In the previous installment, I began addressing the question of whether this “integrative vision” offers benefits sufficient to make it worthwhile to do the work this Series – with its longish essays – requires of the reader. My way of answering that question is to tell the story of what it has done for me: namely. that it has enabled me, starting a quarter century ago, to see our gathering national crisis, to embark on a useful and fulfilling mission to combat the ascendant force of brokenness, and to make meaningful contact with “the sacred.”
This installment continues that story.
How Seeing “A Force of Evil” Changed My Life
In early 2004, in a time of turmoil in my life, I experienced what felt like a major spiritual breakthrough. It was my third major experience of deep vision. This one – unlike the preceding two, and unlike the one that was soon to follow (all of which involved insight into the forces that inject brokenness into the human world) — gave me a vision of Wholeness.
I was so happy to be focusing on the most beautiful elements in our world, and not the ugliest. This vision brought me into profound – and celebratory – contact with “the sacred.” And, accordingly, it inspired me to embark on a project I gave the title, “Mapping the Sacred.”
My purpose in this work was to show the deep kinship among all the various dimensions of wholeness (beauty, honesty, love, justice, integrity, truth, compassion, etc.). And show also how our experience of them points us in the direction of a still deeper Wholeness toward which they all converge.
(Using some nifty software, I actually began “mapping” this Wholeness. As the project developed, I wrote and published an article –which was also a sermon delivered in various venues around the nation– with the title, “Our Pathways into Deep Meaning.” You can read it here. )
But then, in early September, watching the 2004 Republican National Convention, I suddenly “saw” something. It was like no “seeing” experience I’d ever had. (It was something palpable, not like “envisioning” a mechanism driving social evolution, as when I “saw” the parable of the tribes.”) I saw, in that 2004 Republican convention, a darkness, a dangerous and as-if malevolent spirit.
(I say “as if malevolent spirit” because – as later installments will explain – although this “force of destructiveness” operates as if it were purposeful, it should not be understood as issuing from any kind of being, with consciousness and intent. Just as “natural selection” might be said to “choose life over death” – as indeed I did say previously – so also a destructive force acts “as if” it “seeks” to turn wholeness into brokenness. All this apparent purpose arises simply through the operation of cause and effect — in the way one thing impacts another and inclines the system to develop in a certain direction.)
In that moment of “seeing,” I also grasped that this dark and dangerous “thing” was gaining in power , and was threatening to damage everything of value in American civilization.
It was only after the election that November – because that election failed to turn back that rising force of darkness — that I was forced to confront a most unwelcome choice.
I loved working on the project centered on the “Sacred.” It was nourishing my spirit. It had a quality of joy to it that, for example, The Parable of the Tribes – for all its fire and passionate urgency and sense of marvel – never had. The idea of setting that lovely project aside filled me with grief.
But the other path that called involved confronting a national emergency. America seemed to me in deep peril, and I felt a strong pull to throw myself into that battle. It took me a couple of agonizing months to make a decision, but I concluded that I must answer what felt to me like a particularly urgent call to duty. (“Now is the time for all good men….”)
Finding a Voice
My first thought was that America needed a strong voice, calling out to America from as close as possible to center stage, to speak the moral truth to the amoral power that the election had just re-installed.
The person I thought most qualified for that “prophetic” role – in terms of a combination of public prominence along with moral and spiritual stature – was Bill Moyers.
I approached Mr. Moyers (with whom I had some positive past history) via email, requesting that he assume such a role, and offering him my full-time (uncompensated) help in performing it. This prompted a brief but excellent email exchange between Moyers and me. (The man is a true gentleman.) But at its conclusion, Mr. Moyers declined, saying he felt too old to “lead that parade.” (He was then –in 2005 — the age I am now.)
Shortly thereafter, giving up on my hope of finding someone already famous to awaken America, I picked up the one remaining option that seemed to male sense: I would try to perform that role myself.
Although I would have to begin from a marginal position at the fringe of the American scene, my hope was that I could deliver a message powerful enough to elevate my voice to the prominence the message itself warranted. Such things sometimes happen – Tom Paine’s Common Sense, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin – and who knows, perhaps it would happen here.
