Thursday, June 14, 2007
Loving and Just Civilization
The Central Role of Mutual Empowerment
Overview of This Paper
Can human beings create a civilization in which all people have the opportunity to live happy, fulfilled, empowered, and actualized lives (realizing their full potentials) and in which they
• have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that they have the competence and power to sustain that optimal health, and
• are connected harmoniously in life-affirming resonance with other people, with the natural world, and within themselves.
This paper is about the fundamental change that is required for us to create this kind of civilization and the steps to get there. Here are sections which constitute the paper. Each topic is presented as a separate topic on this BLOG.
I look forward to your feedback.
Take care, Bill
1 – We Can Create a Loving and Just Civilization
Even though a sense of disempowerment has grown over thousands of years of human history, we still have the capacity to create a loving and just civilization.
2 – Power and Mutual Empowerment: Changing From Power Over to Power To
The distinction between power over and power to
3 – Emotional Resonance – Growth, Development, Survival
Not only are love and emotional resonance wonderful human experiences, they also are necessary for our healthy growth and development, and, most importantly for our survival.
4 – The Opportunity
Mutually empowering relationships can transform individual and institutional behavior which will result in fundamental change.
5 – The Problem With The Supernatural
God, religion, the supernatural, truth – challenging areas to explore through mutual empowerment.
6 – The Practice
Some initial guidelines for mutually empowering relationships
7 – Actions to Move Us From Here to There
To create our desired civilization, fundamental individual and institutional change must occur.
8 – Guidelines for Individual Action for Individual Behavior Change
There is some behavior change that we may be able to accomplish individually.
9 – Guidelines for Actions for Institutional Change – Actions We Must Take With Others – Mutual Empowering Relationships
Fundamental change will result from the actions of people who have adopted the principles of mutually empowerment. Those of us who commit to these principles will work together both to develop our practice as well as to apply them to promote institutional change.
10 – The Practice of Love on the Path to Love
• Individually, humans instinctually (according to our genetic disposition) strive to be one with the free flowing, liberated universal energy, the spirit of the universe.
• We also strive instinctually to be whole and integrated within our individual beings.
• The final piece of this instinctual trinity is that we strive to be deeply connected with, to be one with, to be in emotional resonance with each other.
Loving and Just Civilization
The Central Role of Mutual Empowerment
We Can Create a Loving and Just Civilization
Can human beings create a civilization in which all people have the opportunity to live happy, fulfilled, empowered, and actualized lives (realizing their full potentials) and in which they
***** have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that they have the competence and power to sustain that optimal health, and
***** are connected harmoniously in life-affirming resonance with other people, with the natural world, and within themselves.
If we follow the trajectory of the path established, largely unconsciously, by humans during the past 16,000-plus years, will we create the civilization defined above?
We humans have created dominant institutions and adopted normative modes of individual behavior which threaten to destroy life on Earth, which increasingly disempower people, and which increasingly alienate people from others and from themselves. Fundamental change is required to set us on a different path, one with a different trajectory from the one we are now on.
How will that fundamental change occur?
We will engage in the practice of establishing and enhancing mutually empowering relationships which are based on behaviors which are life affirming. This practice will produce healthy individuals, loving relationships among people, and the transformation of life-negating institutions into life-affirming institutions.
Why have humans failed thus far to create this highly desirable civilization?
We have inherited institutions and behaviors which were derived largely unconsciously over thousands of years. These are predominantly life negating and disempowering. Collectively, to some extent, we already have become disempowered permitting doubt and cynicism to creep into our consciousness. We have knowledge today that permits us to engage in new learning which can transform those institutions and behaviors so that they are life affirming and empowering.
Even though sages over the past thousands of years have taught about enlightened beings and societies, human civilization today still falls far short of what they envisioned. What is different now?
As inspiring as much of the teachings of these sages is, for the most part these teachers did not know what we know today about behavior change. Some people have successfully followed the teaching of these sages and have lived loving lives of service. Nevertheless, the number of such people has been too small to result in these loving ways becoming sufficiently prevalent in our civilization. Today we can define practices for behavior change which are inherently rewarding and fulfilling and which, therefore, will be followed by most people. Those practices will be based in mutual empowerment and will be pursued in many forms of connection with others.
If people already feel essentially disempowered and consider the possibility of a loving, new civilization to be a fantasy/an unrealistic dream, isn’t it already too late to try to create this new civilization?
Individuals may or may not choose to focus explicitly on the goal of creating a new civilization. Minimally, and sufficiently, they will focus on achievable, rewarding, fulfilling incremental steps which will contribute to and change their lives. They will continue on this path, incremental step by incremental step, because with each step their lives will be filled with more life-affirming resonance and love with others. This process will be inherently rewarding and will produce an increase in power to create further change.
That response is not convincing to me. Maybe I could accept what you say if I thought our civilization had the time for that to happen. However, I don’t think we have the time. There are many reasons to believe that within the next five to two hundred years, human life on Earth will be wiped out through some kind of global disaster – ecological, natural, political, biological, social, or military.
You pose the challenge very well. There are two key parts to that challenge. First, I agree with you that the ecological, social, and economic trajectories which are likely given historical trends to this moment will probably result in one of the global disasters which you mention. While those disasters are not inevitable, the challenge to avert them is enormous and urgent.
Second, and perhaps the most important dynamic of all, it is possible that you cannot be convinced by what I have said above, because you have already become too disempowered or are very close to becoming so. Before going further with my response to this question, I offer a short piece from William James:
Suppose, for example that I am climbing in the Alps, and have had the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have been impossible.
But suppose that, on the contrary, the emotions of fear and mistrust preponderate ... -- why, then I shall hesitate so long that at last, exhausted and trembling, and launching myself in a moment of despair, I miss my foothold and roll into the abyss.
