Posted by: terrapraeta | November 27, 2009

The Problem of Civilization


Watch out you might get what you’re after
Cool baby strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

Hold tight wait ’til the party’s over
Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

Talking Heads, Burning Down the House

I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s Endgame. Part one is subtitled The Problem of Civilization. I still have another hundred pages, or so, left to read but there has been something bothering me since I started and I think I have finally pinned it down. (In fact, I noticed the same thing when I read A Language Older Than Words, but it was even vaguer then)

There is a disconnect. Derrick goes to great pains to prove (and I think he does) that ours is a culture of abusers, and that we are abusers because we have been abused ourselves for our entire lives. It is well known that children that have been abused grow up to become abusers more often the not – the trauma being too great for most people to overcome. Not that it is impossible, just that the process of healing from trauma takes a lot of luck (in having people around you that can and will help), a lot of strength of will (to face the abuse and the emotional damage it creates), and a lot of time and willingness to let-self-heal.

On the other side of this is the language of stopping that abuse: stopping them, specifically. And the repeated rejection of the idea of our own responsibility, our own complicity, in this culture of destruction.

If we are all abused and therefor we are mostly abusers ourselves, then who are they and how can we be so arrogant to point our fingers at this supposed other that is to blame?

I have always been very comfortable with pointing at “the system” — and acknowledging that some people embrace the system even as others of us have begun to spurn it. Hell, my parents embrace it, as does my sister, so how can I point at them and still face my own life and loved ones?

But last night I realized two things. First is the shamans mind. One of the defining characteristics of a traditional shaman is the he (sic) can simultaneously hold two contradictory ideas in his mind at one time. More precisely, as I have come to connect more and more with the community of life I have come to see: what our western ethnology sees as conflicting ideas, are in fact not in conflict to the shaman – but rather different facets of the same vista.

So how does this apply?

We ARE all responsible, we are all complicit. Our every action has an impact on the overall destruction of our landbases. There is NO way around this. We are, all of us, victims of abuse and fundamentally damaged as a result. So we are all, forgivable, in that we understand the trauma we have been forced to endure. And, as Dave discussed today, we are all constrained by the system that is civilization. Whether homeless man on the street, peasant in China, businessman in Rome or President of the United States, there are only so many options that we can take in a given situation. If Obama were to announce tomorrow that the dismantling of industrial civilization were to commence on Monday, you can be certain that he would no longer be president by Sunday.

The second thing I realized, that nonetheless, there IS a valid they to point at and reproach. Most of us are constrained into inaction, or simply numbed to the systemic reality of our day to day actions. We don’t know what to do, so we allow ourselves to forget, we refuse to see, we make our excuses and take our daily soma. But there are some, and we probably each know a few, that do not need soma. They are so damaged, so incapable of normal, human empathy, so inured to personal responsibility that they can and do pursue the fundamental goals of the civilizational system with relish. They are, in every meaningful sense of the word, sociopaths. They are not redeemable, they are not curable, and most often, their psychosis leads them into positions of power, simply because they are quite willing and able to use the system as any borderline sane person cannot.

Now, I think Derrick is quite correct that we are all insane. But for most of us that means we are delusional, emotionally unstable, mildly narcissistic, and abusive. But what do we do about those that DO cross over into psychosis? The only answer to that is another question. What does our culture normally do with sociopaths? Or, to be even more blunt, what do traditional societies do with their sociopaths (as rare as they are) if they are determined to be unreachable, unmanageable and dangerous to the community?

Now, I am in no way suggesting that eliminating a few psychotics will “save the world.” In this civilization with billions of humans there are certainly millions that are too damaged to be salvagable. But understanding this is useful in that we can be responsible for our own actions, our own collusion, our own part in the matrix while at the same time understanding that we, also, are not responsible. We can choose to apply our own unique gifts and passions to unmake what has been made, to do less harm, to live as “harmless as a lion”, to create something new and functional and native to our landbases. And we can do all of this without carrying the guilt and hopelessness that civilization offers as our heritage. Because we didn’t do it. But we do bear the responsibility for the choices we make moving into the future.

