“Evolution is always experimental. All progress is gained through mistakes and their rectification. No good comes fully-fashioned ... but has to be carved out through repeated experiments and growth. The same law controls social and political evolution also. The right to err, which means the freedom to try experiments, is the universal condition of all progress.” A Gandhi quote from Raghavan Iyer’s, The Moral and Political Though of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford University Press, New York, 1973, p. 354.
One of weapon mentality’s most corrosive myths is that we are stricken by some ill-defined but primeval sin, surrounded by evil because full of it ; and thus no good may come from our efforts to improve the world. We might as well give way to public evil and seek marginal and fleeting self-improvement instead. Marginal, in reality, because we backslide with horrific ease, and fleeting because we die soon anyway and our private upgrades disappear with us.
This idea: “No good…” it is ridiculous if you think about it. My foot needn’t be the World’s Most Beautiful Foot, nor need I waste time manicuring it, to kick trash off the sidewalk.
Just like this sentence ̶ whose tightening up has been as tough for me, as making sense of it has been for you ̶ doesn’t need to be perfect. Honest error can play a vital part in the scheme of things, if admitted and allowed. Perfection is not necessary; excellence is.
What is the main difference between reactionaries and progressives? The former believe that everyone is innately evil while the latter hold people to be essentially good. Go ahead; ask anyone, then how they vote. See for yourself.
My experience has led me to the former conclusion. Almost everyone does the best they can under most circumstances—often heroically and at great cost. Sure, some people are rotten to the core, but rare on the ground (at most, four percent). Sure, everyone fails from time to time and acts shamefully. Also unquestionably, I bear my share of cringe-worthy memories. However – on the whole and more often than not – we are all pedaling as fast as we can.
Look; if evil were so prevalent, we’d be run down almost every time we crossed the street. That is not the norm except in war.
The essence of sinful error – or of any other human weakness, for that matter – is that we can straighten it out through gradual stages of learning and self-correction. We are expert at such tasks. In other words, progress entails intentional evolution: personal, institutional, cultural, psychic and genetic: each evolutionary facet interdependent, synergistic and holistically vital.
Which leaves you the responsibility to determine the linkage between things, people and events: that which causes good or evil to increase or decrease, and their relative importance or lack of such―neither to the media nor to politicians, but just to you and your peers.
The notion of original sin blocks our obligation to improve the world. It’s not a matter of abandoning one concept in favor of the other, but of clarifying both simultaneously.
Like dinosaurs, we have come upon a crossroads without realizing it. An “ideal “ environment sustained them for ages, then minor changes flickered and the die-offs began. They ran out of time, weren’t flexible enough, found no way to trade their tons of bone, sinew and armor plate – painfully accumulated over eons – before extinction overcame them.
We hold some advantages over dead owners of those monster bones. Our greatness resides in part on our ability to love one another: a trait we share with other pack-scavengers. Another critical talent may be the way we provide for the young, the sick and the helpless. Just as empathy and compassion are the last expressions of self in an age-fading mind, so they must be the true measure of our public greatness.
To review: if empathy leads to vulnerable greatness; sociopathy leads to moral monstrosity but military advantage.
In some troubled souls, mistrust and “realism “ have replaced compassion. This degeneracy pegs us lower than some dinosaurs that watched over each other and their young.
Each of us, no matter how abused and abusive at this point, received some loving care earlier on, so as to survive to this day. Could most felons have turned out to be bad simply because they weren’t treated lovingly enough early enough? Some say that the most accurate predictor of criminal misbehavior is a history of childhood abuse of the prospective criminal.
Mischief is easy; any fool can do serious harm without breaking a sweat. Conversely, human nurturing takes a lot of hard work. Reducing care to economize would be about as stupid as starving to death to save on grocery bills.
If we could tabulate the amount of violence on Earth into one sum of X energy; then our wealth would equal the care we expend in thousands of X, minus the one wasted in untruth and violence. The sum of human care must dwarf that of harm, lest we perish.
These days, the sum of the world’s kinetic energy of care is dangerously level with the potential energy of its weapons. Think about that. How many mothers’ hugs would it take to equal the energy of one hand grenade, one nuclear detonation or all of those we’ve buried so expensively in our silos and submarines, exploding altogether? These last, merely mass culture’s reaction to the personal abuse each of us has had to endure?
All in all, our greatness resides in how well we share Learning. Keep in mind that each generation must relearn the sum total of human knowledge; only then may we add our own tiny increment. Anything not relearned by someone must be forgotten and disappear or sink back into the collective superconscience for later retrieval.
Noam Chomsky’s Universal Grammar postulates that a whole sub-universe of information is hardwired in us and comes online as we mature. This programming won’t initialize, however, until benign external stimuli activate internal software. To become fully aware and sane, we must be nurtured with tender loving care.
Unlike those doomed dinosaurs trapped in their extravagant suits of armor plate, our elastic, reprogrammable brains give us the means, motive and opportunity to shed our liabilities and redefine ourselves virtually overnight. It might be messy and might not work all at once, but the possibility remains: we can learn to do it better.
Learning dwarfs lesser preoccupations like sex, predation and genetic survival. These overblown drives have become the exemplars of scientific prejudice. They have served Conspiracies of Greed the same way Social Darwinism and Predestination once served them, as weapon myth propaganda to justify institutional evil. Unlike these lesser drives magnified beyond proportion, Learning is the true foundation of self-awareness and PeaceWorld.
Historians have busied themselves collecting the biographical tidbits of micro-history. Simplifying vast upheavals of climate, resources and civilization by dissecting the lives of a few key potentates; they’ve reduced humanity’s opulent transactions into the whims of a few courted egomaniacs and the muffled sobs of countless victims. Beginning with Herodotus and ending with today’s pundits, they wrote: “King (President, Caliph, Dictator, etc.) X decreed A, B and not C. His Dukes (Ministers, Secretaries, Viziers, Satraps, whatever), 1 though 6 with the exception of 4, revolted against his policies, thus provoking...” an unending crisis of gross simplification and biographical reductionism.
Our acceptance of this simplification is about as sensible as packing the 16 million person-years of genius, hope and labor that humanity accumulates every day, into a few wisps of newsprint and vapid newscast.
I hate biography. Art transcends life by recording dreams into culture. Shoddy dreams, not for very long; magnificent and terrible dreams, lovingly and almost forever compared to our brief lifespans. Art takes life’s little irrelevancies and transforms them into a holism greater than the sum of its parts.
Biography reverses this process. It reduces cultural dreams to an obsessive narration of nit-picking primate politics, pecking-order torture, the growth, displacement and destruction of meat puppets and the mindless slosh of their body fluids. Disgusting.
Setting aside this gloss for a moment, we can see that the info proletariat raises the leadership it requires through a process of organic hyper-democracy somewhat akin to a bee colony’s. Our intimate involvement in this procedure makes it seem more complex and subjective.
During the discourse of the last few generations, dissatisfied historians have consolidated massive compendiums of correspondence and anecdotes into macro-histories. In so doing, they’ve attempted to chronicle the life and times of entire peoples over la longue durée (lah low+ng duray, the long haul). Preliminary attempts have been made to analyze history from multi-disciplinary perspectives: epidemiology, meteorology, geoseismicity, biogeography, ecology, memetics, psychohistory, herstory and sociobiology among others. The more interdisciplinary these studies, the more enlightening their conclusions. They’ve let us dispel a whole pack of absurdities put forward earlier and quickset in culture, since.
This breakup of old beliefs has induced in us a chill of uncertainty. We hesitate to believe in much of anything any longer. It is less and less easy to make decisions—not enough data points and not enough time to collect them. We could rewire the world so there would be plenty of time, enough of it for those who shared peace to collect their thoughts leisurely and come up with better policies on every scale of thought and accomplishment.
As our point of view broadens, personal idiosyncrasies dwindle to irrelevance. Mere individuals merge into the crowd and social behavior becomes easier to track. Near-identical patterns, stresses and energy flows emerge on different scales of space-time—as illustrated by chaos theory.
The dynamics of a shoreline beach would be hard to keep track of if we attempted to follow each grain of sand (especially “exceptional” ones). Instead, we should study the lowest common denominators of wind, surf and tide. A deeper understanding of world history would require that we remove ourselves from our comfortable, reductive contexts: the self-referential, biographical, nationalistic, piously sanctimonious, and human—even the life-as-we-know-it and linear-entropic.
Recent photos taken from outer space suggest a perspective shift that would reveal life-as-we-know-it as mere luminescent pond scum writhing across a smallish porcelain marble thinly glazed with a blue varnish of gas and water, orbiting serenely around a quite ordinary star. This perspective shift might allow us to isolate significant aspects of history, provided we pay due reverence to a universe aglow with sacred intent.
Remarkable things come to light at this scale of vision. Decisive incidents resonate with equivalents from the past, influence current events and distort future probabilities. Accidents of individuality, chronology and locality (that teachers love to make their students cram) lose their illusory significance except as place markers and shortcut jargon.
Carroll Quigley focused his historical vision on continental scales. Such diverse writers as Ryszard Kapuscinski, Rian Malan, Antje Krog and John Del Vecchio sought this level of reverence in their reportage.
On the other hand, many butcher geniuses have abused this scale of vision. For example, either reject Hitler’s Mein Kampf or don full biohazard shielding before you crack it open. That creep was certifiable. He wanted to replace the Jews: the Chosen People of biblical God, with Good Germans. In so doing, he would have had to murder 1) every Jew on Earth, and 2) anyone who recalled the Hebrews from their readings of Biblical/Koranic/western history. That could never have worked.
This collective insanity is nothing new, barring the insane scale of its application. A hundred and fifty generations of psychopathic weapon mentors have invoked man-aping gods, hyperactive heroes, raw might, econologic, dialectics, national honor, bloodline purity, scientific positivism (“I’m positive you’re wrong”), post-modern nihilism and any other heady superstition they could dream up to arouse it. Nazism was merely ne of their most spectacular failures at socio-corporate engineering. Many more, before and since, have failed with corresponding consistency, because they ignored the key, sacred context. Proper worship would have cancelled their sickly ambitions and favorite genocides.
Suffering from a loss of empathy and a dizzying sense of moral detachment, they’ve argued more and more persuasively for fatalistic determinism (as revealed in Elias Canetti’s cheerless Crowds and Power) and Nazi mercilessness. Their fear-driven visions have been pathetic attempts at simplifying the scary complexity of the real world by squeezing all life, beauty and reverence from it.
These deluded folk may have failed us in the past; but that is not a good reason to become credophobes and stop believing in anything: the fastest way back to fascism. Whatever the risk, we must cultivate our gift of vision.
I doubt if anyone, after reading a little history, can use words like “humanitarian, humane and human “ as analogues for “kindly, compassionate and just-plain-not-stupid-most-of-the-time.” Typical mass human behavior is weapon-based. So far, massed humans have failed to earn the title “civilized.” Clustered humans have never adhered to the good until they had exhausted every evil.
That’s not surprising. Veterans, athletes and professionals don’t turn into real experts until they have screwed up every other alternative repeatedly. At that point, they must accept at gut level the better way to do things and practice it despite recurrent errors, distractions and inconsistencies, until it becomes automatic. Just the way humanity will have to find its ultimate success at peace despite and because of its oft-repeated weapons errors.
Celebrate Olympic athletics! Celebrate the deep thought of the PeaceWorld Agora.
Human cruelty is less justifiable than that of a hungry predator. Auschwitz is a monument to typical human behavior: its ritual murder re-enacted by every nation in recorded history—perhaps on a slightly cut-down scale and a bit more pastoral setting, at least most of the time.
No nation or creed can claim clean hands. Every surviving culture has been the masterpiece of maniacs, tyrants, genocides and their weapon mentor apologists. The bovine mass of humanity has tolerated them along with their bloody fantasies and lies, like horseflies that only compelled an occasional swipe of the tail. History has exalted civilizations with the bloodiest hands; it has erased every society of exceptional peacefulness from the collective memory.
Our weapons institutions peddle their categorical world-view across a vast range of multi-media. In pitiful pursuit of flawless certitude, weapon mentors have tried to suck all truth, beauty and mystery from life.
Despite the whine of chainsaw logic, its patent certainties are obvious lies any child can see through. Indeed, young ones see quite clearly through this adult hypocrisy. That’s why we spend so much time and effort breaking their spirit and denying their ideals while they’re still young, tender and fragile.
We witness these contradictions every day. Many official truths are obviously inferior to their rejected counterparts. Our social creeds are so toxic, their adherents feel no need seduce all the parties. We find it easier to insult, terrorize and murder the Other—or tolerate leaders who do so on our behalf.
We could sweep our house clean, the moment we chose to reject this millennial brainwash. Once we adopt Truth and Non-violence as our principal inspirations, the term “Learner” might reflect our enormous hunger for good (kalotropism) and re-earn us the title “civilized.”
We should defy two more myths typical of weapon mentality.
According to the first of these subtle delusions, each of us must fulfill impossible demands of personal sainthood. We cannot hope for widespread improvement until we’ve become proper saints, first. Any hint of personal weakness appears to confirm our Kosmic Korruption.
No-one may criticize the current state of affairs without convincing his audience that he’s a bona fide saint, first. If the authorities can stick some accusation against him, they can pronounce him unfit to comment on social issues. Since everyone has something to hide, no one may comment unless friendly authorities shield him from public attack. Anyone who defies those authorities is at their mercy. How convenient for weapons mentality!
Thus the seeming impossibility of global improvement, at least until we’ve all become angels. In the meantime, let’s just sit on our hands and wait for Jesus to serve us the Kingdom of Heaven on a silver platter. That makes two thousand years now, we’ve sat on our hands.
Am I the only one who’s tired of waiting? That seems bleakly to me to be the case.
In John 14, 2-3, Christ said, “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” Amen, my brother.
In the meantime, it’s obviously up to us. I feel compelled to return to His Parable of the Talents. The Master left us a sum of money. When He returns, He will be happier with those who have increased it rather than with those who buried it so as not to lose any. It is not a question of saving one’s soul by doing nothing, but of taking enormous risks to earn more of this symbolic sum for God.
Meanwhile, no healthy outlet remains for the frustration that festers in our heart. WeaponWorld winds up squeezing it out of us in warfare, as if by a Heimlich manoeuver. Behavioral repression multiplies with regulatory density, as more and more meddlesome officials adjust the details of our lives and less and less room remains for risky self-expression.
Walled-in by our incapacity, we prickle with self-loathing; cursing the faults of others, we plot futile revenge. We resent growing intrusions on our precious time and assets in the material world. As inspiration and satisfaction become increasingly remote and abstract, real obligations and penalties skyrocket around us. Perpetually unfree, we double and redouble the coils of our enslavement. Mischief is very tempting; it seems to offer some relief from endless rounds of obligation and compromise. The routine expectation of mischief gives officialdom more excuses to grind us down.
We begin to yearn that a vast maelstrom come simplify our lives once and for all, by sweeping everything and everyone else away (except us and our loved ones who, of course, are Special). A civilization’s eventual collapse could result primarily from amped up funk on the part of a growing majority. Wars may have flared up in the past because too many of its participants grew too dissatisfied with the prior “peace.”
Life does not simplify things; death does. Anyone who preaches a simplifying ideology (Learner seeks more complexity) will wind up spilling innocent blood to enforce it. Get used to that.
Countless young bulimics, addicts and attempted suicides – our nerve ends raw and aglow – have conveyed the same unheard lament: “I’m not good enough for this!” Good enough to do what: cope with the endless demands of empty moralism and the hyperactive evil of weapon mentality?
As we pre-stupefied adults decline into “maturity,” we suffer analysis paralysis from orthodoxy’s ad hominem (“to the man,” appealing to prejudice) brainwash. We, in turn, chastise our idealistic juniors for having the gall to skip the only approved track: absolute weapon mentality. We’ve convinced ourselves that peace mentality can never be “realistic” enough. We’re supposed to grow up and abandon it.
Grow up and embrace world peace. I dare you.
To tell you the truth, we are the best people we can be: the ultimate sentient masterpieces of DNA, the Universe and God. Get used to it – there is nobody better than you – nobody can take your place and do a better job. There should be no need for radical self-improvement until our radically improved institutions support our efforts without contradiction or denial. How could success be likely otherwise, even after a thousand trillion reincarnations?
The second regrettable weapon myth absolves our institutions. Unlike the individual, they are sacred, error-free, opaque to analysis and exempt from improvement—except every few centuries during a paroxysm of bloody revolution.
Even in rich countries, the accepted method of expressing public disapproval for gross institutional blunders is a protest march: perfectly dumb, bovine and trivial if not detrimental to the cause. If the topic in question is of any importance, this rally will culminate in a police riot: more propaganda headlines in favor of blundering institutions.
Always remember: YOUR institutions.
For example, the 1999 Seattle demonstration against the World Trade Organization was said to have caused “millions of dollars of damage.” All of it was attributed to riotous misconduct by what turned out to be a very well behaved, middle-class crowd of perfectly legitimate protestors, at least before the police stampeded them.
True, some pimply hooligans broke a few plate glass windows, set fire to a garbage dumpster or two and wrecked a few cars—allowing them to re-enact their Black Flag Anarchy video game in real-time. That damage couldn’t have totaled more than a couple hundred thousand 1999 dollars, tops. I was there, before and after, and saw it all. Afterwards, I called the city paper newsroom and challenged them to itemize the famous “millions of dollars of damage.” No one bothered to return my call and I could find nothing in print to itemize that damage.
Nonetheless, this police riot went down in official history as a vicious attack by the masses against property and propriety. Exactly the same thing happened in the same city during a mass demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1968, its reportage equally deceptive.
So this is how current events are committed to historic memory by our vaunted media? I can only conclude: “Shoot, what a sophisticated system of political feedback!” See Learning to Dance for the Learner alternative.
“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Of course, this biblical quote could also mean that Caesar owns and is owed nothing. After all, what authority can Caesar claim when compared to God’s? The opposite meaning jams our senses. Weapon mentors worship Jesus’ torture rack and drown His sacred ideals in blood—symbolic or all-too-real, take your pick.
What more can we expect from weapon Christianity—that venerable relief program for smug desperadoes? The other world religions are not far behind in stealth hypocrisy. Cults of abnegation do weapon mentality a great favor: they alienate the best souls from practical politics, into listless isolation and pseudo-mystical contemplation. The only creeds more despicable than those that encourage the devout to give up on the real world are those that encourage them to simplify the problems of this world by means of more violence.
Yet the essential good will of those believers has allowed their creed to endure despite errors and hypocrisy compounded through as a result of their submission to WeaponWorld. PeaceWorld would place good politics and good religion in symbiosis: each reinforcing the good in the other and curbing its ill effects.
Officials love to administer weighty oaths. The nastier the institution, the more rumbling its oath of allegiance and the more often it will nned to be invoked. Hitler was an enthusiastic organizer of mighty oath-taking ceremonies that bound his people more closely to himself—to their ultimate destruction. It is easier to get people to murder one another if you make them swear a mass oath to that effect.
Weapon societies glorify suicidal self-sacrifice. Prism propaganda contradicts “live and let live” principles everyone knows are preferable. Paul Lackman points to the Japanese kamikazes and mass suicides of World War II (sic). However, all the sacrificial tendencies of weapon mentality should be included, whichever side practices then, since they are essentially interchangeable. The first kamikaze pilot of the Pacific War was an American Marine during the battle of Midway.
Modern culture reveres noble warriors who endure suffering with stoicism, seek privation and make their defiant last stand against overwhelming odds. Cold bloodedly, they violate the basic laws of humanity. They are hallowed because they’ve surpassed the morality of common sense.
What state of mind would you have to be in, to drop a bomb on a bustling city center? Picture yourself flying over a major metropolis, as you would just before landing at your destination airport. See it clearly through the porthole? Ok, now drop your bomb. You would have to be nuts. Either a desperate terrorist aggrieved by a lifetime of suffering, humiliation and the threat of non-too-picky death by drone bombardment; or a valiant military pilot serving out your military obligation to fulfill your dream of flying.
The outcome would be the same. Where an interesting crowd once thronged, a blazing ruin remains, spilling over with wreckage and bloody gore, for us to clean up afterwards, broken-hearted and at tremendous expense. A total waste in any case.
One way or another, our institutions induce mass suffering without opposition. Sufferers are dehumanized and distanced from the mainstream. By definition, individuals are expendable, and institutions, irreplaceable.
Peace management would dictate exactly the opposite. Every individual is a precious dynamo of good and evil. New social instruments will magnify their good traits and channel evil ones into semi-harmless games and theatrics; modify, reject and replace them with better ones as necessary.
Despite the righteous intercession of Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed, the ratio of good to bad acts has not seemed to change throughout history. Good Pagans were just as upright and numerous in proportion back then, as good people are today. Vicious Pagans were just as obnoxious and numerous as today’s religious/ideological bigots. The human sacrifice they demand today, in jihad and holy war (religious or ideological), are continuations of blood-soaked sacrifices their predecessors performed face-to-face. Meanwhile many non-believers, devout atheists and situational ethicists straddle their fences, uncertain which way the wind blows.
So we’ve never changed the ratio of good and bad human acts. None of our saints have, none of our Prophets have, none of our Saviors; and I doubt that anyone else will ever manage it in the foreseeable future.
We could, however, shift the quality of our actions toward the good (or bad) end of the ethical spectrum. For example, we could strengthen the Bill of Rights and shift our society towards better ethics, or revert to genocide and slavery and shift more people and their decisions toward evil.
Thomas Jefferson enslaved himself to the abuse and hypocrisy of slavery. Suffering from that burden, he was a lesser man than the most bigoted cracker would be once slavery were abolished. In the same way, we can remain exactly the same people we are today, yet become better practitioners of Good. We have merely to replace our weapons institutions with much more sensible ones of peace.
Valid social instruments invite criticism and transformation. There is nothing irreducibly good about our institutions. We have merely adopted them for the time being. They deserve no more devotion than fairy mushroom rings in a druidic oak grove. Institutions that go unchallenged overlong tend to become riddled with self-serving parasites and authoritarian nitwits; they fail more and more spectacularly over time.
You, me, everyone: we are all responsible for progress. A healthy conscience makes no exceptions—unlike our sickly institutions that mass-produce exceptions. Whenever an institution becomes so inflexible that it fosters evil, it should be exposed to instant, serial correction. Evildoers should be banished from institutional power the moment they begin improvising on the theme: “But we weren’t responsible. We were just following orders, policies, profit guidelines, the competition, etc.”
“Few things are more revealing about man as warrior than his tendency to slough off responsibility for the suffering and tragedy he inflicts. … Why can men do together without conscience things that would torment them unendurably if done singly? …
“Seated in our living rooms, remote from action and passion, most of us like to believe that we shall never yield again to abstract hatreds… Historically, our record for stemming the tide has not been good …
“Perhaps even worse, few of us ever know how far fear and violence can transform us into creatures at bay, ready with tooth and claw. If the war taught me anything at all, it convinced me that people are not what they seem or even think themselves to be. Nothing is more tempting than to yield oneself, when fear comes, to the dominance of necessity and to act irresponsibly at the behest of another. Freedom and responsibility we speak of easily, nearly always without recognition of the iron courage required to make them effective in our lives.” J. Glenn Davis, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle, Harcourt, Brace and Co., New York, 1959, pp. 168-169.
The day after Nazi invaders ordered Danish Jews to sew a yellow star on their clothing, the King of Denmark took his morning ride wearing a yellow star. Many of his subjects followed his noble lead and thus restored honor to their defeated nation.
This turned out to be a magnificent legend. Quite often during the Nazi occupation, King Christian X took his morning horseback ride downtown without escort to stay in touch with his people. The Germans never imposed the yellow star on Danish Jews, but on Jews elsewhere.