In this case ... the part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. There are then cases where faith creates its own verification. Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall
save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.
While there is much that could be discussed in this piece, I am offering it in the context of learning new, mutually empowering behaviors and ways of being as another way of posing your question regarding whether or not we have enough time. Or, still another way of asking whether there are sufficient numbers of us who have not already become too disempowered to meet the considerable challenge. I would be a fool to suggest that I have the answer to that question. And, you cite numerous examples, which I have to agree with, which give a great deal of evidence to suggest that we humans are irreversibly headed in the wrong direction – the path which will lead to our destruction.
We come to a very personal question – to the extent that we can determine and have the power to – how do we want to live our lives? We can strive to do our best, which because of our shortcomings may often not be very life-affirming, to live as if a world based in mutual empowerment is possible and to strive to contribute to that possibility. We keep facing new situations which present us with choices everyday. I am confident that most people want to choose life-affirmation. Being connected in mutually empowering relationships with others can help us find the power to make such choices when we feel individually disempowered.
What does mutual empowerment and a mutually empowering relationship look like?
In mutually empowering relationships different groupings of two or more people interact with each other in a wide variety of activities or purposes. They have an agreement or understanding that in pursuing these activities they will do so in life-affirming ways that enhance the fulfillment and empowerment of all involved. They express and manifest their thoughts and feelings truthfully and freely. They share a commitment to strive not to act in life-negating ways. For example, they strive not to shame, humiliate, or otherwise put down others. They strive not to express power over another person unless there is an understanding or agreement that such power over is appropriate in a given circumstance. Should someone be inclined to act in a life-negating way, there is an agreement among all parties to identify that action and to work together to find and learn alternative, life-affirming actions.
Yikes!!! Stop! OK, OK, I had a moment when I was willing to entertain the possibility that our world and my life could be significantly better than they are. I asked you some questions and you answered. And, then all you were saying seemed like some pretty heady stuff – mutual empowerment, agreements, understandings, life-affirming, life-negating, no put-downs – which seems just way out of touch with reality. This stuff just has no connection with my life. I’m a single mom busting my butt to make ends meet and get even a little bit of time with my kids. I’m a construction worker on a crew with some tough dudes; they’d laugh be out of town, if not worse, if I started talking about any of this stuff around them. I’m a pimply faced teenager trying like hell to be one of the in-crowd. I’m an illegal resident in this country, a low-wage worker with an abusive boss, a middle-level manager caught between an authoritarian boss and a work crew that’s ready to turn on me in an instant. I’m a successful person by just about all conventional measures and still feel a deep emptiness in my life – don’t talk to me about mutual empowerment. Am I being clear – you are not talking my language and are irrelevant to my life!
Wow! I hear you; believe me. Stick with me for a bit. Let’s see where we can go.
You asked me some initial questions which were perfect. They let me lay out in as few words as I could all that I wanted to say. I really don’t need to say any more. If you like, you can work with what I have already laid out in whatever way you find most pertinent to your life. The steps you choose to take may seem small; but, I assure you that they will make a difference that you will like.
I don’t want to get into the position of trying to convince you of anything. It is precisely because of the circumstances of your life and mine that I want us to join together to transform completely these power arrangements which are so stifling and strangling. What is the best scenario if fundamental change does not occur? – thousands of more years of injustice and oppression. What is the worst scenario without fundamental change? – we will by neglect or design bring about the destruction of human civilization.
We can bring about transformation or fundamental change regarding power without violence. Certainly, some of those people who currently express power over others will be reluctant and/or fearful to give up that power. We will give them the opportunity to join those of us who are committed to mutual empowerment. Many of them will experience the positive motivation to join with us. Some will not.
The combined power which results from our mutual empowerment will be unstoppable. We will take necessarily small steps so that we will succeed in this transformation and so that those who fear their loss of power over others will have the opportunity to have their fears mitigated. Many activists and thinkers have already demonstrated that such a transformation is possible. What we need to do now is to turn these initial manifestations into a movement.
If you know what you need to know right now to begin on this path of mutual empowerment, please get on with the actions that need to be taken. If you would like to know about some of the knowledge others have brought into my life which persuades me that life-affirming, mutually empowering relationships can bring about this transformation, I hope you will enjoy reading some or all of what follows.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Power and Mutual Empowerment: Changing From Power Over to Power To
What is it about power and mutual empowerment that is central to bringing about fundamental change?
The fact that this question is so pertinent and that the concept of mutual empowerment is essentially unknown informs us profoundly. In our protests that these notions are irrelevant to our lives, we are admitting that even though we know that our spirits are being suppressed in so many ways, we have come to accept that we don’t have the power to make a difference – we cry or scream or whimper in silence; we accept cynically that this is as good as it gets. We will look at how and why our spirits will join to create a very different civilization.
However, let’s first examine a bit more specifically mutual empowerment and the difference between “power over” and “power to.” In everyday discourse, power is referred to frequently – most often without any distinction regarding this basic and highly salient distinction between “power over” and “power to.” Jean Baker Miller in her paper “Telling the Truth About Power” sheds light on these matters.
In the paper Miller states:
Along with the obscurity surrounding power comes confusion in the usage of the word. Without reviewing everyone else’s definitions, let me say that we have used the phrase “power-to” to mean the ability to make a change in any situation, large or small, i.e., the ability to move anything from point A to point B without the connotation of restricting or forcing anyone else. For the latter forms of power that imply force, we’ve used the term, “power-over.” In a
basic sense, power-over usually follows from the structural situation whereby one group has more resources and privilege and thus, has more capacity to force or control others. This is the structural power I just referred to above. Structural power is most influential and most important to recognize….