So we each have to decide, now and in the future, what choices those are going to be.

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Responses

  1. You nailed it.
    And:
    In traditional cultures, they put the kaibash on the psychopaths. One way or another.
    In civ, they & their helpers are elevated to positions of power.

  2. Well, yes…. but I was actually refering to what civilization does to those *it deems* as psychopaths…. ie Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, etc…..

    tp

  3. Well, you know… it’s like with the other criminals. The ones without power and use are incarcerated or worse. The ones with a lot of power & usefulness (to others like them) keep right on doin’ it and profit by it all.

  4. You got that right 😉

    tp

  5. Hopefully I misunderstood you, 😉 but here goes.

    > We ARE all responsible, we are all complicit.

    Yes, we are, no doubt about it.

    > But there are some, and we probably each
    > know a few, that do not need soma.

    Yes, there are some, and yes, they are tuned to this dysfunctional “civilization” (which would be a good idea, as Gandhi said).

    > Now, I think Derrick is quite correct
    > that we are all insane.

    Yes, we are. 🙂 We are all in different, scarcely known places on the checkerboard of delusion and abuse.

    > But what do we do about those that
    > DO cross over into psychosis?

    Where do you draw the line? How do you know?

    > Now, I am in no way suggesting that eliminating
    > a few psychotics will “save the world.” In this
    > civilization with billions of humans there are
    > certainly millions that are too damaged to be
    > salvagable.

    This language disturbs me somewhat. We hardly know who “they” are right now. We don’t know how each one of “them”, or rather us, will evolve.

    > But understanding this is useful

    Is it? The word “scapegoating” comes to mind (sorry), and I don’t see how it is useful.

    > in that we can be responsible for our own
    > actions, our own collusion, our own part
    > in the matrix

    Again, yes, we are responsible.

    > while at the same time understanding that
    > we, also, are not responsible.

    No. The shaman thing notwithstanding, I see different degrees of responsibility, and of awareness and intention. I don’t see how we are not responsible.

    > We can choose to apply our own unique gifts
    > and passions to unmake what has been made,

    We can do so just the same without needing to separate people in labeled groups. I like to evaluate people for what they do, not for what they are, because I don’t even know what *I* am.

    > And we can do all of this without carrying
    > the guilt and hopelessness that civilization
    > offers as our heritage.

    Yes, self-absolving guilt-trip rituals like “BuyNothing Day” and somesuch are not needed, thanks.

    > Because we didn’t do it.

    Well, we helped. 🙂 But we’re also limited, and quick to blame, usually someone else. Which is as useless as blaming oneself.

    Blame is well and good for what people *do*, not for what they *are*.

    Again, sorry if I misunderstood you, and for the length of this comment.

  6. Hi Nicola!

    Please don’t apologize…. especially if there is misunderstanding, best to discuss! So here goes….

    > But what do we do about those that
    > DO cross over into psychosis?

    Where do you draw the line? How do you know?

    *I* don’t draw the line…. or I certainly am not doing so here. Perhaps, some day in my life I may meet and get to know and come to understand one of these people… but right now I am focusing on the internal disconnect….

    And more importantly, I am really thinking about how tribal people’s dealt with the incurably insane…. and remember they would generally take a long time to determine this in each individual case…. of course, because they would be their son, daughter, mother………..

    so……..

    > Now, I am in no way suggesting that eliminating
    > a few psychotics will “save the world.” In this
    > civilization with billions of humans there are
    > certainly millions that are too damaged to be
    > salvagable.

    This language disturbs me somewhat. We hardly know who “they” are right now. We don’t know how each one of “them”, or rather us, will evolve.

