean a thing. What we are engaged in since the nineties are political correctness (pc) debates which in their mind-fucking sneakiness are far worse than the obvious separation and animosity of earlier decades. .
On the surface pc seems to address discrimination against others by shaming the use of certain vocabulary while underneath the emphasis on the right to be different crystallizes the specific phenomena of human existence – skin colours, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, nationalities and what not – into distinct identities such as politics, genders or races. For example, as pc does not address racism as such, merely its ways to express itself, a politically-correct racist simply takes over the new pc lingo for spewing hatred against people of colour. And thus we shift from nigger to negro to black to Afro to coloured to pigmented and so forth in a constant effort to evade the discussion we have to have in the overcoming of racism and xenophobia (as well as sexism, genderism, speciesism and other low-consciousness notions): that there is a focus on differences rather than similarities, that there is an arbitrariness to what marks someone as different, and – most significantly – that difference is perceived as unnatural or evil. .
The terms used for pc speech – which are really the same as those later-on used for discriminating against others – are subject to a self-perpetuating process called the euphemism treadmill. This means that whichever correct term is chosen for a person discriminated-against, it eventually turns into an insult, triggering the quest for a new pc term. .
The other day (sorry for being so day-istic) I have been writing a comment on one of my favorite topics, what makes wild communities generally work as compared to the multiple ever-increasing, ever-worsening problems that civilized societies experience. Both consist of human beings; almost everything else is different. With both populations being of the same species the traps of whether “human nature” exists and what it implies – the nature-vs-nurture debate – is irrelevant to the discussion. Me using the term “wild,” though, became an obstacle for people looking for a pc word pointing at the non-civilized. Someone argued that “wild” and “civilized” were the language of the European colonizer and that these words were discounting the deep wisdom and cultural sophistication of these “indigenous people,” as he called them. The whole notion of “wild” needed to be rethought after we found out that “jungles” like the Amazon, the Mayan heartlands or the North American west coast have actually been food forests, carefully stewarded lands at the time of European conquest. .
Those were careful considerations, but like so many post-modern thoughts they have not been mindful of the difference between judgmental discriminatory dominator language and distinctions consciously introduced for communicative or research purposes. The use of “wild” alone implied “colonizer” mentality to them. .
I have to admit that it is not so easy, these days, to tell the difference when our whole language, including ordinary words like “green,” “democracy,” and “free,” are getting hijacked by the corporate dominator culture. Think of the facebook “friend” and other “social-” media “community” fakery, think of “humanitarian aid” (weapons deliveries), “peace-keeping operations” (invasions), “health insurance” (enslavement to a system of chemical poisoning) and countless further examples from the Falschwörterbuch(German: fake dictionary) of Neoliberalism. More important than the face of a book is the idea it wants to sell. As all views are perspectival, all communication of views, all writing is in a sense propaganda, with the ambiguity of words (and images) used for this or that purpose. No statement, no information can be taken at face value. The recipients’ job is to notice the sales pitch and to inquire within for the deeper truth about it. So let’s do this as an exercise in the context of my distinguishing “wild” peoples from “civilized” humans. .
Regarding “wild” peoples, there is no (other) word that is fully and properly including everybody we mean by it: modes of being that are not domesticated, not based on abstraction and abstracting, on strong hierarchies, strict separation of labour, state institutions, large numbers and growth, categorization, separation – in short, not civilization. The way I have put it in the above sentence suggests negative phrasing: not-civilized, un-domesticated, non-hierarchic etc., which I find weird because it implies a lack of something. In the same way, our culture could be called un-free, non-egalitarian etc. — which I actually use sometimes for breaking the spell of mainstream vernacular. By pointing out in which way we find a culture wanting does not describe its asili, its core and ultimate cause of collective thought and behaviour. I would like to say somehow that certain cultures exist in their own right rather than being underdeveloped predecessors to the crown of human evolution. .
In many of my writings I have clarified what I mean by “wild,” and it is so obviously not derogatory of those cultures – neither consciously nor unconsciously so – that anybody with a different opinion who notices it would have to wonder why. That the term loses its negativity anyway can be seen in the establishment of “wilderness reserves” and the emergence of the “rewilding” movement. While for some there is certainly a derogatory (or romanticizing) connotation to the word, it is the only phrase that people from across the spectrum may understand, while it is not reducing the “wild” to the negation (or lack) of “civilization.”
Is there no other positive term we could use for talking about the common denominator uniting the thousands of different communities outside of civilization?
I find “Intact” is a wonderful word, though it requires a lot of introductory explanation as to what it relates to. Basically, “intact” can only serve as a label in the face of disturbed societies, and it becomes increasingly inaccurate with civilization’s progressing encroachment. The introduction of so much as a simple idea embedded in the seemingly harmless question of an anthropologist may already disturb social peace within previously intact cultures, like asking men who have no knowledge about fertility on the tribe’s means of birth control.
I also like “free” as an attribute, but it would surely be misunderstood in the sense of our shallow civil rights.
“Primitive?” I have used it, explaining that I mean it in the sense of ‘originally, appropriately human;’ its derogatory meaning “underdeveloped” nevertheless co-vibrates.
“Tribal” – another phrase I like to use, seems almost perfect… if it weren’t abused for “tribalism” (as in “groupism”).
“Indigenous” (from Latin, born on the land)… well, no; Italians and British – melting-pot peoples – are indigenous to Europe, Japanese are indigenous to East Asia (though the Ainu have been preceding them), modern US citizens are indigenous to North America; it’s a matter of where you draw the historical-ancestral line required for someone to count as “native,”– 200, 2000, or 10000 years ago – and it does not define culture, the issue I’m pointing at when distinguishing the wild and the civilized. The whole concept of cultural indigeneity / nativity makes little sense without its historical perspective of conquest, colonization, displacement, domination and elimination of preceding peoples and species.
Struggling with finding a positive vocable for non-civilizational cultures since years, I have come to the following conclusions:
In principle, one word would be as good as another if it weren’t for the fact that, by using language, we attempt to tap into each others’ concepts for communicative purposes. So what I am looking for are terms that express shared concepts.
European languages, especially in recent decades, have been altered to a degree that they have become hardly recognizable to someone from the past. In Germany, the expression “Falschwörterbuch’”– dictionary of falsehoods – has emerged, a word that implies that meaning in language gets turned upside down so much so that e.g. ‘freedom’ has become the constitutional freedom of subjects being allowed to chose their oppressor. Has any word remained untouched, untainted? I don’t feel so.