There is great confusion around our use of the term “mutual empowerment.” In all relationships such as parent-child, teacher-student, therapist-patient, and the like, one person clearly has more power than the other; they are not the same, nor are they equal along various dimensions, e.g., age, experience, knowledge of a certain field, etc. Note— these forms of unequal relationships are not the same as the inequalities forced upon certain social groups. In unequal relationships like parent-child, teacher-student, and therapist-patient relationships the goal is for the more powerful person to foster the growth of the other person, that is, to move toward change and toward equality (Miller, 1976). This movement may take a long time as it does in the parent-child relationship. Even without equality there can be mutuality and movement toward more mutuality, as we use the term. Mutuality means joining together in a kind of relationality in which both (or all) participants are engaged, empathic, and growing (Jordan, 1986). Martha and
Judy offer an example. Likewise, a parent and child and also the people in other unequal relationships may participate in many moments when they join in mutual engagement that is benefiting them both, though usually not in the same way or on the same level. We can see this even in studies of mother-infant interaction, e.g., in Tronick’s (1998) and others’ work. Obviously the two people are not the same, nor are they equal. Most importantly, in the therapist-client, the parent-child, and other similarly constructed unequal relationships the more powerful person must take primary responsibility for developing the relationship. The more powerful person has to keep trying to find ways to make the interactions growth fostering, i.e., moving toward fuller mutuality—and eventually equality. …
The issue of power may constitute another reason why we should all continue in ongoing peer or supervision groups because alone, we cannot easily become aware of what we’re not aware of. We all need other people’s input. Peer groups could add the stated goal of doing this inquiry about power for each other. In saying all this, we are really talking about trying to work beyond the values of our society, that is, when we talk about bringing authenticity, mutual empathy, and mutual empowerment to the relationship. …
It is not that [one person’s] greater power will mean less power for the [the other in the relationship]. As we’ve said, that kind of thinking usually follows from a notion of a “zerosum game.” It follows from patriarchal, power-over thinking. Instead, it is a question of reframing
the issue altogether in different terms. The answer is not to just flip over whoever is in the position of power so that the subordinates gain more power but continue operating in the same old dominant-subordinate framework. The issue is to create a new structure altogether. … But maybe we can contribute on an even broader scale in public life. Perhaps we can help to find the ways whereby less powerful groups of people can not only gain power but recast the operation of power, transform the very nature of power. This transformation would change life for all of us.
OK, that’s helpful, and who can disagree with the notion of mutual empowerment? But, I still don’t see what gives you any indication that people will choose to pursue mutually empowering relationships. The few have wielded power over the many for thousands of years. What makes you believe that this will ever change?
The irony here is that the strongest motivation to survive and thrive among humans is at the root of mutual empowerment. In order for an individual person to survive, she needs to be connected in life-affirming, emotional resonance with others. This connection flourishes when there is mutual empowerment among two or more people. Or, in simpler words, humans are most fulfilled, are happiest when they are loving – when they love and are loved. We all know the deep joy of being loving. We also know the deep pain when love is absent or taken away. Once again, it is the relatively unconscious establishment of our current dominant society over thousands of years which has left us disempowered and with the despair and resignation that we cannot experience such a strong presence of love in our lives.
Emotional Resonance – Growth, Development, Survival
We will take a far-too-rapid trip through “A General Theory of Love” by Lewis, Armini, and Lannon, three psychiatrists at University of California San Francisco (UCSF), to gain some insight into matters of love, connection, and emotional resonance and how they relate to mutual empowerment. They write:
We searched, in short, for the science of love. Finding no such system in our own field, we went hunting in other disciplines. Before we were through scavenging, we had gathered together elements from neurodevelopment, evolutional theory, psychopharmacology, neonatology, experimental psychology, and computer science. (p. 12)
A revolutionary paradigm assembled itself around us, and we have remained within it ever since. Within that structure we found new answers to the questions most worth asking about human lives: what are feelings, and why do we have them? What are relationships, and why do they exist? What causes emotional pain, and how can it be mended – with medications,
with psychotherapy, with both? What is therapy, and how does it heal? How should we configure our society to further emotional health? How should we raise our children, and what should we teach them? (p. 13)
Long before science existed, sharp-eyed men and women told each other stories about how
people are, stories that have never lost their power to enchant and instruct. The purpose of using science to investigate human nature is not to replace those stories but to augment and deepen them. Robert Frost once wrote that too many poets delude themselves by thinking the mind is dangerous and must be left out. The principle is mirrored in the study of the brain, where too many experts, out of plain fear, avoid mentioning love.
We think the heart is dangerous and must be left in. The poetic and the veridical, the proven and the unprovable, the heart and the brain – like charged particles of opposing polarity – exert their pulls in different directions. Where they are brought together the result is incandescence. (p. 15)
…common sense suggests that the human brain is likely to be unitary and harmonious. It isn’t.
A homogeneous brain might function better, but humans don’t have one. Evolved
structures answer not to the rules of logic but only to the exigencies of the long chain of survival victories.
