[I just now did a google search on my name. And I noticed there’s a (pdf) talk by me posted on Academia.edu/ Now, I did not post this there. But I re-read it, and I decided I should post it here (on WorldFamilyTrading)
I wrote it in April, 2014. I have not, as yet, made it into a video. (It’s still text only.)
Talk 1 IS a video; and may be viewed on YouTube.
Here’s the link for the Trailer
Look at the end of this posting for some tips on viewing Talk 1.]
Anyway, here is Talk 2 –
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This is the second talk in a series about the Human Family on the Cliff-Edge.
(That is, this is a draft preliminary to Talk 2.)
In the first talk we discussed what Philosophy is and its role in the planetary crises we’re facing. And since (for now) I’m defining Philosophy as “the mind-stuff that connects us to the world or to reality”, it falls out that Philosophy’s role in these great crises is the same as it is in everyday life. That is, there are two ‘worlds’ — the world as we see it or understand it and the world as it actually is. Our basic philosophical task (in any situation) is — to bring our understanding of the situation to one which bears a high level of resemblance to the actual world so that we can participate effectively in the flow of events.
This might seem a little bit difficult to say; but it is most certainly easier to say than to do when we’re trying to understand and deal with something as complex as a Planetary Crisis.
Also (in Talk 1) I offered a brief argument – that our immediate perceptions deserve to be categorized as part of our ‘philosophy’. And once one sees the truth of this, it’s not hard to understand why everybody in the world tends to think that their view of reality is the way things really are.
I want to open this talk with a quote by Woody Allen:
“More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
Now, if you’re like me, it is not immediately clear what he’s trying to tell us here. I had to puzzle about this for quite a while. But here’s what I think he means. First of all, he’s saying that the path we’re currently on is the one leading to annihilation … and we’re on it because we’re avoiding the other one. And why are we avoiding it? (the one that goes toward survival)? We’re avoiding it because it would be painful to go that way. (We’re talking here about ‘psychic pain’)
Let me offer an example. One evening not long ago, I was walking in downtown Portland. It was cold and wet and windy. I had just crossed the street at a busy intersection when I looked back at the people crossing the other street. And one of them was a man wrapped in a packing quilt. He had it wrapped over his head as well as around his body. It seemed pretty likely that he would be spending the night somewhere (on the street) wrapped in that same blanket. (This sort of thing just makes me crazy. To think that we tolerate homelessness and the suffering that it entails.) But why did I have such a strong impulse to turn away from him? The answer is simple. If I can just Not Look At Him. If I can Just FORGET ABOUT HIM, then, just like magic, my PAIN (about him, which is psychic and vicarious) just GOES AWAY !
This is what we’re doing – as a whole race – we’re ignoring a problem, a BIG problem, because NOT TO would be painful. Everybody knows (everybody who thinks about it knows) that our great great great great grandchildren are in big trouble: because we are NOT taking care of
Business. We are NOT as a race committed to the welfare of our (distant) progeny. We have NOT reached a point where we are RESOLUTE that our children, seven generations down, are going to inherit from us a world with life support systems which are intact and healthy. Why not? It’s not that we don’t know. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s not even the money … or the time and work that would be required to deal with the problem. IT’S the PAIN.
(Therefore, Woody Allen’s description of us, of our situation, is quite accurate.)
Ever spend Halloween with a two-year-old or a three-year-old? It’s so interesting — you put your mask on, and they’re frightened. You take your mask off, and they’re okay Put your mask back on and they’re frightened again. A person so young has not had time to accumulate a huge data base … so they are overwhelmed by their sense impressions. They are, in effect, (relatively) mindless. This is the way we are behaving.
Maybe we’re in our ‘Fish Brain’.