The Falschwörterbuch means to hide what’s beneath, similar to politically-correct phrasing which hides (for a while) an ugly notion, basically the idea of separation. The “indigenous” debate falls in the same category as the “Negro” debate and the rapidly expanding gender alphabet (LGBTQIA+, for crying out loud!). As long as words are to express or whitewash the notion of complete separateness and dehumanization of Other there is no end to such debates. So when we communicate to others and interpret incoming communication, a word’s meaning has to be derived from context and/or explanation. Therefore I’m happy when people question my wording. This is the moment we actually have a debate.
Every word is a symbol for the “object” it creates in the mind, an abstraction from the world. The Latin root of “abstract” points out that a piece of the All is conceptually ripped from its context. As an abstract, symbolic representation of reality, a word both generalizes diverse phenomena, while at the same time it creates distinct boundaries where there are shades of gray. For example, “Germany” generalizes the many differences between regional ethnicities such as Bavarians and Saxons while it creates an artificial boundary to neighbouring countries such as France and the Netherlands where there live German minorities, derivates and mix cultures; it also reduces people’s identity to being born within Germany’s boundaries. Definitions of words are arbitrary, objectivity is an illusion. It is in the responsibility of each the speaker and the listener, to be aware of the virtual reality that words create. Without that awareness language-based communication, through illusory precision, paradoxically becomes more fuzzy than it needs to. The Falschwörterbuch’s successful manipulation of our shared reality seems, to me, a sure sign that we are generally not aware and awake.
My aim is the raising of awareness and the sparking of consideration of what makes us the culture we are, and wild peoples the cultures they are. The search for matching terms continues, probably with someone coining new pc ones.
As for the ancient cultures of the Mayas, Anasazi, Songhai, old Zimbabwe etc, I would classify them as civilizations, as they were based on separation; they were practicing domestication and were held together by force, for the benefit of a wealthy elite. Consequently they collapsed after having over-exploited their habitat and overstretched their citizens’ capacity for suffering. Obviously, Californian Indians, Mbuti, !Kung, and Aborigines lived a different kind of approach – which is what I’m pointing at when distinguishing between “wild” and “civilized” cultures.
Returning from Friesenheim once more, where I participated, for the third time , in the summer university‘s discussion on a given topic, I feel a bit at loss how to summarize what we have found. We were talking about ‘being weak’ – this was the event’s topic at least – which, to a certain extent, we did. But the subgroup I was with immersed itself deeply in the meme of separation central to a text excerpt from Charles Eisenstein’s book The Ascent of Humanity we used, and we were also grappling with the near-term demise of global industrial civilization, another meme which popped up all over the place. People seemed to unanimously expect it to happen, and often imagined it to come about in a kind of crash, because it was hard to see for them, us, how our culture would change voluntarily. ‘People’ means, academics mainly from sciences like sociology, psychology, or religion, but also biologists, therapists, engineers, ministry officials, self-employeds, craftsmen, book authors and a range of other professions.
the conception of ourselves as discrete and separate subjects in a world of other. This is the ideology of separation. The ideology that has created the human realm we know is the same ideology that has us despair we can ever change it ~~Charles Eisenstein’s website
it is separation that has generated the converging crises of today’s world. People of a religious persuasion might attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an ecological persuasion, to a separation from nature; people engaged in social activism might focus on the dissolution of community (which is a separation from each other); we might also investigate the psychological dimension, of separation from lost parts of ourselves. For good or ill, it is separation that has made us what we are […]
No, I’m not going to blame it all on “capitalism”, for our economic system too is more a symptom than a cause of separation. ~~Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity, Introduction
‘By chance,’ on the very day after my return from Friesenheim, separation also played a role in an online discussion on the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Being asked whether I knew something that would clarify the meaning of Nirvana, I said something to the tunes of: I’m not sure about ‘knowing’ more, but I would add some more delusion and confusion, if you allow me to 😉 I’m not closely familiar with the Buddha’s original teachings but I think we’ll be getting close enough. Marianne Gronemeyer, professor emeritus, social scientist, philosopher, book author, and one of the Friesenheim hosts strongly suggested in a verbal exchange that “understanding” another person is impossible to achieve. We will never know what someone truly felt or meant to say, and it is a sign of arrogance to claim otherwise. This is not to invite sloppiness into our communication, but humbleness and deep listening. Nevertheless, in general, I find it nourishing and useful to develop our own understanding from even the most superficial take on other people’s concepts. Even false or decontextualized quotes may help with this (as long as we don’t use the originator’s name in an authoritative way, claiming that she’d agree with us). So, diving into the Nirvana discussion with my online discussion mate, she quoted from Joseph Campbell.
“The verb nirva (Sanskrit) is, literally, ‘to blow out,’ not transitively, but as a fire ceases to draw… Deprived of fuel, the fire of life is ‘pacified’ i.e. quenched, when the mind has been curbed, one attains to the ‘peace of Nirvana,’ ‘despiration in God.’ … It is by ceasing to feed our fires that the peace is reached, of which it is well said in another tradition that ‘it passeth understanding’ […] The word “de-spiration” is contrived from a literal Latinization of the Sanskrit nirvana, nir = “out, forth, outward, out of, out from, away, away from”; nirvana = “blow out, gone out, extinguished.” ~~Joseph Campbell, Hero with A Thousand Faces, p. 139
The etymological meaning of Nirvana adds an interesting new angle for me, as I have learned the word as describing Emptiness, the liberation from attachment to the material world, and the end point of the cycle of rebirth.
The void is the fifth element known to Asian cultures. The void is obviously the dominant, most abundant element. It is not empty in the European sense of emptiness or nothingness but holds the relationships between things, so it’s actually very full. Many regard it as the real substance of existence. Life, for Asians (and also wild peoples), is relatedness, as opposed to the European sense of separate selves and discrete objects.
Adyashanti, a modern teacher with Zen and Christian roots, describes Emptiness as the matrix from which form (matter, thought, emotion etc) emerges. Sound rises from silence which is always there. Thought arises from stillness which is always there. Existence arises from non-existence which is always there. Enlightenment is our mode of existence; that’s why we cannot attain it, but only awaken to it. Enlightenment is realizing Emptiness, Nirvana, in which no thing exists, which means there are no distinctions, which means this is ‘where’ Oneness lies. So Emptiness is both empty and not-empty. Important to note, here, are the different concepts of Emptiness: Oneness (formlessness) in Buddha’s sense, relatedness (which requires forms) in Asian folk religion/culture, as well as in Eisenstein’s philosophy, of course.