    I don’t know who they are either…. and so *they* are not a specific group I am defining, but rather a potential. I am merely coming to understand that *they* exist amongst us. And if someone that fit into this description were to come to live amongst *my* community, I will be in better position to honestly evaluate what that means….

    The purpose of this article, for myself, and for anyone that found it useful, was to try and understand the disconnect between two facts: one that we ARE all complicit, simply because we live within civilization, and two that we cannot do *anything* individually that will stop our self-same complicity. Nor that will *actually* save the world.

    Just to put it in perspective… and somebody has to help me out here…. the carpeting CEO inspired by Quinn? What’s his name? I *believe* the company is Interface Flooring, but not certain…. dude has done some really good, really innovative things. He’s “made a difference” in the language of environmentalism. But for all that, he remains just as complicit as I. Nothing he has done has made a difference in the grand scheme of things… although he has most certainly done something to “save his soul”. He is an international CEO and he is NOT one of them. Go dude! But if he cannot actually save the world, what chance do I have?

    So I go back to my basic Quinn and say that I am going to focus on creating a new way to live. Something that works for me and those that choose to join me. So I won’t save the world, but I will help some survive as civ crashes down around us…. and, hopefully, we will be creating something that is free and honest and sustainable……

    tp

  7. Ummm… my response to Nicola sounds like I am backpedaling a lot…. and that is sticking in my craw but I am having trouble figuring out exactly what I am trying to say, here.

    What I did say… I stand by(or I’d just delete), but there is more and it is important, but I need to work it out a little better…. so as soon as I nail it, I’ll let y’all know 😉

    tp

  8. To throw in some ideas…. in response to “Where do you draw the line? How do you know?” — there are people among us who do not have empathy or conscience. They masquerade as us, but are not. They can be detected by traits, and by brain scans. They do a great deal of harm, most of it non-criminal. Every traditional society that knew how to survive had a way to deal with them. To ignore their existence and/or to feed the social patterns that give them cover is utterly suicidal, in the long run. Is it scapegoating? If an oversized bully kid is terrorizing his folks and the neighbors, is it scapegoating to call him on it and to stop him? The term “bully kid” is a useful identifier. Or should we invent a PC term? 😉

    I am not interested in blaming anybody. But I am very interested in responsibility.

    “Yes, self-absolving guilt-trip rituals like “BuyNothing Day” and somesuch are not needed, thanks.”

    I observe it, not because it is a self-absolving guilt-trip, but because I loathe what people do on that day, it turns my stomach and I’ll be damn to be part of it. I also compost and do other stuff that I feel similarly about. I don’t pretend it will save the world. Neither do I pretend it is pointless.

  9. Exactly, Vera… you did much better than I on this one 😉 But then again, I’m still looking for something that I can’t quite explain…..

    tp

  10. “Complicity” and “collusion” are blame-ridden words, and I think they muddy the paradox.

    If we’re holding shamanic paradoxes, I’ll go for the full ho’oponopo deal, as I understand it:

    Absolute responsibility for everything in my experience. Zero blame.

    I think, in imagining psychopaths we haven’t met, void of the slightest capacity for empathy, we’re imagining the limits of our own empathy. But you and I aren’t psychopaths, we can always grow in empathy, so what are we expressing by imagining these limits, or what purpose do they serve?(honest question)

    There’s a high profile figure in the town where I live, populist politician and radio shock jock. In the transition-town-y, pacifist, and otherwise unconditional-positive-regard-y circles I’ve spent time in, he’s spoken of (sometimes seriously) as the kind of person who will just never come around, the pure-type narcissist. And I haven’t yet spoken up about this dynamic (I see him biking up our hill). What’s that all about?

  11. Hey John —

    How is “absolutely responsible” paradoxical? And how does it help us to do anything?

    No matter what I do, me all alone, I cannot “save the world.” I simply am not that important in the grand scheme of things. So if I accept absolute responsibility, but I am not able to fix it, no matter how much better I am, how is this useful? Besides… absolute responsibility is what the system is trying to convince me to take… and for exactly this reason. It makes me hopeless and impotent. System wins again.