Dr. Paul MacLean, an evolutionary neuroanatomist and senior research scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, has argued that the human brain is comprised of three distinct
sub-brains, each the product of a separate age in evolutionary history. The trio intermingles and communicates, but some information is inevitably lost in translation because the subunits differ in their functions, properties, and even their chemistries. His neuroevolutionary finding of the three-in-one, or triune, brain can help explain how some of love’s anarchy arises from ancient history. (p. 21)
The oldest or reptilian brain is a bulbous elaboration of the spinal cord. This brain houses vital control centers – neurons that prompt breathing, swallowing, and heartbeat, and the visual tracking system a frog relies on to snap a dancing dragonfly out of the air. The startle center is
here, too, because a swift reaction to abrupt movement or noise is the principal reason animals have brains at all. (p. 22)
Humanity’s second or limbic brain drapes itself around the first with a languid ease. (p. 24)… As
mammals split off from the reptilian line, a fresh neural structure blossomed with their skulls. This brand new brain transformed not just the mechanics of reproduction but also the organismic orientation toward offspring. Detachment and disinterest mark the parental attitude of the typical reptile, while mammals can enter into subtle and elaborate interactions with their young. (p.25)
The neocortex…is the last and, in humans, the largest of the three brains. (p.26)… Neocortical size has grown in mammals of recent origin, so that dogs and cats have more, and monkeys, more still. In human beings, the neocortex has ballooned to massive proportions…. Speaking, writing, planning, and reasoning all originate in the neocortex. So do the experience of our
senses, what we know as awareness, and our conscious motor control, what we know as will. (p. 27)
Evolution’s stuttering process has fashioned a brain that is fragmented and inharmonious, and to some degree composed of players with competing interests…. The cleavage between reason and passion is an ancient theme but no anachronism; it has endured because it speaks to the deep
human experience of a divided mind. The scientific basis for separating neocortical from limbic brain matter rests on solid neuroanatomical, cellular, and empirical grounds. (p. 31)
But even as it reaps the benefits of reason, modern America plows emotions under – a costly practice that obstructs happiness and misleads people about the nature and significance of their lives. That deliberate imbalance is more damaging than one might suppose. Beyond the
variegated sensations and the helpful motivations, science has discovered emotionality’s deep purpose: the timeworn mechanisms of emotion allow two human beings to receive the contents of each other’s minds. Emotion is the messenger of love; it is the vehicle that carries every signal from one brimming heart to another. For human beings, feeling deeply is synonymous with being alive. (p. 37)
In its present form, the limbic brain is not only the seat of dreams, but also the center of advanced emotionality. The primordial purpose of the limbic brain was to monitor the external world and the internal bodily environment, and to orchestrate their congruence….The neocortical brain, although a latecomer to the emotional scene, also receives limbic directives.
These influence the tone of symbolic activities, like language, and strategic operations, like action planning. And the limbic brain orchestrates brain changes that serve a purely communicative role – in response to limbic stimulation, small muscles on the mammalian face contract in precise configurations. The face is the only place in the body where muscles connect
directly to the skin. The sole purpose of this arrangement is to enable the transmission of a flurry of expressive signals. (pp. 51-53)
Infants are early masters of detecting and expressing emotions, which may help to explain their inborn fascination for faces…. Researchers now know that babies are looking at the expressions on the faces they fix on…. One can demonstrate in this manner that infants just a few days old can distinguish between emotional expressions. (pp. 60 – 61)
With the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call limbic resonance – a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states. It is limbic resonance that makes looking into the face of another emotionally responsive creature a multi-layered experience. Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. Eye contact, although it occurs
over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition…. To the animals capable of bridging the gap between minds, limbic resonance is the door to communal connection. (pp. 63-64)
In the 1940s, psychoanalyst René Spitz…described the fate of orphaned children reared in foundling homes and institutions, as well as babies separated from young mothers in prison. In
deference to the newly validated germ theory of disease, institutional babies were fed and clothed, and kept warm and clean, but they were not played with, handled, or held. Human contact, it was thought, would risk exposing the children to hazardous infections organisms. Spitz found that while the physical needs of children were met, they inevitably became withdrawn and sickly, and lost weight. A great many died…. Spitz had rediscovered that a lack of human interaction – handling, cooing, stroking, baby talk, and play – is fatal to infants. (pp. 69-70)
Some of our somatic systems are closed, self-regulating loops. Others are not. Consider, for instance that women who spend time together frequently find their menstrual cycles coming into spontaneous alignment. This harmonious, hormonal communion demonstrates a bodily
connection that is limbic in nature, because close friends achieve synchrony more readily than those who merely room together.
A number of scientists now believe that somatic concordances like these are not just
normal but necessary for mammals. The mammalian nervous system depends for its
neurophysiologic stability on a system of interactive coordination, wherein steadiness comes from synchronization with nearby attachment figures. Protest is the alarm that follows a breach in these life-sustaining adjustments. If the interruption continues, physiologic rhythms decline into the painful unruliness of despair. (p. 84)
Certain bodily rhythms fall into synchrony with ebb and flow of day and night. These rhythms are termed circadian, from the Latin for “about a day.” A more fitting appellation is circumlucent, because they revolve around light as surely as Earth. Human physiology finds a hub not only in light, but also in the harmonizing activity of nearby limbic brains. Our
neural architecture places relationships at the crux of our lives, where, blazing and warm, they have the power to stabilize. When people are hurting and out of balance, they turn to regulating affiliations: groups, clubs, pets, marriages, friendships, masseuses, chiropractors, the Internet. All carry at least the potential for emotional connection. Together, those bonds do more good
than all the psychotherapists on the planet. (pp. 170-171)
Because our minds seek one another through limbic resonance, because our physiologic
rhythms answer to the call of limbic regulation, because we change one another’s
brains through limbic revision – what we do inside relationships matters more than any other aspect of human life. (pp. 191-192)
Because relationships are mutual, partners share a single fate: no action benefits one
and harms the other. The hard bargainer, who thinks he can win by convincing his partner to meet his needs while circumventing hers, is doomed. (p. 208)
Steeped as they are in limbic physiology, healthy people have trouble forcing their minds into the unfamiliar outline of this reptilian truth: no intrinsic restraint on harming people exists outside the limbic domain. Preparing soldiers for combat involves not only teaching them physical skills necessary to vanquish opponents but also indoctrinating the emotional outlook that creates an Enemy. The psychological goal is achieved by severing mental bonds between Us and Them while simultaneously strengthening intragroup ties.