Here’s what happens if you put a fish in a “Skinner Box”with two identical feeding stations – A and B. Each feeding station has a lever which the fish bumps with his nose; and this causes a pellet of food to be dispensed. And these stations are adjustable by the experimenter. Now suppose you adjust these two stations such that at ‘A’ the fish is rewarded / (fed) 60% of the time (that is, if the fish bumps the lever a hundred times he’ll receive 60 food pellets) … and ‘B’ is adjusted to 40%. What happens? Does the fish give up on station B, where his efforts are clearly less productive? No. He’ll still work them both. He’ll work station A 60% of the time, and B 40% of the time (or in whatever ratios the stations have been adjusted and set). This is Fish Brain. And it is now well understood that our brain has evolved (over much time) through a series of augmentations. When a ‘new brain’ gets added, all the previous brains are kept. So we (literally do) still have our Fish Brain. Are we to suppose that we never use it? It isn’t like that. The fact, for example, that we are so inclined to find the motivation for completing some task — in proportion (inverse proportion) to the time remaining before the deadline … doesn’t that seem a little fishy to you?
In any case, no parent in the world would consider it ‘okay’ to treat their (own, living, in-their-face) children with the level of neglect with which we (as a race and as individuals, consistently and universally) treat our own (distant) progeny.
But does it even make any sense – to commit to the welfare of our (distant) children … when we don’t even know (with full clarity) what we must do to take care of them?
Well, whether it makes sense or not (and whether it’s painful or not), we need to do it. Of course we may try our best and fail. But if we don’t even try … we’re goin’ down.
Let me share with you a certain poem by D. H. Lawrence :
“Song of a Man Who Has Come Through”
Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time,
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split,
we shall come at the wonder,
we shall find the Hesperides.
Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.
What is the knocking? What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.
— — — — — — — — — — –
While I apparently do have the audacity – to presume to finish this poem (or at least, to interpret it for Lawrence, on his behalf and in his absence), I would like to talk a little, first, about Theater.
I expect I was in my twenties before I came across something which helped me understand what Theater is and how it functions in a society. The purpose of Theater is to ‘hold up a mirror’ so that we can see ourselves in it, so that we can see what we are doing, how we are living, what choices we are making … (or maybe even try to add clarity or depth, as does “Into the Woods” to our understanding of our Situation itself) I will offer a couple of examples.
Many years ago, on Thanksgiving, I happened to hear Steve Martin (on TV) share some things he was thankful for. He said,
“I’m thankful I’ve been given the means to be able to help people less fortunate than myself. Now all I need is the desire.”
He’s not just ‘being himself’ here. We’re meant to see ourselves in what he’s offering us. That’s Theater.
(He also said, “I’m thankful for the Atlantic Ocean; otherwise, Portuguese people would be walking right into New York City.” Maybe this is funny, but it’s not Theater; it’s just silly. But the first one — that’s Theater – great theater, in my view).
Jack Benny (who was very droll) used to pretend to be a stingy person. He developed this Personna deliberately over time. In one skit I saw, he was preparing to go out for the evening.
Rochester, his black butler, was assisting him as usual. Jack’s trousers had been laid out on the bed. Jack picks them up to put them on. Then he (simply) hefts them a couple times. And he calls out (as the butler had gone out of the room) – “Rochester, did you take a dime out of my pants pocket?” Rochester comes in then rather flustered, and explains. He admits that he had taken the dime (for some legitimate purpose).
Here Benny was posing to us a world wherein someone (himself) was so stingy, that he would notice when his pants, unexpectedly, happened to be too light to contain the dime which he knew had been there.
So he developed this ‘Stingy’ persona. But it’s in a later skit that he really cashes in on it.
In this skit he’s walking down the street one night in New York City, when he’s accosted by a mugger. A man steps out of the shadows, sticks a gun in his ribs and says, “Your money or your life!”. Jack does nothing, so he says it again –
“Your money or your LIFE !” Jack replies, “I’m thinking.”
This is theater.
And it’s accurate. (Except that we’re already worse than that)
This is what we’re like in our headlong pursuit of material wealth. A current saying is, “Money isn’t everything, but it’s way ahead of whatever’s in second place.” And this gets reflected in how we do business (and in our Foreign Policy).
In the United States of America we spend more money on Entertainment than we spend on Education and Health Care combined. (We are determined to distract ourselves. Mmm?) Shouldn’t we perhaps be just a little embarrassed by this?
In his “Devil’s Dictionary” Ambrose Bierce defines ‘Economy’ as – “Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.”
(If we can understand that we are not highly rational beings, it will probably help us.)