    Besides… I have met full on narcissists. They do exist. It is not merely an imagined possibility. The ones that I am specifically talking about are those people that understand everything we understand about civ… and yet their response is to use that info to get as much as they can for themselves and screw the rest. They are the ones I am pointing at, the ones that use their understanding of the system to take all they can get.

    If we accept that we are ALL fundamentally insane, and if we — you and I — want to “get better”, isn’t it wise to understand that this system is designed to prevent it, and that this is NOT what everyone wants? So we had best be cautious and find our own path thru the maze?

    I don’t understand your point re: the shock jock. He may be one of those that will “never come around” — hell, my own father will “never come around,” but not because he is one of “them” but because he is set in his ways and beliefs. This guy may be a full on narcissist. Very possible. So what? If he were a racist preaching hatred in the 1960’s would you react the same to him?

    Thanks for your comment 🙂

    tp

  12. Imagining psychopaths that do not exist… shame on you, John… I lived with one for many years. I met another last winter, took me several weeks to recognize what she was. Maybe next time, I will know even sooner.

    How does knowing these people are among us void my empathy? You sounds confused. In recognizing such people are among us, we recognize the value of limits and boundaries, which are always handy with any of us, since none of us are perfect.

    Zero blame. Take responsibility for your piece of it. And protect those you love.

  13. Hi vera and tp, thanks for the comments on my comment – as for offering “shame on me”, thanks but no thanks!

    A paradoxical effect (or coincidence) of the “absolute responsibility” point of view (along with the ho’oponopono ‘I’m sorry, forgive me, I love you, thank you’ bit – it’s worth checking out if you can stomache the New-Agey packaging it tends to be presented in ) is that at the same time I’ve worked with it, I’ve become much clearer about psychic boundaries (without which empathy is impossible), and grown in my ability to set personal limits. That allows me the space to protect and stand for what I need to protect and stand for (passive naivete is not what I’m advocating here). So there’s the usefulness.

    I wasn’t questioning the existence of true psychopaths (part one of Stephanie Dowrick’s ‘Intimacy and Solitude’ is excellent on the conditions for capacity for empathy to grow in seemingly pure-narcissistic, barren soil, without denying that a very few – far fewer than we usually imagine – just won’t make it).

    None of us is, I trust, in this moment, in the same room with a psychopath or reading the words of a psychopath. Yet we’re choosing to read, write, imagine about psychopaths in their absence – that’s something we each can take responsibility for. Yes, that’s my piece of it right now.

    I question the usefulness of characterising us all as insane, as abusers (not the truth-value, the usefulness). I don’t see a way out of a violent shame-system that way. Equally valid is would be to characterise ourselves as growing in sanity, as healing as we heal. Focus energy there, and my sense is the psychopath problem will fall away sooner.

    On ’60s racist preachers – well, what *did* Martin Luther King Jr. do about them? I don’t know. A parallel I can think of is Mother Theresa chastising Lynne Twist (The Soul of Money) for judging some obnoxious rich tourists – they are after all trapped in a wealth cycle just as hellish as a poverty cycle.

  14. John, I am really puzzled. The psychopath problem will fall away…. huh?

    Yes, insane and sane both, that I agree with… that’s us the civilized.

    You say: “at the same time I’ve worked with it, I’ve become much clearer about psychic boundaries (without which empathy is impossible), and grown in my ability to set personal limits” — I would love to hear more about it, without the new age babble. Perhaps you can translate for us?

  15. Hi vera, as tp has indicated we are dealing with some at times seemingly contradictory, paradoxical stuff here, and I don’t claim to be able to comprehend it fully let alone explain it fully!

    I wasn’t happy with “the psychopath problem” as a phrase, either.