The Enemy is not like us, both sides tell prospective combatants, they are subnormal, inhuman, less than animals. The average infantryman fights not for lofty political ideals, but because homicidal fiends threaten him and the family of buddies with whom he has labored, suffered, and loved. History brims with the brutality that flows between groups when no limbic tie unites them. (p. 216)
Because mammals need relatedness for their neurophysiology to coalesce correctly, most of what makes a socially functional human comes from connection – the shaping physiologic force of love. Children who get minimal care can grow up to menace a negligent society. Because the primate brain’s intricate, interlocking neural barriers to violence do not self-assemble, a limbically damaged human is deadly. If the neglect is sufficiently profound, the result is a functionally reptilian organism armed with the cunning of the neocortical brain. Such an animal experiences no compunctions about harming others of its kind. It possesses no internal motivation not to kill casually from minor frustration or for minimal gain. (p. 218)
The potential for humanity lives inside every infant, but healthy development is an effort,
not a given. If we do not shelter that spark, guide and nurture it, then we not only lose the life within but we unleash later destruction on ourselves. (p. 219)
Walker Percy wrote that “modern man is estranged from being, from his own being, from the being of other creatures in the world, from transcendent being. He has lost something – what he does not know; he only knows that he is sick unto death with the loss of it.” The mysterious, absent element is a deep and abiding immersion in communal ties. In all of its varied and
protean forms, love is the tether binding our whirling lives. (p. 224)
The adventure of seeking a theory of love is far from over. While science can afford us a closer glimpse of this tower or that soaring wall, the heart’s castle still hangs high in the heavens, shrouded in scudding clouds and obscured by mist. Will science ever announce the complete revelation of all of love’s secrets? Will empiricism ever trace an unbroken path from the highest
stones of the heart’s castle down to the bedrock of certitude?
Of course not. We demand too much if we expect single-handed empiricism to define and lay bare the human soul. Only in concert with art does science become so precise. Both are metaphors through which we strive to know the world and ourselves; both can illuminate inner and outer landscapes with a flash that inspires but whose impermanence necessitates unending rediscovery. (p. 230)
All We Need To Know Is Known
During the past 16,000-plus years, humans, largely unconsciously and by modes of thinking and “knowledge” which are now outmoded and which have been proven wrong, have created dominant institutions and normative modes of individual behavior which threaten to destroy life on Earth and which increasingly disempower individuals. By consciously focusing on what is known about behavior change and social learning, people can quite quickly turn institutions in a life-affirming direction. That does not mean that all of our society’s institutions and structures will change immediately. However, what can happen immediately is the formation of mutually empowering relationships at all levels and in all forms which will begin to wrestle with the questions of how to establish new institutions which are based in and which support mutual empowerment and love.
The beginning of that process and the inherently rewarding experience of millions of people involved in that process would produce a communal sense of love and empowerment which would be impossible for the forces of cynicism and darkness to diminish. Art and science, the intellect and the emotions, the limbic and the neocortical – all these apparently different modes and capacities can complement each other, can harmonize rather than operate in opposition to or in negation of the other. Human beings have the opportunity to embrace what has been learned and to discard the outmoded ways of thinking and believing in order to create fundamental change with wondrous results. There is still much that we will learn. Some of what is unknown may well remain mysterious. Nevertheless, we now have sufficient knowledge to begin practices which will minimize suffering and maximize human fulfillment and love.
Many people by taking small and achievable successive steps will increase their life-affirming actions and decrease their life-negating actions. Most of these steps will be taken in connection with one or more other people in mutually empowering relationships which will transform individual and institutional behavior and which will result in fundamental change towards a sustainable civilization based in love and joy.
Why Will People Take These Small Successive Steps?
People are happiest, most fulfilled, most empowered, and most actualized (realizing their full potential) when they:
*** Have optimal health of body and mind along with the confidence that that they have the competence/power to sustain that optimal health
*** Are connected harmoniously (in life-affirming resonance) within themselves, with other people, and with the natural world
These two basic conditions are inseparably intertwined. Our bodies and minds grow and develop best when we experience connection, love, and life-affirming resonance with another person or persons. At birth those other people are usually our parents. The mother actually has begun establishing that emotional or limbic resonance with her child in utero.
Humans face a supreme existential challenge. The same capacity which permits us to learn language and to create complex human systems and institutions also brings the liability of permitting each of us to be alienated within and from ourselves and, hence, from other people. When we individually are internally alienated or not integrated, we are out of balance in our bodies and minds (including spirits). In this out-of-balance condition, our minds and bodies cannot be optimally healthy – we are vulnerable to disease, insecurity, disempowerment, and confusion.
We humans must consciously engage in practices and in new social learning which can bring these parts of our brain into harmony, into balance, into life-affirming resonance within ourselves and with others if we are to be optimally healthy. Our internal dissonance is projected to others thereby interfering with their inclination towards resonance. Even if their signal or their resonance is clear, that resonance does not have a clear signal to resonate with. If we are confused about who we are, we give confusing messages to others, and undermine our ability to be loving with, to be connected with, or to be in life-affirming resonance with others.
Clarity or confusion regarding emotional resonance starts at the earliest stages of our growth and development. We hunger for resonance – our survival is dependent upon it. Ideally, this resonance is life-affirming. However, we will cling to life-negating resonance if it is all that we know and if the only alternative that seems possible is indifference and isolation. Our emotions may be confirmed and allowed to be expressed by a loving parent; or, they may be denied or squelched by a hateful parent or by a parent who just doesn’t know any better – “don’t cry, be a big boy,” and many like messages essentially confuse us by telling us that what we are feeling is not OK, that we are not OK, that we should squelch and hide those very real emotions that we feel. Before we know it or are able to know it, we have incorporated beliefs that say we are only capable of living in seriously limited ways.