I’m not opposed to affluence or even materialism. We could still do (almost) everything we’re already doing, but we should Take Care of Business first.
“Life as we find it is too hard for us; it entails too much pain, too many disappointments, impossible tasks. We cannot do without palliative remedies.
There are perhaps three of these means:
powerful diversions of interest, which lead us to care little about our misery;
substitutive gratifications, which lessen it; and
intoxicating substances, which make us insensitive to it.
Something of this kind is indispensable.”
Juli Duncan says,
“Life is a rock. And a hard place.”
So, just having a Human Life puts us under considerable pressure to (as Freud says: distract ourselves, have fun, or resort to drugs and alcohol) turn to denial, rather than tackling the problems that beset us.
Our hope lies, however, in our finding the wherewithal to overcome these temptations
In his (Pulitzer Prize) book “The Denial Of Death” Ernest Becker takes a hard look at the Human Situation. Becker has a compassionate attitude towards human beings in our (heavy) use of Denial. He understands it as an attempt to move toward health and wholeness. He sees that even (we) “healthy” people, walking around loose, are neurotic – because we lie to ourselves about ourselves and about life.
Anyone who is more than casually interested in understanding the human component of our Planetary Crises would find Becker’s book worth reading. Here is an excerpt:
“How does one transcend himself; how does he open himself to new possibility? By realizing the truth of his situation, by dispelling the lie of his character, by breaking his spirit out of its conditioned prison. The enemy, for Kierkegaard as for Freud, is the Oedipus complex. The child has built up strategies and techniques for keeping his self-esteem in the face of the terror of his situation. These techniques become an armor that holds the person prisoner. The very defenses that he needs in order to move about with self-confidence and self-esteem become his life-long trap. In order to transcend himself, he must break down that which he needs in order to live. Like Lear, he must throw off all his “cultural lendings” and stand naked in the storm of life. Kierkegaard had no illusions about man’s urge to freedom. He knew how comfortable people were inside the prisons of their character defenses. Like many prisoners they are comfortable in their limited and protected routines, and the idea of a parole into the wide world of chance, accident, and choice terrifies them.”
Someone who actually undertakes the inner and personal dismantling that Becker refers to above – better have a good reason for doing it. For it is wonderfully painful. Ego Death must be near the top of the (psychic) pain chart. But a Human Being can tolerate considerable pain, if it has Meaning, when it counts for something.
Abraham Lincoln said,
“I have found that most men can withstand adversity. If you would test a man’s character, give him power.”
I think this brings us back around to Lawrence’s ‘three strange angels’.
We manage to keep our self-respect in the face of our failure to do what we must to survive – that is – to take care of our own distant children)
By ignoring that failure … by not looking at it, because to do so would be too painful.
Therefore, the name of the first angel needs to be ‘Suffering’ – ( that is, ‘The Willingness to Suffer’ )
[or, alternatively, I suppose this angel’s name could be ‘Pinocchio’ because Pinocchio decided he wanted “to be a real human being – however hard it is.”]
If we do not manage to ‘open the door’ to this angel, we are (as Woody Allen warns us) sunk. We’re goin’ over the cliff. There won’t even be any people seven generations from now.
We need to contemplate … and consider trading in our Indolence (no pain) for Authenticity.
I am aware that shame and guilt these days are not highly approved of; nonetheless, I declare that the name of the second angel is — ‘Shame and Guilt’.
Shame used to be regarded as a high virtue. It was seen as an essential aspect of humility – an appreciation of one’s limits … one’s smallness and fallibility. The only remnant of this, that I know of, is still recognizable in the term “shameless”. This might refer to some act which might not have been committed if the person had possessed a better sense of his own limits. In this American culture humility has generally fallen into disfavor. Look at the way we expect our (grown up) professional athletes (included certainly, among our role models) to behave after scoring a touchdown (any touchdown … in any game, regardless of that game’s lack of potential for making the world better.)
Consider the Titanic … or the Great Dust Bowl – an ecological
disaster of enormous proportions. Didn’t these happen because of Human Arrogance? And as such, aren’t they dripping with shamelessness?