    I want to say more about our absolute responsibility re: psychopaths – even if we *are* sitting with a psychopath in the room, it is our choice whether we see the label ‘psychopath’, ‘sociopath’, ‘narcissist’, or whatever, or whether we simply behold a human being.

    In my mind throughout our conversation has been the history of well-meaning psychiatry (mental health is the field I’m most immediately involved with), and the history of colonisers finding natives to be sub-human and therefore exempt from ‘love thy enemy’ or whatever other ethical injunctions.

    So in considering “the psychopath problem” (like “the Jewish Question”?), I’m reframing tp’s question on what societies do with dangerous sociopaths: what do societies do with people they see as less than fully human?

    ho’oponopono is simple. Hold whatever is bothering you in the world in your mind, and *even if you think the other person is the transgressor*, say in your mind and take the attitudes “I love you, I’m sorry, forgive me, thank you”.
    (Another paradox is the importance of forgiveness alongside zero-blame). At a psychological level my guess is that this works because you’re working through your projections in a healing way. I can really see this working as a catalyst for cultural change – and particularly relevant to this discussion is whether or not we see claims about the work of “Dr. Stanley Hew Len, who spent several years as a consulting clinical psychologist at the Hawaii State Hospital. He has had profound results by using this process with the most dangerous, violently “mentally ill” criminals in Hawaii.”

    I generally try to keep Divinity and so on out of this kind of discussion, but I’d be really interested to hear what reaction anyone might have to this article:
    [url]http://www.hooponopono.org/article1.htm[/url]

  16. Hey John —

    On responsibility and ho’oponopono — sounds like you have improved yourself as a person, although I’m not really getting a very clear sense of it. That’s great.

    But, and this is the big but, that is not at all the same thing as having done something to help make the world a better place. It hasn’t saved any species from extinction, it hasn’t prevented pollution, environmental toxins and poisons, reduced suffering in “man or beast” and that is what I was talking about re: doing.

    I might have agreed with you on the usefulness of characterizing myself and others as abused a couple years back… but I have had some experience with the psychology of abuse since then. And now I realize how deeply if affects us and exactly how apt the comparison is. I see it people I care about, I see it in people I just met. If it is THAT real, then it is absolutely useful, IMO — because understanding our own pain is the first step in healing. Otherwise, we are trying to make due with placebos.

    I did not ask what they (or anyone) might have done with them (racist preachers). I was asking how you might react to them now. Would you be equally willing to forgive and forget with a man that is running around your town stirring hatred and instigating violence (ie lynchings)?

    tp

  17. Hi vera, I typed a response to you but it has been lost – so be it!

    Hi tp, last question first, “what would you do if xxxx” is a common one in any discussion of non-violence. The honest answer is that I don’t know what I would do, and I don’t have an ideology of what I “should” do. I think you’re right in that there’s a time and a place for acknowledgement of the abuser in us, and I couldn’t be where I am now without being acutely aware of (and accepting) at times the violent, abusive side of my nature. Ah, the zen model of change, how only aware acceptance lets-self-heal – it loosens the grip of my most damaging behaviours, freeing energy for bigger challenges.

    On self-improvement and social change – you see, from my point of view it seems that the various practices of a few people in the intentional community I live in *have* ‘reduced suffering in man or beast’. One mechanism is, as I just mentioned, self-work frees up energy, and clarifies boundaries, for other work. Moreover, I think something like ho’ponopono, through working with our own projections in a healing way, is what I think is going on, can actually change culture, rapidly, in a way that is not about revolution and counter-revolution, or the oppressor becoming the oppressed. I’m not saying this is the only way, or everybody’s way. But rapid cultural change is most definitely what we need.

    Particularly relevant to this conversation is Dr Stanley Hew Len “who spent several years as a consulting clinical psychologist at the Hawaii State Hospital. He has had profound results by using this process with the most dangerous, violently “mentally ill” criminals in Hawaii.” Maybe this is all bogus, but I can see how it could well work – he didn’t even meet with patients, but did interact with other staff, hence changing the culture of the place. I can see how this really could work in how we approach the ‘sociopaths’ this post was about.