Learning how to connect with others, how to be in life-affirming resonance is a lifelong process. We can make choices about how to feed this lifelong process; or, we may choose consciously or unconsciously to constrain that process. Loving connections or mutually empowering relationships enhance our growth and development, are healing, and are inherently fulfilling and joyful.
Life-affirming connections are essential for full and healthy human growth and development. The individual seeks integration and harmony within oneself. The human brain is complex with one part being the source of emotions (limbic system) and another part (neocortex) being the source of language, thinking, and planning. Furthermore, the brain has right and left hemispheres which assume different functions. The left side of the neocortex is in most people the part which is responsible for our capacity for language. The right side is the seat of broad concepts and artistic expression. The right side of the limbic part of the brain connects more strongly with the right side of the neocortex. The left side of the limbic part may have little or no direct connection with the left side of the neocortex. In order to achieve internal harmony or resonance, our emotional brain needs to communicate clearly with and be understood by our thinking brain. And, the left and right hemispheres of our brain seek to be in balance and unified. We learn about and develop our internal capacities in relation to others with whom we seek emotional or limbic resonance. If we are clear, integrated, and life affirming internally, then our chances of establishing clear, life-affirming resonance with others are significantly enhanced. If we are confused internally, then we will be communicating mixed messages to others, we are limited in our ability to establish life-affirming resonance with others. We can learn how to increase life-affirming resonance with others through engaging in inherently rewarding, mutually empowering interaction with others.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Problem With The Supernatural
Hmmmmmmmmmm, loving, life-affirming mutual empowering relationships sounds pretty good to me. I think I understand the existential challenge that we are faced with because of the structure of our brains. But, I must admit I am still left with the feeling that all of this stuff you’re writing about is pretty utopian. I just don’t see it happening. You admit that the thinking and beliefs that have brought human civilization to our current destructive, possibly fatal and terminal ways are based in thousands of years of human history. As much as I would like to live in the world you are suggesting is possible, I just don’t see it happening. I hope there is some important thinking or evidence or element that you haven’t presented yet. Is there?
Yes, there is. It is a challenging topic to present clearly, challenging for people to communicate about because they must invoke both the scientific and the artistic – the limbic and the neocortical; nevertheless, it is a topic we must deal with if humans are to become fully empowered. The topic is belief in the supernatural. Please note that the topic is belief in the supernatural, not belief in God or adherence to a specific religion. If one’s belief in God includes belief in the supernatural, then one’s God is relevant to this topic. Also, if one’s adherence to a specific religion includes belief in the supernatural, then one’s religion is relevant to this topic. However, one may have a definition of God and adhere to a religion which does not include a belief in the supernatural. For example, one may define their God as the essence of the awesome and ecstatic experience that they have when they are with someone they love and when they feel as one with that person, or when they feel at one with the life-affirming energy of the universe. Their religion could be a commitment to a practice of service to others and to our planet which has the potential to permit all people to have that experience and to preserve the natural world.
So, what is the problem with believing in the supernatural?
The main twofold problem is the belief in a supernatural God or religion, or for that matter the belief in a supernatural group of pixies. On one hand, such a belief inevitably leads to the believer becoming disempowered to a greater or lesser extent. On another hand, if a supernatural God or religion can be invoked by the believer in a rational dialogue, then the believer possesses an unbeatable Trump Card. If the believer can say at any point, “I know what I say is true because it is the Word of God,” there is no way to argue that point – it is just so. The believer holds that it is true because they have received directly the Word of God, or their Religious Leader who cannot be wrong and has received the Word directly in some form or other. Of course, a considerable problem exists if two people believe that they are the direct or indirect recipients of the Word and if those Words are contradictory. This problem expands to global proportions when countries or other international bodies fight wars or perpetuate terrorism with both sides genuinely believing that God is on their side.
This problem, which is potentially fatal to human civilization, could be fully mitigated if those who believe in supernatural Gods would agree that such beliefs are to be used only to guide people in their individual lives, cannot be used to influence the institutions pertinent to human affairs, cannot be used to justify someone having power over another, and certainly cannot be used to justify killing. There are many people who in following the Word of their God live loving lives, who are respectful of the human dignity of all people, who live lives of service committed to justice and freedom for all people, who live simply while striving to see that all people have the resources they need to live lives of dignity. Such people are making real life-affirming contributions. I happen to believe that their most essential motivation, in fact, comes from inside them, from their capacity for loving resonance with others and the natural world, not from some external supernatural force. I believe that they would be even more empowered, more joyful, more loving, more connected with other people, more free for further growth and development if they did not give away some of that power and love to a supernatural entity.
Even if one restricts God to being solely the guide for one’s individual actions, there is still the likelihood that in doing so that person is giving away power in their life. The central question that all people deal with, consciously or unconsciously, is what does one do when one reaches the realm of the unknown. No matter how much we know individually or collectively, there remain today and will probably remain forever some mysteries, some gaps in knowledge. For example, we can accept as a known that our universe began millions of years ago with the Big Bang. But, we do not know what existed millions of years before the Big Bang. How did all of the matter of the universe compress into a small ball?
