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Our minds, ourselves, and our constructed reality
Thanks to a recent Nelson council meeting, everyone is focused on the subject of drugs. Adrian Barnes‘ June 30 opinion piece is an example, and another is a letter in the Star. I quote that letter by K.M. Sykes:
…it’s paramount to ask the right [questions}, the deeper ones, the ones that embrace a higher level of awareness… Ask why so many people are using drugs in the first place. To experience what? …What is going on in the world, with the planet, within the human psyche and overall condition?…
A perfect segue from my column two weeks ago [June 20] when I concluded that altering my mind is the work I can do within, while I might wage struggle against political and economic forces, i.e. the masters behind our politicians like Harper. Mind, awareness, consciousness: where you and I can act alone and be the absolute master of how we inhabit the social world and make effects in the mental world.
“I think, therefore I am.” With that statement, Rene Descartes made his name, and he is iconic in the origin of the Western Enlightenment. John Locke, Isaac Newton, and David Hume, were the giants of England's contributions to the “age of Reason,” while French genius manifested in Voltaire, Rousseau, Robespierre. Minds in western nations are still half in thrall to the rationalism and scientific materialism begun then.
Descartes gave us duality. I am inside my mind subjectively, and world is outside objectively, but now the wisest voices among us are breaking through duality and leading us to new views of what is real. I cannot urge strongly enough the wisdom of Charles Eisenstein. These times demand new thinking.
It is my conviction, based on no laboratory or mathematical evidence, that 7 billion human minds on the planet now create a “hive mind.” Unluckily for earth, humans are not bees or ants and we can ruin the earth with our tools and our intelligence. All those minds’ buzz, entrap us in conformity with ruling ideas. The queen bee of humanity is what? What rules us? Not instinct or drives, but culture, forms us.
As Sykes asks, what is going on within the human psyche? One thing, I believe, is increased mental malady and pathology, as manifested in weird violent crime (Luka Magnotta, etc.) and other egregious outbreaks of egomaniacal perversity. (e.g., online “virtual life”). Another thing is depression, apathy, withdrawal from citizenship, and general incapacity for government despite our democratic set-up.
Asking for comment from friends, I’m advised that what I write above is depressing, further reason for low feelings in our public, and that it is good to offer hope in some solutions and to praise the good in people where it is evident. All solid commentary, I agree. Criticism and judgment are default settings.
Let me bring blueprints for human betterment together with historical perspective now.
The human animal has been experimenting with a strange quality for several millennia: the quality is consciousness. One clear result is that we make plans for improving our governments and our social orders.
Socialism has been one such wonderful blueprint since the 18th century. I’m a socialist. The ideas emerged at the time of Robespierre and the French Revolution, and Marx made them “scientific” in his own estimation. As the philosopher John Gray notes, when men who have power are ruled by a grand designing ideology, they attempt social engineering of a lethal sort.
Jacobinism murdered tens of thousands in revolutionary France, Bolshevism did the same for Russia and China, Nazism for Hitler's empire, and Fascism the same for Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Before the modern age, Israelites, Christians, and Muslims all showed the vicious side of men possessed of self-righteousness trying to make society more perfect.
Humanity does not need more plans. Plato, brilliant as he may have been, designed a Republic no sensitive, sane person would want to inhabit. To me the conclusion cries out: if humans have always had beautiful dreams for betterment, but real living women and men were never good enough for the plans of our best visionaries – then the fault is in the planners’ understanding. None of these engineers of a better homo sapiens ever, anywhere, fully apprehended the nature of a human. The “fit” has failed.
I refuse to indulge that inclination in me to devise solutions, if my solutions require humans to act in a manner unlike what accords with history. Would I ask my dog to plant a garden? Fit the solution to the animal, not the animal to the plan. Otherwise one gets gulags, death camps, and one-god-wars. The US Army in Vietnam used to say, “To save the village, we had to destroy the villagers.” That kind of mind must go.
But I will try to respond to the man who told me to offer solutions. The solution is to change our minds.
My last column provoked a reply; one comment was that altering minds is not easy. Is this right? I read what I can about the research on neuroscience, brain chemistry, mind/body, meditation and so on. I see that our materialistic scientists labour away on the brain, with the usual materialist prejudice that in our grey matter – stuff, cells, molecules – is the answer. In the last few decades, discoveries about peptides, serotonin, oxytocin, and other drugs made in our body have continued the obsession with finding answers to human behavior by applying substances to matter. Western science obstinately resists treating mind as immaterial, spiritual, and mysterious. It loves numbers: a brain has 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections. (google “brain”; read for hours…)That’s an exoteric approach to questions.
A tradition at odds with the exoteric sciences we Westerners have been applying for half a millennium has a longer history. Esoteric teachings from cultures all over earth and eras across all history, offer up a view we materialist, rational, scientific moderns cannot accept. Mind existed before matter. Yes, before. Consciousness did not emerge through random biology, from the brain of a highly-evolved primate. It existed before matter, before earth, life, and brains. Humans are here to give consciousness a material home.
Is that just too weird for us? Probably. We are stuck on science; we want it to save us, still. That is the hive-mind attitude. But if we come to admit we’ve run out of scientific fixes for our crises, we might return to the answers of hundreds of spiritual traditions that pre-date Descartes and company.
I believe hope lies on that path.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer.