# 12 How Brokenness Moves Through the Human World in Shape-Shifting Ways

The Concepts of “Wholeness and Brokenness”

In order to point to dimensions of our reality, one needs words. “Wholeness” and “Brokenness” are two of the words that figure in what I am trying to point to.

“Wholeness” can be described as those structures that leads to life’s greater flourishing, and also serve to bring greater fulfillment among those creatures  who experience some things as better and some as worse. (“Wholeness” also characterizes Life itself, as is suggested by how words like “health” derive from words meaning “whole.”)

 “Brokenness” refers to the opposite— i.e. those structures that foster a degradation of life and of the quality of experience of sentient creatures.

(A fuller development of this fundamental dichotomy between “Wholeness” and “Brokenness” can be found in Chapter 4 — pages 79-85 — of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, which can be found as a pdf at What We’re Up Against (abetterhumanstory.org).  (There are also multiple listings in the index of The Parable of the Tribes regarding the concept of “Wholeness.”)

Both Wholeness and Brokenness get transmitted through the human world, as “patterns” that assume different forms along the way.

Brokenness Begets Brokenness

As was indicated in the previous entry (in the discussion of Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds that Drive Us to War), the idea that “Brokenness begets Brokenness” began, for me, with the investigation of how people would inevitably be wounded and traumatized from being compelled to live in a world inevitably beset by a “war of all against all.” And then, in turn, how people’s being wounded and traumatized in those ways would fuel the very engines of strife that had inflicted such wounds.

For nearly twenty years, that initial view – looking at how the brokenness in the intersocietal system would produce brokenness in the psychological and spiritual condition of the human beings living in that disordered world – was about as far as I took that way of thinking about brokenness getting transmitted through the human world.

Had the workings of the power system in my own nation stayed “normal,” that’s probably how it would have remained.

But starting in 2004, my attention was drawn to a “destructive force” visibly gaining power in America. Seeing a dangerous “moral and spiritual crisis” playing out in the political realm again drew my attention to how “brokenness” takes many forms (conflict, injustice, hatred, greed, cruelty, etc.) that feed one another, give rise to each other.

Those interconnections revealed how brokenness moves through cultural systems in shape-shifting ways.

To envision this shape-shifting nature of Brokenness (and the same could be done with Wholeness), we can ask two questions of any specific manifestation that we see in our world, i.e. can ask of any instance of injustice (or justice), hate (or love), greed (or generosity), deception (or honesty), etc.:

• Peering backward, we can inquire about its causes. What is it in the world that produces this brokenness? E.g. What are the factors that led to this war? What were the factors that led to this exploitative social arrangement? Or, what is it that resulted in this person being cruel, or greedy, or insistent on domination? (Many see “evil” just in terms of “evil people,” but people are shaped by their world.)
• Looking forward, we can examine the effects of that war, of that exploitation, or of this instance of human cruelty or greed or lust for power. What impact does this or that broken thing in our world have on how the human world develops from there?

What I believe we see, when we pursue these questions, is overwhelmingly that brokenness begets brokenness, and wholeness begets wholeness.

(Not without exceptions, admittedly:

  • although most of the results from an “ill wind” are not good, an ill wind can blow somebody “good”; and
  • although the huge majority of the time good intentions produce much better results than bad intentions, there is no guarantee that good intentions will not “lead to hell.”)

At the root of the cruelty shown by an individual, or the lust to dominate, or the hatred toward the members of some racial or ethnic minority, one invariably finds psychic injuries inflicted by a broken world. And the brokenness of such people – filled with rage or greed or the need to externalize internal conflicts – gets harnessed to make the larger world yet more broken.

Something important becomes visible when we trace the interconnections formed in the network of cause-and-effect. Seeing it requires seeing beyond the most immediate and concrete.

Through the connections formed by cause-and-effect, we can discover how there is operating in the human world a “coherent force that consistently spreads a pattern of brokenness” – a pattern that that takes shape-shifting forms.

May the Idea of the Force be With You.

The forms change, but the “pattern of brokenness” is transmitted. And behind that transmission is a “Force of Brokenness” operating in the human system, as that system unfolds over time.

I know from experience that my use of the world “force” seems strange to many people, but I think my use is in keeping with the general understanding of that concept.

A “force” is that which moves something. That’s true in physics, when F = ma. It’s true of a magnetic force that causes iron filings to arrange themselves in alignment with the field of force that is inferred.

And it is true of what moves that “pattern of brokenness” through a cultural system over time. We can see how the impact of each form of brokenness – hate, cruelty, conflict, greed, the lust for power, etc. – produces other forms of brokenness in the human world. And so the pattern reverberates through time.

Tracing the movement of this pattern of brokenness – spread naturally through cause and effect – we can discern an “It,” something coherent and impactful, moving through the human world — over the years, generations, centuries, millennia – fostering a diversity of forms of brokenness that all degrade the various structures that serve life.

We “see” that force the way we “see” the wind in the swaying of the trees and the flapping of the clothes on the line.

(It has turned out to be important whether or not people “see” that Force of Brokenness. Because, as the saying goes in baseball, “You can’t hit what you can’t see.”)


[This line of thinking — about a “Force of Brokenness” that moves through the human world in shape-shifting ways — is resumed in # 12, “Toward a Secular Understanding of ‘the Battle Between Good and Evil’.” (That “Understanding” constitutes the second of the major ideas about “ the forces at work shaping the human world that struck me as so important that they changed the course of my life.) But in the meanwhile, installments #s 10 and 11 provide brief excurses that attempt to put the foregoing presentation of “the parable of the tribes” into a broader perspective.]

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