Sunday, February 15th, 2009...12:58 am

Are We Finally Waking Up…or Merely Trading One Set of Illusions for Another?

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Full Disclosure: I think something deep and primal has changed in our cognitive depths, but it will take some time for the dramatic consequences of this change to work their way to the surface.

Something is happening in our collective mind-space, but what is it? Is it a mass awakening…or merely the sound of people upgrading their illusions?

Of course, to ask whether people are waking up or changing illusions assumes it is one or the other. But perhaps it is “both,” meaning people are waking up even as they continue to traffic in illusions. Indeed, where else could people wake up if not right in the middle of their illusions?

Roughly one hundred years ago the British philosopher, F.H. Bradley shocked his contemporaries when he observed that whenever facts contradict theories, it goes the worse for the facts. The notion that theories take precedence over facts is now a truism of a postmodern, post-fact, true-spin/values world. We no longer think of our brains as blank slates upon which reality writes itself but as Virtual Reality Generators that cleverly create simulations in our heads that we then call reality. We think of our brains as “hardware” with the cluster of pre-conscious assumptions and filters that “construct” the simulations that then constitute our experience being the “software.” You could say that terms like “dominant ideology,” “world-view,” “spirit of the age,” and “how we think about things” all ultimately refer to this software. In complex social systems like our nation, there will be a “cultural software program” programmed into the masses to enable the “construction” of consensus reality.

So it is a dramatic event that portends massive consequences when an entire era of “how we think about things” suddenly collapses. The collapse of the Soviet Union provides a dramatic illustration of just such a thing. Long before the actual 1991 collapse, a long-standing “whole way of thinking” had already died in the Soviet collective mind-space. While we Americans have not had a “1991” moment yet, our dominant cluster of ruling ideas and values—our “whole way of thinking”—has recently died in our souls.

About time! It had gotten to the point that the “whole way we think about things” had been so contaminated with special interest programming that our greatest problem had become the “whole way we think about things.” Now that it has died, the distorting filters and ideological blinders of this “way of thinking” will begin to fall away and people will suddenly begin to see things that have been hidden by the filters. For example, it will become clear that when a nation is in debt, tax cuts do not “cut” that debt but only redistribute the payments for it—in this case, from the wealthy to working people, and from this generation to the next. And without blinders they will “see” how truly ridiculous it is to treat American policies and behavior as an “exception” to the experience of history. It will become suddenly clear that greed is a failing of character, torture and war are unqualified moral abominations, economic outsourcing is economic suicide, and “holier-than-thou” ego posturing is odious to heaven.

Once again, since the death of a whole “way of thinking” occurs on the deep level of unspoken assumptions, it naturally takes a while for the consequences of the change to work their way up to the surface. During this time it is business as usual on the surface. I think we are in this gap time now, which is why many Americans who care passionately about truth, honesty, and justice are afraid that things have not in fact changed at all.

Here is my positive spin. I think we can be more open to the notion that it will take some time for the consequences of the fact that our “whole way of thinking” to emerge if we stand back for a moment and consider how dominant ideologies work. While all dominant ideologies establish a hierarchy of social relations that give wealth, privilege, and control to an elite, the most important and defining feature of them is not their power to do this but their invisibility. In other words, their defining feature is not simply that they set up an unjust hierarchy; it is that they do so in a way that makes the unjust hierarchy they establish seem like a completely natural, spontaneous, and necessary expression of the nature of reality. This is why it is significant that growing numbers of people now name special interest politics as a malevolent force that is ruining the country and degrading their lives. It means the mask of invisibility has been ripped off.

OK, so what should our next “way of thinking” be? I have a guiding point to offer regarding a healthier and better “whole way to think.” It is a classificatory scheme detailing the three essential aspects of any possible society and the appropriate guiding value for each. I first learned about this three-part scheme up in the work of Rudolf Steiner, and the historian, Dorothy Moore, also sketches it out in her little known but brilliant book, “The Liberty Bell Papers.”

The basic idea is that any possible society—whether a healthy society based on the pursuit of the common good with laws, reason, and justice, or a sick society based on upper class greed using deceit and manipulation to pretend to be pursuing the common good while looting the nation—will have three distinct realms, each with a distinct guiding value. There will be an economic realm, a political realm, and a cultural realm.

The ultimate value and guiding light of the economic realm is fairness or equity. An economy that is fair is healthy. As far as the economy is concerned, then, the value we should aim at is fairness, not freedom. In a healthy society, the potential of Big Money to dominate and get its way would be strictly limited in the interest of fairness.

The ultimate value and guiding light of the political realm is equality. A political system that treats all citizens as equal, giving to each equal rights, equal protection of the law, and equal access to power is healthy. A political system that distributes rights and protections unequally, letting money influence politics and justice, is unhealthy.

And the ultimate value and guiding light of the cultural realm in a truly ideal society would be freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of inquiry.

Now on the soul level of honest ideals and guiding lights, both Soviet communism and American capitalism are wrong about the “ideal” economy. The Soviet ideal of making people economically “equal” misapplies the guiding light of the political realm, equality, to the economy. The current American ideal of making markets free misapplies the guiding value of the cultural realm, freedom, to the economic realm. These are “equal but opposite” errors, and it is not possible for one error to “defeat” another.

Once again, our guiding light as we plan for a better society should be comprehensive economic fairness, total political equality, and complete cultural freedom.

If the corporate narrative that has shaped how we think has indeed collapsed in the depths of our being, then as we fumble towards a new narrative to guide us, struggling to create a new consensus reality, perhaps it will help to contemplate the delineations I have mentioned here—equity in the economic realm, equality in the political realm, and freedom in the cultural realm.



1 Comment

  •   Brett Patterson
    February 23rd, 2009 at 8:07 pm    

    Hi John. I hope you are well.

    Thank you for alluding to the three-part schematic; it sparked a thought I recall from a discussion you led years ago. As sometimes happened, someone interpreted your view on economics as essentially communist. Your paraphrased response was that you were not advocating economic equality (that word must be reserved for the political sphere) but instead that considering how productive and wealthy our society is, everyone should have the means to a reasonable existence. Those who wanted to become rich could still indeed become rich, but all in our society should have access to basic needs.

    Now, this discussion occurred in idealistic terms and we didn’t get down to the nuts and bolts of what tax rates would need to be and so forth; but, it did serve as an illuminating guiding principle. It’s staggering, for example, to think about the food that is wasted every year in our restaurants alone! Economic fairness would manifest itself if each and every American could live comfortably on a full-time paycheck working at any employer, not just some of them.

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