From 2005-2011, the main thing I was doing was writing a blog called NoneSoBlind.org. The site (which is now available on an archiving site here, housing over a thousand essays by me, and a couple thousand pieces by others that I thought illuminating) was dedicated to showing the nature of the destructive force that was gaining power in America, and proposing how it might best be countered.
This effort was launched with the publication – on my own site, and also on the site Common Dreams – of a piece titled, “What America Needs Now: A Prophetic Social Movement that Speaks Moral Truth to Amoral Power.”
I soon had a readership in four digits, but I was never able to achieve a bigger megaphone than that.
From the outset, one point felt really important: namely that, as it turns out, there is something in the world — coherent enough to be an “It” — that operates in ways that make it reasonable to call it a force of “evil.” Not identical with “evil” as our religious traditions have generally portrayed it. But a force enough like that traditional concept in the way it operates in the world to warrant the name. (Though, for those who cannot abide that fraught term, “destructive force” will do.)
The important thing in these times is not what we call it but that we be able to perceive it. Otherwise we will not see properly the shape and whereabouts of what we’re up against, or the nature of the terrain on which it must be fought and defeated. And most Liberal America – by virtue of its worldview and habits of thought – has shown itself incapable of perceiving it.
(Even, regrettably, when it is shown to them.)
During this time, I was myself struggling to understand this “evil” business more fully. In some ways, I’d been writing about it for decades. But never until I saw that darkness, and began looking into it deeply, had the concept of “evil” become so central to my quest for understanding. And there was a subtlety to the contours of this “force of evil” such that it took me a while to wrap my mind around it.
The first fruit of that endeavor was a 2005 article, which also became my next sermon (to deliver in the various liberal religious venues open to me), with the title, “The Concept of Evil—Why It is Intellectually Valid and Politically and Spiritually Important.”
A Secular Understanding of “the Battle Between Good and Evil”
Over the course of the next decade, my understanding of “evil” deepened.
From the outset, it differed from the traditional view. The “evil” I perceived is not a supernatural force driven by a malevolent being. Nor an inherent tendency in human nature. But rather, it is something that can be understood in secular terms—something working in a naturalistic way through the dense network of cause and effect within the overall system of the human world.
Over that decade, gradually, the vision that had led me to write about “The Concept of Evil” and the need for a “Prophetic Social Movement,” got woven together with the other three visions that have driven my life:
- Integrated with that (2004) vision of Wholeness (“Mapping the Sacred”) that the national crisis had compelled me to leave behind, as I learned to follow the pattern of brokenness moving through the cultural system.
- Integrated with “The Parable of the Tribes,” envisioned in 1970, which explained how a powerful impetus of brokenness had been an inevitable consequence of humankind’s escape, with the rise of civilization, from the biologically evolved order, as I traced this brokenness from that original impetus.
- And integrated with the heart-opening vision of 1983 that was expressed in my Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds that Drive Us to War, that explores how that inevitable reign of power has damaged the human creatures trapped in a tormented history, and made them channels through which brokenness received can become brokenness transmitted.
And the result of this integration of visions was the most integrated (most whole) perspective I’ve had yet—the one that made up the largest part of my 2015 book (WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST), a part titled “A Secular Understanding of ‘the Battle Between Good and Evil.’”
That book was one more attempt to convey to the still-slumbering people of Liberal America a picture of what the title declared to be WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST.
Whatever you want to call it — “a force of evil,” “a destructive force,” “a force of brokenness” — there it is before our eyes: a coherent force that spreads a pattern of brokenness.
Before I closed down NoneSoBlind, I gave the site’s main page an opening statement that read:
It makes a fight over everything. It is insatiable in its quest for wealth and power. It appeals to the worst in people, to hatred and fear. It divides groups of Americans against each other. It preys on the vulnerable and serves the privileged. And it lies in virtually all it says.
The once-respectable Republican Party has been hijacked in our times by a sick and broken spirit that damages everything it touches.