    I wouldn’t normally bring the Divine into a conversation like this, but I’d be interested to hear what anyone had to say about this from whatever perspective you’re coming from.

    http://www.hooponopono.org/article1.htm

  18. But maybe this is too much magical thinking, and I don’t want to single out just one technique from all the other fortuitous circumstances and supports I’ve had, or claim I have it all sorted. I’m certainly not saying that self-work is *all* we need to do.

    If being enthralled by thoughts of the Michael Laws of this world is distracting me from doing my work – if his behaviour and the predictable results of his media maneuvers are outside of my immediate control, yet he’s hooking my attention, taking my time and energy – then wondering what it is in me that’s being psychologically hooked, and working with that, is helpful imo.

  19. Hey John —

    I didn’t ask what you would do — I asked how that would change the way you felt about the situation. Yes, it is a what if, but you can’t tell me that you have never had any interaction with someone like that…. at the very least thru cinema or tv. How have you felt when you did run up against such a person?

    I think there is great value in healing and improving oneself… absolutely. But I see that as a first stage toward changing outward behaviors and relationships. Much of my early writing on this site was very much about my personal process of discovering myself while more recently it has been about what I am doing with it now.

    As to ho’oponopono… the traditional form is probably something that I would greatly respect. The modified version that she is now “selling” — not so much. It’s just another version of complacency and putting the real world on hold while focusing on metaphysics.

    I am an animist… more so every day. So I really don’t have any time to spend on what *I* understand as an illusory other-world. I live here-now and that is all that matters….

    tp

  20. Hi tp, I tend to agree with pretty much everything you just said. I’m not much one for pipe dreams, particularly if someone’s selling. Perhaps ho’oponopono makes sense to me because of experience of here-and-now Gestalt Therapy – “right now I’m aware of thinking about Michael Laws, and I take responsibility for that”. Same thing, less baggage perhaps.

    Surely a shaman or an animist has a relationship to the world of Spirit? AND that world is nowhere but now-here. That would be my take.

    As for the hypothetical – the answer is still I don’t know! It would depend a lot on what levels of fear and anger I was experiencing. If it was like the real bad guys in The Kite Runner? Well when I watched that movie what stayed with me most was the dynamic of how the main character as a boy identified with the bully and despised the victim, and how that dynamic has been present in my own life. When it came to the public beheadings and all that it was like – well I just can’t predict how I’d react. I’d likely be very scared, but I don’t know.

    Anyway, isn’t this “another version of… putting the real world on hold” while focusing on hypotheticals, remembraces, imagined futures? There’s plenty here-now-today to focus on…ah, but right now I’m focussing on these thoughts, and I take responsibility for that.

    I’d be interested to read your answers to any of your own questions! 🙂

  21. Hey John —

    Good, good… I love when *communication* works 🙂

    As to your answer on the racist thing… that’s exactly what I was looking for… and I too, would respond with I dunno, depends… but the point i was getting at is this: if you can expect that you would have all of these conflicting feelings toward a hate-mongering racist, then why are so (relatively) ambivalent toward a fear/hate mongering ecocidal shock jock that IS in your town?

    …putting things on hold by discussing them? I don’t think so… these are the thoughts and experiences that I am personally processing right now. Something in that spoke to you and thoughts or experiences that you are processing or need to process. Now, if one of us were to get *stuck* here, never finding any conclusion to our process, that would be putting the real world on hold. Does that make any sense to you?

    On animism… of course there is a relationship with spirit. But spirit is matter is spirit… it’s a different kind of thing, a different kind of relationship. And very hard to explain due to the linguistic barriers inherent in english (being a dualist language).

    tp

  22. Hey tp, yes, glad to have found a wavelength through the limitations of language and media! You’re making plenty of sense to me.