With all that science can explain, there is still much that it cannot explain and perhaps will never be able to explain. In the face of that situation, do we then choose to accept that those phenomena that we cannot explain scientifically still must conform to natural laws, even though we don’t yet know what they are or how they work? Or, do we choose to posit a supernatural God whose powers take care of the gaps in our knowledge? Or, instead of God could it be a band of pixies who have these supernatural powers and sit on our shoulders and guide us? Or, did the Big Bang result from a science experiment that a teenager abandoned and that continues to play out and thus far continues undiscovered by our sloppy teenager? Is it incumbent upon those who believe in a supernatural God to prove his existence, or for those who don’t believe in a supernatural God to prove his nonexistence? His existence has not been proven. And, the absolute nonexistence of something cannot be proven. We can only establish that to date there is no evidence of its existence. So, does an individual seek to maximize the “power to” in their life, or does one yield more or less power to a supernatural God? These are questions that we deal with, consciously or unconsciously, every day of our lives. They are examined in clear detail and reason in “Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon” by Daniel C. Dennett.
Much has been written over the centuries about the historic processes by which polytheisms turned into monotheism – belief in gods being replaced by belief in God. What is less often stressed is how this belief in God joined forces with the belief in belief in God to motivate the migration of the concept of God in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) away from concrete anthropomorphism to ever more abstract and depersonalized concepts.
What is remarkable about this can be illuminated by contrast with other conceptual shifts that have occurred during the same period. Fundamental concepts can certainly change over time. Our concept of matter has changed quite radically from the days of the ancient Greek atomists. Our scientific conceptions of time and space today, thanks to clocks and telescopes and Einstein and others, are different from theirs as well. Some historians and philosophers have argued that these shifts are not as gradual as they at first appear but, rather, are abrupt saltations, so drastic that the before and after concepts are “incommensurable” in some way.
Are any of these conceptual revisions actually so revolutionary as to render communication across the ages impossible, as some have argued? The case is hard to make, since we can apparently chart the changes accurately and in detail, understanding them all as we go. In particular, there seems no reason to believe that our everyday conceptions of space and time would be even somewhat alien to Alexander the Great, say, or Aristophanes. We would have little difficulty conversing with either of them about today, tomorrow, and last year, or the
thousands of yards or paces between Athens and Baghdad. But if we tried to converse with the ancients about God, we would find a much larger chasm separating us. I can think of no other concept that has undergone so dramatic a deformation. It is as if their concept of milk had turned into our concept of health, or as if their concept of fire had turned into our concept of energy, and (today, according to many but not all believers) you can’t literally listen to God or literally sit beside Him, but these would be strange claims indeed to the original monotheists. The Old Testament Jehovah, or Yahweh, was quite definitely a super-man (a He, not a She) who could take sides in battles, and be both jealous and wrathful. The original New Testament Lord is more forgiving and loving, but still a Father, not a Mother or a genderless Force, and active in the world, needless to say, through His miracle-performing Son. The genderless Person without a body who nevertheless answers prayers in real time…is still far too anthropomorphic for some, who prefer to speak of a Higher Power…whose characteristics are beyond comprehension – aside from the fact that they are, in some incomprehensible way, good, not evil. Does the Higher Power have (creative) intelligence? In what way? Does It (not He or She) care about us? About anything? The fog of mystery has descended conveniently over all the anthropomorphic features that have not been abandoned outright.
And a further adaptation has been grafted on: it is impolite to ask about these
matters. (pp. 205-206)
We got ourselves caught in a hypocrisy trap, and there is no clear path out. Are we like the families in which the adults go through all the motions of believing in Santa Claus for the sake of the kids, and the kids all pretend still to believe in Santa Claus so as not to spoil the adults’ fun? If only our current predicament were as innocuous and even comical as that! In the adult world of religion, people are dying and killing, with the moderates cowed into silence by the intransigence of the radicals in their own faiths, and many afraid to acknowledge what they actually believe for fear of breaking Granny’s heart, or offending their neighbors to the point of getting run out of town, or worse.
If this is the precious meaning our lives are vouchsafed thanks to our allegiance to one religion or another, it is not such a bargain, in my opinion. Is this the best we can do? Is it not tragic that so many people around the world find themselves enlisted against their will in a conspiracy of silence, either because they secretly believe that most of the world’s population is wasting their lives in delusion (but they are too tenderhearted – or devious – to say so), or because they secretly believe that their own tradition is just such a delusion (but they fear for their own safety if they admit it)? (p. 291)
It is time for the reasonable adherents of all faiths to find the courage and stamina to reverse the tradition that honors helpless love of God – in any tradition. Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful…. There is only one way to respect the substance of any purported God-given moral edict: consider it conscientiously in the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command. No God that was pleased by displays of unreasoning love would be worthy of worship. (p. 298)
Today we have a similar phenomenon brewing on the religious right: the inevitability of the
End Days, or the Rapture, the coming Armageddon that will separate the blessed from the damned in the final Day of Judgment. Cults and prophets proclaiming the imminent end of the world have been with us for several millennia, and it has been another sour sort of fun to ridicule them the morning after, when they discover that their calculations were a little off. But, … there are some among them who are working hard to “hasten the inevitable,” not merely anticipating the End Days with joy in their hearts, but taking political action to bring about the conditions they think are the prerequisites for that occasion. And these people arenot funny at all. They are dangerous…: they put their allegiance to their creed ahead of their commitment to democracy, to peace, to (earthly) justice – and to truth. If push comes to shove, some of them are prepared to lie and even to kill, to do whatever it takes to help bring what they consider celestial justice to those they consider the sinners. (p. 338)
So, in the end, my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly informed choices about their lives. Ignorance is nothing shameful; imposing ignorance is shameful. Most people are not to blame for their own ignorance, but if they willfully pass it on, they are to blame. One might think this is so obvious that it hardly needs proposing, but in many quarters there is substantial resistance to it. People are afraid of being more ignorant than their children – especially, apparently, their daughters. We are going to have to persuade them that there are few pleasures more honorable and joyful than being instructed by your own children. It will be fascinating to see what institutions and projects our children will devise, building on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future. (p. 339)
Wow! I had no idea that so much is at stake and that outmoded ways to thinking and believing are so prevalent, so dangerous, and so deeply and unconsciously held by so many. I am beginning to see that I have incorporated many of these outmoded ways. I feel a deep sadness knowing that many of these I have learned at my parents’ knees. I know they have tried to love me and to help me be happy; but, it seems that they have unknowingly passed on many of these outmoded ways. How can I raise these matters with them and with other people whom I care about and to whom I would not want to be hurtful in any way?