There is more before our eyes than just a scattering of diverse things – issues, actors, forms of conduct. There is something — diffused into the system, but nonetheless coherent — moving through the system. It manifests itself in all these interconnected ways, diverse ways that should be understood as offspring of the same force, related like cousins.
Liberal America’s Great Sin
A few weeks ago, I published the following as an op/ed in the newspapers, and also on the web:
On the phone the other day, my brother said to me, “Well, Liberal America can finally see evil, they can see it in Trump.” My brother knows how I’ve spent the past twelve years – without great success — trying to get American liberals to recognize the nature of the destructive force that has taken over the right in our times, and to respond accordingly.
My brother’s comment therefore pointed to the great “sin” of Liberal America.
The famous American Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, defined “sin” as being about “separation” — from oneself and from the Ground of Being. Or, as I would put it in this instance, separation from the deep reality in which one is living: in our times, that’s the reality of a force of brokenness rising before our eyes in the American power system.
It is easier to see that brokenness when it is embodied in a single person—a lying bully who picks fights and takes pleasure In trampling on the norms and rules governing his society. And when that person is as flamboyant in such tendencies as Donald Trump, it’s hard for anyone not in the thrall of the false world created by right-wing propagandists to fail to see it for what it is.
But the deep reality of “evil” is that it transcends that concrete individual level, operating as a coherent force spreading a pattern of brokenness to the people and organizations it touches.
In this era, however, Liberal America — and contemporary intellectual culture, generally — lacks the habit of putting the pieces together to see things whole. So a coherent force that’s diffused into the body politic — in the hypocrisies of the once-respectable Republican Party, in the deceptive messaging of the right-wing media, in the degradation of the consciousness of the Republican electorate – can escape notice.
But now, as my brother said, liberals at last see it in Trump. And at last are mobilized by what they see.
Better for America that this recognition had come sooner. For Trump is but a culminating expression of what has been gaining power in America for a generation.
The Republican electorate of, say, the Reagan years, would never have gone for anyone like Trump. Only after the decades of systematic work – by the likes of Limbaugh and Gingrich, Fox News and Karl Rove – to train people to follow lying bullies (who choose conflict over cooperation, and who pander to people’s prejudices and inflame their resentments) could millions of basically decent people look at someone like Trump and imagine it would be right to entrust him with the powers of the presidency.
The fact that Trump could jump in and hijack that toxic set of thoughts and feelings and ride it into the Oval Office reveals how deep is the kinship between Trump and the rest of that right-wing force.
No one in political life has lied as wantonly as Trump. But the Republican messaging has been fundamentally dishonest since Gingrich employed well-known propaganda techniques more than a quarter century ago, since Fox began indoctrinating its viewers with falsehoods, since W lied us into a war in Iraq, and since the Republicans tried to delegitimize a Democratic president with the racist birther lie.
No one in political life has bullied and belittled opponents as Trump has. But Karl Rove had W bully the Democrats for being “soft on terror,” and later the Republicans in Congress demeaned Obama with a scorn with which no American president had ever been assaulted.
No president has so blatantly acted from personal greed as Trump. But for years the Republican Party has been a channel for limitless greed. At a time when the gulf between the richest 1/10,000th of Americans and the lower 90% is wider than we’ve ever seen, the one constant in Republican policy remains the drive to transfer more money to the richest – even if it leaves 23 million Americans without health-care coverage, and even if it means cutting programs to help raise up downtrodden communities in rural areas.
No president has violated American political norms as wantonly as Trump. But the Republicans before him have left a long trail of norm-busting and damaging practices – from instituting torture from the very top, to making it their top priority to prevent the American people’s choice to serve as president from accomplishing anything, to ultimately stonewalling the confirmation process in order to steal a Supreme Court seat.
The pattern of brokenness has been there for years, transmitted from Party to citizens to the Oval Office. But Liberal America, failing to see the threatening darkness, failed to rise to protect the nation.
In 1940, the survival of Great Britain was gravely threatened. For years, the British Conservative Party had totally misjudged the threat rising in Germany. Now, the real nature of that threat had been made blatant, with German forces overrunning Europe to the east and to the west.
Britain at last turned to Winston Churchill, who had seen the threat clearly from the beginning, but had been consigned to the political wilderness. As Churchill took the helm, he confided to someone who congratulated him, “I hope that it is not too late. I am very much afraid that it is.”
Now, as my brother said, Liberal America sees the evil. I hope that it is not too late.
The point should be emphasized at this juncture: the passage above provides a major preview of the second Big Deal idea in this “integrative vision,” an answer to the age-old question about the nature (and modus operandi) of “evil.”
What We’re Up Against: Both Frightening and Inspiring
As they say in baseball, “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” So it is good for our effectiveness in the world to see well what it is that we’re up against. The future of our nation, the future of our children and grandchildren, even the future of our planet, are all at stake.
There is the grotesque individual in the Oval Office, and it is important to recognize how profoundly broken he is, and how consistently his deeply broken inclinations lead him to choose the options that break things up.
But it’s bigger than that individual.
It’s bigger than the political party that has spewed him forth into the highest reaches of power.
It is bigger than the plutocracy that utilizes that party to seek more wealth and more power for itself, without limit.
It is bigger than the racism and xenophobia and rage and lust to dominate.
All those things are, as it were, different faces of the same thing. In some previous times, these elements may have been operating in the American system more separately from each other. But over the past generation they have converged into a coherent force, an “It” that acts “as if” motivated to destroy what is good.
(Looking in the other direction, back deeper into the past, one can also see that they are rivulets in a larger current of brokenness that has operates in the human world over the centuries, over millennia. The pattern of brokenness creates the rage, and the need for enemies. It creates the greed and the lust for power. It generates the systemic forces that inflict trauma. And it utilizes these to spread its pattern of brokenness.
The depth and vastness of this destructive force is frightening.
But it also has its counterpart. There is also its mirror image on the side of Wholeness: an equally coherent force that enhances human life and the sacred. (These were intimated in installments # 2 and # 3.)
The human drama around us is much richer, and much deeper, with much higher stakes, than most of us realize most of the time.
To see all this – to see the vastness and the depth of the drama in which we are cast – is to be inspired to work to defeat that “evil” and to make the world more whole. Seeing this drama more fully means living more richly, more deeply, and with more dedication to a higher purpose.
That, at any rate, is my experience.
And in the coming installments of this series, I will try to make visible and intelligible these coherent forces – forces of wholeness and of brokenness, of good and of evil. I will try to show how these coherent forces work – through that dense network of cause and effect — and how they contend against each other to shape the human world.
This “Secular Understanding of the Battle Between Good and Evil” may well be worth the work to get it– if you wish to
- see more deeply what’s going on in the human drama,
- be inspired to find your right role in that drama, and
- serve that sacred Wholeness that fulfills the core of our being.
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Are there people you know who would answer “yes” to the question with which this piece began? If so, please send them the link to this piece.
NOTE: The comments that follow, below, are from people I’ve asked to serve as my “co-creators” on this project, i.e. to help me make this series as good and effective as possible.
They are people who have known me and my work. And my request of them is that –when the spirit moves them to contribute – they add what they believe will help this series fulfill its purpose and give the readers something of value. I’ve invited them to tell the readers what they think will serve the readers well, and to pose questions or challenges they believe might elicit from me what I should be saying to the readers next.
I am grateful for their attempting to help me find the right path.
These days, we are getting a primer — an elementary education — on the difference between destructive and constructive forces.
We can watch as waves of destructiveness flow through the body politic. A tweet, an order, a law, a sharp distinction between us and them, a declaration of enmity, an evocation of fear or hate — each of these breeds more of itself.
We can also see how standing up against destruction and supporting that which heals, that which supports, that which includes, that which listens, that which loves can all help mend the tears in our social fabric.
Quite right, Ed. Your comment captures some of the essence of what I presented as “A Secular Understanding of “the Battle Between Good and Evil.”
(That’s the name of the main section of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, that understanding is a major part of what is to come in this series..)
For one thing, your middle paragraph tells about how “each of these [manifestations of destructiveness]” breeds more of itself.
As I put it, brokenness breeds brokenness.
That transmission of the patterns of brokenness entails more than each form of brokenness replicating itself. Brokenness is more densely interwoven than that. The nature of the destructiveness is such that all the various forms of brokenness – hatred, greed, cruelty, lust for power, dishonesty, injustice, conflict, ugliness, hypocrisy etc. – feed into each other.
The pattern of brokenness, in other words, is transmitted in shape-shifting ways—as, for example, injustice breeds trauma breeds lack of integration breeds broken ways of dealing with the world, including the infliction of still more injustice and trauma.
America’s arriving at something so grotesquely broken as Donald Trump being the President of the United States has taken a great many broken things flowing through the cultural system – intermingling together, feeding each other, converging into alliance — growing in power.
In your final paragraph, you say some true and very important things about how the power of love can help make things Whole. It is valuable to be reminded of that healing power, which indicates to each of us one way we can fortify wholeness in the world. (“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”)
But it seems possible, from how that’s your focus, that you may also be exemplifying a problem in Liberal America: a reluctance to go beyond the path of kindness and confront that part of the challenge that calls us to battle.
Liberals in general far prefer reaching out to the other side to striking out against the other side. But, if the force of destructiveness is to be stopped from gaining more power and inflicting more damage on the United States and the whole world, there is a battle that needs to be fought and won.
You may well know that. And I note that even as you place an emphasis on the power of love, you also speak of “standing up against destruction.” So perhaps your “standing up against” it means fighting against it, and means that you aren’t reflecting that liberal reluctance of which I just spoke.
Holding one’s ground forcefully is vital in these times.
What I’ve called for goes beyond standing one’s ground. It calls for going forcefully after them. “Press the Battle” has been my message.
“Press the battle” was the name of a whole series (published in 2014), and it was also the underlying message of the book (published in 2015).
Just to give one big example of the costs – to Liberal America, but also to America itself — of not pressing the battle, consider Obama’s failure to press the battle when the Senate would not allow him to play his presidential role in the nomination of someone to fill the seat of the departed Justice Scalia.
He should have made this the biggest issue of that pivotal moment. He had every right and every means of declaring this a constitutional crisis. But he mumbled a few of the right things, and let the Republicans get away with their outright theft of that seat. And, thereby, he let the Republicans steal control of the Supreme Court likely for a generation to come.
It occurs to me that perhaps Obama should have taken the Republican obstructionists to the Supreme Court to pose the question, “Is what the Republicans are doing [in explicitly refusing to consider any nominee I might put forth] consistent with the intent of the founders when they gave the Senate the power of ‘advise and consent.’”
Press the battle is still the issue.
We need to go out to drain the reservoir of evil now afoot in the country. That reservoir is the sea of brokenness in the consciousness of that part of the American electorate that made Trump president, and whose (inexplicable) continued support keep Trump alive
They are stuck in a media world of falsehood, led to believe incredible things, and these lies have fanned the flames of deep anger. We need to press the battle to break through that right-wing media bubble. We need to do all we can to get the attention of the Americans whose craziness – another form of brokenness – needs to be healed.
I do not know the psychological theory behind the phenomenon, but people like short answers and trust simple analysis over complex. “A penny saved is a penny earned”, “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work”, “Both parties do it”, “A good guy with a gun…” “Gay people are an abomination to God”, and so on.
This is not the same problem as Gail’s remarks about the emotional reactions rather than linear, logical reason.
Your response to Ed and the upcoming essay where you say “supporters of the right come from an American subculture in which an authority, once accepted, is not to be questioned.” That is also true, but I think there is something more, that has been brought to your attention ever since we met six years ago. The majorities of humans do not possess the capacity for linear, logical reason and therefore need to be given simple, authoritative notions to follow and “live by”.