    I don’t know if I’d say I was ambivalent about Michael Laws. I just like to look from angles different to where others around me are looking. I often have in mind how the intersection of mass media and populist politicians factored in the Balkan wars of the nineties. I suspect that fighting against populist politicians directly can only magnify divisive dynamics – the whole thing is like a tar baby. I’m biding my time, wondering what’ll happen when he or his name pops up next, sensing what I want to do about it.

    And he’s not *only* “a fear/hate mongering ecocidal shock jock”. I’ve also had in mind throughout this discussion the history of well-meaning psychiatry, mental health/wellness being a field I’m most intimately interested in. There’s the next level of personal responsibility – next time I’m in a room with a “narcissist”, “sociopath”, “psychopath” or whatever, I get to choose whether to see only whatever labels I’ve gleaned from my reading of media/hearsay, or whether to behold a human being in all their complexity here-now.

  23. Hey —

    Right on, John….

    The labels are useful only so long as we remember that they are *only* labels 🙂

    tp

  24. Hey tp 🙂

    Just to let you know, pondering all this has prompted me to go sit in on the next local council meeting to see what this guy’s like in person, off-air – enough biding my time! Thanks for the conversation.

    John

  25. That’s great, John… hope it goes well 🙂

    tp

  26. There is no spirit world. the Shaman has a relationship with spirits that are just as real, and just as much a part of this world as you are.

    JimFive

  27. Yes, exactly, thanks Jim.

    You’ve always been really good at getting right to the heart of things… good show 🙂

    tp

  28. “There is no spirit world. the Shaman has a relationship with spirits that are just as real, and just as much a part of this world as you are.”

    Well put. I smile as I’m reminded of the part of me that knows how true that is.

    AND can the Shaman hold in their mind, along with this monism, the truth of a dualistic universe? (not to mention three-foldness, fourfoldnes, seven, twelve?) I still mostly flip from one to another, and most of the time I live in the dualism. Still plenty to learn there – dualism gets a bum wrap sometimes. But yeah, those moments of monism sure are sweet.

    John

  29. Hey John,

    I was right with you until you got “the truth of a dualistic universe”. Huh?

    I honestly see no evidence of any actual duality. That is why I am monist. So tell me what you are referring to?

    tp

  30. Hey tp,

    I’ve been very influenced by Rudolf Steiner recently – a pioneer in holistic/integrative thinking, and I’m interested to explore more how his monism lines up with monism in the 21st century. One contribution he made was to emphasise that older ways of understanding the universe aren’t obsolete or quaint. Descarte’s dualism, Plato’s idealism – these guys still have something to bring to the table.

    As to whether there is a spiritual world, Steiner seemed to use three kinds of terms synonymously: Spiritual worlds, super-sensible worlds (beyond the senses), the realm of ideas. He seemed to prefer “super-sensible” as being the least loaded, and perhaps the most self-evidently plausible. All part of one uni-verse.

    So by definition, no, we won’t *see* any evidence of super-sensible worlds, or duality. We can however *think* it.

    His 1893 Philosophy of Freedom starts with monism almost on page 1, worth a look imo. The anthropocentrism can seem “quaint”, but then, he was after all writing for a human audience…

    John

  31. Mmm… could be a bunny trail… but isn’t the world full of dualisms? Male-female, light-dark, land-water, life-death… I am a monist who thinks of embodied energy into matter as necessarily dualistic (or pluralistic). That’s what embodiment means… the one reality into many manifestations…. Um?

  32. Hey vera —

    Of the things you listed, the only “true” dual pair I see is male-female… and if you were to ask certain frogs they might tell you even that is less than set in stone 😉

    But seriously…. embodied energy? No. Energy IS matter IS energy. Metaphorically similar to ice-water-vapor. Same thing in different states of “excitement” (heat).

