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Archive for March, 2011

Sometimes I’m grateful that our news media has devolved into a kind of carnival cornucopia of sword swallowers, fire breathers and bearded ladies. (No offense, Rachel.) If they were telling it like Walter Cronkite, the way it is, it would be too much to, well, swallow. So when the news becomes a parody of itself, the sensationalism somehow takes a little of the sting out of the story.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed for even being born on this planet when I hear about the kinds of things being done. And frankly, there seems to be a real shortage of optimism going around, what with war after war after revolution after suicide bomb. And you’ve probably heard about the economy. Seems like all the money just went and disappeared on us. Or something.

Some people are angry. Some are scared. Many are confused. A lot of people are demanding a return to traditional values. The last 50 years have brought some pretty radical social changes, in terms of race and gender issues, and a technological revolution. The changes seem to be coming faster and faster with every unfolding decade. The shift in roles, values and ways of life has forced many to reconsider the current state of human progress.

Even among the progressive community, there are voices calling for a return to tribal living. They envision small scale economies of subsistence and cooperation, living simply and in harmony with the earth. It sounds so romantic, like a return to the innocence of childhood, and unfortunately about as sensible, too.

A return to childhood means a rejection of maturity, responsibility, grown-up ethics. Children are egocentric, they see things in black and white, and they lack what many would consider essential critical thinking skills. Foraging tribesmen would appear very similar, in contrast to a modern, halfway civilized adult. The progress from egocentric to ethnocentric (observable in both anthropology and developmental psychology) is a positive one, just as the current shift from ethnocentric to world-centric is favorable, natural, and in fact essential for the planet’s survival. (Cf. Spiral Dynamics)

So why should we want to go back to skewering each other with sticks, or quarreling on a playground? What could be more ignorant than that? Human civilization, believe it not, has progressed with great strides. You can talk cultural relativism all you want, and I will too, but certain world views are clearly more advanced than others. The problem is not that we’ve changed for the worse, but that we’ve changed unevenly.

While some people today recognize a plurality of cultures and lifestyles and believe in a need to recognize all of them (world-centric), the vast majority of people remain staunchly attached to their own cultural values (ethnocentric), while still a few others can scarcely think beyond the egocentric. Look around and you will notice what a hard time people at different levels have in getting along with each other. (Consider the controversy surrounding Wikileaks and its efforts to create international transparency.)

Never mind getting along, they don’t even seem to be speaking the same language. (Take for example slogans like “Pro-life” and “Keep your laws off my body”.) Many or most of our country’s social problems today stem from what we’re calling a culture war, which has everything to do with these shifting stages of awareness and the conflict between those at different levels. This is where we run into the old scenario of the hairy caveman with the dirty nuke, among other things.

But a huge part of the conflict — or disconnect — is that we don’t know how to get from one level to the next, or more importantly maybe, for the sake of socio-political harmony, how to get someone else to the next level. I for one have no interest in regressing. The object of spiritual and personal growth is to move forward. So what comes after world-centric, and how do we get there?

This is the direction we need to examine and pursue, not the dark passage to Puritanical patriarchy or the archaic trail back to gathering acorns and sleeping in caves. Religions of the past, almost without exception, were religions that looked to the past, to their ancestors, to the Father, to the Creator, to the prehistoric cosmic order. Isn’t it about time we pursued a spirituality that looks to the future instead? We don’t need a god, we need a path.

As Ken Wilber has pointed out, there’s major tendency, especially among those at the world-centric level, in their search for spirituality, to confuse the pre-rational with the trans-rational. That is to say, they have recognized the importance of thinking outside the strictly scientific and rational paradigm, and so they rush to embrace any kind of ideology that defies rational thought — such as astrology, the i-ching, the law of attraction, etc. — assuming that it must also surpass rational thought.

Again, they are looking backward, not forward. Forward is a blinding enigma. Everyone wants to find enlightenment, but no one has the foggiest idea how to get there. The best we can do is chose a path and try to create a set of circumstances, through our thoughts, words, actions and values, that will foster an environment more conducive to transmitting the light. In other words, it is not the destination, it is the way. It is the future that never stops unfolding.

But if the history of human progress is any indication, we must first stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe. We must let go of the idea that we belong to the race or nation of chosen people. We must stop clinging to the idea that we — as a person, tribe, creed or planet — stand at the center of everything vast and mysterious. We must continue looking inward and outward, until someday perhaps we see that all that vast mystery lies instead at the center of us.

Setting out in this direction, we can begin by pulling those swords from our mouths. Instead of using them to cut each other down with anger and false words, we can start to sever our attachments to the primitive, the fantastic and the illusory, and move one step closer to the way it is.

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