My conversation partner developed an interesting thought:
This may sound strange, but I wonder if releasing all the delusions that the mind creates and then holds so dear is not a lot like peeing… and the relief of emptiness once all the stuff the body can no longer use is gotten rid of… maybe the mind needs to get rid of all the stuff it can not longer use.
Yes, it feels exactly like this when I’m writing. It’s like pee seeking release from its narrow confines, collecting, releasing, and collecting once more. As for getting rid of ‘stuff,’ by which we usually mean thought and its contents – that’s not necessary in an extinguishing way in order to enter Nirvana. All it takes is being with it. Imagine that like sitting in a car with the motor running idle, when the motor doesn’t force the car into motion. There’s a funny moment in one of Krishnamurti’s talks (The Real Revolution #1, 16:00 –19:25) where he ‘explains’ that issue to somebody asking, How?
Adyashanti says, the idea of control over one’s life
is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I’d say, that’s about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness. ~~Surrender or suffer
Mel Weitsman put the matter of getting rid of thought like this: “When thoughts come, you can invite them in but don’t serve them tea.” There is a time and place for the application of thought; just don’t let thought run your car.
Words rest in thought; thought creates illusion which veils the reality of Emptiness, Non-Existence. That’s why we may enter Nirvana by being still and detaching ourselves from delusion. When you chip away everything that is not true in your life you end up with nothing to hold on to: Emptiness.
Language (especially European languages) acts like an obstacle in the way of understanding here because it only inaccurately translates Asian / Zen reality into the concepts and the basic assumptions of (our) culture. Words create paradoxies where there are none, eg. if Non-existence is that which does not exist, Non-existence does not exist; what does that mean for a (no-) thing like ‘Emptiness’? These things are better seen than spoken about. On a side note, those paradoxies are powerful tools for shocking people out of unquestioned assumptions and help opening them up to the reality of Emptiness. Having clear concepts of Nirvana does not help with either understanding or awakening to it; so I’m not sure whether my words do you any favour 😀
PS see also: Deepak Chopra – The nature of reality Thanks to Rob de Laet.
The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously. Marimba Ani, the author of the book “Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,“is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.
In my book, Mach was!?,i.e., Do Something!?, I entered a chapter by the headline “Empire of Loneliness.” This refers to the enormity of the edifice erected by civilized philosophy; an edifice according to which you are a flesh-encapsulated separate mind in a world of meaningless material objects, of Otherness. There is no beingness and subjectivity other than human beingness and subjectivity, no intelligence but human intelligence, no meaning but human meaning, no purpose other than human purpose, no art and beauty other than human art and beauty, no importance other than self-importance. Others, be it other (especially non-civilized) humans, be it animals, plants, or the “inanimate” world, become hindering or even threatening objects at worst; at best resources valuable only for their usefulness to ourselves.
What’s more, no matter which philosophical direction you choose, its teachings are completely hollow and devoid of meaning. You may pick any phrase you like, and what you find is shallow conceptsand lip service. “Freedom” is indeed a kind of slavery, the war abroad guarantees“peace” in our homeland, and ignorance of the illusory nature of civilized life means “strength” in our efforts to survive as Yurugu souls. There is no spirit within our religions – be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Scientism – and our “social networks” are the opposite of what community once meant. Marimba Ani writes,
The symptomatic and severe loneliness characteristic of Europeans is an effect of the lack of communal function of their culture. Europeans are bound to each other by virtue of a shared utamaroho[collective personality] of power, domination, world supremacy, and expansion. The inner cultural dynamics of aggressiveness, competition, and mutual distrust are all separating, not binding. The outer-directed drives bind them into a tremendously efficient machine of aggression. The culture is supremely successful in this regard. European culture is not based on a vision of the essentially human. It does not serve human needs because it is not “designed” to do so. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p390)
It is really important to understand that the culture is not meant to benefit its people. When institutions do us wrong, when taxes are unjustly waived or imposed, when our friends let us down for profit, when laws impair our wiggle room, when weapons are delivered to those who wage war – all that is not happening incidentally, out of sheer incompetence or ignorance or without relation to all the other instances of wrongness.
European culture is an arena in which separate selves agree to compete without destroying the system and agree to cooperate in the destruction and consumption of other systems (e.g. cultures). One of the signs of the breakdown of the European system is that more and more Europeans begin to treat each other as they have heretofore only “ethically” treated the “cultural other.” (Yurugu, p400)
Ariadne’s thread leads straight into the heart of the matter, which is the asili, the cultural core of globalized European civilization. What makes this culture different from every other culture on Earth is its uniquely single-minded strife for power. It is Marimba Ani’s merit that she developed the concept of asili and applied it to European cultural thought and behaviour. Others before her did point out significant features, such as the meme of separation and its workings which modern Spirituality inspired by Asian religions clearly described, but none managed to explain why Christian values, or Humanism, never stopped structural and physical violence. Yurugu, the book, enables us to understand the power drive behind seemingly benign movements. The values purported serve to deceive Europe’s victims. “To bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan / El Salvador / Guatemala / Haiti / Iran/ Iraq/ Libya / Mali / Nicaragua / North Korea / Somalia / Sudan / Syria / Venezuela / Vietnam / Yemen” etc pp, ad infinitum,belongs into the realm of “Rhetorical ethics.” At a closer look we discover geopolitical considerations and greed behind amoral hypocrisy:
To begin with the Platonic-influenced utamawazo [culturally structured thought] provides the theoretical basis for a conceptual ethics; an ethical system, the themes of which are considered to be valid, as long as they are consistent in terms of the logic of that system. What is “ethical” becomes what is “rational” and “logical.” The most “ethical” statement is the purest abstraction. As Havelock correctly observes, the individual “thinking” psyche becomes the seat of morality and the individual’s ability to act ethically is based on his ability to think “rationally”; i.e., “abstractly.” The result, again, is “talk.” The European idea is that words divorced from action, feeling, commitment, from human involvement can themselves be relevant to (and properly inform) human interaction – as long as they are part of a consistent syntax; an approved semantical system. This pursuit itself is an exercise in self-deception. Primary cultures are characterized by an “existential ethic” (Stanley Diamond) that is based on and refers to actual behaviour. European culture gives rise to semantical systems and instead of being concerned with the inconsistency between “word” and “deed” (which could conceivably be the determinant of ethical behavior), the moral philosophers are merely concerned with verbal and what they call “logical” inconsistency. One result of this characteristic of the culture is a tendency to make philosophers the most irrelevant of people and to effectively divorce their work from any decision-making capacity or role that in any way influences the ethical behavior of European peoples. What this tradition has done instead is to support the culture in its ability to use words without meaning, and to support Europeans in their quest to deceive others and themselves as well. The body of literature known as “ethical theory” has to a large degree been conducive to the growth of moral hypocrisy in European culture. (Yurugu, p328)
When the World is portrayed as a “stage,” it’s not just meant as a metaphor. One only has to watch or read the news, to see how empty words define the relationship between governments and populations, and between nation and nation.