    In any case, the primary duality that I have a problem with (and all dual thinking eventually leads to this, IMO) is the physical/spiritual split. The idea that this world is “only” physical, and it is the spirit world that “truly” matters. Life after death in some heavenly (or any “other”) abode. Crap.

    The “spirit world” as Jim said so well up thread, is nothing more or less than another part of the real world all around us.

    tp

  33. “The “spirit world” as Jim said so well up thread, is nothing more or less than another part of the real world all around us.”

    Yup! That reminds me… I was arguing with some really dogmatic atheists once, and tried to point out that “god” is as real as a snowflake. They were unable to bend their minds around it… 🙂

  34. I, clearly, don’t get on here to respond as much as I should.

    @John: RE: ” along with this monism, the truth of a dualistic universe? (not to mention three-foldness, fourfoldnes, seven, twelve?) ”

    I don’t know what you mean by this.

    RE: “One contribution he made was to emphasise that older ways of understanding the universe aren’t obsolete or quaint. Descarte’s dualism, Plato’s idealism – these guys still have something to bring to the table.”
    Since Descartes and Plato are the model for the current civilizational model of viewing the universe, I would have to agree that they aren’t obsolete. Wrong, maybe, but not obsolete.

    I think that if you are trying to answer the so-called mind/body paradox you have already fallen into dualism, even if you conclude with a “monism” like Idealism or Materialism. In a truly monistic view there is no mind/body paradox. The scare quotes around monism here are because even though Idealism and Materialism are set up against Dualism they require a foundation of dualism for their arguments to make sense. That is, they start from a dualistic world-view. Thus, they aren’t truly monism.

    Re: Super-sensible worlds
    I like the phrasing but it still seems based in a dualistic universe. To use the an example from your post: “The world of ideas” Ideas exist in this world, not some place of otherness. Likewise, emotions are part of this world. Something that I left out of my previous comment is that YOU are one of the spirits that the Shaman deals with. Just as real as all of the others.

    Materialism has trouble explaining ideas, emotions, and spirits.
    Idealism has trouble explaining willful motion.
    This is NOT a problem with the world. It is a problem with materialism and idealism. They have the same problem. They are based on a dualistic view of the world that does not represent reality.

    JimFive

  35. @Vera:
    Re: “Mmm… could be a bunny trail… but isn’t the world full of dualisms? Male-female, light-dark, land-water, life-death… I am a monist who thinks of embodied energy into matter as necessarily dualistic (or pluralistic). That’s what embodiment means… the one reality into many manifestations…. Um?”

    No, those are dichotomies, not dualisms. And most dichotomies are false. In your examples, for example, light and dark is a false dichotomy. There is also, dim, bright, shadowed, grey. Light to dark is a spectrum. Male-Female may not be as clearcut as we imagine. Neither is life-death. Is the earth under the water land or water?

    Dualism is the idea that reality has two fundamental, and disparate, components, usually short-handed as mind and body. This (Descartian) division of reality is pervasive in Western thought. It is what allows a person to talk about esself as separate from es body.(*)

    JimFive

    (*) E is my proposed solution to the him/her problem. E is a gender neutral third person pronoun and like I is capilized when by itself. The possessive ‘es’ is not capilized and, like his, hers and its, does not use an apostrophe. The object form is ’em’

  36. Yes, a rabbit-hole indeed! I’ll be taking the appropriate coloured pill pretty soon…

    @JimFive, yes I think we’re pretty much on the same page, your thoughts on monism seem to echo Steiner’s, chapter one at least. I’ve been using the word “dualism” innacurately, and I’m not arguing for dualism. (three-foldness is a different story 😉 ) Wrap up the false dichotomy of supersensible worlds being “other” or “not other” than this world, and we’ll be about there. Perhaps then we can see more clearly what Descarte and Plato brought as *perspectives* on truth.

    John

  37. Hey —

    Y’all seem to be covering this pretty well… so please, continue 😉

    tp


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