We need to get real regarding our own arrogance. If we cannot admit to and own our own shame and guilt when and where they are real … if we cannot let this second angel into our house, we’re goin’ down. We will go over the cliff. And whatever the condition of this planet two hundred years from now (seriously debilitated maybe) there will be no one to inherit it.
Before moving on I want to say something more on behalf of Shame. Many times in my life I have done something … which (later) I was ashamed of having done. But when we do something wrong, we should be ashamed of having done it. By the time I am ashamed of myself, I am a (little bit) better person than I was when I did it. I am then a bit less likely to do that sort of thing in the future, the next time I am tempted to.
Shame is essential to our character development, which is, after all, a long business.
And the third angel? It wasn’t so long ago that I had nothing good to say about Anger. But I’m afraid that’s the third angel – ‘Anger’. But not the kind of anger that blames you for my problems. It’s the sort of anger that looks inward and says, “I’ve had enough (of this way of living). I am fed up. I am done! This anger we need. And I’m afraid that without it, we’ll go down.
These then are the three strange angels. (Suffering, shame & guilt, and anger.)
They are angels because they have the power to deliver us …
and strange because our first reaction to them is a negative one.
We fear them.
(Look at the poem and look within yourself.)
This brings me to the central image of this talk. It’s the take-away. It’s what I hope you’ll remember if you only remember one thing.
The Big Meeting
What if – the people of two hundred years from now were to invite us to meet with them. And our attendance was compulsory. We have to go.
So we go to this Big Meeting. It lasts a day, and has two parts. In the morning part, everybody (all the ‘thens’ and all the ‘nows’) – we all meet (electronically) in the “same room”. Their leaders will have some questions to put to us. Questions like “What were you thinking? Why did you abandon us? You knew the importance of clean air and clean water. How could you let it get so bad? You knew of the importance of biodiversity. Why did you permit the extermination of millions of species? For money? Really?”
But the morning meeting will be fun compared to the afternoon session.
In the afternoon everyone will meet in small groups. This will be our chance to meet (not electronically, but physically) with our direct descendants. Face to face. And in most cases genetic continuity will be apparent and obvious. They will look like our own family members. (They are, of course.)
This could be a very tough day.
What will we be able to say to them? To people with similar (family) mannerisms and physical features?
What will we do with their begging and weeping?
What if they’re really angry with us?
Are we going to just explain to them that we would have taken care of them … only it would have been uncomfortable?
Or that we didn’t have time?
What will we be able to say to them?
Would we live our lives any differently if, say, every morning we were to spend some time imagining we’re at the Big Meeting? Before we get out of bed in the morning? If there were such a meeting, what would take place there? How would it go? How would it make you feel?
Wanna try it?
Here is a comment by Graham Greene:
“Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim. It is, one is told, the unforgivable sin, but it is the sin the corrupt or evil man never practices. He always has hope. He never reaches the freezing point of absolute failure. Only the man of goodwill carries always in his heart this capacity for damnation.”
I found out (from John Bradshaw, in his video series on The Family) – that a Functional family is not a family with no problems. All families have problems. A functional family is one which deals with their problems. A Dysfunctional family is one which does not deal with their problems. Like the rap song says (from Mark Twain, actually):
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
Personally, I happen to believe that all of Humanity / (all the people on this planet) is actually a Family.
It is, however, a dysfunctional family.
But let’s suppose that it goes well. Let’s suppose we change. That we own up to our responsibilities. Then, looking back on this current age from the future, this time will be known as “The Time of Fooling Around”. Or (if things go really well, it will be known) as “The PreFamily Period”.
Let’s assume you have looked inside yourself … and you have come to the realization that you are willing to feel whatever pain may present itself along the (still nebulous) path to Survival. Let me offer you a suggestion or two that may make Choosing That Path more doable.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, Thomas Jefferson said, “Let’s assume we’ve won the war.” Then he got busy designing the social systems he knew would be needed if we did win.
This is what we should do – something similar. We need to adopt Working Assumptions which can help us not get overwhelmed (by whatever). We should assume that whatever we do – may be just enough … just what was necessary for the Whole Thing to come out okay.
Also, expect yourself to do better as you do more and as time goes on. It’s okay to start small. It’s okay that The Path is still unclear. (It’s gonna have to be okay, Mmm?)
