Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Getting off the Wheel

For thousands of years, human history has been punctuated by a continuous chain of aggression, conflict and wars.  These conflagrations are far too numerous to effectively catalog without requiring documentation on such a massive scale that it would be more than enough to depress even the most stoic and dispassionate of historians.  Some of these conflicts span decades due to a seemingly endless cycle of aggression followed by violent retaliation and retribution that inspires the adversary to further atrocities and on and on it goes until either side or both are so decimated and exhausted by conflict that the hostilities end.  This cessation of hostilities does not preclude, however, the possibility that the conflict would be reignited at some future time.  This story is all too familiar and the human cost is staggering beyond imagination.  It has been estimated that World War II alone resulted in the loss of 50 million human lives worldwide.

What needs to happen for this cycle to be finally and irrevocably broken?  This is a question repeatedly asked by those who have actively pursued peace and social justice over the centuries.  The answer remains elusive.  Having this discussion is vitally important if the species is to endure for a prolonged period of time especially given the strain on natural resources on planet earth created by the material needs of a population of over 7 billion individuals - a population that continues to grow and further increase the pressure placed on those essentials for survival – clean water, clean air, shelter and adequate nutrition.  These issues are enormous and do not include the ramifications of unchecked climate change as a result of the combustion of so-called “fossil fuels.”

In my opinion, in order to radically change the trajectory of human history, transformation must be approached from within.  It is the cultural and societal assumptions that we have all been taught to adhere to - whether through overt or more subtle means – that must be examined and ultimately reformed.  It is through self-discipline and self-analysis that individuals can examine their motivations and more accurately define the internal forces that drive them.  It is through such a process that raw emotions - through which rage and aggression operate – can be successfully constrained and ultimately supplanted by reasoned judgment and tempered by love.

This process is not foreign to human experience.  Quite to the contrary, we have witnessed within the current era the evolution of thinking and behavior around the areas of race, women’s issues and matters relating to sexual preference.  It is my fondest hope and expectation that over time – the time required in this instance may be considerable – humanity will discard the pernicious idea that conflict is resolvable through violent means and embrace peace as being an integral and necessary part of the human experience.  When this transformation actually occurs, then and only then will social justice and true equality of all persons be an undeniable reality.   

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Real Nature of Power

In contemporary culture, power has become associated with economic strength as measured by the accumulation of wealth.  This essential conception regarding the nature of power is embraced by nation states, communities and ultimately by individuals.  Nations pursue their global economic interests by any means at their disposal including the unabashed use of military might with the ultimate aim of utilizing and accumulating wealth and, therefore, power.  This has become the standard model through which nations measure their own success and standing in the world community.

Within this social ethos, individuals have likewise been conditioned to assess their own personal development and success in life in completely analogous terms.  Individuals tend to rate their own measure of success and standing within the community by the amount of wealth accumulated and the conspicuous display of such wealth.  Conversely, a failure to enhance one’s material riches is taken as evidence of personal failure and, by implication a measure of a flawed personality – in modern parlance, such a person is often described as a loser.  The news media reinforces this point of view by paying special homage to those individuals possessing great wealth and influence and elevating the most trivial aspects of their lives to special scrutiny at the expense of reporting on those aspects of living that are of a more essential nature.  The net result of this kind of exposure is to ultimately trivialize that which is of importance and exaggerate that which is trivial.

An inevitable consequence of this worldview is the development of a hierarchy of power that can be represented as a pyramid with the wealthiest individuals occupying the rarefied atmosphere at the top with the remainder of this pyramid occupied by those who have been deemed of far less significance.  Those at the top have come to regard themselves as uniquely different than those “below” them and inherently superior.  Within this narcissistic view, they have come to regard themselves as living outside the boundaries of ordinary reality and not subject to the usual societal constraints on behavior.  They have deemed themselves to be free from feelings of compassion, caring and love that ordinarily serve to moderate behavior motivated by self-interest.

In reality, this conception of supremacy is more reflective of impotence than real power.  Real power cannot flow from material acquisition no matter how masterfully or skillfully accomplished.  Real power does not emanate from the barrel of a gun no matter how big or how deadly it might be.

An individual exhibiting genuine power does so naturally through the ability to be present within the moment – to be essentially grounded in reality without the desire to redefine or reshape what is imminently evident to fit a self-generated image of what that reality should be.  Real power requires the ability to see clearly – both eyes wide opened – and to allow the senses to reveal the true nature of the external environment.  It is such power that allows the possibility of true self-knowledge and ultimately self-realization.  Real power requires the capacity to listen and to be effected by what is heard, seen and felt.  Real power is, after all, the natural product of love stemming from a profound compassion and deep-seated humility – hubris effectively diminishes power by making those who carry such a burden blind to the real and tangible relationships that actually exist in the world.  Avarice and greed – from which hatred naturally flows – overlay reality with artificial conceptions and, therefore, introduce a formidable obstacle to true human progress.

The unfortunate burden of the accepted idea of the nature of power is the horrendous and unnecessary suffering that it imposes upon both the world of humans and the natural world we inhabit.  Such a conception is fundamentally flawed and inherently false; it is an idea that has not served humanity well.  Whether or not the human kind possesses the aptitude to discard what is patently false and develop a new social and ethical paradigm that is more confluent with the true nature of reality is matter open to serious question.