I read into the links in the essay as well and noticed how the piece, “The Concept of Evil” from 2005 in the NoneSoBlind collection is still perfectly relevant. You never reference the Bush administration in the article so someone might read it and think it was regarding recent events. I pulled this subsection:
There’s good reason why millions of Americans remain deeply upset by this recent presidential election.
It’s not because these ruling forces are so conservative” in their values. Although they have persuaded half of America that they are righteous champions of such values, many of the rest of us can see through their pretense.
We can see that, beneath that sheep’s clothing of false righteousness, they are satisfying the wolf of their unbridled appetite for self-aggrandizement.
We can see it in their persistent effort to undermine any rules that, in the name of a greater good, would restrain their freedom of action—whether in their tearing down the rules of international order, or in their disrespect for constitutional limits on their power, or in their dismantling of environmental restraints on their pursuit of wealth.
We see it, too, in their use of bullying tactics and character assassination in dealing with political opponents. For all their pious talk, there is no sign whatever of the Golden Rule in how they conduct their politics.
We see it in the way they sow enmity—whether between Americans, whom pollsters have found more intensely polarized than ever, or between America and other nations, among whom trust in American power has reached an all-time low.
And we see it in their disdain for the truth—whether in how they spin” virtually everything they say to us, or how they disregard or distort science, or in how they arrange to be told only what they want to hear.
America would be fine in the hands of people devoted to real conservative values. But this is something different, something dangerous. For America is now ruled by forces apparently not guided by any genuine values at all.
And this is not just about this particular presidency, which should be understood as the creature of bigger forces. These forces — an alliance of the greediest part of American capitalism with the most power-hungry and imperialist of American politicians and with the most divisive and hypocritical of America’s religious leaders—have been gathering power for a generation and will doubtless seek to maintain their grip when its current public faces leave office.
Never in American history has so much power been in such ruthless hands.
After an election campaign that failed utterly to speak about this profound moral danger —in itself a sign of an also-dangerous moral flaccidity into which American liberalism has declined— we who do see this frightening reality are called upon not to acquiesce and surrender but to take the struggle for America’s soul to a new stage of speaking moral truth to amoral power.
While this is written about Bush/Cheney, sadly it remains a perfect analysis of the current state.
Thank you, Forest, for providing that passage from my “Concept of Evil” piece of twelve (!) years ago. It helps to illustrate an important phenomenon—one which will be central to the coming focus of this “Better Human Story” series.
Namely, the fact that the words I wrote during the dark George W. Bush presidency still describe so much of “what we are up against” today – in this time of the still-darker Donald Trump presidency – demonstrates that central to the human drama is the transmission of patterns.
We are naturally drawn to look at the human drama in the terms of what we see in the program they hand us when we walk into the theater to see the play. The central figure is Hamlet, played by so-and-so. Also important here are Claudius, and Gertrude, and Ophelia, and Horatio, etc.—all played by these other actors. And the drama has a beginning, middle, and an end.
But in the actual human drama, even as the particular actors come and go, such is the nature of the system in which the action is taking place that important elements of the drama continue to play out—not necessarily with the identical plot-lines, but with something essential about the character of the forces at work continuing with a whole new cast.
W and Rove and Cheney left town. But the patterns of brokenness that they enacted continue without them, with a whole new cast. The lying, the bullying, the hypocrisy, the contempt for the systems of order that previous generations have constructed to protect values and norms deemed important to serve the ideals of the nation.
More later about how patterns of wholeness, and patterns of brokenness, move through cultures over the years, over the generations, and to some extent, even over the centuries.
Finally, a brief response to your comment that, “The majorities of humans do not possess the capacity for linear, logical reason and therefore need to be given simple, authoritative notions to follow and ‘live by.’”
The intellectual capabilities of the majority of humans is relevant in part to the transmissibility of my “integrative vision.” That vision has more pieces than, I imagine, a lot of people could hold together.