Joel Kovel writes,
We have noted that power has accrued to the West through the yoking of energy and reason within one cultural ego. Other cultures had the energy, still others had the control, and some even combined the two; but no culture carried the combination to such extremes. The very passion expressed by the western drive to power is representative, on a cultural level, of the tapping of deep infantile desires. This culture, at once the most advanced, is also the most infantile… The deeper one returns into infancy, the more profound and limitless becomes desire. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p130)
No surprise, then, that the drive to power is present in interpersonal relationships even, right down to the level of families. Rhetorical ethics lead to insincere expressions of emotions, thoughts, or solidarity, in which a sentence like “I love animals” is enough to mark a person as an animal lover, despite the fact that she is eating meat from industrial production. This magical relationship to words corresponds to the immature stage European culture is stuck in.
When you shout “betrayer!”, what does it imply? When you hear the word “god”, what does it invoke? When you read about “money”, what does it mean to you? When you use the word “freedom”, what does it feel like?
You may have a clear image, or you may have a fuzzy understanding of that something, but almost certainly you will be prone to some kind of deception. For to be able to stand living in civilization, it takes mental adjustment to the many ways in which the system violates common sense and normal human behaviour. Civilization has taken our language and turned it into a weapon – against us. By redefining the meaning of words – and there are several methods and strategies available to her – she can invoke the deeper meaning, the concept of, a phrase within us while referring to a much shallower or even conflicting notion of it. Newspeakand Doublethink, far from being fictional ideas out of an oft-cited, rarely fully understood novel, are part of today’s state of affairs; they come as easy to us as breathing the pungent urban stench of civilization while thinking nothing of it… and it’s just as poisonnous.
The power of language and its intimate relationship not only with all the rest of cultural phenomena, but with reality itself, has been well documented. Just two among many relevant works may already suffice to make that point: Daniel Everett’s report “Don’tsleep, there are snakes” and Stuart Chase’s book “The tyranny of words”.
Inspired by Keith Farnish’s work “Underminers: a practical guide for radical change”, the German translation of which will be available from June on, I’ll undertake an effort of compiling an encyclopedia of terms from all fields of knowledge and all aspects of life that attempts to point out the deception in our current use of words, and rectify them to again mean what they originally stood for.
This book will be an alternative to mainstream reference books only insofar as it provides a different view. It’s actually the latter that spread “alternative facts”, as has been aptly admitted by one of the perpetrators themselves. Revealing quotes like this, from both sides of understanding, as well as tons of cross-references for the intuitive untangling of a seemingly unsolvable problem, and my own definition of things, peppered with humour (black and white) will make up the main body of the encyclopedia. Expect something like Robert Wilson’s “Everything is under control“to come your way by the end of next year.
The project will start with the German language but I’m already looking for people who would work on the English version. Can you help?
This is the transcript of my second interview with Wolfgang Werminghausen, for his podcast Faster Than Expected, episode 20, which has been published last night. Smaller corrections have been made to clarify the core message and to give a more pleasant reading.
FTE: I want to talk with Jürgen about living with animals. Since some years Jürgen is living in India in the small town Auroville. There he is working as a farmer and librarian. We had a talk in the 16th episode of the Faster Than Expected podcast.
How does working as a farmer and living with goats and other animals change your life?
Me: Hi Wolfgang, thanks for the opportunity to throw a few words into the conversation. I really appreciate that.
I’d like to add that it’s an organic farm within a spiritual commune, which is not at all comparable to industrial agriculture. I think that organic farming and industrial agriculture are actually two very different activities that only can be seen on the same level if you think both of them are about keeping animals or planting food crops. Apart from that, they got nothing in common. Our animals are part of the family, which means we have a symbiotic relationship, not the kind of exploit-then-throw away situation of a typical cowcentration camp.
On a physical level my work is of course completely different from anything I ever did within my life as a wage slave or as a self-employed retailer. It sort of reconnected me with the realm of true life, basic needs, eye-to-eye interaction and so on; these elements in our lives have been largely lost. I can say that because I am currently going through the experience of regaining them, finding them again in my life, and finding a place for them in my life.
The work takes some discipline, the kind I expect Kevin to know closely, because as much as you sometimes would like to leave the boat – to jump ship – you can’t. Kevin has physical barriers in the way; there is a vast ocean all around, and I have emotional barriers which I cannot cross.
FTE: Like a lifeboat.
Me: Yes. You got to be there, day by day, event by event, whatever happens. It’s three o’clock in the night and I hear some of the animals shouting in some sort of distress, eg. there is a predator in the cage or someone stepped on their toe. Whatever it is, I go there and look. I can’t say, “It’s night time, I want to sleep and my working hours are long past.”
And it’s a very direct thing: There is no space for electronic gadgets, or complex ideas. Another element that is also important from that perspective is: We use to throw money at a problem, like, something is missing and you go into the shop to buy what we need. That’s not possible in this case. You can’t throw money at a problem an animal has, or at a problem you have with an animal, and make the animal behave as you want it to. Meeting their needs, that’stheir currency, and to become aware of what the need of the moment might be I have to be with them, meaning, I have to be with them very often, repeatedly, and also mentally I have to be prepared to be present with them to understand what’s up. By that practice I learn their expressions, the signing, the body language, and communicate with them. Though it’s not like the twitch of one eye means the word so-and-so, and the blinking of the other eye means, I’m hungry. It’s not as direct as human language, rather some intuitive kind of communication. It’s not coherently the same all the time. The same sign may mean something different in a different context. Understanding is a matter of intuition, I think. By being together with the animals they learn what I am up to. Do I understand them? Am I ready to meet their need? Or am I rejecting it?