Isn’t this a curious dilemma that you pose – you fear that if you speak what you consider to be truth you will be hurting someone you care about! If in speaking the truth, you intend to be right and make someone else wrong – to express some kind of power over them, that person may indeed be hurt. However, you or they can transform that potentially hurtful situation by seeking mutual empowerment. You or they can genuinely seek to understand each other’s truths, without rights or wrongs, without judgments, without the need to put someone else down. Then sharing truths becomes an exciting adventure in which you both move closer and closer to life-affirming resonance. What could be more joyful and meaningful than a life filled with such adventures!
We need to establish mutually empowering relationships and institutions among two or more people who
· have common understandings or, when common understandings do not exist, have agreements reached by consensus of all parties impacted,
· are life-affirming,
· are loving,
· are just,
· are truthful.
If we strive to act in harmony with the five guidelines immediately above; then, we will be practicing mutual empowerment. If sufficient numbers of us commit to such practice, we will transform our human civilization. If we truly commit through mutual empowering relationships to live by these five guidelines, essentially we know all we need to know. From this knowledge we, with others, can determine our specific actions and behaviors and how to put them into practice.
A couple of examples
At first glance it would seem absurd to think that the just-born infant and the parent can have a mutually empowering relationship. In fact, they can have such a relationship. Each relationship must be seen according to the ages or experiences, conditions, and circumstances of those involved in the relationship. Even at birth, the parent and the child ideally have an understanding about mutual empowerment – the understanding is that the parent will do all that she or he can do to love, to serve the needs of the child and to contribute to the child’s empowerment; and, that the child can safely and securely be dependent upon the parent and happily and safely experiment with assuming greater power. The understanding is communicated and confirmed through the behavior of the parent and the child. That understanding fulfills the parent in knowing that these first days of the child’s life are a special time when extraordinary support and love are appropriate, that this support and love will form the foundation for healthy growth and development of the child as well as for the child joyfully assuming ever greater empowerment and responsibility for her or his life. That understanding confirms for the child that he or she is in a safe world which can be trusted and in which the wonders of life can be happily explored. As time passes and as is necessary, the parent and the child can make agreements to ensure that this mutual empowerment continues. Child and parent both are increasingly empowered.
A brief, initial look at partner relationships provides another example. People who meet any time after childhood and explore intimacy bring a great deal of social learning or, popularly stated, “baggage” to the relationship. This baggage may be constructive or not. The couple may immediately have many shared understandings. And, with increasing experience with each other, the couple may find that understandings they thought were shared, in fact are not. Explicit agreements will almost certainly be necessary to help the partners increase their intimacy in mutually empowering ways. As a mundane example, Pat and Terry may have an agreement that Pat will clean the bathroom when it needs it. Terry, perceiving that the bathroom has needed cleaning for three days might lash out at Pat, calling Pat a “lazy slob” for not cleaning the bathroom. First of all, calling Pat a “lazy slob” is not life-affirming and will not contribute to a mutually empowering relationship. Second, Terry and Pat may genuinely have a different perception of what conditions need to exist to determine that the bathroom needs cleaning. So, Terry has lots of options to pursue: Terry can “chill,” can clean the bathroom, can wait to see when Pat will clean the bathroom if Terry says nothing, can say something like, “I thought you were going to clean the bathroom when it needed it; it seems to me that it needs it; what do you think?” Preferably, Terry will choose an option that is nurturing for Terry. If Terry chooses to clean the bathroom and genuinely feels good about doing that, all will be well. If Terry silently and begrudgingly cleans the bathroom, there will be problems ahead. Regardless of what words are used, if Terry is fundamentally wanting to put Pat down, to make Pat wrong, to humiliate Pat, no words are going to work until those feelings are dealt with by Terry alone or by Terry and Pat together.
Isn’t this taking things a bit too far? Are you really serious that partners need to consider all these and the many other factors that could be involved with such a petty situation as cleaning the bathroom and the hundreds of other like situations in life. I want to live my life freely, lightly, spontaneously – not with a lot of rules.
In the grand scheme of things cleaning the bathroom seems pretty unimportant. And, yes, we want our lives to be light, free, and spontaneous. But, most of us have not gotten to the place where our lives are light, free, and spontaneous. They are filled with situations in which people are unhappy, feel compelled to do things that they do not want to do, feel that they lack the power to do anything about it, and have even become resigned to the “fact” that they can do nothing about it. Let’s get empowered about dealing with bathroom-cleaning-type situations and we will then find that we have newfound power to deal with oppressive work situations, civil rights issues, and these other more substantial situations. Of course, I am not suggesting that we wait to address the oppressive work situation or the civil rights abuse. We can practice applying the mutually empowering approach to those and other substantial situations right now. The only way that we will fully develop the mutually empowering approach is through continued practice in the real world. Such practice can, in fact, be light and fun. Often the first essential steps to take to move towards mutual empowerment is non-judgmentally (1) to state that one is not happy with a specific situation (e.g., a bathroom that is dirtier than one likes or a work situation seems unfair), (2) to ask questions which genuinely seek to understand where the other party or parties are coming from, and (3) to strive to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable to all parties. If people begin implementing these practices in ever-increasing, small and gradual steps from our individual lives to global affairs, the transformation of our current global civilization will be awe-inspiring, all-inclusive, and nonviolent.