But I really think that much of the issue these days has to do with the cultural “habits of the mind” that are prevalent in these times. (Just today I read a news article https://www.yahoo.com/news/science-journalist-retires-98-warns-104600883.html about a 98 year-old science reporter who is retiring only now, and lamenting that “a generation of Americans are suffering from a ‘major disability in what they can think about and understand.’” By which he means that the lack of regular exposure to scientific thinking has left people unable to comprehend what science knows and is trying to convey to the public.)
Culture is powerful stuff, and even if the “transmission of patterns” can operate across generations, it is also the case that a culture can lose some valuable habits of the mind, either temporarily as fashions of thought come and go, or permanently, as intellectual capabilities of one kind are abandoned and other capabilities replace them, or as people simply become too lazy to think anything through very far, or to deal with any sort of complexity.
The capabilities of even the average human mind, I believe, can be developed to a much higher degree than we generally see.
Andy, I will be interested to learn more about the forces of brokenness and the possibility of wholeness in future installments. At present, I am heartened by the growing awareness among the American public of the amoral/immoral behavior of our federal office holders.
For the first time, a majority of Americans favor Obamacare, in the face of possible loss of health care for millions. People are beginning to understand how much the current Republican party favors the rich and is willing to cut loose the poor and the middle class to find their own prohibitively expensive health care solutions on the private market.
Perhaps consciousness of our brokenness is increasing. And is it too much to hope that Americans might someday conclude that part of this destructive milieu is the continuing warfare that both political parties have promoted?
Could there someday be a worldwide expansion of consciousness to eliminate warfare? It’s difficult to be that optimistic.
When you speak, Fred, “of the amoral/immoral behavior of our federal office holders,” are you sweeping up the Republicans and the Democrats together? I believe that when it comes to the crisis in America today, in which the marriage of amorality/immorality with power is at the core, the two parties should not be thrown together into the same basket morality-wise.
The polarization of which I wrote in the previous issue has rendered the two parties into quite opposite forms. One form of that polarization being that, as I have put it frequently over the past decade, including in my run for Congress five years ago:
We have one party that will make a fight out of anything, even when the good of the nation calls for cooperation; and we have another party that shrinks from fighting over anything, even when the good of the nation requires that it stand and fight to protect what’s best about America.
Or, to put it another way, what the force of brokenness has accomplished in America over the past generation is to separate capability power and morality; that is, to separate having what it takes to win in the battle for power and being guided by moral principal and real values.
The Republicans have become a Party for whom power is everything, but that has virtually abandoned all principles, and all allegiance to any value over the desire for power; and the Democrats have become a Party whose positions are defensible in terms of moral purpose to a degree more than usual in a major American party, but whose capacity to contest for power against an unscrupulous opponent has been pathetic.
The melding of power and goodness is an essential requirement for solving “the problem of power in social evolution.”
Which brings me to the problem of war, which I know is quite central to your own moral passions. To mine also, though once again there is a distinction to be made.
I, for example, regard FDR and Churchill as my heroes for how they rallied the world, and (especially in FDR’s case) did much to make the world more whole in how the post-war world was organized.
While from the point of view of the system as a whole, war always promotes brokenness, from the point of view of individual actors in the fragmented system, war is sometimes the best of the available options for promoting wholeness.
The parable of the tribes identifies a tragic situation, in which even the protection of a society’s sacred values requires that people enter the arena of power – as contaminated as it is by brokenness – and make sure they’ve got what it takes to resist (and perhaps destroy) the evil power that threatens it.
The parable allows no fifth option of adhering to pacifism and surviving the social evolutionary process of elimination I call “the selection for power.”
That said, I agree with you about the present wars in which the United States is engaged. The two wars of Iraq and Afghanistan will neither one figure positively into the history of this nation. Both were entered into by the Republican presidency of W, Cheney, and Rove—and considerable brokenness attended the whole path into the war in Iraq, with the lies, and the arrogance, and the imperialistic impulse that seemed to underlie it; and who botched the (probably unnecessary?) war in Afghanistan by their inattention and incompetence. We broke it, as Colin Powell said, and now we own a whole set of messes (including ISIL).