A philosopher though, becomes accustomed to the non-immediacy of understanding-gratification – the satisfaction you get when you finally understand something that you’ve been trying to wrap your mind around for a long time.
The Truth is, of course, that we don’t know whether or not “success” is possible … whether or not any hope at all is warranted.
But if there ever was a time for Faith, this is that time. We must give ourselves … and our Children the Benefit of the Doubt. We must have faith. We must (as Dhyani Ywahoo says) – Hold the Form (the thought-form).
Not as self-delusion … but as a Working Assumption.
Besides, Realities exist in this universe that we know not of. (Or, if we ‘know’ of them, we don’t know much about them … and so we’re inclined to deny them, or ignore them.
As Hazel Henderson points out:
“If we can recognize that change and uncertainty are basic principles, we can greet the future and the transformation we are undergoing with the understanding that we do not know enough to be pessimistic.”
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
A quote by Thoreau:
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
And let us not be overly concerned by the fact that we do not know how to accomplish our Task; but let us take counsel from Rumi :
Be helpless, dumbfounded, Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace to gather us up.
We are too dull-eyed to see that beauty.
If we say we can, we’re lying.
If we say No, we don’t see it,
That No will behead us And shut tight our window onto spirit.
So let us rather not be sure of anything,
Beside ourselves, and only that, so
Miraculous beings come running to help.
Crazed, lying in a zero circle, mute,
We shall be saying finally,
With tremendous eloquence,
When we have totally surrendered to that beauty,
We shall be a mighty kindness.
(version: Coleman Barks)
And let me share with you an incident from my own life.
I was in my twenties. I was on a bus, travelling from Lima, Ohio to Chicago.
Everything was snow-covered; the road too was covered with hard-packed snow.
Somewhere, in some little town (in Indiana, probably) the bus stopped at a cafe.
I left my bags and coat on the bus and went into the restaurant.
When we got off, the driver announced how long the stop would be … 15 minutes, I suppose. Rather near the end of our break I went to the restroom.
When I came out, the bus was gone.
I went out.
I could see the bus, proceeding westward, perhaps a quarter mile down the empty road.
There was no reason for me to believe I would be able to catch the bus,
but I ran after it anyway.
I ran hard.
Presently a woman driving a station wagon pulled along side me.
She was offering me a ride.
I got into her car; and we overtook the bus.
It stopped and I got back on.
~ ~ ~ ~
I once heard Maharishi say,
“When he finds he is late for school, the wise boy will run and pray.”
So, when you can, consider reading Becker’s “Denial of Death” .
You might like to have a look at “Sunbeams a Book of Quotations” and “Paper Lanterns” (more quotations), both edited by Sy Safransky (who publishes The SUN magazine.)
Here are collections of quotes of extraordinary quality.
After only a couple pages, I felt I had read enough to convince me that there is more to life than meets the eye … a lot more. Wonderful.
And maybe get (from any library or access it online) a copy of “The Urantia Book” and read paper 72 : ‘Government on a Neighboring Planet’ (about 13 pages). It’s an unusual paper, describing a culture with roughly the same advantages and disadvantages as we have. But they are definitely ahead of us. Consider it as a study of a society which has made up its mind to succeed … to survive.
You will see how different it is from the society we live in.
(Here, we do not expect to survive. But if we are to survive, we need to expect survival … and to plan for it.) So I consider that paper quite pertinent to our situation.
We need people who are ready to say, “If we fail to save our (7-generations) grandchildren, it will not be because we did not try. It will not be simply because I did not do what was in my power to do.”
Let us remember the words of Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
E. B. White said:
“But I wake up each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it very hard to plan the day.”
I think this is sound.
Still – –
What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night? It is somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.
In Talk 1 – (besides the trailer) there are 6 segments –
(1.a through 1.f in alphabetical order).
Sometimes the “next” segment will come up by itself
but not every time.
So just keep track
and when something other than the ‘next segment’ starts to load
just locate the next one and Click on it.
(as a ‘back-up’ … here are all the links) :
1.f = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muRoPmS2q8E (Sailor’s Prayer)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~
Book : The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker