A bit too much news, of late (top photo)
One of the earliest ways that science tickles our young brains, is by inviting us to think about scale, with simple but exciting tools. Microscopes and telescopes prove to our young eyes that there is always a lot going-on that we miss, no matter what sort of lens we choose to look through – or how we frame our questions, large and small.
The combination of curiosity and creativity can produce wonderful results, and we can use it to find all sorts of interesting ideas and solutions, at all kinds of scales – or we can get ourselves dug into troubles that can sometimes feel impossible to escape, because our main lens can no longer see the exits!
The study of how humans think, feel, and perceive the world also happens at a lot of different scales. It is sometimes very helpful to pay close attention to a single bad hour in an individual life, to work past it’s lingering hurt – it is also sometimes necessary to think about where we hope to be in one, or even twenty years. In a similar way we also try to think about the days and years of others – so many billions of them.
How well and how honestly we understand ourselves varies a great deal between individuals, and even cultures. We are all, as Alan Watts brilliantly observed “Endowed with certain capabilities” by the culture in which we are raised. Yes, these endowments come also with limitations (nothing ever, without some cost) – but we cannot escape our birthright, simply by deciding we don’t like our home culture anymore. Rebelling along that path we become excited by new information, but also fundamentally false – representing ourselves as changed and new, when we really are the same, just upset. (also usually insulting the other cultures from which we pretend to borrow humbly, but actually steal like demented barbarians). ;o)
We all have a friend who tells everyone they’ve had “a life-changing revelation” on a fairly regular basis, but then reverts to their same old patterns a few days or weeks later, having gained several interesting new words to use for their comfortable ongoing denial.
To me, the best reason to try not to fool ourselves, to face ourselves courageously and understand the good and also the unpleasant drives we all have within, as part of our recipe, is so that we can learn to be of more use to others. Like musical timbres, we all have fundamental ingredients in common, in varying proportions – and we can learn to perceive great subtleties, with patient listening and inspiration. Close vast gulfs, surprisingly easily.
As we embrace an increasingly realistic view of ourselves, we can help our friends and those we interact with day to day more effectively, because we can not only meet them in objective reality, but also easily use our active compassion to meet them part-way into their own subjective frame.
In much simpler terms – you can almost always make a sympathetic joke that will brighten someone’s day, if you are more interested in them, than yourself – even just for a few seconds. Feels fantastic to do it, too – genuine human connection, no seminars or accessories required.
When we are especially upset, we humans are far more likely to enjoy comforting stories that simplify what we are – but as soon as we begin to pull the covers over our eyes, to pretend that we are pure good – our imaginations must devise a pure evil ‘out there’ to balance.
Neither one of these strong passionate common ideas is correct. We are never pure good, ‘they’ are never pure bad – only the layer of reasoning we add with our imaginations can ever be that clear and pure, not the human individuals who we so often try to paint with sloppy and emotional brushes.
One thing we really are – is more or less capable of learning about, talking to, and ultimately having some chance of persuading other human beings, in direct proportion to our own self-honesty.
We can’t ever convince someone who we insist upon misunderstanding. And if we won’t even look at ourselves clearly, we can’t expect to see any truth about humans at all. (Nor hold a course toward happiness).
What our denial creates
Of course, the problem gets far worse when we think about huge groups, instead of individuals – all of our comforting lies are multiplied, and the evil which we deny in ourselves and those we imagine are ‘like us’ must be projected onto vast clouds of others. This is fuel for cruelty, nothing else. READ HISTORY!
Yes, anger is power
– for our enemies
Now, when I recommend we harness our passion, gratitude and duty to the world to fuel self-honesty and grow our breadth and strength of compassion for others, I should be clear about what I mean. There is no honest way to ignore active harm being done to innocents, and standing-up for people being unfairly treated in real situations is a genuine duty. Ask around, I step-up for the weak and also acknowledge, everywhere.
But choosing to worsen a feud, where there might have been progress on understanding instead, is putting childish emotional pleasure ahead of the goal itself. Dumb dumb dumb. Working so darned hard to lose. TACTICS, PEOPLE!
Which leads me to the classic accusation of betrayal, by any group of tribalists, against one of their own, who is rudely demanding a broadening of their unhealthily narrow view. They always like to say that the renegade is wrong to call for understanding, because they are now ignoring the evil ‘them’ do.
But I’m actually talking about the exact opposite of that – my friends. Even leaving aside our state of normalized war for profit, and the extortionate corporate games played on our behalf, that exploit billions without our freedom or choices, overseas.
The sustainable footprint per human being is roughly two tons of CO2 annually, our western average is eight – which means that we are all acting as if we have a right to kill the future for absolutely everyone, so that we can keep living the way we prefer right now, as free and (psychotically?) empowered individuals.
See? There ain’t no pure good-guys here at all – seriously – absolutely zero – as long as consumerism is a world-dominating death-force (which remains our precise demand), pure good here is thermodynamically impossible. Which means that even the most righteous among us have way more in common with those they so confidently despise, than they ever seem likely to admit. Especially with prideful glee in hateful ignorance fast increasing on every front.
Problem is – we need grownups at the helm. Bickering kids don’t qualify. Nor can bickering individuals with the covers pulled over their eyes do democracy especially well.
Not until they make me – just isn’t going to cut it, folks. That’s not just kid’s stuff – it’s a lemming-play.
We can do better.
(I’m no pessimist – it’s the furious narcissists who are the real obstructionist cop-outs – no joke)