And not least of the brokenness thus advanced was the ripping of the international order, when the world’s leading nation – the long-time advocate of international law and other forms of fuller world order—defied world opinion and violated international law. The world has not been the same since.
The Democrats’ role in all this is much more about being intimidated and bullied (2002 and even in the Obama years), fearful of being found “soft on terror,” than in having their own appetite for these wars.
And war certainly does warrant a central spot in the picture of brokenness. It is “the [inveitable] war of all against all” that accompanied the rise of civilization that gave the impetus of profound brokenness into the world by inflicting trauma, and the selection for the conquerors’ ways, onto civilized humankind.
The chronic state of war resulting from the inevitale the intersocietal anarchy then damages the people. And some of these damaged (traumatized_ people are, in turn, driven to create more war in the human world.
And thus the pattern of brokenness gets transmitted from level to level, shape-shifting from the brokenness of war to the brokenness of the traumatized psyche and then back again and again, through the centuries and millennia.
Peace is an essential dimension of wholeness in the world.
Your piece is well written and evidences well the principle of “tensional integrity.” Whether tendons in the body or engineering maintaining a suspension bridge, the push and pull that produces stability seems to be as present in our moral structures as our physical design. Too much slack or force from one side over the other leads to collapse of both. Your experience with “Mapping the sacred” seems to have given a significant boost to your ability to understand, respond and fight against the force of opposite nature. Thank you for sharing and challenging others of us to do the same through your writing.
As you and your brother have stated well, the challenge (and opportunity) is to not just “see” the forces as work, but to be responsive and active agents in the human system, where both forces are operating.
I’d also like to express my appreciation for the way you’ve woven together the personal with the big picture. I appreciate first of all the links you’ve provided to archives elsewhere for those who want to further develop their understanding of your message. People could go or not. But especially I appreciate how you have used your experience to substantiate the “scientific” picture of the crisis in America, and how that fits into the bigger picture of the human drama.
I can imagine that some will perceive this “personalization” as too “experiential” or “anecdotal,” or they might mistake it for being self-promoting. But I think that the personal dimension here gives credence to your science, and that your telling the story and providing the links, is a service to the reader.
I am not sure, Karen, whether your idea of “tensional integrity, as you develop it to indicate a need for both push and pull to maintain stability, is intended to mean that we need forces of brokenness in the system to counter-balance in some way the forces of wholeness. I have also often heard that without “evil,” there can be no “good.” I do not hold with that. It may be that in an ideal world, it would be difficult to appreciate all the ugliness and trauma we’d been spared. But I do not think that goodness needs evil to be able to exist. (That goes along with my argument — from entry # 2 — that “the good” must be based ultimately in the experience of fulfillment by sentient creatures.) But perhaps I misunderstand your first three sentences, above.
Let me next express my gladness and gratitude that you’ve brought up (and supported) my use of my own personal experience in this presentation. A big challenge in trying to convey a Big Picture, such as I’m trying to present, is to ground it sufficiently in the concrete that its reality can be experienced by the reader. We all live at the human scale, even if our destinies are in many ways shaped by forces bigger than the human scale by orders of magnitude. And we each arrive at our truths, ultimately, by what we have experienced and what we have witnessed.
When I wrote The Parable of the Tribes, I said that I was trying to take a view of human history as if from a satellite. But I soon learned that, if people were going to be able to see from that high up at all, most needed that view connected with things much closer up.
Also, I was raised and educated in an ethos in which the thinker/writer was supposed to disappear from view. (In scholarly works, one didn’t in that era see the pronoun “I” except in the Acknowledgments.) Ideas were supposed to be laid out in a purely intellectual framework. But I learned soon after my Parable got published that the audience I wanted to reach responded to the personal more readily than to the impersonal. And that it helped to be a story-teller as well as a scholar.
So, this interweaving of my own story along with the general ideas that I’ve arrived at from what I’ve witnessed along the path, represents my best effort to apply the lessons I’ve learned about how to bring big and somewhat abstract ideas to life.
I’m glad that you see merit in that effort. Thank you, Karen, for saying so.