OP/ED: Times are a-changin’ for sure, but are minds keeping up?
If you have been reading my musings this far, I trust you play with your ideas of truth.
As Michael Jessen wrote in his column recently, truth is something that evolves, for humans. We have to keep questioning what is, and reality is not just factual. Truth is not just fact. Not all truth is provable. Spiritual beings have reality.
Our material, political, economic and natural worlds appear to be quite ill. The signs accumulate. Do you turn to science and technology as your best wager for solutions? To democracy? To human genius, love, or spiritual qualities? Any or all might have partial answers. Your choices grow from your truths.
Summer is the “silly season” according to news reporters, a time when news is less serious, less substantial. No story is trivial if one will do the work to extract meaning from it. Is there meaning in some stories we are hearing so much about?
Is the grandma on the bus in Greece, NY, bullied by teen boys, a pointless story of cruelty? We can agree there is meanness, but how does this sad tale say anything of significance for life, our world, us? Or June’s sickest news, Luka Magnotta, the hideous murder, the trans-Atlantic manhunt. Or July’s violent outrage in Aurora, Colorado?
Are these “news stories” with which we are saturated Meaningful? And if so, how?
Weird, ugly, brutal, psychopathic behaviours are being reported more and more. It is a separate question whether or not they are actually happening more often.
The outrageous behaviour is happening at this particular time, a time when signs of desperate problems for humanity, for planetary environment, and other species’ lives, are widely known. The emotions that such problems generate must be felt in higher degrees; therefore, humans are acting badly, bizarrely, violently, more often in more extreme ways, than used to be “normal.”
We feel the madness of our world, and we manifest it into activity of a peculiarity and perversity that was once rather rare. What ought to be our defenses against such eruptions of the dark and shadowy elements in us?
It is the task of internalized conscience to turn us aside from wrongdoing. What has happened to conscience? My truth is, so far as I have evolved my individual perception and comprehension, is that humanity cannot keep on being what was “normal” in the 20th century.
I claim some knowledge of human history, and I read what our wider and deeper thinkers are saying about imminent catastrophes. In a threshold time with murky prospects, absurdity works for us. I believe we are not a species whose political and social planning describes what we actually are.
What are humans, really? Will true knowing what a human is, make us transform into beings capable of turning from present doomy prospects to loving harmony? Is the “quantum leap in human consciousness” at hand, to solve our many problems? I turn to science, religion, and mysticism – and of course, history – for illuminations about the definition of human. We need both an outward-turning perspective and an interior introspection.
It is an interesting fact to me that the English language has a word for “consciousness” and a word for “conscience” but other languages, such as our sister-tongue French, uses only the word conscience for both. We say humans “have” consciousness, and we know what is right for us because our conscience “tells” us. When we sleep we are “unconscious” and when we do what we should we are “conscientious.”
Both conscience, and our consciousness, live inside what we call our mind. Mind, not brain-matter. I summarily reject the view that mind is an unintended side-effect of a brain. I am forced to the question, how does good and evil emerge from mind, conscience from consciousness?
I do not know the answer for you. I refuse easy sentences like “be the change you want to see.” It is an article of my faith that the mind I carry makes a difference to the material world. The subjective shapes the objective.
I can do more about my mind than about any other thing. What goes on in my mind has an effect on the world because it has real effects on other minds. I do not believe my mind is unconnected to other minds -- but I do not mean to suggest telepathy. I mean simply that when 7 billion humans are alive on Earth generating minds in each brain, that what is a prevailing thought in these minds has a potency that keeps us in conformity with what we broadly call “the culture”. So, it stands to reason that humanity’s minds-in-community would manifest more psychopathology, maladjustment, craziness, at this point in history.
Perhaps I should not say “it stands to reason.” Some things cannot be reasoned. They are unreasonable, in the meaning of “not amenable to the application of reason as a tool of understanding.” Reason has limits. It is not reason that generates our conscience. Our sense of what is right comes before we “reason it out.”
Reason was notoriously exalted during the French Revolution by Robespierre and the Jacobin faction when he possessed surpreme power briefly in Paris, promulgated Worship of Reason, and decreed a new calendar. He fell from power and was guillotined, but his bad religion represents a moment in history when minds under the dogma of Reason tried to reshape humans to fit into a “republic of virtue.” The reaction against fanatic rationalism is known as romanticism, and some wonderful minds gave themselves to this movement, the next wave of consciousness-shaping.
William Blake, brilliant mind, arch-druid, poet, visionary, and mystagogue, held aloft religion and nature against reason and industrialism. He scorned “Urizen” (your-reason) and--like JRR Tolkien--was a lover of all things green and beautiful in his olde England. The repulsive face of industry and factory in England 200 years ago moved him to write the immortal line condemning “dark satanic mills.” We of the 21st Century know well the meaning of industrialism in Canada’s tar sands. Our economic slavery is satanic indeed, and our Blake is James Cameron, maker of the film Avatar.
Jacobinism was not the first nor the last attempt, by ideologically-enslaved politicians, to make humans into something new in order to force them into a mould for an ideal society and perfected political system; the long span of history shows many leaders have had the same fundamental agenda.
Terror is what happens when a perfect blueprint for human community is designed by minds that lack the simple humility of doubt: they claim righteousness and sole truth. A consciousness lacking humility is mind without conscience.
Is such a person evil, or is evil just the absence of conscience?
The esoteric tradition teaches that evil is a presence in beings. That question must await another day. Until then, dear reader, “Be good.” Or, for more specific advice, read The Desiderata and take it to heart. Act on it.
It is, to my mind, stuffed with practical advice for better living.
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. Click here to read his previous column.