I am entering into a mutual relationship with them which means, I acknowledge them as people, as characters, as unique personalities. It’s not all that complicated and you could compare it to instances when people understand each other without words. Everybody has them. You have a friend, a partner… you don’t need to speak but you know what the other person is thinking or what they want to do. Like in a good rock band, the guitarist and the drummer know exactly their timing. We like to refer to this as „magic moments“, but that’s really just because spoken and written language has so removed us from our original state of consciousness and from the things that truly matter. Ok, in a way it’s “magic” because it’s not rational, but it’s not special in the sense of being a rare thing. You could have it every day.
So I highly recommend people to consciously enter into close relationships with someone whose psyche is not fucked up by civilized thinking and by thinking in linguistic terms. We find those very rarely. When are you able to get in contact with a wild person – with a tribal human? It’s hard to find them anywhere. So the only people left that are sort of unspoilt are animals who are available to us for that purpose.
If you let yourself – just for a minute – feel the sorrows of another being you get an understanding of the heaviness of the burden that’s hanging from the world’s neck, this civilized madness which is to me a mental disorder, a derangement even. I don’t know how else to get rid of this. It’s something no shrink can ever heal. To me, the way out of this madness is to reconnect through beings that are less impaired by it.
The fate of the biosphere is depending on us because we are the dominant species – or rather, the dominant culture, because it’s not humans as such, it’s our culture, civilization, that’s fucking up the planet, and therefore we do have a responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone else: plants, animals, ourselves of course, for the pain, the suffering, and the survival of everyone else in this world, just like we do have a responsibility for our children and our pets, or to phrase it in another way, we have a responsibility for the captive children and the animals that we domesticate for civilized use; that’s what we do to our own species even.
FTE: Thank you very much for your touching and impressive words. In Western industrial agriculture animals are a product kind of thing. Is there a different way to view animals in India?
Blister beetle devouring an ocra flower
Me: Yes, certainly. There is this funny story told by Arnold Stadler, about a calves extermination program that an agricultural minister of the German Green party has set up to curb an outbreak of BSE. I think it happened in 2001, I’m not sure. 400 000 cow babies were to be culled, meaning, killed for health issues; potential health issues even, to stop an epidemic, and most of those cow babies were not actually sick. In India, there were people and organizations who thought about how to save those animals from their pointless death. Like there is civil war in some foreign country and we think about how we could help these people. The Indians were thinking about how to help these animals that we were mindlessly killing.
To understand the Indian way of seeing animals one may look into Karma. Karma means that the depth of your insights gained throughout your lifetime and the extent at which you are putting those into practice define the situation into which you are going to be reborn. For Indians, life does not end with death; it doesn’t start with birth either. It’s an endless cycle in which we come back again and again, and that can be as a demon, a god, an animal of some kind, or as a human.
That means that animals are regarded as relatives. It expresses in language, when, in Tamil, we call a young female animal ‘paapa’, younger sister and a young male animal ‘thambi’, younger brother.
Indian philosophy has it that physical pain is a normal, natural phenomenon. Our nerve endings help us sense the world, see the world, hear the world. The same nerve that can feel the texture of a book or a peace of clothing can also feel pain which is just an increase in intensity of the same impression. Pain happens to everyone and it cannot be avoided. So it does not matter much if we beat a cow or keep a calf from having its milk and make it feel hungry, because this pain is a natural thing. Our duty in our karma as living beings is to understand this and to surrender to the necessity of pain. To understand this necessity and surrender to it means that you do your yoga.
If we don’t do our yoga, if we don’t understand, we suffer psychologically. Suffering and pain are different. The suffering is in your own responsibility. You cannot avoid pain but you can avoid suffering by understanding the necessity of pain. And as long as we suffer we cannot leave the wheel of rebirth. We are caught in the world of pain.
But as all life is also yoga, ie. the search for the Divine, Ultimate Consciousness, God – however you want to call it – and therefore we must not interrupt this search by cutting a life short. Sure, you can do it anyway but it has an impact on your karma. That’s why people on one hand have no problem with heavily beating a cow while on the other hand making efforts to saving its life, no matter how miserable that life is.
[To repeat a story given in my last blog here:] Just a few days ago I came to the house of my Tamil sister where two hibiscus bushes are standing in front of the door which were a gift from one of our friends. The flowers were full of blister beetles which were eating the flowers. I said, “Look!” by just pointing at them. She replied: “What shall I do? They are hungry and they need to eat. We can’t just go around and kill everyone.” This illustrates their view on animals, encompassing both the domestic and the wild animals. This is of course going away the more India gets industrialized but it is still present within the countryfolk.
FTE: I see. We can learn very much from the Indian attitude towards animals and towards life. Thanks for your insightful words and the metaphors; now I imagine you with a goat rock band in a lifeboat[both chuckle]with your brothers and sisters. Thank you very much for this talk.
Me: Thank you for having me on the show!
Karma is, of course, a way more complex topic than described here, and the ramifications of inflicting pain and causing sufferings on others must not be neglected, but killing weighs heavy on the karmic balance sheet.
With all the generalizations made here, I must amend that, for anything you may say about India, the exact opposite is true as well. Its culture is enormously rich and diverse; as a civilization, it is almost as old as the Western cultural lineage. Indians’ basic assumptions on the nature of existence and therefore on the proper way of treating the living planet, as fundamentally different as they are from Western views, are certainly not perfect but at least they keep the door open for each individual life to improve its situation. With the influx of Western ideas and technologies, though, this culture is developing into one of the most explosive population bombs the world has seen.
Sheila Chandra: Lament of McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee
I think it is necessary to point out that, if we are actually desiring human unity, the path to its realization cannot imply divisiveness and fighting-against. In my community we are talking about ‘unity in diversity’, meaning, we accept that we are born, and have evolved, differently; all of us are diverse expressions of the One, and it doesn’t take for all of us to look the same, think the same, act the same. We are already one, whether we notice this or not. In the early stages of becoming aware of it, as an intellectual concept only, there is sometimes the desire to manipulate or force others into complying with this concept. What if we got everybody, every single individual, to accepting this idea? But that’s not unity, is it? We’d get a collection of seperate beings at best, mental tyranny at worst, so there is no use in this.
The Universal Consciousness oberves itself through the varied lenses of our individuality. It laughs at our attempts to stuff parts of its infiniteness into arbitrary boxes arranged into random hierarchies of ‘better’ and ‘worse’, and it is amused in the same way about efforts to counter the unfolding fragmentation with levelling differences down. Both movements, discrimination of differences and denying differences, are an expression of the notion that we are separate, independent beings.
listening to recording
with Frances Densmore
1916 (public domain)
The path to unity leads through acceptance of, and respect for, our many differences, our diversity. There are no two people on the planet, no two stones, no two trees, no two bacteria, or even two electrons that are the same. There is always something to distinguish two entities by, if only by their position in space. There are things that make us alike, though, which allows us to say, This is a human who is sharing common human traits, and this is a tree showing similar characteristics like others of its kind. To focus on the set of attributes which makes each of the readers of this essay a human being means to focus on our fundamental unity as humankind. But to value those attributes over other sets of attributes separates us from other beings. And to value certain characteristics like white skin, leftist ideology, or middle-range income, higher than other characteristics, again, results in separation. Yes, we are diverse; but it’s the judgment of our differences as higher or lower, better or worse, that sets us apart and makes us think we were incompatible with each other.
As for ‘narcissists’, ‘thieves’, ‘destroyers’ and other groups we have identified as ‘problematic’, it helps when we apply different language. Instead of sticking a label to somebody and thus saying that eg. thiefing is a certain person’s particular character, we could say that s/he has stolen, or that s/he has shown thiefing behaviour; this small change in grammar changes our own reality big time and allows us to believe that this person has other character traits as well. S/he is not only about stealing and s/he has the capacity to change their way. Instead of prohibiting (and finally eliminating the ‘problem’, and the person with it) we may ask, which unfulfilled need drives this person or group to acting as they do, and what can I do to help meeting this need differently.
This, of course, takes some time and is a matter of personal interaction; it can rarely be achieved on a large scale with thousands or milliions of people, though a supportive environment may help with fostering change. On the other hand, from what I understand, it is important to know that manipulating somebody into doing something, the top-down approach, and the demand for immediate satisfaction are part of how the world arrived at its current state. Do you see how all of this has implications for what we can or cannot do to establish a more balanced, harmoneous situation?
When we perceive ourselves as different from, let’s say a ‘thief’, or when we are being labelled ‘thieves’ , it always takes a reference point perceived as ‘normal’. But that makes the ‘other’ and the ‘normal’ obverse and reverse faces of oneand the same leaf. So, in all our diversity we are basically one. We could say that the common denominator of being normal and of being different is being — what an amazing realization to have…
To the organizers and participants of the Friesenheim event, I’d like to express my thanks for the many questions put, help offered, food shared, kind words spoken, and inspirations given, and all of that so freely. This was one great gathering of people willing to support each other in our search for truth and freedom, and I guess most, if not all of us agree that there is an intimate connection between the two.
I’d love to offer those who’d enjoy to continue our discourse on ‘Being Different’ — contact me by commenting to this blog or by writing me a mail. Marianne and Reimer know my address and may pass it on.
On another note, a few copies of my booklet on life in rural Tamil Nadu are still available for free. Would you like to have one?
Let’s take a step back and forget about climate change and the planetary catastrophe called global industrial civilization for a moment. Some of the deeper roots of our predicament have been discussed here repeatedly. (see some of the articles under the label ‘collapse of civilization‘) I have also touched into the epistemological dimension of it, what I’d call ‘nature of truth and reality‘.
Today, I’d like to have my – much more learned – colleagues elaborate on how the dominant worldview, i.e. our most basic assumptions on the nature of truth and reality, not only started the cycle of destruction but perpetuate and aggravate it through a self-reinforcing mechanism called scientific discourse.
This is in no way meant to diminish the epistemological achievements of science (see below, Nagler), or to strike a blow for the deliberate distortion of facts that runs by the name of ‘alt-truth’. Yet for us to get a more accurate picture of what is going on we need to be aware that there are actually truths alternate to our own understanding and that those truths are just as valid as what is scientifically believed to be real (see below, Wilber).
There is an abundance of alternative views to rationalistic materialism, yet they initially are – very – hard to discover. The dominant culture is fighting an epistemicidal war against ‘the other’, a war that is unseen by most because the enemy is not supposed to even exist. Why?
Empire is not merely territory covered, not just populations made into subjects. Empire rules not only through political, economic, and military force but through the very culture that gave birth to Empire. In other words, Empire rules the minds of its subjects, and it does so by defining what they can know — what is real. This may sound overstated to some, likely most, but the cognitive injustice created by scientific discourse is actually key to the question why social injustice does not spawn the kind of movements that would overthrow Empire. Marx had it wrong because we are not simply victims, we are co-creators of oppression. Awareness has never been enough; it takes an awakening. The totalitarian exclusion of ‘the other’ from our view has turned it from a simple alternative into the deadliest enemy of the dominant culture, because once you start seeing it, awakening to it, you can no longer buy into the common dogmas around separateness, competition, materialism, utilitarianism, or scientism.
If you are still with me let’s foster cognitive justice now, by exploring an example which helps making the issue obvious: the relationship between science and the Sacred.
“A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organizes and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about. In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of social and individual actions.”
– Günther Kress – Linguistic Processes in Sociocultural Practice, 1988
“Epistemology(literally, the logical discourse on knowledge) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.”
“The whole notion of ‘discourse‘ and ‘discourse community’ is a circular one – the community is defined as those that share certain discourse habits and functions, while skill in the prescribed discourse is a prerequisite for being taken seriously by the discourse community. Hence, academic discourse is thus revealed, from the outset, to be a self-referential self-justificatory practice that determines what may legitimately beconsidered as knowledge.”
„In this era of increased knowledge the essence of religious phenomena eludes the psychologists, sociologists, linguists, and other specialists because they do not study it as religious. According to Mircea Eliade, they miss the one irreducible element in religious phenomena—the element of the sacred.“
– 1996 introduction to Mircea Eliade’s book „Patterns in comparative Religion“ (1958)
“The dark side of modern science, and unfortunately it has one, does not arise from science itself, still less from any of the facts of nature. It arises from the impression we allow science to give us: the impression that we are merely biological machines in a meaningless material universe.
Science has every right to confine its attention to the physical, i.e. the outside world. It has no right to say, when it has done so, that it has given us the whole story.”
– Michael N. Nagler – Is there no other way?, 2001
“Cognitive injustice, the failure to recognize the different ways of knowing by which people across the globe run their lives and provide meaning to their existence.”
Epistemicide: the war on, and the destruction of existing knowledge and the subsequent abortion of the possibility of acquiring new knowledge within a certain system of thought.
The way that a particular culture formulates its knowledge is intricately bound up with the very identity of its people, their way of making sense of the world and the value system that holds that worldview in place. Epistemicide, as the systematic destruction of rival forms of knowledge, is at its worst nothing less than symbolic genocide […]
There are others […] that view the encroachment of the scientific paradigm as a form of cultural imperialism […] They often experience the rationalization and objectivization of reality as a kind of reductionism that is inadequate to explain the complexities of human experience.”
– Karen Bennett – Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. 2007
“The modern age has forgotten that facts and information, for all their usefulness, are not the same as wisdom—and certainly not the same as the direct experience of Reality. We have lost touch with the intuitive wisdom born of silence and stillness, and we are left stranded in a sea of information that cannot deliver on its promise of ever-increasing happiness and fulfillment.”
“The Way of Liberation is not a belief system; it is something to be put into practice. In this sense it is entirely practical.”
– Adyashanti – The way of Liberation: a practical guide to spiritual enlightenment, 2012
“When we find those types of statements in Plotinus or Asanga or Garab Dorje or Abhinavigupta or Shankara, rest assured that they are not simply theoretical hunches or metaphysical postulates. Those are direct experimental disclosures issuing directly from te subtle dimension of reality, interpreted according to the backgrounds of those individuals, but issuing from this profound ontological reality, this subtle worldspace.
And if you want to know what these men and women are actually talking about, then you must take up the contemplative practice or injunction or paradigm, and perform the experiment yourself […]
So this experiment will disclose the archetypal data, and then you can help interpret what they mean. And by far the most commonly accepted interpretation is, you are looking at the basic forms and foundations of the entire manifest world. You are looking directly into the face of the Divine.” – Ken Wilber – A brief history of everything, 1996
I have been a ‘die-hard metal fan’, as they call the kind of folks that bang their heads at the thrashing beat of drums and screeching sounds of guitars, a guy who, like all the other die-hard metal fans, used to say, “I don’t give a shit what people think. I really couldn’t care less.”
Well, I was lying.
Of course I cared! That’s the whole point of being a die-hard metal fan. You yearn to be other than the others, you want to show off your freedom to all those sheeple out there who don’t dare to bleat. You want to be seen.
So I was lying; I did care, and I was wrong about my perceived liberty, too, as I know now. Being different, as well, is not the desirable thing I thought it was. There are no sheeple. Or rather, all of us are sheeple, the lifestock of the 1%, and each living being deserves getting cared about in kinder ways than rejection as an ‘other’.
Caring is the point of being an activist. Because, if you didn’t give a damn you wouldn’t be out there risking your reputation, your job, or, for some of you, even your life. Yes, you want to make a difference, physically. And then you want for that difference to take roots in the collective consciousness, you want for it to persist and have a lasting impact; you wish for people to finally wake up to what you can see so clearly.
Yet, to get to the point where you can see so clearly what most others don’t, you must have significantly reduced caring about mainstream opinions, and that means, you let go of wanting to be an acknowledged, highly valued member of society. Because the very moment you start to deviate from their kind of truth you are on your way out.
From this perspective, a quote from one of Richard Bach’s novels makes a lot of sense:
“Well, what’s wrong with losing ninety percent of my audience? What’s wrong with losing ALL my audience? I know what I know and I talk what I talk! And if that’s wrong then that’s just too bad.” –Richard Bach
In the end, as an author, you are writing for the sake of truth as such. You are writingin support of those who already understand the truth you tell, the ones who need support with staying strong and sane in an ocean of falsehood. You are writing for the ones you care about. You are writing for whom and what you love. Hell, does it make a difference! It makes an infinitely greater difference than voting for the right guy or buying from a green shop.
So let’s care. Let’s care a lot! Let’s care about our friends and neighbours, about the toads, the grass, the cockroaches, the sky, and the creek. Let’s care about truth.
Truth is not depending on a democratic majority, or anybody else but its speaker at all. Let truth be told, no matter what. You don’t know what else to say. A certain way along the path, you cannot stand anything but the truth; no matter how small the deviation, you cringe under the slightest of falsehoods, and you would rather be dead than contributing to the big lie that is our culture. This is how much you care.
If someone asserts something like, “X happens every time I apply Y”, or, “All elements in the C set are smaller than D”, the rules of reason allow for falsifying the claim by just one single exception. Sentences like, “Man is greedy”, “Humans are selfish”, “We cannot change our ways”, fall under the same rule. The absoluteness with which those allegations are made cannot prove valid in the face of so many cases in which culture or personal decisions have expressed in totally different behaviour.
Discussing civilization and its effects and implications on an individual’s perception of reality, I use to refer to the lifestyle of indigenous peoples like the Mbuti Pygmees of Congo, and low-tech cultures like the Ladakh Tibetans. My intention in pointing at these tribes and cultures was neither in order to show ‘perfectness’, or to suggest you to copy their ways; nor would I say that “all primitive cultures are non-violent and have no problems”, as some conversational partners accused me of. I compared certain older lifestyles with the currently world-dominating technological money-driven civilization to prove that many forms of thought, speech, and behaviour which most civilized people prefer to see as human nature (or as an irreversibly ‘advanced’ state of development, or as something ‘without alternatives’) are in fact a matter of circumstances, culture, and conscious decision. Which means behaviour can be changed as soon as individuals become aware of its roots, modes of operation, and effects on their lives. There are examples in abundance, of people who broke ‘the rules’ of the so-called greedy, selfish human nature, and who showed that there are alternatives to what most people regard as normal, inevitable, inescable, unavoidable, and necessary.
Very few forms of behaviour and values are based on human nature. Human nature could be regarded as a range of abilities we might exert depending on the situation and our value system rather than a strict rule. No such thing as a rule there. Every move of the mind, every single need can be overridden by willpower. Aside from looking into the examples I have given in the past I invite you to find further exceptions to anything you regard as self-evident, natural, understood, or normal. It’s fun, and you’ll be surprised, I promise.
Daniel Everett’s book “Don’t sleep, there are snakes: Life and language in the Amazonian jungle” is such an eye-opener. Everett, a former US missionary, travelled to Brazil in order to study the Pirahã language. The Pirahã are a people living along the Maici River, a tributary to the Amazon system. Their culture and language are unique in so far as they have no words for worries, colours, numbers, and time references. No such concepts do exist, nor do the Pirahã seem to be able to ‘get’ it. This is due to a mindset which Everett calls immediacy, meaning that a Pirahã speaker only refers to things he has experienced himself, or someone alive told him she did. Probable future events therefore can’t be told, while dreams count as experience and are considered as very real; so if a Pirahã says he had a conversation with a spirit, he actually means it. Pirahã can joke and lie, but tell no fictionary tales. The language is shaped in a way that allows exactly that what they enact as a culture.
What we can learn from this is, that language, culture, and reality are closely intertwined. They influence each other, depend on each other, and can be seen as expression of one another.
Questioning the Western idea of just one indivisible objective reality “out there”, Everett quotes Edward Sapir’s “The status of linguistics as a science” (1929):
“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection […] No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same worlds with different labels attached.”
Figure out the implications for the validity of scientific discoveries, and particularly for unifying theories, and deterministic points of view.
Another thing we take for granted, yet have no reason to do so is ‘the rising curve’. Most people do agree that man is curious by nature. We derive our concept of ascension from there. This is our motivation for research, discovery, and management of the physical world around us. Things have to improve and get bigger and better over time, especially the realm of me and mine. Is that innate to man? Though the Pirahã are curious, too (they are interested in the outside world and their ways), the concept of the ascent of humanity is outlandish to them; they may use imported tools like boats or steel knives, but they refuse to manufacture them on their own i.e. implement new technologies into their cultural setting, even when they know how to do it; doesn’t keep them from getting along phantastically. Similarly they use next to no loan words when speaking. And in relation to the physical world, they think in terms of access and lax possession rather than ownership.
There are many more ways how the Pirahã differ from civilization as we know it, but instead of me telling you how to interpret Daniel Everett’s description of a remote traditional culture, why don’t you have a look inside this gorgeous book yourself? Remember – this is neither about glorification nor about copying. It is about freedom, promoted by the falsification of the concept of coercion. There is no human nature forcing us to behave in a certain way, there is no determination. If we feel restraint and follow its order, it is just the story we live by. That’s what modern sociology and anthropology can teach us. Nothing more, nothing less.
As I proceed with translating “The Ascent of Humanity” I almost daily stumble upon sentences reflecting deep insight into the fabric of reality. Stella Osorojos from the Santa Fe Time Bank called it “one of the most important books of the century”. She says she means it, and so do I. So please forgive me for coming back on elaborating on content from “Ascent” every now and then.
Many thinkers describe life as “living a story”, meaning that there is no such thing as an “objective universe out there” by the rules of which we have to live, and that the thing we call reality is not the actual thing of infinite properties, but merely a limited, abstract projection of, and withiin, our mind; what remains after so many filters of perception and selection. That projection is comparable to a map, a picture or a story which represents reality in the form of symbols (“The map is not the landscape”). Depending on the zoom level you prefer, the attributes you pick, the number of details you go into, the presentation format you choose, the symbols you design and the emphasis you set, the outcome will be very different from any other persons’ work. How many different maps of the world are there? How many interpretations of “Amazing Grace” or “The Count of Monte Cristo”? How many different opinions on any political matter, any piece of art, and every single person on earth? How many different definitions of God? And have you ever wondered why witnesses to a certain crime (or any other event) are talking of seemingly completely different things? All those are stories, and so is life. For the way we look at it is arbitrary – and it shapes our actions depending on the choices we make, thereby changing also the repercussions we experience from outside. Buddha called the way we usually look at, and live, our lives an ‘illusion’, J.Krishnamurti called it ‘image’, Adyashanti described it as ‘virtual reality’, and Villoldo actually called it ‘a story’. So does Charles Eisenstein who explains in Chapter VII-10 of his book how we are not victims, but creators of our fate; how there is no inescapable coercion, just surrender to stories; and how language, which is a story in itself, partakes in shaping the story of your life:
Even naming these stories and observing them in operation already makes them less powerful. However, I have found it useful to deliberately undo them through the way I speak to myself and others. We can use words in ways that deny the stories that enslave us, and thus accelerate our freedom. For example, Marshall Rosenberg suggests rephrasing every “have to” sentence as “I choose to… because…”
Here is a personal example. I used to say, “Even though I hate it, I have to give grades.” When I rephrased it as “I choose to give grades because I am afraid I will lose my job if I don’t,” everything became much clearer. I realized that my job was much less important to me than my sense of integrity, which for me personally was violated by giving grades, and so I decided to leave academia. By thinking in terms of “have to” we surrender our power. The very words carry within them an assumption of powerlessness.
As I wrote in earlier essays, a gun to your head does not imply being unrejectably forced to do as you’re told. With or without that gun, you still have all the choices in the world, as long as you are willing to take the consequences. And please don’t ridicule my words there: it doesn’t mean you are to making stupid decisions in a dangerous situation. It just means you are free to do whatever fits into your value system, your story, if you are aware of that story. The less fear you have of forces threatening to overpower you, the more freedom there is for you, up to the point where there is no coercion at all.
You do not have to believe in the shamanic concept of physical-reality alteration by forces of the psyche to actually shape your personal reality the way it suits you best – although such forces might have an impact, who knows. Unluckily most of the people I have been talking to hardly understand the concept or even reject it, and I could feel the underlying fear. People speak of freedom, individuality, and the power of love, yet don’t trust it much. And why would they, having been raised under a system where there is such a huge background fear, a survival angst about not fitting in with all the others, losing their job, losing their livelihood, sometimes even physical hurt. How would you not feel threatened and coerced into doing things you don’t like, such as working a degrading job, watching your back, and giving into all sorts of constraints.
The fact is: this is just one story to live by. If you equate an external attempt of force to a reaction of yours, then this story will shape your experience of reality, your life. The threat then, of course, feels very real. But as countless individuals have proven, other ways are possible. With the number of choices available to you, increasing by the degree you free yourself from unconsciously lived-by stories, life becomes better. By better I mean satisfying and fulfilled, as you then tend to make ever more choices by yourself, out of free will, instead of being forced to obey, subordinate, follow, give in, which equals to living someone else’s life. If you take the freedom of living a story where there is no irresistible pressure creates even more freedom. Freedom from (particularly fear), and freedom to (create your reality). Living by the story of Western civilization, on the other hand, resembles being hunted down by all sorts of predators, getting driven from one crisis into another, until you eventually get trapped and die. You may even be lucky enough to count as one of the predators; but as long as you are unaware of survival-of-the-fittest being just a story – the story of our culture – you are a slave chained to a story like all the others. Gandhi put it best when he asked, “Don’t hate your oppressors. They need liberation, just like you.”