Very few non-Jews wore that fatal badge, anywhere.
The fact remains that almost every Danish Jew was hustled off to Sweden and relative safety, under the Nazis’ flaring muzzles. It was generally concluded by the Danes, that if Nazis had imposed the yellow star, their King would have been the first to wear one. If Learners could make sure every King were so honorable, this book would promote monarchy. Indeed, PeaceWorld would encourage an international nobility (chosen by merit rather than by inheritance), as long as it remained trustworthy and effectively self-policed.
When you confront the common dilemma of following regulations or extending a helping hand to someone without harming others, do the latter with conviction. If you oversee such people, protect their obligation to do good. If these decisions were commonplace, many protective regulations would become redundant. If the criminal employees of some institution won’t clean up their act, they cannot claim our support. Without our support, their pet institutions would collapse—regardless of the level of terror they inspire.
We occupy an incredibly shoddy world stage. Take a good look at it! It’s begging for improvement.
Sir Lawrence Olivier’s revenant ghost could recruit his favorite actors into a troupe of brilliant workaholics obsessed with theatrical perfection. These worthies could take months to rehearse their scenes and longer to perfect their costumes. However, if they staged their Lear in a closed garbage dumpster, their performance would suffer, no matter how intrepid their delivery.
I was once told, by jokesters at my expense, that such a scene would be worth watching. As a sad lesson in morality, perhaps? I would rather watch this Lear played close to perfection on a faultless stage.
Misled by weapon mentality, we’ve wasted lifetimes fine-tuning our personal perfection in the midst of a global concentration camp. Once we upgrade learning, empathy, justice and nature’s wilderness enough to turn this garbage dumpster WeaponWorld into a PeaceWorld worthy of our genius – and only then – our quest for self-perfection may bear fruit. Until then, we waste precious lifetimes pursuing feel-good palliatives and throwaway sainthood, simply to feel a little better about our sorry selves, despite our utter moral and social failure.
The proof resides in the last few thousand years of history. Misreading the instruction of our prophets, we’ve zealously pursued nothing more than personal sainthood. Despite this ceaseless quest, we’ve bungled our social schemes, suffered moral bankruptcy and invited military disaster home to spoil the weekend feast.
That’s nothing to joke about.
When our institutions encourage evil (the way the institution of slavery did), they lead us to worsen the common lot despite our best personal intentions. Once our institutions encourage us to do good more often, without compromise and free of paradox, we will act better without any need for extraordinary self-improvement. We will discover the beings we really are: well-adapted to live together in peace and harmony despite our transient weaknesses. Once our institutions are perfected, we will find our personal sainthood surprisingly advanced.
This regrettable reversal of personal and institutional priorities arises from common distortions of our historical point of view. From this twisted but familiar perspective, our institutions seem like granite outcrops carved and polished by centuries of painstaking trial and error. On the other hand, each mortal life appears as ephemeral as the first raindrop on a hot tin roof. It may seem reasonable to endow our institutions with attributes of permanence and perfection, and burden our perishable selves with nagging demands for unending self-improvement.
Learners will reverse these attributes. Our institutions are frail stopgaps we’ve jury-rigged just to get by these last few centuries. Human traits have taken millions of years to adapt us to this world and to each other. We may transform our institutions in a matter of weeks, months or years; but the chore of changing (improving) human nature would be like grinding down Mt. Everest with a toothbrush.
The problem remains: how to redefine our institutions peacefully and thus with near-universal consent? We must recruit those who have given up in despair, and seek the consent of those who fantasize they have something important to lose in the transaction.
How to avoid adjusting everything—with, by and for the sword?
There remains only one alternative to the pitfalls of the weapon/peace antinomy: PeaceWorld. We should infuse our constellation of political metaphors with a superior vocabulary and dialectic. We must walk our talk for the first time in history and relegate weapon technology and weapon mentality to vestigial status.
“Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society … The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.” Edward Sapir, “The Status of Linguistics as a Science,” Language (Charlottesville, Va.: Linguistic Society of America), vol. 5 (1929), p. 209.